Since its foundation in 2022, 4voice AG has been a solution provider for intelligent voice technology applications. In 2021, the founder and main shareholder Kurt Martin, who owned around 80% of the shares in the company, wanted to withdraw from the operational business after 19 years of full concentration on his life's work. There were also disagreements among the shareholders and within the management team about the company's future long-term direction.
Due to internal agreements, a limited period of five months was available to find a succession solution that was suitable for all parties involved as part of a company sale. The bidding process managed by Walther Transaction resulted in ten indicative offers, and further negotiations were initiated with three attractive interested parties. Speech Processing Solutions GmbH (SPS) was ultimately chosen as the most suitable strategic partner from this broad international field of bidders. SPS had been known to 4voice for 18 years and both companies already had a very reliable supplier relationship in the past. The discussions with the shareholders who were still involved showed a very good fit. The other bidders, some of whom were prepared to pay a higher multiple to acquire the shares in 4voice, would not have represented such a suitable "good home".
Former owner and main shareholder 4voice
What were the reasons behind the decision to sell
to sell 4voice?
The decision to find a good succession solution for the company was significantly accelerated by my 60th birthday and a new assessment of the issue of work-life balance due to the corona lockdowns. However, my divorce from a co-shareholder three years ago and the resulting unfortunate combination of professional and private issues was certainly a decisive factor.
How difficult was this step for you emotionally?
Building a company very successfully for almost 20 years and achieving a steady improvement in economic results in a market of AI-based software over the last five years has been a lot of fun and extremely liberating. Saying goodbye to this is not easy. However, the changed situation due to the divorce and my age, as well as the expected future concentration of the many market participants in DACH/Europe, have shown very soberly that 2021 was the right time to take this step.
Why did you decide to seek support from an M&A consultancy?
A medium-sized company is very cautious when it comes to purchasing an external service in the six-figure range. However, the realization of a time-limited, intensive sales process in a highly transparent and competitive market while at the same time avoiding a dent in sales and earnings growth was not feasible with on-board resources!
Why did you choose Walther Transaction?
I know Mark Walther well from our work together for the Entrepreneurship Forum of the German INSEAD Alumni, from which a stable basis of trust has grown. In addition, Walther Transaction's focus on smaller medium-sized companies fits very well. We had two other offers, but Mark Walther's proposal was much better suited to our interests. The most important thing for us was to generate a selection of potential bidders. The cooperation with the WT team was also very positive!
What did you see as the biggest challenges in the planned sales process?
There were several: On the one hand, it was necessary to get the co-acquirers on board and avoid conflicts within the company. Secondly, forward-looking financial planning had to be drawn up as the basis for the necessary valuation. This planning had unfortunately been neglected in recent years, with the key figures continuously improving since 2016. And last but not least, the entire process had to be completed within a limited period of five months due to internal agreements with the co-shareholders.
What were the key factors for the successful sale?
The Walther Transaction team managed these challenges excellently. We approached a large number of potential investors without causing any unrest in our market. Through the bidding process we were able to generate ten indicative offers, with three of which we entered into further negotiations. In addition, we had excellent legal support in the form of lawyer Joachim Hasselbach from Brownstone Partners - also a suggestion from Walther Transaction. The collaboration was extremely pleasant, both on a substantive and personal level.
Why did you choose the SPS offer? What opportunities does this offer for 4voice?
SPS had been known to us for 18 years and we had a very reliable supplier relationship in the past. In addition, the discussions with the shareholders involved have resulted in a very good fit. I also hope that the agreed support for SPS's future buy & build strategy will provide me with an interesting advisory role.
The joint focus on the market of professional users of speech recognition in the healthcare and legal sectors means that the mutual strengths of the two companies complement each other.
Chairman of the Supervisory Board of 4voice AG
How did you experience the sales process? Where did you see your role?
The initial situation was challenging: in addition to the main shareholder Kurt Martin, there were other co-shareholders who had to be brought on board, some of whom had complicated private entanglements with the majority shareholder. The sales process therefore had to be completed in just under five months. My main role was to moderate and mediate between the various interested parties. As a long-standing member of the Supervisory Board, I was very familiar with 4voice and saw it as my task to support the sale and drive it forward in a targeted manner.
With a turnover of just under 5 million euros, 4voice is on a scale that many M&A consultancies do not serve. However, we experienced a very professional process with Walther Transaction. The team took the pressure off the management board, which naturally had to provide a range of information so that it could continue to concentrate on its day-to-day business. It approached a large number of potential investors and generated interested parties, none of whom we would have come across without professional support.
How do you rate the result?
In my opinion, 4voice has found a good new port with SPS. Although another bidder had made a better financial offer, we all agreed that the strategic fit was not there.
4voice has been economically very successful, especially in the last four years, and even if the sales price could have been a little higher in the end, all the co-shareholders were very satisfied with the result achieved.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities for 4voice as a result of the SPS investment?
SPS bought 4voice AG as a strategic addition in order to develop more in the direction of a solution provider. We now need to focus our efforts on this. 4voice has slipped under a larger roof, minimizing overhead costs. The company can now concentrate its energies on the market, as the internal conflicts have taken up a lot of energy recently. A forward-looking strategy that takes into account the strengths of both companies promises great prospects for success.
Lawyer Brownstone Partners
What particular challenges did you face?
The initial situation was somewhat unusual: the different interests and various strategic ideas - depending on professional plans for the future - of a number of shareholders had to be taken into account and reconciled so that everyone felt involved in the process and agreed to it. It is only natural that friction arises under such conditions.
Another challenge was the time pressure under which the sale had to be completed. Many potential investors were large companies that are not used to having to act and make decisions at such speed. And due to the fact that 4voice is more of a small company, there was sometimes a lack of internal resources for the M&A process at one point or another, as day-to-day business naturally continued in parallel.
However, the very professional handling of the process by Walther Transaction, which I have already experienced in several sales projects, ensured that the sale to SPS went off almost without a hitch.
How do you assess the transaction?
From an economic point of view, you can say: "The market is always right." An incredible number of discussions ultimately led to a fair price that does justice to the overall situation. From a legal perspective, the challenges posed by the constellation of one main shareholder and many minority shareholders were resolved satisfactorily. In the end, everyone agreed to the transaction. The fact that I have experience with such constellations was certainly an advantage here.
The negotiations with SPS were quite challenging at times; it took a large number of discussions to clarify the parameters on which the transaction should actually take place. Even the buyer side was not always in agreement at the beginning. It is therefore all the more pleasing to see that the deal has finally been signed and the two companies can now embark on a hopefully successful future together.
From my point of view, I recommend preparing an M&A process well in advance and involving experts in good time.