The Art of Pivoting: Alina Martin on Merging & Selling Businesses

Episode Description:

In this episode, host Elizabeth Ledoux is joined by Alina Martin, an investor and advisor who was named one of Canada’s Top 100 female entrepreneurs in 2018. These days she’s building new business ventures, running her family office, and also involved in real estate and consulting. Tap or click the play button below to listen to: The Art of Pivoting: Alina Martin on Merging & Selling Businesses.

In this episode, Elizabeth and Alina discuss lessons Alina learned after merging two companies together, the importance of committing to decisions and not flip-flopping, watching the sign-posts for when it’s the right time to sell your business, and the need for planning what you’re going to do after you sell your business. 

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The Art of Pivoting: Alina Martin on Merging & Selling Businesses Transcript

Alina Martin: I wouldn’t take back what I did. Because it gave me a clear path to liquidity. And I think that that’s one of the challenges in private businesses, right? The path, your Quiddity isn’t always super clear. So it gave me a really good pass of liquidity. And it gave me a good path to liquidity for some of the other shareholders in my business, the minority shareholders, right gave them a really good liquidity event. So that was that that was I wouldn’t take any of that back. I think one of the things I didn’t pay enough attention to or I didn’t, didn’t spend enough time doing, I would say is internal in my business, we really struggled culturally, we’d have a very, very strong culture. We that culture suffered tremendously. And so did the people when we mashed everything together. And we made several mistakes, you know, we sort of decided to take on their culture, and kind of, you know, maybe sunset our culture a little bit because we were redoing the vision and the strategy for the whole business. And so I you know, we made some mistakes, you know, we made some mistakes there.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Welcome to the business transition roadmap. My name is Elizabeth Ledoux. And through my years, I have seen how communities thrive. When business succession and transition are done. Well, me and my team at the transition strategists have been helping business owners develop and implement transition strategies for over 30 years. And on this show, we want to help you by giving you the roadmap to a healthy business transition. Let’s get started. Hi, everyone, and welcome back to the business transition roadmap. Today, we have Lena Martin with us, and she is just an incredible entrepreneurial woman. I had the opportunity of meeting her through the woman president’s organization many years ago, up in Calgary, Alberta. And yeah, she just never ceases to amaze me with the things that she has going on and what she’s able to accomplish. So, Alina, thank you welcome. And I’m so happy that you’re here.

Alina Martin: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for that kind introduction. It has been a long time since WIPO. I can’t even believe it actually.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah, it’s been quite some time. Yeah. Because ultimates actually being up there together. But how about why don’t we start with you just telling a little bit about yourself and your, you know, how you got to where you are today and what you’re up to today?

Alina Martin: Yeah, I’ll start with just a little bit of an introduction, I always tell people, when I look back on the last sort of 20 years of my career, I would say, you know, kind of the first 15 of it was real heavy, building a company, which was building my family family business, that I had the fortunate opportunity to sell that business in 2019. And I took that opportunity, just before COVID, that was nothing but pure luck. And so yeah, but when I, when I transitioned from selling my company, it truthfully was a little bit unclear about what I was going to do sort of going forward. And but really, since then, I’ve been sort of doing three things. And so the first bucket is really, we opened a family office, we make investments primarily in technology driven companies, but they have to be foundationally built in a traditional industry. So we do some stuff there, do some stuff in real estate, kind of the second bucket is as I’m building more companies. So that’s always always a really, really wonderful thing, launched a real estate training company, just about two years ago. Now that’s doing quite well, which is been a lot of fun, and really interesting market that’s happening here in Canada, and actually abroad, lots going on in real estate credentialing in the industry. And then the third thing really is some consulting some doing some really great consulting with the Business Development Bank of Canada, helping entrepreneurs in a stage of their business, high growth companies really trying to get these companies to kind of grow past where they are and grow to the next stage. So I’m doing a little bit of consulting in that arena as well. So I’ve got I got something in each little bucket. I guess

Elizabeth Ledoux: that sounds awesome. That sounds great. You’re doing great and wonderful, busy lady. So that’s good. Yeah, so in this podcast, you know, it’s focused on business transition. And the listeners typically, or people that are thinking about transitioning, right, either preparing or thinking about doing that could be out of an active company in non active business. It also could be even out of a family office type situation where they’re actually thinking about starting to bring in successors, to help them to manage and grow businesses and also to take them over for, you know, future benefit and future, future use future benefit to many people. So when you look back, I, I like to, I just like to ask you the question, when you look back on some of your transitions So what were some of the things that really worked for you either in preparing? Or actually going through it? What were some of those nuggets that really worked for you? Yeah,

Alina Martin: I think there’s an element. When I was really getting ready to sort of sell in 2019, I’d made the decision, personally for myself and my family, probably a year or two kind of previous, previous to that. And I think what was really interesting, and really pivotal for me, was understanding that I was ready to pivot and really commit to the decision and not sort of flip flop back and forth that I had previously kind of flip flopped a little bit I was getting, I was getting really tired, I’d been in high growth for a really long period of time. And I was just just ready to transition to the next thing. But for me, I built a little bit of a strategic plan, like I, you know, two years previous to exiting, I was like, This is what I’m going to do, I don’t know what I’m doing after, but I’m definitely going to exit and this is what the exit needs to look like for me. And I got prepared to do that. And so that was just a lot of background, does a lot of sitting around with my husband honestly and saying, What does that mean for us? What does that mean for me? And my, you know, my career and my trajectory? What’s that mean for our family? And what’s that mean for the future? And once I committed to the decision, I then from then forward made all decisions to move towards that.

Elizabeth Ledoux: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And that’s a hard thing to do. Really hard thing? Yeah,

Alina Martin: yeah. Really hard. second

Elizabeth Ledoux: guess yourself and not wonder if now’s the right time? Or if you’re in the right place? Or could you just hang on a little bit longer? You know, all of those different things go through your mind?

Alina Martin: Yeah, the what ifs? Right. What if I just held on a little bit longer? And, you know, could there be a little bit more capital? Could I get the business, you know, growing in a different industry? And the answer to all of those things is probably yes. But in some respect, it’s also no, you know, was I was I really ready. But once I committed to the decision, I stuck to that decision. And I’m really grateful. I did. Yeah. Nice.

Elizabeth Ledoux: And so as you started to look for a purchaser or buyer, because I’m assuming it was a third party external kind of a sale, not an internal sale. What were some of the things that you thought about or did to find the right one? Yeah,

Alina Martin: so I’ll back up a little bit, because I ended in 2019, I ended up selling to my partners. And so a couple years previous to that, I’d actually sold the company fully. So I’d sold the company fully, but then became one of the major shareholders in the new code. So we basically took my business, took their business, merged them together, and redid the cap table. And so in 2019, I had the ability to exit, so took that ability. But a couple years prior to that, when I actually sold all of the shares or merged all of those shares with the other entity, I had actually been working on sort of a three pronged approach, one of the things that had happened in my business was, we had transitioned and just for the sake of the listeners, so they understand what we were doing. We were a safety training company. And we primarily were producing training material, and we were using that primarily in a classroom to deliver. But what happened around, you know, 2009 2010, it was we started building digital elearning. And at that time, I would say 80% of my business was traditional 20% of it was in digital elearning. By the time 2015 2016 sort of hit, we were the other way around 80% of what we were doing were digital, and 20% was in the classroom. And it’d become very evident to me that we had become a technology company, even though we were not a technology company. And so I was at a crossroads. And I had to make the decision, either, do I buy a piece of technology that I can control? Do I build a piece of technology to control? Or do I merge with somebody, piece of technology I was already using at that time with a company that I was already working with? And so how I got to that decision matrix was I sort of took a look at it and said, What does the business need from a competitive standpoint to continue? Right? How do we shift and evolve, because I don’t have the skill set to do this, the people inside my company don’t have the skill set to do this. And if I don’t do something about this, there’s a real risk here, that there’s this business is really going to suffer. And so that was some of the precipice for that decision. And so I just explored, you know, all three angles. I looked at fully selling out, I looked at buying a piece of technology looked at building a piece of technology and then ultimately in the end, I ended up merging my company with a with another company. That’s

Elizabeth Ledoux: awesome. So So with that, that was a good move for you. And then you were merged into that company still high growth. Yeah. Growth. Yeah. But having partners as well. Yes,

Alina Martin: I went from having no partners, right. I had my father for many years. It was a silent partner. And then I bought my father and and I went into, you know, a partnership. And that transition was bumpy. You know, I’ll be the first to admit it. You know, it was, it was bumpy, I was used to call on all the shots. And it was challenging for me, it was also challenging for them. Right. They had been two partners that have been working together for 10 years prior to me showing up. And so it was difficult for everybody.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah, so you go home to they went from two to three? Yeah. Yeah. You went from one to three and a little bit, I’m sure. Some governance things changed his decision making decisions. Yes. Who does? What? And how do you communicate all that stuff? Because everybody has to be in the know, but you can’t really build and grow if you’re operating.

Alina Martin: It’s true. Yeah. And we learned that, you know, one of the challenges I think we had and, you know, we’re all still friends, and we talk about it is the you know, there just were too many cooks in the kitchen. And that was one one of the reasons they ended up selling in 2019. Was I, you know, we had an I had an opportunity to do so. And it was like, you know, maybe this is, maybe now’s, you know, maybe now is really the time. And so yeah, there’s an element of that. Right? There’s, you have to really work through those things like communication completely shifts, you know, when you do that decision? Absolutely. Yep. And,

Elizabeth Ledoux: yeah, in any transition, when you’re going from a one to many, or a many to one. Yeah, definitely. There’s change, and especially the one to many. So as you as you look back on some of those two transitions, right, as you look back on that, and even farther back on purchase from, you know, your father, your family, what, what do you see that you go? I’m not sure that I would want to do that again, or I would take a different approach. Yeah, when you have

Alina Martin: a question? Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say I would do it all over again. So that’s the first, that’s the first answer. I wouldn’t take back what I did. Because it gave me a clear path to liquidity. And I think that that’s one of the challenges in private businesses, right, the path liquidity isn’t always super clear. So it gave me a really good path to liquidity. And it gave me a good path of liquidity for some of the other shareholders. In my business, the minority shareholders, right gave them a really good liquidity event. So that was that that was I wouldn’t take any of that. But I think one of the things I didn’t pay enough attention to or I didn’t, didn’t spend enough time doing, I would say is internal in my business, we really struggled culturally, we’d have very, very strong culture, mean, that culture suffered tremendously. And so did the people when we mashed everything together. And we made several mistakes, you know, we sort of decided to take on their culture, and kind of, you know, maybe sunset our culture a little bit, because we were redoing the vision and the strategy for the whole business. And so I, you know, we made some mistakes, you know, we made some mistakes there. And mostly operational mistakes, we also made some operational mistakes, when it came to the people where we put them how you build the new org structures, we did that too quickly. I don’t think with enough thought. So that’s operationally, personal. Personally, I think one of the mistakes I made when I sold in the end was I didn’t have a really good plan post sale. And that’s been a really interesting thing. For me, I was in a very, you know, I was 40 years old, when I sold and which is a really, which is really young. And in that was really difficult. That transition for me personally, was very bumpy was very difficult. I was used to running at 100 miles an hour, and I just did not put enough stock into what am I going to do when this ends. And I thought I feel very differently about it. And it was really painful for me, when it all came to sort of a halt and came to an end. And, and, and part of that is is I just didn’t plan well enough. Post post sale, I just did not plan well enough. Well,

Elizabeth Ledoux: and sometimes I mean, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know, in in some of the journey that I’ve had, and even yesterday, you know, just I was in a meeting and listening to a guy who’s getting his PhD psychology degree and just the idea of that when you go through a transition if you’re the transition or right, the one who’s leaving, and you go from that 100 mile an hour down to basically 10 or 000

Elizabeth Ledoux: Right No nothing whatsoever. Yeah, that you’re that there’s a grieving process that you go through

Alina Martin: the grieving process. I really underestimated that. Yeah, it is. Great. You use the perfect word. It took me a long time to articulate what that word meant. Because, you know, society and people around you have this have this ideological concept. You have every entrepreneurs dream, you built a business that was bigger than yourself full of people that somebody paid you a bunch of money for, you know, and enough money that it’s life changing. And then you get your check, and you walk away. And for me, it stunned me. It just stunned me. And then I went through this giant period of grief, not recognizing it was grief, I now recognize it was grief. But it was grief, it was burnout. It was loss. It was you know, it was all those funny things that all those emotions that bubbled up that I really was not expecting. Yeah,

Elizabeth Ledoux: yeah. Yeah, one of my most favorite books, and I’ve mentioned it on the podcast before, it’s a book called transitions. And it is just, it’s such a great book. And one of the big takeaways from that book that I love, is that for every beginning, there is an end. And then there’s this, how they described it is a neutral zone. And that people, especially in our culture, try to narrow the neutral zone, like you’re not, you’re not, it’s not supposed to be like that you’re not supposed to grieve. You’re not supposed to reset, you’re supposed to do it very quickly. If you do, yes. You know, now we’re seeing grieving as depression. And so maybe you’re going to be depressed, or go on some medications for that, but there is a true neutral zone where it’s very, very uncomfortable. But if you let yourself be there, it’s, it’s so beneficial for you in the growth that you have. And then also finding that next adventure. So some of your planning ahead of time might have been very beneficial to you just to have a vision or an idea, because it might help. But also giving yourself the opportunity just to be for a little Yeah,

Alina Martin: and I that’s a really good point. Like I, I personally, throughout my experience did not be enough, like I didn’t, and then we ran into COVID. And so then the whole world was sort of shaken up, you know, sort of around me, and it was, you know, was a gift in one respect, because it just allowed me to be just a bit because it could go anywhere can do anything. But in the same respect, you just talked about that sort of, well, you’re supposed to rebound and do something else. And so that’s what I kept climbing at, right? I kept climbing at while you’re young, you’re young woman, keep going, keep going, keep going. And then it was like, and then once I recognized, and I recognize halfway through COVID I was like, No, you just gotta just just slow down and stop. And just stop. And I just stopped and I probably took a really good year off like a solid year off. I used to joke I used to go grocery shopping on Tuesday afternoon with the old grannies and, you know, we’d sit around pick our apples in the produce aisle. And that was really cathartic for me, I really needed that. You know, I renovated a kitchen, I did some things that I just needed to to be and I should have done that in the beginning. Like the day after I sold my I left my company on January 4 2019. And the next day, I got up and went in my office in my house and I didn’t leave it for a year. True story. Wow. Wow. Yeah.

Alina Martin: I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how. Yeah, that’s

Elizabeth Ledoux: kind of your Safe Place your norm. Totally up jump. Yeah. Yep. was calm.

Alina Martin: Yeah, the computer was there. Right. Yeah.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah, he get kind of tied to that computer, don’t you? My safety blanket, I take it everywhere I go.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah, so. So now that you’re fast forwarding and starting to head into some of these other businesses? Yeah. How are we, in your experience? What are you taking along from the transitions and the things that you did that you’re that you’re building in earlier than you did? Maybe in the other businesses that you had? Hmm,

Alina Martin: I would say my decision making framework has gotten a lot better. I would say it’s actually gotten a bit slower. So I used to make decisions a lot quicker. I’m making decisions slower than I’ve ever made. And I’m making them very methodically. And so I think I learned that even though I can be a really good quick kind of decision maker, had I spent a little bit of time previous in my seat, my old CEO role, had I spent a little more time and made some other considerations, talking to others doing a variety of other things get you know, getting more research, stop relying so much on my gut and making more data data driven decisions, I think I would have made some better decisions within that, within that trajectory. So really learn that that’s been a really huge learning experience. For me. This real estate training business that we built, it probably took me six months to make the decision on whether or not we were really going to build it and whether or not we, you know, we have the right team and the right capacity and the right capital, and all of these right things, you know, before would have just said, Yeah, let’s go. Sure. So my decision making process has gotten a lot better.

Elizabeth Ledoux: That’s awesome. And I guess, decision making process, and kind of relative to what, relative to just building and growing or relative to a liquidity event what? Yeah, relative to what

Alina Martin: Yeah, I would say relative to building and growing, I, you know, throughout my trajectory of sort of growing the business, and since since exiting in 2019, I’ve done more mergers and acquisitions I’ve done, I’ve done more deals, whether I’ve worked on helped on other people’s deals, I’ve put a couple of deals together myself. So it’s been, I would say more on the growth and operational side. And I think, that decision making process and really that data, just data, kind of, you know, data decision making process, I’ve just gotten a lot better at that, because I’ve worked with so many entrepreneurs over the last four or five years, you know, really helping them scale their businesses. And really, you know, recognizing that data driven decisions is the way to go, you know, you have to use these other elements, but you really need to look at the data. Now, you can make a different decision when the data says, but you do need to take a look at the data. So on the growth side, on the m&a side, I would say that, you know, deal flow right now is really, really good. You need to act a little bit quicker, maybe than in the past, just because there’s a massive amount of transition going on. As you know, we’re talking about transition now, but lots of transition going on. And there’s lots of businesses exchanging hands. So it’s, you know, being quick on being quick on that front and being quick to take an opportunity. But, you know, one of the companies I’m invested in, put some money into the company in 2018, it’s, it’s just been a little bit of a rocket ship has been a great company, we’ve already had two offers, turned an offer down in the summer. And in that particular business, you know, when we were chatting with the CEO, we just said, Listen, you know, we’ve had two offers, and in less than 24 months, there’s 10, more behind it. So it’s, it’s a high growth company, there’s a lot of interest in this space. So you know, I just think your decisions also need to be met with market conditions and a variety of other things, you have to look at those things.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah, yep. And then also, you know, on that note, there, there are a lot of things that go into the decision of how long you’re going to be in and how many wins of leaving, leaving roles, leaving your actual equity, position, all of that. And as you walk through that, I think, taking into consideration what you want for you, your family, your life, how you want to live your life, and also the legacy that you want to leave behind. Because as you get into even where you are, you start to think about, you know, what legacy do you want, so whether it’s an active business, and that’s your number one asset, or whether it’s something more like a family office, or that kind of thing, and what you’re trying to create, and then transition to others, at some point in time, the decisions of how you want that, to look what your legacy is, and how you want to leave that for others is important. Yeah,

Alina Martin: and I, you know, speaking of how we are culturally, I think we really don’t pay enough attention to what we want, you know, like, what we want and what we want for our family. I think we sometimes view that as being selfish or being you know, and I can talk a lot about how I put the business first a lot. And I you know, and that’s a really hard lesson that I learned, you know, and it’s, I didn’t think enough about what does Alina want, like, what fills my cup? What do I want? You know, what is it that I want out of this out of this journey and out of these things, and I just don’t think we spend enough time doing that. It’s like, how do we grow companies bigger, faster, better, right. So we ever talked about how do we how do we get them to the next stage and all those things are important because you know, we grow or die, but in the same breath, how do we culturally inside our own families and inside our own lives? How do we want to do that? Do we want to leave money for our children? Do we want to be able to you know, right now we’re working on and my daughter doesn’t know this and I know she won’t listen to the pie hope she doesn’t listen to podcasts, but we’re, you know, we’re working on buying her a house that we’re going to put a renter in that we can Turn over to her, you know, when she’s 25 years old and stable, because we want to give her the opportunity to have some stability. So these are some of the things and decisions that you have to talk about. And we don’t do that enough. No,

Elizabeth Ledoux: no, I would agree with you. I would agree with you. And we don’t do that enough. I don’t I don’t think we do that enough as people and owners and entrepreneurs, when we’re in our businesses, right, just day to day, but I also don’t think even as you approach the transitioning, and it, you know, it can be two years, three years, 10 years out. But as you start to approach that, I don’t think that people do that at that time, either. Yes. Yeah. So I have found, though, that and you know, this about me that I appreciate the Canadian culture, because the Canadian culture, it’s a little different than the US culture. Sure. It is. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So yeah, there’s nuances.

Alina Martin: Yeah.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah. And, and one of them is Canadians tend to enjoy I think life a little bit more. Just a little. Right. Do

Alina Martin: I think you’re right? Yeah, I think you’re I think you’re right, I and, you know, I work with businesses every week and see inside and build my own companies and all these things. And I see more of that here, although I am seeing a bit of a shift, you know, some of these younger CEOs that are coming in a lot more aggressive than I’ve seen, you know, that I’ve seen in the past. And, and part of that is because I think in our Canadian culture, we have to get outside the borders here to really grow grow our companies. Right. So we have to think we have to think a lot more global maybe I don’t know. Yeah, but it’s, you know, it’s certainly it’s certainly a thing, right, you know, we’re just a smaller country, smaller population.

Elizabeth Ledoux: Absolutely. Well, gosh, okay, so to you know, we were talking earlier about where time goes, and time disappeared again. Again, Where’s it go? But, yeah, so I always like to ask at the end of the podcast, what would be one thing that you would like to leave just one last thought with our listeners on something that might be most useful for them as they approach and wander through their business transitions? Oh,

Alina Martin: that’s a great question, wander through the transitions. I think what would I like to leave the listeners, there’s something around fear, I want to talk about fear just a little bit. It’s really scary, especially if you’ve had something you know, my family business was in my family for almost 30 years. And so it’s a long time, it’s a long time to have your family business around. And there was a lot of fear around lead about about letting about letting go. And that fear is real. And I ignored that fear. And I really wish I would have leaned into that and felt that and been like, it feels scary. You know, it feels scary. It feels hard, it feels all those things. And it’s okay. It’s okay to be sad about it. It’s okay to be fearful. But it’s okay. It’s okay. Right, stop pushing it down. I remember that two years ago, I had a coffee meeting with a good, a good friend of mine who built a very successful business way more successful, a hugely successful business. And he exited he was on the chair of the board, and he exited. And we met for coffee afterwards. And, you know, he bought a bunch of houses a bunch of cars and done a whole pile of crazy things. And I sat him down and you know, and I looked at him and he just looked upset. And I said, How are you doing? He said, Yeah, Yeah, I’m okay. I’m okay. And I said, No. How are you really doing? And he just looked at me. And he said, This is really hard. Yeah. And I think we just don’t pay enough attention to how it feels. And so I would really encourage people to feel all the feels, just feel it.

Elizabeth Ledoux: I love that. Yeah. Yeah. That is incredible. And thanks. Yeah, terrific insight and information for people because it is scary, and it’s hard to walk through it. It’s really hard. Then there are the other piece of it, though, is to not engage in it but also make it as fun as possible because it’s a new adventure and it’s a different thing. And there’s some great learning and some great fun things too. So I think yeah, like all of the fields the way that you put that was perfect was

Alina Martin: probably just feel all the things you know, it’s yeah, it’s it’s have a little fun, you know, like, I didn’t have enough fun in the beginning and now I’m having a little more fun, but

Elizabeth Ledoux: I recommend that to Molina, thanks for taking the time to be thanks for having thanks for being on I just so appreciate it and it’s great to reconnect talk to so thank you as well. Thank you so much. Thank you for listening to this episode of the business transition roadmap. If you are listening to this and you find yourself wanting to go deeper into these topics and start the process of putting together your transition strategy, I’d love to offer you a free initial strategy session with my team, where we’ll help you to explore the future transition of your business, head over to to schedule a call. Thank you again for listening, and I’ll see you on the next episode. The Business Transition Roadmap


The Business Transition Roadmap with Elizabeth Ledoux

How do communities thrive? When businesses experience healthy growth and transition. Join CEO of The Transition Strategists, Elizabeth Ledoux as she and her guests identify what makes a successful business transition roadmap. If you know you want to transition or exit your business “one day”, today is the right day to start planning. This show will give you the roadmap.

If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, you can check out other episodes here: Podcasts – The Transition Strategists
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