Interim Executive – Sometimes Even An Interim Executive Has To Say No…
By Al Davis, Principal, Revitalization Partners
At Revitalization Partners we are often asked to serve in an Interim Executive Management capacity for companies ranging from start-ups to those with $100 million or more in revenue.
This is a true story of one start-up Company that we became involved with.
It It begins when we were approached by a friend to look at a company in the alternative energy space.
The founders were two scientists, neither with any real management experience, but with what seemed like a true breakthrough idea in the market they were targeting … and they clearly needed an interim executive.
While the idea was new, the market wasn’t. In fact, ten’s of millions had been invested in the market by quality venture capital firms with no real commercial success. So how could a couple of guys from Seattle, working in the equivalent of their garage, come up with a breakthrough in the space? And more importantly, given their inexperience and no real team, how could they build a company?
After burning through the small amount they raised from family and two years of trying to raise money, they had gotten nowhere.
So they asked us to serve as their interim executive and to raise money to take the company forward. Since we believed that, in this case, the VC’s, despite the money seemingly wasted in related technologies, were wrong, we agreed.
As their Interim Executive, the first thing we did was have a smart, aggressive business development person, who was also serving as an interim executive with the company, talk with potential customers. The feedback was pretty much the same: “We’ve heard the claims you’re making before. We believed them, even invested in them and none of them worked out.
Bring us a fully formed working device with the characteristics you’re talking about and we’ll be very interested.”
Our challenge as their Interim Executive was how to get from a demonstration in a lab to a fully formed prototype with no money? The budget said the company needed several hundred thousand dollars to get the device built. Since there are, even in this financial climate, quality VC firms investing in pre-revenue companies, as their Interim Executive we told the owners it was just a question of time before one of them saw the potential. In the meantime, as their Interim Executive, we secured a bridge loan from angel investors could keep the company moving.
The company received several firm commitments to the bridge loan. One of the introductions made was to an experienced angel investor in California. He liked the idea, but not the bridge loan. He suggested he bring in one of his friends who headed a small investment bank to do a seed round.
As their Interim Executive, within two weeks I got them a term sheet.
The proposed valuation was very low by almost any standard, but it was a term sheet. They indicated that they might be willing to change the terms following some due diligence.
The potential investors came to Seattle and even brought in a local expert in the field from the University of Washington. Following due diligence, they came back with a new term sheet.
The valuation increased slightly. The terms proposed that the investors take control of the company. They did not like the fact that the company was being managed by an interim executive and wanted to bring in their own management team “right out of central casting”.
The founders would have about 40% of the company prior to any dilution for management or future offerings. They would not hold board or management positions … and the Interim Executive would no longer be needed.
The bank was in the process of doing a reverse merger into a public shell. The new public entity would make the investment. If the founders finished the prototype within six months, they would each get a small bonus. On the basis of the prototype being finished and the “story” that would generate, the “bank” would take the company public.
And yes, the bank had done this several times before in the past. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t, but the insiders always made money. In fact, the shell that the bank was merging into was a medical device company that had failed after its public offering due to never getting its technology productized.
The inexperienced founders heard “public” and “bonus” and decided to go in that direction despite the advice from their entire very experienced interim executive management team. We decided to not go forward with this adventure in financing. And long after the time for due diligence has expired, the “investors” are still asking for more information.
When a company of any size brings in an interim executive, they do so in order to get the experience brought by that Interim Executive. Most individuals serving as an interim executive have a focus on creating value for all of the stakeholders. And when necessary, the Interim Executive is often willing to stick with and support their client companies over a long time horizon, creating “real” value as opposed to the value of a quick hit.
While it may seem that “money is money”, the quality of the source of that money is often the difference between creating a “story” and building a company.
Sometimes Even An Interim Executive Has To Say No …