In 1991, Jeff Wiener founded Digitcom, a tech company specializing in voice and data network infrastructure design and deployment. He ran the business successfully for 27 years, acquired three companies, and grew Digitcom to 55 employees.
A year and a half ago, Jeff decided that it was time to retire from Digitcom. He put the company on the market and ended up selling it in October 2017. Jeff recently wrote a book called A Kickass Entrepreneur’s Guide to Investing and is now focusing on helping other entrepreneurs build their dreams. He also serves as a board member for Peerscale and has been a part of the community for 5 years.
We sat down with Jeff to chat about what got him to this point and how his life has been after the sale of Digitcom.
At what point did you decide to sell your company?
In October of 2016, my wife and I learned that her best friend was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was one of the people that we had planned to spend time with when we got older and retired.
Our friend’s diagnoses brought me to the realization that I ultimately was not going to live forever and that there were other things that I wanted to accomplish in my life. I realized that there was more to life and for me that included giving back and helping other entrepreneurs succeed.
I do goal sitting every year and in January of 2017, I took a five-hour long walk to do just that. The purpose of the walk was to really sort my mind and to decide what I wanted to do. When I started on that walk, I was trying to figure out how to double the company that I was running and how to double the sales and triple profits. I was putting it all together in my mind. I figured out that we needed more office space and some other changes needed to be made. I had it all figured out but more than a quarter of the way through the walk, I realized that I no longer wanted to do this.
What was the sales process like? How did you decide who were you going to sell to?
The M&A process took about ten months – from start to finish.
We went through a formal due diligence process with the buyer that we sold to. Prior to that, I hired E&Y to help us from an advisory perspective, to help sell and market the business to as many people as they could. We went out and looked for expressions of interest and we had about seven or eight of those.
The first step of the sale is to get those expressions of interest from businesses. It is not a formal process but you can then have a better sense of companies who are willing to pay you for your company.
Next, we went through interviews with interested parties and then they came back with formal letters of intent. We negotiated with a few companies but took it to the final stage with one in particular.
What were the biggest challenges during the sale?
From a business perspective, it was probably the hardest experience that I have ever been through in my life.
It was extremely challenging because on one hand I did not want to run the business any longer but on the other hand when you are going through an M&A process, you need to make sure that your revenue is consistently going up. Any discerning buyer would question it if your revenues started to go down.
Increasing your revenue takes a lot of hard work and I had to work harder than I had ever done before, in order to ensure a successful sale of Digitcom. There was also an added pressure of negotiating an agreement with the buyer.
You have sold your company but have also acquired other companies in the past, what were the major differences? Did you learn something new in the selling process?
One is a mindset of growth and the other is a mindset of change.
When you are acquiring, you are looking to grow the business, consolidate and merge people and operationalizing business. With selling, you know that you are changing.
In the past, when I have acquired companies, I had never really looked at it from the seller’s perspective and have always gone in with a buying mentality. I was thinking about how much revenue and profitability can I drive and what roles do I want the acquired companies’ management team to play.
In my opinion, it is easier to acquire a business compared to selling it.
The buying process also came with a lot of uncertainty – things could change at the last minute, making it even more stressful.
What advice do you have for other tech leaders who might be thinking of selling their companies?
If you are thinking of selling your business, you need to be extremely organized and start getting your business ready for sale at least two or two and a half years in advance.
What has changed for you since the sale of Digitcom and what has been the biggest challenge?
I have so much more time now to do all the things that I have always wanted to do. I am not beholden to anyone, other than to the couple of clients that I have.
My work was rewarding but after 27 years, it started to diminish.
The biggest challenge since I sold the company has been that I no longer have a large number of people reporting to me. I would say that is similar to any CEO who manages a large number of people. I had a bit of a learning curve trying to figure out what I wanted to do next.
How long have you been a part of the Peerscale board and how has the organization contributed to your entrepreneurial journey?
I was involved in Peerscale for four years before becoming a board member and in total, I have been with the membership organization for five years. Peerscale has been incredibly important to me and my career, so much so that I gave them credit and acknowledgment in my book.
It has been an integral part of the development of my business and to me as an individual. I would attribute a lot of the success that I have had and getting to the point I am at to the knowledge that I have gained through Peerscale. I would not be where I am, if not for Peerscale.
What’s next for you?
I currently manage some real estate and consult with a few clients. I am also on the board of Digitcom and I am a very active member of Peerscale. I write a blog and I have written a book called A Kickass Entrepreneur’s Guide to Investing.
I am 9 weeks since the launch of the blog and I have almost 11000 subscribers and I am getting tons of emails every day asking for advice and consulting services.