As a recent participant of the Aspen Institute Forum on Latino Business Growth, my co-participants and I developed a series of concrete actions or “plays” stakeholders could implement to help facilitate scaling of Latino-owned Businesses. The resulting Playbook contains information for entrepreneurs, corporate partners, government agencies, and entrepreneur support organizations to consider in order to generate wealth among the Latinx business community and ultimately the U.S. economy overall. One of the ways we recommend encouraging large-scale growth is through mergers and acquisitions. As a Latina entrepreneur who has recently gone through the process of merging my company with another, I have first-hand experience on how this can be an effective approach.
My co-founder, Sydney Sherman, and I set out to build a company that embodied our purpose and personal values, namely, empowering women and ending extreme poverty through a curated e-commerce platform by women for women. I had many connections with designers and artisans and an eye for curation, and Sydney had the Ethical Verification Process and was building a technology platform, so we decided to merge my company—Alegreea – and her company – faire.shop—into our new jointly-owned business, TheEtho.com. As many business owners are scrambling to make ends meet and ensure they can weather this pandemic-induced storm, I am sympathetic to the financial struggles and emotional challenges that arise during these times of economic uncertainty. The Etho is the fifth company I’ve founded and the first that I’ve created through a merger, and I’d like to offer the following bits of advice to other business owners- aspiring and actual.
1. Develop a group of advisors.
Having a group of individuals who you can consult for their expertise and solicit feedback is crucial. Lawyers will be helpful—indeed necessary to cross the t’s and dot the i’s for legal aspects—but having a trusted advisory to bounce ideas off of will be important for you to have as an option to engage with along the way. There’s nothing like being able to tap into a brilliant mind for a pressing query or a time-sensitive concern. And during periods of economic downturn or, it’s especially helpful to have an advisory you can turn to for counsel. Another huge value of an advisory is getting introductions to key people in their network, which can be quite a valuable resource.
2. Leveraging networks- be strategic.
One of the ways we diversified our pool of funders for TheEtho.com was because we instantly increased it by joining forces and one of the reasons is that Sydney, is not Latina, but Anglo. I had a network I worked with, and she had her own network. By combining forces, we expanded the pool of contacts we can reach out to for funding, business advice, and leads. In my experience, it’s all about who you know. When considering a merger, think about how the potential of your new network; to scale up, you’ll need new contacts, and new leads for funding streams. Sydney and I are from different personal and professional backgrounds and she knows people who she has strong connections with, who I do not, and vice versa so leveraging both networks has been a strategic approach for scaling TheEtho.com.
3. Instruct your legal team to carry out due diligence up front.
Depending on the size of your business, and how large the merger/acquisition is, your legal team might say they want to set up the strategy before they conduct and implement due diligence, but given my recent experience, I would caution against this. Advise your lawyers to take care of the due diligence from out the outset and then develop the strategy to execute the full M&A. This way, the entire process will be more streamlined, and your company can be up and running sooner.
4. Read instructions carefully on loan and relief applications.
It can be quite frustrating to find the correct forms to apply for the loan you need for your business, but the waiting process once you’ve completed an application is even more exasperating. You’ll rarely hear a response from a lender right away; unfortunately, paperwork just takes time to process, especially when systems are overloaded with requests. And during crises like now, when the need for funds is quite immediate, waiting for a response on your application is not only frustrating, but probably determinant of your business’ survival, too. Having just gone through the process of applying for a loan through SBA’s new Payroll Protection Program, I speak from experience- take the time to carefully read instructions on the lender’s website and application forms. The last thing you need is for the lender to deny your application because you haven’t filled out their paperwork correctly.
5. Be willing to shift your strategy.
If there’s anything to be learned from this current crisis, it’s that flexibility is paramount to business success. While it’s not always feasible for business owners to have a fully-executable plan B in place, as much as possible, when considering scaling your business, you should consider what other approaches you could take if things don’t pan out according to the original scheme. Especially now, with recession-like circumstances, I am mindful of the need for a willingness to re-align our company’s marketing strategy, and grateful to now have several potential options available to us through the Government. While we were raising a bridge round to get us to the closure of the A Round, the new CARES act through the SBA seems to offer the best option for our business right now. The catch is, filling out the necessary paperwork can cause stumbling blocks, which is why careful review of instructions is crucial.
Whether your business is in survival mode or you’re weathering this storm well and want to accelerate growth, these are some steps that could prove useful for your business’s overall success.
Monica Peraza O’Quigley is the co-founder and co-CEO of TheEtho.com, the fifth company she’s started. She is a member of the Aspen Institute Forum on Latino Business and participated in the 2019 deep dive convening of the Forum. This is the 3rd blog in the series on scaling Latino-owned businesses, coming out of the Forum.