According to Webster, hovering is to hang fluttering or suspended in the air; to keep lingering about; wait near at hand; remain in an uncertain or irresolute state.
Hovering is a tool that can be used when an opportunity is forthcoming, but not here just yet. It can mean waiting for an entire industry to appear, waiting for a budget, or waiting for a company to accomplish a milestone. It can also be used against you, leaving you hanging, thinking you’re on the verge of needed investment or partnership, while you are, in fact, getting blown-off royally.
I became aware of this powerful strategy while working with investors in the private equity business. With private equity, hovering works in three ways, depending if you are an investee, investor or innovator:
If you are flirting with a private equity or investment group and they won’t say no, but they won’t say yes either. They just keep asking for more information. If they are playing hard to get like this, rest assured they are hovering. They are hovering, waiting to see if any new developments occur because the truth is that you don’t have enough going today for them to pull the trigger and go for it. So if you have pitched private equity on your innovation or business, and maybe even received an initial investment from private equity, but you realize that those who control the purse strings have entered full hover mode, you should make this assumption: The potential investors are in doubt and you need to do something drastic—merge with another company, change your business model, or do something equally monumental—because what you have is not worthy of private equity investment at this time.
If you are the one making the investment and you have learned the Private Equity Hover Technique, then do the team you are potentially investing in a favor and explain why you are hovering. It will help the company fix what you feel is a flaw and result in far better results for all the parties involved than entrenching everyone in a long-term hover. Look at it like this: Imagine you’re the sergeant of a ground crew waiting for helicopter support and the helicopter is hovering but all you get from the pilot is radio silence. What concerns might run through your head? Now let’s say that instead the pilot tells you that there is only one small issue—the wind, and that if you move to a more open area he can pick you up. Problem solved and everyone benefits.
As an innovator hovering is an excellent strategy, but one requiring patience, awareness and persistence. For example, our team has been hovering over the medical diagnostic business for years, waiting for the right entry point. We haven’t found it yet. We’ve been watching developments in vascular and intestinal health and we update each other on calls everyday to see if we are making any progress. We really see an opportunity for us in that world, but we’re not about to enter until it is clear that we can add the value that is needed in that space.
So for today, no matter whether you are an investee, an investor, or an innovator, think about the way hovering might be a good strategy for you or if someone else’s hovering might be telling you something you need to address.
The helicopter is a fine way to travel, but it induces a view of the world that only God and CEOs share on a regular basis. —Morley Safer