The Managing Partner of Bloom Venture Partners, Bart Macdonald, sits down to give us SaaS businesses information for today’s episode. He talks about everything from their sweet spots of investing in companies to buying SaaS businesses now.
Being in the business industry for many years and experiencing things on both sides of the aisle as an entrepreneur, he has many ideas and pieces of advice to give. Listen to Bart Macdonald’s story as he tells about how he started, his realizations, what he looks forward to, and his message for other founders out there.
What Brought Macdonald to Bloom Venture Partners
After his industry experience, like venturing into businesses and selling some companies, Bart Macdonald realized something a few years ago as a commercial entrepreneur. He realized that in terms of business model quality, there are many advantages to Software as a Services (SaaS).
It has stable, predictable, and recurring revenue characteristics, so recognizing that there is a model that customers can love, he found a great opportunity in SaaS from a commercial perspective.
When he started to grow his networking, Macdonald also realized that there are far more remarkable founders than he is and that have excellent business ideas and are very technical. Then, he continued to look for answers to questions like how to raise capital and assisted others as an adviser.
For a couple of years, that journey informally kicked off his career as an investor. As an entrepreneur, he has helped other founders in their journey as well.
About Bloom Venture Partners
This year, they launched Bloom Venture Partners, a venture capital studio located in San Francisco, California. The company seeks to invest in SaaS, fintech, and digital health companies covering many formats, whether they are bootstrappers, overlooked divisions of larger organizations, or funded companies looking for a new direction.
According to Macdonald, midway through this year, they had the opportunity to launch a second site that focuses on most software acquisition companies under one roof of Bloom Venture Partners as an investment firm. For Bart Macdonald, it is such a humbling journey to speak to those incredible SaaS founders from all around the world.
Things That a SaaS Founder Should Take Into Account
The first thing that he shared is to ask yourself if there is a path wherein you can maintain equity in the business and put yourself in a chairperson or president role. Then, bring in a professional or another founder to take on your former place to continue growing.
Bart Macdonald says this is the beautiful thing about Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses. You can keep compounding this thing. You can keep maintaining your existing business and then off-selling or renewing it depending on contracts.
In a founder-level conversation, he emphasizes to think about your goals. Ask yourself, “What are my goals?” Is it to cash-in your chips now, or do you have other things in mind? Sometimes, Macdonald and his firm see some companies that are going through a four to six-quarter process.
He discusses that these are the things that a founder must strategically think about for quite some time. For instance, you arrive at an answer saying the business will market in a growing state. Besides this, you can also consider how your business is going to be valued.
Having been on both sides of the aisle throughout his industry experience and evaluating businesses, Macdonald understands the reality. Founders can ask themselves what is the value of their business in the market today. Is it value based on ARRA or according to another profitability basis?
These are some of the considerations tactically in terms of how to prepare, according to Bart Macdonald.
Looking Forward To Next Year
One of the things that they consider when looking for incredible products, teams in businesses, businesses to acquire and work alongside, is being mission-critical.
Regarding the metrics around customer retention, product usage, customer referral rate, and more, they are broad, so Macdonald mentioned they have a couple of theses they are interested in. Moreover, they have a preference concerning the enterprise.
There are also notable companies that they idolize, such as Dropbox, wherein they build beautiful products like credit card sign-up and $19 to $100 subscription for a license. It is their kind of BYOT, meaning ‘Bring Your Own Tool’ into work, a mission-critical model.
Macdonald says it ingests all of that individual, team, department, or organization’s workflow and proprietary data, which forms a critical lock-in and leads to high retention of off sales. The challenge that most organizations face right now, given the proliferation of SaaS over the last years, is developing tools into all-in-one tools.
Aside from these, the thesis they look for is the tools to make the employees’ lives better and make organizations more productive. According to Bart Macdonald, it is pretty high level and esoteric. However, it can be a tale to ride and surf along for many years if they meet it.
Words For Yourself Ten Years Ago
This year, Macdonald reflected on these things with his mentors: the circle of competence and understanding that no one is great at everything, no matter what your background is, whether you have finance or promotion experience.
When listening to the podcast, he said that an individual might say how incredible his industry milestones are. Still, you have to be easy on yourself because everyone has their journey. Everybody is trying to learn and play the game as best as he can.
He is really into that circle of competence, saying, “Where is my edge?” “On a four-point rating system, I am probably going to be five out of four.” However, there are things where he is possibly a two out of four, and that used to disappoint him a bit.
But then, Bart Macdonald ended up realizing some things. He matured over time and had more experience working with great teams. Also, the kind of hack into this is hiring people with remarkable talent and delegating.
He also mentions focusing on lifting off your weaknesses instead of leaning to world-class things or the things you are good at. Then, proceed to partner with amazingly talented folks.
Hello, and welcome to The Exit, presented by Flippa. I’m your cohost Steve McGarry and this is a 30 minute podcast featuring amazing entrepreneurs who have been there and they have done it. We talk to operators who have bought and sold businesses of all different sizes. You’ll learn how they did it, why they did it, and the exposure the world needs to see with all the different aspects of exiting a business.
In this episode, I sit down with Bart McDonald, the managing partner of Bloom Venture Partners. Before we get into this episode, definitely be sure to check out the previous episode with Kellianne, from Amazing Exits. It’s a fantastic interview and it’s definitely worth checking out. The link to all that will be wherever you’re listening to this episode. For this episode, we’re sitting down with Bart McDonald and we’re going to be diving into SaaS businesses. We talk about everything around their sweet spot of investing in businesses that are doing $500 to $5 million in annual recurring revenue, and the fact that they’re industry agnostic and geography agnostic. Wherever founders are, they are definitely investing.
Most importantly, what we touch on is the fact that they are now actually buying SaaS businesses. They have some really exciting knowledge nuggets at the end of the interview. If you’re really interested in SaaS business and potentially making even $1,000 for referring a SaaS business to them, definitely stick around to the end of the interview, because Bart has some amazing knowledge to drop on everybody. So without further ado, let’s dive right into my interview, with Bart McDonald, the managing partner at Bloom Venture Partners.
All right, I am here with Bart McDonald, the managing partner of Bloom Venture Partners. How you doing today, Bart?
Hey, Steve. I’m really well, thanks. Yourself?
Doing great, doing great. I’m excited to sit down and talk about subscription as a service.
We got a lot to cover.
Yeah. One of the things we like to do with guests is go through an origin story. What brought you into Bloom and what were you doing previously?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been working in software companies, consumer and enterprise software, for almost over a decade now. Originally, as a founder and builder and operator, being across many sides of the table, bootstrap companies, venture backed companies, sold a few companies, and I realized also as a commercial entrepreneur, I’ve also been across many different sides of the aisle there as well, running service businesses, running marketplaces, and realized a couple years ago, just in terms of business model quality and purity, there’s so many advantages to software as a service. I think about wanting to get that stable, predictable, and finally recurring revenue base of revenue going. It’s pretty amazing.
I liken it to Mazlo’s hierarchy. There are a lot of business models where it’s consulting, and nothing wrong with consulting, but it’s generally non-recurring and you’re exchanging your time for a fee. When you’re not on the clock, it’s hard to drive revenue for that business. Recognizing that there’s a model that typically customers love and obviously it’s great from a commercial perspective, I started doubling down on software as a service businesses, too, and they continue to build, but [inaudible 00:03:45] after about five, six years in San Francisco, coming from Sydney, Australia, starting to grow my network and realizing that there are a trove of founders far more remarkable than I who had great ideas for businesses that typically are very technical as well. Oftentimes, they would come from first time founders building in SaaS and had a lot of questions around how to think about product and company building, how to hire candidates, how to raise capital. I’ll think, great. I’ll see very talented folk, but if I can help you avoid some of the brain damage that I went through on building multiple companies, I’d love to participate and help out as an advisor.
That journey over a couple of years was humble and fortunate. Many of those founders asked me to come in and participate and follow on financing rounds and that’s how I informally kick started my career as an investor a couple of years back. From there, I wrote several angel checks and really fell in love with being a founder that’s 80 hours a week in one business is great. You have a lot of shared wins and losses with your internal team, but as an entrepreneur, being able to leverage your time and participate silently in helping other founders on their journey as well as an investor, silent investor, really an investor on the sideline, that was great.
Earlier this year, we launched Bloom, our venture capital fund. We now do sub-$500K checks to seed stage companies all around the world, again focused there on software as service businesses. We typically focus around work, so technologies in the enterprise focus on work tech or fin tech. Then, also, there’s also been a lot more about my journey and some of the changes that I’ve been seeing in the marketplace.
Traditionally, private equity, the concept of buying out a business and typically injecting some debt into that business to suit the transaction and then turning around elements of the business to increase cost and reduce revenue. Typically, in software as service businesses, private equity haven’t really focused on companies doing less than $10 million of revenue or even EBITDA. It just wasn’t really an area where, both on the seller side, you had an optionality to liquidate your position in a company and sell to private equity. Wasn’t really a market for it.
I think as the community at large has recognized, SaaS really still is in its first innings and it’s never been easier to create a software as a service business, but it’s never been harder to then get scale past that first million of revenue, up to $10 million and then to $50 million and beyond. I think we’re just going to see a trove of businesses coming to market. They’re either historically venture backed businesses that can’t quite maintain and get those venture sides returns as they plateau out and are looking for a soft landing, or they’re just wonderful, bootstrapped, profitable businesses that the founders are looking for some expertise to come in, particularly around go to market and accelerate the company.
Midway through this year, we saw an opportunity under one roof of Bloom as an investment firm to actually launch a second sidecar fund, which was focused on majority acquisitions of other software companies. We’re really flexible there. Whether founders stay or transition out, whether it’s a minority investment and the founders keep a lot of equity on the table, but so far that’s been extremely well received by the market and it’s just been, for me, just a really humbling journey to be out speaking with incredible SaaS founders from all around the world. This week we’ve had calls with founders who are in Iceland all the way back to Hong Kong and also back in Australia, my home country, so it’s been quite, quite a year.
Nice, nice. That’s a great segue into more about Bloom. I’m really fascinated by this approach of helping founders that want to continue with your seed investments, and then also this new sidecar fund, as you called it, to literally buy these companies, which I think is a brilliant play as a business, as Bloom, as a fund essentially. You’re building up your portfolio.
For the founders out there that are listening that have a SaaS company, let’s say they’re making $5 million ARR, something like that, what would the process be to get set up and ready to sell their business? Let’s say you and I both know that in the day-to-day grind, things just get chaotic. Maybe they don’t keep proper records, but what would you say would be the highlight things that a SaaS founder should be keeping squeaky clean to potentially exit?
Hey, guys. Steve here, taking a quick pause from the interview. I know that selling a business can feel unattainable and out of reach for everybody, but it’s definitely something that is very reachable for people that are listening to this podcast with Flippa. I’ve mentioned that this show is presented by Flippa. They have over 3 million users on their platform who are looking to acquire everything from content sites to e-commerce stores to SaaS platforms, or even mobile applications. If you’re curious and want to know more about what your business is worth, head to Flippa.com/TheExit for free valuations on your business. It takes a couple minutes to literally go through and you can just go through the whole process without committing to anything at all. Once again, Flippa.com/TheExit. Check it out. Get a valuation on your business without any commitments and just see exactly what your valuation of your business is worth. Let’s dive into the interview.
Yes, I think actually it’s a fantastic question. I think there’s some really tactical things that I can share for our team’s learnings, but I should do it from more of a strategic lens, first of all, which is zoom all the way back and be like, “Look, why exit? Is there a pathway you can maintain equity in the business and replace yourself, move yourself into a president or a chairperson role and bring in professional leadership in to back yourself? Or move another co-founder into your role?” That’s the first question.
We’ve actually seen that with a lot of companies that we started conversations with and said, “Hey, I’m just eight years into this thing. We’ve got it past $5 million, growth plateauing and I don’t know how to unlock future growth, so we’re dusted. We’re out.” We’ve said, “Look, you’ve got a great thing. This is the beautiful thing about SaaS. You can just keep compounding this thing as long as your churn is inject, you can just keep maintaining your existing business and just upselling it and renewing them every whatever the contract cycle is.”
I think that’d be the first thing, as a founder-level conversation. What are the goals? Is it to cash in the chips now and pass over majority of ownership to somebody else? Is it to stay on the board? From there, we’ve seen a lot of companies that have gone through sometimes a four to six quarter process of saying, “Okay, historically we’ve been optimizing for growth, which means we’re happy to run at a net loss on a quarterly annualized basis. Berm’s probably a little bit high. We’ve got to go to that extra fancy office. We had the option of outsourcing some parts of the business, but we’ve brought it in and we’re paying premiums here.”
We’ve seen businesses that the founding team, maybe in partnership with the board, has said, “Okay, we’re actually going to take this business in a very different trajectory now. We’re going to realign to get to profitability, traverse across to a different side of running the business, get to profitability, and then look to sell the business.” Sometimes that could take several quarters to do that thoughtfully. That’d be some of the questions I’d be starting to think through strategically as a founder.
Then let’s say you’ve arrived at an answer of whether the business going to market, it’s a growth stage business, and when we think about growth stage I’d say that’s north of 50% annual growth rate, or if it’s a business that maybe has plateaued out and you’re really starting to have those conversations with private equity shops. It’s doing that 10% to sub-25% annualized growth rate as a SaaS business.
You begin looking to say, “Okay, well how is this business going to be valued?” One of the first things. Again, I just say this, again, having been on both sides of the aisle. It’s not like I’m a career professional investor my entire career who’s then evaluating and valuing businesses purely off a spreadsheet. I started my career on the operating side of the aisle. Understand the Kool-Aid that it’s sometimes easy to drink as a founder when you see the headlines of Slack being bought for $27 billion and you’re like, “Well, I’m playing in the same game. I at least have a shot at that upside, right?” Just tempering reality of, “Okay, what does market value my business at today? Am I going to be valued based on ARR, or revenue multiples, because I’m a growth stage business still and I’m growing yearly more than 50% revenue? Or maybe I’m being valued by market as more of a EBITDA on a profitability basis?”
Then, of course, who are the potential buyers? Are they some strategics? Do you look to speak with some of your competitors in market or is there someone that’s got a product that’s tangential where you can sell your product into them, sell the business? They can wrap up the product. They’d love to work with your team and, importantly, the customer list, they can cross sell their product across to your customers. Or is it more of a financial suitor, where it’s the case of, “Look, we’re just going to sell to a private equity shop and they can do what they want with the business from there?” Again, those are some of the considerations.
Tactically, in terms of how to get prepared, we see it bucketed across four different areas. One, legals. I’ll come back and touch on a few there. One, legals; two, technology, obviously; thirdly is around the commercial side of the business; and then fourth is around operations. Really just making sure you’re already starting to think through, it can be pretty dinky and low fidelity, but some sort of data room where you’ve just got, again, we see this a lot with bootstrap businesses where the company directors where there’s maybe one or N number of founders. They’ve never really had to raise outside capital and debt or equity, so maybe they don’t have the formalization or probably the good hygiene that an outside buyer or acquirer may expect. Starting that process early, making sure you’ve just got everything loaded up into that room and good operational hygiene around all the legal documents, all the customer contracts, all your employee agreements, IP assignment, maybe a code base, everything, which is all going to be pretty standard checklist from the acquirer to look through, and obviously a quick Google search of that online. They’re standard lists.
We’ve heard from a lot of other private equity firms that sometimes they send across 600 line due diligence checklists to SaaS companies that are doing a million dollars of revenue. It can be a pretty lengthy, heavy lift. Again, I think that’s one of the things that we try to do here at Bloom, is to really zero in on the things that we know are going to be table stakes, code reds for us, go/no go gates, and then everything else is nice to have and try to make it a much lighter lift for the founding team so the process of having that conversation around potential transaction isn’t too much of a distraction to the management team.
Yeah. I had a conversation on a previous episode with Sandra Shpilberg and she talks a lot about the new startup mindset around-
Myself, I lived in San Francisco for five years. You lived in San Francisco for five years. We’ve all been around the whole raise venture capital, attach the rocket fuel into the rocket ship and just take off and just grow at all costs. It’s great for some companies and other companies may or may not need that level of supercharger attached to it. I love that you touched on bootstrapped companies. When I was talking about this with Sandra, we talked about the different ways that people approach business.
With Bloom, when people come to you, they’re from all walks of life. You guys are kind of agnostic, which I love, about industry, geography. It’s all walks, which I always appreciate and love it when that’s happening. From your perspective, just as a founder, what do you see as the deal flow that’s coming to you guys? Would you say it’s majority people that have raised a previous round of funding? Is it people that are bootstrapped are the majority? How does your split look in your opinion?
It doesn’t have to be an official percentage or anything like that, but I’m always curious. There’s different types of businesses, of course, and there’s no one right way to do a business, but I’m always curious as to who comes to you guys as, “I want to exit.” Are they primarily bootstrappers? Are they primarily people who have raised funding in the past?
Yeah, great question. I guess you framed it as who comes to us, and I changed the question a little bit. It’s who do we go out to and then who comes inbound to us as well, and that’s what constructs our deal flow.
It is quite nuanced. Not to sound like the classic lawyer here of, “Well, it depends,” or, “Well, we’re right down the middle here,” but kind of are. Look, if you’re going out to a business that’s… Let me wind back. I’ll answer the question indirectly.
We started a conversation. We sent out an email to a company. We’ve been market mapping it, a sector that we’re particularly excited by and long on the future, obviously that had some pretty big undercurrents going through that market segment through COVID and we’re particularly excited by that category. We market mapped who are the folks in the space we wanted to speak with and we thought tangentially fit our criteria of, “Hey, they’re not going to be too big, doing $60 million of revenue already with 400 employees.” Obviously, that’s not our focus. We focus up to around $6, $7 million of ARR.
We reached out to one founding team and we had this classic reaction that the founder already sold the business before it was bootstrapped. He then took the next and current company through an accelerated program and raised a pretty big seed round after that. Got some early momentum, put the fuel in, rocket took off, rocket plateaued very early, and after four years we’re doing a million dollars of revenue, which is again subjective. It’s great for many, many businesses, great for many, many founders, but for this particular founder with their expectations and he’d had a pretty significant exit in his previous business, and certainly for the investors, it was almost a borderline flop.
Now we’re looking at what to do. He was lamenting and saying, “Look, I’ve now got this business to such a size of headcount, because we’re just trying to grow this thing and there’s so much headwind and friction,” and he’s like, “I’m a makeup, not a manager. I just want to get back to just writing lines of code, but now I’m stuck here doing payroll and all this clerical, operations side of the business. Growth has just stalled out completely.”
We said, “Look, how can we find a way to work together?” He’s like, “I just don’t think the board’s going to go for it. There’s so much complexity around the cap table now and different investors from different BC firms on the board have different motivations and goals and thoughts around the future of the company.” We said, “Look, we’ll be here to help if you ever want to pick up the conversation again.” But just a case study of one example of many, many, many stories I hear of founders who get trapped into these businesses just because of their cap table and previous financing complexity.
We obviously speak to a lot of those types of companies. Sometimes it’s a little simpler. Within a venture capital firm, there’s a company that’s maybe pivoted a product and they’re going after a new production direction with a second product and they’re looking to divest or carve out the first product. We’ll definitely speak to a lot of founding teams or management teams that have taken on external capital, but they’re somehow the, we call them the fallen angels or the venture orphans. They haven’t been able to get to that breakout trajectory that everyone had at the origin of taking on that financing.
Additionally, or conversely, rather, for some of those factors that I mentioned with that story I only told a moment ago, that founder being a little trapped and being outvoted at the board level, obviously it’s a little easier when you’re speaking to bootstrapped companies because the board typically, as an example, we’re speaking with a husband and wife team this week and the business is doing now north of $7 million of revenue. They own 100% of the business together with a 30 person team and doing great things. It’s like, “Well, when we decide, we decide, and that’s it. It’s just the two of us to sign off.”
It really varies, but I think we’re starting to see clear differences in the experience of working with different founding teams based on whether they’re bootstrapped or they’ve raised external capital.
Yeah, right on. I love stories like that, the husband and wife doing $7 million, owning 100% of it. That’s incredible. That’s a good segue into, you touched on what you were excited about. You were doing market research around a company and figuring out that during the pandemic there’s a lot of potential in the future, potentially. Changing gears a little bit, what are you excited about in 2021, in terms of industries that you guys are looking at? You don’t have to tell us everything that’s in your pipeline or something like that, but I’m just always curious. Since you have your hand on the pulse with companies that have done really well through the chaotic year that 2020 has been, what are you looking forward to in terms of industry, given you guys are agnostic and you can really do this anywhere in terms of your investment strategy? What are you looking forward to?
Great question. One of the hardest virtues that we have in looking for great products and teams and businesses to acquire and work alongside is just being mission critical products. Again, wearing my former founder/builder hat, I’ve definitely been guilty of building vitamin water as opposed to pain killer products over the year. We all know the pull you get from market when you’ve done product market [inaudible 00:23:11] with a pain killer. We just basically said we can deep dive and understand metrics around net promoter score, customer retention, sources of marketing, where the leads are coming from. Obviously, there’s usually very high NPS, high retention, high product usage, high customer referral rate as a source of where leads are coming from.
In terms of those sectors, again, we’re really broad. We’ve go a couple of BCs that we’re very interested in. Obviously, we definitely have a preference to enterprise SaaS as opposed to pro-sumer, consumer SaaS. We love bottoms up sales models as well, when you have that really low or lack touch sales experience. Some of the most amazing companies that we idolize is the DropBox, the Atlassians of the world, where they just built out these beautiful products where credit card sign up or where you got $19, sub-$50, sub-$100 for a license, and it’s the BYOT, bring your own tool or device in to work. It’s mission critical. It ingests all of that team or individual and then team and then department and then ultimate organization’s workflow and proprietary data, which forms that key-lock that we love, which obviously leads to high retention in upsells.
Any tools, really, we look for. Dev tools is an area. Obviously, we know that challenge affecting a lot of organizations right now is giving this proliferation of SaaS over the last half decade or more. Now, we’ve gone from the all in one tools to now best of breed, which means pick the average department. Okay, Mrs. and Mr. Finance, instead of having two or three tools to run it all, you’ve now probably got 15, 16 tools just in that department. Do they all have APIs talking to each other? Probably not. You’ve got this major siloed impact across putting up walls across organizations. We have a thesis that we’re looking for tools that really make employees’ lives better and organizations more productive as well, which is pretty high level and esoteric, but if it meets that then we think that’s going to be a tailwind that we can ride and surf along for many years.
Excellent, excellent. I love that you’ve been on both sides of the aisle. You’ve been the operator, the founder, the builder, and now you’re on the funder side of the things. You’re on the investor side, which I love. That makes this question much, much more fun to ask. Knowing what you know now, what would you tell Bart 10 years ago.
Yeah, great question. I think about this a lot with some of my mentors as well. Something I’ve spent a lot of time this year alone reflecting on is your circle of competence and understanding no one’s going to be great at all thing, whether you’re a founder and you come from a finance background or a product background or a commercial background. I, I’m sure like many of the listeners, would listen to a million of these podcasts and I’m like, “Wow, this person knows so much,” and have this horrible imposter syndrome. I’ve been a little bit easier on myself in recent years, realizing that everyone’s just on their journey and trying to learn and play the game as best as they can together, really leaning into that circle of competence which is saying, “Where’s my edge?”
On a four point rating system, I’m probably going to be five out of four at two or three things. Truly top 1%, top 10% in the world. That’s my edge. Then there are things I’m probably a two out of four at. It used to really gripe me that there were things that I was two out of four at. I was like, “Gosh, I really got to get up to a three.” I think what I’ve just realized as I’ve probably matured and had more experience working around great teams is the hack of hiring amazing talent and delegating and not necessarily focus on trying to lift up all of your weaknesses, but rather leaning into the things that you’re truly world class at and then partnering up with amazingly talented folks who are great, complimentary fits.
Well said. Well said. That’s all the questions I have for you today, Bart. Where can people go and learn more about Bloom Venture Partners?
Yeah, absolutely. Check out our website, BloomVP.com. We’re also pretty active on social. We’ve got our own podcast series launching shortly for folks that are interested specifically on SaaS conversations. We’re interviewing a bunch of interesting founders and investors and other small cap SaaS acquirers, so you can come and check that out. Last thing, we just actually introduced a scout program as well. Folks out there who maybe can be listeners of yours and part of the amazing Flippa community, if they know other people who are running SaaS companies who might be interested in either taking investment or selling their company altogether over to the team at Bloom, we have a paid scout program where you can get paid out when a deal closes in cold, hard cash. We look forward to paying out on our first one of those scout programs very shortly.
Excellent, excellent. Wherever you guys are listening, on SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, the notes will be full of the links that Bart just mentioned, so definitely check that out. Once again, thank you so much for coming on the show, Bart.
Really appreciate it. Have a great of your week, Steve.