ETA Conference

On Friday I attended the 6th Annual Booth-Kellogg Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (ETA) Conference. A few thoughts from the conference and the community.

  • My favorite part of this conference is the misfit nature of it. Most of the conversations that I got into started off with each of us doing some sort of awkward explanation how we are not really a search fund person but whatever we’re doing has some sort of similarity to a search fund. It feels like the whole community isn’t really sure where we fit in. We’re not big private equity. We’re not a hyped-up tech startup. We value ownership and are trying hard to not have a ‘regular’ job. We’re using our own funds but also open to taking on partners. I met young MBA students. I met retirement age (but not inactive) investors. I met mid-career switchers. No one is really sure where they fit but that seems to be the sign that they’ll be welcomed here.
  • My second favorite part of this conference is the contradictory nature of it. It’s a conference hosted not by one but two MBA programs. It’s a collaboration amongst programs and people that are supposed to be very competitive. It’s a conference with a new feel to it in an area of business that feels at the early stages of the model, but frequently deals with businesses that have been around for a generation and in some aspects using a model that has been around centuries. It’s a conference put on by MBA students for MBA students with a large number of non-student attendees with a common theme of the panelists being that the MBA program won’t ever really prepare you for owning and running a small business.
  • Have a full-time integration manager for a business doing multiple acquisitions. The merger happens with the help of all involved but need one person dedicated to keeping the progress moving. Quarterback is the favorable name but “The Nag” is the more accurate one 😉
  • Need to build a reputation for buying businesses. Let others in the industry know. Becomes part of the external and internal culture of the business.
  • We haven’t been alone in keeping as many services as possible decentralized despite most people I talk to thinking centralizing things is our most obvious value creation opportunity. We likely should get much bigger before we seriously consider flipping, if it happens at all. There are ‘reverse’ synergies. This is Daryl’s phase “the knife cuts both ways.”
  • There is a financial component to each transaction. There’s a financial piece to managing the company after the acquisition. But there’s an unquantifiable piece. Sellers are motivated by more than just the highest price. Employees want more than just the highest salary.
  • I like the two tracks. One for the traditional searcher and one for the alternative ETA. Per my first comment, I expect and hope as this community grows that the alternative track is the one that really grows. There should always be the first track for the new MBA student wanting to go that route. But with so many alternatives, we might see multiple alternative tracts in the future.
  • Everything is a panel. This gives a lot of voices a chance to speak. It means that we get to hear from a lot of alternative viewpoints. But it also feels like we get mostly surface level and off-the-cuff responses. Would love to have heard a few of the folks go a lot deeper in sharing their experiences or guidance.

Overall, a great conference. Met lots of new folks and reconnected with a few friends. Planning to attend again next year.

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