Today’s post is by Gary A. Pudles, A&S ‘84
In talking to other founders and CEOs of fast moving companies, you quickly understand that rapid growth is often caused by the luck of being at the right place at the right time. Many successful entrepreneurs share an ability to seize opportunity when and where it presents itself, even if it comes in a way that was not part of their original plan.
I first realized that seizing opportunities was paramount to being a business owner when I sought to purchase my first business. After spending several months trying to strike a deal using traditional venture fundraising and business planning, my plans crashed and I embarked on a journey that would be completely different than what I had anticipated.
In the Beginning
Before AnswerNet’s inception, my journey to business ownership began with weekly breakfast meetings with a friend to discuss start-up ideas a year before my first transaction crashed. Like many entrepreneurs, I was in a job that just didn’t fit me right—I was vice president and general counsel for a specialty real estate leasing company—and I knew that I wanted to work for someone I really liked and respected: Me!
In early January 1998, I had executed a term sheet to buy a business in the functional music business, which wasn’t a huge stretch for me since I had run a similar business, Muzak in Washington, D.C., for five and a half years. Within a week of signing the term sheet and separating from my job, the transaction fell through. The seller made certain claims that, through due diligence, we found were not accurate.
Thus, by mid January, I had a wife, two kids, a mortgage and no job or company. At that point, my wife and I agreed that I would work on starting my business through the end of July 1998. If not successful, I would become an employee again. But until then, my focus would be starting my own business. With the first transaction dead, I went back to my list of things I wanted and didn’t want in a business. Primarily, my goal was to run any kind of business and have some ownership stake in the enterprise. I hit the businesses-for-sale websites to search for another opportunity, and within two weeks I was actively working on raising capital to acquire my first telephone answering service business. We started due diligence and fundraising in late March, in addition to finalizing the business plan, meeting with potential investors, and learning everything I could about the telephone answering service industry.
One of the most important things I did was read the trade publications related to the industry. In a spring edition of a leading industry publication was an article about an established owner of multiple answering services, Bill Robertshaw, who liked entrepreneurial people and situations.
I had my investment banker set up a meeting with Bill and the two of us hit it off like old friends. We talked about running multiple locations and how to ensure each one ran profitably. In fact, we talked about all aspects of running and building businesses.
Over the next three months, I had completed raising the $2 million I needed for my first transaction and was working toward finalizing a deal. At the end of the second week of July, the accountant completed the due diligence report, and the results were not what we had hoped for. So once again, my dream of being my own boss using other people’s money fell through.
My accountant then suggested I call Bill again. I called Bill, told him my transaction was on its last legs and asked him if he had something we could work on together. We agreed to meet the following week. I arrived at his office late in the day, and I explained to him what happened. We talked about how the transaction was going to be funded and how much—actually how little—of my own funds I was willing to invest.
At that point, he asked me if I would prefer to purchase half of one of his companies and form a partnership with him and his family. After talking about some opportunities he could offer, we settled on an Allentown, Pennsylvania answering service business, Tel-A-Talk TAS, Inc. We agreed to exchange information and meet again that Saturday to see if we could put a deal together ourselves. The following day he faxed me the financials of this business, and I spent most of Friday reviewing the financials and talking to my advisers.
Saturday arrived and I told my wife that I was going to do this transaction if the price was right. It was now July 25, and I was going to keep my promise of being in business by August 1. Bill and I met at his office, and after some quick small talk we agreed on a price. When he told me how much he wanted I said, “That’s a high price.” He responded, “That’s your price of admission.”
From There to Here
Realizing my dream of business ownership certainly wasn’t a smooth process. It taught me that sometimes, in order to get what you want, you have to change your idea of what you want and how to get it. I also reached back to my education at Syracuse University as a Policy Studies major – a program designed to teach students how to analyze a situation and determine the best course of action – to guide me through the process.
The willingness to remain flexible and open to possibilities has fueled the growth of AnswerNet, which now owns and operates over 50 call centers. Whether it is being open to new acquisitions or being willing to push ourselves to deliver our services in new and unique ways, the spirit of flexibility and seizing opportunity is inextricably woven into the personality of AnswerNet.
Gary A. Pudles is President and CEO of AnswerNet. He founded AnswerNet in 1998 and has driven the growth of the organization through sales, acquisitions and partnerships. Gary has won the prestigious “Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year” award and has led AnswerNet to Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500 List of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies and Customer Inter@ction Solutions Magazine’s Top 50 Teleservices Firms on multiple occasions.
Gary is also a nationally recognized speaker and presenter on telecommunications, business motivation and business operations and is a regular contributor to the award-winning website Inc.com. His articles have appeared in well respected industry publications, including Connections Magazine, Contact Management, Customer Inter@ction Solutions, DM News, Multichannel Merchant and Risk Management. Gary has also appeared and been quoted on television, radio and in a number of newspapers. He regularly addresses leading associations and conferences, among them; the American Teleservices Association, the Association of TeleServices International, the Canadian Call Management Association, Disaster Recovery Journal’s Spring World and Fall World, and ICCM.
Gary remains very active outside of AnswerNet, instructing students at the Wharton School of Business’ SBDC and participating on the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Technology Advisory Board. Gary earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Policy from Syracuse University and a Juris Doctorate Degree from the Washington College of Law at American University.