Key Points From the Interview
artin Bispels was as prepared as he could be before acquiring a business.
He had the experience. He had a great business partner. They had done their research. They knew exactly what they were looking for. And it has paid off.
Martin spent 17 years at home shopping network QVC, working his way up from entry-level positions to sales team lead and eventually to vice president of business development, or as he calls it “the crazy idea department.”
He wanted to work directly with small companies, so in 2014 he left QVC to start his own consulting practice. He did that until he decided he wanted to own and operate his own company, which happened to be right around the start of the pandemic.
“I probably did more vetting and more diligence, because it was disc golf, because I knew that that was something I would naturally really enjoy being part of.”
Martin and his business partner Jim defined their goals, knew what they were looking for — consumer product, not dependent on Amazon, innovative, asset light, easily transferable — and recognized the opportunity when they came across Upper Park Disc Golf on Flippa.
After thoroughly vetting the company and planning out the first year of business, Martin and Jim acquired Upper Park, an e-commerce store that sells bags and apparel for disc golf, in September 2020.
In this episode, he explains why he did even more due diligence when he found a company in an industry he personally liked, and why he doesn’t pay attention to acquisition market trends. He also shares how Upper Park has grown dramatically over the past year (approaching $2m in sales) and what his plans are for the future.
✳️ Top takeaways from the episode
✳️ Episode highlights with timestamps
Acquisition Entrepreneur: Martin Bispels
💵 What he acquired: Martin and his business partner vetted several companies before they came across a manufacturer and e-commerce store selling bags, accessories, and supplies for disc golf on Flippa. A fan of the game for years, Martin wanted to ensure his passion didn’t cloud his due diligence. He liked what he saw, got along well with the seller, and he and his partner acquired Upper Park Disc Golf in September 2020.
💡 Key quote: “I have built from nothing, from an idea on a napkin in my consulting days, but I knew that just the momentum that you get from having a brand that already has a great reputation for quality like all these products did. And especially in, like most industries, the disc golf space is small, but very intense.”
👋 Where to find him: LinkedIn
Acquisition Tips From the Episode
Top takeaways from this conversation
✔️ Preparation ahead of an acquisition will give you an edge when you take ownership.
Outlining clear objectives and knowing what they were looking for in a business helped make it clear for Martin and Jim to know when they’d found the right business to acquire. Once they found Upper Park on Flippa, they did their vetting and due diligence meticulously so that they had a very clear sense of the business at that point in time — as well as what it would look like over the next few months. Before signing the documents, they dug into the budget, industry players, structure, the company culture, and the resource requirements.
Acquiring a business with all of this knowledge allowed them to hit the ground running and now they are growing at 25% month-over-month.
💡 If you can find a way to keep the seller around, you’ll be rewarded with an extensive knowledge transfer.
From his experience in acquisitions during his time at QVC, Martin knew he wanted to keep the seller around in some capacity due to the wealth of knowledge and contacts they can provide. It just so happened that Martin and the seller got along extremely well and shared similar values, so Martin asked him to stay on as an equity partner.
They found the area of the business where the seller worked best, and when Martin wanted to put together a team of disc golf players, the seller had all the contacts and was able to provide warm introductions.
Even with all the due diligence in the world, there are some things you just won’t know, so even if it’s just for a short transition period, Martin advises finding a way to have that opportunity for knowledge transfer from the seller.
🧠 Take time daily to reflect on what only you can do.
In order to ensure he’s staying on track, Martin sets aside time every day to ask himself what only he can do.
Asking himself this question allows him to think about whether he’s leveraging his team’s knowledge, experience, and skills in the best way possible. It also provides the opportunity to take himself out of the day-to-day management and think about where the business is going and how to ensure he’s running a healthy, sustainable company.
Inflection points from the show
[2:01] From entry-level to consultant: Martin began his career in entry-level positions at QVC, before going on to lead the sales team, and ended up as vice president of business development. He decided he wanted to work directly with smaller businesses, so he left QVC to start his own consulting practice.
[3:57] QVC as prep for e-commerce: While he was on the sales team at QVC, Martin’s job was to figure out the best way to present the products to generate sales, whether it was a one-off invention or a new Dell computer model.
[6:23] To build or buy: Martin talks about his decision to acquire a business rather than build one from scratch, and the benefits of buying a brand that already has a great reputation.
[7:43] Acquisition goals: The first thing Martin and Jim did was establish clear objectives and criteria when setting out to buy a business. When they came across Upper Park, Martin was happy they had those goals. As an avid disc golfer, he also didn’t want his passion for the sport to lead him astray from his standards.
[9:46] Acquisition specifics: Martin discusses the criteria they had set before starting their search, which included: easily transferable, asset light, and something that was recession proof (COVID made them extra conscious of that). Another important factor was the business’s ability to be successful outside of Amazon, and they wanted something innovative and “press worthy.”
[14:21] MRR isn’t everything: While Martin understands “the magic” of recurring revenue, he felt that as long as they had a great product, the customers would return.
[17:04] The benefits of a marketplace acquisition: While online marketplaces are sometimes thought to have less desirable businesses for sale, Martin prefers it and says it’s a more “honest” way to buy a business.
[18:21] How Upper Park fit the bill: Martin loved the business as soon as he saw it, but they still needed to evaluate it according to the criteria he and his partner had set out from the start.
[20:51] Acquiring a business with no sales and no inventory: The business was at a standstill at the time of acquisition, and Martin speaks to the challenges of restocking while demand is high.
[23:52] Bringing the seller into the business: Martin got along with the seller right away and felt their core values were aligned, so he asked him to come on board as an equity partner. Having the seller’s experience and resources has been extremely beneficial.
[29:18] It’s not all about acquisition price: Having worked with small businesses in consulting, Martin had seen many people make the mistake of solely looking at the initial price, and not factoring in the real and ongoing costs. That wasn’t a mistake Martin was going to make, and he talks about knowing what the first-year financials would look like before they even closed the deal.
[32:46] Putting together the right team: Martin talks about hiring for culture, and how having the right people in the right roles with clear expectations has helped the business flourish.
[35:24] Preparation is an advantage: Before the deal was closed, Martin and his business partner had a game plan for everything from the budget to the culture.
[38:58] There are always some risks: Even with all the due diligence, vetting, planning, and preparation, there are still unknown unknowns when you acquire a business.
[42:06] Seeing the demand and managing growth: Since April, the business has grown 25% month-over-month. Martin talks about how to make sure that growth is sustainable.
[46:31] Looking ahead: Martin talks about his plans to make Upper Park the number one brand for bags in disc golf.
[49:15] The importance of reflecting: Martin sets aside time each day to ask himself what only he can do. Reflecting on this helps to ensure he’s managing his team effectively and that he doesn’t get so caught up in the day-to-day that he loses track of the bigger picture.