Giving It The Old College Try

Back when I was in college, and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, things were a lot simpler than they are now.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been on this crazy college roadshow with my twins who are high school seniors. They are trying to figure out which institution will have the privilege of educating them for the next 4 years and the process is making my wife and me nuts.

The one thing I know for sure is that my son and daughter will be attending very different institutions come fall – likely in opposite directions, just to make it less convenient for us – but we’ve seen this coming for 17+ years now and it’s certainly hitting home with a loud crash.

The fact of the matter is that they ARE 17 and who knows at that age what they want or even what the world will have to offer?

We tell them that of the four of us, mom and dad are the only ones who’ve actually experienced college (and we thank our own parents for that), graduating, getting jobs, and all that comes after (I think they call that "life").

Still, it’s their decision (heaven help us).

Other parents have told me about sorts of reasons their kids gave as to why this or that school is no longer a candidate, including:

  • “I don’t like the school colors”
  • “Their mascot is dumb”
  • “Too many stairs”
  • “The dining hall was too dark”
  • “My friend’s boyfriend goes there and they just broke up”
  • “The admissions person looked at me funny”
  • “No free t-shirt”
  • One of my nieces had been accepted to an institution that has produced both Heisman Trophy winners and Nobel Laureates and said, “I don’t want to go to that school, everyone there is stupid.”

Here’s the thing: when you’re looking at a set of choices, whether it’s attending a college, buying a car, or acquiring a company, any little thing can tilt the scale one way or another and it doesn’t have to be rational.

That is why realtors tell homeowners not to paint their houses weird colors. It just gives buyers a reason to walk away. Can the buyer paint their dream house a different color? Sure – but why chance it?

If you’re a business owner selling your company, you probably know all of the wonderful things about it and you’re pretty sure everyone else will too – not true.

Buyers will look for as many reasons as possible NOT to buy your company.

  • Are your financials up to snuff and current?
    • I was once selling a company and in the first meeting with the buyer (a well-known Private Equity firm), the CFO cleared his throat and sheepishly said that he’d JUST SEEN that quarter’s numbers and the company missed its EBITDA target, not by a lot but just enough to matter…wait…what?
    • The CFO didn’t bother to tell anyone before the meeting (including ME) and so that one landed like a lead balloon. I’d been asking for weeks about the numbers, and I suppose he just didn’t know or didn't want to tell me – shame on me for that one.
  • Is your company busy?
    • Nothing says “RUN…RUN AWAY NOW” like idle employees.
    • If the place isn’t humming like …well,…something that hums, it just looks bad.
    • Some companies are slow at certain times of the year or even send everyone on vacation in the summer – try to avoid having a prospective buyer in the place at those times. Just common sense.
  • Lack of clarity
    • Is it clear what your business does?
    • This seems like a no-brainer but lots of small companies are run by “shiny-object kids” (my colleague’s word but it fits). These people think that the greatest idea they ever heard is the last one that came out of their own mouths.
    • New avenues into unrelated businesses might have seemed like a good idea at the time but there’s a line between "diversifying" and sending a muddled message to a buyer. You’re better off not cross that line.
    • I’ve literally heard a buyer say, “nice little company but I can’t figure out what the hell they do.”
  • Buyer and seller hate each other
    • I had a deal between two competitors in the same industry where the larger one was looking to buy the smaller one.
    • These two companies had spent so many years at each other’s throats that they couldn’t see past it to see the humongous synergies that the combined company would enjoy.
    • I think they believed all the lies they’d told about each other over the years and the buyer actually said, “I’ve never liked you; I don’t like you now, and I don’t see myself ever liking you.” Talk about a culture clash. Where do you go after that?

OK, here’s the point of all this (and I do have one, I think).

People can be fickle and if you’re trying to persuade someone to do something, whether it’s attend a college that Mom and Dad think is good for you, sell a company, or sell your house, its’ crucial to take as many potential deal killers out of the equation, small and trivial as they may seem.

Here are some words of wisdom from people who aren’t me:

“I was not a good student. I did not spend much time at college; I was too busy enjoying myself. - Stephen Hawking

“We are a puny and fickle folk. Avarice, hesitation, and following are our diseases.- Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”-  Oscar Wilde


Be good and be well.


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