Before I quit my job to search full time a mentor of mine told me that I needed to give it at least a year because deals take time. Now that it’s been a year, I wanted to reflect and share what I’ve learned. For context, I’m a spouse funded searcher so I’m fortunate to have living expenses and benefits covered. I’m also doing a geographic focused search, exclusively with brokers. Here's my big takeaways:
Its really really difficult to get ANY deal done I’ve made 5 offers, had one signed LOI that fell apart in diligence, and I’ve had 2 different sellers pull their companies off the market while we were negotiating a LOI. The amount of things that have to come together to get a deal done is incredible (buyer-seller relationship, price, industry, geography, financing, customer concentration, competent broker, etc). I’ve read so many success stories about people who complete multiple acquisitions in a short time frame; they make it sound so easy. I knew it would be hard when I started, but it's definitely harder than I thought. Massive respect to anyone who gets a deal done.
Your search criteria can (and should) change Before I began my search I spent a lot of time crafting my target criteria, knowing that staying focused would increase my probability of success. Two of my criteria were: 1) minimum $500k SDEs and 2) less than 3 hours away from my home. As I started to speak with brokers and sellers about companies 2+ hours away, it became very apparent to me that, given the importance of facetime and gaining credibility immediately post close, that distance was way too far for me. I’ve got 3 small kids at home and I didn’t quit my job to start a new career with a 2+ hr commute. I reduced the range to 1 hr from my house but was having a real hard time finding deal volume with $500k+ SDEs. I started poking around opportunities with $300k+ SDEs and that unlocked a lot more deals. My preference is to buy bigger, but I’d rather close a smaller deal soon, than continue to wait indefinitely for a larger deal. Changing your criteria isn’t a bad thing; it’s a sign that you are learning so I’d encourage you to revisit them every once in a while and see if they still make sense.
Search is so personal; don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others When I first started I used to get so jealous hearing about the searcher who picked up a $1.5MM EBITDA company for a 3.5x multiple after only 6 months of searching. What's not in that soundbite is that the searcher is 28 years old, single, and moved across the country for the opportunity. Would I love to close an opportunity like that? Sure, but that's not the life stage that I’m in. I wasted too much time in the beginning comparing my experience and my deal criteria with others and quite frankly it was a waste of time. There's so many personal decisions that come into play with a search; focus on you and your why and don’t get caught up keeping up with the Jones’.
This is not a solo pursuit ; your network is your lifeline I’ve been blown away by the Search / SMB community. I’ve met some really smart, amazing people over this past year and I’ve accelerated my learning 100X compared to when I was just kicking tires while at my W-2 job. Total strangers I’ve reached out to have been incredibly generous with their time and they’ve taught me so much from their personal experiences. I went to a SMB NJ meet-up locally and from that event there's 5 of us in a group chat that text daily about deals we are looking at, issues we encounter, etc. There's a limit to how much my spouse or my friends can take hearing about SMBs; but having this other outlet of friends to chat with on a regular basis has been a total lifeline. If you aren’t actively engaging with others and meeting new people every week, you are missing out.
So after a year, what's next for me? While I’m discouraged that I’m not close to completing an acquisition, the dream is still very much alive and my search will continue. I’m going to keep using brokered channels but also look to network with local attorneys and CPAs as a way to potentially increase deal flow.
If you are new to search or have been searching for a while and want to compare notes, feel free to reach out. I’d love to chat and give back to the community that has given me so much.