Event Recap

Event Recap: Unfiltered - The Price of Acquisition with Eric Guthoff

May 1
Aug 23
Alley Team
Event Recap

Event Recap: Unfiltered - The Price of Acquisition with Eric Guthoff

May 1
Aug 23
Alley Team
Event Recap

Event Recap: Unfiltered - The Price of Acquisition with Eric Guthoff

May 1
Aug 23
Alley Team
Eric GuthoffEric Guthoff
Photo by Eric Guthoff

Learning from the experts is a surefire way that you can truly dive into a new world—or one that you haven’t yet found success in, with confidence.

At Alley, we know that not only small businesses—but all businesses might be struggling to survive during this pandemic time.  

So, we want to help you be the best business you can be through experienced business owners like Eric Guthoff.

With our virtual fireside chat, “Unfiltered with Eric Guthoff”, we offer a first hand account and insight into the world of a four-time business owner.

Being hungry to create a business is just half the battle. Although most entrepreneurs learn through experience, it’s important to, as Guthoff says,“stoke the entrepreneurial fire”, to keep the passion alive.

The Right Recipe For The Right Acquisition

As Guthoff's company turned five the question was not "how to be acquired" it was "how do we continue to bring value to our clients" and the only way to do that was to scale.

They asked the hard questions: 

  • Do we take investment money?
  • Do we merge with another company?
  • Do we join a collective of companies?
  • Do we want to be acquired?

After deciding acquisition was the right path for the growth of the business they did their research. As Guthoff mentions, "You wouldn't marry someone without getting to know someone".

They set their criteria, made their lists, and got to know leadership.

"In addition to the importance of the people relationship building side, I would say find out how they plan to grow you like, or how can they help you grow? And what is the plan for this acquisition from their side. And I think if you can marry someone's plan on how you want to grow with your own plan of how you're going to grow, that's going to create, you know, a like minded approach to grow in a business. So if you have that, plus like minded people that know each other, get along, that's the right recipe. Don't ever just present your business vision without hearing their business vision."

Getting and Giving Back

Additionally for Guthoff, it’s always been important to truly give back. Besides multitasking—juggling a ton of different roles at any moment—having the flexibility to do anything, being humbly enough to be like a sponge to soak up growth, and have an influence of reaching out for the right people, you truly have the opportunity to develop something successful.

And once you’ve found that success, Guthoff reiterates that it’s extremely important to be a business that gives back.

Even though the world around us is changing, if we’re put in a position where we can give back to the community and people around us, we can see our business grow in new ways.

Now, more than ever, your business and the businesses around you need your attention, care, and generosity.

At Alley, our team is focusing on supporting our community digitally by sharing resources and hosting video events. We hope this event and our entire event series can help keep your business stay connected to the community, move forward in development, and grow with intentionality.

Mentioned Resources:

  • Tech For Good Accelerator - The accelerator is a three-month virtual program with access to mentorship, enrichment programming, networking, and the support of our community resources for innovators looking to create positive change in the tech industry.
  • #CloudInnovateHER Pitch Challenge - Digital -  This pitch challenge aims to bridge that gap while bringing in a competitive edge to the summit with an opportunity to present technologies to create a sustainable impact in today’s world. Apply today to win $5000 in cash & cloud credits.
OUR PANELISTS:
Noelle Tassey
Alley
Eric Guthoff
Human Advantage

TRANSCRIPT:

Noelle  0:00  
A quick introduction, and then we'll take it away.

Eric Guthoff  0:02  
Yeah, thanks, Noelle. I'm really privileged and honored to be the first fireside chat and I'm excited. I am, you know, depending on what kind of businesses, I'm a four-time founder of businesses. I'm on my fourth and I— I love giving back. And this is a great opportunity if I can to just share my learnings and experiences with others. You know, kind of throughout my journey, which started from a young age so we can dive into however you want to start, but— but my current business is Human Advantage. We started that last year and I'm excited to talk to you in the community.

Noelle  0:49  
Awesome. Yeah, we're really excited as well. So Eric's a true serial entrepreneur. It's a word that gets thrown around a lot but for businesses that definitely, definitely meets the qualification criteria for that. So today we're going to be talking about the journey of, you know, building so many different businesses and access. So we're going to be talking a lot about acquisitions and what that's like, especially as a founder CEO, But first, Eric, I know you got your start as an entrepreneur at an early age. So do you want to share a little bit about that with us?

Eric Guthoff  1:25  
I did. It was— you know, I'm a big sports fan. I played some sports. But I was one of the kids that loved collecting memorabilia and sports cards. So my— my start as an entrepreneur, was, I think around when I was in eighth grade, and I started a business called Sports Cards For You. And it was just a way to maybe make some money on the side. But through, I guess, all of middle school and high school I started really traveling around the country and you know, was able to buy a car and, you know, save up some money for college all through this business. But— but what it taught me, you know, in addition just loving, you know, following sports was I just— I like to travel and I love to meet people. And this business as a young person gave me the opportunity to make money for myself but also to interact with thousands and thousands of people around the country who shared the same passion as I did around sports and memorabilia and such. So it was exciting. I don't do it anymore. I gave it up. I wasn't acquired.

Noelle  2:40  
You haven't picked it up on the side at all?

Eric Guthoff  2:43  
No, unfortunately. I am now going to sporting events with my two kids. I have a three and a six-year-old boy, two boys but they— they are not young enough— or old enough to collect although the six-year-old, would like a pack of cards every once in a while. So maybe someday through them, I'll pick it back up.

Noelle  3:02  
Yeah, I'm— I'm sensing the next generation of entrepreneurs waiting in the wings there. So after that, what was— was the next business that you started?

Eric Guthoff 3:14  
So the next— I mean, it was— it wasn't— So I was a pre-med major. And I studied at Miami of Ohio to go to med school and I got into Ohio State. And I had an idea to help raise awareness about smokeless tobacco, using the sport of baseball, which back in '98 was very prevalent, the baseball players using it. A guy named Joe Garagiola was very famous for kind of speaking up and leading some momentum around it. So I pitched the American Cancer Society to fund me and two of my friends from college who graduated with me to travel around the country and raise money and awareness about smokeless tobacco. And it was— we literally planned it as we were doing it. We threw out the first pitch in every park we raised $35,000, we were on David Letterman and Rosie O'Donnell and SportsCenter. And, you know, it was— it was— it was an amazing experience. It really kind of stoked my entrepreneurial fire again. And it actually led me to then do a year of med school and decide I wanted to get into that as a— as a career, you know? That kind of a, you know— The Great American Ballpark Tour was— was what we called it. So it wasn't it— wasn't a formal, formal business, but it was an entrepreneurial idea that really I credit and credit to like, the last 20 plus years in the sports and entertainment industry was through that experience. I was a zoology major in college, which certainly isn't really helping right now, what I'm doing.

Noelle  4:59  
How did you make the decision, you know, to— after going back to med school for a year to drop out and— and take a more entrepreneurial path? Which I think led to the founding of GlideSlope.

Eric Guthoff 5:11  
Yeah, down the road. You know, I started before GlideSlope for a few years to work for some big agencies. But it was really— it was really around passion. Like I got around people that really enjoyed what we were learning. And I didn't really enjoy it as much and that was hard. So someone, like one of my— one of the hardest things I've ever done is say, okay, I've been studying and training and getting good grades and I'm at a great med school and you know, leaving was— was a really kind of anxiety-provoking, mentally challenging decision. But once I made it, I never looked back and it was really built around this idea that you know, I want to do something that I love. And I loved the Great American Ballpark Tour Experience. I love sports. I want to be an entrepreneur, you know? And that led to it. And, you know, I'm still really good friends with my three roommates from that first year of med school, one of them actually lives 10 minutes away from me. He's a neurosurgeon. And we talk all the time about how our paths went different ways. And now we're kind of back together and it just— it was meant to be never looked back.

Noelle  6:21  
That's so cool. Um, yeah, I think we hear that a lot from— from successful founders who dropped out of school and I think you're the first person I've talked to you dropped out of med school to pursue an entrepreneurial passion, which I'm sure your parents loved.

Eric Guthoff  6:36  
They were not too happy about that. Now they're like, you know— now they're like, we were supporting you all the time, great decision. But that was certainly not what they were saying back in 1999.

Noelle 6:48  
Yeah, my parents have similarly changed their tune. I started my career in banking, they're like, this is great, you should do this. And then they were like, what, what is— what are startups? Why is this happening? And now my mom's like: "I raised you from birth to run a company."

Eric Guthoff  7:04  
Yes.

Noelle  7:04  
Yep.

Eric Guthoff  7:05  
Yes, our parents would get along.

Noelle  7:07  
I love it. Hopefully, she's on here. So— so she can hear that one. So that's great. That takes us right up to GlideSlope. Which, you know, I think, is really like in terms of an acquisition story, super, super interesting. And how you grew the business as well. So do you want to start by just sharing a little bit of what the market need was that you identified when founding your company and just sort of the story of how you scaled that and grew it?

Eric Guthoff  7:36  
So what led to Glide— so my— I kind of— my first 10 years in the industry, I worked for two really big sports entertainment agencies called Octagon and IMG, which is now Endeavor. And then in between, I worked for the League of Horse Racing, which runs the Breeders Cup. So all those kind of gave me the foundation I think I needed to go out on my own. But the real experience that drove GlideSlope being started was the last two years at IMG. I guess this was 2007/2008. I was seconded by Johnson and Johnson, who was our client at IMG. But they borrowed me for two years, moved me from New York to Beijing, which I had never been to Beijing before. So I always get credit for moving without having ever been to this— to the city that I moved to. But I packed up my stuff, and we spent it— I spent the next two years building this team of 1000+ people that really delivered everything that this global healthcare company, Johnson and Johnson did around the Olympic Games in China, they were the global healthcare partner. And it was— it was a massive effort, massive undertaking, not only Johnson and Johnson but all of these brands that existed under the bigger J&J umbrella. And so it's kind of like working with 100 different companies at the same time. And we, you know, my— my client at Johnson and Johnson who had the idea to second me, his name is Dave Minji, he and I just kept talking about how there's— there's all these Johnson and Johnson's out there, these non-endemic companies to sport who, who may like it, but don't necessarily understand how to navigate the business world of sport. And we saw that through Johnson and Johnson with— with all these agencies that are doing great stuff but, but we felt like J&J and other companies like J&J couldn't value benefit from like a guide, a navigator, a Sherpa, kind of someone that would almost be on their side of the table. And so— and they're really in sports at the time wasn't— let's call it a management consulting-esque approach to leveraging sport to drive your business. And so we started GlideSlope. This is, my client and I came together to start GlideSlope in 2010 as a boutique advisory firm in global sport, trying to solve the gap of I'll call it "insights-driven strategy" around how to use global sport to build a business. But the question we always answered is: "should you even be in sport?" And that was really important because I'd never been around any company that would start with that question and we actually, a couple times recommended not to move forward because it didn't resonate with their stakeholders and so it was— we had it for seven years 2010 to 2017. And I can go in deeper on things like the people culture side which was really important for us and really made the difference I would say our success as a— as a— as a startup, and it was self-funded. So that's another I guess, point I can make never, never took any money, started it on our own. But our success was driven around I think us as people, and in who we knew, and the trust we built over our careers, to help people. And then the people we brought in, you know? And the kinds of people that we hired to work at GlideSlope defined by far our success.

Noelle  11:20  
Yeah, that would be a wonderful thing, I think, for all of us to hear more about in terms of hiring, how you selected your employees, especially in the early stages, and then refining that process and building that culture.

Eric Guthoff  11:35  
It was really around the idea of a collective. And really looking at— we didn't use the word diversity, or we didn't use the word building an inclusive workplace. Like, I think maybe that— that was back in 2010/2011. And— but we were doing it like without using the words and saying what we were trying to do is go out and find a really— mix of people with different experiences and backgrounds that kind of shared the interpersonal skills that would be successful in an entrepreneurial environment. And so we looked for people that had the intangibles to succeed, you know? Collaborative, you know, a sponge for learning was one that we always use. We'd love to ask the question like: "how do you learn?" That was one of our interview questions and we would just listen to how they got their info and learned and, and— and what they read. And so it was, it was really about getting to know them as people and making sure they could be a good cultural fit. And once we did that, and brought them on, it was like, every time we added a person, our culture grew exponentially. Like it wasn't just— wasn't just grown by one person. It just kept feeding a bit of a snowball rolling down a hill. And it's— it's the thing I'm most proud about in my, in my time at GlideSlope was the group of people that we were able to assemble and how close they became and how committed they were to the business. And we gave back to them a lot. We did a lot of things that— that even at big companies that I'd worked for were never done like building career path plans for them so they knew where they could go. And you know, we always celebrated things like the day that we got started and you know, we would give spot bonuses for just people doing a good job and we had a lot of ways of fostering kind of people wanting to get off the elevator and come to work, which I think is that's like the most important thing if you can do that and it won't happen every day. Like there's no way anyone wants to go to work every single day. But if— if you can do seven out of 10 that's the number. If you can get people excited to come to work seven out of 10 days and you can help them plow through those other three then you're in good shape I think.

Noelle  13:55  
I love that seven out of 10 number I've— a lot of people have kind of— I've heard like, you know just as long as it's good more days than it's bad. But you know, I think seven out of 10 much— it's a much stronger statement and a higher standard to hold yourself to as a leader. So— which, which I love. So in terms of, you know, your journey, so you identified this need in the market, you left, you know, a very established, successful corporate career to go start this company. You built it, it was your baby, you hired amazing people. Sounds like you had a great work culture. How did you arrive at this decision as a founder and CEO to then pursue an acquisition, right, you know? What was an inflection point for you? When did that happen? And what was the process around getting to the decision?

Eric Guthoff  14:46  
So when we turned five, so this was 2015. We took the company— and we're about 20-25 people at the time. We took everyone to Charleston, South Carolina for a retreat. Wild Dunes Resort. Highly recommend, when we can all go back to going out to resorts. Wild Dunes, we all went to Wild Dunes—

Noelle  15:03  
I've actually been there!

Eric Guthoff  15:05  
Really?

Noelle  15:05  
Yeah, that's so funny.

Eric Guthoff 15:06  
Great, great time. And it was just— it was— it was four days of like, enjoying, you know, a cookout on the beach and the city and, you know, going out for dinner and just fun, playing tennis. But we had one meeting where we talked a bit more about the future because you know when you turn five, the natural question is like, well, what's the next five years gonna look like? And that's really when we started to realize that in order to really bring the value to our clients that many of which were global companies, we needed to scale the business. And we formed a committee of people, including some people that worked with GlideSlope, and we brought in some advisors from outside of GlideSlope, and that committee was in charge of answering the question, "how can we scale?" And that was really the question. It wasn't, let's get acquired by any means. It was "how do we scale the business?" And we, of course, thought about taking some investment money. We thought about a merger with another company. We thought about— we thought about joining a collective of companies where we'd be a part of a bigger, you know, puzzle. And we thought— we thought about acquisition, you know, we looked at different options. And what I think we did really— we were really smart about it is we proactively before this was out that we were looking, we made a list of the companies that met some criteria that we established that— that moun— many of which we researched and found that could be potential homes or fits for us. And that's really, I would— I would, I would recommend starting there because, you know, you can kind of chart your pathway by doing it that way. I'll then kind of tell you what happened is that we didn't have time to— we were so busy running the company, which I'm sure, you know, a lot of people on this call can— can— it resonates with a lot of people on the call. We're so busy. I mean, I remember in 2016, we were working on the Rio Olympics, and we had many clients that we were working on big programs around the Rio Olympics in Brazil, and— and we just didn't have the time to go talk to these companies. And so what happened is that we started getting interest of others saying: "hey, we heard you're on your on the market, or you're looking to scale." And what turned into kind of a— what turn— what started as a strategic process to identify the right kinds of homes for GlideSlope, you know, kind of turned into who's interested in us, which turned into mostly companies looking at acquiring us and they're great companies, you know, great companies looking at us. It just reverse engineered it from how we started.

Noelle 17:54  
What was the moment when you were kind of exploring all of those options that it just became abundantly clear acquisition was the path you were gonna pursue? Was there like ever a second thought on that? Or was it just like, this is just overwhelmingly the choice. And what was that decision making framework?

Eric Guthoff 18:11  
I mean, it's— it's— it's a— it was a two-year process, 2015 to 2017. We were acquired in April of 2017. So two years, little less than two years. And you know, there's fatigue, for sure, in a process like that. But when someone wants you, it becomes much more like a snowball rolling down a hill, then if you want someone who doesn't know of you. And so if you think about just the way it works, I'm not sure there was a moment other than just a lot— and we were fortunate, we had maybe 10 companies interested and then it went down to five, and maybe we had about two or three in the homestretch and— and so when you're in that position, you know, it's hard to kind of flip back and say: "well, what about that company that we thought of that doesn't even know we exist?" And then you think about how long it's going to take to go through that process. So we wound up going— I mean, it was really people that drove who we went with, we really knew and felt comfortable with. The people that led, were leaders at the company that acquired GlideSlope, but also were leaders at some of— the company that acquired us acquired other companies, and we knew leadership at those companies. And so it just gives you that comfort level that, you know, this can work if, you know the people part of it is there.

Noelle  19:38  
Yeah, for sure. And so I think a lot of founders when they look at the journey that they're on as an entrepreneur or a CEO, that the exit at some point is on that roadmap, you know, and some people really want to do it forever. But acquisition often sounds like an appealing prospect. So when they're going through that process, you know, what— I guess what was your number one learning in terms of how to select the company to go with? So you were just talking about people and culture? Like how did you evaluate that?

Eric Guthoff 20:12  
I think it's— it's, we were fortunate because we knew some of the leadership already. And so I think if you di— if you don't like that's the most important thing. Like they say that you know, this is like, you know, who you're going to marry, you know? And it is. And so, you know, you wouldn't— you wouldn't marry someone without really getting to know them as people beyond just kind of the work. And so I think that's really, really important. And then the second part to that is, you know, what I find interesting is when someone wants to acquire you, they ask you to present your business plan, vision for how you're going to grow the company with that acquisition. What I— what I would suggest also— and that's important, of course, but the— but the flip side is as important. And so in addition to the importance of the people relationship-building side, I would say find out how they plan to grow you like, or how can they help you grow? And what is the plan for this acquisition from their side? And I think if you can marry someone's plan on how you want to grow with your own plan of how you're going to grow, that's going to create, you know, a like-minded approach to grow in a business. So if you have that, plus like-minded people that know each other, get along, that's the right recipe. Don't ever just present your business vision without hearing their business vision.

Noelle 21:45  
Now, it sounds like you really had both parts of that recipe in terms of how this acquisition went. So I'm curious, yeah, the kind of inevitable follow-up— how to how to feel as a founder/CEO to then be absorbed into a larger business? And also, I know that you moved on relatively shortly thereafter, and what precipitated that? And how did that feel?

Eric Guthoff 22:12  
Well, we were— we were acquired by a global agency that was growing in the U.S. And we were a piece of a group of companies they were putting together in the U.S. to really grow. And for me more than anything, it was just, I had spent the first 10 years of my career at a big agency. And so I just wanted to do something different. It wasn't anything specific about who acquired us. It was more, you know, I don't— I didn't necessarily want— I didn't feel like I could bring as much value to a big agency as I can a smaller, you know, group. So— so that definitely influenced— and, you know, I think we— we had a very amicable discussion around, you know, here you have all these leaders from these different companies and, you know, everyone's got to have a place. So without having to account for me, that was one less person. So it wasn't a challenging conversation and it was really like: "hey, I'm not interested in going to work for any competitors. I just want to— I want to work in a— in a different kind of environment" which led me to the people side of the business. Because I really, you know, I don't know if founders on the call or people have hired executive coaches, but one of the things that I did when we were acquired is right away, I hired an executive coach, because I wanted to really understand how being an entrepreneur for seven years and then transitioning into a bigger company, where can I find my passion in that? What— what can I do, where can I bring value? And through that kind of process and working with this coach, it really led me to understand what I am passionate about and what I do want to do. And that's kind of what sprung me into the next phase. But— but I'm a big believer in the value that the right executive coach can bring to a founder at any stage of their journey. In this case, for me, it was really helpful in the transition stage.

Noelle  24:21  
And in that transition stage, you know, I think— so you've talked a lot about finding your passion, which is really important. But then also, how did it feel to let go of a company that you'd grown for at that point, you've been with the company for eight years, including the time in post-acquisition? And, you know, that's— that's a real moment of: "Oh my god, you know, I've— I've been doing this one thing, and I've been steering the ship and now what next?" And how did— how did that feel and what— what advice would you give to other founders post-acquisition who might be looking at leaving their company?

Eric Guthoff  24:59  
Well, I mean, it was tough. I would say that I've always been pretty close to the people that I work with, but never as close to the GlideSlope group. It was— and everyone says that to each other like we're all pretty much still in touch. The 10-year anniversary of starting GlideSlope is this summer, 2020. We were planning to do a party around the Tokyo Olympics, which is a really— that now is not going to happen for many reasons. But point being how close the group of people are. Even though we're spread out at different companies and around the country and around the world. A couple people are in Switzerland and— and London. We remain close. But that was probably the hardest part because I didn't know if I was going to be able to find that camaraderie with any other group of people. That was the scariest part I wasn't— I wasn't nervous about finding a job I like, a company I liked. It was more like, will I ever be able to find a group of people that I like to work with as much as I loved that team?

Noelle  26:16  
I love that. I think so, so many people can relate to that if they're on— if they're on a team or they built a team that really does feel like that second family. And I imagine that that's a lot to give up. We have a lot of audience questions actually about hiring and— and about sort of personnel, which I know is sort of the passion side of this for you. So Lisa asked, on the topic of the seven out of 10 days, which I think you meant sort of in a more general sense and not literal, but "how do you feel about creating work cultures where people work four days a week instead of five?"

Eric Guthoff  27:02  
You know, so I did mean it more general. But I think that part of what made our culture great and our people so engaged is that we didn't put parameters around how long you had to be in the office when you came in. I think that my general opinion on that question is that I think that there could be benefit to maybe having that four out of, you know, seven days a week. But— but— but what I would say is, that might not work for everyone. So maybe better than saying, we're going to work just four days a week if you can create the right culture and kind of respect and mutual respect for the work product and what needs to get done, I'm not sure you need any parameters around it. It's kind of like, you know, you find the time you know we have deadlines, we have to make— meet. And, you know, the one person who wants to work, you know, five days a week and on a Saturday I'd rather not tell them not to, but the person that wants to work four days a week. So easier said than done, I'm not saying this is easy to do. But I would say, you know, okay to try the four days a week, but give a nod to maybe that might not work for everybody.

Noelle  28:17  
Definitely. I mean, we're all getting a lot more flexible now. So that's for sure.

Eric Guthoff  28:21  
Yes.  

Noelle  28:24  
so hopefully trying new things comes at a lower price now. So we have another question from Virgil. Is there a certain type of person who tends to be more successful contributing at/working in a startup? Which, I'm so excited to hear your answer on: this was something I thought about a lot.

Eric Guthoff  28:44  
Yeah, I think there's there certainly is. And it's not like just one type of person. I think that in any startup environment, you have to juggle a lot of things, more than anything else. You have to be willing to do anything. There isn't really, you know, hey, I'm— so I think if you can— if you can identify people that through their experiences in life, have had to juggle a lot, and really have exhibited a willingness to do whatever it takes. Those two qualities along with just the third, I would say, being just, you know, being able to get along with other people and respect other people's opinions in a small environment, a startup environment. You know, the worst thing that can happen is that every— one person is the only one with an opinion. And so if you can respect other people's opinions, if you can, juggle, you know, multitask and juggle, and if you're just willing to get stuff done, maybe the fourth is that learning one. Like, if you're not a sponge to want to grow and learn, you probably wouldn't survive in a startup mode. So maybe that's the fourth is being just a sponge for growth and that could be personally and professional growth doesn't have to be just job.

Noelle  30:09  
We ask a lot of founders questions about values and hiring profiles. And I think you're the first person on one of these panels to say like learning and growth. Which— which is interesting to me, because it's such a natural set, right? If you have that curiosity, you can fit into a lot of different places as the company scales and— and you know, if that's something you enjoy, then there is no better place than a start-up.

Eric Guthoff  30:32  
I mean, a question we always ask— because you can ask someone do you like to grow or learn and everyone's gonna say yes. But— but if you ask them, like, how do you— like where do you get your information? On TV, in the news, what books do you read? Like, what— what places have you visited? Like you can really get to understand how someone takes actions to try to grow as a person and as a professional. And those are the questions if they were on— on target, and people just— it didn't— there was no right or wrong answer in terms of where you got your— your info, or what places you've been to. But— but if you could answer those questions, then you probably were gonna fit in our environment and succeed.

Noelle  31:18  
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I'm actually really glad we brought the conversation to growth this morning, because we're gonna close on— on this topic. So two questions for you. One is if you were to ask yourself that question, where do you go to learn and— and how do you seek that out? And then what's the best piece of advice that you've encountered recently for— for entrepreneurs or startup founders?

Eric Guthoff  31:50  
Well, I think— I mean, part of why I started Human Advantage was I saw a gap in the marketplace but the other piece of it was the excitement of building a team again. So that's my superpower, I would say I really enjoy, whether it's eight people on a mobile marketing tour, 1000 people working on an Olympics, 40 people working for a company. Like I just like putting teams together. And that's what I was able to do now at Human Advantage is form, this really diverse, awesome, experienced group. That's where I learn. I learn from others and interacting with others. I, unfortunately, don't have as much time as I'd love to read books, because my kids, they keep me busy. I— I use TV more as something to distract me. So I certainly watch, you know, Ozark and Homeland and all the great shows. But I learned from other people. And I even would say— I would go as far as to say, I get my energy from other people and I try to give energy to those people. And that's where the learning happens. You know, I think both personally and professionally. I would also say I've traveled a lot, and so the other area of learning has come in being exposed. I lived in China for two years, I lived in Australia for a year, I lived in Italy for a few months, and I've traveled to London, all of that has also given me a really rich kind of growth learning opportunity.

Noelle  33:25  
I love that. And, you know, we just kind of had a ton of great audience questions. So if anyone who has the time to stick around, we're gonna do a round of Q&A after we conclude kind of the formal portion of this, so definitely hang out with us for a little bit longer. But then the— on the last note, just is there one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who's exploring acquisition as a founder?

Eric Guthoff  33:53  
I mean, I think the best advice was really like look at what's happening now to every— to the world. And it's crazy. It's gonna be different. But what I think, like, one of the— one of the qualities that I admire in people is resilience and perseverance. And I think that no time ever has a founder had to have that than this year and with what's going on in the world. And it's very easy to give up. It's very easy to say I can't do this anymore. You know, with Human Advantage, we were ready to have our first off-site— in-person off-site because our team is around the country. We were all going to come to New York on March 16. We had to cancel that. We didn't— we didn't have that March 16 meeting. But instead what we did is we had a virtual conversation around okay, how do we pivot? Right away. Like, and the pivot wasn't about us. The pivot was about how do we bring value? Like how can we bring value to others in this time, to then help us build the business longer-term? And that has led to a few months of a really great journey that we've been on as a company, as we've pivoted. Because we put the perspective not on, like, what is Human Advantage need to do to succeed, but what do our potential clients need from us in order to succeed? And how do we give that to them? And so, so that, I guess, approach has really shaped the advice I would give, which is, you know, don't let what's happening you know— don't let what's happening hurt your resilience and perseverance to a point where you give up. I think that what is more important is how are you going to evolve? Which— which is a very fair question, but, but don't give up. You know, so generally, I think evolution is necessary. But— but, you know, you can figure out a way how your business can be valuable in whatever world we're headed in— to. So...

Noelle  36:06  
I love that. Don't give up is a— yeah, it's incredible, incredible advice for these times really and something that we maybe don't think about as much as we should. And— and for those of you who have a few more minutes we're going to do our lightning fire Q&A for those of you who don't if you want to revisit this chat, it'll be available on our website and I think we're gonna cut it down and put it out as a podcast as well. And if you want more information about our upcoming events, I've got a plug Alley.com so definitely check it out. And definitely check out Human Advantage as well. Especially for those of you who have been writing in with some of these more HR and personnel-focused questions that we're about to hit in our— in our lightning round here.

Eric Guthoff  36:54  
So does lightning round mean my answers are timed? Give me— I love that.

Noelle  36:58  
Oh, it could! Yeah, you know, we haven't done it that way, and we have that fancy timer at the beginning. So maybe next time I'll bust it out. But no, we've got all the time in the world.

Eric Guthoff  37:09  
All right, I do too.

Noelle  37:10  
This is my favorite thing to do.

Eric Guthoff  37:12  
Cool. Let's do it.

Noelle  37:13  
Awesome. All right. So we're going to start— and just because this is such a great sort of segue off of don't give up. Somebody did write in, what happens if you start a business and it doesn't work out? The company doesn't get acquired and the business folds? How difficult is it to go back into the workplace seeking work as an employee with that narrative, of having started a business that you had shut down? And I also want to say if anyone listening has been through that you should feel incredibly proud of just having gone out and started something.

Eric Guthoff  37:44  
Absolutely, you know, of course, like really spending the time to think about what you learned, of course, is very important. Because I think what— what's helpful— what helped me going from— before starting Human Advantage, I joined a company called Grace Blue, which is a great, great search firm. Family-run, led by a brilliant guy named Jay Haines. And I was helping them expand into sports, and eSports and sports betting. But— but I did go into a company as a partner/employee, and not a founder. And— and I think what helped me was really thinking about what I learned from the entrepreneurial experience, the value I bring and then what I was passionate about. And then building that narrative, like I really think about— we all should have— everyone, every entrepreneur has a narrative, no matter what, because you have the guts to start a business. So you have a narrative and really think about what that narrative is, and then take that narrative into your new opportunities that you're exploring as an employee. It certainly can happen and there's a lot of entrepreneurs that are— are in environments where they're contributing immensely to a business that isn't their own. So it can certainly happen.

Noelle  39:10  
Definitely. Love that. And we also have a question, so here from Stephanie: "what resources or guides do you recommend for getting a better understanding of an acquisition checklist?" Which, yeah, I mean, I love this question because I feel like so many people who are trying to facilitate an acquisition, you know, maybe you've got a year of med school, but not an MBA. Maybe your board is not super involved or you don't have that really robust network. What are those resources? And also, you know, not to like, plug our own— our own programs, but if it's something you're thinking about, definitely sign up for one of our mentor sessions at Alley. Because we have lots of awesome people who can help with this. But Eric...

Eric Guthoff  39:55  
I mean, I always get overwhelmed with how much— this is just personal preference— is on the internet. I mean, you could you can Google "acquisition checklist" and there's like 100 documents. What my preference is— what I would do if I was thinking about it is I would look for people that have helped lead acquisitions. And not just bankers or lawyers. But you know, business people— like there's all different types of people that help the acquisition process. I even know someone that focuses just on the people side of acquisitions, which is— and go talk to those people, especially those that are in your sector. And maybe they could be helpful to you formally, but informally, in that conversation, you're gonna learn about things that you'll never see in a checklist or that will just reinforce the checklist. So my advice is to really find the five or six people that maybe could be formal supporters of what you're doing like we form that committee but in general— can just shape the— the direction you go on and give you advice having gone through helping others. So it's that— the dialogue that I found to be the most helpful.

Noelle  41:10  
Yeah, I think that— that's terrific. I almost wish we called today's panel "the power of people" because it truly is like such a transcendent theme here in terms of every decision that you're making.

Eric Guthoff  41:22  
Hence the new company Human Advantage, right?

Noelle  41:25  
Exactly!

Eric Guthoff  41:26  
If you don't have good people, you're not going to succeed in business. That's— that's— that's the theory.

Noelle  41:31  
Yeah, for sure. And we had somebody— and we had somebody write in actually and I don't know where this question went, asking you know how— how to go about hiring an executive coach since that's something you talked about. And I think you know, the power of the people that you're surrounding yourself with and that you're choosing to hire, but then also, you know, your journey as a person, right? So...

Eric Guthoff  41:49  
Yeah, so we certainly— Human Advantage, does offer coaching. We have both female and male coaches that have worked with many, many individuals. Not just on the— not just on kind of the business side, but even kind of on that well-being side, which is really important. So just, you know, we're out there, but— but my advice would be more talk to many, you know— a handful of different coaches. Figure out if there's a certain style that works for you. Chemistry, like, that is so important. More important than anything is the chemistry that would exist. And so the only way you can find that chemistry is to talk to a couple people. And so you might, you know, you might relate to some of the words that are on their web page that might resonate with you that might be a place to start is to kind of look at some of the coaches that are, you know, you relate to what they're saying and how they're pitching themselves. But that can't replace the dialogue of that phone call or you know conversation. And you've got to feel really comfortable and they have to feel really comfortable after that conversation and then it can be a successful relationship. But you know, I think that you can start by finding coaches' websites that just resonate with you and you— you feel good about.

Noelle  43:26  
And is that— you know, do you recommend sort of going for the more— the one-off coach who maybe is like running around practice versus like a larger firm like a— like a Korn Ferry or something with a, you know, really robust practice? I mean, obviously, price tag...

Eric Guthoff  43:41  
Yeah, I would say that the independents are more affordable. You know, the smaller boutique firms are more affordable, nothing against Korn Ferry and others that have coaching practices. I think they have really great people, and even companies that just specialize in coaching and have 50 coaches, you know? Maybe what I would do is try one of those or two of those and then a couple, one-person shops or five— so I think get— get a mix and see what works for you best. I wound up going with an independent person, you know, because it was good chemistry, referred to me. That's another thing referrals— I should have said this at the beginning is, you know, many people now— nowadays talk about getting coaches, more so than maybe they used to, it's certainly not a sign— it's a sign of strength to me. And so don't be afraid to ask around and say who's hired, of your people, you know, who's worked with a good, great executive coach? And then you know, you can— that's actually probably even the best place to start.

Noelle  44:49  
And I can totally attest to this as a strategy. If somebody's worked with an executive coach, they like they won't be able to shut up about it, which is awesome. Especially as you're kind of entering into that decision-making process. Alright, so we're gonna have one last question from Kyle and then— and then we're gonna let everyone get on with their— their work-from-home afternoons. And hopefully, all of you have better weather than— than Eric and I are experiencing right now. There was really loud thunder outside my window. I don't know if it can be heard on Zoom. But alright, so Kyle asked us: "when is the time to fold? Much is said about keeping on, but when is it time to retreat and start differently?" And I love this because, you know, there's a multitude of ways to take that there's the folding the business versus doing a pivot and at Alley, we pivoted about a year and a half ago. And frankly, because we were at an inflection point where the previous business model was— was unsustainable, and it felt too much like pushing a boulder up a hill. And there was a painful process and we were able to land on something that felt good and bring in really great people around that idea. But I'm curious Eric as a serial entrepreneur, what would you say?

Eric Guthoff  46:04  
I mean, I would say, think about ways you can pivot first before you fold. I would fold if the customers weren't there. And that's— that's really important. You know, you think about, you know, Human Advantage and— and what we offer and people spending money to evolve or grow the people side of their business, you know? Maybe that money doesn't exist, to the extent that you would want it to. We think it does, and we're pretty confident. But I think if you are out in market, and there's— there's— the customers aren't there, even if you're so passionate about what you're offering, maybe the timing's not right. So I think like the time to fold is if the business isn't there and you can't pivot, but I would really dissect why the business isn't working. Because— because maybe the marketing isn't there, maybe, you know, the— you need to rethink— a reorg, you know, think about a reorg or bringing in a different kind of person to support or, you know? One of the things that made GlideSlope succeed is we had three founders that were very different and complimented each other. And that was hard in a lot of times, but it was beneficial. So maybe, you know, finding another founder to join you who can compliment like, that could be something you look at before you fold. But if you explore all this stuff, and you're just not finding the answer, then I think that's the right time. I would say that pushing a rock up— feeling like you're pushing a rock up a hill isn't a time to fold. Because you cannot start a business without feeling like you're pushing a rock up a hill, ever.

Noelle  47:46  
That's the truth. Those— That's when you know, you're actually— you're growing.

Eric Guthoff  47:54  
Yeah, I mean, if it wasn't like that everyone would start a business and you're just pushing a rock down a hill. So but— but— but it's not— don't be— again, don't be ashamed or afraid or embarrassed about folding. You're one of the very few people in— that have started a company. Had the guts, instinct, intuition, foresight, whatever to do that. And you can again, package that in a way that influences whatever you're going to do next, no matter what.

Noelle  48:25  
I've never met somebody who started a company— actually, this is especially true with people who started companies that— that have eventually folded who didn't learn so much more from that than— than anyone else you could possibly hire. So that is definitely— Well, thank you all so much for joining us. And Eric, thank you for sharing your time, your insights, stories. It's been such a pleasure.

Eric Guthoff  48:52  
It was great.

Noelle  48:53  
Hopefully, this brought some— some sunshine to everyone's rainy days and take care. We'll see you all soon. Thanks so much,

Eric Guthoff  49:02  
Bye, everybody.

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