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Podcast 164: How to Outsmart the Startup Game Through Acquisition Entrepreneurship With Walker Deibel

By Spencer Haws |

Walker Deibel is an entrepreneur that has made a number of acquisitions and he’s the author of the book Buy Then Build. You can check it out at buythenbuild.com

He definitely is an entrepreneur in the trenches: building, buying, and selling (large) businesses.  I was able to read Walker’s book long before doing this podcast and LOVED it.  But be warned, I went from “I don’t think I want to buy another business” to “I should absolutely be looking for another business to buy right now!”.

Not only is the book quite persuasive for the reasons to join the ranks of an “Acquisition Entrepreneur”, but it led me to reach out to him and ask that he come on the podcast.

During this interview, we are going to dive into why he thinks acquisition entrepreneurship is the way to go and why it’s so much better than starting a business from scratch. He shares some examples from his own experience.

In addition, we talk about how to use leverage in buying businesses, the things to look for when you’re buying a business, how to leverage your strengths, and more. I think that you’re going to enjoy the interview.

Mentioned On The Podcast

If you want to get in touch with Walker, you can reach him at BuildThenBuy.com

Full Transcript

Spencer: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Niche Pursuits Podcast. I’m your host, . Before we jump into today’s episode, I wanted to tell you a little bit about Ezoic. Ezoic is an ad platform that I have been using on my Niche Site Project 4 site and I’ve been very happy with it. 

Ezoic is a Google award-winning technology that everyone from niche website owners to major brands use to grow and monetize their websites. Ezoic is also a Google-certified publishing partner. The platform leverages artificial intelligence to learn from website visitors with the goal of providing more personalized experiences that will improve on page experiences, which is session length, while also optimizing revenue and monetization on a per visitor basis. 

The Ezoic platform features everything from intelligent website analytics to advanced automated visitor segmentation tools that allow publishers to improve visitor experiences and increase overall website revenue. Overall, there really are some big benefits to using Ezoic. It’s more than just an ad platform, but it truly is a platform that allows publishers to implement sophisticated ad operations and monetization practices on their websites using advanced artificial intelligence. This allows publishers to manage as much or as little as they want. You simply drag and drop ad placeholders, and Ezoic will help automatically test thousands of ad partners, ad locations, ad types, and control ad density. This means Ezoic optimizes revenue and engagement for each unique visitor, maximizing the revenue publishers earn. If you want to go and check out Ezoic, you can go to nichepursuits.com/ezoic. 

Today, I’ve got Walker Deibel on the podcast. He is an entrepreneur that has made a number of acquisitions and he’s the author of the book, Buy Then Build, which I’ve read and is a great book. You can check it out at buythenbuild.com or you can go over to Amazon and buy it there. 

He also was a broker over at quietlightbrokerage.com. Like I said, Walker has acquired a number of different businesses, he currently operates a number of different businesses so he’s a broker kind of on the side if you will. He definitely is an entrepreneur in the trenches, building, buying, selling businesses, and large business at that. I’m really excited to have him on the podcast.  

I first came across Walker actually through Jake Cain who has been on the podcast during the past. Jake was selling a business through Quiet Light and Walker work directly with him. Anyway, Jake just let me know that he was having a great experience with Walker. I later ran into Walker at a couple of conferences. I’ve met him in person, he’s a great guy, stand up guy that is super smart in the space. 

During this interview, we are going to dive into why he thinks acquisition entrepreneurship really is the way to go, why it’s so much better than starting a business from scratch, and he shares some examples from his own experience. In addition, we talk about how to use leverage in buying business, what are some of the things to look for when you’re buying a business, and a whole lot more. If you’re interested in buying a business and potentially a seven figure business because we are talking usually about larger businesses here, please listen in. I think that you’re going to enjoy the interview. Thanks a lot. 

Hey, Walker. Welcome to the Niche Pursuits podcast. 

Walker: Spencer, thank you so much for having me today. Just really thrilled to have a conversation with you. Been a long time fan. 

Spencer: Awesome. I’m really excited to talk to you. The way we connected is, well I’ve heard about you from Jake, Jake Cain. People know about him here on the podcast. Then, we run into each other at Traffic & Conversion Summit. Then, of course, I actually saw your book, I read your book, and I just love what you talk about in regards to acquisition entrepreneurship buying sites, and just everything you’re doing and your expertise, so we wanted to have you on and chat about that. 

A lot of people, this is very possibly the first time they’ve heard of you. Can you introduce yourself to the audience here? Give us a brief background of your work or business experience before actually buying or your first business began. 

Walker: I bought my first company in 2007 or 2008. Prior to that, I was an English and Religious Studies major who then became a stock broker right after college. I was a stock broker during the tech bust. I did that for about 11 months and I was laid off with about 6000 people. It’s a pretty eye-opening experience because you like to think about traditional career paths as being more secure than entrepreneurship and I’m telling you on that kind of Black Wednesday, I saw grown men with a 20+ year careers weeping. It was a pretty eye opening experience. 

Of course 9/11 happened after that, I’ve been out in California for a while, in the bay area, short stint in LA before moving back to St. Louis. I went to Washington University in St. Louis to get my MBA, and during that program I did a start up. We can go into this if you want. Ultimately, we were a finalist in the business plan competition. We had very interested investors, we had a national retailer wanted to roll our product out nationwide. Within 24-48 hours, the whole thing collapsed like a rug was pulled out from under us. All of these promises and vision that we had was sort of immediately removed. A week later, I graduated with my MBA and was unemployed. There’s a great little difference between being an MBA with a very promising startup, graduating without that, and that’s unemployed. 

That was the moment I realized—this was 2004—that entrepreneurship really wasn’t a necessarily career path, it’s a bit more of condition that’s in us. My idea was just used up. I know there’s a way to buy a business, so how do I do it? I set up on a path and 9 or 10 months later, still being unemployed, I decided to go corporate. I’m corporate for about a year before ultimately buying my first business in resigning from that job. 

Spencer: Okay. We will dive into your first acquisition here a little bit and have a chance to hear about other things that you’ve done. Like I mentioned, I have read your book, Buy Then Build, I’ve got it right here and it’s excellent. 

Walker: Spencer, just thank you. I just want to mention that it’s the best book that my mother has ever read. Should anyone in the audience be concerned, just know that I got her vote. 

Spencer: She’s a fan. That’s always good to have family members as your fans. That’s a good start. But throughout the book, you talked about acquisition entrepreneurship. For the listeners of the podcast, can you explain what acquisition entrepreneurship is? 

Walker: Absolutely. It’s really very simple. We all know the concept of growing through acquisition. If you really, really dig into the numbers on growing through acquisition, it’s actually the safest and fastest way typically to grow. After the sort of adolescent phase of the land grab in business, the next thing that happens is there’s always a consolidation. The reason for that is because it’s the fastest way to grow. Ultimately, we all know of internet entrepreneurs, we all know real estate entrepreneurs. For me, acquisition entrepreneurship was really, the obvious title, is simply starting by buying a company first rather than starting a company from scratch.  

Spencer: Why do you recommend this route over starting from scratch? 

Walker: Just look at the data first. First of all, when you start a business, all of us that have done that know how incredibly hard it is. Starting from scratch ultimately can be a punishment for people that just don’t understand statistics. We all know this rule of thumb that 9 out of 10 entrepreneurs succeed. What’s behind the curtain that we don’t actually realize is that 96% of the ones that succeed never actually ever surpass $1 million in annual revenue. 

Although a website or a content site, you can make a significant amount of earnings doing something like that, for most entrepreneurs, we’re trying to build something of a big size, all these moon shots, for example, like something that’s going to change the world or the rest of it. The reality is that very few of them succeed. In fact, 75% of startups that receive venture capital, which on average is like $41 million, 75% of them go to zero, and the 25% that make it are starting an exit “sooner and sooner.” The more you look at VC it’s like the VCs win, not the entrepreneurs, not by and large. 

Buying an existing business provides an existing customer base, it provides product market fit, it provides cash flow, it provides infrastructure in terms of whatever is needed to generate the value, and moreover they’re bankable. You get to go to the bank and just say, “Hey, give me a loan so I can buy this business.” Because of recent trends in the SBA, there winding up to 90%. It’s one of those where if access the capital as your objection, it’s effectively removed. You just need 5%-10% of the company you want to acquire. 

Spencer, just to bring that around, if you were to acquire the largest 4% of companies in the United States, you really can do it for less than $100,000 in cash, which is not out of line in terms of what the average startup takes anyway in seed capital. So, just about getting on base. I called it entremetrics in the past. A play on sabermetrics, rather than shooting for the home runs, how do you get on base? Acquisition entrepreneurship is really on that path. 

Spencer: It’s really fascinating. You laid it out pretty well in terms of if you’re going to try and start something from scratch, we all know the statistics there. What I really was fascinated about that you just mentioned that I was not aware of is that 96% of companies do not ever even make it over that $1 million a year mark. If you’re trying to hit that, why not just buy? As you explained quite well there, but speaking of our time right now, 2019, at the end of 2019, why is now a great opportunity to buy a business compared to maybe 10 years ago? 

Walker: Great question. There’s really two reasons, one is the reason I mentioned regarding the recent trends in SBA. There’s more capital, there’s an ease, capital is no longer the bottleneck. It’s very simple to get capital, it’s there. There’s $1.2 trillion in liquid cash in […] and SBA is lending for even cash flow loans, which they were not doing even in 2008. 

The biggest reason, Spencer, is that not only right now but also for the next decade to 12 years out, we have the single largest transfer of wealth in history. In other words, the baby boomers own more companies than any generation in the history of mankind. The thing is, there’s an estimated $10 trillion in business value that needs to change hands. The real opportunity, for me, is not only are all of these companies bankable but the thing is that—I’m going to go deep here­—for me, if you really look at the ultimate business strategy, the thing that’s really creating lasting value today, is an intersection of old economy with new economy. 

Let me give you an example. If you work on the street and ask 10 people, “What’s Amazon?” All 10 will tell you that’s an ecommerce site. It’s really not. It’s a network of warehouses and all they do is essentially inventory management and fulfillment. You look at Tesla and you’re talking about a car company. It’s a car company, right? You look at Harry’s Razors or something like this. They bought a German razor blade manufacturing company because it’s really difficult to make really good razors. But then, they use their ecommerce skill set in order to create an online subscription business. Apple. That’s probably the most valuable company ever in history. They’re really the only software or computer company, the only one that really tackled both. 

The intersection of these two business models is really the thing for except Uber. It’s an app with automobiles. It’s a taxi company for crying out loud. But it’s bringing innovation to all of these things. The thing is, when the baby boomers were creating their business, when they’re getting that product market fit, it wasn’t a time that does not compare to today. You get a lot of—forgive the expression—gray haired fat cats. They aren’t really wanting to take risks anymore, they’re just running these lifestyle businesses, whether that be, “I’m making $250,000 a year or making $25 million a year.” That’s still a lifestyle business to a big extent. The thing is like being able to acquire these companies and then use the cash flows to fund your innovation, is the thing that I think that can really take entrepreneurs to the next level by piggybacking off of the infrastructure that’s already there. 

Spencer: That’s awesome, man. Hopefully, that’s a light bulb for a lot of people because I think that makes a lot of sense and maybe you can explain how you’ve done that a little bit through either your first acquisition or a recent acquisition company that you purchased, and brought innovation in either technology, or the online skill set, or something similar to one of your businesses. 

Walker: Let me give you two examples. Basically, the first company I bought was a book printing company. There’s a couple reasons I did it but the big reason I did it was actually because if you look at what’s called digital book printing, which is not ebooks, it’s actually short-run book printing on exalted Xerox machines. It was actually growing at 38% year over year, for four years prior. 

There is a big trend happening in the industry and going right back to that image of the gray haired fat cats, that’s who owned book printing companies in the late 2000s. A whole bunch of people owners complain that it wasn’t the 1990s and yet there’s this huge growth trend right under their feet. 

I bought this company and we’re doing, I don’t know, $8 million in revenue, it’s about 50,000 square feet, et cetera. I bought the company at ultimately with the seller note and big […] bank loan. I went in and knock down the walls, use the cash flows to build out a digital book printing facility, and I turned around and sold it to the existing customer base. Within about 18 months, it was over 20% of revenue, which is a big growth in that industry. 

Also, I want you to consider, this was also when right in 2008, was right when the iPad came out. Ebooks for making headlines, the iPad was cranking, and everyone thought that I was absolutely crazy to go into this mature industry, but really what I saw is opportunity. 

Spencer, I sort of hit a ceiling and I realized that I needed the infrastructure to better sell to, let’s call them digital publishers. We have this old school approach to B2B sales, et cetera, and the publishers you work with, but it’s going to cause me $1 million for this advanced IT infrastructure I wanted to build and the promise of customers was effectively zero, plus I don’t have $1 million. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have it, and even if I did, I wasn’t just going to pump it into some dream. 

From what I knew about multiples in that industry—multiples meaning valuations of those companies—I knew that if I found the right company, I could acquire that infrastructure so much less expensive, with cash flow, and with customers. So, I went on a 2½ year acquisition effort that ended up finding the perfect company for this. I was in St. Louis, they’re in Chicago, they had two different locations about 10,000 square feet, and they did only digital book printing. 

After about four months of discussion—they weren’t for sale or anything, this is just for proprietary outreach—they were like, “Walker, we love your vision, we’ve got to do it.” I was like, “Great.” We just want to change one thing, I’m like, “Yeah. What is it?” They’re like, “We want to buy you.” I was 35 years old in the book printing industry, so I was like, “That’s not a problem.” The thing that was important to me was all my employees, maintain employment at fair equivalent rights, which happened. I actually called my exit through practicing […]. That’s the story. Actually, it leads right into this. 

Right after I had my first exit, it wasn’t enough to retire, but I had made enough money to go do something cool. It was one of the days where, “I’m going to do whatever everyone does.” I’m going to go start a SaaS business for the enterprise. Me and the few people jumped on this technology that was coming out of a local company here in St. Louis and say, “Hey, we want to start a company around this,” et cetera. 

So, we did. We started this company, we recruited a Microsoft executive to be our CEO, we did a capital raise, we went through the top 10 accelerator programs in the world. Our capital raise was oversubscribed, we had beta programs in half a dozen very large companies, all of the things that reflect like, “Okay, this one’going.” In about 14 months later, 16 months later, we were completely out cashed and I’m leading a reorg in a company with three employees. It was just one of these. 

The broker that I worked with for 2 ½ years called me and said, “Walker, how’s that startup going?” I was like, “Oh, it’s on the rocks.” He said, “Good. There’s this business and you got to see it.” Then I’m like, “Oh, brother. You’re kidding me?” Of course, that’s a really good example of once you get deal flow, the deal’s start coming to you. 

I went and saw the business and ultimately, I did end up buying it and it really was a B2B fulfillment company. I had a partner in this one. We used the cash flow of the business to build out a proprietary ecommerce storefront, that we then turned around and rolled out into 20,000 different locations, like users, 20,000 logins within nine months. 

That’s when it occurred to me. Everything that we were trying to achieve at this rocketship startup, this sexy SaaS business was actually able to accomplish by buying this unsophisticated B2B fulfillment company in a very unassuming city in the middle of Missouri. And I did it with a bank loan as opposed to raising a bunch of capital and giving away a bunch of equity. As luck would have it, I owned that company for about 4½ years and actually sold it on Monday, one week ago.  

Spencer: Oh really? 

Walker: Yeah. 

Spencer: Wow. Congratulations. 

Walker: Technically, that’d be my third exit to date, which is fun. 

Spencer: That is very exciting. I do want to hear just a little bit more about what you’re involved in right now. I have a couple of other questions as well but can you give us a sense of your overall portfolio companies that you’re currently involved in? 

Walker: Sure. Over 11 years, I bought 7 companies outright. Some of those are merge together, some of them were sold offet cetera. Basically, where I am today is I own a manufacturing facility in the middle of Missouri that does aluminum, welded railing and fencing. It’s welded, it’s custom built, it’s powder coated. It’s a naturally awesome product but it’s hard for manufacturing. 

I also have three websites that I run. I sell upflush toilets online, I sell bidet toilet seats online, and of course, I got the whole Buy Then Build thing, I’ve got a book, and I’m building an extensive online course, all that stuff. Then, I work with Quiet Light Brokerage as a broker for online business. I didn’t mention that I’m also a film producer. I don’t know if  […].  

Spencer: I’m aware, yeah. 

Walker: Okay. I’ve made about 10 or a dozen films which were developed and then I would sell them to distributors and streamers. I’ve got about three projects I’m working on in the background right now. I own a minority interest in an early high quality child care facility in Kansas City. We’re about 2–5 locations. I’m a founding partner in Codesmith, which is an intensive coding academy in LA and New York. That’s probably 80% of what’s on my plate right now.  

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Spencer: You’ve got a ton of projects. How do you find time to run a manufacturing company and all these other businesses that you have? How do you find the time to do all that? 

Walker: Spencer, I’ve wrote Buy Then Build because was the book I needed in 2004 when I was trying to do this. Ultimately, I was trying to figure out, I’m like, “This is happening and all these entrepreneurs are like, we’re burning all of our fuel, trying to start something from scratch.” It’s that analogy where the rocket takes whatever it is, it’s like 95% of fuel to get out of orbit and there’s basically 5% of fuel to go all the way to the moon and back. We’re burning all these fuel and there’s a better path for most people. 

Once I started, I try to use other people and interviewing other people as their groundwork for building that book. I wasted probably a couple of years doing it. I even brought in a PhD and hire them for the summer to help me synthesize the data that I was finding all through interviews and research. Ultimately, at the end of that, we just sort of figure out like everything is anecdotal and specific. It’s like out on the printer.  

I spend a lot of time really trying to identify how I look at businesses, how I try to navigate the process, and how it was that I ultimately found success after a lot of really hard work and wasted time. The reason I bring that up here is because it took me 4½ years to write Buy Then Build. The thing is that during that time, I was really, to be clear, I didn’t end up buying businesses. It’s been around forever. Joe Mullen joke with me about that recently. 

By building frameworks around acquisition entrepreneurship, I really started to define a model on my own brain. I started going into how would you scale acquisition entrepreneurship beyond buying one company and running it? We all know Shakil at Pro Click, right? A lot of it is a similar model. Basically, I buy companies but I buy them more often and not with CEOs in mind. I go in there and I’ll buy a company and basically put a general manager in place or a president or whatever your terms is, a CEO. 

I tend to act more as a chairman but I don’t call myself that because I don’t have enough gray hair. I sort of work on a weekly or a monthly cycle with most of the team. But that being said, I completely run all three of my websites. No one else is running that kind of stuff. 

Spencer: Very good. You’re using a lot of the people, of course, to run the core company or even the websites you run. I’m sure you got a lot of processes in a place that makes things a little bit easier. Certainly, an online business is a little bit easier because there’s a lot less people to manage and be involved there. So, you’ve purchased manufacturing, distribution, and other offline companies. Do you recommend that others buy these offline businesses or are online businesses the way to go? 

Walker: I love online businesses. It’s probably where my skill set drives. I also think, for most people, it’s probably an easier thing to tackle. Let me explain why. One of the reasons I joined Quiet Light was it was running this […] company and the broker at the end was like, “Wow. You really understand this. You should be a broker.” I’m like, “Yeah, I know. Just kidding.” 

I know a broker who I bought a business and he decided to try to sell me as entire brokerage, that he believed that I was his succession plan. I was like, “No.” Then, I became a certified M&A adviser and sort of have all these middle market, I’m talking like $50–$100 million transactions trying to recruit me. It was like, “You know? If I ever did this, I really would only focus on online businesses.” I guess this is applied for Quiet Light. I didn’t want to go that way, but I love Quiet Light as a buyer, like a raving fan. 

It’s one of these where with online businesses, there’s a few advantages. Number one, when it’s time for you to exit, the buyer pull is global. I recently sold the company in Springfield, Missouri. I needed someone within a 50-mile square radius of Springfield, Missouri. It shrinks your buyer pull. Your buyer pull is bigger. 

Number two, there’s tons of third party verification. If I get a potential seller who doesn’t use Google Analytics, it’s sort of like, “Get out of here.” There’s so much data in terms that can be validated by other people. 

And then third, is very, very quantifiable. Let’s say you’re buying a cafe. You have no idea how many people who are in this cafe, on this day, last year, between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00. 

Online businesses, you have all that data. You know what your customer acquisition cost is. You know what your traffic is. There’s so much data that you have to look at, to quantify the decision. The last thing is probably the best, which is work loads tend to be lighter and there’s fewer employees. 

That is a benefit in terms of if it’s your first time buying a business, your first time running a business. Employees adds an exponential amount of complexity to a day job. Just simply trying to manage expectations, emotions, people that leave you, people that want promotions but don’t get them, or vacation schedule like, “You are going to Florida but now you’re not.” It’s just all the rest of it. 

I’ve got partners that refer to online businesses as management light. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, Spencer. You and I know that there’s a lot of really hard work in online businesses, but you are able to remove a lot of complexity that can pull you off task, which I really love. 

I’m sorry, let me pull that around. Your question was, “What businesses should people be buying?” The thing is, if you read Buy Then Build, it’s not a “go buy an online business book.” It’s “here’s how to buy an online business.” What I really encourage people to do is don’t run out and look at what’s on the menu until you truly go inside and look at yourself and understand, what is it that I bring to the table as a CEO? 

When you get a business, that business is not going to exist like it is today after you close, it’s going to be you plus the business. So, what do you bring to the table? Not only that but I want you to match your skill set with the growth opportunity that a business has. That might be online, that might be offline but ultimately, you just need to follow that framework in terms of what you’re good at. 

If you’re good at managing people, running efficient operations, running a manufacturing facility, that’s where you need to go. On the flip side, Spencer, if you’re to go and buy 12 companies, obviously, you should be buying niche websites. Maybe you got a bunch of PPC and very historically-proven paid ads but there’s a huge growth opportunity on the content generation side. I might be wrong, I’m just making that. 

Spencer: Sure, how can I apply my expertise. 

Walker: Yes. 

Spencer: Absolutely, that makes sense. Obviously, you’re a fan of buying businesses and believe that acquisition entrepreneurship is a great route for many other people. But is there a type of person that should not be looking into buying a business? I mean, who is this not a good fit for it? 

Walker: Great question. When I get talks, I’ll often start with, “Why are you guys here? What questions do you have?” Inevitably, I get somebody stands up and says, “I’m closing tomorrow. What do I do?” I’m like, “Great.” Then, I get somebody on the other side of the […] that always says, “How do I even know if this is right for me? How do I know I can do it?” 

The thing is, I want to will down, what makes this successful entrepreneur? Ultimately, if you take all the psychology, all the research, and everything that will ultimately tell you if you’re a successful entrepreneur, it really boils down to this. It’s an intelligent individual committed to a good opportunity. In other words, it’s not a great opportunity, it’s a good opportunity, but it’s the level of commitment of that individual that is going to make it work or not. 

When you’re an entrepreneur and Spencer, you know this first hand. You are living the most engage life possible, you don’t have a steady income per se. It comes in, it ebbs and flows. It’s not a lot to hang your head on. There’s no work life balance, in my opinion. It’s all the same. You’re just here living your work. It’s just what you love to do, you’re engaged in what’s happening. 

The thing is, number one, you have to be comfortable with that. Number two, there’s a lot of risk in entrepreneurship. There’s a lot of risk in being a stock broker for one of the largest financial institutions in the world, too, because I was laid off. But a lot of people go raise capital and they call themselves entrepreneurs, but I want you to really think about this for a minute. A lot of times, these are people that they don’t have any of their own capital at stake and they’re making a salary. What’s that really?  

Spencer: Self-employed. 

Walker: I don’t know. I’ve got data but the point is, when you practice acquisition entrepreneurship, you’re always going to have your capital at stake. Moreover, you’re also going to go take a loan. If you choose, like the biggest criticism I get, is that I encourage people to go load up on this debt. I don’t. The things is, if that’s your objection, it’s there. And if you do that, if it works out, it’s actually the greatest ROI (return on investment) of any investment period, but it makes cash flow really tight. So you better make sure you’re going able to jump in and grow that business. Otherwise, cash flow’s tight, you’re focusing on equity build-up and all the rest of it. 

If you got income coming from somewhere else or whatever, look at credit equity, they collapsed twice. What they do now is they put about 40%–50% in equity down to just increase the margin of safety but they reduce their ROI by doing that. So, if you are driven and committed to the cause and you are comfortable taking on a certain amount of debt to invest in yourself, in your activity, I think that’s when you know. 

Spencer: Yup, that’s good. I think that can help people think through their own particular situation and decided, of course, if buying a business is right for them. I do want to ask you just a little bit about looking for a business to buy in terms of what do you look for? Let’s imagine you were looking for another online business to buy. What are some positive things or just other things that you would recommend people look for when trying to buy that business? 

Walker: An online business? 

Spencer: Yes. 

Walker: Okay. First of all, you want to identify the business risks. In other words, it’s not about eliminating risks because there is no such thing. You just need to be able to identify what they are and feel comfortable in your ability to navigate them or avoid them. 

Let me give you an example. Even as recently as 18–24 months ago, people were just not willing to buy Amazon businesses. They were like, “Why would I buy Amazon-based business? Amazon has all the power.” Whereas today, people look at that and say, “Oh, Amazon is a totally buyable channel. By the way, it’s still crowded but now I’m looking for businesses that have a thousand reviews and really good organic rankings and a minimum of 24 months of history.” 

That is a good business, but Amazon holds all the cards so you need to identify those risks and just be able to say, “I’m going to either capitalize on that or I’m going to diversify off of Amazon or whatever it is you want to do.” But you need to be able to identify what the risks are and navigate it. 

Second, look for growth opportunities, so really understand how it is that you are going to grow the business and the path that you can go there. 

Third is really just transferability of the business. You want to make sure that the owner doesn’t have some special skill set. I once had a person who had a solar panel business. He sold solar panel to companies. He had a really advanced knowledge of the technology. As a result, he was able to actually sell to these companies and it was really hard to duplicate, really hard to transfer. It’s like a medical doctor who’s trying to sell his business but then you had to step in and be a medical doctor, like if you are not an MD you can’t buy it, right? 

Spencer: You can’t just step in and assume that role. 

Walker: Right. Understand what leaving with the entrepreneur and understand that you are going to need to take over that skill set. So just understand that transferability. Look for those documents, SOPs. and all the rest of it. 

The fourth is really just documentation. Can you trust what is there? What third-party verification do you have? Are they using QuickBooks or some kind of accounting software were you got clean financials? What other documentation is there to support it? Just really look to trust and verify what is that you are acquiring. Those are really the four things. 

Some people believe the real estate adage that you make money when you buy, not when you sell, the market place is a market. There is a price that goes on businesses at any certain time. So, as long as I’m paying fair market. I don’t really try to time the market because you couldn’t. 

Let me say it like this. In 2013, I didn’t know why the stock market was going up. I actually went bought more private companies rather than investing more cash in the stock market. It’s worked out for me today but look at the stock market. I tried to time the market, you just can’t, so I don’t know. […] time the market, but figure out where you end up on […] and understand that historical growth and earnings really are the fundamental drivers of value and then just look for those four things.  

Spencer: Great tips. I’ve got this question from other people in the past. In fact, over the weekend, we were both at a business conference and I got this question again. A lot of people are wondering, if I don’t have a lot of experience as an entrepreneur building an online business, should I buy something small? Let’s say, let’s make $1000 a month or a couple of thousand dollars a month, just to get their feet wet and learn. Then, down the road once they feel like they’ve made their mistakes on this small website then buy a larger site. Or would you recommend people jump right in and buy a larger business, get an SBA loan? Maybe they can get a seven-figure business. What are your thoughts on that? 

Walker: It’s the ultimate question. What a great question. It’s one of those things where it’s going to be different for everybody. The thing is if you buy a website doing $1000 a month in earnings, what I will tell you is I look in a lot of deals, thousands. I’ve seen companies with $15 million in revenue that don’t make it $1000 a month. The case is like making sure that cash flow is there is number one. 

Number two—this is subjective—if I’m buying offline, I definitely try to buy it at least $1 million in revenue. I even try to buy at least $1 million in gross margin. In the world of business, $1 million in revenue is small. If it’s in the fast numbers, 96% of companies aren’t there. The thing is there’s an external level of security in my opinion or product market fit with companies that are able to achieve that $1 million in revenue mark. What I’ve noticed is that in online businesses, you can get the same level of discretionary earnings, or net income on a small online business especially a content business, then very large offline business. 

For me, I prefer to define in terms of earnings because I think that a lot of times, for the 23 year olds that are trying to cut their teeth, obviously, I would never encourage them to run out and buy a $5 million company. For someone who is a middle manager at a larger organization, who is maybe a little more sophisticated, a little bit more sure of their abilities and let’s just say they’re 50 years old, it’s a different profile. 

They’re jumping out of a company that’s generating $40 million a year. Buying a company that’s doing $1 million a year is tiny for them. Not only that, but they’re definitely going to need that cash flow in order to transfer their lifestyle and their salary. It’s one of those where I like that strategy but ultimately, just really need to figure out, do I really need to buy that million dollar revenue company that has that added benefit of being one of the largest […] companies in the country? Or do I still need some training? 

The one thing I caution against is I see a lot of people start with me, “I’m going to buy a bunch of small businesses,” and the only thing I would caution against is that it sounds like it’s a really good idea at the beginning. What I’ll say over and over again is all of the sudden, you’ve got someone with like 24 different websites or even way less than that and they can’t manage them all. They start to lose passion for like those first three, and it’s not interesting enough for them to invest their time because the dollars are so small. 

It’s like when you donate to a charity and they’re like, “Just donate an amount that’s meaningful to you.” I would say, “Buy a company that has a cash flow that’s meaningful to you and just stick with it rather than trying to scale quickly.” I just want to clarify. I just mean don’t run out and buy multiple businesses until you’ve got one that you’ll be able to work on and commit to it. 

Spencer: I think that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate you coming on the podcast here, Walker. I just have one more question for you. If people want to learn more from you regarding acquisition entrepreneurship, where should they go? 

Walker: That’s your last question? That’s an easy one. All I would say is I’ve got a ton of free resources on buythenbuild.com. I really try to put a lot of time into bringing together a bunch of valuable stuff there, a bunch of pretty stuff there, videos on the four ways to add value in acquisition, and all that good stuff.  

Spencer: Awesome. People want to go to buythenbuild.com, they can do that, learn a little bit more from Walker here. Overall, Walker, I appreciate you coming on the podcast, appreciate your time. I feel like we could probably talk for hours, diving into each of your businesses and strategies, and so much more. Hopefully, we can give people a good overview of buying a business in general. 

Walker: I hope so, too. Thanks so much. If we talk for another hour, I’m turning the tables. We’re going to unpack […] and the enigma that […].  

Spencer: Good luck with that. See if you can figure me out. Very good, Walker. Again, I appreciate your time. Thanks for coming on the podcast.  

Walker: Thanks, Spencer.  

Spencer: Thank you once again for listening to the Niche Pursuits Podcast. As a reminder, this episode has been sponsored by Ezoic. Ezoic is a Google award-winning technology that everyone from niche website owners to major brands use to grow and monetize their websites. Ezoic is a Google-certified publishing partner. It’s a platform that leverages artificial intelligence to help you optimize revenue and monetization on a per visitor basis and so much more. If you want to checkout Ezoic, go to nichepursuits.com/ezoic. Thanks a lot. 




Podcasts | 5 comments

By Spencer Haws

Spencer Haws is the founder of NichePursuits.com. After getting a degree in Business Finance from BYU (2002) and an MBA from ASU (2007) he worked for 8 years in Business Banking and Finance at both Merril Lynch and Wells Fargo Bank.

While consulting with other small business owners as a business banker, Spencer finally had the desire to start his own business. He successfully built a portfolio of niche sites using SEO and online marketing that allowed him to quit his job in 2011. Since then he's been involved in dozens of online business ventures including: creating and exiting Long Tail Pro, running an Amazon FBA business for over 3 years and selling that business, founding LinkWhisper.com, and co-founding MotionInvest.com. You can learn more about Spencer here.

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5 Comments

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Jake Cain

I know him! (in a Buddy the Elf voice).

Great interview, guys. +1 for Walker – he’s sold 2 of my businesses now, a website and an Amazon FBA business via Quiet Light.

My favorite part of working with Walker was that I never felt pressured to do anything I wasn’t ready to do. He’s very laid back and an excellent person to have a conversation with if you’re thinking about exiting soon, or better yet maybe selling in a year or 2 so you can start getting things set up to sell.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Jake! I agree!

Nick

Loved the interview. I find it useful when you bring people with a different point of view / doing something different on your podcast and expand the subject of the blog into new areas.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Nick!

Sanjeev Kumar

Hi Spencer Haws,

I really like your blog, So thanks a lot for these great information and keep the good work shared as usual.

Thanks,
Sanjeev Kumar

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