Our model, Agglomeration™
Unlike traditional models, we are neither looking to ‘strip and flip’ the businesses we acquire, nor are we interested in proving our managerial chops by buying struggling businesses and hoping we can turn them around where others have failed. Finally, we have no desire to merge all the businesses in our group into one cohesive brand with centralised command and control structure.
The businesses that join us are typically run by a founder who often has decades of experience in their industry. These founders are creative, they’re ambitious and they’re hungry for growth. Inevitably before finding us, they will have talked to other buyers in the marketplace, typically competitors, Private Equity firms and the like. The reason they are still independent when they come to us is that they value their independence. They like the way they do business, they like their team and the way it works together. Their brand might not mean much outside of their country or even their niche, but it is their brand and their clients trust it. They have no interest in selling to others but will come to us because we allow them to scale in their own way.
We are not actually offering these business owners an ‘exit’ and therefore do not get drawn into conversations about exit valuations. If founders want to sell their business and leave there are other options out there. We are most definitely not that solution, but we are a fantastic platform for those that want to scale.
An important part to the puzzle is that in almost every case we do our acquisitions using stock to compensate the founders joining us. Whilst the constant creation of shares is dilutive, each acquisition will be EPS accretive and we believe offers greater long term value creation for shareholders than using cash. As entrepreneurs ourselves we are all too aware of keeping cash on hand in case things don’t go to plan.
The entrepreneurs that join us are not looking to exit. Our model provides an ‘earn in’ approach where the more profit a business contributes to the holding company over time, the more shares they will earn. While not looking for an exit, the companies that join us are ambitious. They are looking to scale and they recognise that they can achieve more under the umbrella of a big PLC than on their own. The continuity that we offer, the ability to get on with the business in hand without worrying about rebranding, or merging with an unknown entity, allows the founder and their team to keep their focus on the business they are building. This continuity offers us a competitive advantage and is one that is fundamental to our business.
This model is not for every business out there. Some would choose to go the IPO route alone, others have trouble believing in a collaborative approach to anything and a 3rd group understands the appeal but don’t yet feel they are ready to join.
This model allows us enormous flexibility to work with great companies regardless of sector or territory as long as it enhances shareholder value.
BENEFIT OF AGGLOMERATION™
One of the primary reasons why people join an Agglomeration™ is to provide liquidity in their business. The problem with being a small business owner is that it is incredibly illiquid. For an investor there is huge risk around putting money into your company and it’s an opportunity risk because they're not able to get that money back out again.
Therefore, if you join an Agglomeration™, you're now part of a publicly listed business, your shares can now be traded on a day-to-day basis and it completely derisks it for investors. They put money in in the morning and take it out in the afternoon if they desire. For the founder, it means that if you want to sell 5% to pay off the house, you can do that. Normally in a small business we don't have that privilege.
So the scale paradox is a challenge that faces all small businesses. Basically, as a small, typically under-resourced business, you can't go for really big contracts. Because you can't get the really big contracts you remain a small under-resourced business. Oftentimes what happens is a big company will win the contract, outsource the work to you because you are better at delivering it and they will cream off all the profits in the meantime.
The reason this happens is that in big companies’ procurement best practices is never to give you a contract that is more than a third of your annual revenue. So even though you're often the best provider of the service, often it's the best value, that company still can't give you the work directly. When you join an Agglomeration™, in effect when you go through the procurement process with big companies, they're now looking at the balance sheet of the combined entity. So rather than pitching as a $10 million local business you'll now pitching as a $200 million dollar global PLC. That allows you to access a much much bigger range of projects and a much bigger range of budget.
One of the nicest things about the Agglomeration™ model is joining an executive board of other entrepreneurs. People that have built multimillion dollar, debt free, profitable businesses in different countries and different sectors that are there with you with a vested interest in helping you succeed. One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses that really is a huge separator between small businesses and big PLCs is your ability to attract good senior staff. To get to that level where you can really grow and start to challenge the big boys you need to have senior staff, but for many talented individuals it's perceived as a risk to join a small business. When you become part of an Agglomeration™, you can still offer all of the advantages that a small business provides to individuals in terms of having access across the whole company and all of those good things that come from small business. Yet you can give them the security that comes from a big PLC and you can reward them with stock. That provides a huge leveler when individual candidates are considering joining your company or another company.
One of the strongest benefits of being part of an Agglomeration™ is the ability to go out and buy other companies in your sector. Most of the entrepreneurs that we work with have reached the stage in their careers where they realize the fastest way to grow and add value to their clients is through acquisitions but oftentimes, they lack the resources to do that. Working with Unity Group and with the new currency of this publicly traded stock, it allows you to go out to potentially buy competitors, to buy companies in new territories and even to buy suppliers’ partners; anything that could make your company a stronger proposition for your clients. Growth through acquisition is something big companies do all of the time but for most small companies it's out of reach. Joining an Agglomeration™ gives you the chance to do those acquisitions.
One of the frustrations that many entrepreneurs face is a feeling like we're spinning our wheels, like we're not growing as fast as we want to. Fast growth is one of the things that gets entrepreneurs going and oftentimes the entrepreneurs we meet with have got to a certain level, but they feel like they're plateauing. Plateauing for an entrepreneur is kind of like running backwards, it's very frustrating. So, I think joining an Agglomeration™, having that visibility of what it's like to work in a PLC to be part of a global entity to understand the way the money markets work and impact business, is really an evolution that I think most entrepreneurs should go through as part of their education process.
The Agglomeration™ is not designed as an exit for your business, it's designed as a growth strategy. However, it would be unrealistic for us to assume that entrepreneurs are going to stay in their business forever. In fact, I genuinely believe that the amount of stress that most entrepreneurs are under for the length of time that they're under is not particularly healthy. So we fully expect entrepreneurs after a few years to want to move on to take on new challenges. One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is succession planning. It's nearly impossible to bring someone in from the outside that is a good cultural fit and it's nearly impossible to train a founder to think like an entrepreneur. The solution that we've found is to find another entrepreneur running a business like yours, put them in charge at both businesses and then you can step into the chairperson role and they can send you reports every week.
Because of the nature of the Agglomeration™, 2 to 3 years down the line you could expect to have multiple companies within the group. That provides a rich picking for companies that would be interested in taking over your asset and the way that we motivate all of our founders with additional shares each year makes it very attractive for people to want to take over your asset if you ever want to step down.
Another advantage for joining an Agglomerate is you get to learn about how publicly listed companies work. You get to learn how markets treat finance and how markets treat businesses in that environment. Why that is really powerful is that you're already uniquely qualified to go be a non-executive director in other companies however having that PLC experience really takes you to the next level and it opens up a whole world of opportunities to go and sit on public boards where you can make a real contribution plus learn about other businesses and other industries.
Many times entrepreneurs go into business with a desire to become a high net worth or even an ultra high net worth individual. The challenge for most of us is that we create this huge value in our business yet we're unable to leverage it and we're unable to extract that value. By joining a publicly listed company and having free trading stock, it suddenly takes us into the realms of the high-net-worth individuals. Once you reach that level, once you have free trading stock, then you'll find a lot of private banks are suddenly clamoring to get in touch with you and offer you all sorts of advantages that are not open as a private business owner.
As you can see there are a number of benefits to joining an Agglomeration™. Each company that joins has its own primary reason for what it's looking to get out of the Agglomeration™. Hopefully, as a combination it solves a number of very real problems that are facing business owners.