Monetizing Intangibles in Ad Tech M&A Value
In this article, we will briefly explain how to monetize intangibles.
In the first two articles of this series, Identifying Intangibles in Ad Tech M&A Value and Developing Intangibles in Ad Tech M&A Value, we specified how you, the business owner, can identify and develop your company’s most valuable intangible assets to maximize your value.
In any M&A deal, sellers highlight the importance of their intangibles so the buyer can use them to create a competitive advantage. The third step in this process, learning how to monetize your business’ intangible assets, is where you reap the fruits of your labor. This step occurs when the buyer pays a price for the intangibles you have identified and developed. This includes the steps leading up to the sale, such as valuation, negotiation, pitching, and due diligence. So how do you monetize intangibles?
How to Monetize Intangibles When Selling Your Company
An M&A valuation can be conducted in several ways, including through a business appraisal or the valuation of a public company’s stock. The valuation of your company often amounts to a number that is negotiated between the seller and the buyer. Middle-market companies in particular possess a range of values based on the buyer’s profile. Fair market valuation is the most common valuation technique.
Fair market valuation occurs when you determine how similar businesses have sold based on multiple types and multiple factors. Multiple types include earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), annual recurring revenue (ARR), and, in some cases, book or tangible asset value. Multiple factors (referred to as 3X, 4X, or 10X) simply identify the number you agree to multiply the selected factor by to determine the valuation number.
Obviously, multiple types and factors depend on industries with similar characteristics to the company being valued. For example, industry growth, the strength of the management team, competitive advantages, access to suppliers, and access to buyers can all influence multiple types and factors.
How to Use ASC 805 to Maximize Your Valuation
The Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 805 allows the business owner to understand how the expected purchase price can be broken down based on the transaction’s fair market valuation and associated purchase premium or goodwill. In the ad tech industry, the amount paid for goodwill makes up, on average, 70% of the purchase price. This means, for example, that a company with a fair market valuation of $100 and 70% goodwill was purchased for $170.
At J&A, our banking practice conducts detailed M&A studies of goodwill and purchase price allocation to understand why companies command a premium and how business owners can make sure they land at the top of valuations when selling their businesses. After looking at over 500 M&A transactions executed by technology giants over a six-year period, we segmented purchases by industry and certain goodwill parameters, narrowing our study to 34 purchased companies. These 34 ad tech M&A transactions completed at the greatest premiums had the following two things in common: the target company increased the data interfaces of the acquiring company and the target company increased the data processing power of the acquiring company.
Data interfaces and data processing power are both intangible assets. These intangibles were systematically identified and developed by the business owners over time before they sold their companies. The monetization of those assets became effective when the companies were purchased at higher than average premiums.
This analysis becomes the cornerstone of an effective M&A strategy. Armed with the framework of identifying, developing, and monetizing intangible assets, business owners have a predefined plan they can take to increase their company’s value.
As a business owner, you should always study different purchase premiums in your industry to identify drivers that will create the highest return for your business. Using ASC 805 principles to uncover M&A value allows you to create a roadmap that will help you land on the high end of valuation because it is a scientific way to tie your valuation to intangible assets.
The Takeaways of Intangible Asset Monetization
Intangible assets can only be monetized if you have measured them in-depth. There is an infinite number of intangible assets you can identify, develop, and monetize.
As a business owner, you must determine which ones you can leverage most effectively. Trusted advisors can help you create a clear vision and strategy to maximize your company’s value. The role of intangible assets in M&A markets will increase over time. The most successful companies will use the information presented in these articles to maximize the value of their company.
Developing Intangibles in Ad Tech M&A Value
In this article, we will briefly explain how to develop intangibles.
In our earlier article Identifying Intangibles in AdTech M&A Value, we explored how you, as a business owner, can identify the intangible assets that make your company more valuable during the M&A process. After identification is complete, the next step is to develop those same intangible assets. Developing intangible assets relies on key performance indicators (KPIs) in the same way identifying intangibles does. KPIs are the metrics you choose to represent the performance of an intangible asset.
Developing an intangible asset is the set of actions you will take to optimize a KPI. For example, we previously explored how more data interfaces can lead to optimized conversion. Therefore, the intangible asset is the data interface and conversion is the KPI. Optimizing conversion means increasing or decreasing it based on drivers like technology, advertising spends, or advertising quality.
To measure conversion, you must define the desired final action you wish your customer or visitor to take. This could include clicking an ad, buying a product, or providing an email address. The development of the intangible asset (e.g., data interfaces) becomes any action, investment, or improvement you perform to accomplish the final objective (e.g., click, buy, provide email). These developments increase M&A value. In our next article, Monetizing Intangibles in Ad Tech M&A Value, we will show you how to monetize them.
There are multiple ways to develop an intangible asset. Building a company for sale requires considering accounting and banking principles as well as intuitive, strategic ones. Imagine a company that performs direct digital marketing. If this firm wants to increase the number of people who click ads served to drive more website traffic, they have several options to encourage their users to do so:
- Create more compelling marketing content and design
- Acquire new contact information of people who are more likely to click the links in the body of the message
- Retarget consumers by making sure prospects are seeing ads in multiple locations and in multiple instances
- Invest in new technology that places more relevant ads in front of potential “clickers”
- A combination of some or all of the above
The best choice for the company is likely a mixture of the five options laid out above. The company must understand that each choice represents a distinct set of intangible assets, all of which are inherently identified and developed when the decision is made. The investments made in one, some, or all of these options are a part of “developing” the intangible asset. The intangibles must be measured and monitored so they can increase corporate value at the time of M&A.
As a business owner, how you choose to develop an intangible asset affects the accounting options available to your management team. Capitalization is a common technique for recording expenses as assets to minimize long-term costs. Specific rules exist about how and when to capitalize expenses that overlap with the development of the intangible assets recommended here. For example, you can capitalize costs to develop patents, copyrights, trademarks, and even proprietary software intangibles, but those costs must be recorded correctly. You cannot simply download a credit card statement 11 months after the expenses were incurred and then claim them as assets.
The principles of identifying and developing intangibles are relevant to business owners because they tie together strategies for growth, development, accounting, and exits. When used correctly, they break down silos between business units and bring together the operation and value of a business. Most venture-capital investors wait for companies to be purchased so the investor can then achieve liquidity. All owners desire M&A options for their hard work. Developing intangibles is the only way to combine the traditional business operations of growing, scaling, and building a company with the gritty accounting principles that affect the valuation and closing of an M&A deal.
Companies are rarely acquired with the intention to conduct business the same way it was conducted before the purchase. Therefore, it is important for you, the seller, to highlight the most valuable intangible assets of your business through their development and investment. This allows the buyer to utilize these intangibles to their own advantage. Ad tech companies are driven by these intangible assets, such as data interfaces, and new technology development that engages specific customers. Measuring these intangibles through the life cycle of the company will affect your exit valuation, creating a more accurate picture of what a buyer is ultimately paying for.
Identifying Intangibles in Ad Tech M&A Value
Identifying Intangibles is the first article in our series about intangible assets.
What makes your company special, unique, or valuable? As a business owner, you will be asked this question countless times when you are talking to potential buyers for your ad tech company. But the value of a company is not inherently defined; value is defined differently by parties based on their respective goals, biases, and objectives. For a banker, this discussion is the foundation for all buy-side and sell-side M&A conversations. Based on our experiences and research at Jahani and Associates (J&A), intangible assets make up over 90% of M&A value. There are simple, repeatable processes you can use to increase your company’s value, especially in the ad tech industry (J&A, “Understanding Ad Tech M&A Value”). So how to identify intangibles for M&A?
How Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 805 Can Be Used to Maximize M&A Value
In 2014, the Financial Accounting Standards Board released an update to ASC 805 addressing how to account for intangible assets in business combinations. ASC 805 is the basis for the financial reporting of intangible assets post-acquisition. Although it is not necessary for you to follow the ASC 805 framework, if you do not utilize it to uncover and measure your company’s intangible assets, you will ultimately limit that value. Businesses can use FASB’s ASC 805 as a framework for maximizing their value prior to beginning M&A conversations.
Step 1: Define the Most Valuable Intangible Assets for Your Ad Tech Business
The first step to maximizing your company’s value is to determine which intangible assets are the most valuable. In order to do so, you must define your desired business objectives. If you are not sure where to start, begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- Who are my customers?
- How is the strength of my customer relationship measured?
- What will my revenue stream rely on over the next one to five years?
Your business’ relationship with its customers is a symbiotic one: your company exists to serve your customers and your customers are the ones who keep your company in business. Utilizing valuable intangible assets will only enhance the business-customer relationship.
For example, if your desired business objective is to increase the number of users who click the ads placed on your platform (in other words, increase conversion), you need to provide more relevant ads to the user. Tracking cookies from a user’s browser history to service these ads is a common practice to accomplish this relevant placement. This is also known as retargeting. At its core, retargeting is accomplished by increasing the number of data interfaces an ad publisher uses to determine which ads are shown to a user.
Therefore, driven by the objective to increase conversion, data interfaces are intangible assets. Collecting this browser history allows ad publishers to uncover novel patterns, enhance ad relevance, and create new solutions that increase conversion. According to an analysis conducted by Gallup, “companies that apply the principles of behavioral economics outperform their peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin.”
Data interfaces are just one example. As an owner, you must determine the most valuable intangible assets for your business objectives.
Step 2: Determine How the Most Valuable Intangible Assets Affect Your Revenue Streams
Once you have defined your company’s most valuable intangible assets, you must document the way those intangibles affect your company’s revenue streams. How many events must take place for your intangible asset to create revenue? At J&A, we refer to these as “steps removed” in a process flow. For example, when a user clicks on an ad, the platform owner generates revenue. Therefore, if the intangible asset is a data interface and the presence of more data interfaces increases conversion and revenue, then that asset is one step removed from revenue. Social connections are a more complex example. The presence of social connections on a platform encourages a user to spend more time on the platform, and the more time a user spends on a platform, the more ads the user will click over time. This is two steps removed. The number of steps removed in a process flow completely depends on the business model and business objectives employed. Conversion is important for multiple types of businesses, but the steps between conversion and data interfaces can be drastically different for an infrastructure company and a platform company.
We chose to use revenue in this example because our objective was conversion. Other objectives can include reducing costs, managing risk, or increasing cash flow.
Once you have determined which intangible assets are the most valuable, it is important to measure the outcomes for the selected business purpose over time. Generally, intangible asset data and key performance indicators (KPIs) should be measured for at least one year. Business owners need to determine the right KPIs and track them regularly. The KPIs most related to encouraging conversion are traffic, traffic sources, the technology used to serve ads, and the data that determines when an ad is served.
Knowing how and what to measure is essential to increasing your company’s value. Certain interfaces are more valuable than others. A valuable interface must enhance a desired business objective. Therefore, if your goal is to increase conversion and a certain interface supports that, it is an intangible asset. A popular example of this in the M&A world is Facebook’s purchase of Instagram. Facebook approached Instagram for purchase because Facebook’s application program interfaces (APIs) were increasingly being pinged by Instagram users. Before the acquisition, a Facebook API made Instagram more valuable because it allowed Instagram to use Facebook’s large pool of customer data to enhance its own platform. J&A’s research has also shown that more data interfaces lead to higher purchase price premiums (J&A, “Understanding Ad Tech M&A Value”). Before the acquisition, this integration did not necessarily increase the value of Facebook.
Conclusion About Identifying Intangibles
Measuring important aspects of your business and tying them together with corporate financial statements is powerful. Data analyses conducted for thousands of M&A transactions confirm that they can be used to maximize the transactional value for both sides of an M&A before the sale is closed (J&A, “Understanding Ad Tech M&A Value”).
As a business owner, you can utilize the information herein to maximize your company’s value. When developed correctly, this material can significantly impact the value of your organization. Along with specialized bankers, you are uniquely positioned to develop the relationship between intangible assets and corporate financial metrics. Defining the assets that are valuable and then measuring those assets over time is the simplest yet most effective process you can use to increase the overall value of your company.
M&A Insights: Use the Power of Intangibles to Maximize Your Company Value
M&A Insights: Two kinds of intangible assets
In the world of investment banking, there are two kinds of intangible assets. The first is known as “identifiable” intangibles. These are things like patents, trademarks, copyrights, and customer relationships. In short, these are intangibles that GAAP and FASB have determined are consistent enough to be subject to specific valuation rules. When valued these assets are referred to as “intangible assets.”
The second category of intangible assets is known as “unidentifiable” intangibles. These are essentially everything else. Examples include selection algorithms (Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu), operational synergies, talent, and other business combination advantages. When valued these assets generally fall under goodwill. Goodwill is defined as the amount over fair market value an acquirer pays for a target company.
These two kinds of intangibles play a significant role in the valuation of a company. In fact, Jahani and Associates analyzed over 500 M&A transactions among tech giants such as Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, and Microsoft to determine exactly how much value was placed in these categories. The results were astounding.
Intangible assets represented 22% of the money spent on acquisitions for these tech giants. Goodwill accounted for 77% of the money spent on acquisitions from 2010 – 2016. Together, identifiable and unidentifiable assets made up 99% of the purchase price for all acquisitions made by tech giants from 2010 – 2016.
M&A Insights: Maximizing a company’s value
These results are astounding, to say the least. They are astounding for two reasons: 1) They provide a clear and measurable path to maximizing a company’s value and the likelihood of being acquired by a tech giant and 2) they provide insight into why a tech giant will buy targets based on their business model.
M&A Insights: The way a company uses this information, and the unique value Jahani and Associates brings to our clients’ business, is based on three factors:
- The industry vertical of the target
- The specific business processes that are congruent with those of selected acquirers
- A proprietary and data-driven investment banking process
Owners of candidate businesses must consider these factors when building their business. The considerations play a significant role well outside of the traditional investment banking timeline. Meaning the business owner must identify, develop, and implement these intangible assets more than 12 months before they plan to sell their company.