Ace Chapman is a micro private equity investor who has acquired 15 offline businesses (he has sold 13 of them) and 31 online businesses. He is also the author of The Ace Formula, a book on how to buy a profitable business, starting with no money, and live life on your terms like a boss.
Ace bought his first business, CoolWallStreet, in the late ’90s at the age of 19. He started as a member of the site which allowed users to invest virtual money in the stock market. When he sold the business in 2001, he was getting seven-figure offers.
He talks about his favorite business deal which was a tanning salon that he sold only six months later for more than double profit, and shares the three key things he looked for before purchasing it.
Some Topics We Discussed Include:
To learn more about Ace and invest virtual money in the stock market, visit AceChapman.com
Ace Chapman is a micro private equity investor who has acquired 15 offline businesses (he has sold 13 of them) and 31 online businesses. He is also the author of The Ace Formula, a book on “how to buy a profitable business, starting with no money, and live life on your terms like a boss.” Buy the book! It’s worth it. And make sure you take notes.
Ace bought his first business, CoolWallStreet, in the late 90’s at the age of 19. He started as a member of the site which allowed users to invest virtual money in the stock market. When he sold the business in 2001, he was getting 7-figure offers. However, after paying off all remaining expenses, he didn’t really make any profit.
I’m going to tell you that this is going to be a fun and different. I’m going to talk to Ace Chapman about buying and investing profitable businesses opposed to starting your own.
This is a topic that I’ve been interested in ever since I sold my first business and I was thinking whether I should start a new one or buy a new one. I’ve read a lot and I’ve not pulled the trigger on anything.
Ace is a micro private equity investor. He’s acquired fifteen offline business sold thirteen of them. You’ve heard of House Flipping? It’s like business flipping and he’s also acquired 31 different online website-based businesses.
He brought Cool Wall Street back in the day and grew it to 250,000 members and sold it years ago at age nineteen.
Over the past several years, he had worked with a lot of entrepreneurs, Gen Y-ers, business owners, and people just like you that helped buy and sell and grow businesses in your local market, nationally, etc.
I read his book The Ace Formula: How to Buy a Profitable Business about starting with no money and live life on your own terms like a boss. I am excited to welcome him.
Some of this may be over your head, I am not going into the real basics about buying a business. That being said, Ace Chapman welcome to the Bacon Wrapped Business.
Brad, it’s great to be here. We ended up crossing paths years ago through one of my mentors, Oren Klaff and when I saw the name, I was excited to jump on a call and reconnect.
I forget how I stumbled across your book, “I remember he used to work with Oren when I worked with Oren.” For my readers, if you don’t know, Oren Klaff is the author of a great book called Pitch Anything. I highly recommend you go grab it.
You and I have been chatting about buying businesses and selling them. This is a different animal that most entrepreneurs haven’t thought about. It’s out of the realm of possibilities. I know that the people I talk to and I network with are a lot of entrepreneurs.
Few of them went in and bought a business. They all start one up and if you started a business, there are a lot of moving parts. You’re pushing that boulder up a hill and trying to get traction. I’m trying that with Stiletto Coffee and sometimes I think, “What the hell am I doing?”
Why did I not go in and find a business that’s already operating either profitably or almost profitably that I know I can improve and leapfrog over all the start-up crap that we have to build?
It’s one of those things that I know that if it worked for a set of circumstances, I would have never considered buying a business as an alternative. I tell people even to this day that when it comes to helping people, go out and do deals and buy a business or investing with people.
I don’t like working with folks who didn’t try to start a business or haven’t invested in real estate before because you don’t appreciate how incredible it is that one day you cannot be making money and the next day you can have a closing and have positive income unless you go through the pains.
I’ve done a couple of deals and decided on the third business I bought we’re going to open up another location from scratch. This business already had a brand and we had the systems we knew what worked.
To go to a different location and start something from scratch, it was, “This is what start-up entrepreneurs are going through? This is crazy. I would never deal with this madness.”
I ask myself that all the time and it’s funny. To me, the most fun part is the beginning. Anything is possible and you’re giving birth to an idea.
The worst part of being an entrepreneur is after you’ve gone through the setup and now all the fun has been drained out from the original dream and the idea because you’re working on it.
It’s that period after startup, but before having much traction exposure and revenue and it’s the, “What did I get myself into?” moment. It’s the exact same thing that’s happening with my wife’s company, Stiletto Coffee. We’re getting traction.
We took a lot to get it up and out the door and it’s working. We don’t know what’s going to happen. There are no proven processes.
We’re held out of hope versus going out and finding a company that already has the things done stepping in and improving what’s already there. I mentioned that nineteen-year-old you sold your first business, is that right?
I bought my first business when I was nineteen.
Was that the Cool Wall Street or was that something else?
That was Cool Wall Street.
Give me an idea of how that whole thing started.
I was a customer. I was a user and a member of this site that allow people to take virtual money and go invest in the stock market. This is ’98 to ’99. The internet was early. The annoying thing was that you can’t get any response from the company.
The site was always crashing and there weren’t a lot of options. It was something that the users were rooting for, but the owners seem to be checked out. I reached out to them to become an intern over the summer.
As expected, they took forever to get back to me. When they wrote back, the reason was, “This thing sucks. He moved on to another project. We’d love to sell it to you. It seems you like what we’re doing.”
I asked them, “What would you sell it for?” I was a broke college kid. I was more curious. It was more out of curiosity. It wasn’t like, “What are you selling for? I’m going to buy it.” They wrote back saying, “It’s making $60,000 a year. We would see it for $70,000.”
I was in a school called Colgate in upstate New York. To pay for a year’s tuition, it was $33,000. They’re making $130,000 off of me for four years and I would be thrilled if I got out and made $60,000.When talking to a seller, connect with them and see where they are. Click To Tweet
I’m going to guess that you were a college student who wasn’t walking around with $70,000 in your bank account ready to buy a business.
Exactly. I had $3,000 that I saved up from the summer before. I’m thinking, “How in the world can I buy this thing?” I ended up getting a little money from a buddy of mine who also was a business nerd like me in college.
I actually have $15,000 and I went back to them and asked them to finance half of it. I made up the difference with credit cards.
Most kids were stressed about grades and my biggest stress was that the credit card company was sending one of those statements to my parents or send that the dorm.
They would have absolutely murdered me, “what you sent $70,000 all this money to random people you never met in person over the internet.”
You have to keep in mind that this was again in ‘99 and people were nervous about putting their credit card for a $15 transaction online. It was awesome and I still have never met the people that I bought that first business from.
You took on debt and bought it full-blown cash for $70,000?
I bought it for $70,000. They financed half of it. I raised some equity from a buddy of mine who also has programming skills. He helped me with some of that stuff. Even just transferring site, all that stuff was a lot bigger pain back then.
What was your expertise there? Did you know a lot about marketing, tech, computers and the internet? What gave you the confidence that, “I’m going to buy this because I know what to do when I got it?”
I was a Political Science major. I knew nothing about computer science and there wasn’t a lot of widespread knowledge because the internet was new.
The thing that I knew was as a user, and this is a great tip for anybody who’s thinking about going out and doing deals, buy a business that you’re familiar with, that you’re already passionate about as a consumer because you know what the other folks want.
I knew that, “If this thing is making $60,000 without ever responding to the emails, with the site going down for days at a time, people are getting annoyed because they had to reset their virtual caches all kinds of crazy issues.”
If I do the soft ones, taking care of them, telling them, “It went down.” Even if it goes down, “I’m sorry, we’re trying to get it back up.” Letting people know what was going on that we could take this thing to another level.
I love the fact that you jumped in and did that. You grew it and you sold it. How long after?
I sold it in 2001. We had seven-figure offers. I’m twenty years old and I felt like, “This is it. I hit the jackpot. I’m going to be retired by 23.” I was on this high trajectory, every month more and more money.
I raised capital and ended up dropping out of school because my investors came to me and said, “We want to invest, but not if you’re going to be a full-time student.” I felt like I’m not going to leave school.
I went to my parents and felt that they would say, “No you shouldn’t,” but once they realized it was real money, that was a funny summer. All summer I’m telling my dad, I explained this to him, “It’s a virtual money investment stock that I bought.”
The summer after I bought it, I’m working on them, “Are you going to get a job this summer?” and I was like, “No I have a site and it’s making money.” He was like, “What is it?” I explained it to him. I would tell him, “We did well. This month, we’d make $5,000.” He was never impressed, “That isn’t a big deal.”
Towards the end of the summer, I’m telling him that I have investors that want to invest and he asked, “Why would anybody invest in your business?” I replied, “Why wouldn’t they?” “All you’re doing is making that virtual money.” Internet money is what he called it.
“No, virtual money is a game and I’m making real money.” He said, “How much real money are you making?” At that point by August, we’ve grown it to $15,000 in a month.
We got a check from DoubleClick, “You’ve made $15,000 this month.” He’s like, “No one is sending you $15,000 in real money.”
I showed him this check from DoubleClick and he said, “There’s no way this is real. Nobody’s going to send you money. We need to take this to the bank and get down to the bottom of this. You’re probably involved in some scam. You’re going to be in a bunch of debt and this is going to be trouble.”
We get down to the bank and he asks, “Is this real? Can you call and check on this company?” It was this funny thing. He realizes, “This thing is making actual real money? Why would you go back to school?”
I want to fast forward. In the past years when you’ve been stepping up your game buying offline and online businesses, give me a clearer vision of this, all types of online business from eCommerce to content sites, etc. Tell me about the types of offline businesses that you either own or have acquired.
I’ve done a lot of different types of business. The first one I bought was a mortgage company. When I sold Cool Wall Street in 2001, it was after the bust and I left that business broke. I had nothing.
I went from being twenty years old, “This is it. I’m going to blow up and sell this business for millions,” to leaving the company paying off debts, resting minds with investors and I left with nothing. I ended up working with a financial institution.
I had written off the internet. I was burnt. I never wanted to do it again. I went and worked for a financial institution. I was also frustrated there. I knew I wasn’t going to be a part of Corporate America after that stint.
I made good money, especially for a 21-year-old. They hired me because of what I was able to do with Cool Wall Street, but the frustration was I wasn’t able to hire an assistant.
I went out and had employees and I thought, “I can do much more and I can sell more if you let me hire an assistant.” They replied, “Nope, you have to have seniority and the VPs will be upset.” I said, “I’ll pay for them. I’ll take care of everything. It’s not about the money.”
“You have to follow this protocol.” I was like, “This is ridiculous.” I left the bank and went down two blocks and rented an office. I hired a couple of assistants to work for me while I was working at the bank. I wanted back and forth.The real goal of marketing is income. It’s not being an entrepreneur. Click To Tweet
At first, I hired one and she wasn’t working that well and I was blowing up. I got another one. It’s probably a little suspicious because most of the people that I worked with, their paperwork’s all over their desk, folders falling off and I’m doing these deals and there’s never anything.
“What are you doing?” “I like to do my stuff in the evening.” The jig was up when I walked in one day and my boss was, “Step into my office. Who is Marie Jackson?” I replied, “That’s one of my assistants.”
He said, “You can’t do that. This is a financial institution. You can’t have random people working on stuff. You can either give us your resignation or we can do an investigation.” I replied, “I’ll go ahead and resign.”
The first deal was going out and buying a mortgage company and I ended up growing that. I bought a Home Fletcher Franchise and I went out and did a couple of spas, some tanning salons and a retail shop called Plato’s Closet.
That was the one where I was like, “I am the man. I’m such an amazing entrepreneur. I’m going to open up another location of this.” I realized that around that time, I also found a mentor that flipped hospitals.
Between him and the experience of going out trying to find a location, signing the lease and paying them deposits of the first couple of months of lease, paying for the build out, hiring employees having to train those employees, all this time you’re losing money.
One day you’re finally getting close to being able to open. You have to do some marketing so you have people coming in once you open and then you get a grand opening but you’re still losing money for months and months before you get to breakeven.
I thought, “Never again. This is it.” That, in addition to having an amazing mentor who happened to be in the same city, but he had done deals all over the world and flipped hospitals. We talked about not thinking about flipping businesses.
Even though I’ve done business, I’m still thinking, “No way. You don’t go in and buy a hospital and flip it.” When I talked about starting, he was going, “Why not build your laptop?” I asked, “What are you talking about?”
“If you’re going to build your stuff from scratch, and that’s what you like to do, build your car, your house, everything you need. Your goal is to build the start building, but if your goal is to make money, then have a straight line to the money.”
That shift in thinking changed everything for me. If you want a house, you go when you have a straight line to a house. If you want a car, you have a straight line to the car. If you want income, then you have a straight line for that.
If you want to build something go, and build something, but if your goal is, “I want to make money,” then go find the money and get it.
It’s such an important shift and I’ve been making that shift over the past few years to where I still wake up and go, “Why am I not doing this? Why am I not doing this more? Why am I not searching for deals?”
I want to get to the point where you talk about you don’t necessarily need to bring your own money into this.
That’s probably the biggest fallacy that, “If I’m going to buy this business, I’m going to need money to buy it,” or, “I need to get a loan to buy it.” I want you to explain why that’s not always the case. First, tell me about your favorite business deal you’ve ever done.
One of my favorites was the first tanning salon I bought. It’s my favorite for a couple of reasons. Number I am African-American.
You are not the average customer of a tanning salon.
I am not a tanning salon commercial for one. It was cool because literally the first time I step foot at a tanning salon, I bought the business. I literally bought it within twenty minutes of my first time walking in a tanning salon. It had a lot of things about it. It is literally the exact type of deal that we look for.
The business had been around 22 years. I love buying things that are proven. I am not trying to come in and try to build a brand when you got one. One of my acquisitions has been in business for 35 years.
What kind of business is that?
It’s a party store like Party City. Everybody in a 45-mile radius has heard of it come to it. It has passed down generations and people say, “I used to come here when I was a kid. My momma would bring me here.”
That person is now thirty. It’s a powerful thing. The interesting thing on the tanning salon deal was number one, it had been around a long time. Number two, the lady was motivated.
Her husband was getting transferred to Europe. She had to sell as quickly as possible. The other thing was it was making great money. I walked in and I knew I had those factors.
What caused you to walk in in the beginning? It wasn’t obviously to get a tan?
I knew she wanted to sell.
How did you know? That’s probably one of the hardest parts.
A big part of it is telling people what you do. There are few people who buy businesses and flip businesses and when you tell somebody that, that’s what you do. It sticks in their head forever. You’re going to be the only person that they think about.
Their cousin flips real estate or is trying to do a startup. I met the person who referred the seller to me two years before.
They heard him talking and they said, “My friend may be interested in selling.”
She was friends with the owner of the business and said, “I don’t even know how to get in touch with this guy, but there’s this guy in town, Ace Chapman. That’s what he does. He buys businesses. If you want to try to sell it, you should try to contact him.”Buy things that are proven. You don’t have to come in and try to build a brand when you already got one. Click To Tweet
She literally hunted me down and contacted me. I went over there and met with her. I have initial questions. As I said, those are the initial things if you’re talking with a business owner. You have to find out how long has it been around. Why are you selling?
That’s going to tell us the motivation. What’s the income? I don’t try to ask for the price. They don’t know how much it should sell for. I want to educate them before we get into the price of the business. That’s the business we are talking about.
We started to talk a little bit about price. When I am negotiating with somebody, I want to spend a lot of time on how soon they want to sell, why they need to sell and the story behind why they are selling all those things to get them in a space where they realize the reality.
It’s not about tricking them into something else, “Let’s both make sure that we understand here that you need me a lot more than I need you.” A lot of businesses out there, I’m the only person here trying to buy your business. That creates a better negotiation process.
We’re talking about the business and I find out the opportunities for growth. I ask her about her customer list. She said, “We’ve got 15,000 people on our database.”
“I want to talk about the leads in a bit, but let’s talk about the customers.” “We don’t keep leads. Those are just customers.” I was like, “What?”
There are people on the internet that don’t have a 15,000-customer list and killing it. Over the course of twenty years, they had built up a customer base of 15,000 people. “That’s awesome and we need to start collecting leads too.”
“How often are you contacting those people?” She was like, “We don’t like to contact them. We don’t want to annoy them.” “That’s fine, but when was the last time?” “We don’t do that.” “When have you done it?” “Never” “What?”
It’s probably more common than you’d think.
At that point, It was completely shocking and it’s one of the reasons I ended up buying five tanning salons and pull them together.
What else made this good when you set the price specifically? Do you remember how this all happened? Did you buy it using any creative financing?
We did 100% seller financing, but the price was two times earnings. My thing with her is when you’re talking to a seller, you want to connect with them and see where they are.
I knew if I give her the relief of selling that business right then, she could walk out and not think about it anymore. That she would be done. That’s what I said, “I’m going to buy this. We’ll do this.”
I would happily educate my sellers. “Let’s look at the market and see what things are selling for.” It is more about terms than it is about the price.
The seller gets one of the other. You didn’t put money into the business or a tiny bit in order to get it?
We did a 100% seller financing and we were going to advertise it over the course of two years. What I’m going to do is I’m going to make four payments upfront. That allowed me not to worry about having a payout for four months. It’s the down payment because people want to have a check right then.
It’s a win-win because you’re making the payments upfront so she can walk out of there with a check which is big as well.
Within twenty minutes, I got on her computer and wrote up a little contract, “We’ll do a full purchase agreement later and I want you to know that you can walk out of here and not worry about this. I’m going to pay you four months upfront and we can come to this agreement.”
Twenty minutes of walking in that tanning salon, I ended up buying it. The reason why it’s my favorite deal is because it turned out to be profitable.
We got to work reaching out to that list. A lot of those folks work at retail places, spas and salons or sitting there with a lot of the girls there doing their homework.
They’re calling customers, “Come back in.”
That’s over. We’re selling, she didn’t want to disturb the folks by sending them coupons and emails. She didn’t want to upsell them. They never talked about the different lotions in all that. I am learning about that stuff. This is definitely the prime case of never having any idea.
What do they want? How can we sell them? “This is what you need to say. This is how we will put together the sales copies.” These things are a lot of fun. We ended up tripling the size of that business and went ahead and paid for the whole thing.
I’ve made enough to pay the whole thing in about six months and sold it for double what my price was. I sold that business.
You sold it after how long?
You doubled your money in six months?
More than double.
Two big questions because I know you have a hard stop on here. One of them is back then and now, when you go to buy a business, if you find a business whether it’s online or offline now, how involved do you personally get in the management, marketing, etc.?
That can be a big headache. Do you have a hit team that goes in and resources that so you can layout the strategy and they do all the work? Do you roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty?Tell people what you do. When you do that, it sticks in their head and you’re going to be the only person that they think about. Click To Tweet
I used to be in the business every single day years ago. Now, I have more of a passive portfolio of businesses and the great majority of them are internet businesses. I have 28 different properties.
Who’s running them when you buy? Are you investing in as a minority investor and getting fees for providing capital and some consulting or are you buying them outright?
Most of these deals are becoming investors and that’s what I’ve seen in a lot in my clients that I help buy businesses. They get into a deal and they say, “There is nothing else that provides these kinds of returns because you can buy a business at two times earnings.”
Which means you get 100% of your money back in two years and 50% returns. I’d already done it. The only reason why I started helping people buy businesses was so I could invest in those businesses.
And not have to run the day-to-day?
I can only do so many deals. How can I expand my portfolio? That was a big reason why I need more people who know these strategies so I can invest in their businesses. It’s now a second-generation where I have a group of people that are doing that level.
Now, I am training people on how to go out and invest them in other deals and build their own portfolio. It’s exciting. We’re having people that are replacing their income, like this guy in San Antonio that built a portfolio of four deals.
He started with absolutely nothing and got his first deal and then the second deal. I got him his fourth deal and a little portion of seller businesses. Now he’s left his six-figure job and has a stay-at-home wife and he’s spending more time with his family.
We’re having our Masterminds, talking about those great stories that a lot of people are going back to what my mentor, Mike, said which is, “The real goal is income. It’s not being an entrepreneur, it’s definitely not about Facebook.”
He would make fun of how, “We’re going to study Facebook marketing now. We’re going to become AdWords master and now it’s Periscope, then Meerkat is what they go on for a while. “
You become an expert in all of these things. You got two dots and you’re going all over the place as opposed to a straight line to the dot.
We understand that you hire the people that come in and do that stuff and not learning it yourself. That’s something I had to do on my own because I became a good tactician. I realize that there is much more money in strategy and being the entrepreneur that organizes everything.
Answering that question, you’re not going in and managing these things. You work with individuals who want to buy them and help find and advice. What about finding businesses? That seem the most daunting task for somebody like me.
It’s one thing if you stumble across a business but are their proactive things if you’re working with a client? One of my listeners hears and gets in contact with you, “I want to do this.”
How much of it is you giving them the advice to go find the potential businesses to sell or are you constantly sourcing deals all over the place?
We have a team of virtual assistants that are going out and always finding deals and coming and bringing deals into the pipelines. It can get complicated to create deal flow. It’s a lot of work. I’ve been doing this for years now and there are a lot more deal flow coming in that I can handle.
It’s one of those things and you know what it is a lot and I want to give some tips. The other thing I would say is it’s making it easier for everybody else. Instead of you going out and trying to spend a couple of years to get to the deal flow coming in.
We’ve created this network and years ago I started training other people. They go out and implement those strategies. We have 32 different ways that you create deal flow and you want to get that into a funnel where at the top you get those three initial questions answered.
You’re building out a prospectus and getting a vision of what the business is, what it does in a day-to-day basis, how much money, etc. Then you get into pricing and evaluation. After that, you’re moving down to due diligence, doing a structural deal, making an offer, financing and closing.
You need a lot of deals coming at the top of that funnel. Talking about that in the pre-call, the fact that a lot of people find an initial deal that isn’t that great because they are excited about buying a business they’re ready to buy.
They have to kiss a lot of frogs.
We look at an average of 100 deals for everyone that we close. You want a lot of deal flow coming through and that’s one thing we help folks with.
What’s one of your favorite methods for that?
A couple of quick tips. One of the places we find the best deals are is from places where the seller is going to be motivated. We love dealing with divorce attorneys. They are great because a lot of times the person needs to get out of business. They own equity together and they need to sell.
It’s not about how much money, it’s about how quickly they can get some cash and moves on. We have case after case where we got amazing deals from those. The other thing is LinkedIn. It’s been great and we’ve done a few different tests and strategies where you shift what you do putting on there.
I buy business, acquisitions and connecting with the owners on the type of businesses that you want to end up buying. A huge thing is the events. I go to a lot of events and connecting with people so you can go in person. Nine times out of ten, you’re the only person there.
Let’s say you want to buy FBA business or drop shipping businesses when everybody else is learning how to build them and you’re the only person, “Once you built it, I want to buy it.”
Your elevator pitch, if I meet you in an event, “I’m Brad Costanzo. Ace, what do you do for a living?”
If I’m at a drop shipping Event I will say, “I’m Ace Chapman and I buy some drop shipping businesses.”
Give me a couple of ideas on your sweet spot right now. Is drop shipping a hot one for you?
I love drop shipping. I love FBA. What’s happening that’s neat is that we bought from a lot of sellers and a lot of times we hire those sellers on to be consultants and help us in the deals. It’s this unique strategy between me and my partners and clients. We’ve done over 100 internet businesses.
We have relationships where it would be simple like an affiliate business, but we’re in a unique position by not being the technician and focusing in these deal maker skillset. We’re able to buy from one affiliate guy who used the specific strategy that he likes.
We can go back to another affiliate guy who used a whole different tactic and bring that new skillset into the deal. It’s the same with FBA or drop shipping, eCommerce not doing many SaaS deals, but we do have a few of those. That would be the weak point, but everything else we’re doing a bunch of.
This has been great. If folks want more information on you, give them where to go.
Thank you much, Ace. I appreciate all your time and this has been good. I recommend you check out Ace’s book on Amazon. Speaking of business books, do me a favor, tell me your favorite one out there. For all my readers, send an email to AskBrad@BaconWrappedBusiness.com and let me know a great business book that you’ve read and you’ve liked. Maybe I’ll mention it on the show.
I will say that our favorite book that helps a ton of people is Pitch Anything
It’s a great book. Go get that and Ace’s book. I dare you as a reader to review the Bacon Wrapped Business on iTunes. I triple dare you to give me a five-star review I bet you’re not going to do it. Until next time, I hope you enjoyed this episode of Bacon Wrapped Business with Ace Chapman.
Ace Chapman is a micro private equity investor who has acquired 15 offline businesses (he has sold 13 of them) and 31 online businesses. He is also the author of The Ace Formula, a book on “how to buy a profitable business, starting with no money, and live life on your terms like a boss.”