How To Buy Multiple Businesses Without Going Insane

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Since 2013, Shakil Prasla has bought 8 internet based businesses ranging from smaller 5-figure businesses up to 7-figure enterprises.

Obviously, acquiring and running 8 companies in just 4 years is both time consuming and requires significant capital. In this conversation, we talk to Shakil about both managing 8 companies as well as the capital resources he uses to continue acquiring online businesses.

Rather than try and do all of the work himself, Shakil developed a system in which he hires a business manager before he even closes an acquisition. By doing this, the manager is able to work with the seller and learn, first-hand, how to operate the nuances of the business. Business managers are compensated on a salary and bonus structure with goals oriented towards business and revenue growth.

Shakil has used a variety of funding sources to close deals. While he has done a few deals using SBA loans, he has also managed to secure friendly bank financing on Internet acquisitions outside of an SBA loan. He believes strongly in the power of carrying debt to leverage your overall value.

Episode Highlights:

  • Shakil has been in ecommerce for 6 years. It took him a lot of time to build his first site.
  • He saw a Quiet Light ad and looked into buying a business. He bought his first business for $60,000.
  • He was able to make his money back in about 6 months.
  • He has now acquired 8 companies from 6 figures to 7 figures in various niches.
  • That is buying roughly 2 companies per year.
  • Buy smaller and audit. Take less risk, learn, and grow intelligently.
  • Save your cash flow for larger acquisitions.
  • There is more competition when buying small, but there are more opportunities to grow.
  • Larger companies have more complex strategies including having employees and SOPs. The bottom line will be higher.
  • When Shakil acquires a company he keeps the previous owner on for 3 months to transfer their knowledge to the business manager.
  • He uses a hiring company to find someone with a marketing and business background. They are paid on salary and incentives on next year’s growth.
  • Shakil uses agencies for marketing and email campaigns.
  • The business manager comes up with high level goals and then they work backwards. They use software and weekly calls to track things.
  • Shakil’s time is valuable, so he delegates so he can focus on growing the business.
  • Shakil takes on debt and does paid advertising, so he tests strategies and grows the company. He looks at growing the overall value of the business. He is ok with sacrificing short term cash flow. He does want to see an ROI on the new manager.
  • He has done SBA, owner financing, owner holdback, and unsecured short-term five year loans.
  • The bank asks for tax returns and balance sheets. The seller needs to provide the information.
  • Making true money through financing.
  • You have to have a stable income and high credit score to get the bank financing. Shakil reached out to multiple banks. With smaller banks it is easier to move the process along.
  • Shakil looks at about 80 deals a month. He has a set of initial questions. He places one or two offers every quarter.
  • Patience is key, don’t rush into buying a business unless it is the right fit.
  • Put yourself in the seller’s shoes and build trust with them.

Resources:

Transcript of Interview

Joe Valley: Hey, good morning Mark. How are you?

Mark: I’m doing really good. How are you, Joe.

Joe Valley: I’m doing fantastic. I understand you had a multiple Quiet Light buyer on the podcast.

Mark: Yeah, get this. This guy, Shakil. He’s bought eight businesses since I think it was 2013 or 14. It worked out to about two per year. Anywhere from high five figures to low seven figures for acquisitions. That’s absolutely bonkers to be able to do that many acquisitions.

Joe Valley: He must’ve learned a process that’s worked very well. Did he talk about that in the podcast?

Mark: We talked about really focused on two things really, really heavily in this. First, we listened to his story of buying businesses and the very first businesses that he bought. Right? The first one he bought was about $60,000. It was something we sold him back when we were doing more in the five figure range. He talks about the questions that he asked then, were not really good questions. Then we went into the process that he has to buy these businesses and how he manages it. Anytime he buys a business, he puts a manager in place before the business even closes. He’s got somebody in place for that transition. Doing that, he’s been able to again, buy eight different businesses. Unlike a lot of the advice that I’ve given people in the past, there is no real connecting thread between these. Right? They’re anything from e-commerce and Amazon to software. He’s able to manage all eight businesses really well. We talk about his story, we talk about how does he manage to run eight businesses concurrently, and then finally we talk about financing. He gets bank financing outside of SBA, which shocked me. The terms he gets on these loans, five year notes with like 4.5% interest. They’re covering about 70, 75% of the loan, of the purchase price.

Joe Valley: I’m going to have to listen to that one myself because buyers are always asking about financing outside of a, outside of seller notes. Let’s get to it. I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

The Interview with Shakil Prasla

All right. Good morning, Shakil. How are you?

Shakil: Good morning, Mark. Good, good. How are you doing?

Mark: I’m doing really, really well. Thanks so much for joining me on this podcast. I’m excited to have you on.

Shakil: Oh, thanks. I’m excited to be here this bright and early morning.

Mark: That’s right. Down in Austin, I’m up here in Minnesota. We were just talking about the differences in weather, much warmer down there although you guys are a bit cold. It’s really cold up here. Again, appreciate you coming on. For those that don’t know who you are, and I would imagine that a lot of our guests may not of heard you unless they listen to the e-commerce [via 00:03:09] live or capitalism.com, and freedom [inaudible 00:03:14] podcast, and other ones. Could you just give a little quick background on your experience in buying online businesses and why you approached me about coming on the show? I’m excited to have you on. Why we’re having the conversation.

Shakil: Yeah. I’ve been in e-commerce for about six years now, started my first website in 2011, built it to a nice sizeable business but to get to that size it took so much time, energy, stress, strategies. In 2013, I started looking at other ways to grow my business and so I came across an add, it was a Quiet Light Brokerage ad and it said, “Buy online business.” I was intrigued by it. I clicked it, I subscribed to the newsletter so I could start getting emails about, and the summer of 2013, I received a prospectus from Mr. Cold, a .com, it was making around $36 thousand a year, and asking price was about $60 thousand. About a 2X multiple, little less than 2X multiple. I didn’t know anything about businesses so I just wanted to due diligence, placed an offer, and asked a bunch of questions that I thought were good questions.
Looking back now, they were not good questions. I was able to buy that business, that business particularly was getting all their sales on their website, all organically. I think they were spending like 50 bucks a month on Google ads, not much. All I did was take that business, listed those products on Amazon, turned on Google ad words to about $500 a month, and I was able to make my money back in about six months. I was able to grow the bottom line from $36 thousand a year to about $60 thousand a year. I was able to make my money back pretty quickly.
After that experience, I was like, maybe there other opportunities like that. I just listed, I subscribed to every single broker there is. Fast forward now, I’ve acquired eight companies through Quiet Light Brokerage I’ve had a great experience with your firm [inaudible 00:05:34]. Yeah, so I’ve bought eight companies ranging from six figures to seven figures in purchase price, all various products, no sort of niche. You know, I’m here to keep acquiring online companies. I think we’re all very lucky to be making money online. I could be on my bed still making money so I think we’re all just very lucky to be in this era and I definitely want to take advantage of that opportunity of buying websites that are selling at 2 to 3X net multiple of the profit.

Mark: Yeah. I’ve got a ton of questions for you. I mean, eight companies since 2013, that’s roughly two per year if my math is correct there, which is break neck speed to be acquiring companies. Pretty awesome. I’m going to start with a question that I hear all the time and I want to get your feedback on it. Since you started with Mr. Cold, $60 thousand acquisition, which we would classify as a pretty small acquisition, but obviously for somebody first time coming in, you know $60 thousand is probably not something that is play money for everyone. I get this question a lot, and that’s, should I buy big or should I buy small? You’ve done both. You’ve bought the big companies, you’ve bought the small companies. I’ve addressed this on the blog as well as far as the benefits and drawbacks of each. What are your thoughts for somebody who is coming in new, or maybe lets say that they have some experience like you did and are looking to do their first acquisition. Do you think they should start small with something like a $60 thousand acquisition? Should they be looking for something that’s going to give them on a larger payback and spend a little bit higher?

Shakil: Yeah, so looking back, and I get this asked by my friends and family too is, I would definitely recommend to buy smaller business. When you, you know with every business I’ve bought it’s the same experience. You have to place an offer, you have to put on your detective hat. Where you audit the financials, you audit the operations, you see if everything that’s said in the prospectus is correct. Buying small means your risk is lower, you learn from that experience, and you’re able to grow more intelligently. You know, the type of questions I was asking in 2013 is different but I was only able to get there today because of the experience of buying online businesses. I think I would definitely recommend just buying something small, learning from that experience, and then growing from that. When you buy small, you’re able to invest those cash flows, save those cash flows for larger acquisitions in the future as well.

Mark: Yeah. That’s what I’ve often recommended for people that are new. Well for today though, you’ve got eight companies under your belt. What would you say for somebody who has experience? Buying big versus buying small. Is there an advantage to buying larger versus smaller?

Shakil: If you’re buying smaller, you’re going to have more competition in terms of other buyers trying to buy the company. I think that’s the only drawback. When it’s a larger company, I’ve been able to … Let me back up. If it’s a smaller company, I’m able to look for more opportunities to grow the company. A lot of the smaller companies may be a mom-and-pop store that aren’t utilizing technology, that are not utilizing paid marketing, that are just getting sales from one channel. When you buy a little smaller company, you’re able to exponentially grow it by adding it to other channels, by adding different types of advertising. When you get to larger companies, and it’s doing over seven figures in sales, profiting over 400 thousand, 500 thousand a year in profit, there’s more complex strategies. In order to sustain that, you need to be doing different types of strategies. You have employees, so you’ll need SOP’s for this. There’s a lot more strategies that are involved, yes there’s more headache, yes there’s more stress, but the bottom line is higher with the larger companies as well.

Mark: Right. Okay, well that actually leads really nicely into the next thing I want to talk about. I recently, as a lot of the listeners know, I recently bought my second business. I’ve bought more of my own businesses in the past, but I’ve only had Quiet Light for the past several years until this last April I bought a second business. You have eight. Now, with two I’m going kind of crazy because of the amount of work that both companies take to run. How do you manage eight companies?

Shakil: Yeah. Well, it’s not easy. I have to file eight different tax returns, that means I have eight different PNL’s. I have eight accounts, Google ads, you know. It is hard. The way I’ve structured it is with each company, it’s me at the top. I do have a couple other business partners as well, but underneath me I have a business manager. When I’m acquiring a company, I keep the previous owner on at least three months whether it’s a consulting agreement or whatnot. During those three months, the goal of that is to transfer the knowledge to the business manager. Right? It’s hard to learn everything about the business if you’re buying a business that’s been in business for five years, it’s hard to learn everything within 30 days so I keep the seller on for at least 90 days.
During that time, I transfer that knowledge to a business manager. I usually find a business manager off Indeed, I’ll use a hiring service to find someone. This business manager has some type of management, leadership, marketing background. They’re paid on salary, plus incentives. Those incentives are based on the growth of next year. If the company’s doing a million dollars and this business manager’s able to grow it to $1.3 million, they get an incentive on the $300 thousand growth. There’s a business manager underneath me, underneath the manager is customer service staff, and as far as marketing goes, I use agencies to do all the marketing for me, to do the email campaigns for me. It’s kind of outsourced to another agency.
The business manager’s goal is to come up with high level growth goals with me. What we’ll do is come up with yearly goals. The way I do it is I try to keep very minimal, specific goals. I’ll say, “For the next year, I want to get to X amount of revenue, I want to have X amount of customers.” Then we’ll work backwards. How do we get to X amount of revenue? Okay, we need to do this type of marketing, we need to start ranking for this type of keyword. Then we work even more backwards. How do we rank for that keyword? I break these down into monthly actionable goals. We use a bunch of softwares where the business managers are able to, or I’m able to track how we’re doing on this on a weekly basis. We get on a call every week, business manager updates me, we’ll tweak a little bit, and we’ll go from there. That’s how it is, is the manager is in charge of the business. I empower them, I let them make the decisions, and that’s how we run the business.

Mark: That idea of working backwards from a goal is something I read recently from I believe it was, Noah Kagan, talked about that with mint.com when he came on with them. He had a goal, he was told we want, I think it was like half a million users by the end of the year. At first that sounds extremely overwhelming but what he did is he worked backwards and said, “Okay, I know if I go to these places I should be able to get X or Y number of users.” By working backwards was able to fill in. It’s a fascinating way to look at a problem like that. When it comes to working with these managers, I think a fear that a lot of people have, especially even if you’re not looking, even if you’re looking to buy a business and still run the day to day operations, you still have to empower people at some point. I think the fear a lot of entrepreneurs have is letting go of that control and being disconnected from the nuances that you really need to have intelligent decision making. How do you attack that in your businesses? How do you stay close enough to the businesses where you can advise properly versus staying so disconnected that the business manager’s coming to you and you don’t really know what’s going on in the business? Is there a balance that you’ve found there that works?

Shakil: Well, it’s incredibly hard. As entrepreneurs, we want to be involved in everything, in all parts of the business. As you mentioned, I’m part of the e-commerce field. There’s a lot of owners there that are able to, are wanting to just run the complete show, they’re wanting to just grow the business, they want to provide all the customer service, they want to be on the front end and listen to what the customers are saying. It’s hard to delegate tasks, it is as entrepreneurs. What I’ve learned is at the end of the day, my times very valuable as well. I want to be able to focus on high level growth goals. Right? Me being on the customer service level is not really helping me on growing the business. What I’m trying to do is delegate the tasks so the low skill tasks onto my staff, and I try to just grow the business.
In terms of staying connected to the business, I use Help Scout for email services and you’re able to see all the emails coming in, going out. You’re able to see the feedback customers are giving for your products as well. You’re able to see if the customer staff is giving good answers to the customers as well. What I do is, I still check in on the business, I look at the reporting, I look at how much the revenue has grown, I look at how many orders have came in. I’ve become more I guess, a numbers person. I’m looking for results. That’s how I’ve kind of shifted myself is, okay if I want to get to A, to B, how do I get there and what do I have to do. I guess in a way, I’ve been able to delegate these tasks because I’m looking at the high level growth goals.

Mark: Yeah. That’s fascinating and a good way to approach that. Let me ask you about hiring a manager.

Shakil: Sure.

Mark: The expense that bringing a manager brings onto your business when you’re just recently acquiring it. We haven’t talked about financing yet so maybe you can touch on this a little bit as well. Let’s say that you’re buying a business with an SBA loan, or with some sort of external finance so you have that monthly debt to be able to pay to wherever you have the financing. You add in a business manager, and I imagine if you’re hiring from Indeed.com or a place like this, they’re not coming at low prices. You have their salary on top of that. How does that leave any room for you to make any money off this? Are you banking entirely off the growth of the business? Do you work that in from the start to say, “I still want to be able to take a little money off the top here with these additional people in place.”

Shakil: Yeah. Just like you said it, from a lot of my acquisitions I do take on debt. I do bring on a business manager. I do a lot of paid advertising initially and some of them don’t work out. Yeah, during the first six months I’m barely even making money but that’s the whole idea of it, is to test out different strategies and overall grow the value of the company. Right? Even if I’m taking on debt, financing, and it’s making $100 thousand a year, my debt loan is $50 thousand in payment, I’m left with $50 thousand at the end of the year. However, if the company starts to make more money, lets just say it makes $150 thousand a year, I still have the $50 thousand in debt but when I sell the company it’s valued at the $150 thousand. Overall, I’m looking at growing the value of the business because I do have cash flows coming in from the other businesses, I’m not really tied to the cash flow of my new acquisition. Yes, it’s nice to receive a payment from the business every month but I’m okay in the short term sacrificing that cash flow for the longterm value of the business.
When I do hire a business manager, remember I’m a big numbers guy so I like to an ROI on the new hire. If I’m paying them $70 thousand a year and they’re incentivized to grow the business, I’m expecting to at least receive that $70 thousand worth of value to the bottom line. I’m expecting them to grow the business. I’m expecting them to free up my time. I’m expecting them to run the whole business and reduce the stress on me. You know, those intangible, there’s value on the intangible things as well too but at the end of the day, they have to produce the ROI on what I’m paying them.

Mark: Sure. Okay, well lets talk financing real quick here with eight companies. You’ve probably explored different types of financing. Have you done chiefly SBA or have you looked at other sources of funding?

Shakil: Yes, I’ve done an SBA. I’ve done owner financing. I’ve done owner holdback, and I’ve done what is called is non-collateralized loan, which is kind of a non-secured loan. Those have worked out the best for me because they’re short term, they’re five year loans and I’m able to get 60 to 70% in financing. I bought socksrock.com recently and I was able to finance about 70% of that. The bank already had my financials on file so when I went into due diligence I told the bank, “Hey, I’m looking for this business to buy.” “What do you need from me?” Usually they’ll ask for two to three years tax returns, balance sheets, I think I mentioned tax returns. You know, those two, three things are very important. Performance for this year. I’ll just pass that onto them. I’ll tell the seller, “Look, I’m looking to get financing on this, I’m not going to do an SBA, I’ll close within 30 days but I do need this information.” I want to move on with the business as well too. Usually the seller will be able to give those information because it’s part of the financial due diligence anyways. I’ll give it to the bank and they’re usually able to approve it within 30 days, give me 70% financing, five years, 4.5% interest. That’s able to move very quickly.
You know, bank financing is big, seller financing if that’s available, holdback if those terms work out. Then I’ve taken a personal line of credit as well too. I’ve tried to utilize all types of financing. I think some people are scared of debt, some people like to brag about how they don’t carry on debt. I like to brag about how much debt I’m carrying because I think the way you can really make your true money is by financing. Right? With online business usually you’re able to buy around 3X lets say, that if you see how the ROI works on that, that means you make your money back in three years, which is a 33% return on your money. If you’re able to borrow on 5%, you’re making that 28% pretty much spread as your income. You know, I would borrow as much as I can.

Mark: Interesting. With the bank financing that you’ve been getting, the non-collateralized loans, how did you, without giving away maybe anything that you want to keep secret here, how did you find that? We talk with buyers all the time who would love to find a loan like that with their bank, but so many banks just don’t know internet businesses and because there are no hard assets, thus the non-collateralized portion, they get just kind of scared away from that. Did you have a relationship with your bank before? Is that how you got in? How did you find banks that would be willing to extend a five year loan at those rates? Those are fantastic rates as well.

Shakil: I think it has to do with a few things. You know, I think you have to have a stable income, high credit score. Besides those, the bank mainly looks at the income, the debt to income ratio. Is that business going to be able to pay the debt income? Usually, if you’re buying at a 2 to 3X multiple, it should easily pay for the income or the debt. The way you’re able to find it, and the way I did it was, just like I reach out to multiple brokers for buying a business, I reach out to multiple banks. These are banks that I don’t even have a relationship with, you know I bank with mostly one bank right now. Here in Austin, there’s a lot of small banks. What I’ll do is I’ll look online for local banks that are here in Austin and I’ll just email all of them saying, “Hey, I have an opportunity.” “We don’t have a relationship with you but I’m interested getting this financed.” “Would you guys be willing to listen to it?” A lot of these smaller banks, they usually have one banker and one underwriter and they sometimes may even be the same person so it’s easier to kind of move that process along.
The timing has to be right as well. I remember once when I approached the same bank that gave me the loan they said, “Right now we have too much risk going on.” Sometimes the bank just has the right appetite, it just has to be the right timing. The goal here is to reach out to as many banks as you can. Build the relationship with them first, and once the opportunity comes, present it to them and it could work out.

Mark: Yeah, awesome. All right, we’re almost out of time here. We have about five minutes left so I’ve got a couple of fairly quick questions for you here. In order to get eight companies, all right so eight companies, we’ve already said about two per year. I know a lot of buyers that have been looking for a business for two years and they haven’t found anything after two years. They’re registered with all the different brokerages out there to try and get as much information as possible. How many deals do you say you would look at in a given month?

Shakil: Oh, I would say I probably look at maybe 80 deals a month out of which I will ask … I have a set of initial questions just to kind of peak my interest. I’ll probably ask questions to about maybe 10% of them, so maybe eight of them. Then from then on, I’ll probably try to place an offer one to two every quarter. I do look at a lot of prospectus. Again, I like to just kind of see what other businesses are doing, if it’s going to peak my interest. I look at a lot. If you’re registered to a bunch of brokers, that’s good. Also, check out [bizbuysell 00:26:20]. It’s a great resource. All you do is click on the criteria of the type of businesses you want, the income you want, you click search and you see a popup that says, “Do you want to save this alert?” Just click that, save the alert and you’ll get daily or weekly alerts on that specific criteria. When a business comes for sale, you’ll see that in your inbox as well. I think patience is key. Do not rush into buying a business just because you’ve been looking for a long time. You want to make sure it’s the right fit for you.

Mark: Yeah. Out of the, you raised that about 10% peak your interest. Do you have, I’ve talked to other buyers in the past who have even written down checklists. Do you have either a mental checklist or a written down checklist of criteria that you need to see from a business?

Shakil: Yeah, I do. You know, there are products I like to buy. I want to make sure it’s not a fad, it’s been here for a while, it’s not a technical product either. I like to see the business on an incline or flat is fine in terms of revenue or growth. I like to see the business at least in business for at least two years, that usually means it comes with some failed strategies, it comes with strategies that it’s worked out and I want to utilize that. I like to look for opportunities where the seller has not been able to utilize growth. I think the way I’ve been able to buy these eight companies is I’m always looking for the right opportunity. A lot of sellers are not utilizing paid ads, they’re not utilizing their email list. A lot of these sellers have 10, 20, 30 thousand emails that they don’t even email and that’s a great way to set up mail chimp, or set up on Facebook … What do you call? Retargeting ads and such. I always look for the right opportunity that’s there.

Mark: All right, well our last question here. What would be one of your top tips for negotiating with the seller when you’re actually in, if you find something you want to acquire, you want to make a bid with that, and you’re going through due diligence? As you know, there’s a lot of psychology that goes on during the deal, a lot of emotions that can go on during the deal, and complications. What one tip would you give to somebody whose maybe going through this the first time? What to expect and maybe how to manage themselves during that process?

Shakil: Put yourself definitely in the sellers shoes. Remember, they’ve spent a lot of time building those financials, building their prospectus. They’re anxious now to sell the business, they’re opening the business to strangers now and there’s a lot of anxiety that goes there too. Number one thing you should do is build that trust, be empathetic, get to know your seller and let them know that if you are to take over the business, you’ll take great care of it. You will help grow the business. You’re taking over their baby pretty much so definitely recommend to build that trust and be empathetic towards the seller.

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. After doing as many deals as we’ve done over the past 10 years, I can say that is probably the number one tip I would give as well, is that empathy and understanding that the things that you need to know as a buyer are not necessarily the things that a seller understands you need to know. They don’t get necessarily why you’re asking the questions you are. That empathy really helps get deals done. I have like two pages of additional questions so I may have to have you on again in the future because you’ve been really helpful and I think a lot of our listeners are going to love this interview and some of the information. Thank you so much for coming on.

Shakil: Yeah, thanks. Thanks, Mark for having me.

Mark: All right, we’ll talk soon.

Shakil: Take care.

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