Redefining Mentorship

RETHINKING AS WE EVOLVE

 
In Part 1 of my exploration into the evolving landscape of Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (EtA), I delved into the emerging status of search funds as an asset class and the evolution of conferences, underscored by the recent MIT EtA Summit. Notably, the unique positioning of the MIT conference—despite its lack of a dedicated EtA course—sets a meaningful example of inclusion and community engagement, highlighting the importance and value of embracing diverse perspectives within and beyond the EtA ecosystem.
 
In Part 2, I shift my focus to the need to reconsider what mentorship looks like as the ecosystem evolves. In “Wax On, Wax Off,” I shared my belief that mentorship has declined more precipitously than many investors are willing to admit, offering tips for aspiring acquisition entrepreneurs on engaging proactively. Here, I share further impressions following the MIT summit.
 


MENTORSHIP NEEDS RETHINKING
 

Panelists openly mentioned that the landscape of bespoke mentoring by investors is undergoing changes, with many predicting lower returns as less committed entrants (dubbed “freeriders” or “tourist investors”) join the field. This aligns with AJ Wasserstein and Jeff Stevens’ insightful “must-read” piece, “Exploring the Future of Entrepreneurship through Acquisition.
 
When I first entered this space, an apsiring searcher would typically engage with maybe ten other searchers. This number has since increased to 20 to 25. Recently, I’ve heard from aspirants planning to interview anywhere from 50 to 99 community members as they initiate their search funds. At this rate, by 2030, searchers might need to interact with two to three hundred individuals just to launch a search fund. This trajectory likely is not sustainable for both investors and searchers within the ecosystem, especially as the number of aspiring searchers grows exponentially.
 
There’s also a hidden challenge: without knowing the right questions to ask or understanding the evolution of the ecosystem, a new searcher might end up chasing windmills.
 
This challenge is partly why I created VAULT, which houses over 700—and counting—interviews and webinars accessible to searchers. Over the last nine years, I’ve absorbed as much information as possible on the topic of search funds. Some days, I feel less like an entrepreneur and more like the community’s Wiki or librarian. Yet, I often find myself turning to VAULT for answers several times a week. The TakeOff on-demand courses aim to condense the wealth of wisdom I’ve gleaned from numerous sources into an actionable, manageable format for aspiring searchers.
 
However, I’ve witnessed investors strongly advise a roomful of searchers against paying for guidance. (Note: This did not happen at MIT).  Why is it that clients rightfully expect to pay for the services of management consultants or lawyers after two or three years of education, while the unique and hard-earned knowledge within a niche like search funds is undervalued? It’s a discrepancy that doesn’t make sense when we consider the value of expert help in any professional field. Moreover, this DIY mindset has evolved into conventional wisdom that might not fit today’s changing landscape.
 
3 CHALLENGES WITH THE DIY MINDSET
 
Firstly, the types and range of search fund models are expanding, meaning that conventional wisdom suitable for a traditional search might not align well the needs of with self-funded searchers, nor may it be suitable for different geographies.
 
Secondly, the advice overlooks the costs to searchers. An obscured cost is school tuition, at least for those attending top business schools with solid investor networks. Another obscured cost is the equity students forego—investors typically acquire a significant portion of equity, ostensibly in exchange for their financial backing and mentoring support. Yet, with investors increasingly overextended, some searchers aren’t receiving the value they anticipated. This leaves behind individuals without access to an EtA course, those pursuing their careers who aren’t inclined to return to school just to learn about EtA, and those who need additional support that investors are unable to provide.
 
Third, as the ecosystem expands, the amount of information has grown exponentially. Nine years ago, one could read everything about search funds within a week or two. Even a few years ago, you could feel relatively confident in a few weeks or months. Today, novices struggle to parse through the information. It pains me to hear of folks repeating the same mistakes as searchers before them—simply because they didn’t have access to sound information.
 
Given these challenges, the notion that aspiring searchers should refrain from compensating for guidance seems shortsighted. Even if investors are prepared to accept reduced returns due to their limited capacity for bespoke mentoring, it’s the searcher who ultimately bears the full professional and financial consequences if their search doesn’t conclude satisfactorily.
 
Instead of conceding defeat before we have really begun as an asset class, we must tackle these challenges directly to preserve the success and viability of the search fund model.
 
CONCLUSION
 
The growing acknowledgment of search funds as an asset class and the accompanying challenges (such as the need for conferences to distinguish themselves and the importance of fostering inclusive dialogues) underscore the sector’s dynamic nature. As searchers grapple with their knowledge gaps, resources like VAULT and the TakeOff courses could offer desperately needed access to information, especially as seasoned investors reach their bandwidth limits. In doing so, we can ensure the search fund model remains a robust and appealing avenue for all aspiring acquisition entrepreneurs.