What Is Hunting Elephants?

"Hunting elephants" describes the practice of targeting large companies or customers. Hunting elephants is a buzz term used to describe a strategy of going after very large customers to sell a good or service, as well as targeting large companies for acquisition. For example, hunting an elephant can be a startup targeting the likes of Google (GOOG) or AT&T (T) as a customer. These customers can provide large contracts, but they can be hard to catch and require large teams to tackle.

Key Takeaways

  • Hunting elephants refers to targeting large companies or customers, either for selling them a good or service or for acquisitions.
  • Elephant customers or acquisitions can provide large contracts, but they can be hard to catch or land and require large teams to takedown.
  • Warren Buffett is a popular elephant hunter in the investor world and usually refers to his prospective target companies as "elephants," or big acquisitions.

Understanding Hunting Elephants

Hunting elephants is a colloquial term for describing the practice of targeting large companies as potential clients or acquisition targets. Whether selling a toaster or acquiring a competitor, companies can follow one of a number of strategies when deciding where to focus limited resources. 

From a sales perspective, hunting elephants emphasizes finding enterprise-level customers that will make large purchases. If a company is able to close an “elephant” sale then it may see a significant positive impact on its revenues, especially if it is able to obtain a multi-year contract. 

Startups that are able to close a large client may use this information when convincing other large companies that it provides a good product, as companies are more likely to work with a new company if they know that other large companies are also doing the same thing.

Types of Elephants

Customers

It’s worth noting that focusing on large, existing companies can be a resource-intensive endeavor. The average revenue per account (ARPA) is going to be much greater for elephants, but the number of companies that qualify as elephants will be lower than the number of smaller companies. Acquiring clients with low ARPA may be easier than acquiring larger-value customers, but very low ARPA clients require a company to be able to reach a large audience.

Elephants are the highest on the proverbial totem pole, bringing in the most revenue. Meanwhile, there are also deers, rabbits, mice, and flies—each one is smaller and offers lower revenue, but is easier to “land.” So while some companies may target one elephant, they could also choose to spend their time trying to capture or acquire, for example, 10 deer, 100 rabbits, 1,000 mice, or 10,000 flies to achieve the same revenue. 

Acquisitions

Companies looking to acquire another company also look at the cost of the acquisition relative to growth potential. The cost of acquisition can be massive, and in some cases, the perceived value of the target company may be a large multiple of its earnings. This is often the case for technology companies, as they are often in the early stages of development but the market may see lots of potentials. 

Warren Buffett is a popular elephant hunter, said to have an "elephant gun" that he uses to make major acquisitions and purchase target companies.

Example of Hunting Elephants 

 For software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups looking to hunt elephants, they would target many of the larger technology companies, such as Salesforce.com (CRM) or Workday (WDAY). However, on the downside, it could take years and thousands of dollars to find a problem worth solving for elephants—large enterprises.