Building and Selling Bootstrapped Businesses Alexis Grant Reveals Her Strategy for Success.png

Building and Selling Bootstrapped Businesses: Alexis Grant Reveals Her Strategy for Success

Alexis Grant is the founder & CEO of They Got Acquired, a content company that shares stories of acquisitions between $100,000 -$50 million.

I was thrilled when Alexis agreed to an interview with us for two main reasons:

  1. She enjoys building and growing bootstrapped companies from the ground up and has exited two such businesses within six years.
  1. Alexis is supportive of women entrepreneurs and plays an active role in helping women advance in leadership and business.

Alexis and I discuss:

  • Exit strategies and ways to sell a business
  • Advice for selling a content business
  • Valuing a business based on common multiples
  • Deal data for small M&A
  • What’s holding women back in online business?

I guarantee you’ll enjoy the benefit of Alexis’s experience and advice, as well as discovering more about what’s happening at They Got Acquired. 

Let’s go!

Q&A With Alexis Grant

Thanks for agreeing to speak with me, Alexis.

Before we dig into your thoughts on building successful content businesses, I have a trivia question for you: how did you come up with the name ‘They Got Acquired’ and was the domain readily available?

I brainstormed a bunch of names and picked They Got Acquired for three reasons:

  1. The domain was available. Another name I liked, Acquisition Report, was not — and would have cost me a pretty penny.
  2. I liked that the name sounded informal; it’s how you’d talk to a friend: Oh, that company? They got acquired.
  3. For SEO purposes, I wanted to have “acquire” or “acquisition” in the URL.

I asked on Twitter for feedback when I was choosing a name. Here’s what that poll looked like:

Alexis, you sold two successful content businesses within 6 years. One was your content marketing company, Socialexis – acquired by Taylor Media – and the other was The Write Life, which you exited in early 2021.

For the latter, you used a bidding process as opposed to a broker or marketplace platform. Could you briefly explain how that process works for a seller and why you chose that option?

Here’s how it worked for me: I had several interested buyers, so I wrote up a marketing doc that laid out everything about the site, including all our metrics, why I wanted to sell, and what I saw as opportunities for a future owner. 

I shared that with interested buyers, and also let my network know I was keen to sell which brought in a few other interested parties. Then I asked for bids! And chose the best one. I share more on my process here.

The best bid wasn’t just about money. To me, it was also about which owner was the best fit for the community going forward.

I chose that option for a few reasons:

  1. I already had interested strategic buyers who were willing to pay well beyond the classic multiples for content sites, so I didn’t need help finding a buyer.
  2. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have known where to find an M&A advisor or broker I trusted, nor did I realize at that time all the value they bring to the table. Now that I know more about this space and process, I typically recommend founders who sell for more than half a million dollars engage a broker to ensure they get the best deal and don’t make any mistakes in deal structure and terms. I would take my own advice the next time I sell a company!

I found an intriguing quote in your article about why you sold The Write Life. You boldly state that “multiples are useless for valuations. This is likely to be an unpopular opinion among website buyers and sellers. Will you give us some insight into why you believe this? 

Sure. I see common multiples as an interesting data point and guide, but it’s easy to undersell yourself if you follow that advice too closely.

If I had looked to sell my site for a common multiple, I wouldn’t have walked away with a meaningful check.

Those multiples apply more to financial buyers; strategic buyers are often willing to pay more. So it’s all about finding the right buyer.

Of course, sometimes companies sell for lower than typical multiples, too. And if you can’t find a strategic buyer, a typical multiple might be a great deal for you. But I think talk of common multiples can sometimes lead founders to undersell themselves.

In the end, the company is worth whatever the buyer is willing to pay for it.

Many people would question why you decided to dive back into yet another startup so quickly after exiting The Write Life. What motivated you to start They Got Acquired?

To me, it didn’t feel like diving in quickly; I didn’t dedicate myself to They Got Acquired until 2.5 years after leaving my previous full-time role at The Penny Hoarder.

During that time, we moved states and had two young children to look after during a pandemic, which slowed my timeline for starting a new company. 

I did sell The Write Life during that time, but it was never a full-time project for me; it was always a side gig.

And by the time I sold it, my brain was already thinking well ahead to the next big thing. I was excited to sink my teeth into another media company.

A look at your website reveals a keen focus on data. In fact, you recently published an excellent report on Companies That Sold in 2021 For 6 and 7 Figures. How important is this type of data to website owners and those considering an exit from their online business?

In my personal experience, when I sold my first company, I had to scrounge around manually to find what are often called “comps”: other companies like mine that had sold.

I would’ve paid for a report then like the ones we’re creating! So a big reason for offering this data is to solve my own pain point.

Here’s the interesting thing: deal data for small M&A hasn’t really been done before. Probably because it’s not easy to collect; most of the deals we cover are private. 

We’re tracking thousands of deals – companies only – in our database, and our goal is to offer direct access to that database in the next year. Until then, we’re offering “slices” of the database as downloadable reports.

We’ve got the content company report, and we’re planning a report on SaaS companies that were acquired, etc.

Aside from the reports, your website contains a growing number of exit stories from entrepreneurs. You’ve also started a newsletter and a podcast. There’s obviously a plan here! Can you share your content strategy and give us more insight into the value of those assets to a content business?

I see these stories as offering several benefits to entrepreneurs. 

If you’re building an e-commerce company, for example, it’s helpful to read about other e-commerce companies that have sold: how many email subscribers they had at sale, what their revenue looked like, how they found a buyer – all those details. 

But then beyond the value of that data, we’re also offering a feeling of solidarity for bootstrappers and entrepreneurs who aren’t following the Silicon Valley path.

It can feel lonely to grow with revenue when it seems like everyone else is raising money, and lots of founders tell us it’s reassuring and comforting to see others approaching startups in this way.

And then – this is the biggie – we also want founders to know what’s possible when it comes to selling their business.

I was on the phone with a founder recently, and she said to me, “We’ve got $1 million in annual revenue. Do you think that’s big enough to sell?” And of course, the answer is YES, you’ve built an amazing asset, and you deserve to reap the rewards for all that work you put in! Knowing this is possible is huge.

Research and data collection are costly and time-consuming exercises. Are paid reports something you’ll consider in the future? 

Absolutely.

We plan to have both a free and paid version for each of our reports. And the long-term goal is to offer a paid subscription to access our database of acquisitions, where you could sort through the deals based on your own criteria.

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to someone wanting to sell their content business?

  1. Focus on increasing your revenue and profit. These are the top metrics a buyer will look at to determine a valuation. Focusing on revenue sounds obvious, but I find a lot of content operators most enjoy the creative process and sometimes haven’t put as much effort into the revenue side of the business. Shift into that focus so you can get as much as possible for your business.
  1. Network ahead of time. Get to know all your competitors, partners, and advertisers. In an ideal scenario, one or more of those companies approach you about selling. Even if they don’t ask you first, if you know them, you can approach them when the time is right and try to create a bidding war that will push up the sale price. No need to bring up an acquisition in the early days of networking, just create the relationships so they’re there later if you want them.
  1. If you need help finding a buyer or navigating the sale process, work with a broker who has sold online content companies before, someone who specializes in your type of company.
     

Recently, we interviewed Stacy Caprio. Stacy buys and grows online businesses so we asked her why more women aren’t investing in this space. Stacy said that women lack the confidence to go out on their own. She also said that women make it harder for themselves to take the risk because they doubt their business skills.

Do you agree with her statements? If not, what are the major factors holding women back from starting an online business?

One thing that’s been really cool since starting this business is seeing how many women are joining our community.

I do calls with founders who want to exit – for free, just offering the sounding board I wish I had – and more than half of the calls are with women.

They are out there doing great things; they just need someone they trust to talk to! 

I think that’s a big part of it. We need to provide safe spaces to talk about challenges, and many women simply feel more comfortable talking to other women who understand what it’s like to move through this world as a woman.

At They Got Acquired, we serve lots of male entrepreneurs too, but this is something that’s meaningful to me: I’m a woman leading a company in a male-dominated space.

My hope is that it opens doors for other women in lots of ways. It starts with showing them what’s possible and then making them feel truly supported as they go through it.

Alexis, you’ve been interviewed extensively in the past – featuring in business blogs and on podcasts. What’s one question you’re never asked, but would love to answer?

Your husband is an entrepreneur, too, right? How do you support each other?

I do get asked this occasionally, but not often. My husband teaches data analysis with Google Sheets, and I’m so proud of the community he has cultivated. 

We help each other a lot with thinking through business challenges: How should I respond to this email? Should I take this opportunity? What’s the best way to position this offer to my audience? 

And about once a week, we take a morning hike together. We call them our “Genius Hikes” because we often end up helping each other with work.

It’s nice to have a partner who understands the highs and lows of building a business.

Wrapping Up

I hope you enjoyed Alexis’s views on building content businesses, as well as her advice on how to prepare for a sale.

The key takeaways for me were:

  1. The value of data on comparable businesses pre-sale.
  2. Showing women what’s possible when building and selling their businesses.
  3. What to focus on long before you consider an exit.

What stood out for you?

Let us know in the comments below.

Find out more about Onfolio. We buy digital companies from independent entrepreneurs and grow them to their full potential. Get an offer or learn more today

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Juliet Lyall

Juliet Lyall is editor in chief for the discourse publication. She has been writing and editing articles and newsletters for digital businesses (mainly investing sites) for 10+ years. As an entrepreneur, Juliet has built and worked with bootstrapped startups for 20+ years and is proud to support other women in their online journeys. The Oxford comma. Always.

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