Build a Start-up That Gets Acquired

In my ten years of TV, I learned what makes the sexiness and glamour of the TV business work – Sales. It wasn’t my first thought when I joined Petry television in 1992. I always imagined that the great TV programming I watched everyday would more or less sell itself. When I joined Warner Bros. in 1995, I had to believe Friends and ER were must buys and the TV stations and networks, I called customers, would automatically buy them. And when I joined CBS in 1999, I was convinced The Late Show and Survivor were “must haves” to my customer base of advertisers, up and down Madison Avenue.

But the truth is now very clear to me – it would require the best Salesmanship to win in TV.

Over my career in the TV business, I worked with some of the very best sellers in the world: Leslie Moonves, Mel Karmzin, Lisa McCarthy, Dick Robertson, Vince Messina. These were some of the names of those people who taught me how to sell. Selling, at the end of the day, is how the business gets done.

It’s also the key to how to build and sell a start- up. Period.

I’ve now built and sold two companies: BBE to Specific Media in 2010 and Torrential to ITN in 2017. In both instances, it was my raw ability to sell that drove the success of the business and the sale of the company. It is simply the most important aspect of the entire process.

My mentor Jim DePalma gave me the greatest advice I’d ever receive after asking him how to start BBE without having raised the capital to build it. “Can you sell?” knowing fully well I could. “Then go sell. You’ll have the revenues from selling to use to build BBE.” That is indeed what I did. Bootstrapping the business is what allowed me to raise the necessary capital for BBE while also keeping control by not having to give away equity in the company to investors.

With that said, there are still a few other critical steps necessary to both build your company and sell it. Hiring good people is second only to selling. Building a great product or technology and finally, having the right banker are third and fourth to getting your company acquired.

Hiring good people is hard. I remember my first hires at BBE and the amount of time I spent scrutinizing them. Those hires can be the difference between growing a company that gets acquired or not.

With such a significant amount of importance on good hires, it pays to hire more slowly than most entrepreneurs are comfortable with. I tell young entrepreneurs as often as I can to involve as many people as you have access to, in the interview process. As much time and effort should be afforded to hiring as you grow and scale your company.

The third key ingredient to building and selling your company, is product. Any buyer will need a good, marketable product to gain if they’re to take the plunge and acquire your company. When Specific Media bought my company BBE, they made several allusions to the importance of our technology platform VINDICO, the “special sauce” as they called it. They referred to it as key to why they purchased the company. Any acquirer likes the feeling of having something tangible they can hold onto. Building good product and having that product deployed makes your company highly desirable to any buyer.

After Selling, Hiring Good People and Product is hiring the right banker to sell the company. This isn’t the most difficult step but finding the right banker makes the difference between selling your company or not.

Most investment bankers will do the basics: canvass the market for buyers, help your company prepare for sale and provide you a deal team.

There are a great many investment bankers to choose from and the process of finding one can be daunting.

When I went through that process, I was keen to how many bankers told me what I wanted to hear rather than guide me toward the things I needed to do and needed to hear.

BBE and Torrential were sold by GCA Savvian, a firm I deemed as having all the key ingredients and most critically, the best “seller” of the many I met. They touted a great many deals in the digital media space and created a great many outcomes. I was sold on GCA Savvian.

My advice is to meet with as many investment banks as you can and search them for the right fit for you and your organization. Ultimately, when you pick your Investment bank, make sure to find the right fit for your company and then make sure your Investment bank does one of those things better than anyone else – Sell.

For Advice or Consulting Services

Matthew Wasserlauf
CEO and Founder, Torrential Inc.


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