We receive several valuation inquiries every year from companies still in their infancy stages that are looking to attract new investment through private equity or by bringing in additional partners with the right talent to help them achieve their goals. These “start-ups” are often thought to come from the various technology markets, however, anytime an entrepreneur begins the process of developing a business from scratch, regardless of the industry, they are considered a start-up.
With a start-up from a valuation perspective, you will not be able to rely on historic financial performance and the current balance sheet will likely be very limited. There will potentially be some comparable established companies publicly available to research, however, these may not be similar enough to rely upon given the specific business plan the new company is developing.
Most likely, your potential client is looking for the appraiser to rely on a future growth strategy, typically a five-year plan, as the basis for the appraisal, given this data will create a more favorable value conclusion. If you plan to value a start-up company, here are a couple of additional thoughts to consider:
- Ask your client to provide a business plan including forecasted income statements and balance sheets. It is important to advise them that the data needs to be reasonable and supportable, based on as much background and research they have performed and which they can provide details for. If the forecasts look overly aggressive, they will need to come up with as much support as possible to justify their growth plans.
- Advise your client that as a professional appraiser, you do not have forensic accounting capabilities or business planning experience, and therefore, will be relying on the data provided by them to be accurate within reason. The appraiser cannot actively participate in the development and verification of the forecasted data.
- Ensure that your appraisal report includes sufficient narrative summary discussions on the scope of work, advising readers that your value conclusions are based in large part, or even solely, on this future business plan. Add that should the plan not come to fruition, or be considerably different than the forecasted estimates, the value of the business will be materially altered.
If you, as a certified valuation professional, are not comfortable with the information provided by the client and believe it to be unrealistic based on your experience with similar situations, you should discuss this with them and ask that they adjust the data. If you can’t agree on a game plan, you can potentially opt out of the work if that is a contractual option. Valuing start-ups is a challenging endeavor therefore, ensure you have these issues covered before taking on the appraisal assignment.