After a round of financing last week, the taxi sharing service Uber was valued at approximately $18.2 billion. Billion. This was the largest valuation for a startup company ever (next closest, at least among American companies, was Airbnb and Dropbox at a mere $10 billion. Pinterest was valued at $5 billion. Billion.).
Uber was founded five years ago and now has about a thousand employees and operates in 130 companies. In 2013 the company earned about $210 million on $1 billion in revenues and the CEO says it's "doubling revenues every six months." At this valuation, Uber is worth more than Hertz ($12.4 billion), United Continental Holdings ($17.9 billion), Sony ($16.8 billion) and a host of other well-known brands that have been in existence for decades, have thousands of more customers, well-known brands, continuous revenue streams, tangible assets and track records.
Is this a bubble? Nah! Is Uber worth $18 billion? Hey, why not? But that doesn't matter. What matters is that a lot of smart people believe it's worth $18 billion and there are a lot of smart pundits and analysts will back up this belief too.
So is your company worth $18 billion like Uber? Not right now. But it can be. Yes, it can be!
I know you're just a small manufacturer or distributor or service firm selling unsexy products. Sure, you're located near the airport, employ only about 50 or a couple of hundred employees and are not on the radar of any Silicon Valley venture capitalists. But don't worry. You too can get $18 billion for your company! You just need to take a these five simple steps in order to maximize what your company's worth. Ready to cash in?
Step 1: Get a valuation now. You're probably thinking that your company is worth somewhere between $5 - $6 billion, but why be in the dark? Instead of walking around with some arbitrary number in your mind, hire someone to perform a valuation of your business. You can find that person at the International Business Broker's Association, the American Society of Appraisers or just ask your CPA or attorney for a recommendation. An expert will come up with a market value based on a number of formulas and give you perspective as to what both your company's tangible and intangible assets are worth. You'll pay for this, probably anywhere from $5 - $50K depending on the size of your business. But you'll get a reasonable market value estimate from a professional that will help set the benchmark. You will also be told which parts of your balance sheet are undervalued (what shape is your inventory in? Why are intangibles valued so low?) so you can take necessary actions to get these numbers up to $18 billion.
Step 2: Have a long term plan. Unless you're under duress, you hopefully won't be considering a sale for a while, at least 3-5 years. That's good. You don't want to leave billions on the table. Smart business people think ahead. So you'll do the same. What steps do you need to take to increase the value of your business to $18 billion over the next few years? What contracts should be in place? What capital improvements need to be made? What changes in your organization need to occur? These things won't happen overnight. It took Uber five long years to get their valuation up to $18 billion so you must have some patience too! If you give yourself a few years, you can take the time and apply the resources to spruce up your business so that it's as attractive as possible to a potential buyer. And really, shouldn't you be operating with this type of mindset anyway?
Step 3: Go on an extended vacation. You may be a very nice guy, but a prospective buyer doesn't care. If he's going to fork over $18 billion he will want to minimize your future involvement as much as possible. Is this possible now? Can you leave your company in the hands of your managers for a few weeks at a time while you travel the world? Do you have a strong enough infrastructure, with processes, policies and procedures in place to handle the day to day flow of work without your detailed involvement? Do you have systems in place? To truly be worth $18 billion, you must prove that your organization needs to run, at least for a time, without you being around. If that's not possible, if you're the heart and soul and need to be present at all times then you're only hurting your valuation. You need to make changes and hire the right people to do this if you want get as big a payout as possible.
Step 4: Have a hobby. And it shouldn't be your business. People that are too passionate about their business make foolish choices based on emotion. Uber's co-found and CEO Travis Kalanick doesn't appear to be a foolish guy. I'm sure he considers the company to be his baby, just like any entrepreneur. But given that he's selling off pieces of it to investors and is rumored to be contemplating an IPO leads me to believe that he's a businessman at heart, and not a poet. Your business should be viewed as an asset. Great business leaders from GE's Jack Welch to Donald Trump are known for buying and selling entire companies or pieces of organizations just because they got a good price. You will need to have the same attitude if you expect to get $18 billion for your company someday.
Step 5: OK, I've lied to you. I know your business is awesome and special and saving the world. But it will never, ever, ever be worth $18 billion. Sorry. Did you believe me? Then good for you! Maybe you're a little delusional. But maybe you also have a giant ego and a large sense of self-worth. And that's the fifth way to get the most money from a potential seller: by making him feel that he's about to buy something truly valuable and extraordinary and worth $18 billion. Because your belief and pride in what you do will be infectious. And your buyer will want to pay extra to be part of that.
Oh c'mon, you knew you'd never get Uber-money. But you can still get a lot more for your business then you think. Now go and get it!
A version of this blog previously appeared on Inc.com.