ABOUT THE EPISODE
SVP, Industry Solutions & Strategy
Founder & Managing Partner
Mauve Capital Partners
Mike Abdella is a one-man force. The Founder and Managing Director of Mauve Capital Partners — a search fund — is laser-focused on finding a business to buy and operate. The problem is finding that business puts him in competition with much larger private equity firms that have access to far more resources, both in terms of people and technology spend. In this episode, we’ll talk through Mike’s process and technology components, and by the end you’ll have learned that it’s technology’s role in Mike’s process that creates his edge. The technology components he puts to use don’t typically scale up to solve the same problem for larger firms, but the spirit of these components in this process does. If you’re not following a similar process, let it serve as a warning that Mike is probably sneaking up on you, too.
Got it and that, sorry, it, it is hard to assume that I didn’t realize it had gone back that far. So that’s interesting. And I have to think that like the number of, founder led businesses that were bootstrapped. Is, probably at the highest level ever, and especially technology companies, because the cost of building these companies keeps coming down.
And so in many cases, you’ve got, founder owned businesses that are bootstrap, no capital, and the classic growth equity case where it’s like, Hey, I have a wife and kids. My wife has not seen me in 20 years. My kids are about to go to college and, I’m worth a lot on paper, it’s not going to help if they don’t accept paper for college.
And you know that I have to think that in part, that’s a dynamic that has led to this, but it’s grown. Certainly. I think we, we both agree. And so anytime you see growth like this, you also see competition? I’m implying that there’s growth equity firms that are taking advantage of this, lower cost of building technology companies.
Certainly I have to assume that the increase in search funds is, at least somewhat correlated to that. Tell us a little bit about the competitive dynamics. You’re effectively competing against other searchers, right? For your backers. What’s it like?
So I think it’s two sided, right? You’re trying to find backers, but also out there, presumably, competing, even if you don’t know it with other searchers for some of these companies, perhaps.
Yeah. I was surprised that I’ve only come across one other searcher in a competitive situation where I wanted to put an offer in for another company. Okay. 3,100 conversations with business owners. Most of the competition is really coming from those lower middle market investment firms.
So really a search fund. If you want to just, hit it down the fairway. What they’re looking for is $2 million EBITDA business growing at double digit growth rate, 10%, which is 15% fee, but the margins and a business that has identifiable barriers to entry because that’s $2 million size business.
It’s you know, 10 years ago, it was, there was really not a lot for those business owners to do something with their business. They have to transition. Do I give it to employees? Or do I give it to a buddy of mine? Search funds were a really good fit for that asset class or for that type of business, because we’re going to continue entrepreneurial legacy.
We’re not looking to slice and dice it and cut costs and cut head counts of really stuck profitability. We’re looking to really grow this thing and invest it for the long run. So what’s happening is the search funds have been very successful. To the tune of 36, 37% IRR for five or six year, which is great returns because it’s the focus on the business energy, new, young energy.
But what we’re also seeing is those, as been more capital being infused into investing in private businesses, The number of businesses available hasn’t grown up, caught up with the amount of capital thats being infused. And so you have a lot more competition for those really good businesses.
And so you see a lot of those lower middle market firms lowering the threshold, okay. Was looking for $10 million deals. Now I’m looking for $5 million deals. And right now I’m looking at playing in that $2 or $3 million EBITDA range. And so we’re going up against, as a searcher, you’re going up against a bigger audience.
You’re dealing with the more sophisticated financial acquirers versus a, a search fund who has its own level of sophistication, but not really to, building a portfolio of businesses. We’re looking just for a single business.
You mentioned 3,100 conversations too. That’s a lot of conversations, man.
Yeah. And you also mentioned in more cases you’re bumping into the lower middle market in a private equity firms in terms of competition. So the two things, those two things combined are interesting to me. The topic on this podcast is technologies and relationship here.
You’re a one man show. You’re not a customer of ours. It’s just, obviously one man show little bit, probably not a good fit for big, bad technology for big firms like we do, but it’s 3,100 conversations you’ve had and competing against lower middle market firms that maybe do have some of this.
So help us understand what you are doing? I assume you’re not just relying upon your memory for, keeping track of 3,100 conversations because you’ve been back, this is important to you. There’s risk in it for you. How do you look at technology? You’re obviously a relatively young man you’re not in your sixties.
And so I assume you are technology focused. What is it that you think about in terms of technology to keep up with what you’re doing, but also to compete with these guys?
Yup. Yup. Really the 3,100 3,200 businesses that I’ve spoken with. That’s reaching out to. 11,000 total businesses and half of which were actually probably the first six months. But before I started being more efficient with my time and energy. So from a software standpoint, when you’re doing an outreach campaign to a hundred businesses a day or a few hundred businesses a week, I have to have an automated approach.
But when you use automation, You can also lose, or when you use automation, you lose that personal approach, right? Because you have a generic outreach and you as a business owner, don’t want to see that personal or that generic email. You want to see that personal email. You get these generic emails automatically go into your, automatically sent to spam or automatically sent to your trashcan.
So thats a delicate balance that I’ve been trying to manage. I’ve use an email automation software. I built in the steps. And I also have it plugged into a CRM. So once a business, once it’s in conversation, we’ve had a few discussions, it goes directly into a CRM that’s and then we follow the next steps in kind of pipeline management.
And it’s really visual and I’m a very visual person. So at any point in time, I know how healthy is my pipeline. At the end of the day, I’m only looking to acquire a single business. And so, it could have one conversation, it could have lead to one offer and it could lead to one closing, but extremely unlikely.
So it’s good to manage the process and understand where every single business lies and that likelihood of closing standpoint. And to me it’s important for me to get to know quickly. So being able to make sure seas and grading scales to determine the likelihood of business being efficient for myself and my investment team.
The more power I have over managing my pipeline.
Yeah, no doubt. And it was funny. The visual I had, as you were saying that it was like, you’re trying to appear entirely unlike the lower middle market, private equity firm emails that are arriving. Cause that’s what you’re saying you, you, you want to build this relationship of, Hey, this is me I want your business because I want it and I’m putting everything on that and that’s just a different thing.
And I like that you’re being thoughtful about that because the two can co-exist right. The idea that like automation takes away from personalization is one of these technology problems where its like, come on, this is 2021 where we just landed on Mars.
We’re looking at these high resolution images. We can figure that out. And it turns out we figured it out. I was just really a matter of putting it into play. I’m curious though so that’s cool that you sorted that out.
What are you doing to find people to reach out to? Again, you’re not at least looking at you. I don’t presume you to be a VH where like the first place you went was the yellow pages, the white page.
Yellow pages was the first place. Yeah. Yeah. Location. I use obituaries and I’m just kidding.
Ah, that’s smart. Yes. And obituary automation generator. Yeah. Where did, where are you going to at the top? So you’re automating the process of reaching out, but how are you putting things in the top to reach out to, of the pipe?
Yeah. And when I first started, when I mentioned, 11,000 businesses that have reached out to, half of those when the first six months, and what I received was, I’d have a conversation with a lumber mill at 11 o’clock and then at 12:15, I’ll have a conversation with an Automatic license plate reader, software company.
And it just was, I was all over the place and having good conversations. Yeah. But not being able to be focused. I worked with my investors in term, built a matrix on. What industries am I interested in? What does it tell my skill set? What type of business am I interested in? What do I think the market is growing and having more value in demand?
Yeah. For these types of products or services that they’re offering, is the company growing? And so I spend a lot of time on the front end putting together a list of industries and then narrow it down into sub verticals. So for example, if I want to go into the aviation industry, when that was industry. Aviation, and I wanted them to go into maintenance, repair, and overall, and then I wanted to get into like avionics maintenance, repair, and overhaul.
So you keep getting really narrow with your outreach. And at that point, I really get to know the industry and study it. And so when I have an outreach and I’m speaking to 500 businesses in this space and we can get to where I find those businesses in a bit. I’m having those types of calls where I’m saying, I can really relate to the business owner, because I know so much about the business I’ve researched it.
I’m only having conversations with people in their industry. And every single conversation gets better and better. And me internally, I can ask a few questions that will quickly vet to see if they’re an opportunity or not. Are they going to be efficient operation? How many repairs do you on average do a day?
And I can say 16 repairs a day, and I can understand that it’s around $3,500 per repair because they knew this is pretty good business. Or if they’re doing four repairs a week, I can quickly say, thanks. I think we’re not going to be a fit. You know, that’s the luck. Now when it comes down to finding those businesses, finding the businesses hasn’t been as difficult, but finding the contact information is also really critical.
Like you don’t want to have the spelling of their name wrong, or it’s not hi Michelle, instead of Hi Michael. So I’ve been actually using a mix of a lot of human labor. So I have some internal analysts that I’ve hired on that help scrub some lists for me. I use Upwork a lot. Upwork has a few go-to people that I’ve hired for freelancers to help dig for information.
I had an intern build a web scraping tool that I still don’t know how to use two years later, but it was really helpful to look at industry attendee conferences, industry lists, and then using different types of databases that are built in through school libraries that some of my analysts still have access to.
Yeah it’s super interesting. We had a chance to chat prior to today and even still right up until this moment, just now it had not occurred to me, but In a way you’re, I mentioned earlier, enterprise style, CRM automation, stuff that was never going to be your thing.
But in a way it’s amazing because you are manually. Or independently going about attempting to do things that are offered at, large scale. I happen to really love a web service that is called DataFox and which we recommend often to customers of ours, which is it’s now a company that’s owned by Oracle.
And, I think it was a brilliant business. Effectively what they did was built AI and ML to interpret what they consider to be signals. And those are a number of things are new press releases. They are regulatory fines, all manner of things that then, are scraped at scale, with technology.
And certainly they have analyst teams that do this as well. But what they’re ultimately trying to do is trying to find things that signal, Hey, a bunch of key executives just left or a bunch of key executives were just hired. And I’ll go back to the joke or the comical example I gave earlier, which is the founder needing to put kids through school.
Like what if you could use data to say Hey we can interpret that, the founder of this company his daughter was just named, athlete senior athlete of the year in the state of Iowa or, whatever, that’s this concept that’s really interesting to me is what are the things out there?
There’s explicit things. We’ve talked about them. Hey, this company just filed a regulatory filing or what kind of filing, does it indicate something that might indicate a willingness or desire to sell a company or, for that matter and DataFox is focused on here are the filings and how they are classified.
You do whatever you want. So it’s really interesting what they’ve done, because it’s like, they’re just trying to make sense of the filings and then they let you determine what sort of algorithm, if you will, you want to apply to the filings, but, super fascinating because that is what you’re trying to do.
There, this is again or acquired by Oracle or enterprise grade thing, but you’re attempting to recreate some of this stuff at a more reasonable scale on more reasonable cost for you. And I just find it fascinating that’s the sort of stuff that we’re thinking about.
What is out there and publicly available? And which can help us start to form things. I tell people all the time, I think that the future of investment sourcing is going to be, it’s, so in many cases for large firms that we work with still very outbound, which is, not neither here nor there.
But it’s still very intermediary driven. And the whole idea is to go to the intermediary with who should I be talking to? And I keep warning people, it’s the word you use. That the future is how do you find out who to be talking to before you’d call that person and they tell you, because there is this sort of ozone layer, threatening a big cloud of exhaust of data out there.
To use that analogy. And, it’s just ugly and noisy when you look at it, but when you start to be able to capture it and make sense of it, there are ponies in that exhaust cloud and those ponies are going to be used and we’re already seeing it, to to find signals effectively.
You need to have a safe target, a trigger events, something that makes sense to have an outreach or have some sort of edge.
Yeah, exactly. Wow, love what you’re doing, and it’s a big standing ovation for you for being technology driven, even as a sort of a one man show. You just said the edge. What is it that you’re communicating to the sellers to the owners? Because you’re very conscious you’re competing who you’re competing against. What’s the story you’re telling them? And how are you doing that?
Yeah, I, and it really varies depending on the industry in which I’m working. So let’s say I was looking at pest control, for example, there’s been a lot of MNA activity in the pest control space. And if I wait…
People spending more time at home these days, right? Seeing more pests.
Bugs, keep coming. It’s just a really attractive industry because you set up these businesses and you still have these customers and every single month they need some sort of preventative maintenance treatments. You can really build a nice, solid business, growing on that preventative maintenance in those monthly.
I really love that industry. I’m not alone in thinking that. And so there’s a lot of people going after me. So my approach to an individual who maybe owns a pest control business, I know who I’m up against. I’m up against those private equity firms who might already have a portfolio and would just tuck in every single acquisition into their portfolio brand.
So my outreach to those businesses in the pest control space would be, Hey I really love your industry. I really love your company. I’m looking to acquire a business, not to roll it up and to make it something different than what it is today. But I like what it is today. And I want to continue to grow what it is today.
So whether it’s something small like keeping the name, I know business owners take pride in the name. There was a business that I really liked. I’m still a close relationship with the owner, but a few of the employees had the logo tattooed on their bodies. How are you going to tell him, Hey, that logo, you’re now a part of.
And that logo doesn’t mean shit anymore. Being able to touch on those soft spots that I can guarantee, Hey, I’m not going to change. Something like that, that can give me a little bit more wedging. Give me that introduction because once I’m having a conversation with the owner. I’m confident in my ability to be able to relate to them. To be able to tell them my story and then let them decide if I’m a fit for them or not.
Yeah it’s an easy story, man. I mean it, we are oftentimes..
I have a pest control business and am looking for someone to buy it. No, look, most of my day and most of the conversations I end up with these days are spent, like frankly hearing the same story and it’s coming from private equity firms, so it’s we ask the question more what is your edge? What makes you different? And the reality is it’s the same story over and over.
And I wouldn’t want to throw private equity under the bus.
Look, we sell software to them and, not only am I not looking to throw private equity under the bus, we’re trying to help them. And we’re trying to say, let’s help find an edge and let’s help develop a story and let’s communicate the story. And that actually is going to be, in large part, technology driven. It’s data-driven.
Hey, If I have done well at the pest control roll-up strategy, I need data to show. You know that I do it better than anybody else. And that, there’s something in it for you, Mr. Business owner to do that, maybe I can pay up a little bit, even if I know I’m that much better because of the data.
And so I’m sitting there asking you this question and I’m like, so used to hearing and thinking, are you able to tell that story via data? And I hear you say that I’m like, that’s a good story. Because again, who you’re competing against oftentimes is the story may not be there.
It’s Hey we’ve done this before. So have the other firms and, Oh, we’ve been together for 15 years. So have the other firms, right? It just keeps being unique. And we’re encouraging people to think about it from a data perspective, but you’re a little bit different here.
You’re not those firms. And your story is pretty compelling for the business owners. I’m not gonna remove the tattoos of your employees, and that’s meaningful.
It’s not included in the purchase price. You’re absolutely right. Companies who don’t have that nailed down their ends, their purpose, why. Why are they reaching out to that business owner and spending the minutes out of their day each time they look at an email? You don’t have the purpose there.
You don’t say, this is what I’m doing this for. You can’t communicate that well. You’re going to get lost in the noise. That is every other person who’s in the same category as you, you definitely need to, I don’t know how to say this. Elevate yourself from saying, this is how I’m different. This is how I’m unique.
Yeah. The word we use is differentiate, it’s generic as well, may not be even any better, but concept remains, elevate yourself, stick out, differentiate, do something. And think about it from the business perspective. The fact that you have been together that you’ve done this before.Those things actually aren’t unique because it turns out everybody’s saying that.
What’s in it for me, you’ve done this before. Okay. But why do I care that you’ve done this before as a business owner? What does that mean to me?
And I think that we’d all be better off, frankly, if. Even just, I’m not saying go climb a ladder to, to elevate. I’m saying like, take one, step up. Might be the difference. And so we’re talking about something relatively simple. It might be here year over year, growth in companies that we know in terms of the value we’ve created.
When we bring that back, that’s yeah, I started my career. I basically living in Excel models, trying to come up with these things. And so you can certainly do that, but bringing it back to the earlier part of our conversation. At scale, large volume, automation, and the sort of need to develop a razor sharp edge, frankly, to cut through the noise and to get the deal done.
I don’t know if throwing analysts at Excel to come up with these generic things is enough anymore. I’m convinced that you need to be able to have these things be dynamic, right. Down to, something very specific about the business in that. And then you also need the… I use this example oftentimes, and I mentioned it earlier.
But, there’s ponies and the data exhaust is something I’ve said before. And what I mean is that when you go to your technology, go to your data to find what you’re looking for. Great. And that’s what the analyst model is, it’s okay, I need you to go compute what. Year over year growth rates are in the portfolio of pest control companies.
But what you know is missing from that oftentimes, is that you’re going to go, you know what you’re looking for, you’re going to go try to find it. You may be looking for the wrong thing. And when technology is deployed successfully, and in our experience, you actually go and look for something and you find a pony instead.
And you’re like, wow, that was that’s the thing we should be saying, but nobody was asking that question. And we just got an answer, that is the ultimate answer. And so bringing it back to automation, scale, boom, that stuff’s happening, fairly dynamically, it’s changing who you’re reaching out to all those sorts of things.
That’s the modern private equity firm or operation, frankly that we’re trying to enable. And it’s super interesting to think about it from that’s, who you’re planning as you’re a little bit more nimble, maybe a little bit, culturally different, right? You’re younger, you don’t operate in the context of an old partnership and that’s the sort of stuff you’re thinking about.
Yeah. When I look, when I compare and I see the more successful investment firms, they are the ones who are able to have. What do you, how do I want to describe it? Very heavy, opinionated thoughts, but easily to be influenced or changed. Like they are focused until improvement, their focus isn’t aligned.
Having that focus and then being able to say, Hey, pest control. It’s great, but it’s expensive. Let’s shift to something where pest control was five years ago. So we can get ahead of that weight, like being able to be nimble and shift your outreach, shift, your approach, shift your message and your edge appropriately.
Those are the ones that are able to really stick ahead of their competition and return value creation. And I think you’re onto something.
Cool. I think you’re onto something, man. I understand you are perhaps close to finding something and it’s gotta be very exciting.
It is. Yeah, and actually we’re in the final stages of negotiating, drafting, the purchase agreement or a deal that hopefully will be acquired at the end of next month.
Yeah just out of curiosity, it’s difficult to appreciate how much it must be going through your head, during all this time looking for these businesses and is, should I just go get a corporate job? I can’t even imagine. But like what have you thought about, what’s the first thing you’re going to do, find the business that, that you want and, get the deal done and you come in and I’m thinking. I was probably going to be technology after, having a conversation, but it didn’t have to be, I’m just curious from my sort of emotional, psychological perspective, like after you’ve been through what are you most excited for?
Talking about what I want to do with the business or what I do personally?
I guess either.
Yeah. Personally, I’m ready to like, just turn off my email for my Mauve Capital email. I believe 45 emails since we’ve been on this call, and it’s just, I look forward to it. And most of it is junk. It’s brokers emailing you with businesses I don’t care about.
And I look forward to just never having to look at that again.
From like a business standpoint. When I acquired the business and when I partner with the management, you’re giving the speech to all the employees of Hey, we’re excited for your staff. Be a part of this journey that we’re going to continue to grow the company altogether.
And I’m looking forward to the success that we’re going to have. Really, there’s not going to be much change in the first 90, 180 days. It’s going to be, keep doing what you’re doing. You buy a great company and you just add to it. You don’t shift resources. You don’t, you just let it continue to grow. Give it your extra touch.
You’ll hear extra edge to me, it’s data. And to me it;s, software and technology, plug that in when they’re already doing.
All right, folks. There, we have it. Appreciate you, Mike, for sharing that story with us and what a one man force here that Mike is. So you know, at the end of the day, that the sort of technology components that Mike is using are relatively simple. Certainly the spirit of what he’s doing is relatively simple.
Some of these components, obviously do not scale to meet the same challenges that a much larger firms have but, we like to think that the simplicity of the spirit of what he’s doing to fill his funnel and to personalize, outreach and compete is certainly something that can be done at just about any scale with the right tools.
Going to send you off today with some summer 2021 music. In-between my vaccine doses. I’m hearing about a lot of friends and family getting vaccines. And I’m hearing this sort of idea of the roaring twenties. And with some nicer weather here in Colorado, I’m very much looking forward to summer, hopefully being a milestone for us to start to feel some normalcy.
I am going to play for you. The sort of sound that I hear when I think about summer 2021, I hope that we’re able to put some of the tragedy behind us. Move on. And enjoy what we’ve learned through this, which is the desire to be together. Physically to share moments with friends and family, appreciate each other.
And so here is my take on what some are 2021 may sound like, hope you dig it. Thanks for joining us. See you on the next one. Be well. Peace.