RZ VP versus MBA

When I interviewed with Razorhorse in 2019, the CEO, Austin Scee, told me that working there would be “comparable to getting an MBA.” I was skeptical, but he went to Harvard Business School, so he has some perspective on the value of a business school education.

I, on the other hand, had never been to business school, and I had no intention of going. I was mostly trying not to sweat too much in my late summer, window-AC-only New Orleans apartment.

Three years later, I left my role as Vice President to pursue a career in climate/sustainability, which I consider to be the great challenge of my generation. I left Razorhorse with a unique combination of world-class corporate strategy, M&A, enterprise sales experience, an expansive professional network, and a level of financial stability that truly changed my life.

As I reflect on my time at Razorhorse, I don’t feel qualified to say for sure whether it’s comparable to an MBA, but I can share some perspective from my recent job search. During that process, I was interviewing for a corporate development position when the hiring manager asked, “So, what exactly did you do at Razorhorse?”

Client Development + Account Startup

I started by explaining the Razorhorse account establishment and deal execution process from start to finish. I described how we pitched potential clients on outsourcing deal origination, development, and execution. I explained the benefit of a proactive approach over a passive one to CEOs and PE investors, emphasizing Razorhorse’s process orientation, proprietary deal flow, and repeatable, metric-driven decision-making.

I talked about the value of identifying the total addressable market (TAM) and the serviceable addressable market (SAM) of potential acquisition targets as part of a larger-scale acquisition strategy. Understanding what potential targets to approach leads to interesting discussions about filling gaps in a client’s product offering and how being aware of larger competitors/potential acquirers can help you build out your product in a way that’s most appealing to those parties.

Pitching While Gathering Information

I spent a good amount of time on the most mission-critical part of the RZ process: getting on a 30-minute Zoom with the CEO of a scaled SaaS business. In that brief meeting, it was my job to quickly pitch Razorhorse, my client, and myself in order to gain the trust needed for them to share the most intimate details of their business — how big, how fast, how sticky, how profitable, how do you get paid, who are your customers, and how much would it cost to buy the business. 

It’s a tall order, but with repetition and constant focus on improving my game, I got to be pretty good at it. It helps knowing that the CEOs and owners that talk to Razorhorse are generally open to exiting their business at some point, so it makes sense for them to share enough details to start conversations. They just need to know their information will be treated discreetly, and just as importantly, they need to trust that any information they share will be delivered accurately to potential investors or acquirers.

When I was new on the job, an experienced CEO could tell I didn’t understand half the things we discussed. Within six months, I at least knew what I didn’t know, and after a year, I knew enough to be a credible liaison between buyers and sellers.

Managing an Extended Enterprise Sales Cycle

The long sales cycle of M&A transactions begins with parsing through tens of thousands of software companies to identify worthwhile targets, converting that bucket to hundreds of CEO calls, and developing the best of those into dozens of quality opportunities. The M&A process with any given target can take up to three years from first engagement to LOI, so it is essential to be patient and persistent.

I laid out how I learned to nurture relationships by staying in touch with potential target companies on a regular basis and providing them with valuable information. This helped to keep Razorhorse top of mind when the seller was ready to engage in an M&A process.

I talked about the importance of developing an enterprise sales psyche. How I went about developing leads, qualifying leads, and being “good in the room” with sellers and clients. I explained how I was required to understand the various roles in an enterprise decision-making process and the varying value propositions, agendas, and blindspots of different people in the mix.

Unlike enterprise sales, the deal origination role also required investment analysis and internal persuasion. I learned to analyze deals the way my clients did, think on their timelines, anticipate their objections, and speak in their language.

Advising Clients + Ego Resilience

One of the most important lessons I learned at Razorhorse is the value of advising clients against doing certain deals, even when it was against my own financial incentives. This may seem counterintuitive, but when you tell a client that a deal is not a good fit for them, you are demonstrating that you are putting their best interests ahead of your own. This earns their trust and respect, and it makes them more likely to work with you in the future.

One of the most important traits I built at Razorhorse was ego resilience (see the article Austin wrote on this topic). This means being able to cope with being ignored, rejected, and treated poorly by CEOs and bankers. It also means being able to deal with the disappointment of working hard on a deal for three years, only for it to fall apart at the last minute. 

I talked about the importance of getting back on the horse every day, even when things are tough. I described losing a big deal in the morning then getting back to running pipeline calls, iterating on the initial market map, keeping deals alive through lulls, and closing deals for companies while they were in between CEOs. The only way to succeed in M&A is to keep trying and learning from your mistakes.

Deal Certainty through Investment Analysis

I led them through the steps of financial pre-diligence that lead to a 90% post-LOI close rate: revenue quality assessments, retention analysis, customer journey deep dives, diligence calls, and data requests. I described owning the internal and external touch points throughout the process, leveraging high-value resources at high-value moments, conducting price discovery and bid negotiation, performing competitor research, and delivering LOIs, value creation trackers, and board-ready approval decks.

I told them about building accretion models, revenue bridges, and pro-forma EBITDA projections. I also discussed aligning multi-year M&A strategies with exit profiles and leading their execution. I explained the importance of understanding hold periods, deal structures, and debt facilities, all with the aim of establishing certainty early in the process.

The Many Hats of an M&A Professional

I walked them through the various hats I wore on a daily basis as an M&A professional. I had to think like:

  • an investigative journalist
  • a financial analyst
  • a PE investor
  • a software operator
  • a psychologist 
  • an investment banker 
  • and a “grind mindset” volume-based workhorse.

One day, I might run a tech demo and a CFO call for two different targets back-to-back, then jump on with a banker about a deal I had been chasing before running the weekly client call. Then I would take a bio break so I could do it all again in the afternoon.

Extreme Ownership + Internal Operations

I talked about the importance of extreme ownership in M&A. This means taking responsibility for everything that happens, even the things that are outside of your control. It also means being proactive and taking initiative, even when no one else is. When you take that approach, there’s a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when you look at a press release announcing a successful transaction and know that you played a key role in making it happen. Maybe it was something small, like sending a timely email or making a critical phone call, but you know that without your contribution the deal could have fallen through.

In addition to my client-facing role, I also had a number of internal responsibilities. I talked through my experience managing teams, developing training materials, driving firm policy, and working with Operations and Research to maximize bandwidth. I explained how we approached hiring and firing recommendations and developed our measurements of client success, quality, and profitability.

What Did You Really Do?

After I finished explaining my role at Razorhorse, one of the interviewers asked, “So, what of all that did you do, exactly?” When I replied, “All of it,” I think they may not have believed me. And that’s understandable because it is a lot, but at Razorhorse, we really did do all of that — and more.

Better than an MBA?

While I can’t say for sure whether working at Razorhorse is comparable to getting an MBA, I can say that it taught me more about how to practically execute in the arenas of M&A, corporate strategy, and enterprise sales than I ever could have learned in a classroom.

At Razorhorse, I learned how to actually do deals, operate in the high-stakes world of software M&A, and speak to CEOs on a regular basis. I also earned a significant amount of money, which is now enabling me to pursue my passion in the field of sustainability.

In short, Razorhorse gave me the skills, experience, and financial resources I need to make a real difference in the world.

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