These days there are few opportunities to take a private company public. However, there is no time like the present to prepare yourself for the day – probably in a few years – when the IPO market will get started again.
If you are leading a startup, there is a good chance you have a long-term vision for building a company that scales enough to make the world a better place. Your odds of doing that are much better if you can remain as CEO after the company goes public.
Sadly, many CEOs can grow their company to the verge of an IPO but cannot run it well afterwards. Indeed, according to The Founder’s Dilemmas some 60 percent of founders do not remain CEOs following their company’s Series D investment round.
I recently spoke with an entrepreneur who has overcome that common hurdle. The CEO in question is Shlomi Ben Haim, who runs “liquid software” provider JFrog. Despite the slowing economy, JFrog – which went public in 2020 — has been growing surprisingly quickly – at 34 percent in the most recent quarter.
Here are the three strategies that have contributed to his success and that you should consider following if you aspire to lead your company to an IPO and beyond. In my book, Scaling Your Startup, I called this fourth stage of scaling Running the Marathon.
1. Partner with a strategist CFO.
When a startup begins raising capital from venture investors, it needs a chief financial officer (CFO) with experience taking a company public and communicating with investors after the IPO. While every CEO has different skills and areas where they need help, I think many of them are better off if they can collaborate with a CFO who can do that and be a business strategist.
Such a partnership is contributing to JFrog’s success. Ben Haim, a visionary CEO, and Jacob Shulman, a risk-managing CFO work effectively to strike the right balance between ambition and realism. Ben Haim told me that he is happy that Shulman — who joined JFrog as CFO in May 2018 after serving as CFO of Mellanox Technologies — is his “partner in crime.”
Ben Haim hired Shulman to collaborate on business strategy. “I was not looking for an accountant,” says Ben Haim. “I wanted someone who could read and understand the data and have credibility. I needed a partner to read the market waters, listen to analysts and peers, and help us take a controlled approach to risk.”
2. Maintain a long-term focus.
To scale a company to the point where it can go public, a leader must balance the short- and long-term. Public company CEOs must report to investors every quarter and that makes it hard to resist the temptation to focus too much on those reports.
What’s more, these days many CEOs are scrambling to deal with short-term pressures brought on by high inflation and rising interest rates. Current macroeconomic headwinds are not deterring Ben Haim. “I have experience with rapidly changing headwinds and tailwinds. I started two companies during such times — one in 2001 and JFrog in 2008 — three months before a global crisis in both cases,” he told me.
This experience focuses him on aiming at long-term goals while preserving cash. “I can identify [the beginning of an economic downturn] and did not wait for the analysts to tell the world. With $500 million in cash, we have built in resiliency. We know the market will recover,” he said.
3. Stay ahead of potential disruptors.
A founder who is running a public company must invest in the future. Ben Haim and Shulman have collaborated to keep JFrog stay ahead of potential disruptors. As Ben Haim said, “I could see the evolution years ahead of time. Every company was going to be a DevOps company. Security would be a task that developers would have to face. The next stage was IoT and connected devices.”
To realize his vision, JFrog made acquisitions. For example, in September 2021, it acquired Upswift, a connected-device management software provider, and in June 2021 JFrog acquired Vdoo, a product security firm, for about $300 million, according to Calcalist.
Ben Haim credits Shulman with helping with M&A strategies. As Shulman told me, “I am an agent of change and controlled risk. We discussed the IoT business model and set milestones we needed to achieve. [We addressed questions such as] ‘How much should we invest? How could we achieve a return on investment?'”
Follow these three strategies and you can boost your odds of taking your company public and continuing to lead it to higher ground.
By: Peter Cohan, Founder, Peter S. Cohan & Associates
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