Interview: How to Sell a SaaS Business with a Broker

Brian CaselBrian Casel is a web designer by trade who has built various products such as education resources, WordPress templates and a SaaS web design service. The latter, he sold recently for 6 figures. Brian is based in Connecticut with his wife and one year old daughter and plans to travel in the coming year, relishing in the prospect of working remotely.

What got you interested in the online businesses and SaaS in particular?

Like most entrepreneurs, I was attracted to the idea of building a SaaS because of the recurring revenue model. Also like most who are new to SaaS, I probably underestimated just how long and hard of a road it is to build this type of business! But it has been a rewarding learning experience to say the least.

What would you say are the top skills required to be a successful entrepreneur?

So many different things… So maybe the first one would be the ability to multitask!

But the key skills that come to mind are:

  • Empathy for the customer and (really) knowing what matters to them.
  • Being able to prioritize and being strategic about that.
  • Willingness to delegate and spend your time wisely.

What inspired you to start a business in the hospitality space?

Good question.  I never had much of a personal connection to the hospitality space (except for waiting tables when I was just out of college).  The idea started as a hosted web design service.  Then I decided it needs to be focused on a niche.  Then I considered various niches and settled on restaurants since there are a lot of them, they all need websites, and they have fairly standard requirements (makes it easy to streamline the service).

What do you think led to the success of your business?

Early on it was the quality of our design templates and mobile functionality. That remained important, but what really differentiated us was our done-for-you customer support.  I learned pretty early on that this customer-base really values having the work done for them, so we built that into the service and made it our unique value-add.

One of the key strengths of the business was its completely passive nature, how did you make the business passive over time?

Removing myself from the business and getting it to a point where it could run on “autopilot” was a goal from the start.  So I focused a lot on writing detailed procedures, and refining those over time with the help of my talented team.  We also used software—both our own and other software tools—to streamline much of the processes in the service.

Were there any challenges to the business and how did you overcome them?

Learning how to sell to restaurant owners, who are largely “offline” was a challenge, but we overcame that basically by focusing our efforts on those who are actively searching online.  Usually those are the more tech savvy restaurateurs, or consultants who work with restaurants.  Using content marketing, we established authority and that lead to inbound leads both indirectly and through referrals.

Had you ever sold a website or business before?

No, this was my first.

What process did you go through to find an online business broker?

I relied on personal referrals to introduce me to brokers.

Why did you choose to work with FE International to sell your business?

I was referred to FE International from two trusted entrepreneur friends.  I had also heard Thomas speak on a few podcasts, so I was already somewhat familiar.  My initial consultation with Thomas basically sealed the deal, because he educated me about the process and gave me a very thorough and accurate assessment of what selling this business would look like.

How did you find the selling process?

Overall I was very pleased with the outcome and the process, though there were some difficult phases, like the due diligence process.  But that was understandable and expected.  The initial Q&A and offers went very smoothly and I was surprised at how fast we reached an accepted offer.

Where do you think a website broker adds the most value to the sale process?

I think there are a few key areas where a broker adds value:

  • Obviously, sourcing the buyer.  If the broker has a solid buyer network, like FE International does, then this is a huge advantage.
  • Being the intermediary during sticky negotiations.  I heard some brokers are very hands off in this regard, but I appreciated how closely involved FE International were in my deal.
  • Educating both parties and setting expectations throughout the process.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to sell their online business?

If you’re new at this, like I was, it never hurts to ask a lot of questions.  A good broker will answer all of them and then some.  As for the business itself, do as much as you can to prepare it to be sellableFocus on systems, processes, and do as much as you can to remove yourself from the day-to-day so that a new owner can easily take over.

Also hire a bookkeeper early.

Finally, what is next for you?

I’m 3 months into building my new business, Audience Ops, a content marketing service for B2B software companies.  It’s exciting because I’m able to move much faster this time around, using the lessons I learned while building my first business. I’m also continuing to blog and teach about entrepreneurship on my site,
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