April 11, 2005
Counter Cliche: Good Choices Are Made From Good Options
The Counter Cliche to Fred’s VC Cliche of the Week this week, the Walk Away, is that Good Choices Are Made From Good Options. Fred’s right — sometimes you do have to walk away from a deal where you’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion. But as an entrepreneur, you can mitigate the number of times you have to Walk Away by developing good alternative options to a particular deal. That way, if one option doesn’t pan out as you’d hoped, another very good option is waiting in the wings.
There’s a very business school-sounding term called the BATNA, which stands for the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Quite frankly, it’s just a fancy way of saying Plan B. I wrote about the importance of the BATNA once before in How To Negotiate a Term Sheet with a VC (item 3).
Dying to get a deal with a good VC? If you negotiate with one of them, you may or may not end up with a deal you like, and it could suddenly change on you at the 11th hour. If you negotiate with two or three of them, you’ll have a great backstop and won’t let the emotional investment in the deal get the best of you. Trying to sell a company? You’d better have a couple of acquirers in mind to maximize price.
Sometimes, developing a good BATNA, or Plan B, can take as much time as working on Plan A. But it’s well worth it if it ensures that you will have multiple Good Options at the end of the process — which will invariably result in a Good Choice.
I think the lesson of the BATNA is more broadly true in life, not just in business, although it may be a little bit less universally applicable to VCs looking to put money to work unless there are multiple strong companies in a sector all looking for VC around the same time.