Valuing a business is complex. Experienced practitioners have
written novels on the subject, but we donâ€™t have time for that here.
Instead, this represents a high level crash course in business valuation
using the â€œEBITDA multipleâ€ method, which is the most common valuation methodology used by private equity firms, strategic buyers, etc.
Q: How are businesses similar to homes and baseball cards?
A: They are all worth what the highest bidder is willing to pay for
them, no more â€“ no less, regardless of what any book says. As a result,
businesses are typically valued based on sale prices of comparable
companies (â€œcompsâ€). Just as homes in your neighborhood of similar size
represent a â€œcompâ€ for your home, a business comp is roughly defined as
another company in your industry, of similar size and similar cash
Valuation Step 1: Calculate EBITDA:
The most basic reason companies have value is because they generate
cash; they are an investment that returns cash. The starting block of
every company valuation is calculating its cash flow, or â€œEBITDAâ€.
EBITDA is a quick & dirty estimate of the companyâ€™s free cash flow;
the pool of cash generated by the companyâ€™s normal operations, available
to make investments and service debt after all other operating expenses
have been paid.
Valuation Step 2: Calculate the EBITDA Multiple:
Once you calculate the EBITDA, it should be multiplied by a factor,
generally between 4x-6x (the EBITDA Multiple) for small businesses. For
example if you have a high growth company that spews $100k of cash like
clockwork each year, you might be able to sell your business for $600k
($100k EBITDA * 6.0 EBITDA Multiple). Conversely, if your EBITDA
bounced unpredictably between $10k and $150k over the last 10 years,
your company is probably worth much less than $600k because a buyer
cannot accurately predict how much cash your business will generate
going forward. Here are some key factors that influence your EBITDA
Comps: The starting point for your EBITDA Multiple is likely to be
whatever Multiple was used in the last few competitors that were sold in
your industry. This can be difficult to find for smaller businesses,
which have much less data available to the public.
EBITDA Predictability: The more predictable your EBITDA, the better
â€œvaluationâ€ you will receive. For example, if your customers are
obligated to pay you $X every month (a â€œsubscription modelâ€), than you
will receive a valuation boost; there is comfort that the company will
continue to generate cash in a predictable way. If you have â€œlumpyâ€
sales that rely on winning new, large one-time contracts each year than
your valuation will be discounted significantly relative to those that
generate more predictable cash flows.
Growth & Market Share: If your EBITDA has been growing each year
at significant (e.g. 10%+) rates and are expected to continue to do so,
you will receive a higher multiple (e.g. 6x-7x). If you also have a
huge piece of a growing market (e.g. Apple) you may receive an even
As a practical matter, the ability to find debt to finance a portion
of the buyout can also impact valuation. Analogy: if one home is
ineligible for mortgage financing, it wonâ€™t be as in demand as one
thatâ€™s debt eligible.
The takeaway here is that each $1 of expense costs you $4-$6 of
valuation, so spend wisely. Focus on EBITDA. And the more predictable
and sustainable your cash flow, the better!
For those looking for a more detailed valuation crash course, I
recommend reading â€œValuationâ€ by Copeland, Loller, and Murrin at
McKinsey & Co. Disclaimer: nobody knows how to value a startup.
For further information, contact Brandon Hinkle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brandon is the Co-Founder and CEO of pluraFinancial.com, a free online matchmaker between banks and small businesses seeking debt financing.