Preparing the ground for a successful exit

17.04.2014 13:55

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There were several highlights at the venture ideas event in Lausanne yesterday. The 20 winners of the venture leaders programme pitched, and Stephan Würmlin Stadler, founder of Liberovision, and Mehdi Aminian, co-founder of Jilion, talked about their experiences with the sale of their start-ups.

‘Exit’ is a topic of interest for every founder of a start-up with investors. At the venture ideas event yesterday, two founders who have successfully sold their start-ups spoke about their experiences: Stephan Würmlin Stadler has sold Liberovision to Vizrt and Mehdi Aminian has sold Jilion to Dailymotion. After their talks, they were joined by Alain Nicod, a well-known Swiss VC and entrepreneur. A webcast of the event is now online.

Würmlin and Aminian both stressed the importance of preparing for success, following Louis Pasteur’s dictum: “Chance favours the prepared mind.”

Soft factors are important
Aminian spoke extensively about failure and success factors and how he coped with them in order to let success happen. In his view, it is easy to manage hard factors; for example, by lowering the burn rate or finding a huge market for a disruptive technology. He thinks that it is more complicated to come to grips with soft factors. It starts with the founders themselves: they will be successful only if they do what they really want to do and take the risks they want to take. In addition, the founder team has to be really strong: Aminian searched for several months for a co-founder before he decided to collaborate with Zeno Crivelli. They then spent some time defining exactly how they wanted to work together – a step in this process was the decision that both should have exactly the same number of Jilion shares.

But soft factors also mean management of the team. “It is key to challenge the employees in a constructive way,” said Aminian. And he described his attitude towards his employees in the following way: “You should amaze us every day and in return we help your talent to shine.”

Preparing for the Exit
Jilion and Liberovision had both had several acquisition offers from big companies before they decided to sell their start-up. The most important reason for selling was their belief that they could develop the business faster if they become part of a bigger company. Würmlin told the audience that the number of broadcasters using Liberovision’s solution grew from about 15 to more than 60 after the acquisition by Vizrt.

Aminian spoke about his preparation, which started nearly two years before the deal with Dailymotion was closed. To start the process, the founders contacted a retired mergers and acquisitions expert who gave them a crash course in M&A. In April 2012, Jilion signed a contract with an M&A firm to get professional support, and the process ended successfully with the acquisition by Dailymotion in January 2014.

During the panel discussion, the founders together with Alain Nicod spoke about what makes a start-up attractive to a potential buyer. They identified three main factors: a strategic fit, the team and IP. In the cases of Jilion and Liberovision, the strategic fit and the team were important. With the acquisition of Liberovision, Vizrt bought a start-up with an exciting product in a core market. In addition, Würmlin joined the company and today is responsible for Vizrt’s entire sports business.

Venture leaders
The second highlight of the event was the pitches from the 20 venture leaders who have won a trip to Boston in June. The list of the members of the Swiss national start-up team can be found in our article about the venture leaders award. The audience selected the team captain – Keith Gunura, founder of Noonee – at the event yesterday in Lausanne.

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