My fifth guest of the show is Nick Haschka, an MIT graduate living in San Francisco focused on buying small private companies through his firm Cub Investments, along with two other partners. Together, they recently purchased a business called The Wright Gardner which provides interior plant leasing and maintenance services to companies in the bay area. One thing that is interesting about Cub’s approach is their use of add-on acquisitions to expand the plant leasing business and part of our discussion is on how they view the risk with add-ons versus platform acquisitions, which was very interesting.
The more I read and learn about the micro PE and permanent capital space, the larger and more diverse it feels. Every investor invests differently and each story is different. Nick is no exception, and in our discussion we cover how his background has influenced his investing, his unique work experience, misconceptions he sees in small company investing, and his disagreements with the concepts of competitive advantage and Porter’s Five Forces.
One thing that’s fun about this micro PE space and permanent capital, is there’s people from all different backgrounds and there’s some with no private equity experience, and some with quite extensive experience. I’d like to start by, what’s your elevator pitch for your background? Quick overview of how you got here, and what you’ve been doing at Cub so far.
My educational background, did my undergrad at MIT, studied in nuclear engineering but realized I didn’t want to work in a power plant in the middle of nowhere or in China. Switched to management, got super interested in operations research. Really like I was always kind of into math, but I wasn’t really good enough at math because of MIT. You know the other interest I’ve always had is entrepreneurship, and I got into the entrepreneurial scene there, was very interested in business process design and modeling technology, investing has always been an interest.
I did a couple of years at McKinsey as a management consultant, did mostly tech consulting, a little bit of insurance, a little bit of services like back office type of services work, little bit of private equity work too actually, but then left to start a company with a buddy of mine from MIT. Wanted to do something more entrepreneurial and that was a solar company right at the time when the solar industry was really just gaining a lot of momentum and traction across the US. It was fortunate timing, we kind of got in and out pretty quick.
After that I left to go to Kellogg to the one year MBA on the McKinsey associate track, so they helped me get through business school and then went back to the consulting role and then I got an opportunity to start an innovation group with NRG in their clean tech ventures, and so started this group out in San Francisco looking at all sorts of new clean tech ventures, making some investments, doing some strategy work. That company went through a bit of a transformation itself in terms of just how the investors are looking at their clean tech ventures, and that kind of left me looking for an exit and then I went back and joined another startup with the guy that I had started the solar company in that intellectual mobility space.
That didn’t pan out, and then I was like, okay, I’ve done a lot of really, really dumb/high risk sorts of startup like ventures. Time to do something totally different, and got into the world of small business and was really just thinking about just investments. It was like, okay, what if I wanted to be an investor, what would that look like? And just started burning through ideas and finally kind of came up on this model of… the model that we’re executing now, which is just a focus on local business, and I had read some about how like the baby boomer class of very entrepreneurial business owners is entering retirement and there’s just tons of them out there.
We started looking at businesses, found the Wright Gardner, which is the company that I operate or partly operate now. That was the beginning of my foray into small business investing in small business ownership, and so we’ve been running that business really developing it into a full service horticultural firm and we’ve been buying out other retiring owners along the way, so we’re in a few days closing our fifth acquisition in this space and we’ve integrated it all together trying to really… it’s still a local business but has expanded geography throughout northern California, so that business continues to do well and we’re continuing to grow it, look for acquisitions and to diversify within the business in terms of customer segments, in terms of service offerings and all that, meanwhile, looking for other platforms.
We don’t have external investment. We’ve put up our own money to do this, we’ve used the SBA 7(a) loan program to help bring in additional capital which expands the range of possibilities in terms of acquisition. Now we’re in a pretty good groove running the horticulture company as well as looking for new stuff, making some small bets and still kind of keeping our eye out for potentially some bigger bets.
Is there an experience that you had earlier at any one of your positions that you feel like best prepared you for your work today? Or do you think it’s kind of a hodgepodge of various bits you took from each?
Yeah, I think, no individual experience. I mean I think I’ve taken a lot from all of my experiences. I really don’t have expertise, like real expertise in much of anything because I’ve had such a varied career path. I think that’s hard to know, but I think that serves me well in that I’ve just gotten exposed to a lot of things. Being in the small startup, being in the real startup, which is the company that acquired our startup, being in and around the fortune 500 company, so it’s just such a varied experience and especially in the startup experiences or in the smaller companies where you got to be willing to wipe the floor, you got to be willing to… there’s no work that I’m above.
I am willing and ready to dig in and do just about anything, and that’s I think the mindset you need to go and do what we’re doing now, which is very small business and where it’s potentially not staffed for a real owner role. It’s a real like owner, but emphasis on operator in the owner operator world.
That is interesting that you’ve had experiences at huge companies but also have now moved to, I would imagine one of the smallest groups and companies that you’ve worked for, and that’s also fascinating about this space in that each investor does investing in private companies a little bit differently. I’d love to hear more about how you view investments through Cub, in that you’re focusing on the Wright Gardner in that space and doing more add-on acquisitions rather than what some other investors do, which is find various unrelated businesses to diversify their portfolio a little bit. How does making ad-on acquisition differ from making platform or just different acquisitions that are unrelated?
Yeah, so, I mean the first six months or so of the Wright Gardner investment was really just spent learning that investment like inside and out. We liked, I think we kind of 80 20 the investment at the beginning. There’s a lot we liked about it and we felt like we weren’t even in a place to know what we didn’t like about it. We kind of went as far as we could go with the knowledge base that we had and then from there it was a leap of faith to say whatever it is, we’ll figure it out like we’ll… and we’re willing to work hard to make it happen and do what is necessary to make it successful.
On the add-on side, once we learned the business, we professionalized it, we process sized it, we made it into something that could be much bigger and that’s where then the add-ons come in, because the add-on standpoint, it’s businesses… as long as they’re like in our GO and in our category of services that we’re used to, ads-ons for us are very easy. It’s just hiring people, taking over accounts or reworking schedules. The administrative is kind of taken care of already. We have a good scalable management structure in place, so add-ons for us are the easiest way to grow. They’re also very prudent given what’s going on in the marketplace because there’s a lot of turnover among the owners. We’re in a fragmented market. Everybody does reasonably well. It’s not like a cut-throat, like super hyper competitive business where people are taking losses… and that’s one thing we like about the local businesses is they’re all profitable, they make money.
There’s nobody, at least in most of these industries that we look at that’s like willing to go for a loss just to get business in the high tech sector, that’s the case, and you know, or they’re just chomping at the bit to get customers. As far as new platforms, we’re always weighing competing capital, competing capital for ad-ons, but we always have to be cognizant of the fact that, what you really know is what’s right in front of you and you’re always making a bet of is what’s right in front of me good enough even if it’s going to be significantly more work. Because doing a new platform, this is a lot more work and requires taking that leap of faith all over again, and so we’re always weighing that.
As far as the diversification part, we’re doing a little bit of diversification and looking for other sound investments, but for the most part, one of the things when we underwrote the business that we liked about it, is how well diversified it is with an industry. We service a broad base of business clients and that cut across so many industries. We’re not really hyper exposed to any individual industry, and so we get a little bit of diversification that way. We get a little bit diversification within our service portfolio, and we do some like more high end services that I think are very, very discretionary and more prone to get cut when times go bad. Then we do some services that are more like… you’re very unlikely to ever cut, you know… If you run across a building, you’re not going to fire your landscape or try to do it yourself or something like that.
That’s just not really likely, and so we’re diversified in that sense as well, and so that has worked for us because of the nature of the business. Not every business has that, and it’s something we liked about it, and then at the same time the other lever of diversification is just getting into other businesses. Like we got into a healthcare finance business that we liked because we thought like, wow, this business is almost countercyclical. If we’re investing at the end of the cycle, you want to be cognizant of where you are in the cycle, the multiple you’re paying and what happens when things go sideways and not when like wind up pretty well for us, and we invest in another searcher or that.
One thing that’s interesting to me about ad-ons is that there seems to be less risk in making an ad-on investment since it’s already in a space that you’re really familiar with, and you can fold it into your existing business. Once you buy on add-on acquisition, how do you blend it into your existing business and how do you think about whether you maintain separation of that add-on business or… How do you think about that integration after you buy them?
Yeah, so, I guess one thing I’ll clarify in terms of overall risk, I think it probably varies. Some are going to be more, and some are going to be less, I think or risky in a different way. One thing that is really, really liberating about doing a platform acquisition is just the story that you can tell, and the excitement that you can create for… in the flexibility you have around that transition. You can create a really great story for that departing owner. You can, and I don’t mean that in the sense of like a fiction, I mean like in a real way because you’re not in the business, so you’re not committed to a way of operating. A way of doing things. You can adapt how you do things to the circumstances in front of you, and that’s really, really powerful from the standpoint of taking that company and basically modernizing it and thrusting it into the future, which is one of the things that we focused on.
That was a huge deal riskier, because it really reduces the amount of change that you have to thrust upon the business and force the employees and the customers to go through. Because you can pretty forthrightly say, hey, not that much is different other than there’s a different entity or different set of humans that own this thing, but in reality we bought this because we like what it is, and we want to keep it and we want to keep growing it and making it better. In that sense, a platform acquisition is less risky… riskier in that sense. With the add-on it’s not quite as straightforward in the sense that if you already have an operation that runs a certain way, and you’re adding another operation that looks very, very similar but runs in a very different way, there’s a lot more risk around that transition.
You’re not so at liberty to improvise the operation and make it work for the new people because they do have to fit into the system that you do run. There’s add-ons that we haven’t done because they’re too profitable. They run really tight, they run really high margins, they don’t pay their people that well. They don’t give benefits that well. That owner wants to be paid for that profit, and it’s really hard for us if we’re going to share the profits on the first day by giving everybody raises and benefits and all of that, and then the on other side of that is you find out is that they aren’t run all that well and employees are kind of frustrated with the owner, and you can really inject a lot of positive change by being buttoned-up and showing them a new way and… but it’s change and change is risky. That’s I guess the two risk related factors I consider in the add-ons.
In my conversation with Trish Higgins from Chenmark, she chatted a little bit about her Chenmark car wash. I’m kind of curious, what is the Cub Investments car wash? What things do you do to a business after you acquire to improve and add processes to make the business run a little smoother?
I wish I could say that we were as buttoned-up as Chenmark on the car wash. I think we’re not quite there yet. I think, we started a little smaller. There’s way further to go. Change management wise, I think we do have that. Just in terms of all of the things you’ve got to do to make sure that transition goes well. Make sure that everybody feels heard and that people understand what’s going on and why, and why it could be a really good thing and what they got to do differently and all that.
Change management wise, I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of dealing with the various facets of that problem of how do you impose this like kind of daunting uncertain change on a whole bunch of people, and that cuts across cellar employees, employees in your existing business who are receiving these new team members, clients, vendors, all of that. On the… just day to day business processes, we’re improvising as we go. We don’t come from the private equity background where each of those private equity firms has got their kind of value creation plan. I don’t think we’ve been quite as systematic about it. Instead we have been pretty focused on I guess what’s right in front of us and what are the problems we need to solve right now and in time introducing more systematic features of the business, but it’s been more, I’d say improvisational in that we know that those things are out there and then we kind of just tackle them one by one.
Like we knew we really didn’t like our time sheet process recently so we introduced a new time sheet system that we thought was a pretty dramatic improvement, but that doesn’t come from… that just comes from just doing the work of seeing what the problems are, seeing where the waste is, seeing what the inefficiencies are and trying to prioritize the ones that are the most painful for the most people so that you can really improve things and that there’s benefits to go all around.
Do you have some examples of specific processes you implemented in new companies?
One of my job I work on with the horticulture business is, we call it work orders. It’s basically when people from the field need materials or help of some kind. How does that get conveyed and then how does that turn into the… how does a work order turn into work and just the full cycle of that. How do you do cost management around that? How do you do put supervisory controls in place and, we’ve kind of done trial and error, but that’s been a big component of the software that we’ve implemented, or I guess I actually built a field service software system from scratch, and we customize it to our needs, and that’s one where it’s been a grind.
You got to build something, use it, spot the problems, figure out what the changes are, make the changes, you know, repeat, and then there’s more mundane ones like implementing QuickBooks Online. We were on QuickBooks Desktop, we basically had the QuickBooks Desktop file of the previous companies, so we had a chart of accounts but then through that we’re like, well, we don’t really like the way we’re classifying our revenue and we’d really like to see it this other way, and so then we start coming up with a new scheme and before long, you know, bang your head against the wall enough times and eventually you get there.
A lot of trial and error I imagine.
A lot of trial and error, a lot of just driven by intuition. I’d say intuition with some experience but not necessarily direct experience per se, right. None of us had run a horticulture company before.
You chatted a little bit about that earlier in that you had no experience in your agricultural business. I’m sure there’s benefits to having experience in whatever business you’re about to acquire, but are there also advantages to not having experience?
I think so. I think there’s… anytime you come in with baggage being that your existing knowledge, it does cut both ways. I’d like to think that it’s more positive than negative, but when you’re close-minded about things, you clearly are going to shortcut and you’re not forced on to the journey of exploration into things that maybe you should. You can definitely move faster. If you know what a good chart of accounts looks like for a horticulture company, like boom, you’re done. Just copy what you got, but who knows how much thought went into that, right, and how much real attention was paid to the problems that that certain structure creates or make… you know, what difficulties you might have operating on that reporting system.
I think there’s some healthiness to taking a fresh look at things and not being either jaded or clouded or necessarily informed by your past experience.
It kind of leads to a discussion that we had earlier about misconceptions with buying small companies. I’d love to go over those and hear some that are… I’d imagine a lot of them are related to both your own personal experience, but also your investing experience. What kind of misconceptions do you see throughout small business acquisition that you feel are misguided perhaps?
Yeah. The one that just immediately comes to mind is one that I’ve seen over and over again and I haven’t had to directly deal with and overcome through the course of a deal or I haven’t successfully seen it and overcome it through the course of a deal. I’ve seen it plenty of times through deals that I wanted to do and that’s the conflict. Like how owners will conflate returns on real property in particular with the returns on their business, with the profits of their business and the logic being if you own a piece of property, and you operate your business out of that property, you gain some profits that is essentially avoided cost of rent less taxes and operating sentences of that property flows straight to the bottom line.
The reality though is that any buyer who’s looking at your business is going to want to separate those out and want to understand, well, really you should be paying fair market rent for the usage of that property. As a real estate investor you own that property, and you’re entitled to the fair market return on that, and what can happen is businesses where the owner owns the property, they don’t really think about… they think about that property as just kind of part of the business and they don’t really realize I guess that there’s an opportunity cost associated with the use of that property for the business, and so they don’t really charge themselves rent. As a result for them it’s fine, but once the moment they go to sell it, any buyer who catches on to that is going to immediately want to adjust for that.
That can be meaningful when especially you’re looking at the types of deals we were looking at, where we’re looking at like one to three operator income replacement size range small and that a couple thousand bucks a month of rent is a meaningful impact to the number that drives the valuation, and so that’s when… and then it’s really hard to, as a buyer to convey that back. People get it, intellectually they get it, but at the same time it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow when that’s say 20% of your profits or potentially more.
The other one, and this is probably more of an investment philosophy, is around… just around strategy and the types of businesses that you want to get in. I hear a lot of people talk about moats and what’s the competitive advantage of this business. I kind of ignore that to be honest. I don’t think Porter’s Five Forces is like an interesting way to think through something, but for me I just want to see a history of profit because to me that’s the indication that profits are being made. If I can look at the numbers and be like, okay, yes, they’re making profits, make sense.
I don’t shy away from things that are competitive. I like it when there’s things that are less competitive, but at the same time we’re not afraid of competition. We want to build a business that is competitive and good at what it does and can earn the business of their clients every day. For that reason I just think that applying the five forces and trying to be the only player in your industry, especially in the types of businesses we look at, that just means your industry’s really small and you can’t get that big. I would rather be small in a decent sized market where being good or being excellent can claim a lot of market share, and the profit record is evidence that there’s plenty of profits in the market, that growth can claim, and so the whole moat concept for me is yeah, I don’t know if I totally buy it.
What sorts of things do you see that are looped into that earnings number that you have to either add back or remove and how do you go about that process when you’re looking at a potential company to buy?
Yeah, so, if a broker has looked at it already, they’ve usually done some of that and will just want to go through those things and understand what they are. We’re operating in a space where the multiples are pretty low and we are looking for deals that can be win-win and everyone can feel good about, so you’re going to find situations where the broker didn’t quite do it right or didn’t do it the way we would. We work to understand and create a fair deal, and fairness is… everybody just needs to feel that it was fair. We don’t try to, I guess nitpick our way to save dimes. It just doesn’t… it doesn’t pay, and we’re doing it in a space where these are pretty risky deals, but at the end of the day, if you’re a competent manager and you can manage your way through them and you treat people fairly, it’s almost better to just let the cards fall where they may and not get overly hung up.
Something that moves to valuation significantly like in the case of ignoring the real estate, that matters because you’re not buying anywhere near the amount of profit that you thought you were buying, but yeah, invariably there’s going to be some adjustments that are like, well, you know people they love to add meals, and like, well, okay, are you taking your clients off for lunch? Yes. Okay. Sounds like the cost of doing business to me.
I think the 80 20 rule definitely plays a part in this space and I’m curious from a position where you’re analyzing a business that you may acquire, at what point do you have enough information to make a decision one way or the other and at what point are you just looking for information and details that really don’t change your decision one way or the other?
Yeah, we try to be super cognizant of that because we don’t want to waste anyone’s time really or ours. I will always figure out what other questions I have are, and then try to turn that list down by 80% because I’m a curious person. I have many questions. Even just an intuitive answer to a question without verifying it with data, oh, what’s our customer concentration? We try to do customer concentration analysis, but if it’s a push, like we can be satisfied with some very basic, we don’t need to do the full analysis and force the seller into coming up with all of that, but that also begs the question, is like, do I care or how much do I care?
Well, it kind of depends on what the answers. It’s like, well, I’ve got one customer, and they’re really needy and they’re 80% of my business and then that changes the answer, but they usually… you can kind of get… even just an intuitive answer the business owner knows their stuff enough that an intuitive answer will suffice, and they don’t need a real numeric answer, and that okay well, this concentration metric that we use moves the multiple that we pay by this amount and we don’t do that.
Is that a good way to work with a seller to smooth out the acquisition process in that transaction? It sounds like a process that can get really messy and I’m curious if the 80 20 rule helps move things along a little bit smoother and you can kind of pick your battles a little bit more.
Totally, totally pick your battles and being a lot more, yeah, being very 80 20 for us I think helped us get more deals done. I mean we’ve done quite a few now. I think it earned some trust, and taking at their word try to verify when you can, but you got to know what would actually change the answer and if there’s an intuitive answer that potentially changes the answer then you’re like, okay, we probably need to look into that a little bit more before we go and commit more because we don’t want to misrepresent what we’re willing to pay or what the terms might look like.
How do you think about the previous owner being involved in the business, we had a quick chat about this earlier and you… this kind of fell in line with the other misconceptions, but how is the owner incorporated into the business after they sell it?
It’s one of the first questions they always ask in like a first meeting. It’s like, okay, let’s say you sold next week, we close on Sunday. What are you going to do on Monday? Just to hear what they say. Like, oh, I don’t know or oh, well, there’s going to be a period and these clients are really needy and you’re going to need me for a while and then, okay, good to know. There’s another misconception we had talked about prior just kind of about the relationship value. A lot of owners or salespeople, they have to be and that’s kind of how they got to where they are.
I think there’s somewhat of a misconception around the value and criticality of relationships. I think above all people want to be taken care of and served well. While a good relationship manager is important and helpful, if I had a dime for every time I heard a salesperson say I win because of relationships, and I lose because of price. We wouldn’t be talking right now, I’d be hanging out on a beach somewhere. I just think that’s such like a… it’s a logical trap, or it’s a maybe potentially just a story people tell themselves because it doesn’t stand the test of extrapolation because if every deal has two salespeople competing for it and… it just doesn’t work, it breaks.
The person that wins is, one because their relationship… that means the customer made the decision based on the relationship and the person that lost, lost because their price means there, so, wait a second. Why do they really choose you? Do they choose you because they like you or do they choose you because of the price? It’s kind of one or the other, but probably not both and yeah, the win on relationship lose on price to me is a common line and it leads into owner’s perception of how much of what their clients need and it’s all like very well intended always, because the owners want their clients to be taken care of and they know that that’s part… for many of them that was part of their job as helping those clients.
We don’t try to talk them off of that, but at the same time, what we usually learn through the process is, oh, if you can do the great service that they’ve always done because they had the ear of the owner but without that owner being there anymore, turns out the clients don’t care as long as you give them the same service or better service than they were getting before.
Is that an advantage to you… the industry you’re in, in that, and part of it is just that the expense for interior plants is probably pretty small in comparison to a lot of other business expenses. Is that an indicator to you that the relationship between the owner and the customer is less important in this industry and is easier to replace just because you’re a smaller expense to the company you’re selling to?
I don’t think so. I think I see this pattern of logic applied in every business and I don’t think even getting into small business is what made me notice it more. I actually worked a lot with sales and sales operations when I was doing consulting and did tons of interviewing of salespeople and I just, I’ve heard that so many times and I just… to me it’s like, oh, there they go again. It’s an ego driven thing, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s probably healthy to believe that, but I really don’t think… I mean there are cases where salespeople go above and beyond and they deliver excellent service and it’s hard to replace.
In that situation I get it. That’s when the salesperson is doing real value added work, but in… so there’s maybe some aspect to it, but very seldom is the salesperson the service. The service has to be the service and so only in the… like maybe in consulting I guess where that relationship is really, really core to the service that’s being provided, but for anything else where the salesperson is really just representing that service, to me that relationship helps open doors.
It helps stem conflict but it’s not truthfully adding a lot of value to the service, if the service is good, the service is good, and that makes the salesperson’s job pretty easy even if they just happen to be a very natural and excellent builder of relationships, kind of doesn’t matter how good that relationship is if the service is terrible.
Transitioning to Cub Investments and your future plans there, how do you see Cub Investments evolving and growing over the next five or 10 years or perhaps that’s too far out and you’re going along as you figure it out, but what’s on the immediate horizon for Cub in the next couple of years here?
I mean I think with the Wright Gardner… with the horticulture business it’s keep going, expand client base first and foremost, which part of that strategy is organic and part of that is inorganic, expand offerings or expand selectively within the offerings that we have and just keep going with respect to… so there’s the add-on side of that and we kind of manage that, and then as far as other platforms and other investment activities, I’ll put a plug in. We have a little startup called Credit Parent and it’s a credit freezing service for parents to help stem the tide of child identity theft, which is like this troubling trend that identity thieves are stealing the identities of kids and there’s a really easy solution that most people don’t know how to do or don’t do because it’s kind of a pain in the butt.
We discovered it and then built the system to do it and kind of launched a company around it called Credit Parent. Doing little things like that, pursuing our passions, finding stuff that… finding people that we like and work in figuring out how to work together. We’re very open-minded, but I think the common thread is a focus on small business, a focus on profitable business and trying to just be really, really reasonable about like… and modest about the evaluations, about just trying to find stuff that’s really straight forward, really simple, learn fast and execute.
In terms of valuations in the size of business that you’re looking at, how have you seen valuations change over the last few years and do you have an idea of where they might go in the near future?
I mean I’ve only been looking at stuff for I guess two and a half… well, two and a half years. We only really looked for a month or two before we closed our first. We’re on a very small side of the market, like very, very small. We’re talking like deals in the $200,000 to say $2 million range where there’s very little competition. Valuations on those things are in the one and a half times seller’s earnings to maybe three at the high end, you know, significantly down market from probably some of the other people you’ve talked to and for a reason, you know these things, they are a little fragile at that size so you have to be smart and careful and thoughtful about how you go about it.
I just don’t see it being all that likely. If anything and it seems like valuations should be pretty flat there. It’s possible that you’ll see higher evaluation… It is interesting how uniform those valuations are though. Like you don’t seem to pay a higher multiple… at least in terms of our assessment of something that we think is really good versus something that we think that’s a terrible idea or that’s not going to work. We don’t seem to see valuations discriminate in terms of asking price, which is a little bit peculiar, maybe evaluations will creep up on the high end as people enter the market and try to do what we’re doing. If for no other reason then they want to do something more entrepreneurial. I mean there’s a class of people who, of like millennials who know potentially the professional experience and wherewithal to embark on and get out of corporate life. Get out of the corporate grind and do this, and maybe you see more potentially more competition but… and as far as predicting the future, I don’t know, I think software companies are overvalued.
There’s so many people chasing so few. We’ve kind of stayed away from tech. There’s some variations on tech that we think are cool and can be a little bit more modest in terms of valuation, but it comes to like enterprise SAAS. It’s crazy how much people will pay for those. It doesn’t seem sustainable. Seems like there’s going to be a lot of bad endings.
Are you seeing competition with any deals you see now whether they’re very, very small PE firms or search funds? Are you encountering other people so far?
Sometimes, I think we probably compete more with somebody trying to work their way up into an ownership position to be honest versus competing with more professional organizations or like more kind of put together investment types. On the higher end, yeah, we definitely hear about it, but at the same time I think our proposition is just a bit different in terms of what they’re getting. We’re kind of a what you see is what you get and here’s the people that we’ve bought from, call them and ask them what it’s like to deal with us. For the most part we know we’re pretty straightforward at that, but yeah, as far as competition goes it doesn’t… I mean deals go. I guess the broker would be in a better position to see that, so far I don’t think we’ve lost one that we’ve like really wholeheartedly gone for.
And then moving into a few closing questions here. If you could go back to college and teach a class, what class would you teach and why.
I’m not really qualified to teach anything. I alluded to it earlier. I’m kind of an expert at nothing, and I know a little bit about a lot of things. The one I think I’m most interested in I guess is, is really around financial innovation, at the intersection of finance, economics, business value creation. I just think it’s so fascinating how you apply the tools of finance to different situations, whether that be the small businesses or different products within small business.
I had a impact investing class at Kellogg that was very formative because it basically forced you to completely to take all the tools that you know about finance and like just come up with totally different ways because it was all about, like how do you monetize impact? If you’re creating impact, you’re creating value. If you’re creating value, there’s value to be exchanged. If there’s value to be exchanged, you’ve got a business, figure it out. That is an area of interest. I don’t know how much I would be able to like stand at the lecture and convey on people, but I think it’d be a fun endeavor to do a class like that.
How would you set up the curriculum? Do you have an idea?
You know, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it. I guess there’s lots of different ways to organize, but I think going by sector is kind of interesting, if like think about how you would do financial innovation in x and then think about what the different angles to it could be and so you probably want to find a lot of people who are doing interesting stuff to grease the wheels.
What would you say is the most fortunate event to have happened to you that was completely random.
Completely random. Well, that changes because I was thinking about this question. Maybe nothing is completely random like the lottery, so I’m going to punt on that question but I’ll answer it a different way. Getting into MIT, there is an element of that, that’s a crapshoot. Notwithstanding the news cycle around paying people to get you into college. My parents promised me they didn’t care enough to pay to get me in. That was very fortunate because that place was amazing and just so many people that I met and so many interesting ideas and it’s just like, I don’t know, I just loved that place, and then around that… so I would have been class of 2008 and when I dumped nuclear engineering for management I realized that I could graduate a lot faster and given how expensive it was and what a financial strain it was to attend there, I decided to go as fast as I could.
I got out and graduated in 2007 which is a very, very fortuitous circumstance because I would not have gotten into McKinsey. My life would be so, so different if I had graduated in that one year later, by taking that extra year because of all that happened, and I can’t even imagine what my life’s trajectory would… or how it would have been different if those two things hadn’t occurred.
What would you say is the best business you’ve come across and seen?
I guess it kind of depends on how you define best. I mean, the easy answer is the Wright Gardner, the business that we’re most actively involved in day to day. I like it because it’s really… it’s a business that, it’s got some passion to it. It’s got, you know… People that we work with, they love plants and I love plants too, that’s got a little bit of soul. It’s like it creates… the business itself it creates a good life for a lot of people, the clients like us, the clients like the service we provide. We just bring a lot. We bring a lot of joy and I like that about it. I guess that’s mine.
Well, thank you very much Nick for joining me today. I really appreciate your time and hearing about your experience and expertise. I’m looking forward to chatting with you again very soon.
Sounds good. Thanks for having me on.