I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Ken Massey, owner of Autumnwood Designs, to discuss his experience as a business owner. In 2021, Ken ventured into the world of “acquisition entrepreneurship” – and joined the ranks of a growing number of success stories. There is a great deal of insight to glean from Ken’s journey, which he generously shared with us.
Ken had a professional career for more than twenty years before buying his own business. He was in publishing for ten of those years, where he learned the business side of publishing as well as design and production.
Then, he and his wife Angela made a big decision: they moved their family to Costa Rica for eight months to learn Spanish and then lived in Latin America for three years, working with an international mission organization called South America Mission (SAM). Following their time in Latin America, they returned to Fort Mill, South Carolina, where they currently live. SAM is headquartered in Fort Mill, and for about ten years, Ken raised money for the organization as the Director of Development.
Ken says he has always had a sort of entrepreneurial inclination. Even within publishing, he created new titles and new guides and publications. And then, within SAM, Ken would pursue alternative funding ideas and entrepreneurial endeavors that would generate additional funding. For example, he started a small coffee business that exclusively sold coffee from the countries where they worked in South America.
Ken has also always had a creative bent. He wanted to be a writer at an early age, and then he learned publishing and design. The combination of his creativity with his dabbling in entrepreneurial endeavors over the years led to his more conscious interest in entrepreneurship.
“I actually thought about starting something like a consulting business or a publishing company,” Ken recalls. “But then, well, I was 45 years old. I had just started learning about acquisition entrepreneurship, and I thought, ‘Wait. Why start something from scratch at age 45 when I can buy something and grow it? I can do this.’”
Like many, however, Ken did not initially think that he could buy a business. He says, “I thought buying a business was only for ‘rich people.’ And yes, you do have to have some money. But, I learned more about how it works and how you can put some of your own equity into it and work with the government to do an SBA loan. And again, I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
With the new understanding that he could, indeed, buy a business, Ken started talking to people about it. One of those people was a childhood friend who told Ken about a book called Buy Then Build by Walker Deibel. The book is all about acquisition entrepreneurship, and Ken became intrigued. Ken says, “It’s funny because I didn’t know how to ‘do’ acquisition entrepreneurship. But in the book, he lays out steps — for example, you need to give yourself this much time; you need to start talking to commercial lenders; you need to start talking to brokers and mergers and acquisition companies and see if they’ll work with you.’
So, Ken did just that. He called up his friend Chris, a commercial banker here in town, and invited him to lunch. Chris suggested that Ken reach out to Viking Mergers & Acquisitions. Ken had heard of Viking, and after organizing a few details, he submitted a contact form on the Viking website. Viking called back and connected him with Kevin Carlisle.
Kevin is a Senior Advisor here in our Charlotte office. Describing his role at Viking, Kevin says, “We really want to make sure we find the right buyer for a seller. If you have somebody who just wants to buy a business but they don’t share the same philosophies towards business, and towards people, then it’s not going to be a good fit. The seller of the business trusts us to find the right buyer.”
As Kevin took time to get to know Ken and understand his motivations for wanting to buy a business, he could better guide him in the process. “I am really passionate about helping buyers find the right business to buy. I see it as my job to help ease their fears and concerns; to give them the information they need to make a good decision. I love the challenge of connecting the right buyer with the seller.”
Meanwhile, Ken welcomed Kevin’s insight into what businesses might be a good fit for him as well as his guidance throughout the buying process. He recalls, “I didn’t know what I was doing. I needed to find somebody that I could trust, and I really found that in Viking.”
A New Adventure
Ken closed on his purchase of Autumnwood Designs in April of 2021. When I asked him about the transition to business ownership, he replied, “I love what I do. I can honestly say that we’ve been remarkably successful… There are a lot of things to celebrate, and the business is doing well. But it’s not just about generating revenue. The fact that I love what I do — and I work hard, and I work a lot — but I don’t feel worn out at the end of the day. I run the company, but most of my day-to-day is sales and designing jobs. We work exclusively with individual homeowners, so I’m in people’s homes throughout the Charlotte area all the time. I love being in people’s homes and getting to know different people.”
However, that’s not to say that owning a business is stress-free. Ken reflects, “When you’re first getting into a business and stuff happens, you wonder, ‘Are we going to be able to do this?’ But, you surround yourself with people, you ask questions, you get to know people and start networking — and things fall into place.”
Describing his business ownership journey so far, Ken smiles. “I have to say it’s been a lot of fun. And I love what I do. And I love my team. I love managing a small group of people, caring for them, and making sure they do well.”
Thoughts on Margin & Motivation
Eighteen-plus months in, Ken has advice for aspiring entrepreneurs (via acquisition or otherwise). He says that in his book, author Walker Deibel encouraged readers to consider their risk tolerance and margin for failure. Ken stands behind that suggestion and clarifies that there is more to consider than just financial margin. For example, what things in life do you want to preserve? What priorities will you not put at risk?
Ken describes it like this: “Financial margin is certainly one factor to consider. You don’t want to just risk it all and then have nothing. So, I had enough money to do an equity injection into the company and still have some money left over. I knew I had that financial margin of safety. But I also had to consider how much of my time this business would take and how much of my energy. I didn’t want it to consume me. I felt like it would be a good fit for me to buy this business and run it. I could learn how to do this business without it taking me away from my family.”
In the same way, Ken suggests that a person’s motivation for buying a business must go beyond the financials, and, if a person’s reason to buy a business is exclusively about making money, they likely won’t be happy over the long term. Instead, Ken suggests, “Find a business where you can exercise your gifts and your talents. Doing what you love is so important — even more important than maximizing profits. If you’re doing what you love, then you’re happy, and the people around you are happy, and that will sustain you over the long term.”
If you’ve considered acquisition entrepreneurship or have questions about the business buying or selling process, we are here to help. Contact Viking today for a complimentary consultation.