I will have passed the one-year mark as a business owner in a few weeks. Looking back, I am still incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I also credit my friends and family for supporting me through this life changing endeavor.
Your target company will have problems that you're aware of before you close. It is wise to only bring some things up with the seller before you close. I deliberately didn't dive deeper during the transaction on a few items I knew would be problems. Instead, like any good searcher, I opted to take on more debt! I mean by debt that those issues were problems that grew with interest. Here are some examples:
1. Office Space - I knew this would be an issue before I closed. The office was small and awkward, and the owner didn't work there. It presented many problems early on. I had no privacy. I couldn't just leave the office during the day because I needed to get to know my staff and learn the business. Unfortunately, I also had sensitive M&A stuff to discuss and work on. In addition, I couldn't lead the staff how I wanted because I was too close to them. There is an ideal separation between Staff, Clients, and the C-suite. That is both metaphorical and physical
2. Technology - Old cell phones. Old computers. No tech support. Non-existent employee time tracking. Redundant, hard-to-read spreadsheets with duplicated information (see what I did there?). Old website. Lax cyber security. Regulatory Compliance was a complete afterthought (HIPAA compliance?!).
Who gets to handle all of this? You do, of course! My advice is to come up with a game plan with REALISTIC timeframes. You will most likely need to make structural changes to the tech suite shortly after closing. Those changes will impact operations. Your staff will have various degrees of familiarity with technology. Make a realistic plan, and remember that your staff will move at different speeds. Don't underestimate the amount of YOUR time it will take to coach, implement, guide, and cajole your staff into making the changes.
3. Key staff - I had a key staff member who handled almost all our sales. I was uncomfortable with this before closing. I learned the first month after closing that this employee (a) Was not good at his job (b) Needed to be replaced ASAP (there was a "us or him" moment with some critical staff). I'm not the first person on here to say something like this. It has been one year, and I'm just now getting past this issue.
Aside from those three examples, here are a few more reflections looking back:
Personnel - I heard a statistic that search fund companies have high turnover rates after closing. This is true for mine as well. I had one employee stealing time. Another was always calling out. One had been a bad apple for years. This will be your world after you close. These people are critical to your success or failure.
Employee Pay - My business partners and board members helped me with this: Don't walk in and give certain people raises right away. I almost gave several people raises in the first two months because I was impressed at how much more they did versus their peers. Instead, on the advice of my board members, I took a slower and more calculated approach to better match those individuals' pay and position to their engagement in the company. Alternatively, retention bonuses worked really well at keeping the core, irreplaceable staff engaged.
Pick your North Star and stick to it - I'm aiming to build a high-quality company. That means explosive growth and EBITDA gain are second to excellent operations. I could not get past where the old owner built the company until the company's core operations were more finely tuned. The old owner ran the company far more savagely and economically than I ever could. Instead, my talent lies in engineering understandable, efficient, and moldable systems. This has cost a lot of my time and brainpower but the result is that we're pleasing our customers which is raising our top line. More organic growth and cost-cutting will come next.
Time during the workday - I was terrible with time management for the first 6 months. I'm getting better but I still find that there are many days, from 9am - 5pm I have almost no time to get to my non-urgent emails. Emails pile up, and once everyone leaves for the day, I can get to that work. Many people write books on this topic. The struggle is real for me. Staying on task and calendar blocks are good tools, but you'll still have many fire drills as a business owner throughout your week.
I self-funded my search and partnered with SIG as a full-time searcher about 1 month after I started my FT search (Oct###-###-#### My search took 12 months and I burned a little under $100k. We all have different ways of accounting for the exact burn. This is a look at my balance sheet from the start to the end of the month after I closed. Consider that this includes my life insurance, rental deposit at my new place, moving expenses, etc…
Plan for broken deal costs. Some highlights for me - Trip to northern midwest ~$2500 - Driving and meals solely related to opportunities in SoCal ~$1200 - QoE, Phase 1 broken deal ~$9000
Your search burn rate during an active LOI will increase, and your search productivity will decrease proportionately with time during your first few months of due diligence. As you get deeper into a transaction, you'll have less time to engage with brokers and review CIMs, and you'll have more time spent with lawyers, their broker, etc… You're going to have less time to get groceries, cook, clean, and relax as your transaction gets closer to the finish line. You'll eat out and stress a lot more.
The month of closing I sweat bullets that something would blow up in my face, and I'd be out a lot of money. Try to relax and focus on the things you control. I am sweating just reflecting on the month of closing. Arguably one of the most stressful events of my entire life.
I broke up legal and due diligence into 2 purchase phases: QoE (Phases 1 and 2) and Legal (Phases 1 and 2). My professional services team rolled up their final phases, legal and QoE, into closing, which was covered by the bank debt. (Byline Bank, SBA 7a loan using WSJ Prime and a sub 200pt base rate. 80/10/10 style transaction)
I credit, , and and the SIG team for making my close easier. There were lots of little things that would have been fine without them. There are also many things I would have spent more money on or skipped if it wasn't for them. Looking back, I wouldn't have done it without them. This statement, by the way, has not been endorsed by them. I'm just grateful I had them on my side during the transaction.
Finally, to everyone looking to buy and operate a SMB, keep in mind that this is a major change you're pursuing. It's stressful, time consuming, and deeply personal. Keep at it and one last piece of advice - cut the deals that won't close loose as soon as possible. Don't hang on for hope on a hopeless seller or mediocre business. The stakes are too high.