From Bootstrapped to Funded: How This CEO Landed a $150 Million Investment On Her Terms
When CEO Nicole Sahin founded Globalization Partners in 2012, the global employer of record market was largely undefined and unchartered. Its closest domestic doppelganger, known as a PEO (professional employer organization), has a U.S. market worth $170-plus billion. Sahin quickly bootstrapped Globalization Partners to serve clients in 175 countries, while employing 200 people in 60 countries, resulting in astronomical revenue growth, with projections of $500 million in revenue this year alone.
After years of turning down investment offers, Globalization Partners announced today that it has accepted a $150 million minority investment led by Wincove Private Holdings and TDR Capital (Sands Capital also participated). The funds will be used to accelerate further international growth, including a heavy investment in client service and technology development.
Sahin, who was featured in my book, Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold, sat down with Entrepreneur to talk about why she finally took the plunge by accepting external funding and how she was able to maintain control of the company she built.
How did you navigate unchartered territory to help build a business in a new and disruptive industry?
Before I started Globalization Partners, I used to provide services to companies that were hiring salespeople around the globe. It was a lot of work, investment and red tape to hire one-to-two people in a country, and clients are always afraid they’ve missed something due to the complexity of a global expansion in the more traditional way of doing business.
When I started the business in 2012, I wanted to build a best-in-class global legal platform that would enable companies to leapfrog over the traditional complexities of global business. It took three years to feel confident that I could get the legal and tax issues to work in each country. I started to build and scale the platform and the team at that time.
For years, you were fielding calls from investors. How did you go from “no" to "maybe" to "signing the deal"?
I first considered taking funding quite some time ago, because I knew the company was at a tipping point and growing like a rocket ship. Having people around the table who have “been there, done that” and could help me grow and manage the business well was always my priority. We have a mutual agreement that [Wincove, TDR and Sands] are investing in my leadership. This requires a lot of trust on both sides. It motivates me to not let them down. I’d walk over hot coals before I’d let down my client or my team, and it’s the same with my investors.
Our lead investor, a good friend of mine whom I trust on a personal and a business level, agreed to core principles and structured a deal in a way that would enable me to feel confident I have control over the triple bottom line philosophy and will never have to put myself in a position that’s out of line with my integrity — with my clients, my team or shareholders.
Tell us more about the triple bottom line philosophy you just mentioned.
My team and I have always said we have a two-folded company mission: Change the way the world does business by making it easy for anyone to hire anyone anywhere, and prove that happy clients and employees are the best investment in your bottom line. To date, we’ve had 95 percent client satisfaction scores, and my entire team is highly incentivized not only to grow, but to grow with the same quality we’ve always built the business on.
My colleagues and I agreed at the outset on various factors of the triple bottom line, focused on the happiness of employees, clients and shareholders. We still have to make hard decisions, but we do them with dignity. From a human perspective, I don’t want to spend my life building anything I don’t feel fabulous about, and I don’t want to ask anyone else to either.
What did you learn during the decision-making process that may surprise other founders?
Many entrepreneurs are scared to talk about their businesses with investors because they don’t want to give up their ideas. While caution is smart, it’s overkill to avoid discussions in order to protect your business. Investors aren’t operators; there is little risk that they set up a team to execute on your idea. There is always the risk that they invest in your competition.
What advice do you have for other CEOs considering funding who don't want to compromise their culture and direction?
Be open to having a conversation. If nothing else, the insight that can be provided is extraordinarily valuable. It’s also important to get clarity for yourself about what you want. Some prompting questions may be: Do you want to run the business or sell the business? What’s important to you? Where are your boundaries and what are you willing to give up?
It’s also really important to not agree to anything you can’t live with or that is going to keep you up at night. You are in control of your decisions in this process. Be willing to walk away, and if you do, be radically clear in your decision and accept the consequences. Alternately, be profoundly clear in your decision to accept whatever you’re compromising on. It’s important to feel good about whatever deal you strike.