CONSIDERING SEARCH? A REFLECTION ON OUR LAST 3.5 YEARS.
Introduction Hi. I’m Nick Haschka, co-founder of Cub Investments and co-owner at Wright Gardner, LLC (WG) based in South San Francisco, CA. Cub Investments was founded in late 2016 and forms the basis of our overarching investment strategy of acquiring and growing small businesses and holding them indefinitely. We acquired WG, a small office plant services company in early 2017 from its retiring owner using an SBA loan. Since then, we’ve acquired and integrated 6 additional local competitors from their retiring owners, and modernized the company into an efficient and effective organization that can grow on its own for a very long time. For us, WG has provided the concrete affirmation of our personal and business philosophies we had hoped for when we set sail.
We think there’s abundant opportunity for others to formulate their own Entrepreneurship through acquisition (ETA) pursuit as well, and that is why I’m writing this and sharing it with you. For those who read this and are both inspired enough to pursue our ETA model and think they may even want us as partners on their journey, check out our partner page at cubinvestments.com/searchers.
If you are interested in tracing the evolution of our thinking and journey to date, below is a set of resources and publication links that provide helpful background.
Value Hive Podcast (Episode 15) Mar 2020
Think Like an Owner Podcast (Episode 5) Apr 2019
Alternative Investor Podcast (Episode 38) Mar 2019
TWG in the Associated Press Feb 2019
Enterprise Radio Podcast Jul 2018 Searchfunder Interview Part I and Part II Jun 2018 the Main Street Revival - My first original piece on ETA, with a unique focus on lifestyle / self-funded - Feb 2017
Our Why I started in search in late 2016 after our venture-backed startup drove off the proverbial cliff at 90 mph and shut down. My partner, Anu Sharma, and I found ourselves unemployed and trying to figure out what would come next. We had both previously done the fancy stuff - e.g. management consulting, investment banking, exclusive MBA programs, Fortune 500s, and venture-backed startups. We had pursued the status achievement rat race in its full grandeur for more than a decade. Luckily, it was about the least scary time in history to lose your job. Unemployment was <2%, and finding a decent paying gig would have taken all of about 3 phone calls if that’s what it came to. We just weren’t ready to jump to the next thing without some real reflection.
We had grown tired of the startup life’s wild rollercoaster of weekly near death experiences. It had all just culminated in a painful unraveling. We were forced to let go of everyone we had recruited and hired, including some close friends and family members. As enjoyable as the ride often was, we had growing skepticism about the wisdom of such speculative pursuits. How likely were we really to arrive at a life changing financial outcome? Would that even make us happy? Were we just dogs chasing cars without realizing it? It seemed like perhaps we were. The intensity of the ride imposed real costs on our regular mental state that undoubtedly spilled over to our families and friends. It’s not that we regretted it - we didn’t - but we had identified the most important thing that had to change in whatever came next.
With young kids and growing families, we decided to prioritize lifestyle, our own mental tranquility, and our family time in our next pursuit. I had the benefit of personal experience here, as I grew up in a household with parents who operated this way. Thinking back to my own youth, I recalled the dads who were reliably in the stands for those 5pm Tuesday baseball games. My dad was always up there among them. The one common thing that connected them? Nearly all of them owned their own small businesses. They set their own schedules, made a comfortable living, had vibrant social lives, and showed up for every game. Every single game. Those were the men I set out to emulate.
I began to apply some new standards to my evaluation of potential career pursuits that 22-year-old me could never have predicted: Work can never be an excuse to miss my kid’s baseball game. If I choose this path, what’s the likelihood I miss things I’ll regret missing because I’m doing things I feel like I have to do to be successful at work, even though I eventually won’t remember what they were? It’s incredible how many paths this rules out. It’s more incredible how a new frame of thinking such as this can alter the entire course of your life. Finding Your Why The first thing I ask any ETA entrepreneur is Why? What are you after? It’s actually rare I get the depth of response I’d hoped for upon asking. I’ll explain.
Many of the people I come across who are interested in ETA have done everything “right”, and most of it came fairly easily. They’re used to getting in, getting the job, and working in and around elite circles of business and academia. I don’t say this to diminish the achievements, but rather to acknowledge that this is not reality for most people, especially those in the world relevant to ETA. Realizing and remembering that will be valuable as you contemplate an ETA path.
Our version of ETA is common on America’s Main Streets, but is seldom discussed in elite circles of academia and business. This is likely because our approach seldom results in the newsworthy stories that typically favor coverage - bold and ambitious pursuits driven by big egos accessing deep pocketbooks. We are definitely not that. Instead, we focus on the forgotten, invisible, and unremarkable businesses that do well for their owners and employees. This path is simply unlikely to ever result in Fortune Magazine-worthy headlines - nor yachts, private jets, or encounters with the titans of industry, finance, or politics. If you are used to running in those circles, you may get some funny looks when telling people what you are up to. Most won’t understand it, and some will think you’ve given up an otherwise very promising career.
I think, however, that following our approach is far more likely to result in a comfortable and fulfilling life. This path is rich in small successes, meaningful relationships, personal pride, and gratitude. The daily challenges faced by those who pursue it will largely be those of your choosing.
It’s important to keep in mind that our ETA model was developed during a specific phase of our lives as a reflection of our then current priorities and ambitions. Those continue to evolve. More importantly, they may not match or align with yours. To the extent that yours differ, it may require adjusting or throwing this whole idea out the window and starting over.
I’ve taken great inspiration from the late Clay Christiansen’s How Will You Measure Your Life, David Foster Wallace’s This is Water, Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s Growth Without Goals, and Bo Burlingham’s Small Giants - Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big. I recommend checking them out and developing your own Why.
Before you do this, it really helps to know who you want to be, then all you need to do is be that. Simple, right? If it helps you, sit down and write about yourself from a future perspective looking backward. Don’t write your conference speaker intro. Write your eulogy. Then make sure the standards you hold yourself to will ensure you become that person you wrote about.