Remote work challenged buyers and sellers to get acquainted with each other online, leading to several deals being struck
If the early stages of M&A can be likened to courtship, then Volaris Group has always seen itself as looking for a committed, long-term relationship. Compared to other suitors, like private equity or venture capital firms, Volaris vows to take a strategic buy-and-hold forever approach.
Despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic, Volaris managed to close more than 20 acquisitions in 2020. But during a time when buyers and sellers had no choice but to work remotely, helping sellers reach the stage where they felt comfortable saying “I do” meant adapting to new methods of communication to build relationships.
We talked to several leaders from Volaris-owned companies to learn more.
The shift to building relationships virtually
“Hands down, the absolute best way to get to know a prospect is over dinner and drinks,” says Trey Drake, Group President at AssetWorks. “That informal, almost familial setting allows an unguarded, easy opportunity for both sides to get a sense of each other. Sometimes a seller will invite their spouse or close friend, and it's always an interesting interaction when you’re meeting more than just the CEO.”
He says mastering the art of virtual relationship-building took time.
Lawrence Rosedale, Director of M&A at AssetWorks agrees that creating an emotional connection is key.
“Sellers ask themselves: Is this person generally someone I can trust, someone I can relate to and understand and work with daily? Is this a work environment that is going to be fun? Am I going to enjoy developing my business here?” he explains. “If you can't chat in anything other than a formal business environment, those questions can become difficult to evaluate. We’ve done our best to be open, and to help sellers get to know us in a virtual environment.”
From being acquired, to acquiring during COVID
Jay Hoffman, Group Leader at Volaris Group looks back on his own journey selling his company to Volaris, and says there was a marked difference in how his own experience compared to his acquisition of Charity Dynamics, which closed remotely during the pandemic in 2020.
“Comparing the experience to when my own company was acquired by Volaris close to nine years ago, the acquisition team came to where I was in New York. We went out for lunch. I met the person that I would eventually report to. That was great, because over the course of the visit, I realized I really liked the team and we could have a good relationship,” he remembers.
“But during COVID, we weren’t able to meet prospects in person, so we had to create that same feeling.”
To meet that challenge, Hoffman’s team held several video calls to get acquainted with Charity Dynamics CEO Kathy Kempff and her staff. Kempff says that approach worked well.
“Through these calls, our team became comfortable with the overall approach and proposed transition plan. Once we got closer to the due diligence stage, we were able to align on how the acquisition was going to unfold and ensure that we had a smooth transition,” Kempff says.
Strengthening online interactions during COVID-19
Matt O’Donovan, CEO of WiFi SPARK, is another owner-operator who agreed to join Volaris during the pandemic.
“What Volaris did especially well was consistent and regular communication. I had dialogue regularly with the M&A team, who would phone me up just to ask ‘How are you doing?’” says O’Donovan.
“The reassurance and affirmation every step of the way ensured that we never felt lonely, and I was really made to feel that there was no such thing as a stupid question, and nothing was too much trouble,” he says. “It’s been a really good experience.”
More ways sellers are finding comfort in a virtual world
In addition to building personal connections remotely, Lumine Group’s Vice President of Business Development Elliot Yunger says the key benefits of Volaris still need to shine through to prospects.
“It’s our ecosystem of customers, partners, and employees that prospective sellers can tap right into to help accelerate their growth,” says Yunger. “That's the number one reason why people choose Lumine Group and Volaris.”
But Yunger says the COVID environment necessitated their move to put more information online to help sellers understand what it's like to be part of Lumine Group and the Volaris network.
Similarly, Drake’s team invested in improving access to information for sellers by creating personalized landing pages.
“We’ve done a better job helping sellers access the information needed to understand we're a different kind of acquirer and to help people more easily find answers to questions they have.”
“The reassurance and affirmation every step of the way ensured that we never felt lonely, and I was really made to feel that there was no such thing as a stupid question, and nothing was too much trouble.”
- Matt O'Donovan, CEO, WiFi SPARK
Other leaders within Volaris have experimented with virtual alternatives to in-person events.
“We’ve held some virtual beer evenings, as a replacement for what we would usually do, eating good food in different parts of the UK. We’ve had great take-up—I think there was only one person out of all the invites that couldn’t make it,” says Rob Turner, Group Leader at Volaris and Group Leader of Kinetic Software.
Turner also points to the fireside CEO sessions conducted where his team brought on industry experts in the education vertical to chat with CEOs of higher education software companies. The events were well-received and helped bring people together when in-person meetings weren't possible.
"I always say to prospects—this is a forever marriage. The worst thing we could do is for both sides to get hitched without really getting to know each other very well."
- Trey Drake, Group President, AssetWorks
The beginning of forever
While leaders across Volaris Group have adapted to communicating and building relationships virtually, they emphasize that their support for sellers and their businesses won’t disappear after the courtship is over and the deal is done.
“I always say to prospects—this is a forever marriage,” says Drake. “The worst thing we could do is for both sides to get hitched without really getting to know each other very well.”
“To make the business successful, post-transaction, we want hints that partnership is going to work. So I equally want somebody that's in this forever, who wants that commitment and long-term outlook.”
Key tips for sellers when face-to-face meetings aren't an option:
- Leave time for small talk and use video when possible. This can help build trust, comfort and connection.
- Never hesitate to ask questions... about anything! Not being able to speak face-to-face can sometimes make it more difficult to communicate, but being proactive can help.
- Attend virtual events. If possible, a virtual beer night or networking event can help you get to know the team further and build connections outside of formal meetings.
- Take the time to dig into information provided, including acquisition stories and case studies of other businesses which have been acquired. This is a great way to learn even more.