Like McDonald, Whit McIsaac, 43, also went to work for the company that bought him out. But unlike McDonald, McIsaac's results were not all good.
In November 2000, McIsaac sold Client Profiles, his Atlanta-based legal technology company, to a well-funded dotcom for more than $4.6 million. As the transaction closed, McIsaac held his breath and hoped for the best. If the merger was good, it could mean national expansion. "We really wanted to take it to the next level, and [the buyer] assured us that we'd control the sales and marketing end. It was a no-lose proposition for us," he says.
But the dotcom tide was turning, and the acquirer was changing strategy, even as it continued to burn through capital. "We moved into the palace in January 2001," says McIsaac, referring to the huge new office built with the acquiring company's venture money. "Then, at my first corporate meeting, they told me we'd have to cut 20 percent of the staff. We wanted their power and money and energy. Instead, we immediately got into cost-cutting mode."
The "fairy tale turned nightmare" lasted only eight months. McIsaac worked desperately to keep his group together and his customers happy. The larger firm's infrastructure wasn't always customer-friendly, and its need to cut costs threatened to squash the high-level reputation Client Profiles had nurtured.
"By the end of that time, they had laid off most of their staff," recalls McIsaac. The Client Profiles team fared somewhat better. "As much as they tried [to break us up], we never unraveled. Our group really stuck together."
In the end, the acquiring company simply asked McIsaac to take the company back. The nightmare was going to have a happy ending after all. "We kept all the cash, 20 percent of the equity, and all the assets and accounts we had brought in," he says. "It was a very well-managed transition. They were stand-up people. They allowed us to get back up and running without any difficulty."
Though McIsaac describes the whole incident as painful, it paid off in the end. "Looking back, we're a heck of a lot stronger based on that experience," he says. Today, Client Profiles is once again independent and profitable, with 52 employees and approximately $10 million in revenue. Without venture money or palatial offices to distract them, they've sold their products to more than a thousand law firms in 37 states.
It's clear McIsaac prefers being in charge of his own destiny. He says without hesitation, "It's been a great two years."
Pass It Along
These days, David Minor gets his entrepreneurial thrills vicariously. It wasn't always that way. In 1998, Minor sold the landscaping business he started in his garage to an industry giant. Minor, just 39 at the time, took some time off to relax and even considered permanent retirement. "From May to November of 1999, I was out playing golf, traveling...and bored out of my mind," recalls Minor with a laugh. Instead of retiring, he began looking for a new business and a new passion.
As it turned out, a new passion found him when Texas Christian University (TCU) asked him to help develop an entrepreneurial studies program. Minor jumped into academia with the same energy that helped him build his $11.5 million landscaping empire. Starting from scratch, Minor became the founding director at-and the driving force behind-the highly respected Neeley Entrepreneurship Program at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas.
Of course, moving from the boardroom to the classroom meant a cut in pay for Minor, but he says the work is more rewarding in other ways. "I love what I'm doing. I'm able to make a difference in people's lives, and ultimately, that's what life is about," he says. In fact, his work makes a difference in a lot of people's lives. The program at TCU now has more than 225 students enrolled in entrepreneurial classes.
Executive coach Hawks understands Minor's decision to join academia. In most cases, the entrepreneur's true passion is not about making money, says Hawks. "Money and fame are great things to have for about 10 minutes, but what really drives most entrepreneurs is actually feeling like they've made a difference in other people's lives."
is an investment banker and author of the e-book Finding Funding.