24 ASSETS OVERVIEW
There’s no one thing that creates a valuable business. Value is created in the ecosystem of assets.
In the same way, a business requires an ecosystem of assets all functioning at a remarkable level to create maximum value. It is also this that protects your business. Your competition might be able to copy one or two elements of your business, but it’s really hard to copy an entire ecosystem. Likewise, one or two elements might need to be rebuilt from time to time, but it’s rare that the whole business fails as a result when there’s an ecosystem of assets present.
Whether you intend to sell your company or not, it’s worth playing a game called ‘build a company that someone would want to buy’. This game ensures that you are building a business that’s strong, robust, has potential and attracts the right people. Some of my favourite companies are multigenerational family businesses like Lego, Victorinox and Ermenegildo Zegna. These businesses are still family owned, but could easily be sold for vast sums of money.
Broadly speaking, people want to buy companies that have a good mixture of assets in seven categories:
Intellectual property. The business lays claim to, or is known for, valuable ideas, methods or defensible intellectual property rights.
Brand assets. The business is known, liked and trusted by a loyal group of fans who are unlikely to switch to a new brand.
Market assets. The business can sell products, disseminate ideas or be present to a large group of potential buyers faster and more cheaply than others in the same market.
Product assets. The business has created unique products and services that are either difficult to replicate or difficult to compete with.
Systems assets. The business has a set of systems and processes that allow it to run more efficiently than its rivals while still delivering the same or better quality.
Culture assets. The business is able to attract, retain, develop and manage good people at a lower cost than its competitors.
Funding assets. The business is able to raise capital or borrow money on better terms than its competitors
There are 24 assets in total spread across the seven categories. In each category, there are three or four key assets you can focus on that will allow your business to stand out.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ASSETS
Today, fast-growth businesses run on intellectual property assets: ideas that have been formalised into legally protectable property, e.g. libraries of text, images, videos and audio files, code, algorithms and methodologies that a business has devised. Mark Zuckerberg joined the world’s top 10 richest people by the age of 30 because of his ideas on how people network online. His assets are mostly intangible – the vast data, patents, algorithms, trademarks and registrations along with all the other digital assets that make up Facebook.
Clive Rich is a barrister who’s done over £10 billion worth of deals in the music and entertainment industry. He says:
‘Intellectual property is everywhere in your business and deserves to be discovered, valued and protected. Your intellectual property could one day be worth more to you than bricks and mortar. The internet is an engine for scaling and commercialising your intellectual property globally. Without intellectual property you’re a consumer on the web; with intellectual property you’re able to build wealth.’
Being known, liked and trusted follows assets.
In a world full of choices for every product, and countless unethical suppliers in every industry, a trusted brand has become more valuable than ever.
Consider the impact of a brand on commoditised products. A Victorinox Swiss Army Knife retails at around £50, whereas a comparable multi-tool pocket-knife (the generic name for the device) sells for around £10.
Underpants from Calvin Klein cost £25 for a pair, whereas almost identical pants without a brand sell for £6 per pair.
An Apple iPad costs about £400, whereas a generic tablet PC with the same specifications costs about £80.
Mike Symes is the author of Light Your Firebrand and is responsible for the brand strategy of some of the world’s biggest banks. He says:
‘Your brand is an asset that you should build and cultivate with focus and care. If you get it right, your brand can take you into new markets, new territories and enable you to launch new products and services. Over time, your brand will add to the overall worth of your business. Small companies should think big about their brands from the early days and then live and breathe those intentions with clear and compelling value propositions. At any size of business, you should ignite your brand, illuminate your points of difference and get your messages to spread like wildfire.’
Having a strong foothold in your marketplace follows assets.
Owning a defensible place in the market is a powerful idea for growing a solid business. There’s only one problem – there’s no such thing as a market.
A market is an abstract concept that people selling something like to imagine. If you are selling business-class plane tickets, you imagine millions of business travellers. If you’re a life-coach, you imagine a market of professional executives looking for ways to improve their lot in life, with the money to pay for support.
As buyers, we do not think of ourselves as being part of a market. We are individuals with personal needs, wants and criteria for buying something. We don’t care how many other people are looking to buy something similar or how much the aggregate spend of all buyers will amount to in the year. All we care about is buying from someone we know, like and trust who can adequately care for our personal desires.
Martyn Dawes built and sold Coffee Nation for over £60 million. He says:
‘We achieved a lot of our growth through cultivating market assets. We had a powerful channel partner strategy that led to us being in over 1,500 locations in under seven years. We positioned ourselves as the only premium self-serve coffee in the UK and were featured in leading publications for it. We also used data to show the impact of our product in drawing new and engaged customers to their locations. I encourage all businesses to build assets that position you powerfully, give you access to your market and allow data to flow back to your business.’
Delivering consistent value to clients follows assets.
Most people think of a product as a set of physical items with some packaging, like an iPhone in its box, a tube of toothpaste at the store, a luxury pen in a special leather case or a stylish item of clothing in a branded shopping bag. This is a simplistic view and overlooks the key elements that really make up the value of a product.
Another way of looking at a product is to see it as a replaceable and consistent way of achieving a desired outcome that your customer wants. It could be delivered the same way in any number of cities across the world at a comparable price point.
A product is more than its physical components. What makes a bottle of champagne worth four times more than a bottle of Prosecco? It’s not the bottle, the label, the bubbles or the cork. Despite differences in the grapes and the production method, very few people can tell you which product is which when given a blind taste test. Champagne is, however, a different product to Prosecco – champagne is a product people buy for an important celebration and Prosecco is a product for less important occasions .
Nic Rixon built and sold a highly valuable product packaging business. He then went on to grow a global team of business coaches working with intellectual property. He says:
‘People don’t want your time and they don’t want your expertise, they want a problem solved, they want a result and they want it better, cheaper, faster and with more emotional benefits. They want it done reliably, consistently and with very little effort on their part. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s about you – your product is about the person buying and how they feel. When you really connect with what your customers want – let me say that again, want – you’ll be able to create products that have true value for them. People remember how they were treated in the restaurant long after they have forgotten what they ate or how much it cost.’
Predictability follows assets.
With systems assets, your business becomes simple, repeatable and predictable to run. Great businesses do not inflict problems and decisions on to their teams unnecessarily. If there’s already a way of getting a result, repeat that way over and over again.
Systems take a few forms – documents like operations manuals, scripts, spread sheets or slide-decks; checklists that break a big job into lots of small steps; software that automates functions and machines that move things around. Systems can also rely heavily on media. You can create videos that train your team, animations that explain complex ideas in a matter of minutes, or content that helps your clients solve common problems themselves rather than putting pressure on your call centre.
Amazon is the King of systems. It has pioneered game-changing sales and marketing systems such as one-click, affiliate portals, Amazon recommendations, and more recently the speech recognition assistant Alexa that is always listening to your conversations for clues on what you might buy. Amazon’s warehouse crawls with automated activity as robots race around moving products to the dispatch centre. The systems are so powerful that many customers are stunned when their purchase arrives in under 24 hours after being ordered.
Marianne Page spent 20+ years in a leadership role with McDonald’s, developing both systems and the high performing teams to run them. She says:
‘Systems aren’t there to replace people, they are there to make life easier – your team’s, your customers’, yours. With the right systems in place your team can perform to their absolute best, and take ownership for what they do every day. Whatever you might think of McDonald’s or their food, you can’t help but be impressed by their ability to take a moody 16-year-old, who wouldn’t dream of washing a dish or tidying their room at home, and turn them into a productive and positive team member within weeks – preparing food, handling money, working with suppliers and solving problems at a world-class level, with many going on to run multi-million dollar restaurants. Systems are McDonald’s secret ingredient – and should be one of the key ingredients for every successful business owner looking to scale, franchise or sell their business.’
High performing teams follow assets.
The true test of culture is your ability to attract, develop and retain highly skilled employees without paying above the odds for them. It’s unlikely that someone will quit their well-paid, secure job for a lower paid position on your fledgling team unless there’s something special going on – the flexible hours, the training or mentoring programme, the flat structure and open dynamic of your team, or the vision and values held by your organisation. All these magical ingredients make up the culture, and in order to scale them, carefully document them. You need the basics like job descriptions, accountability charts and workplace contracts alongside investment into advanced assets such as videos that explain the vision and values, on-boarding programmes, performance reviews and bonus structures.
Julia Langkraehr built a retail business in over 1,000 locations across the UK, Germany and the rest of Europe. After successfully exiting, she formed the consultancy Bold Clarity to help companies build strong teams. She says:
‘Culture is often confused with having free food, beanbags and office dogs. High-performance culture has a lot more to do with the way the team interacts, the quality of people who stay, the quality of people who leave and the clarity each person has for their role. Culture assets are working when your team stays together and produces output that exceeds expectations. I want to see a culture where the big picture goals are clear to everyone. I want to see a team that can identify issues, discuss them and solve them. I want to see a culture where the team chooses the right goals and achieves them every 90 days. When that’s happening consistently, you’ve got the right culture assets in place.”
Accessing funding for your business follows assets.
Your funding assets are the key to your business accessing money to develop your assets further. If you have the rights assets in place, it’s easy to get funding. If you’re buying a house, the bank wants independently produced documents – payslips from an employer; a building inspection from a certified builder; a report from a quantity surveyor. If you can show the bank all these documents, they will likely lend you the money to purchase the house. It’s the same for other assets like shares, art, bonds or land. Lenders or investors want to see documentation to prove the asset’s value, the ownership structure and the serviceability.
Likewise, if your business needs funding, you’ll need to show some independently produced documentation to an investor. But for some strange reason, many startups don’t produce documentation from top independent providers. They show a business plan they wrote themselves, a valuation they made up and some random slides about their ideas for the future. Then they wonder why they can’t get funding .
With high-quality, independently produced funding assets you can access investment or lending on good terms and you can use that funding to build out the other assets in your business.