We are learning fast that a lot of what happens in these tiny, nascent, newly public companies are “secret”. Upfront disclosure is problematic; shouldn’t be a big issue here. Anyone could, and should, research private company information or facts before investing. Nonetheless, we trust that the financial community truly plays by the book.
Like getting a letter from your parent’s doctor asking you to not waste your breath, this letter is informing the care provider of a test you had that caused an allergic reaction. The doctor takes the time to explain the causes, why it’s important to keep follow-up appointments and even gives you some supplies to keep an eye on your allergies to this ailment.
In the world of development, we quickly realize what this means in the online learning space. The “secret tests” are placed into the online curriculum to supplement, enrich, or supplement the technology itself. We’ve learned that revenue checks into every step of the development process, even when that path starts as a test for a customer with limited or no prior experience. A good examination of these “secret tests” not only reveals what the test actually is, but what they mean to your business.
This initial process is a reflection of our recent journey from a small, well-established brick-and-mortar to a recently public company. While we had a great first quarter, we quickly learned that our risk, and accounting, could not be taken for granted. These “tests” are what we might call “radical test failures”: small steps in our evolution that could potentially bankrupt our future.
“Revolutionizing” online learning is far from being exciting enough to catch the attention of the financial community. Investors only want a “win”, so it’s quickly tempered down to something else – product. In our early days, the lack of upfront disclosure set us back with the negative financials investors were demanding.
A fundamental part of being a public company involves divulging information in real time, opening them up for scrutiny from investors. The 431 day-old acquisition of Isilon for enterprise content management software has garnered a lot of attention for its unusual business deal structure. It’s interesting because the acquisition ended up showing some promising synergy between the companies. However, reading the relative detail in the financials could create a number of wrong takes on the situation that could damage the company’s future performance. In our case, the 5 week silence before the initial disclosure made a difference.
Admittedly, the story around this acquisition shows an aggressive step in our industry, along with many other factors that could be considered “secret” test failures in the online space. In the same breath, the subsequent launch of our cloud solution, TalentsTheory, proved beneficial, in keeping the financials up-to-date. In the end, understanding the real dynamics of the company goes a long way.
So how can we learn from this? We definitely don’t want to learn from the biblical garden of Gethsemane, an example of a legendary town burned by Nebuchadnezzar. Instead, we can look forward to leading with more “out-of-the-box” thinking when it comes to our financial disclosure process. Just because we’re launching a test for a customer doesn’t mean we’re going to tell you about it, especially if the initial reaction is negative.
Implement a process to minimize response time; make sure you respond in a timely way to all potential responses from investors. We also want our board of directors to focus more on dealing with the issues within the company than on disclosing information on their own dime. Having them devote time to management, versus management’s parents (the P&L) at the next quarterly report on the same issues they raised with the son.
Like having a letter from the doctor to say, “rest in peace”, the first step is coming to terms with the fact that the financial community is monitoring your business, and why they are. However, there is an important side-effect of this transparency: better information leads to better practices, which leads to bigger money. Go ahead and develop the tests, just be open with your audience about them!