For managers and entrepreneurs seeking private investment to fund an enterprise, the current environment is challenging, though still an improvement compared to prior decades. In Part III of our series, we offer 5 takeaways from 2013. These are concepts that are particularly appropriate to current market conditions and sensible in any period in the cycle.
1. Be mindful of the investing environment. We recall from Part I that private equity activity was down somewhat in 2013. Deals were down 7% and fundraising down 19% from the previous year. We know that the BRICS and other emerging economies have slowed down. So for the time being at least the emerging markets have lost some of their luster. All this has affected investor’s attitudes. Yet the long term outlook still looks good which is the message we stick to and the reason emerging economies still attract investor interest.
2. Owners and management should have a realistic understanding of the value of their enterprise, and where it fits into the spectrum of potential investments. They should also have thought through carefully their mission and objectives for the enterprise, for themselves, and for their communities.
3. Demonstrate the strength of the business model including evidence that the business or project can provide consistent cash flow. Examples include:
- Signed contracts for current and future sales
- For housing developments, a significant proportion of homes pre-sold either to residents or a large employer buying for its staff.
- Offtake agreements for energy and power projects
- Infrastructure projects that can collect tolls or user fees
4. Government support never hurts. Although most developing countries have improved business and political climates, they are still relatively difficult places to do business. It is therefore desirable to be on good terms with the relevant government bodies so. When everyone’s interests are aligned the red tape can be minimized.
The extent to which government backing is needed varies with the type of deal. For small startups it may not be necessary at all. In some cases the government is the customer then of course the company must be in a position to win a contract. In lieu of a contract, an MOU or government guarantee may be sufficient.
It should be noted that while government support is crucial, companies should avoid any activity that can be construed as corrupt as it will be an immediate turnoff to the investor. US investors are especially wary of running afoul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Any investor not appropriately concerned is probably one to avoid.
5. Strength of the management team. Investors look for relevant experience, a level of professionalism and an understanding of international performance standards. Most important, management and founders/owners should be prepared to act in the interest of building the value of the enterprise.
Current market conditions in emerging market PE investing indicate a plateau in deal growth. In this environment founders/owners should pay special attention to those factors that attract good investors. We think this is a short term phenomenon—a sensible pullback from the emerging market fever of the past few years. However the broader demographic, economic and geopolitical trends will continue to favor emerging markets in the long run. We believe capital will flow towards companies that have strengthened their foundations during the current slowdown.