As I am lucky enough to be based in Barcelona, I could not miss the opportunity to attend the Mobile World Congress and 4YFN 2023 event, the largest and most influential connectivity event in the world. This was not my first time. I had already been there twice and, besides the entertainment, thought it was a waste of time. Smaller exhibitors go there to sell their products, larger exhibitors to show off, and many attendees seemed unsure of why their firm had sent them in the first place. In summary, there was little interest in acquiring VC-A services.
This year, I have taken a more focused approach and hope that it will pay off. Instead of bouncing from stand to stand randomly to sow my business cards, I collaborated with Corum Group's marketing team to identify a list of 93 companies that were likely to be interested in our M&A services based on their size and their market offering. I then proactively reached out to each of those companies via email and phone to gauge their interest and schedule meetings with decision-makers. Finally, I visited 68 stands:
BeamLive, DigitalAPICraft, Pulsus, BroadForward, Empello, CGS Tower Networks, Devengo, Orbital Advertising, Cinemo GmbH, Evina, Iquall Networks, Acromove, Excelon Financial Services, buynomics, AppTweak, Axiros, Druid Software, AuthenticID, Celona, 6D Technologies, Accedian, Hexnode, Kapptivate, Invigo, Galooli, Inpris, HEAD acoustics, Compira, Labs, Ekmob, MwareTV, Coinme, Forma Vision, Dencrypt, First Orion, Kaloom, 2operate, Eyeo, Bloombase, Apica, Acentury, LogiSense Corporation, Apposter, EMnify, Cellusys, Myappfree, BaxEnergy, Hologram, Accelleran, Cast AI, Loquis, NetAxis Solutions, bit4you, Ambeent, ultimate.ai, Lablabee, DeHealth, Ni2, 42matters AG, Billogram, Fedapay, Build38, Ctins.co, Arloopa, Ancora Mobile, Authentic Vision, Aldagram, Beatrust and Mimi Hearing Technologies.
Here are some key takeaways from the experience:
GSMA, the organiser of the trade show, seems to do all it can to make one life miserable if one wants to adopt a targetted approach. No proper list of attendees is provided. To know if a company is an early-stage startup of a big multinational, you need to go through their website or the app and click on each company one by one to gather more information. Turnover and employee headcounts are usually not informed. One needs to rely on third-party databases to dimension the targets.
Exhibitors receive hundreds of emails the week before the show. All other exhibitors and many visitors thinking alongside to sell their product. The bottom line: out of 93 emails, I received only two responses.
Follow-up calls are useful but should have happened earlier. Most future attendees were overwhelmed with the preparation of the event. Still, I was able to arrange 7 meetings.
Plan better the route
I organized my visits by halls but was surprised to find out that the GSMA digital map lacked geolocation and the stands were quite large. The digital twin of the stands was, at best, an approximation, and some stands were occupied by different companies on different days. Consequently, navigating through the maze of exhibitors proved to be an ordeal.
Face-to-face meetings transcend phone calls and video conferences
I was surprised to see so many CxOs interested in using the M&A process as a marketing tool to grow their business. Explaining the side benefits proves to be challenging over the phone as many believe that the process must always end with an exit and just hand up saying that they are not interested in selling. When face-to-face, interlocutors have to listen more carefully and... oh surprise! Most had not thought about it... but now that you are telling them...hmm... they are interested in learning more.
Great, I fell I have done my good deed for the day.
Most companies had already been approached by investors
I heard too many times: - "I don't need to run an M&A process because I have already been approached by buyers". So what? Buyers too are using the I-want-to-buy-you argument to sniff the market, learn about competitors and eventually, steal some ideas. Only 11% of deals are closed when companies are approached by a so-called buyer. Not to mention that the seller will never know if he could have had a better offer by creating an auction environment.
I wondered why sellers are so gullible and I here are two potential reasons: pride and laziness.
- Pride, sellers may be so flattered by direct approaches from big companies that they pee on their pants out of joy and lose perspective. Big companies the like of Microsoft are playing with them and they love it.
- Laziness, running an M&A process is time-consuming and wearing. It seems that some entrepreneurs are willing to give away part of their wealth for a quick exit. Sad to squander the transaction of your life this way, is it not?
I already know who can buy me (and at what price)
What? There were ca. 2000 exhibitors at the MWC and I could visit only 68 stands. There are thousands of potential buyers worldwide and the number is growing as cross-border transactions become the norm rather than the exception. Knowing who can make the best offer for a firm is simply not possible. One needs a dedicated research team of dozen of people to up the ante and they will still probably miss out on potential buyers in other sectors looking for diversification. Humility should come first. I felt pity for that Greek entrepreneur who believed that he knew the valuation of his company and the market because he had 2 senior advisors on his board. How can one be so mistaken?
Acknowledge that you don't know what you don't know.
And the winner is...
The winner is a Swiss company, whose name is not mentioned in this post. I called the company and before I even had time to introduce myself and my services, I was told by Mr X that they did not need anything. They already had everything: money, resources, suppliers, partners, clients etc... How unfair life can be. Some with so few, and others with so much. I am sure that the CEO of that company is pleased with the way Mr X is attending incoming calls. After all, I could have been a client. Oh, sorry, I forgot: they don't need new clients either.
Fortunately, that was only one bad apple out of my stack of 93 companies.