Almost 8 years ago, I found myself transitioning jobs from being in sales at a large technology business to working in private equity. I originally had interest in joining the world of private equity out of my desire to one day be on the other side of the table, starting and selling a business.
Unfortunately, my only experience at that point as an entrepreneur was starting a business in college that didn’t end up working out. I still believe it’s a good idea, but I chose to start a business in a space where I had little experience and passion. For some reason, I thought that was a winning formula.
But as I found myself taking a job to learn from the type of people that I hoped to one day emulate, I found I was able to experience the same feeling at work that I usually only feel during my favorite activity: skiing.
Three similarities between M&A and ski slopes
Fast forward to today, I’ve been very fortunate to change two things from when I first joined Alpine Investors. First, I’ve been able to be a part of starting two businesses that reached the definition of success that I set out for them. Thankfully, one of those is ASG. Secondly, I moved away from the Bay Area to live full-time (pre-COVID) to the Lake Tahoe basin so that I can chase these feelings I only get really from skiing and M&A. So what are those feelings?
1. Focus plays a critical role in both
The first feeling I get only when skiing and in M&A is FOCUS over prolonged periods of time. In skiing, it is nearly impossible to think about anything else as you find yourself looking over the edge of a cornice with a few thousand feet of steep graded snow, knowing there is only one way down. I’m not thinking about anything else besides how to properly execute my turns. In M&A, we have hours, days or months (if we’re lucky) to decide how much we want to own a business.
The only way to arrive at the right decision is to be able to block out everything and focus on that one task.
In both cases, if we want to have the pleasure of doing the task again (for skiing, making sure you get down safely and for M&A, making good investments so you can raise additional funding), we have to be able to focus on the task at hand and only the task at hand.
That feeling of being able to focus makes me feel invincible when approaching anything new because I know all I really need to make it through is to rely on my ability to focus.
2. Thinking positively about problem solving
The second feeling is around problem solving. In skiing and M&A, it’s not a question as if there will be some sort of speed bump, but when and how big. Your ability to be nimble, flexible and quick on your feet is imperative.
In skiing, it may be as simple as executing a turn away from a rock that seems to have come out of nowhere. In M&A, it can come up at any point even when you think you’re bulletproof. In both cases, it can often matter more how you think and react immediately to avoid any type of catastrophic result.
I have since started to think less about “problem” solving and more about “opportunity” solving. The more positive mindset in skiing has taught me how to approach the positive mindset to all things.
3. The feeling of accomplishment and relief
Lastly, and most importantly in my opinion, these two activities result in some of the best feelings of accomplishment that I have ever experienced. When so much focus and problem solving is required, reaching the finish line is one of the happiest emotions I have felt. I have found this in backcountry skiing this past season as I’ve tried my best to socially distance. The feat of climbing up 3,000 feet over the course of multiple hours allowed me to feel a different sense of freedom and accomplishment in skiing that I had never felt before.
As I was skiing down, I thought to myself: “I am so lucky that I get to experience this feeling at my job.” Where I experience this in M&A is the first time I get to talk to the Founders of the companies we buy from after completing the acquisition.
Being able to see the sense of accomplishment as I tell founders (like Michael) they successfully sold their company is a great feeling. You feel what they have been driving towards over the last 3-20 years and seeing the happiness in their eyes.
A quick letter to current and future SaaS founders
That level of happiness and accomplishment experienced after such a prolonged period of focus and constant problem solving is something we only get to experience a handful of times in our lives.
I’m fortunate to witness all of these qualities from founders. Focus, problem solving and accomplishment aren’t unique to just M&A – founders experience this same cycle throughout their journey of growing their business, whether that accomplishment comes from a sale or from the many, many milestones you hit along the way.
To the founders I have had the pleasure of working with so far, I thank you for all that you have given to me, whether you know it or not. To the founders I will get to work with in the future, I look forward to taking the drop with you soon!