How Did I Miss This?

The search fund community has become a vibrant corner of entrepreneurship. Banks chose not to participate in the Main Street Lending Program. And only 20 IPO companies have been founded by women.

SEARCH FUNDS

Although I’ve been covering business owners for close to 20 years, I somehow missed the emergence of the search fund community, which has blossomed into a true community: vibrant, engaged, and entrepreneurial. I find this emergence fascinating in part because it turns out many of the business owners and entrepreneurs I talk to were similarly unaware—even though the search community has hardly been lying low. In fact, searchers have been sharing their journeys aggressively and with remarkable candor. 

For the uninitiated, searchers, often recent MBAs, raise money from investors and then search for a business to buy and operate, often in low-tech industries like pest control or storage. Along the way, these searchers learn important lessons about how to make an acquisition and what it takes to run a business, and they have been reporting these lessons from the trenches. You can hear them in a popular podcast called Think Like an Owner—I recommend an episode with Rich Jordan, a former Marine who gives a blow-by-blow account of buying and operating a small plumbing business. And you can also read them in revealing discussions that play out daily on Twitter. Interested? Here are two good accounts to follow:

RESCUE LOANS

The Fed’s Main Street Lending Program, which didn’t really target Main Street businesses, failed because banks thought the loans were too risky even though the government was picking up 95 percent of the risk: “The Main Street Lending Program aimed to help pandemic-hit businesses that were too small to borrow in the bond market but might need more help than a small-business loan from the popular Paycheck Protection Program. ‘There was a program here that looked nice on paper, but in practicality, it has not worked,’ said Mike Cazaz, chief executive of Werner Aero Services, a New Jersey supplier of aircraft engines and parts that couldn’t get a loan under the program.”

  • “For months, many banks weren’t interested in participating. Demand picked up only in recent weeks after word came that the program would be ending.”

  • “The Fed said its Main Street program would purchase up to $600 billion of such loans. It bought just 646 loans totaling $6.3 billion from July through November.” READ MORE

Loan expert Ami Kassar says there is confusion about Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which are applied for and approved directly by the SBA (you do not go to your bank for them):

  • “EIDL Grants (issued up to $10,000) and EIDL loans are separate, and most business owners should be eligible for both.”

  • “If you applied for and received an EIDL grant and got a PPP loan, the EIDL loan will no longer be deducted from your forgiveness application.” READ MORE

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FINANCE

Hundreds of businesses go public every year but in all of history, only 20 IPO companies have been founded by women: “2020 was a record year for initial public offerings in the U.S., with 442 logged as of December 14. Yet only five of those were companies founded and led by women, according to research by Business Insider and information provided by Nasdaq.”

  • “Some companies have gone public with female CEOs who were not their founders, but that number is small compared to the majority (at this writing, only nine companies have fit that description this year).”

  • “The jarring discrepancy was pointed out by Julie Wainwright, the founder of the luxury consignment shop The Real Real. In May 2019, Wainwright became the 15th woman to found and take a company public.” READ MORE

STARTUPS

The pandemic has expanded the playing field for startups: “Many venture capitalists used to abide by the so-called 20-minute rule, whereby they wouldn't invest in a company located more than a 20-minute drive away from their home or office. One Boston-area investor had his own subway spin on it, saying he wouldn't even meet with companies located past a certain subway stop on the MBTA's Red Line.”

  • “The pandemic forced venture capitalists to attend board meetings via Zoom, and often conduct due diligence that way too. And they learned that, while often missing the intimacy of in-person interaction, their work didn't suffer.”

  • “Buttressing both of these developments have been several large IPOs in 2020 for VC-backed companies based in areas like Columbus, Ohio (Root Insurance) and coastal North Carolina (nCino).” READ MORE

READER FEEDBACK

On Saturday, I asked Morning Report subscribers if they had questions they’d like me to ask the six owners I’ve been tracking on The 21 Hats Podcast. We got some excellent suggestions, especially from Liz Picarazzi, owner of Citibin, who wants to know, among other things, how the owners handle bogus lawsuits, what partially personal expenses (car, phone, travel) they run through the business, and whether they have ever hired an SEO person who delivered timely and consistent results. We also heard from Paul Downs, a regular on the podcast, who said he likes to ask owners about their ratio of revenue to employees:

  • “I ask everyone I meet so I have amassed a decent size sampling. $100k/person or less correlates with low wages and a lot of other bad things. $150,000/person is the beginning of a stable prosperous company.”

  • “The number for domestic manufacturers I have spoken to rarely exceeds $200,000/person. There are many factors that can shift the number, particularly outsourcing production and significant automation.”

  • It’s not too late if you’d like to leave a comment or question

THE VIRUS

The new Covid variant has been detected in New York: “State health officials said they detected a case of the strain in a man from upstate Saratoga County. The new variant, which is known to spread 70 percent faster than earlier versions of the virus, was first detected in the U.S. in a man in Colorado, health officials said last week. The New York man is associated with N. Fox Jewelers in Saratoga Springs, a business where other people tested positive for the virus, New York state officials said.” READ MORE

The new strain has driven the U.K. into its third lockdown: “‘Let me be candid with you: This virus is out of control,’ London Mayor Sadiq Khan told LBC Radio earlier Monday. ‘We have more patients in hospital in London now with covid than anytime in March, April, and May during the peak. Plus, we have the additional non-covid winter pressures.’”

  • “At least one London hospital has had to postpone urgent cancer surgeries this week because it is overwhelmed with covid patients.” READ MORE

In Los Angeles, ambulance crews are being told not to bring in patients with little chance of surviving: “Emergency rooms are so slammed that some patients are having to wait inside ambulances for as long as eight hours before a bed becomes available. That backlog ties up ambulances and keeps them from being able to respond to other emergency calls.” READ MORE

HUMAN RESOURCES

After 2020, the perks of working for a cool company matter less: “What’s left is the work and the company culture over Zoom. With that being the case, employees are now rethinking the value of working for a company that emphasized in-office perks over employees’ well-being. ‘When the pandemic hit and everyone decentralized, what I heard from hundreds of my clients is that people don’t care about those perks,’ said Josh Wand, founder and CEO of recruiting firm ForceBrands, adding that his New York City office had been among those to offer free lunches, beer and cold brew on tap and a Ping Pong table as he believed the physical space was a draw for talent.”

  • “‘People want to feel connected. They want to feel valued. The little things become the big things. It’s not about the free lunch or the extra perks — it’s about growth opportunities, visibility and transparency.’” READ MORE

CLOSINGS

The New York Times published a list of restaurants around the country we will miss the most, including San Jose’s Sunny Donuts: “Chip and Sara Lim were just teenagers when the Khmer Rouge began its campaign of genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s. They escaped to Northern California in 1982, where they eked out a living cleaning houses and restrooms at McDonald’s for a few years until, as newlyweds, they staked all their money on a strip-mall Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, which they rechristened Sunny Donuts. For them, the doughnut shop was a sanctuary, as it was for so many of their fellow refugees, who pooled hard-earned funds from family and friends to lease storefronts, and woke at dawn to slip plump rings of dough into deep-fryers.”

  • “By the 1990s, Cambodian immigrants owned 2,400 doughnut shops across the state, about 80 percent of the market.”

  • “The Lims made their doughnuts — buttermilk, blueberry, chocolate-glazed, piped with custard, oozing jam — from scratch and packed them in pink-striped boxes, earning enough to put their three children through college.”

  • “When sales dropped during the pandemic, they decided to retire, to rest, for the first time in decades.” READ MORE