Where Private Equity Firms Come into Play

A private equity firm is in the business of buying, growing, and exiting companies, hopefully for more than they bought it for. For every industry there is a private equity firm out there.

As private equity diversifies, what are the key trends changing the nature of the deal? Today we are discussing where private equity firms come into play in the buying and selling space.

Today’s guest, Andy Jones, is the founder and owner of PrivateEquityInfo, a private equity database that helps investment bankers and private equity firms close more deals by taking a look at the top trends to look out for when scouting an acquisition target. One major trend we discuss is the holding periods for private equity and how those can often reveal the direction of the overall economy. Studying these and other trends are useful for potential buyers to understand what to look out for in an acquisition deal.

Episode Highlights:

  • Andy’s history with Private Equity Info.
  • A look at a typical private equity deal.
  • What sellers should know about the private equity industry.
  • Buyers don’t want the ugly marbles. Why buyers prefer asset deals over stock deals.
  • What ebita sizes private equity firms are looking for and why the size requirements are in place.
  • Smaller ebitas and add-on investment trends in the private equity arena.
  • Why larger acquisitions still make more sense.
  • Best ways to find the private equity for your business.
  • We touch on the topic of microfunds; what they are and how they work.
  • Typical deal structures that Andy comes across.
  • Why business founders don’t have the same appetite for risk as PE firms.
  • The typical holding period before an exit. How long is it?
  • Exuberance trends typically show up when those holding periods experience a decline.
  • Andy shares his top ten trend list for 2018.


Joe: Mark, I understand you had a great conversation with Andy Jones from PrivateEquityInfo.com.

Mark: Yeah private equity is one of these things that buyers and clients that we talk to and even … I’m sorry sellers and clients that we talk to and buyers as well often ask us about. Is private equity buying online businesses? Are they buying Amazon businesses? Are they buying SaaS businesses? Where do they start buying? When do they … what are the lines for it? How does it work?  Andy Jones is somebody that I’ve known now for probably seven, eight years. He’s always been very primed by complimenting me on the content we put out. So anyone that complements me is immediately somebody I like and so we talked about having him on the podcast-

Joe: Hold on just a second, you’re awesome Mark. You’re a really good guy and I’m proud to be your partner.

Mark: I thought you’re stopping the podcast here.

Joe: No, I’m just complementing you; that’s all. Like you see I just wanted to be liked by you today.

Mark: Okay well continuing … thank you, Joe. We will talk about increasing your equity stake in Quiet Light Brokerage after this call.

Joe: Awesome.

Mark: It’s kind of easy guys, it’s really that easy. And so Andy has PrivateEquityInfo.com. It’s a fantastic database of private equity activity across the spectrum. So anything from manufacturing to the online world but something that they do at PrivateEquityInfo.com is they take a look at the trends and what is going on in the world of private equity and these can be leading economic indicators. And he gave me one trend in particular, I’m going to let him get into the details of it but it’s the holding period for private equity. Because private equity, what they typically do for anyone that may not know that they’re going to make a lot of investments with the goal of growing these businesses but then exiting these businesses as well or at least a portion of these businesses that they’re building up. And the holding period, how long they hold them can really tell us a lot about the direction of the economy and what to anticipate next. And so they look at this holding period, the average number of years that a private equity is hanging on to business before they exit it. Right after the recession that holding period went up to like a number of I think it was like eight or nine because they bought at the peak and they had to wait for the economy to recover before they could exit. So I’m going to tease here and just say listen to the podcast to see what the average holding period is right now, what number we want to look out for to be able to understand okay maybe the economy is going to start to retract a little bit and use that for the decisions we want to make.

Joe: This is going to be fascinating. I think we’re going to learn about the future of the economy here as well. Hey before we move to the podcast I just want to give a shout out to Mike Nuñez from affiliate manager. Mike, you’re probably out riding your bike right now listening to this podcast, I appreciate all the positive feedback you’ve given us in the last few months. Thank you very much. Let’s go to the podcast with Andy Jones.

Mark: Andy thanks for joining me.

Andy: Thanks for having me.

Mark: All right let’s start off with a little bit of background on yourself and where you come from. I’ll let you do that part.

Andy: Yeah I’d be happy to. So my name is Andy Jones. I’m the founder and owner of Private Equity Info. We’re an Austin, Texas based company. We own several websites but our flagship website is really PrivateEquityInfo.com and this is where we provide and emanate research database that helps investment bankers and private equity firms and even the corporates close more deals. So I have an engineering background and investment banking background that’s kind of what lead me onto this journey of entrepreneurship 14 years ago.

Mark: Yeah pretty cool and you are one of the people … I will confess you feed my ego whenever we send out messages by saying really great content Mark. I’m like hey, I like this Andy guy.

Andy: Yeah yeah.

Mark: Good stuff, I like that. Well cool. We’re going to talk about private equity today because you have PrivateEquityInfo.com and really good information through that site. How long have you had that now?

Andy: So yeah we launched 14 years ago, January of ’05 so this year is our fourteenth.

Mark: I remember when everybody’s site is full. It was like three, four years old and somebody who had like an eight year old site it was like ancient.

Andy: I know I’m that guy.

Mark: You know you’re that guy right? I own a 20 plus year old site and then Quiet Light Brokerage this is going to be our 11th anniversary coming up next month.

Andy: Wow.

Mark: Actually by the time this episode airs we’ve surpassed 11 years so … really really cool. So again private equity was what we’re going to talk about today. We get this question all the time from buyers. People want to know things like who’s buying online businesses and would private equity be interested? At what levels are private equity interested in and how do those deals sort of differ from other deals? And you’ve got a pulse in the industry more so than anybody else that I know so I thought hey let’s talk about this. I think this is-

Andy: Sounds good.

Mark: -sort of thing to go into. So let’s talk about just kind of the typical private equity deals from what you are seeing and from your experience. I mean what is a good intro for somebody who owns a business that might be thinking about selling and they think well maybe private equity would be interested? What should they know about this industry in general and the different PE firms out there?

Andy: Okay. Well, that’s a pretty broad question; let me see if I can tackle it from the few angles there. So I’m going to come at this from the assumption that there is some general knowledge of private equity but maybe some inexact knowledge and I’ll just kind of ram a little bit and we can flesh it out. But essentially let me just start with the basics what a private equity firm is. A private equity firm, they’re in the business of buying growing and exiting companies for hopefully more than they bought it for. And the way they do that is they typically raise a fund through their limited partners. And limited partners are typically institutional money, pensions and retirements, high net worth individuals, [inaudible 00:06:43.1] and such. They raise a fund that has a 7 to 10 year lifetime and the private equity firm then puts that money to work by buying companies. And their hope is to grow those companies, produce cash flow, and exit at a good return on investment for their limited partners and also for themselves. So that’s kind of the mechanism of how they work. We can create … we can talk about how they create value later if you want to but you know is a private equity firm the right buyer for your company? Well now that depends on a lot of factors; primarily size but also industry. So by way of size, there’s a huge range of private equity firms out there and they go from billions of dollars of interest in price value, company size down to single digit millions. And so there’s a long tale of the firms out there. But at some point, the transactions get small enough that it’s not really just logistically practical to make investments of small sizes for a platform investment. But I will also say that for add-on investments, you know private equity firms often have this model whereby they buy a platform investment and then we have add-on investments to it. Most private equity firms have size criteria for platforms but for add-ons, it can be more strategic interest rather than size. And so usually there’s not a lower limit on the add-on acquisitions. Process size is one limitation, geography being another, and industry. If you have an industry there is a private equity firm interested in it. There’s a lot of private equity firms out there. The trick is finding which ones are interested in your company and that’s where we come in.

Mark: Yeah so I want to talk a little bit about these different sizes because we … as a broker I get these emails all the time from private equity firms that are out there. They’re reaching out to just these large databases of brokers and they typically are saying hey we’re looking for investment opportunities in manufacturing with this, that, the other thing. A lot of times it just does not fit what we do at all. Obviously, there’s no reason but they always list a minimum EBIDTA that they want to see. And typically what we’re seeing from the ones that reach out to us would be EBIDTAs of a minimum of 10 million, 5 million, 2.5, and in some rare cases 1 million but almost never below that.

Andy: That sounds about right.

Mark: Yeah. So what do you see with that? I mean, first of all, I think we can ask the question why, [inaudible 00:08:58.2] the listeners of everything we’re all … it’s obvious but for those that may not be cashing out of that why do they have these size requirements in there? And then second of all if you comment on that breakdown I mean are private equities looking for these [inaudible 00:09:10.6] smaller in the world of bootstrapped entrepreneurs a million dollars EBIDTAS is a decent deal but for private equity firm that’s tiny little bits of money there. How does that break down?

Andy: Yeah let me answer those in reverse. So the spread you kind of set it right. Yeah most of them are 10, 25 million in EBIDTas that’s for the bigger firms. In the upper middle market, firms are going to be and middle market firms is targeting down the 5 million down to 1 million in EBIDTA [inaudible 00:09:36.7]. But there are firms that will do it. And I think really the trick there is if you’re operating in that size range, the trick is not to be considered a platform investment. You want to be considered an add-on investment. And the single best way to find the right private equity firm for your company if you’re selling it and if you’re down in that range … even half a million, a million dollars in EBIDTA it’s getting pretty low. But it is to use a database like ours to keyword search based on keywords that describe your company the portfolio companies that are owned by private equity firms and we allow you to do this. You can search almost 80 … I guess a little over an 80,000 of them now and find those portfolio companies that are currently owned by private equity firms and that is … yeah, they look like your company. So that’s the single best gauge to determine a private equity firm’s fit or interest in your firm and your company is if they’ve already made a platform investment and you might be a likely add-on. So that’s the process I would go about to discover the sort of rifle shot hits that you’re looking for and you can use a tool like ours to find that. Why the size limitations? Well, they have a fund and they have to deploy that money. And if you have a hundred million dollar fund and you’re deploying it at single digit millions at a time it is too much work. You’ll never get it deployed. And that’s really just driving your limitations there.

Mark: Right. I think we have addressed this at the podcast topic a while ago on should you buy big or should you buy small. I’ve addressed this topic in a number of times as well where if you have the resources available to be able to run a larger enterprise from just making your dollars work; the larger acquisitions make so much more sense. The workload, the resources that go into a lot of internet companies doesn’t really scale at the same rate as the revenues do. And so it makes sense to do that. So for a private equity firm to come in and try and buy out a company doing 250,000 in EBIDTA just doesn’t make much sense. They’re not going to reach the goals that they’re looking for. And also the capitalization rights, I mean how large are these private equity firms when … how much capital are they trying to deploy through acquisitions?

Andy: It really depends on the firm. You know if you wanted to … I don’t know off the top of my head but I’ve done studies on this based on our data. And I’ve done some data size and probably shoot to our blog. So if people want to visit our blog you can read more about it but it’s very typical to have fund sizes and it’d be hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mark: Right. So let me take a little bit of a diversion real quick. I want to ask you a question that a trend that I’ve seen in our space here in the online acquisitions space, I call them micro funds because I don’t really have another word for them.

Andy: Okay.

Mark: But these people that are raising 10 to 15 to 20 million dollars and they’re doing it following that private equity sort of model of bringing in those investors. Their goal is to bring in a few companies, have some synergies between those companies, grow them, and hopefully sell them off. Are you guys tracking those at all at this point?

Andy: So at that level what we typically see is a firm that has raised capital because they have an operating partner with very specific industry experience and they’re looking to buy a company or two. In that case, they’re likely not in our database and it’s not because we don’t know about them, it’s just for fit reasons. Most of our customers that we serve are middle market investment bankers and because of that, we want to provide them a data set of firms that are likely going to close the deal. And if you’re buying one or two companies the probability of you closing that deal is pretty small especially if you’ve already closed one.

Mark: Right.

Andy: So the firms in our database are only those firms that have committed capital that are closing deals in the marketplace. Or sometimes they’re from a sponsor but they have to demonstrate that they’re actually closing deals. Because at the end of the day investment bankers and firms like yours you want to close a deal so you want to make sure that the people that you’re approaching from our database have some probability of making that happen.

Mark: Yeah that makes complete sense. All right let’s talk a little bit about … and again you’ve said this a couple of times so I’m going to reiterate it but talk in generalities when I’m asking you some of these questions. Every firm operates differently. Some like the sort of incubator method … you really it’s going to be different from one from the next but I want to talk about typical deal structures. And let’s say that we have somebody who … they built up a company and let’s say that they’re in that seven figure EBIDTA range or low eight figure EBIDTA range as well. I know I’m working with people on that low eight figure EBIDTA range, they’re looking for an exit down the road and they’re definitely in that private equity territory where that’s what makes most sense.

Andy: Okay.

Mark: So when you’re approaching private equity firms with a business … let’s just focus mainly on the seven figure EBIDTA range, the one to five million, say that we have some people there, some PE firms there. What sort of deal structures do you typically see? Are they completely asset based acquisitions, are they stock, are they management buy-outs with the managers staying on and if there’s no general rule that’s fine too of course.

Andy: There’s no general rule but there are some factors as you know that sway the rules. Let me organize my thoughts on how to answer that. So asset deals versus equity deals, there’s no all encompassing rule for that. Generally speaking, let me just sort of educate the audience a little bit and there’s a good analogy for this. If you think about your company as a bag with a bunch of marbles in it and marbles are the assets, buyers like to come in and pick out the marbles they want. That’s an asset deal. I want this marble, this marble, and this marble and that’s what I want; that’s an asset deal. You keep the corporate entity and all the other marbles I don’t want. Whereas a start deal … equity deals says I will just buy the bag and all the marbles in it; good, bad and ugly. Well as a general rule, buyers prefer an asset deal and sellers prefer start deals because it’s just [inaudible 00:15:21.8]. Buyers don’t want the ugly marbles; the litigation, the potential liabilities … you know that stuff, so just for your audience though typically we find that the buyer wins because they’re the ones with the money. So if you want a deal done you’re going to do an asset deal. So there’s not a hard and fast rule, the exception to that is often times when there’s customer contracts in place that you don’t want to have to renegotiate, you don’t want to create a new corporate entity and then often times those become start deals just for just the core purposes. That’s the other part of your question, you’re looking at a seven figure in EBIDTA deal.

Mark: So the basic structure of it. I know we’ve run into some cases where we’ve worked with private equity firms but they wanted to have a management team in place before.

Andy: Right.

Mark: Or the structure of the deal you know as a cash or as a cash financing and as a-

Andy: All right, again it’s going to be all over the place but generally speaking if the owner is retiring … owner-founder is retiring, the seller that’s one case whereas if they’re wanting to stay on and run it and grow it that’s another case. If they’re retiring it’s going to be more … mostly a cash out kind of deal. But if there’s a continuity there and they’re selling the vast majority of their equity to a private equity firm retaining a small minority stake on the order of 10, 20% that’s a different sort of deal. And that’s probably the preference for most private equity firms. Again we’re talking generalities. All firms operate differently. If you have a strong management team that wants to stay on the private equity firms are going to be interested in that. If they’re interested in your company because of its industry, its size, its growth trajectory, and its promise to go on forward they want that management to stay on and they want them properly incentivize and aligned. So typically what we’ll see it’s not unusual at all to see a certain sort of enterprise value established at the exit of the majority of your stake. And then the private equity firm infusing that company with capital and all sorts of tools to create value. And then having a subsequent accurate equity exit whereby the original owner’s second exit is as much as or more the first exit. It happens quite frequently. It doesn’t mean it will happen obviously but it’s not so unusual.

Mark: Yeah and I think that falls in this territory of thinking outside the box of some of the regular deals that most people think of. I talk to a lot of sellers who they want that 100% exit, they got in love with the market but they moved on. But sometimes a really good deal is if you do find that good firm involved just getting that partial exit or that first exit and then that second exit later on can be like you said just as lucrative or if not more lucrative as you got this thing behind you. Let’s talk a little bit about 2018 and some of the trends in the-

Andy: Let me add … I’m going to add on to that a little bit before we move on.

Mark: Yeah, please.

Andy: So one of the things that people I guess wonder is how … why is it a private equity firm can come in buy a majority position the equity and create value where I couldn’t? A lot of that stems from they’re just … they don’t have their entire net worth tied up in that company or a huge swath of it whereas an owner and founder does. So they can come in and infuse it with capital where an owner would go I don’t know if I want to throw the rest of my [inaudible 00:18:29.6] that I got in the basket. The same basket is already all in. And so a private equity firm and can take greater risks because it’s a small percentage of their portfolio in total. And you know and as a bootstrapped operation there’s a mathematical limit to how much you can grow your company without outside capital. It has to do with your profit margins, there’s a straight mathematical relationship. Your profit margins are X your growth can be Y and no more. So your opportunity for outside capital is debt or equity and founders oftentimes don’t have the appetite for debt and this is where private equity can come in and infuse the company with capital at a risk for them that’s much more acceptable than it is for the owner-founder and try some things that are maybe riskier and get that company to grow through multiple expansion and taking on your projects and what not. So that’s kind of why they’re able to do that whereas an owner sometimes isn’t going to take that leap of faith.

Mark: I think there’s another aspect to that as well. I think … I’m glad you stopped me with that, we talk a lot on this podcast and conferences, just people that we talk to in general; entrepreneurs. These bootstrapped entrepreneurs or even the guys that have come in and maybe bought something smaller and that growing it. I put them in that same category of this bootstrapped entrepreneur who this is their livelihood and if it’s not 100% of the livelihood it makes up a good part of it. A lot of people are not operating with an aim towards an exit. Maybe it’s in the back of their mind so a few things here and there and they do this but a private equity firm has this holding period. They have this goal of we’re growing this, we’re going to get the cash flow from this, and in most cases … in a lot of cases, they’re looking for that exit with that company as well where they could profit from it.

Andy: That’s right and it drives a huge sense of urgency day after day after day. And once you’re owned by a private equity firm, it’s hit the ground running. It really is because they’re driving that growth because they need to grow the company and exit it before their fund timeframe runs out and so it’s a bit of a race. With that comes a lot of operational efficiencies, they’ll add to your institutionalizing the company in terms of process fees and measurement and systems in short governance and it’s all the stuff that you should do as a company but sometimes that stuff falls and kind of cracks.

Mark: I’m going to make a plug so Walker Diebel who works with Quiet Light Brokerage and how he’s the executive producer of a number of documentaries and one of them is Print the Legend on Netflix. And it’s about the 3D printing industry. There’s a really cool part in there where you see [inaudible 00:20:58.0] go through this transition of bootstrapped you know the classic starting in the warehouse garage everybody is really agile doing what they have to do and then they take outside money and it becomes institutionalized. And one of them … I cannot remember what her name was but she said just like I call this part trying to put the skeleton into the jellyfish, trying to get it back on in a jellyfish.

Andy: That’s a great analogy.

Mark: It is. It’s a great movie by the way. Print the Legend, you can get on Netflix and again that’s my genius plug for Walker.

Andy: I love it.

Mark: Yeah. So let’s talk about 2018, let’s talk about some of the trends that you’re seeing in 2018. Actually no let’s back up we’re going to talk about that in a minute because we’ve just said that they buy these companies with a goal of exit. What is a typical timeframe? What is the holding period that most companies are … most of the private equity firms are looking to hold companies before doing that exit?

Andy: We do a report about every six months to update the holding period and we say well of all the companies that have exited in 2018 how long were they held and we compare it to six months ago and 2017, 2016, going back in time. And I set you a graph of this beforehand and we can post that if you want to or whatever or make it or you can visit our blog and see that study. But generally speaking, I think most people would say look the general private equity holding period is 3 to 7 years. That’s the right answer. It’s fairly generic and that’s kind of all-encompassing but I wrote down some stats here. The medium holding period right now as of a couple months ago is 4.8 years. So of all the companies that have exited in 2018, they were held just shy of five years. By way of comparison, we saw a max holding period of 5.6 years in 2014. Well, why was it so long then? Well if you think 2014 and you subtract out 5.6 years, if you’re looking at companies [inaudible 00:22:48.7] and say you’re looking at companies that were bought at a peak of evaluations right before the recession. So those are companies that are portfolio companies owned by private equity firms that got bought at the beginning of 2008, unfortunate timing, and then just hit the recession and they just had to hold a lot longer to either breakeven or realize any value. So that increased the hold rate. And we saw a minimum conversely in the year 2000 when we have a .com boom out of 3.0 years. And we saw another minimum in 2008 you know at the peak of that it bubbled there at 3 ½ years. So that leads me to think that if you start getting around … I’m going to say holding periods of 4 years or less it might … maybe it’s an indicator of a little bit of exuberance in the market. And so right now we’re at 4.8 years and it is declining. It is consistently going down every time we track. So we’re aiming to the 4, we’re not there yet.

Mark: That’s fascinating data. We’ve actually had that conversation internally quite a bit as far as the trends in the market and what we’re thinking. And what we’re seeing right now we’re seeing one of the more aggressive markets in the 11 year history of Quiet Light. Now granted Quiet Light Brokerage when I first started it was 2007 and we were really just getting our feet wet and getting go-ins. So we didn’t have a lot of data … real useful data then we hit a recession. So you take the first six, seven years it’s pretty bearish. They [inaudible 00:24:13.3] are working with.

Andy: Right.

Mark: So comparatively like this is the time that we’re in right now feels really good and strong and that [inaudible 00:24:19.9].

Andy: And we can talk about statistics because one of the great things about having a database is that it learns itself to this during data studies and slicing and dicing a data. It really pops out interesting trends. Right now valuations are high. No secret I think everyone in your industry knows valuations are high and I’ll actually tell of you guys a little bit here or your world of investment banking and business brokerage. If you are a company owner and you are thinking about selling in the next 3 to 4 years and it’s even on your horizon there may not be another time that is this good for valuations. It is as good as it gets. I mean there are a couple of economic factors there. There is sort of meta … macro-economic factors that are happening that are making this as sort of sustained seller market but that’ll change. Those factors are just real quickly … money is cheap right now. Monetary policy has made interest rates low. It’s cheap to borrow money. It’s fueling a lot of growth. Companies are growing but consequently, those people with money are looking for where can they get a better return on my capital instead of CD’s and treasuries and stuff like that. So they’re looking at the alternative asset space. They’re putting money into private equity which has created more private equity firms than ever before, larger funds than ever before, looking for the same deals as everybody else. So there’s a huge … from a financial buyer perspective there’s a huge demand. And then the other factor that plays with that is a social factor and that is you probably thought this as the eye. When the baby boomers were going to retire and then we had 60’s we thought that there would be these huge influx businesses for sale as they start to retire and that largely didn’t happen. They just kept working. The baby boomers just kept working and that only eventually come out a buy plan but right now because they’ve held their businesses longer they’ve built up a pent up demand because they’re limiting the supply. So, on the one hand, you have money in trying to chase deals, on the other hand, you have fewer deals. That’s what’s creating this sustained seller’s market where valuations are high. It will change. It will go back down and we’re going to remain. You cannot … this is my opinion not data, but you cannot make money on the assumption that someone else is going to over pay in the future years like you did today.

Mark: Right … no I think that’s absolutely right that when … last year on this time I wrote one of the last blog post that I personally wrote. We started the podcast instead. Before we started recording here I was telling you that I like doing this [inaudible 00:26:49.6]

Andy: Yeah, right.

Mark: But I talked about the history of what we’ve seen over the years and during those recessionary years boy if you’ve got a 2.7 or 2.8 discretionary earnings for a business it was a really solid deal. And today people are looking that and saying why would I ever sell for that. Understanding multiples, they’re relative to the time, they’re relative to the supply and demand within the marketplace and what money out there and what other investment vehicles are out there as well. Even when you’re thinking about when to exit when you’re thinking about buying and growing and turning this around in the case of a private equity firm that’s crucial data to really kind of hone in on and understand. What are you seeing trending this year? I know I was contacted by Buzz Feed a while ago about private equity firms starting to get into the Amazon space and really looking more towards e-commerce specifically within the Amazon Marketplace. What are you seeing as far as different trends in the private equity space or is there any industries that seem to be popping up right now?

Andy: There are you know we studied the portfolio companies and what’s changing over time. I sort of have a top 10 list for 2018 that I’ll run down with you. On top of the list has always been and maybe always will be manufacturing.

Mark: I see that all the time.

Andy: Everyone likes a solid just basic manufacturing company, no frills just consistent cash flow, consistent growth; predictable money. With that said manufacturing as a percentage of the portfolio companies is way less than it used to be. So coming hot on its heels are … number two and three and four positions which number two is software. So far this year software deals are a big deal. At number three is technology. This kind of go together and it makes sense. Anything that you can scale like you can with a software and technology private equity firms are interested in the ability to find the concept that scales with very low capex which software and technology tend to do. And also have this component of recurring revenue also a big theme for the private equity firms. The others I’ll run down … number four was health care. Interestingly enough number five was data businesses, information services which I’m on. Six would be oil and gas which is interesting because there for a while that went away. When it went down so cheap and thus nobody … everybody was losing money in all the oil and gas services companies and the PE firms just weren’t doing that but it’s coming back. Seventh is medical. Eighth, construction which has been interesting, traditionally we would not see much construction related private equity investments mostly because it tends to be very capex heavy. Number nine was transportation and logistics. And number ten was engineering so another kind of services company.

Mark: Fascinating. The software I presume SaaS businesses with kind of all that-

Andy: Well that’s the preferred. Yeah, that’s the preferred model. Not always but that’s where everybody’s going. Everyone’s going to SaaS and everyone’s going to the club.

Mark: Right. What about consumer products? I mean that’s obviously not in your top ten list.

Andy: You know off the top of my head I don’t know where it is. There are a number of private equity firms that specifically build consumer product brands and focus on that exclusively. Some well-known firms they have done really well. I know that for a while food and sort of ingredient businesses we’re pretty hot. I don’t know if that trend is still as hot as it used to be but consumer brands is definitely a hot industry it’s just not on our top ten. I hear it all the time.

Mark: Sure. But what are some of the things that private equity firms just love to see when they’re looking for an acquisition target?

Andy: Some of the things we already touched on recurring revenue. I mean it’s all about stability of cash flow. So I would say stability of cash flow spur the quality of earnings kind of companies. Scalable businesses that have strong cash flow and a track record of growth. And those firms that are maybe a little more venture capital minded might say you know what’s the opportunity here in terms of can this just blow up as a trend or is this software tool just meeting this huge demand in the cloud space that’s going to be the next revolution of software so that sort of thing. But really it’s all about cash flow stability or scalability.

Mark: All right then what are some of the things … I mean people will probably come up with conclusions but what are some of the things that they’d want to avoid?

Andy: Yeah so in addition to just like the opposite of those private equity firms it would be difficult to find firms that will do project based financing as opposed to just an outright purchase acquisition. They don’t want to finance your projects. They typically will not do projects that require a lot of capex. With that said I did say construction was in the top 10 so I am not sure about that but traditionally it’s just hard to scale companies when you have to put a lot of money on upfront for property client equipment. And then lastly at least for the firms that we track, we do not track those that are not in this particular data site those that invest in real estate. In a traditional buyout M&A private equity firms, we just need a longer time horizon than seven or 10 years to make sure that real estate pays off like it should. So what we do track in another data model institutional real estate investor, that’s a different animal altogether and probably outside of this group but … out of this conversation but they typically are just not going to buy real estate.

Mark: I’ve got a question for you on general multiples and let’s talk software and tech and if you don’t have this data right now I know I’m kind of … I’m springing this on you, I didn’t prep you on this one.

Andy: That’s all right.

Mark: But we talk often that there’s a bit of a multiple shift when you get to certain levels in EBIDTA.

Andy: Yeah that’s right.

Mark: This is something that companies don’t typically get the strongest multiples as you move up we see these multiple shifts. What are some of the demarcation lines that you see for EBIDTA as one of these multiples that you start to inch up? Or is it just kind of a gradual scale where you’re seeing that happen?

Andy: You know I don’t know if there is definite lines and I don’t know if I’m going to know the answer to that question but just let me talk kind of about a hand waving principles around.

Mark: Sure.

Andy: I think it just kind of scales generally with size. Companies that are bigger tend to be more stable. And when you’re more stable that’s perceived to be less risk for a buyer and therefore more valuable and hence a higher multiple. And so that is why one of the methodologies that private equity firms use is this buy and build platform an add-on strategy. It is you buy the platform company, you take a smaller add-on investment, you buy it for … I’m just going to make up a number, 6X EBIDTA and suddenly you put it in, you fold it into a bigger company and that same sort of producing asset is now repaid X because it’s part of a bigger company. So you got a 2X sort of free value out of that built on. And I can remember meeting with … I won’t name the name, but a private equity firm we’re meeting with one time we we’re working on a deal back when we used to do deals and he was outlining that strategy for me. He’s like yes it’s really not just rocket science, that’s what we do. It’s pretty simple and you buy it for a five and you get seven automatically; free money.

Mark: Right. I have these conversations with buyers over the years that their first footsteps into the space of buying … in our case online businesses start with maybe on Flippa and buy me [inaudible 00:33:51.5] out of $20,000 $30,000 sites and that was their appetite. The next thing you know they’re doing an SBA loan and they’re buying something bigger.

Andy: Right.

Mark: In variable … invariably once they have enough success that light bulb goes off in their head where they look at that and say wait a minute I can bolt on my company over here which is more valuable, a company that is less valuable here and if I can fill them in I’m getting this multiple jump and I’m adding value immediately. And in addition especially with the sizes that we’re looking at I can buy something with EBIDTAs of 500,000 but if I buy four of these, combined them, now I’m not buying at a multiple of 2.8 or three. I’m buying at a multiple … I’m now able to sell it maybe at 3.3, 3.5 or whatever the case maybe for that industry.

Andy: Right.

Mark: It’s this double whammy of the valuations that go up. And as that light bulb with them goes off for where then the next thing I know they’re building their fund around to be able to do that.

Andy: Now it’s easy for us to say it’s much harder to implement. So you can say you are just free money. Yeah, there’s a lot of hoops you got to jump there to make that happen and integrations and all that. And it’s hard work and that’s why not everyone is doing it. But if it is kind of conceptually not that difficult to understand.

Mark: Right, okay where can people find you if they want more information and if they want to start kind of exploring this world of private equity outside of the blog that’d be a great place to start but what if they’re finding for more information?

Andy: So you can go to our website PrivateEquityInfo.com at the bottom there’s contact us, you’ll see my phone number and my email. I’m happy to take calls. I’m happy to answer your emails. If you have questions about private equity, questions about your business and [inaudible 00:35:32.0]. Just pick my brain that’s fine. We’re happy to do that. We love to talk to customers and potential customers and help people.

Mark: Very good. Hey, thanks so much for coming on. I can see you having [inaudible 00:35:42.3] 2019 rolls around and we get in to some of the trends there. Start paying attention to these holding periods that are happening I think that’s a really cool stat to be able to be tracking here. And also just kind of see where the trends are with these top industries that are kind of popping up as time goes by here.

Andy: Yeah well thanks for having me. It has been fun. Let’s do it again.

Mark: Yeah thanks, bye.

Andy: All right bye-bye.


Links and Resources:

Andy’s LinkedIn

Andy’s Company

PrivateEquityInfo blog


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