Thursday, December 12, 2002

This is a page from my book, “How I Sold My Business: A Personal Diary”

I've had a few more phone calls with Marty and Rob over the last few days, mostly just clarifying the financial information we've already sent. Rob also tried to get a little more information about our clients, but I refused to give out any specific names, or what sort of work we were doing for any particular client. They had the "blinded" customer information, which showed things like "X yearly revenue coming from Customer Y", and in my mind that's all they needed right now. I assured them that if we went further in our conversations the numbers and the customer names would match up.

There was no word yet on whether Rob had gotten the project with the prospect we met with, but it was still early, so I didn't expect much. Rob was happy with what I wrote up, and that's all I really wanted to know.

Meeting the financial backers

Today Jack and I met again with Rob, Marty, and two of Rob's potential financial partners. We met at the office of a local CPA firm, and the CPA we're meeting with is Rob's CPA, and a managing partner of this CPA firm. Another man named Jim is there, and he's a local businessman, and although I've heard his name before, I've never met him.

Neither of these men work directly in the computer field, though the CPA tells us he has several clients who are small computer consulting firms, and he's familiar with their financials. As you can imagine, there was a little small talk at the beginning, as we all got to know each other's backgrounds a little more, and then we dove into the numbers, with Jim and the CPA asking all the questions.

It occurred to me that we suddenly went from Rob -- an energetic yet inexperienced young man -- to two men who are probably in their fifties, very experienced, and their questions were very thorough. They push as far as they can on every financial number, and Jack and I give them what we feel comfortable with. In some cases we ask why they need to know something, or tell them we're not comfortable in giving them additional details at this point, and they back off gracefully.

To be clear, I did try to answer as many of their questions as thoroughly as possible, because I know they're trying to make an honest decision about whether to buy our company, or not. But when they asked the names of specific customers, or who is working on what project, that was pressing a bit too far for me. I feel like I've said it a million times by now, but I reassured them that if there's a firm offer on the table, I'll be glad to match customer names up to the revenue numbers, but I hope they can understand I don't feel comfortable doing that today.

To his credit, Marty told us before the meeting what to expect, and to only answer questions we felt comfortable with, and that there was no offer on the table at this time. He said the men were aware that we were looking to sell for up to $3M (Marty's number, not ours), and they were just financial men trying to understand their potential investment. Marty told us that if everything went forward to a signed Letter of Intent we would need to be ready to share everything then.

Their questions were very thorough, but not insulting in any way. They are clearly business people interested in the bottom line, and they're thorough in their work, which I respect, but they're also nice in their approach. Assuming these are men I'll have to work with in the future, I'm sizing them up as much as they're sizing me up. It may sound weird, but I'd also like to earn their business, so I'd like to leave them with a good impression regardless of whether they end up buying our company or not.

The meeting ended cordially, and I feel like I've given these men all the information I'm comfortable with sharing at this time. I don't feel like my refusal to give away more details has hurt us. In one case, since my name was in the local business paper lately in regards to one of our customers, I told them yes, that customer was one of our top five customers, and as far as I knew they would be customers for life, and they could certainly talk to our contacts there when the time was right.

In other news, we landed a nice new account just prior to this meeting, so our business continues to roll along. I can't stress enough how important it is to keep your regular business running on all cylinders as you go through this process of trying to sell your business. Marty tells us now it's just a "wait and see" process to see what these men will want to do next.

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