JASON JACKSON – REBUILDING A PROFITABLE DENTAL CARE BUSINESS – EP.89
My guest on this episode is Jason Jackson. Jason searched and acquired Unified Dental Care, a collection of dental practices in the Detroit Metro in April[redacted]Jason is quick to share all the mistakes he made through his search and his time as CEO. But you can tell he’s an incredibly resilient person with tons of entrepreneurial energy.
Jason and I talk about the challenges of turning around a bad culture, trying to establish trust in your team, hiring for core values, the pressure that comes from being a minority searcher, and how running a business is just like boxing. This is such a fun conversation around perseverance, fighting through hard times, and building a better future for yourself and your family. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. ^[redacted]
Think Like an Owner Sponsors
Live Oak Bank – Live Oak Bank is a seasoned SBA lender focused on search funds, independent sponsors, private equity firms, and individuals looking to acquire small companies. Live Oak has closed billions of dollars in SBA financing and is actively looking to help more small company investors across the country. If you are in the process of acquiring a company or thinking about starting a search, contact Lisa Forrest or Heather Endresen directly to start a conversation or go to www.liveoakbank.com/think.
Hood & Strong, LLP – Hood & Strong is a CPA firm with a long history of working with search funds and private equity firms on diligence, assurance, tax services, and more. Hood & Strong is highly skilled in working with search funds, providing quality of earnings and due diligence services during the search, along with assurance and tax services post-acquisition. They offer a unique way to approach acquisition diligence and manage costs effectively. To learn more about how Hood & Strong can help your search, acquisition, and beyond, please email one of their partners Jerry Zhou at [redacted]
Oberle Risk Strategies – Oberle is the leading specialty insurance brokerage catering to search funds and the broader ETA community, providing complimentary due diligence assessments of the target company’s commercial insurance and Employee benefits programs. Over the past decade, August Felker and his team have engaged with hundreds of searchers to provide due diligence and ultimately place the most competitive insurance program at closing. Given August’s experience as a searcher himself, he and his team understand all that goes into buying a business and pride themselves on making the insurance portion of closing seamless and hassle-free.
If you are under LOI, please reach out to August to learn more about how Oberle can help with insurance due diligence at oberle-risk.com. Or reach out to August directly at [redacted] in sponsoring? Send me an email at [redacted] Transcript:
It’s great to see you, Jason, to have you on the podcast ever since Matt recommended, I reach out to you, you have enjoyed our chats on kombucha and boxing and all this other stuff. And I’m just so excited to have you get a chat with you a little bit. First love to hear about what your background was and your career, and then acquiring Unified Dental Care. I’d love to hear all about it.
Thank you so much for having me on it’s been great. Listen to the other podcast. So I really appreciate it. So in terms of my background, how I got to becoming an entrepreneur and working with Unified Dental, I really thought about that. And it goes back to some of my earliest memories of growing up in a neighborhood that I grew up, which was an under-resourced neighborhood at the time, I kind of had that tale of two different childhoods, where I had one where it’s kind of like an under-resourced neighborhood, which was the earliest memory than my dad worked hard, saved up money, and we were able to move to a better neighborhood, but that experience of growing up there, gave me sort of a chip on my shoulder, just because of the things that I’ve witnessed and experienced had to get really close to my brothers and sisters.
We weren’t able to play outside as much if you will, in the neighborhood because of the things that were going on around it. Would go to other parks and other neighborhoods to play something as simple as going up the street to the barbershop would have to walk there with my older brothers. So there were a lot of things that took place that honestly I could hone in on beyond the scope of this podcast, but I always kind of had a chip on my shoulder to do something, especially because I didn’t see too many black business leaders or black entrepreneurs at that point in time. Another memory I kind of had was when I had a chip on my shoulder and I’m like, why is this chip here? What am I going to do with it? I always want to do something different. I always want to do something more was when I signed up for football, which was not a good idea when I was 13 and I was 4 11″ and I weighed about 140 pounds at the time.
And I just remember the two minutes that I got to go in finally, in a game and this football, if fumbled right in front of me and I was playing safety. And I remember people were trying to jump all over the ball and it kept moving and it came right in front of my feet. It’s almost a Jackson grabbed the ball and I just stared at it and just looked at it. And I was like, man, if I jump on this ball and these other guys that are six feet tall, jump on me, I may not be coming out alive. And I remember on the ride home, driving home with my dad, my dad told me like, Hey, you know, son, like with football, this is not a sport to be here. If you don’t believe in yourself. And if you don’t have a killer instinct, because you can get really hurt if you don’t have the killer instinct.
And I remember thinking to myself, I feel like I have a killer instinct, but I just don’t have it in football. I don’t have another football field because he’s right. Like I didn’t jump on the ball. And then another experience, and I’m going to link this back together. I might be dating myself here. That was like a defining experience in my life was a year later, no longer in football, I’m in basketball, but I’m still warming the bench next to the basketball manager. And my dad buys us tickets to this Nelly concert. And I might be dating myself. I don’t know if you remember Nelly at all, but he was big. And my dad had bought four tickets. The issue with 4 tickets was I had grown from 4 11″ to five feet tall. And so I couldn’t see anything.
Like I couldn’t see any of the performers. And so I remember saying to myself, if I can’t see this performance live because I can’t see anything, I just see people standing in front of me. I’m going to go backstage. I’m going to meet these artists, but I had no backstage pass. So there was a guy that kept walking from backstage. He was part of Nelly’s crew. You could tell what he was wearing, the way he talked, the way he walked. And he was grabbing some people grabbing groupies, bringing them back to the back, doing the whole kind of concert vibe. And I sit, man, I need to make friends with this guy. So I made friends with a guy and I said, at the end of this concert, may you gotta give me backstage because I can’t see anything I’m too short, no high school student or college student is going to put me on their shoulders and let me jump around on their shoulders because I’m not cute enough.
And so he said, man, I got you. I got you. And so at the end of the concert, he lets me go in right through backstage. He says, Hey, this guy is good. He brings me backstage. And I just remember standing in line and waiting to meet Nelly, meet the crew. And I was supposed to be out to meet my dad at eight o’clock. It’s now 10 o’clock. And he has no idea where I’m at. I’m sure he’s worried, but it’s worth it cause I’m going to meet Nelly and who I was standing in line with what 50 people I heard from the back of the line, this police officer say, are you Jason Jackson, next person, are you Jason Jackson? You Jason Jackson. I’m like, Aw man. So I take off my shirt, right? Like 13 years old, I’ve been lying. Take off my shirt.
I hand it to the person next to me and say, Hey, excuse me, miss, can you get my shirt side? And can you send it to this address right here for me? Cause I have to go because they’re calling me and I need to get up with my dad. And so I stepped out of line and I go up to the officer, I say, excuse me, officer I’m Jason Jackson. And he says, just looks down and shakes his head, come with me. So I go with my dad and my dad is too heated to even say anything. Cause he probably would’ve done something. He regretted it out of anger and stuff. And three days later he was talking to me and he said, you know what? I told the officer two hours earlier to go backstage and look for you. And he said, does he have a backstage pass?
And he said, no, he doesn’t have a backstage pass. And the officer said, there’s no way he’s going to be backstage. And he said, you don’t know my son if he wants to get backstage, he’s going to get backstage to that concert. And that’s when I realized that, man, I do have this killer instinct, but it’s to do maybe other things. And from that time I always found myself being the least talented person, the least intelligent person in a room full of talented, smart people. And I would always wonder how did I end up in this room? But I would somehow learn something from those people throughout my life. And so flash forward where I just always wanted to do something entrepreneurial, but I didn’t have this big idea. I decided I was going to work for this entrepreneur in my hometown, that basically was buying up companies through leveraged buyouts by himself.
And he was operating in them and then he was growing them. And like he was buying multiple companies at a time and I was like, wow, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. And at the time I was working full time and I was in a full-time MBA program. So I was doing both full-time to pay for school. And so I remember I worked late, I had a class and I was going to miss class, but my wife said, no, you can’t miss class. You need to go to this class. So I decided to go to her class and that’s where Maddie Step was speaking at the class about entrepreneurship through acquisition, through the search fund model. And Maddie Step, who I didn’t know about the time has now become one of my favorite human beings in this world was so compelling. As I heard him talk through his stories, all the things I was taking place.
And I knew that model was for me. And so I called up a buddy of mine and decided that we were going to launch a search fund together, started that process. And as we started that process, we started looking at a lot of different businesses. I would call them straight down the fairway kind of typical surgical and businesses that were high brokering revenue, B2B as much as possible, low customer concentration. But as we started searching more, we started looking into healthcare practice management. And what we saw was that it had all of the same checkmarks as a search fund and that it was an industry where there were baby boomers from non-traditional exit alternatives. In the case of dentistry, you had these dentists that were baby boomers that were looking to retire and they wanted to sell their practice. But the dentist that they were looking to sell their practices to were graduating with like $300,000 of school debt.
And on top of that, they wanted more flexibility. And so all of those ingredients didn’t create a good exit alternative for those dentists. And so that’s where private equity buyers began to create these DSOs. So by these dental practices of the dentists, and then there’s also a play of saying, look, you went to school eight-plus years to create clinical quality care, to provide great clinical quality care. We went to school to provide all the other aspects of the dental practice, marketing, HR, finance, accounting, you name it so we can partner together. We’ll be the nonclinical experts. You’d be the clinical experts and we’ll partner together. And so it just looked like it was a very attractive industry. Although it wasn’t recurring revenue, there was a high repeat customer base to it. So we thought, okay, let’s start looking in this industry. And that’s where we came across this one company in particular, which we would end up buying that would become a part of Unified Dental partners.
And the business at the time it was located in Detroit, had three offices. They were bigger offices than a traditional dental practice. It was doing a good amount of EBITDA and it had an upward trajectory of how the business had been growing year over year. As I spoke to the broker though, one thing that he mentioned is that the deal had been under LOI, but the buyers had ultimately walked away from it because they found some character issues in the seller. And because of those character issues, they decided to walk away. So I’m just going to let you know, these are the things that he had done before. And some of them were non-related to his profession, but some of them were related to his profession. Like he had run into some issues with billing, with Medicaid and it was Medicaid’s fault. It was the story that we were being told.
And so I was a little bit skeptical, but then I was thinking, man, this is like month 13 of my search. I only have a little bit, this hourglass is running out. What am I going to do? Let’s take a look at it. I have a friend that lives in Detroit. I’ve seen the way that it’s been transforming. I like the story I like where these practices are located in terms of the service that they’re providing for the community. And I started to look into it. And the way that I thought about diligence was okay, before I do your traditional quality of earnings diligence first, just to see that the numbers are what they are. I want to make sure that this revenue is compliant because if the revenue is not compliant, the way that he’s making money is not the right way, right. Basically, it’s not with integrity.
Then it doesn’t really matter if there are two of each checkout. So basically I reached out to a couple of searches at the time that looked at healthcare practice management and particularly dental deals, and they said, Hey, dude you guys have a person that does the chart audits to make sure that the revenue is compliant? They said, yeah, you can go with this person, this outfit, that’s going to cost you about 20 grand. I was like, geez, 20 grand that’s like 5% of our search fund. And where you can go with this outfit, that’s going to cost you like 8 grand. And it’s like a guy that just does services on the side and stuff. And so I was like, I’m going to go with a 8 grand outfit. And we went with them. And at the time they had seen some things that the person, the consultant had seen, some things that were questionable, but the person was not a dentist.
And so he would always say, I’m not a dentist. And so I kind of have to defer to his explanations because what he’s saying is checking out, but I’m not a dentist afterward with the report, we took a look at it and we thought it was good, but it ended up being a thing where it became a major issue. And the unfortunate thing is I didn’t find that out until after we bought it. And why did we move forward with buying it if we had those reservations? Honestly, I think that at the time, if I’m being honest, there were a couple of subjective things that were taking place. The first objective thing that was taking place was that, again, as I had mentioned, I had felt like the sand in my hourglass was running out on our search fund, had no idea what I was going to do.
I already take a risk to do a search fund and was making less money than I felt like I could make doing something different, so I wanted to pay off. The second story that I told myself was that man if this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff like I felt the guy was on drugs at the time, which I found out he was on drugs. If this guy is running a successful business on drugs, surely I gotta be able to run at least at our business as he’s running, not on drugs. Right? That was like my mentality. And then the third thing I thought to myself is that I could probably out structure, provide a better structure, deal structure so that if there is something that I’m just missing like we’re going to catch and it ended up being wrong. And what happened is we walked the business two weeks later, which mind you, this is only full weeks after my second child was born.
My daughter was born four weeks later, we had bought the business and walked around the office. And one of the employees tells me, Hey, yeah, we’re not able to accept this insurance at this place because of the audit that’s taking place. What audit are you talking about? The audit. I have no idea what you’re talking about? The audit. And so I was like, what? So I bring my partner into the room and then we basically start to hear that he didn’t share that they were under investigation and that he basically had made material misrepresentations in the asset purchase agreement. And we thought we were buying X. We were buying Y. And so just to pause right here, before I go on to the next part, what would I do differently about my due diligence process? Looking back on it. Now, the first thing I would say is that when it comes to due diligence, about the outfit or whoever’s in your diligence stream, the one that’s more expensive, right?
So like the law firm that’s more expensive does not necessarily mean that they’re better than the law firm that’s the less expensive. Having said that, one thing to keep in mind is that you only pay for quality once. And so I paid for lack of quality several times over several years over, I know the listeners can’t see this, but when we first started the process, I had a full head of hair. And now I look like George Jefferson, right? And if I let my hair grow out, so I stayed bald because of the stress that I’ve undergone because of making that decision. The second thing though, I would say, which is the most important thing that I live by now is if you think about a deal, which in our world, we call it the way that you structure a deal. We call it deal structure. Any good structure has a foundation.
And the foundation of any good deal is the character, it’s trust. And if you don’t have that foundation with the opposite party, then it doesn’t matter how good that structure looks that you build on top of it. It’s going to fall down. It’s just a matter of time. And you may be able to rebuild it because of the industry or because of your own savviness or whatever. It might be, what you would have been much better off if it is a good industry, buying something and working with someone that has good character has a good foundation. And so that’s the ultimate thing where, when we’ve heard that he had those character issues, we should have just walked the other way. And that’s the way that we look at business now is that if we hear it’s a characterization, we don’t care. If we feel like we can outperform, if we feel like it’s being mismanaged, we’re just like, no.
Okay. The next thing I would say, though, is, okay, here we were in this situation and now we’ve got to run the business. And you bring up boxing and that’s exactly the situation we were in. Like typically the search fund world, particularly in your first year goes by the same motto as healthcare professionals, which is the first thing is do no harm. That’s the first thing that you think about when your first year of being a searcher and you’re being a search fund operator rather, for any operator for that matter. The thought process is that look like can be in the room, but don’t touch anything. Don’t break anything until you know what you’re touching. And we were in a completely different situation where we went from being new CEOs to us being turnaround CEOs. And literally like a two-week instance.
That’s how long, like the honeymoon, the last one was two weeks. And so we realized that to give the boxing analogy. It is very much so that time where Mike Tyson once said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Like we had gotten punched in the mouth, we had got rocked and we were against the rope and we’re like, okay, like we could just say, may I screw it? Yeah. Like we’re just done. We didn’t sign up for this. You guys didn’t sign up for this. Yeah. We admit we hold our hand up that we got ourselves in this situation. But look, let’s just try to do a fire sell, and let’s move on with our lives. And I’ll do with my nightmares or let’s start, sweetie. Let’s start trying some stuff. And so really what we decided to do is we really started to focus on three things.
The first thing is culture. The next thing is compliance. And then the third thing we focused on was processes and policies. And I’ll talk about each one of them. When you hear culture, it’s like a buzzword, like a word that everybody kind of talks about, you don’t really know how to explain it. It’s kind of like when you first get married, people will tell you, yeah, it’s all about communication. Thanks. Okay. What do I, where do I go from here? How do I kind of climb deeper? How do I fly lower and get in the weeds a little bit, so to speak. And so really for us, let me back up. I read this is a book called, Believe Me: Storytelling. And it was written by a guy by the name of Mike Margolis, he’s a cultural anthropologist and he said: ‘To learn about a culture. You need to listen to its stories; to change a culture, you need to change its stories.
And what we realized is that the culture of this organization, meaning the behavior of this organization was all about themselves. It was all about, at the time we learned who was with this seller and who was performing things for the seller and any way that you could possibly make up and who could kind of get ahead of the next person. It was like a backstabbing kind of conniving behavior in the ethos of this organization. And so the first thing we wanted to do was to create some core values. And say, okay, this is what the business stood for before. This is what we stand for now, and here’s our mission. And I remember still to this day, going into the practices and going into the breakout room with each of the offices at the time, it was like 70 employees altogether.
And saying, this is what happened before, right? This is the way of doing things before. This was the culture before this was the behavior before now we’re here. Right? And if you were a part of that culture before, and you did some of those things before, that was the past, but now is the future. And so it’s a new start. So if you would like to perform better and do things the way that you should have done things before, with integrity, with commitment, and with professionalism, then you’re going to love us. We’re going to be great people to work for. But if you want to act like how you were acting before and how the culture was before, prior to us being here, then this is not going to last very long. So your job is safe, but it’s safe for now. And all the other things that you did before sins are forgiven so to speak. This is a new slate. And we’ll see how things go.
What were some of those stories? Are you able to share a few that you had to change within the company?
Yeah. So look, they were billing for services that had not been done. And they knew that service services had not been done. So people were doing that for them. They were seeing patients based on how much money they thought they had. And even the patient waiting room was big. But if they felt like, man, this person doesn’t have a lot of money and this person was going to wait a little bit longer than the other person. It was like, they were showing up to work whenever they wanted to show up to work. People would cuss like patients out, but they did have a patient and not have patience.
They would cuss patients out and then expect they were still going to have their job. There was, I learned about so many different relationships with the seller. It was ridiculous. Oh, you wrote that person was in a relationship. Okay. That, yeah, exactly. Like it was just, it was nuts.
Like the owner had relationships with employees?
Yeah, exactly. Like several, like coming into that situation, we kind of gave that talk and we said, Hey, there’s a new clean slate. If you want better know, better do better. If you want better, this is the time to do it. Maybe you could do those things before. Maybe you felt like you were doing the wrong thing, but you wanted to have a job. Now you could do the right thing, have a job. In fact, that’s the only way you’re going to have a job. And so what I thought was, Man, we’re giving them a new opportunity.
This is a new slate. Like people are going to just fall in line. They’re going to apply these core values. And it sounds silly, but that’s what I thought, right? This is a new opportunity. It’s a new slate. What the reality is that people don’t conform to core values, right? They don’t like adhering to core values just because you say, Hey, these are our core values. You have to hire for those core values. And so that became a difficult thing for us that we realized about two to three months into this business is wait a minute. Yeah, we have these core values, but we can’t expect that the very few people that have that exude these core values are going to stay with us. And that the new people that we’re bringing on are going to stay with us if we continue to have these people.
And so we learned about this hiring method called top grading, and that’s where you basically use a fact-based rigorous way of analyzing applicants based upon their past performance. And then instead of having just a job description that you put on Indeed, you actually have a scorecard of a way that basically defines the mission of that job, the responsibilities of the job, and how people are going to be graded. And it lays out specifically how they’re going to be graded. So that was the first thing we learned about that method. The next thing that we did to start to try to change the culture and try to upgrade the staff was that we basically created an org chart for our company and we create an org chart for each location. And in the org chart, we had positions that needed to be filled. And then we had each person in their position and the position that needed to be filled.
We color-coded it purple cause we needed to fill that position. The people that were rockstars, we colored it green that the people that we didn’t know about, like how the performance was, we colored it, gray that person in the org chart, gray, and then the people that needed to be fired within 30 days, we put that name in the org chart red. So if you can imagine we had these org charts that showed all of these positions. And I just remember feeling so stressed up because there was more red than was any other color on that org chart. And so we began making a plan of hiring for that position, firing that person that was in that position, that was a red and then a communication plan for people that were connected to that person. And it was just like a stressful year where we basically changed and fired and then hired about 40 new people that year. It was a lot, it was a ton.
How quickly did you have to make that entire organizational transition? Because I imagine if you brought in a few really good employees who fit your core values and they were great, they might not enjoy working with folks who didn’t fit that and maybe were gonna be fired. But if that person who was gonna be fired is still there for like three to six months that a good performer might start getting antsy and annoyed and want to leave. So like how quickly do you have to get people to get like cycle your organization into your better performers?
Yeah. The answer is as quick as possible, our issue is we didn’t do it quickly enough. It was always, they should have happened a lot sooner because of the reason that you brought up, which was when you brought this other person in there and you’ve sold them on the core values, you sold them on the vision. We had people applying to our jobs, Alex, and they were like, man, I worked here like a year ago, man, you guys were just nuts, man. Like I left, but we hear that you’re trying to do something new. We hear that you guys are good people, so we’re willing to enter again. And then we would hire them to your point. They would say, Hey, you’re trying to do all these things, but this person is like, sabotaging everything. Are you going up or are you going down?
Which way is the elevator going? Cause you can’t stay in this place. And so that’s why we learn. Okay. Like man, even people that we’re really skillful people like they were really good technical people, but they just, their attitudes were horrible and their values were not aligned with ours. We had to get rid of, because that was the only way that we could keep or bring in people that had aligned values with us. So we went through that org chart and we had, again, a color for if your name was in red, we were going to terminate you in 30 days. And then actually, if your name was in yellow, we were gonna terminate you in like 90 days. Right. And we had a plan of each position that we were gonna basically fill. The next thing that we focused on was compliance. And that was because look, if you’re not making your money compliantly in my business, any business, right.
You’re getting audited. Right? Like in our case, we were getting audited by this big insurance company. It was like one of the major shirts companies in our area. And at first, they wouldn’t allow us to accept their insurance, but then we were able to be under peer review. So instead of getting paid, like within like 30 days, we’re getting paid within 60 days because they would have to go through an extra process of reviewing each chart and each claim that we sent to them. And so yeah, we had to go through this process of making sure that we have the right people that were gonna bill compliantly. We had to have the right process where some things that other or dental practices do, which is some dental practices build the insurance when they take an impression of a crown versus when the crown is actually placed in the patient’s mouth.
A lot of dental practices do it that way. Even though a lot of insurances, you’re not supposed to do it that way.
Wait. Yeah. So what do you mean there with the crown placing? What do you mean by the difference there? I’m not familiar.
So when you go to get a crown, you need to get a crown on a tooth. Like you’ll take an impression and then the dentists will need to make the crown and then place the crown, maybe like in the next visit. And so a lot of times people will bill, as soon as they make the impression, as opposed to when it’s actually placed in a patient’s mouth. And like sometimes insurance companies that have that in their policy that you’re not supposed to do that they’ll be like, it’s not that big of a deal cuz a lot of people did it.
But like we were doing everything by the book and still do everything by the book till this day because we realized that we had reputational damage that we needed to recover. It was interesting because the same insurance company that we weren’t able to accept in 2017 until later on in that year, the same insurance company that we were under audit for the earlier part of 2018, by 2019, we received an award for providing the most amount of quality service to, for kids 13 through 18. That was in the span of a year and a half of us coming in and it being a complete horror story. And by the way, let me just back up. This is all while we were dealing with business litigation as well. So we’re dealing with business litigation where the seller had basically fled from the United States because the state of Michigan was going after him.
So he didn’t show up to his arraignment hearing and fled the United States. And so they had to send you us Marshalls to go find him. And so I’ve always told people as I would probably make more money off of books than I might make off of running a business of writing about all the things that took place like in the fir it was just, it was straight out of a horror movie, Alex. It was crazy. So we focused on compliance. The third thing that we focused on was processes and policies. There are probably only two jobs in the entire dental practice that my partner and myself did not do at least at one point. And that was being a dentist, being a hygienist, everything else we’ve done like I’ve been the janitor and the dental practice. I’ve been the security guard. We’ve been the dental assistants.
Like we’ve been the office manager each and everything. And we basically learned every position from the inside out so that we could create processes around how each position is supposed to be performed in policies. It literally was a situation where we had gone from being these new CEOs to in the blink of an eye, we were now turnaround CEOs in a turnaround situation and one kind of invisible person or a group of people that I can’t give enough credit to was our board. Had a really great group of people that were on our board that, you know, Todd Tracy, Michael Aubry, we had Susan Paul Meer at one point and it still was on our board. So participates with our board and then a guy named Keith Miller. Like these board members were very gracious. They understood we were going through a lot of stress and they gave us a lot of time and helped us to it’s the proverbial when you get knocked out on the ground. And that’s like the most important time that you have with your coach is when you sit down on that stool and they’re like, Hey, you just got knocked down this round. If you don’t wanna get knocked out, you gotta listen to me closely where it’s like a very high stake round. It was a very high stake round and they provided great coaching. And I can’t say enough of how great those folks have been going
Back to your story of getting backstage. What do you think that talent was that you’ve been able to grow and really develop into this ability to lead or take over operations and companies and do all these different roles and to turnaround companies? Is there a talent or skill or some ability that you can put your finger on that kind of correlates all the way through from that backstage moment?
Look, I’ve thought about that. And the way that I think about that is in two ways, one way I call it the hidden yes. A lot of times you’re being inundated with hearing no, so many different times in life because of the situation that you grow up in and like opportunity gap situations, whether it be a school you wanna go to, whether it be a business you’re constantly hearing no or a lender, whatever you’re hearing. No. And so what I called it is like the hidden yes. Find a way to get to a yes, find a way to make it happen, which comes to resilience. Like at that point in time, like that concert, right. I can’t see anything. What kind of concert is that? I would’ve been better off than the nose police section. Cuz I could see more than I could see like on the floor, but I couldn’t see anything.
And I was like, no, I’m going to find a whole way to get in the backstage. And being an entrepreneur is very analogous with that is that you’re gonna hear “No” often. And if you allow that to get under your skin and you take that personally, then it’s gonna be a very stressful place to be. But if you say, eh, they shouldn’t know that time, then there’s only a matter of time before I hear a yes, I need to approach this from a different angle. I just feel like that’s anyone that I’ve ever seen that is a successful entrepreneur who has had that resilience and then where they look for that hidden “Yes”. And cuz all it takes is just one. And in our case of operating our business, I still remember thinking, man, this is horrible. Did we lose all our investors’ money? They just gave us this money four weeks ago.
And it in their portfolios are they underwriting it like 70% loss, a hundred percent loss. I don’t know. And then really, it just became a thing where I was like, man, I’ll never forget David Dodson’s advice, David Dodson’s investor and the search point space, and also a Stanford business lecture. We wanted to continue to pursue this business litigation to try to be rerated for how we had been lied to. And I remember he said he was like, Jason, how much do you think you’ll get in an upside scenario if you guys win this business case said, yeah, maybe we’ll get a million bucks back. And he said, okay, a million bucks. And how much do you think you’ll sell the business for? Or one day when you go to sell? I was like, probably six times. He’s like, okay. So if really you think about that a million bucks, you think you’re gonna sell the business for six times, if you divide a million bucks by six, that’s about $160,000, a hundred, 6,000 bucks.
I should know my math, but he said, wouldn’t you be better? Just thinking about how to grow the EBITDA by $160,000 and sell for six times. And that will equal the million rather than spending all your time, your energy, and focus just to maybe get a million bucks from this seller. And I remember thinking like, wow, that was a really good way of looking at it. So I can’t go anywhere else. I can’t look anywhere else right now for somebody to come to save me. The back is against the wall against the ropes. So to speak, we’re gonna have to come out, swing it like out of this, if we wanna make it through to the next round.
Yeah. That’s the idea if you wanna be right or do you wanna make money? That’s a good one.
That’s exactly it. I haven’t heard that before, but that’s exactly it. Better said.
That’s a lot of wisdom though. Like there’s probably a lot of ego involved there too. I know I’m right. I know that this guy wronged me and I’m gonna do whatever it takes to make sure that he’s punished. I’ve recouped my losses in my pain. And so how hard was it to just turn away and start to push that kind of thought that thought out of your mind and just start focusing on your business, ignoring the wrongdoing that may not have been punished to the full extent that you wished for.
Look, it was incredibly difficult. It was incredibly difficult because it was just very emotional and I choked, but it wasn’t, I’m not about to cry, but at least not now I cried. I cried back then. I took it very personally. I took it very personally that I looked at my son who was about to turn two, my daughter, that was four weeks old that I trusted this person, my wife, my beautiful wife that had been with me through all of this who was at home with our baby in Chicago while I’m in Detroit with a less than two-year-old and a four week old baby at that time. And I took it personally. And so I’m like, man, I’m gonna get this guy. I’m gonna get back at him for what he did, but having to separate that and go if I truly do care about what’s best for them and what’s best for our investors and what’s best for our employees, what’s best for our patients.
I have to get out of revenge mode and I have to get to thinking concisely thinking long-term thinking forgiveness even so that I can move past this place that I’m stuck at. Anger takes up a lot of energy. It can take up a lot of energy. And so that’s what was occupying a lot of my emotional energy and my focus. And so when I was able to separate that and say, you know what, I’m gonna focus my energy on moving past this and thinking long term, it made all the difference. It made a difference for our business, my partner, and me.
One thing I know we’ve talked about a lot too is the pressure of being a minority searcher with family and friends that sees you as someone to look up to as you go through these different entrepreneurial journeys and that that can create some pressure that probably has good sides and bad sides. But I just love to hear a little bit more about what that experience has been like for you as you’ve taken over this business and started focusing on growing and raising a family and all this other stuff.
Yeah. One of the issues when it comes to being a minority entrepreneur is just that we can get into a lot of the reasons why, but there’s just not a lot of representation of minority entrepreneurs compared to other demographics. You don’t really see that as often and minorities because of the things that have transpired in our history. A lot of times you think about something as subtle as a home and if you’re living in an under-resourced neighborhood and if you do own the home, but it’s priced less because of that neighborhood, how do you have equity once you go to sell the home, right? Like how much equity do you have? How much equity do you have to refinance in that home and start a business like many people do to start their own businesses? One is just that there’s not a lot of representation.
And the other aspect was though, is because to that as a minority entrepreneur, a lot of times minorities don’t have a safety net to fall back on. If things don’t work out like, Hey, you know, I have this kind of trust fund or I have this family business or my grandparents have this money tucked away. So you don’t have that safety net to fall back on if something happens, but that’s not the most pressuring thing. A lot of times as a minority entrepreneur, what provides even greater pressure is that not only do you not have a safety net to fall back on, but there might be some other family members, others, whoever it might be, cousins, whatever it might be that are expecting to fall back on you as a safety net. And so that provides added pressure. And so with even trying to make that decision to go that route, it can be a very daunting task for any entrepreneur, from any race, from any ethnicity, from any back route.
But especially from someone, that kind of has those kinds of family things that are going on. And so it’s an extremely difficult thing. I know in my context too, once I made a decision that I was gonna go this route, there are just things that as a minority you to think about that maybe other counterparts don’t have to think about. So for instance, when we created our search fund website and we wanted to say, let the world know that we’re gonna go out here and buy a business. Do we put our picture on the site? Right? Do we not put a picture on the site? Do we want them to see us? Do we want them to have maybe some, maybe there’s gonna be preconceived notions about who we are and what we’re about because of the way we look the color of our skin? And so those are some of the things just at surface level that I was thinking about.
And I’ve had many conversations with other minority searchers entrepreneurs that have had to think through these things that others maybe don’t have to think about as much. And so I’m very passionate about trying to discuss with minorities about access to capital markets and become an entrepreneur, how to build wealth for yourself, generational wealth. That’s gonna change the trajectory of your family. I feel like we can create a whole another podcast if I go down that route, but it is something that I’m very passionate about. And I think that there’s been a lot of conversations that I’ve been very encouraging in recent years about being more thoughtful about providing opportunities to minorities in general.
Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree. We could definitely make a whole podcast about just this topic, I’d be curious. What are some developments recently in the last few years or even a few months that have you really excited or the future and bringing more minorities into search or entrepreneurship generally?
So in general, what I’ve been seeing is that there have been more minorities that have been able to access capital for starting private equity funds, venture capital funds, or ventures in general than before. There has been more of an understanding that is not an underrepresentation of ideas in minorities, but it’s just an underfunding of those ideas under-investment. And so I’ve seen more investments taking place. I’ve seen more minorities start their first private equity funds, their first funds, and stuff. And that’s very encouraging and quite a few come to mind is I think through that second thing though, I would say in terms of the search fund space, I’ve seen there be more of an emphasis on providing resources for minorities that are in the search fund space. I saw that there was a women’s searcher network that was created. That’s been providing some great resources. I’ve been hearing, they’ve been doing some really cool things. We actually started me and several others. Keith Burns, Michael Curry, Marcus Scott, Monica, and Jane Cognoa. We’ve started a black searcher network where we provide resources throughout the entire life cycle of the search fund from just starting your search to investing in search funds for black searchers. And it’s been about a year since that started, we’ve had several webinars, we’ve heard a lot of encouraging feedback and we have a lot of vision for things that we’d like to do in the future.
Yeah. That’s gonna be hugely exciting. I’m excited to see where that goes. Moving into some closing questions. What college class would you teach if you could teach about any subject you wanted?
That’s a tough one. Some of the usual suspects, I would teach about entrepreneurship through acquisition. I just think it’s a great place to be. I think that would be the main thing. I, I would talk about entrepreneurship through acquisition. I would teach a particular class on accessing capital, particularly from the standpoint of minorities as well. I would like to talk through survey a class and that try to think through what else. Those are the main things that I’ve thought about in the past. In fact, those have been the main things I’ve been invited to speak about.
That’s gonna be exciting too, to be able to speak in some of those classes and start to share your story beyond the other side, where you mentioned earlier about watching a class and Matt Estep was the guest there. It must be pretty awesome to now flip that around. And you’re now speaking to these classes of future entrepreneurs.
Yeah. Look, I’ll never forget. I went to one conference and there was a person that was speaking and they were talking about their experience in the business. And at the end, when there was a Q and A time, the person rose their hand, they said, Hey, just real quick question. Did you ever do anything wrong with your business? The place erupted because the person was painting like a rosy picture of everything that they had done and all the decisions that they had made for me, I feel like I’m the type of person you’ll listen to me and you’ll raise your hand, ask the question, excuse me, did you do anything right during your time operating good, this to be a searcher. So it’s better to be unknown than infamous, but that being said, if I can help people not make the decisions that I’ve made, it’s very exciting because I realize that it it’s taken a lot to turn things around.
Yeah. That can’t be really exciting. What strongly held belief have you changed your mind
On? I think it was the thing that I alluded to earlier. I was of the thought that again, it was probably gonna sound silly that everyone wants to change. Everyone wants to do better. Everyone wants to be better. And what I really heard through our process of trying to scale organization and executing that turnaround plan where we, we were trying to have a different culture than the culture that was before was that a lot of people don’t wanna change. A lot of people don’t wanna get better. A lot of people wanna do the minimum. A lot of people don’t wanna do things the right way. And as enthusiastic as you might be as much potential as you might see in them, a lot of times people will only arise to the potential that they see in themselves. And so irrespective of what you see in them or what they could be or what they could do, it doesn’t matter if they don’t see that themselves and they don’t want better for themselves. And that was a very, very difficult thing for me to have to grapple with because it was a lot of people we had to make decisions for in terms of terminating their employment.
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve reviewed that whole roller coaster. And that could probably be its own episode too, which would be fascinating to do first of all. But yeah, there’s gotta be tons of lessons learned there what’s the best business you’ve ever seen?
I thought about that, cuz I’m a fan of your podcast. The fan is able to get backstage and have a conversation. And I thought about it and I don’t necessarily the way that I thought about it before was a particular industry or particular business in a particular industry. But just the best business that I’ve ever seen in a general is a place where the management is able to provide a clear, succinct vision of where they see the business going. And they’re able to provide opportunities where employees could really go after it. They can grow. It’s clearly defined as their ability to grow within the organization. They’re compensated, not just monetarily, but in other ways for being a huge part of that, that’s like the best business that I’ve seen. And I’ve seen several businesses. I’ve seen like that where I’m still, I would still love to model our business after some of those businesses, even in the search fund space, just a lot of great organizations run by a lot of great people.
Anyways, I feel like that’s kinda like a cop-out answer, but I feel like it’s a serious answer is that any business where people are just believing and they’re putting their best foot forward an organization where, you know, in my, in my day I drove a lot of back cars. And so every once in a while you get a back car where you, they won’t drive anymore. So what do you have to do? You have to put it in neutral. Everybody goes to the back, especially if you’re a real friend, you go to the back and you start pushing that thing together. And organizations where people understand that, Hey, my foot may get stepped on while I’m pushing this thing forward and I might step on your foot, but it’s not because we wanna hurt you. But because we wanna push this thing forward and we all understand we’re pushing these things forward. Those are the best organizations that I’ve seen organizations where it’s like, ah, you hurt me. You stepped on my foot. I’m done pushing, right? Because you wanted to step on my foot. Those are some of the worst points that I’ve seen is really incredibly difficult to move things forward. So those are the kind of best businesses that I’ve seen is where everybody’s pushing things forward. And knowing that if they do step on each other’s toes, it’s only to make things move forward at the end of the day.
I love that answer. It’s definitely not a cop-out one. So don’t feel bad about that at all. That’s I like that one.
It’s almost like the inversion of best business. What’s a business you wanna avoid like management. That’s trying to just give up on each other or not fighting towards a unified vision for the company. If you inverted the best business question, like what’s the worst business. What are some other things that the worst business might do?
To your point? It is the inverse of that, which is it’s just a lack of trust. And in fact, I’m, quoting Patrick Lencioni where he talks about the absence of trust as the first foundational principle. Like where people just don’t trust each other, the management doesn’t trust each other management doesn’t trust the board, doesn’t trust the management. If there is no board, the employees don’t trust the management, the management, they don’t trust the employees. That’s just a really, really hard setting to do business in. It’s where there’s no trust. And I can’t say that enough because of the situation that I was in. If you don’t have trust, like you don’t have anything and trust is something that is earned. It’s not something that is just given. It’s not something that, that is just expected. You have to earn the trust of individuals by basically doing what you say.
And so yeah, any organization where there’s just not trust there, I’ve seen, even if there can be big organizations too, Alex, right? Like where big corporations, where there’s a lack of trust, people will spend more time arguing, looking out for themselves than they will actually be getting real work done when there’s no trust, making sure that they’re moving up and that the other person’s not moving around them or backstabbing them. And so a lack of trust, it just wastes time, it wastes energy, it wastes focus and it wastes resources. So the inverse of that is better things.
Thank you so much, Jason, for sharing some time, this has been really fun to have you, and we could probably record two or three other episodes on top of this one. So looking forward to those in the future, but thank you for sharing some time today. This has been super fun.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.