Lessons learned

Reflecting on the Evolution of Audacia: 3 Big Changes and Lessons Learned

In business, there is often a tendency to set goals, chase them down, and then set more goals. Rinse. Repeat. Taking a step back from this relentless pursuit of achievement to take stock of lessons learned, though, is critical. 

We see this tendency all the time with our clients working through big transformations. If they become overly focused on getting through what they think of as the “hard part” – the merger, the transition, the restructuring – without picking their heads up, they can miss what’s even more important. Without understanding how that big transformation fits into the overall strategy, there’s a risk that you’re simply going through the motions, making change for change’s sake. There’s almost nothing worse than a checklist untethered from a strategy.

At Audacia, we periodically reflect on where we’ve been, so that we can move forward with our eyes wide open. In that spirit, let’s look at the biggest changes and lessons learned from the past (almost) seven years.  

1. The Team is Growing

One of the most visible changes that we’ve made over the years is our growing team. In the beginning, it was hard to think about bringing others on. Sure, I was happy to quietly partner with people I had worked with throughout my corporate career, but the thought of developing my own team… shudder, at least in those early days.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, entrepreneurship doesn’t run in my blood, and the idea of being responsible for other peoples’ livelihoods was scary at first. But, of course, the stories my mind invented were much more terrifying than the reality.

In fact, building out our team of experts, partners, and employees has been one of the greatest joys of running the business. Today we’re 14 strong and growing. Together, we have created a culture of trust and transparency. Because I can trust my team, I have more space to think strategically, and I can focus on the big picture without getting lost in the details.

Not only that, but we’re also able to leverage our collective experience and talent to deliver bigger and better solutions for our clients. And diversity of thought, experience, and perspective, enables us to deliver those solutions to a broader range of clients. 

This is not to say we’ve got it all figured out; we are a work in progress. But I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made and excited to see where our path takes us next.

Lessons Learned:

  • We are better together.
  • Don’t let fear hold you back from making a bold move. (I’m still a work in progress here!)
  • Building a reliable support system is one key to being successful as a business owner.

2. We’re Getting Clearer About Who We Are

This change may be less visible from the outside, but it is crucial to finding ideal clients, honing our service offerings, and boosting our credibility – not to mention, strengthening our messaging. Getting clearer on our superpowers and how our values express themselves through the work we do has allowed us to back away from saying “yes” too often.

Over the years, we have zeroed in on what we do and how to position ourselves in the market. Living through pivotal moments in our business has helped us figure out how to help our clients through pivotal moments in theirs as well. We can confidently talk about how we work with organizations experiencing structural transitions including: 

These types of transformations have internal and external ripple effects to be aware of from the beginning, but those effects can be invisible to teams on the inside. Our team comes in, gets the lay of the land, and develops a coherent communications strategy to carry you through the transition and beyond.

We provide much more than a coherent communications strategy, though. Developing such a strategy requires you and your team to think through crucial details about the transition and the fundamental changes on the horizon. In strategy sessions with Audacia, clients have breakthroughs that improve operational efficiency, usher in a new era of cultural transparency, and spark innovative ideas that lead to even bigger transformations.

Lessons Learned:

  • If you want prospects to understand what you do, you need to be clear about what you do.
  • Having a coherent communications strategy is about so much more than communicating well.
  • Teams that know their value deliver above and beyond their value.

3. We Answer Client Concerns Before They Have Them

Perhaps the most important change Audacia has made over the years has been the way we approach our clients’ needs. In the beginning, we were mostly reactive. When a prospect reached out to schedule a consultation, I listened to their concerns and devised a solution connecting all of the dots. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It’s one that yields success for many, including Audacia in the early stages.

However, we’ve evolved beyond this reactive approach. Today we are more proactive, anticipating our clients’ needs even before they have them. When I sit down with a prospect, I listen. I want to hear not only the text, but also the subtext. Our advisory is unique to each client and their situation. We are constantly formulating and reformulating strategies to present solutions for clients in all different stages of transformation.

As a result, we’re adding more strategic value to our clients and we’re more engaged across their transformation journey. Our average client engagement has grown from three months to six months. 

We’ve also seen more repeat business in recent years as clients come to value our strategic perspective, ability to “get *ish done,” and tangibly/actually move them forward. Because we have been around the block, we are well positioned to lead our clients through the shifting sands of transformation, and having access to that kind of reassurance in the midst of chaos or crisis can be absolutely priceless.

Lessons Learned:

  • Helping clients see around corners is the cornerstone of a true partnership. Often solving one problem leads to another and organizations need help recognizing when this is the case.
  • Small shifts in the way you think about client work can have outsized benefits.

Looking back on the early days of Audacia, I can’t help but feel gratitude for what we’ve built. Here’s to setting more goals and chasing them down, but also taking time to reflect and learning from the past.

Photo credit: Business Associates Sitting In Board Room Having A Meeting With Coffee And Tablets by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

Meet the Team: Sarah Gershman, Executive Presence Partner

Building a strong business is all about building strong relationships and at Audacia Strategies, we love to say, “it’s not ‘just business.’ It’s about people working together toward a common goal.” That’s why partnering with the best is a top priority. I’ve known many of our partners for years. They’re not just business associates, they’re people I’d sit down with for a casual dinner (and probably an adult beverage or two). I’m proud to know, partner, and collaborate with each of them. 

In a previous article, we introduced you to one of the Sarahs on Audacia’s team, our Manager of Business Operations, Sarah Deming. This time, we’re introducing Sarah Gershman who is our Executive Presence Partner.

Interview with Sarah Gershman, Executive Presence Partner

At Audacia, we are all about strategic communications and strong communication is all about getting the key players within an organization to stay on message. This starts with leaders and this is where Sarah Gershman shines.

Sarah is an executive speech coach and CEO of Green Room Speakers, a communications firm based in Washington, DC. She is also an adjunct professor of communications at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, where she lectures to students from around the world.

As Audacia’s Executive Presence Partner, Sarah puts her specialization to work helping leaders deliver high-stakes and complex messages with clarity, authenticity, and conviction. Having coached executives at organizations including Microsoft, General Dynamics, Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, Eli Lilly, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the US Department of Commerce, the US Department of Justice, and the US Department of Labor, Sarah brings a wealth of experience to the table.

Below are highlights from Sarah about the valuable contributions she makes to our team.

Q | Can you describe your role at Audacia Strategies and how you fit into the team?

As an executive speech coach, I help leaders elevate their executive presence as they grow their businesses. In practice, one of my roles at Audacia is to get to the core of what a leader needs to communicate to their target audience. When one of Audacia’s executive clients needs to be prepped for an engagement like a critical speech, townhall, investor presentation, I come in to coach them on how best to communicate key messages. So I spend a lot of time helping leaders think through mission critical messaging.

I also coach leaders through communicating big changes within the company. This can be especially challenging because there is a need to tell a coherent story that bridges the gap between the firm’s past and its future. Often, finding that story takes stepping back to look at all the current messaging and making connections that might not be immediately obvious to leaders themselves. Together with others on Audacia’s team, I provide much needed perspective.

Q | What is your favorite part about working with Audacia?

There is something so exciting about working specifically with companies in transition. Audacia’s clients are taking bold risks, making big changes, and going through high stakes transformations. As the leader of an organization experiencing rapid change, communication skills are a top priority. If you can’t get the message across, you lose buy-in from stakeholders.

I love the excitement of helping organizations in these critical moments. It lends an added pressure – in a good way – to the coaching I do. 

And I love the people! Katy has put together an incredible team that attracts incredible clients. It’s a privilege to work with everyone.

Q | Can you describe a win or highlight from your time working with Audacia?

The example that comes to mind is working with a CEO in transition as he stepped into his new role. Although he had been a leader within the company with a strong reputation, he had never been a CEO, so he understandably needed guidance around executive presence.

When we first met, the CEO had a harder time commanding the room. Part of the challenge was that he was replacing a beloved CEO who was a rockstar, literally. We needed to find a way for the new CEO to tell his own story.  

In just a couple of sessions, we helped him find his message, own it, and connect much more deeply with his audience. It turns out that the new CEO loves chess, so we helped him tease out what that says about leadership and his personal leadership style. Once he connected those dots, he stepped more fully into his role, quickly earning the trust of his team and investors.

Q | Are there best practices associated with your role that you’d like to share?

One of the skills that makes me successful is listening. It may seem simple, but it actually requires a lot of practice. When I’m meeting with an executive, I listen deeply, and I ask a lot of questions.

Coaching an executive to have presence, charisma, and to communicate clearly requires not just hearing what is being said, but also the unspoken message underneath. I try to discover my client’s motivations on a deeper level. When I know what makes you tick, then I can figure out how to leverage that information to help you truly engage your audience. So I’ve trained myself to listen for those things.

My goal with every executive I coach is to get them to think through their story and their messaging themselves. It’s not good enough for me to tell you what your message should be. If you don’t feel it at your core, your words won’t feel authentic to your audience.

Sarah is one of a handful of experienced and talented strategic partners I’m proud to call part of Audacia’s team. Together, she and I have over 20 years of experience working with executives and investors. 

We recently put our heads together to write an article for Harvard Business Review about the three big questions investors ask themselves when evaluating a CEO. Reading it will give you insight into why our executive clients always walk away from sessions with Sarah feeling more confident and ready to own their messages. 

Is your firm going through a big transition? Are you a leader who needs support as you develop your communications strategy? Our team is here to help. Contact us to schedule an initial consultation.

watching

Reading, Listening, Watching – Your Prescription for Recharging

Is it just me or does the bad news seem inescapable? You don’t need to answer that. I know it’s not just me. Sigh. That’s why we have to find good reasons to step away from the bad news. This list is my contribution to that cause.

Here’s what I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching lately:

Reading

On Leadership Skills

A few months ago, I came across this article: “Curiosity, Not Coding: 6 Skills Leaders Need in the Digital Age,” from Harvard Business School, and I’ve been re-reading bits and pieces ever since. It’s the third article in a series on Leading in the Digital Era – all three are worth checking out.

A survey of 1,500 executives in 90 countries highlighted in this article asked leaders to identify the leadership traits most critical to success. 71% said that adaptability was the most important trait. Respondents also ranked creativity (47%), curiosity (48%), and comfort with ambiguity (43%) as highly desirable traits. The article goes on to detail six recommendations based on the research.

My big takeaway here: So-called “soft skills” are the key to effective leadership, and these are the traits your people are talking about when they evaluate culture. Instead of worrying about having a regimented plan in place, ask how you can be more adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity. I’m a work-in-progress here. 

How to Avoid Meeting Overload

As Audacia continues to grow, I’m struggling to find more time to GSD (get sh** done) – it’s easy to let the urgent overtake the important. I’m especially resonating with the idea of using meetings as commitment devices and encouraging better meeting hygiene with agendas, outcomes, and commitments and sharing those back after the meeting. But, sticking to the routine is hard when you’re in back-to-back meetings, so… this is all the more reason to get some of those meetings off the calendar!

Despite the fact that managers in one survey reported that 83% of the meetings on their calendars were unproductive, organizations seem to be addicted to endless check-ins, Zooms, and all-hands. This article does a brilliant job of digging into the psychological reasons behind meeting overload.

“How to Forget About Work When You’re Not Working”

Work-life balance seems to be outmoded now that most of us spend at least some time working from home. One thing I’ve been working on is disconnecting from work when I’m done working and setting good boundaries around both work and personal life. 

I have a hard time shutting off my phone entirely (How do I take photos of my kids? What if my husband or parents or camp calls?), but I have set up a custom Do Not Disturb when I get home. It makes a difference.

I’m also going to try some of these small actions from this Harvard Business Review article:

  • When work thoughts creep up during down time, have a plan. Read a novel, do a crossword puzzle (Wordle is fun), or phone a friend.
  • If something is really bothering you, take 10 minutes to write down whatever it is. It’s often helpful to get whatever is bothering you out of your head.
  • Turn your devices off – yes, all the way off!
  • Set up one designated space at home where you will never do work. Use the space exclusively for non-work activities, e.g., yoga, reading.
  • Notice that disaster doesn’t strike when you set healthy boundaries for yourself. Leave your email unchecked for a whole weekend (gasp!) and discover that others managed just fine without your response.

Untamed

I’m late to the Glennon Doyle party, but if you also missed reading this NYT #1 bestseller when it came out, I recommend you circle back. Doyle offers a refreshing way of looking at the world. While I was frustrated by some seemingly revisionist history in the book, I am reflecting quite a bit on how much our children are watching us, how much language and actions matter, and how I show up for and around my girls.

Listening

Capital Allocators Podcast with Chris Voss

This podcast episode rocked me. I’ve listened to it twice now, and I’ll likely listen to it again on my next walk. The host interviews Chris Voss, former FBI agent and founder of the Black Swan Group. Their discussion covers techniques in listening and conversation that evolve from Voss’ deep understanding of human nature. They talk about setting the stage, mirroring, labeling, decision fatigue, “no” oriented questions, and overcoming fear. Then the conversation shifts to preparing for a negotiation, reconciling negatives, and positive demeanor.

The episode has given me great insight into managing myself, my team, and my clients. My next step is listening to Voss’s book, Never Split the Difference.

Watching

WeCrashed

This docudrama on Apple TV+ is all about the rise and fall of WeWork and is based on the podcast WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork. Inspired by actual events, this series tells the story of how WeWork grew from a single coworking space into a global brand worth $47 billion in less than a decade before dropping to $40 billion in less than a year. It was hard to look away – lots of teaching moments here.

Lincoln Lawyer

This is one of my favorite shows when I want to relax and wind down. The Lincoln Lawyer reminds me of late 90’s detective shows like NCIS. Watching it, I’m not prompted to analyze world events and there’s absolutely no existential angst. It’s just an interesting story with a diverse cast who knows how to play “regular people.” Also, it’s a good reminder that we’re more alike than we are different.

Only Murders in the Building

I finished season 1 of Only Murders in the Building just in time for the premiere of season 2. If you haven’t watched this delightful gem on Hulu, it’s a great weekend or vacation binge. Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez have amazing on-screen chemistry. The story will keep you guessing, and if you’re a fan of true crime, it’s an opportunity to laugh at yourself, just a little.

I’m sending out all the good vibes for a respite – no matter how brief – over the next few weeks. Whether you’re heading off the grid or staying home, let’s all find a way to recharge so we can return with more energy and better ideas because we took some to relax or at least regroup.

Photo credit: Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

IPO Roadmap

The IPO Market Won’t be Frozen Forever. Prepare for Your IPO with Audacia’s Roadmap

After two HOT years for Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), the IPO market was due for a cooling period – and cool it has. “There’s an inverse correlation between market volatility and IPO activity,” said John Tuttle, vice chairman of Intercontinental Exchange’s ICE NYSE Group. The combination of rising interest rates, geopolitics, and shifting investor expectations have had a chilling effect on new listings. 

And while the IPO market is quiet – for now – it’s unlikely to remain that way for too long. In fact, many companies are taking this time to assess their readiness to enter the public markets. A great move, if you ask us. The Initial Public Offering (IPO) process is one of the most complicated and demanding events a growing company can go through. You need an IPO roadmap to be ready to deal with investors, auditors, lawyers, investment bankers, and accountants, among others. And then there’s the paperwork…

If you’ve never taken a company public before, you’re probably wondering what lies ahead of you. Never fear, with our IPO Roadmap you’ll be thinking three steps ahead. 

Audacia Strategies’ IPO Roadmap

We’ve talked about this before:  in a 3-part series, I broke down the process into three parts: developing your IPO story, building an IR team, and living with your IPO. Taken together, these three stages make up Audacia Strategies’ IPO Roadmap. Here are the highlights from each part.

1. Developing your IPO story.

Your IPO will include multiple filings that describe your business, your risks, and your opportunities. While you’ll speak with several different financial audiences (e.g., institutional investors, credit rating agencies, sell-side analysts, etc.), it’s important to develop a coherent story. We call this your investment thesis. Learn it, live it, love it. It is the core of your discussions with financial stakeholders and especially investors. Consistency is key.

After you have agreed on the  investment thesis for your business, it’s time to develop a narrative arc that answers the question: “Why buy this stock?” Make sure that you tell your story – not your competitor’s story – and that it goes beyond the numbers. Remember, investors are human. They respond to a real story like anyone else.

If you’re going public, that means you’ve spent some time honing your value proposition. Now is the time to expand upon and refine this message. Explain what makes your company unique? What’s your “why?” Think about where you can connect with investors in an authentic way and lean into that story.

Ideally, your story establishes your credibility and proof points and sets reasonable expectations. Keep the following in mind: your first few earnings announcements following the IPO will be closely watched to see how the company’s performance matches expectations set during the pre-IPO roadshow and how the management team characterized the firm’s performance in its S-1 (i.e., your initial registration statement with the SEC).

2. Building an IR team.

Once you have your investment thesis and narrative, it’s time to get operational. Put together your dream IPO team and make sure your team includes people with investor relations (IR) experience

Having a solid investor relations plan will guide your IPO discussions and ease your transition to life as a public company. The most important job? Establishing and building corporate credibility with your stakeholders through transparent and consistent communication.

And yes, there are some tools of the trade you’ll need to run an effective IR program:

  • An IR website: A place for investors, analysts, and the public to see your investment story. This should be easily accessible from your company’s primary website. 
  • An IR platform: A tool to track consensus estimates, trading patterns, analyze your shareholder base, research and target new investors, review ownership trends, etc.
  • Stock surveillance (optional): While not a requirement – it can be pricey – this type of information can be incredibly helpful to understand the ebbs and flows within your shareholder base. It can also be a lifesaver when your CEO sticks their head in your office and says, “what the heck is going on with our stock today?!”

Your IR team will ensure that you don’t stumble out of the blocks and set you on the road to building long-term trust with shareholders.

3. Living with your IPO.

Yes, Virginia, there is life after an IPO. I know it may not seem like it now because you’re so focused on preparing for the IPO that it’s hard to think past next week. But trust me, your future self will be glad you thought about this third and final stage ahead of time.

Don’t get me wrong, going public is an achievement in itself. By all means, take your victory lap. But also realize that having an IPO opens you up to a whole new level of public scrutiny. This is good news, but it means you need to follow through on your public commitments, keep telling your story (even after a 15-hour day of investor discussions), and continue to educate and build your shareholder base.

The key to a successful life after the IPO can be broken down into four simple steps:

  1. Set reasonable expectations.
  2. Tell stakeholders about them.
  3. Execute on those expectations.
  4. Tell stakeholders about that.

When your company goes public, you step into the spotlight. Yes, the stakes are higher during life after the IPO. But it’s nothing you can’t handle. You’ve got this!

Nervous about prepping for your IPO? Audacia Strategies has your back! Contact us to schedule your consultation.

Photo credit: Close Up Of Multi-ethnic Group Working Together Around A Laptop by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

CEO communications

3 Questions Every CEO Needs to Understand to Communicate with Investors

Communicating with investors is one of the most important tasks CEOs need to master. But strong CEO communications might not be beneficial only for the reasons you expect.

All companies want to hire charismatic leaders with strong communication skills. What you might not realize, though, is that a CEO’s communication style and presence can actually impact corporate value. According to a 2020 study, companies led by a CEO who communicates effectively, better withstood the initial negative share price impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, communicating with investors takes a special touch. Investors are a tough audience. The most successful investors approach new investment opportunities with healthy skepticism. And how CEOs respond to skeptical investors is key. Investors look for authenticity, authority, and credibility.

In our article for the Harvard Business Review, Audacia Strategies Partner and CEO of Green Room Speakers, Sarah Gershman and I distilled our advice from 20 years of experience working with executives and investors to three core questions. Here, let’s look at strategies CEOs can implement to better connect with investors.

1. Is the CEO confident, without being overconfident?

Investors want to see a CEO who has confidence in their company without being blind to the real challenges they are facing. We like to call this “reasoned confidence.” An overly optimistic presentation runs the risk of losing credibility. As one investor put it, “Don’t be a LEGO-movie leader telling us that ‘everything is awesome.’”

Reasoned confidence is especially critical during specific types of CEO communications, especially crisis communications. Feeling overconfident during a crisis can lead to over-promising or what I like to call the Top Gun Problem: “Your ego is writing checks your body (or in this case, your business) can’t cash” (and with the release of the new Top Gun: Maverick, this reference is more relevant than ever).

To avoid over-promising during a crisis do the following:

  • Triage: You can’t put out all of the fires simultaneously. Instead, you need to prioritize carefully and make hard decisions about where to distribute your attention. An investor relations professional can help you with this.
  • Be transparent: It’s important to set expectations with investors – and other stakeholders! – during a crisis. But if you try to do this in a way that could be perceived as a cover up, you’re digging yourself deeper. Be honest and up-front about issues and what you don’t know.
  • Continue to monitor the situation carefully: Your initial statement is only the beginning. You next need to implement the crisis plan and follow through on your commitments. The absolute worst outcome after a crisis is for a new crisis to develop as a result of mishandling the original crisis.
  • Keep internal communications open: It’s critical to maintain an open dialog within your company, especially during a credibility crisis. In addition to stabilizing the team when they can feel in freefall, employees are your frontline communicators to customers and business partners. 

2. Is the CEO a straight talker?

In addition to being overconfident, CEOs may overcompensate by trying to gloss over the truth or talking in circles. Say it with me: More words does not equate to better outcomes. We often work with CEOs to ensure that they use plain language and give the news to their investors straight. 

Further, while strong preparation is crucial for investor presentations, it is possible to over-rehearse, over-polish, and completely forget about connecting with your audience. An overly polished presentation can leave the audience wondering whether you’re simply telling them what they want to hear.

Investors want to feel seen and heard in a way that sounds authentic and credible. It’s time to get human. Here’s how:

  • Think like a reporter: Journalists are trained to give the who, what, where, when, and how of a story in the first sentence or two when reporting on a story. Replicate this tactic by getting your communications teams together (or go outside of these departments for a different perspective) to brainstorm.
  • Dump the buzzwords: Buzzwords do more than whitewash the stuff we don’t want to talk about. They also obscure your message and make your organization seem less authentic. If you confuse investors with jargon or industry terminology, they will ignore you.
  • Get vulnerable: If you’ve faced a genuine struggle that has made you rethink your company, now may be the time to pull it out and share what you learned. Don’t be afraid to step back from the spreadsheets and share your bigger vision with investors.
  • Step away from the webinars: The formality of webinars can result in investors feeling totally disconnected. Consider how you can incorporate less formal discussions, roundtables, open mic Q&As, etc. While it may make sense to give a short written statement or update to kick off an investor meeting, listening to written remarks being read for any longer than 10-minute intervals is probably too much to ask from those on the other side of the camera.

3. Do they know how to listen? 

Sure, as a CEO, you likely know how to talk. It’s tough to become a successful leader without having the ability to communicate your vision with others. But, how good are you at listening?

Listening is one of the most undervalued skills of CEO communications and a CEO who lacks the ability to listen happens to be one of the biggest red flags for an investor. For CEOs who master the art of listening, however, answering questions from investors can be a great way to boost your credibility. Every question expresses a need, and your answer should show that you hear what’s behind the question. 

A question about your research and development investment strategy, for instance, may actually also be about whether an investor can trust you with their money. If you can’t suss out the deeper need, then you may need to ask for clarification before attempting an answer.

One way to make sure to prioritize listening is to run a murder board before the presentation. To make sure you’re prepared for investors, you’ll want to call in your toughest internal financial analysts and encourage them to live out their wildest inner Shark Tank dreams. Assemble your investor relations murder board and have them begin coming up with “tricky” questions regarding different angles on your message and the numbers.

For example, suppose your firm calls for 10% year-over-year growth. That sounds amazing to your team, unless your biggest competitor comes out with an expected 15% growth rate. Now you’re behind in an investor’s eyes. What does it mean for your business and key competitive differentiators?

This type of preparation can remind you to listen closely to the question and its intent, focus on the facts and not speculation, and practice answering in a way that connects with the audience.

There’s no doubt investors are a tough audience. We have found that the best investor presentations happen when CEOs stop focusing on their own performance and instead speak to investors using reasoned confidence, straight talking, and masterful listening.

For more tips about how CEOs can prepare to answer these three core questions, read the original article in the Harvard Business Review. And if you’d like to learn more about how Audacia Strategies can help you prepare for your next investor meeting, schedule an initial consultation.

Photo credit: Professional Woman Standing In Boardroom Giving Speech To Team by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

People

Meet the Team: Sarah Deming, Manager of Business Operations

At Audacia Strategies, our biggest asset is our people. From the beginning, I’ve known that to build a firm that provides strategic communications for organizations going through big transformations, I needed to build my team intentionally. And I am really excited about how the team has come together.

Long time readers also know that we talk a lot about transparency and walking our talk. So in that spirit, we will be sharing some interviews with Audacia team members giving their take on our evolving culture. First up is our Manager of Business Operations, Sarah Deming.

Interview with Sarah Deming, Manager of Business Operations

Every successful firm needs people who can be the glue holding things together behind the scenes. For us, that’s Sarah Deming. 

Sarah has a background in art management, small business, and operations administration. At Audacia Strategies, she assists with scheduling, email management, human resources, and marketing strategy. She’s eager to take the lead on projects and makes smart decisions for our clients. 

As Audacia Strategies’ Manager of Business Operations, Sarah has a knack for creating and implementing processes that help businesses grow as efficiently as possible. She has an eye for detail and understands the importance of organization and effective communication. In her free time, you can find Sarah reading a good book, making art, or enjoying the great outdoors with her husband and two daughters.

To learn more about what makes working for Audacia a great fit for Sarah, continue reading.

Q | Can you describe your role at Audacia Strategies and how you fit into the team?

I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades behind the scenes. My role is part Operations, part Executive Administrator, part Marketing, and part Human Resources. It was really eye-opening recently to sit down with our CEO, Katy (Herr) Hew, and take a closer look at the tasks I perform on a daily basis. The most typical thing about my day is that it’s never typical – each day is a little different and that’s one of the things I love!

Although I work most closely with Katy and our COO, Natalie Homme, I also communicate with our partners, clients, and the rest of our team to schedule meetings. Additionally, I monitor social media, post content, update our website, organize documents, onboard new team members, and so much more.

Q | What is your favorite part about working with Audacia?

The people! We have the absolute best team. Everyone is supportive, open to new ideas, positive, kind, eager to solve problems, and always willing to help each other out. Working with Audacia has shown me that it is possible to find a workplace with a culture that genuinely encourages team members to find the work-life balance that works best for them.

While other places I’ve worked have paid lip service to creating a supportive environment, Katy makes it happen. She cares deeply about Audacia – our mission, clients, and the people who work for her. Trusting her team to enjoy their lives AND deliver results, Katy demonstrates strong leadership every day. She really makes me feel seen. I’m so grateful to be a part of Audacia Strategies and to have a professional woman leader like Katy as a role model.

Q | Can you describe a win or highlight from your time working with Audacia?

When I first began working with Audacia, we switched email marketing providers and I facilitated our migration to the new platform. During that process, I evaluated the current email drip sequence we had set up for new subscribers and saw some areas where it could be improved.

I pitched Katy a new nurture sequence with evergreen content about Audacia and what we can do for businesses going through transformative change, and she loved the idea! Four months later we launched our new and improved nurture sequence, and it’s still yielding amazing results.

By implementing projects like this, it shows me that there are opportunities to grow into a bigger role within the company. Because I’ve seen firsthand how eager Katy is to invest in her people and in our ideas, I’m motivated to actively look for ways to develop on a personal and professional level. It really feels like the sky’s the limit in terms of learning and growing at Audacia.

Q | What do you think makes you especially well suited for your role as Manager of Business Operations?

Being organized and efficient are essential to what I do. If I’m scheduling a meeting, my goal is always to get it on the calendar within 48 hours. Sometimes that’s just not possible, but having this in mind drives me to be responsive and on my toes. It’s like a game I play with myself! 

Also, I take a lot of pride in responding to emails quickly, being friendly and warm, and generally being available to everyone on our team for any and all matters that may arise in the course of doing business. I’ve learned that with a little creativity, most problems have ready solutions. 

Of course, I make sure to set healthy boundaries as well. Because our team is entirely remote, we have to stay committed to make sure working from home doesn’t mean working all the time.

It’s also important for me to use our project management tool to keep track of my tasks so nothing gets overlooked. I write down even the smallest tasks and even create tasks to remind me to follow up on other tasks.

Behind every successful firm, you will find someone like Sarah Deming holding things together and making sure everyone has what they need from an operational standpoint. But Sarah is truly one of a kind. Audacia Strategies wouldn’t be where we are today without Sarah. 

To find out more about how our team has your back, contact us today. Sarah will get back to you to schedule your consultation.

transformative change

“Are We There Yet?” — Change, Communications, and Culture

If there’s anything that’s more difficult than transformative change, it’s communicating about transformative change. And let’s face it, the past two years have been defined by change.

As leaders of organizations living through a profound period of global change, we’ve learned some powerful lessons:

  • The future will not be more stable or more certain.
  • Black swans feel much different when we live through them (sometimes multiple times), than when we read about them in economics textbooks.
  • Disruption or large scale change cannot be contained to one aspect of life.

In short, societal shifts spill over into personal and business life, business upheaval impacts personal and societal security, and uncertainty about personal health throws a wrench into every aspect of life. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, transformative change comes for all of us.

With the hindsight of the last few years, now is the time to review our approach to change and ask ourselves how we can better prepare for and communicate about the next wave of transformative change. Let’s take a closer look at the core aspects of strong communication here.

The Pulse of the Organization

Exhausted organizations do not handle change, let alone transformation, well. Think about how well you operate after a series of all-nighters. Even the thought of having to eat — to survive! — feels like a monumental task. Similarly, exhausted organizations can barely perform key functions, which doesn’t bode well for facing changes with grace.

When leaders continually keep their fingers on the pulse of their organizations, however, they are less likely to lead exhausted organizations and much better positioned to handle transformation. Keeping your finger on the pulse means recognizing when your people are being pushed to their breaking point and making the necessary adjustments needed.

How do you take the pulse of your organization?

  • Get to know your employees and customers: Use pulse surveys (Voice of the Employee (VoE), Voice of the Customer (VoC) surveys), “ask me anything” sessions (AMAs), virtual and IRL coffee chats, town halls, skip level meetings, “walking the halls” (for those back in the office).
  • Get to know your leaders: Keep tabs on your people leaders and customer leaders too. Managers can often be the linchpins of culture and influencers of others.
  • Ban the “just deal with it” mentality: Of course, decisions need to be made and transformative change must go on, but if your strategy is to tell your people to “just deal with it,” then you have a failed strategy on your hands. Instead, build a plan with the tools, support, resources, and aircover they need…and be ready to adjust. 

Transformative Change and Culture

Taking the pulse of your organization is only the beginning of figuring out how to communicate about transformative change. To really pull this off, you also need to consider the culture on a deeper level.

Having a change playbook is important, to a point (and lord knows you can find a consultant who will sell you one), but remember that a guide is just that — a guide. There may be times when what your team really needs is for you to set that playbook on fire (maybe even literally).

Here are some areas to consider when it comes to culture: 

  • Consider what is authentic to your organization. What is the general tone of communication? And if there was ever a time to be more transparent, more honest, more plain spoken…transformative change is that time.
  • Consider who is trusted in your organization. Perhaps the Board of Directors is more trusted than management (I’ve worked there). Or perhaps long-tenured middle management is trusted more than the new or newer executives? Understanding these relationships and building that into your strategy is crucial.
  • Consider why you’re doing what you’re doing and have a good answer. Just because “all the other $1B organizations” use top-down communications for layoffs, doesn’t mean that you have to. Keep in mind, “because I said so” is not a successful strategy for successful change.
  • Consider what you are asking of your team and customers. Transformative change, or any change (hello, Atomic Habits), requires commitment. It’s about the larger purpose and that’s generally an emotional ask. You are asking your team and your customers not just to help you make a business change, but to take a journey with you toward achieving your organizational purpose — which will solve more customer problems, make the world a better place, make the organization a better place to work, or any combination thereof.

A Few More Do’s and Don’ts

Once you have thought through the lay of the land and have the big picture in front of you, here are a few more do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

1. Don’t sand down the edges on the executive team. 

Whether it’s a layoff, a major acquisition, or an IPO, your people are your biggest asset — yes, even in the metaverse. And employees, customers, and the media are all looking for leaders to lead and exhibit humanity.

In a recent interview, Brian Chesky, the CEO of AirBnB, said it well, 

“I think CEOs and leaders are more human than they come across. I mean most of these people are real people. They do have feelings. I think the problem with corporations is the lawyers and the HR people and the others, ‘sand the edges’ off the person in an effort to protect the person. And, that is a major disservice because they just reduce them to something that’s not even a human being anymore, they’re just this very cold person.” 

Of course, you need to work with your executives to communicate in a way that complies with the law and represents the organization appropriately, but this is very different from turning them into robots who are afraid to show any glimmer of vulnerability.

2. Do acknowledge the suckiness, if it sucks.

You may be surprised at how much resistance to transformative change can be relieved with a simple acknowledgment of how difficult it is. When it feels like you’re the only one feeling the pain, change can be a really lonely place. Often your people just need you to see them doing their best through an objectively sucky situation. And if it sucks for you too, talk about it.

3. Do acknowledge the excitement of the future, as appropriate.

As hard as it can be, change also usually comes with a lot of excitement. Don’t be afraid to embrace the excitement and display appreciation for the teams that will make the change happen.

4. Don’t promise a return to the status quo.

Never offer to “stop the change.” It may be tempting to try to relieve the pain of transformative change by promising a return to the status quo on a particular date, for example. This falls into the category of promises you can’t keep, though. Sure, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, a product launch, a closing date on the merger, but even those flashpoint events aren’t likely to spell the end of change. 

We’re all changing, all the time. Our environment is changing, the market is changing, society is changing. All we can do is remain in a ready stance — flexible, fluid, optimistic, and ready to roll with the next pivot or “tweak.”

Finally, I want to leave you with some more words of wisdom from Brian Chesky because these two sentences are really all you need to know when it comes to communicating about transformative change: “Just do whatever you think is the right thing at that moment. Take care of people and then they’ll root for you.”

And you know Audacia Strategies is here for you. We’re ready to help you better prepare for and communicate about the next wave of transformative change. Let’s talk!

Photo credit: Businessman Applauding With His Colleagues During A Presentation by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

planning for the future

What’s On the Agenda for 2022?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen, heard, and read one too many articles about trends for 2022. I even published a 2022 trend article myself. And as much as I enjoy thinking about and planning for the future with Audacia’s incredible clients, I’m also a realist.

Has anyone effectively predicted anything during the past two years? Fortunately, we don’t need to predict the future to build a solid strategy. What if we, instead, accepted the uncertainty and focused on building flexibility and the capacity for resilience inside our organizations?

With this in mind, let’s discuss what’s in, what’s out, and preview the flexible plan we’re implementing at Audacia Strategies this year.

What’s In

As we continue to watch workplaces shift and organizations rethink how productivity happens, some corporate culture trends have real staying power.

1. Building corporate trust.

The pandemic continues to erode public trust in large institutions. Early last year, when we were mostly feeling optimistic about a swift return to normalcy, we talked about ways corporations could begin rebuilding trust. Back then, public trust of businesses stood at 61%, higher than any other institution, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

Now, after enduring another year of working from home and dealing with the uncertainty of the delta and omicron variants, many of us have given up on the concept of “a return to normalcy” entirely. And the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that business holds onto its position as the most trusted institution, with even greater expectations due to government’s failure to lead during the pandemic.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • By an average of a five-to-one margin, respondents in the 28 countries surveyed want business to play a larger role on climate change, economic inequality, workforce re-skilling and addressing racial injustice. 
  • All stakeholders want business to fill the void, with nearly 60% of consumers buying brands based on their values and beliefs, almost 6 in 10 employees choosing a workplace based on shared values and expecting their CEO to take a stand on societal issues, and 64% of investors looking to back businesses aligned with their values. 

“Business must now be the stabilizing force delivering tangible action and results on society’s most critical issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “Societal leadership is now a core function of business.”

2. Establishing credibility as a trusted information source.

The 2022 Trust Barometer also revealed that trust in news and information sources has eroded over the past decade. Trust in all news sources has dropped (with the exception of owned media, which rose one point to 43%). Social media experienced the sharpest decline at eight points to 37%, followed by traditional media dropping five points to 57%.

In addition, concern over fake news being used as a weapon has risen to an all-time high of 76%. And the most credible source of information is communications from ‘My Employer’ (65%). 

Clearly, trust is at a premium now, which means there’s also a huge opportunity for organizations to establish credibility as a source of reliable information. Doing so will likely require skillful repetition of the truth and transparency in your internal and external communications.

It’s more difficult than ever for consumers to sift through all the available content and find useful information. Making increasing trust a part of your firms’ strategic plan in 2022 could be a serious differentiator.

3. Staying nimble.

Also, with all the challenges to public trust and uncertainty in the air, perhaps the best strategy for thriving in 2022 is to stay nimble. Where can you keep your strategic options open?

If you’re working on an M&A deal this year, for example, positioning your organization for the sale is key:

  • As your business model and corporate strategy shift with the times, you may need to re-evaluate how M&A fits.
  • Keep in mind that there are more options for M&A available now, such as SPACs and other non-traditional financial configurations.
  • Make sure your due diligence covers more than just the financials. The unfolding of the criminal trial and conviction of Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of the debunked medical startup, Theranos, has driven home this point. Many Theranos investors have been criticized for not doing the proper due diligence.

What’s Out

With the above in mind, let’s turn to what’s striking a discordant note with consumers, investors, and trend-setters.

1. Overpaying for an acquisition.

We’ve seen some of the highest M&A deal volumes ever in the past year, and multiples are at record highs. Still, the M&A market remains competitive. While many deals are worth the multiple, there’s no good reason to overpay for an acquisition. 

In fact, we see firms making this mistake for a variety of reasons:

  • Deal fever: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a bidding war. Instead, be willing to walk away from a deal that doesn’t really work.
  • Cutting corners on due diligence: Due diligence is like going to the dentist. If you don’t do the preventative work, you may end up needing a root canal.
  • Not getting real about your competition: The deal will have ripple effects. Do your best to anticipate how it will affect your competitors and the market in general.
  • Getting entranced by “synergies” [or insert your favorite buzzword]: Don’t fall for talk that sounds good but isn’t backed up by substance. Always have a gut check strategy.

What we recommend: A comprehensive integration strategy that goes beyond IT systems and benefits (both vital!) and addresses culture, leadership style, behavior expectations, and just plain “what’s in it for me?” And by the way, this comprehensive integration strategy should include perspectives from employees, customers, and investors.

Consider one of my favorite quotes from Dan Doran: “Value is analyzed, price is negotiated.” Write it down on a sticky note and keep it top of mind for deal negotiations.

2. Mixed messages to employees and customers.

Remember how we’re inundated with information and unsure whether we can trust any of it? Well, one thing that contributes to this paucity of trust is mixed messages. So replace complex, inconsistent, and vague messages with simple, consistent, and transparent communications.

And also, it can’t hurt to approach all messaging with a healthy dose of realism and empathy. For many, January 2022 feels an awful lot like April 2020. Pandemic fatigue is at an epic level and right now it’s hard to be an employee, a leader, a customer, an investor, a parent, a kid, a teacher, a doctor, a nurse…a human.

3. Everything being a top priority.

With everything we have to deal with on a daily basis, we don’t need the added burden of everything feeling urgent. So it’s best to think extra carefully about your real top priorities as an organization. 

Employee burnout is real. Customer burnout is real. No one has the patience to discern what’s a true priority. If you treat every task or project as if it’s Defcon Level 5, you’re likely to invoke a fight, flight, or freeze response.

Instead, pick your top goals, staff out each project appropriately, and give realistic deadlines, all with team input. Then maintain productivity by communicating your priorities and why to all levels and all stakeholders.

What We’re Doing at Audacia Strategies

Of course, by now, you know we at Audacia are always thinking about how we can walk our talk and 2022 is no exception. 

Here’s what we’re doing to build flexibility and the capacity for resilience:

  • Lots of deep breaths.
  • One of our guiding principles: Start with empathy.
  • Recommitting to our values and actively building our culture around them.
  • Focusing on prioritizing our business investments: We’re doubling down on what has worked by augmenting our offerings and building our capacity to support executive transitions, exits (IPOs, M&A), and refreshed marketing positioning.
  • Focusing on building our kick*ss team: We are proud to work with professionals who are the best of the best in their field, highly respected, customer-focused, awesome people with a fabulous sense of humor, and are no bullsh*t team players. We’ve already announced that IR pro, Mike Pici, joined the leadership team, and you can check out our team page to find out more about our strategic partnerships.
  • More deep breaths…

If the question of building a solid strategy amidst chaos and uncertainty has your organization reaching for the Magic Eight Ball, contact us instead to schedule a consultation

We haven’t been able to predict the future (yet!), but we do help clients develop strategies for dealing with anticipated and unanticipated transformations, and we can do the same for your organization.

Photo credit: Business Colleagues Having A Meeting Discussing Graphs And Figures by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

M&A trends 2022

Considering an M&A Deal in 2022? Keep an Eye on These Trends

With 2021 firmly in the rearview mirror, now is a good time to explore the merger and acquisition (M&A) outlook for 2022. After an historic year, fueled by a backlog of deals from 2020, soaring global markets, plenty of access to capital, advantageous changes to tax rates, and attractive valuations, investment professionals expect a still active but cooler market in 2022.

While many of the factors that contributed to global M&A volumes topping $5 trillion for the first time remain in play, they are less pronounced. And dealmakers agree that deal volume peaked in August of 2021. This coupled with the likely rise of interest rates this year, which will increase the cost of debt, could impact valuations and slow deal volume.

Despite these potential headwinds, if you’re considering launching an M&A deal on either the buy or sell side in Q1 or Q2 of 2022, you’ll likely find a busy dealmaking environment. So let’s discuss the M&A outlook and what to watch as you prepare your materials.

Takeaways from 2021 M&A Activity

During a panel discussion at the end of last year, my fellow panelists and I discussed strategic M&A opportunities for investors and the M&A outlook for 2022. To watch the full panel discussion, click here.

As we kept an eye on deals playing out at the end of 2021, here are our biggest takeaways:

  • Private equity will continue to play a huge role: Private equity firms played a huge role in M&A deals in 2021 and will continue to do so. According to one report, private equity now accounts for 30% of M&A activity. This makes sense because with the market surge, private investors have a record amount of dry powder (capital) available.
  • Valuation/multiples have been climbing but will likely level out: Most M&A professionals believe that valuations in several sectors have reached their peak — or are borderline frothy. It’s hard to envision a scenario where valuations would be significantly higher a year from now and likewise, few see valuations dropping significantly. Experts expect valuations to settle at a sustainable level in the next few months.
  • More selective deal strategies are on the horizon: While few practitioners expect a slowdown of the M&A market, many see more selective deal strategies on the horizon. We’ll likely see megadeals playing a transformational role and smaller, tuck-in acquisitions playing an increasingly important role for small- and medium-sized companies looking to build and scale capacity quickly with less integration risk.

Key Differentiators Remain

Looking at the big picture, key differentiators remain. Whether you are on the buy side or the sell side, you and your team will want to keep the following in mind:

1. Integration matters.

If you aren’t looking past the deal to the future, then you will be at a distinct disadvantage when negotiating. On the buyside, you’ll want to be ready to share your integration plan. Show your awareness of everything from projected revenues to cultural implications to talent management. Changes to the labor market, for example, could complicate your deal. Be ready to prove that you’re aware of these details.

On the sellside, you’ll want to make integration easy to whatever extent is possible. Identify and mitigate key risks early both in the external competitive market and in the internal workings of the company. In addition to risk mitigation, look for opportunities to create value. Be prepared to talk about how you can add value and the quickest path to increased profits as you see it.

2. Keep non-financial due diligence on your radar.

The M&A outlook also reminds us that there are a lot of factors that can affect deal success and financial performance, but which are non-financial in nature. In fact, 70-90% of M&A deals fail due to non-financial aspects. 

Show your deal partners that you know where the non-financial risks and opportunities lie for your brand. Dig deep into factors such as executive reputation, employee sentiment, culture, and communication style.

Management’s credibility is also important to convey. Develop your story connecting your managers and executives to the company’s mission, vision, and values. The more you can show leadership as standing strong together, the better your prospects for closing a great deal.

3. Pay attention to middle management.

More often than not, middle management — as opposed to the C-suite — controls the narrative for employees and customers. Because managers are often more accessible and work more closely with these stakeholders, they are trusted. So, you’ll want to give middle managers the same attention you give to executives.

According to Sarah Gershman, Executive Speech Coach, CEO of Green Room Speakers, and one of Audacia’s partners, it’s important for middle managers to feel prepared to communicate appropriately throughout the deal process. “Middle managers spend most of their time interfacing with customers and doing the work,” says Sarah. “And telling the story of the merger doesn’t come naturally when you’re in the weeds. So it’s a smart idea to find an expert who can help middle management understand and empathize with their audience.”

Beyond prepared remarks, there will be questions and plenty of uncertainty. Managers are the first line of defense in helping to stabilize nerves, and they are your best line of offense in sharing enthusiasm for the next step of this transformative event. That said, the key when answering questions is to show that you understand the question. “Deep listening is a critical skill here,” says Sarah. “You want to listen not only to hear the question, but also to understand what’s behind the question and what’s at stake.”

What if someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer? According to Sarah, as long as you have demonstrated that you have really heard the question, you can feel empowered to say the magic words, “I don’t know. Let me check on that and get back to you.” Remember, it is always better to share authentic and accurate information than incorrect information or speculation.

4. Clearly articulate the narrative.

For both the buyer and seller, it is essential to be able to articulate the narrative around why this deal, why now, and why this property is best in XYZ hands. “Keep in mind,” says Sarah, “people have spoken and unspoken needs.” Unspoken needs are usually driven by emotions, like fear. To clearly articulate your narrative, you need to drill down and find the precise emotion you’re after. “If you want to inspire your audience, that’s different from motivating them or energizing them.” 

With an M&A deal, addressing the other side’s unspoken needs goes far beyond explaining your unique capabilities and differentiated IP. You must also be able to demonstrate an understanding of your company’s markets, customers, opportunities, and competitive pressures. And telling the story of your company’s value within the context of the deal is key.

The bottom line: Despite the headwinds identified, the M&A outlook for 2022 is very good.

If you’re ready to ride the M&A wave this year, you need the right partners by your side. At Audacia Strategies, we’re prepared to work with you and your team as you navigate the next big deal. Contact us to discuss your M&A strategy.

Photo credit: Modern Businesspeople Having A Video Conference In A Boardroom by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

IPO

The IPO and SPAC Market is Hot. Is Your Firm Ready for the Public Eye?

2021 has been a record-breaking year for Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). Analysts predict that by December 31, we will have seen roughly 1,000 companies hit the market. As of now, there have been 372 IPOs and 535 SPACs, for a total of 907 companies representing $266 billion in proceeds. 

Among the most notable companies on the upcoming IPO agenda are giants like mobile payment company Stripe, San Francisco-based Instacart, which has more than half the U.S. online grocery delivery market, and Impossible Foods, the maker of plant-based burgers. Others include Databricks, an artificial intelligence company and a Brazilian digital bank, Nubank, backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

With the market this hot, we know that you may be considering joining their ranks and raising capital either through a traditional IPO or a SPAC. And while you can find plenty of IPO checklists and guides, making the process seem deceptively simple, the decision to take your firm public requires careful consideration. So, we thought it might be appropriate to look at some of the questions founders tend to overlook.

Make Sure You Know Your ‘Why’

There are a lot of good reasons to go public, but being the CEO of a public company adds several layers of complexity to your job. So it’s important to make sure you know your ‘why’ and why your ‘why’ makes you unique in your market (AKA your differentiator). This will help you stay grounded throughout the tough moments.

Many firms may think, “I need to raise capital, so I think I’ll take my company public.” Maybe you need access to capital to support planned acquisitions or maybe you want better access to debt and equity markets to carry out your growth plans. That access comes with costs both in flexibility and on the bottomline. Whatever your reason, spend some serious time evaluating it from every angle. A murder board can be a great resource here as well.

Another reason knowing your ‘why’ is important is that you need to be prepared to own the IPO process. Don’t assume that the investment bankers, lawyers, accountants, and consultants you hire will manage the process. Make sure you (and your team) manage the timeline and understand the process. Ask a lot of questions. Avoidable delays may cause you to miss your window in your industry. When you stay in charge of the timeline, you stay in control of the process.

What are SPAC IPOs?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in what’s called a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) and these relatively new types of deal are fanning the flames of the IPO market. Also known as a blank check company, SPACs are another way to raise capital.

Not your typical IPO stock, SPACs start out as shell companies that raise money by issuing stock. Then they use the proceeds, combined with bank financing to buy and take privately held companies public. SPACs typically set two-year time limits on completing the acquisition and if the deal doesn’t go through, then investors get their money back.

Although SPACs aren’t new, they have seen a rise in popularity after COVID-19 shut down the IPO market in Q1 of 2020. Prior to 2020, we were seeing about 15 SPACs per quarter. During Q3 of 2020, that number jumped to 82, and it jumped again to 129 the following quarter. In the first quarter of this year, we saw a record of 298 SPACs.

But whether SPACs are a temporary trend or have real staying power is yet to be determined.

3 IPO Tips from an IR Pro

There’s one other point that founders should be aware of when considering whether it’s time to take their company public: it’s all about the investors. Sure, you need to focus on the SEC regulatory requirements and keeping the analysts on your side. But when it comes down to brass tacks, public companies live and die by their investors’ decisions.

To that end, here are four tips from Managing Director of Investor Relations and Financial Transformation, Mike Pici:

1. Get your house in order.

There’s no reason to be in a hurry to go public. In fact, we’re seeing trends go in the opposite direction. Whereas a startup receiving a healthy stream of venture capital might have once gone public in four years, today the process might take eight years or more. Companies are waiting longer and growing larger before they go public. 

This is a positive trend because it is hard to course correct when you’re being publicly held to the results. So make certain your house, both financial and non-financial, is in order before going public.

2. Be prepared to show a track record of growth.

If you’re thinking like an investor, then you know that investors aren’t just looking for positive cash flow or past success. They’re also looking for evidence of future growth. The amount of revenue is not as important as showing healthy growth quarter over quarter. To this end, we recommend that you show a minimum of 1-2 quarters of growth before filing for your IPO.

3. Consider whether the firm can withstand the amount of stress going public will create.

You’ve likely faced obstacles in the growth of your business. And you should be proud of how you were able to face and overcome those obstacles. But if you believe overcoming adversity qualifies you to take your company public, you would do well to talk to other founders who have gone through the process.

You need to know what you’re walking into before you sit down at the table. The stress of going public is a particular type of challenge and while most founders will only do it once in the lifetime of their businesses, remember that you’ll be working with experts who have done hundreds of deals. Make sure you and your management team are up to the task.

Your IPO Roadmap:

Once you have decided to take your firm public, you’ll need a plan. At Audacia Strategies, we work with our clients through every stage of the IPO process. Here is a preview, which we call our IPO Roadmap:

Part 1: Developing your IPO story 

Although you’ll have multiple filings that describe your business, your risks, and your opportunities, you’ll also want to develop an overarching narrative to share with diverse audiences. Now is the time to refine your value proposition, establish credibility and proof points, set your guidance strategy, and set up internal processes to establish consistent communications.

Part 2: Building an Investor Relations (IR) program

A successful initial public offering requires syncing up several moving parts. If doing a product launch feels like playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” an IPO feels like playing “Beethoven’s 9th.” Of course, to play a symphony, you need an orchestra. For your successful IPO, that means building an IR program. You can schedule a consultation with our Managing Director of IR, Mike Pici, here.

Part 3: Navigating life after IPO

Once you’ve successfully taken your firm public, it’s time to follow through on the commitments you’ve made and deliver against those proof points. Remember the IPO is really just the beginning of your journey.

If you’re ready to start your IPO journey, contact us today to discuss your needs. Our team is ready to develop a transformational strategy that works for you.

Photo credit: Team of two women analyzing charts and diagrams by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com