When I left The Penny Hoarder in mid-2019, I wasn’t sure what I would build next.
I knew I wanted to create a new company, one that would give me the flexibility to work from home on my own schedule.
I certainly didn’t think it would take me two-and-a-half years to launch that new project. But we had a cross-country move on our plate, then a pandemic, with two kids under four to care for.
It felt torturous to move so slowly toward my next big project. But looking back, I can see that forced slowness did me some good: it helped me choose the right next project.
In this post, I’ll share:
I’ve also documented the build of this company on Indie Hackers; if you want to see our milestones in more detail, check out this timeline.
Know what the hardest part of this whole process was?
Not getting the idea off the ground. Not finding writers. Not even growing our audience.
The hardest part was choosing a new company to work on.
Once I closed out my work with The Penny Hoarder and sold The Write Life, I had complete freedom to choose a new path. I found that exhilarating, but also daunting.
Two things helped me get through it:
There’s so much pressure when you start something new; it’s gotta be the perfect idea, one that truly feels like your life’s work!
But that’s a bunch of baloney. Once I let go of that high bar, it was so much easier to choose They Got Acquired. I’m happy working on this right now, and that’s what matters.
They Got Acquired is a media company that shares stories of companies that sell for 6, 7 or low-8 figures.
We help entrepreneurs sell their businesses by offering resources, guidance, and connections to trusted M&A professionals.
We’re also building a database that tracks these acquisitions, and will eventually make this data accessible to entrepreneurs who want to sell, so they can see how their company stacks up to similar companies that have sold.
If you’re selling your house, you’d look at other houses in the neighborhood to see what they sold for, right? We want you to be able to access comps when you sell your company, too.
This is a pain point I experienced myself when…
While I’m the target audience for They Got Acquired, I’m not an expert in M&A (mergers & acquisitions). That’s where the fun comes in. I get to learn about this niche by leaning on experts in this space as we build the brand.
I first shared the idea for They Got Acquired on Kern.al, a platform for getting feedback on startup ideas, in February, 2021. That was a full year before I actually launched the brand.
On February 9, 2021, I ran a poll on Twitter asking for feedback on possible names.
Thinking about starting a media brand/website that covers 6-, 7- and 8-figure online acquisitions/deals. The ones we often don’t hear about because they’re too small for VCs to care and financial info isn’t officially disclosed.
Which name is best? Comments appreciated, too.
— Alexis Grant (@alexisgrant) February 9, 2021
I chose They Got Acquired because it was the most colloquial, and in my opinion, the easiest to remember. I also appreciated that it included “acquired” in the URL for SEO.
In those early months, I chipped away slowly at the idea, crafting a business plan and getting a logo created. I pushed a simple landing page live in mid-March. I built it with Carrd.co and ConvertKit, so I could collect email addresses ahead of launch.
Here’s what that first landing page looked like:
That summer of 2021, however, I only inched the idea forward. My husband and I decided to take some time off work to make memories with the kids, which was such a gift. At the same time, it felt uncomfortable to have this big idea, to feel confident it was my next project — and not work on it. By the time the kids went to school in September, I was raring to go.
I began putting real effort — between 25-30 hours/week — into building the company in September 2021.
I spent those first few months strategizing and beginning to execute on that plan. I organized our work into five buckets:
As I put these pieces in place ahead of launch, my biggest goal was hitting 1,000 email subscribers ahead of our launch. We got there through pure scrappiness; here are the tactics we used to grow the email list.
The biggest challenge during pre-launch was getting people to take us seriously without a full website to showcase our credibility.
Without a website, it was tricky to hire freelance reporters, and it was also tough to convince entrepreneurs who had sold their businesses to share the details with us.
In January, just a month before launch, we had our first team meeting:
Those months also saw lots of other micro-milestones, which I shared on Twitter one week before launch:
Timeline to @TheyGotAcquired launch:
✅ Nov. ’21: Finished web design, reported pieces coming in
✅ Dec. ’21: Recorded first podcast, 100s of deals in our database
✅ Jan. 22: First revenue (sponsors), first team meeting (10 of us!), hit 1,000 email subs
✅ Coming Feb. 7 = Launch 🚀https://t.co/wWArql8NlB
— Alexis Grant (@alexisgrant) January 31, 2022
Here’s a by-the-launch infographic I shared at that time:
And a graph that shows how much I spent to launch (I invested money from my previous sale into this business):
The best thing we did to set ourselves up for a smooth launch — other than collecting email subscribers ahead of time — was to push the website live a few days *before* the actual launch.
You can do this when you’re a tiny startup that no one’s watching.
We pushed the site live on a Thursday, but didn’t tell anyone about it until Monday. That buffer gave us time to make sure everything was working, so when we did send people to the site, they would have a good first experience. This made the launch feel easy and fun, rather than stressful.
I was really happy with how the design of the site turned out, including that we found a way to feature the newsletter signup prominently on the right side. Here’s a screenshot of the homepage:
On article pages, we added what we call a “deal box,” which showcases information about each deal at a glance.
This is the mobile version:
Other pieces that went well during and after launch:
- Our content was top-notch; some great success stories and advice posts
- We managed to bring on a team of rockstars to contribute reporting, research, writing, design, podcast production and generally turn the wheels of this media company
- We were featured in the New York Times technology section: A Spotlight on Tech’s Invisible Startups. This helped tremendously in gaining credibility and traction
- We got lots of messages from people who said our mission resonates, that they want to read stories about entrepreneurs who sell businesses like theirs
- Season 1 of our narrative podcast went smoothly and helped us build trust in the brand
- We sold lots of newsletter sponsorships without much effort at a price that made a meaningful dent in our expenses
- Our SEO work paid off early, with traffic from search growing steadily
Post launch, I felt even more confident that we’d be able to build a solid media business in this niche. And perhaps most important, I enjoyed the work! It was fun and satisfying to grow the brand.
What was hard during and after launch:
- I found it challenging to transition from running a large content team at The Penny Hoarder to growing a bootstrapped brand with a small team of freelancers. I kept expecting faster progress, when that wasn’t realistic. I wrote more about that here.
- Hiring great writers who understand business acquisitions took longer than I expected — even though I have a ton of experience hiring writers! It was also more expensive than I’d budgeted for. (Quality is important to me.)
- Investing my own money into a new brand is scary. I believe it’s one of the best ways to take a bet on myself, but it requires a lot of anxiety management over a long period of time, because we don’t expect to bring in enough revenue to cover expenses until the end of 2022.
- We steadily added subscribers to our email list, but the growth was slower than I’d like. We’re still experimenting with different ways to acquire new readers.
- It’s been tricky to balance family time and work time. I enjoy time with my kids and don’t want to work more than 25 or 30 hours a week, but there were many times this year when that didn’t feel like enough to get a new brand off the ground. I had to lean hard into prioritization to accomplish the most important things.
Here’s a timeline Ethan Brooks at Trends put together that shows the progression of the brand. (His full Trends piece is behind a paywall.)
Finally, two personal photos I want to remember.
One, me with my parents, who made this sign to celebrate our launch. They always support my crazy business ideas!
And here’s a photo of me with my kids, plus a loaf of bread with our They Got Acquired logo.
A neighbor who runs the bakery down the street from our house surprised me with this loaf!
Frequently Asked Questions
Questions people often ask that I haven’t yet answered in this post:
Q: Why don’t you raise money to grow the brand?
We’re bootstrapped. I’ve invested my own money from a previous business sale into this company, plus used our revenue to cover costs.
We could grow faster, of course, if I raised money from investors. But I’m not interested in that route right now.
I like the autonomy to make my own decisions, do things my way, and do things on my timeline, regardless of whether that’s faster or slower than others expect.
I’m not just building a company. I’m building a company that supports my lifestyle.
No, this doesn’t mean it’s a “lifestyle company.” I don’t want a 4-hour work-week. I enjoy working hard. I just want to build on my own terms and during the hours I choose.
I also don’t want to build a $100 million company with lots of employees. I want to build a $5M-$10M company with a small number of employees.
Even if I wanted investors, most wouldn’t want to invest in that kind of ambition. It’s not big enough to give them the kind of return they need to make investing worthwhile.
Q: How will They Got Acquired make money?
While we’re a media company on the front end, we’re a database company on the back end.
We’re building a database of online companies that have sold for $100K-$50M since 2017, which until now had not existed. We already have thousands of deals that meet our criteria.
Our aim is to turn that data into insights that are helpful for entrepreneurs and support professionals who help entrepreneurs sell businesses.
For example, say you’d like to sell your agency. Wouldn’t it be nice to have comps of 10 other agencies that have sold in the last two years that are a similar size to yours? Wouldn’t you like to know which M&A firm supported them on the sale? Which company purchased the business? How many customers or revenue they had at closing?
This is just one example of the kinds of insights we can pull from our database and share via our reports.
Alongside that monetization channel, we’re also selling sponsorships for our newsletter, podcast and reports. And we earn revenue by making right-fit referrals to our M&A advisor partners, too.
Q: What’s your vision for They Got Acquired in the long term?
I want us to be the go-to resource for entrepreneurs looking to sell a business, whether that’s in their immediate future or long-term ambition. I believe we already have a reputation in this space as a trusted, non-biased party that can help entrepreneurs identify the best way to sell their business and support them as they go through the process.
In doing so, I believe we can also become a valuable resource for support professionals in this ecosystem – M&A professionals, brokers, M&A lawyers, financial advisors, etc.
I want to help entrepreneurs build and sell companies that result in meaningful outcomes for those entrepreneurs, their teams and their families.
And I want to create a meaningful outcome for myself and my family. That doesn’t mean I’m building They Got Acquired to be acquired someday; that’s not on my road map at the moment. Instead, I want to build a profitable business that gives me the freedom to cultivate the lifestyle I choose — following the same ethos as many of the companies we feature.
What other questions do you have about launching a media brand?
I’m happy to answer them in the comments or on Twitter.