MarketMate interview with Don Bravaldo
Don Bravaldo founded Bravaldo Capital Advisors in 2006 to provide full-service investment banking to middle market clients, a segment underserved by larger advisory firms. As managing partner, Don has led BCA through successful transactions across a wide variety of industries.
Prior to founding Bravaldo Capital Advisors, Don led the middle market group at a Southeastern business brokerage firm and oversaw all North American mergers and acquisition activity for Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc., a large, publicly traded, consolidator of orthopedic and prosthetic service businesses.
In these roles, Don administered all phases of the mergers and acquisition process, including identifying potential sell side opportunities, packaging businesses for sale, performing business valuations, extending and negotiating offers, conducting due diligence investigations, and managing the formal closing process.
Earlier in his career as an auditor with Bennett Thrasher and Co., P.C. and Arthur Andersen LLP, Don coordinated financial reporting engagements and provided business consulting services to clients throughout the Southeast in industries including construction, service, manufacturing, and healthcare.
Don is a member of the Georgia Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He graduated Cum Laude with a BS in Accounting from Auburn University. Don is active in his church and enjoys golf, fishing and the outdoors.
Follow Bravaldo Capital Advisors on LinkedIn.
Intro: Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it's time for Atlanta Business Radio, spotlighting the city's best businesses and the people who lead them.
Stone Payton: Welcome to this very special edition of Atlanta Business Radio. It is time for MarketMate Atlanta. Stone Payton and Corey Rieck here with you. Corey, this is going to be a fantastic segment. Who did we bring with us this morning?
Corey Rieck: Well, today, Stone, we have another great show. In our MarketMate Atlanta this morning, we have another great guest, Mr. Don Bravaldo of Bravaldo Capital Advisors. Bravaldo Capital Advisors is a boutique, Atlanta-based, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate finance advisory firm. And it provides independent economic and financial advice and execution services for lower middle-market companies, with revenues typically between $10 million and $300 million. They're located primarily in the southeast United States.
They offer a full range of transaction and advisory services, guiding their clients through sell side transactions, exit strategy planning, growth through acquisition, debt restructuring, and corporate recapitalization. Don's team has extensive expertise in a wide range of industries, including industrials, information technology, healthcare, and general business services. Over the years, Don has been a tremendous resource to the folks I referred him to, and he's also been a loyal partner and friend for many years as well. Don, welcome.
Don Bravaldo: Thank you, Corey. Glad to be here. Thanks, Stone. Good morning.
Stone Payton: Well, that was pretty thorough. Do we really need to do a show now? That was pretty well.
Don Bravaldo: That was easy.
Corey Rieck: What are we going to do for the next 58 minutes?
Stone Payton: Exactly. All right. Let's ask him some questions.
Corey Rieck: Well, Don, why don't you introduce yourself to the listenership here. And, hopefully, we gave you an overview of your company, but just introduce yourself a little bit further.
Don Bravaldo: Sure. I appreciate that, Corey. Well, I'm Don Bravaldo. I'm President of Bravaldo Capital Advisors. In terms of my background, I describe myself as a reformed CPA and a slow learner, I would add, because it took me about seven years to figure out that I hated being chained behind a desk. But during that seven years, I spent time with some really notable accounting firms, Arthur Andersen being one, another regional firm here locally in Atlanta called Bennett Thrasher. And it was there that I had—
Corey Rieck: A great firm.
Don Bravaldo: Thank you. Yeah. And they've done some amazing job growing since I departed. I don't know what that says about my stay there, but in any event, I learned a ton about assessing financial risk, and doing audit work, putting financial statements together, which has really allowed me to have a different perspective on boutique investment banking and M&A transactions. I thank the world for getting a start downtown with Andersen so many years ago and finishing my accounting career with Bennett Thrasher. But along the way, on the personal side, I would tell you that I've been an Atlanta resident since 1993. I'm a Georgia native. The best thing that ever happened to me, I give a ton of credit to the folks at Bennett Thrasher where I met my wife. We're celebrating 18 years.
Corey Rieck: Oh, congratulations!
Don Bravaldo: Thank you. Thank you. And it's been a wild ride building a great firm where we get the pleasure everyday of helping entrepreneurs achieve their lifelong goal of building a great business and putting an exclamation point on the end of building a great business by helping them exit that business.
Corey Rieck: You mentioned that you had some experience as a CPA, and you hit a point where you decided that that just really wasn't a path you wanted to continue on. Was there a jumping off point, or was there a chain of events? Walk us through that.
Don Bravaldo: Yeah. When I reflect back on that time, at Andersen, I had an opportunity to serve some of the biggest blue chip public companies around the southeast. And while it was a great training ground where I was certainly around some of the best and brightest minds in the accounting and financial world, I had the issue of being a very small cog in a huge machine. It was difficult to see the big picture or to see that my work was, ultimately, making a difference to those clients.
I grew up in a small town in Southwest Georgia with a pretty entrepreneurial family. I knew the value of what it meant to do hard work. And I loved to see the results of my work. And so, I did get to find that at Bennett Thrasher, because in that transition, I found that BT ended up working with a little bit smaller sized clients, closely held family-run businesses. And it was there that I felt that we were making a difference in those entrepreneurs' lives. Now, whether it was helping them save on taxes, if it was helping them get audited financial statements that got them that critical bank loan to grow their business.
But the longer that you stay in accounting, there's really two paths. There's the technical partner that is so brilliant that you need him around to accomplish that mirror out of tax regulations, or the audit requirements, or you're a partner, you get on a track to developing business. For me, at that point in time, they were never going to call me the technical partner they could not afford to lose. I wanted to—I'm a people person and I really wanted to get into a sales role. So, that was that critical juncture.
Corey Rieck: I think that when I think of your name, when I hear your name, business development is like the second thing that I hear when they talk about Don Bravaldo. And it seems to me that having a CPA would be very, very useful in the line of work that you're in now.
Don Bravaldo: I couldn't agree more. In terms of the clients we work with, number one, a tremendous referral source are CPAs.
Corey Rieck: Of course.
Don Bravaldo: Right? That have helped their clients along the way build a great business, and their clients have come to them and said, "Look, I have a desire to exit, to potentially transition or sell my business. Can you help me with that?" And in our referral network, we've just got some great partners that say, "Sure, we'd like to introduce you to Bravaldo Capital Advisors. That's what they specialize in." But it is more than that. Our partners are very adept at helping their clients get prepared to sell their business. And so, a CPA fundamentally can advise that business owner two to three years in advance of a sale to say, "We've been good about keeping the costs down. You've saved on taxes. You probably need to start to invest in a higher level of outside reporting, so that a buyer has greater assurance that what they're buying is fundamentally a sound business."
And so, during that process, audited financial statements, taking a privately held business that's been managed to minimize taxes, and making that more like a public company that wants to show profitability is key. And so, having a CPA that has that capability of really looking beyond the numbers, and giving that kind of advice, and helping their clients through preparing for a sale, those are the types of CPAs that we enjoy working with.
Corey Rieck: It seems like when somebody has an inclination to sell their business, it seems like there is a process that involves setup, that involves maybe cleaning some things up. Tell us how you coach people around that.
Don Bravaldo: Very carefully. As you know, with most entrepreneurs, it's bite-size soundbites that you get when you first meet them. But it all starts with getting the lay of the land what state is the business in. Traditionally, with referrals, there is a trust factor there. Obviously, everything we do is confidential. So, we sign nondisclosure agreements. But we'll look at the company's financial performance over the last five years, and we'll put together an analysis, and come back to them, and say, "What are your plans for exit? What's important to you? What are you really trying to achieve?" And it is no surprise that one of the first things that's critical is how much money can I get, right? What is my business worth?
Corey Rieck: Do you mean, people want to know about money before they sell their business? Really?
Don Bravaldo: They might just want to know about money.
Corey Rieck: This just in.
Don Bravaldo: And on top of that, you throw in the factor that, in many cases, what they think the business is worth is potentially a lot more—a lot less than what it really is. And so, we spend time looking at that business value, looking at how they've been running the business, and asking them, "How much of a runway do we have to work with?" Are you going to be one of those clients that will actually invest time in planning, or are you going to be one of our clients, one of our many clients that come to us after events have transpired and say it's time to sell? I've done relatively little planning, but I've got a good business, and we would agree they have a good business. Do what you can get it sold.
On the planning side of the equation, our favorite types, because we know that planning makes a tremendous difference in our efforts and translates back into value. So, back to your original question, what are some of the things that we look at and recommend? Again, oftentimes, a private owner is going to manage from a tax perspective. There could be a lot of personal expenses, or family members on the payroll, or you name it, we see everything from planes, trains, trips.
Corey Rieck: I'll bet you do.
Don Bravaldo: Everything. We start to say, "Look, you're going to have to stop running that through the business. Yes, you're going to have to pay more in taxes today over the next few years, but it will come back to you in a multiple of value three years from now when you sell." That's the number one thing. And the second key critical thing is a lot of private businesses don't have audited financial statements. They might not even have reviewed financial statements. This goes back to having outside assurance for investors that the company's financial records are sound. It takes time to start that level of service. And so, getting the CPA involved or bringing in a CPA firm that can even provide those services over and around maybe the traditional tax preparer, those are some of the key things that we look at on the front end.
We could talk for an hour about all of the advice that comes out of our analysis. I'll mention one key area that, given enough time for the planners out there, probably one of the single biggest things that we see is an owner that has a great business, is making a ton of money, but is still running around with their hair on fire, trying to do everything themselves. So, augmenting that management team, even if it's two to three years out, is a key piece.
Corey Rieck: Do you have an ideal timeline of—you mentioned the runway, where your client prepares and does the things that you advise them to do to get it ready. Is it two years? Three years? I mean, it seems like the more time you have, the more you can really button this up and perhaps get a better value for that. Is that fair or is that off?
Don Bravaldo: I think it's absolutely fair. And to be honest with you, Corey, both you and I have participated in peer-to-peer CEO organizations. And there's one that we both have participated in, Vistage. They're very fond of saying, "At the beginning, think of the end," right? So, when you start a business, you start it with what your end game is in mind. Now, that endgame can change.
Corey Rieck: Sure.
Don Bravaldo: Right? It can start out being a family succession and end up being an M&A sale to the outside world. So, for us, we have prospects that, no lie, we've had a relationship over 15 years with the company. It seems like every couple of years, they'll come in and say, "We might want to sell this year. Can you analyze the business for us? Tell us where the value is today." And even if the value is there, that owner/founder, especially, has difficulty letting go.
And, I remember a story from a few years ago. There was a business that I had a 10-year relationship with. And no lie, we prepared a proposal 10 years of those 10 years. Every year they'd come in and say, "Now, it's time." And they just couldn't pull the trigger. We finally caught that, Corey, a few years ago. And I remember bringing in a bottle of champagne going, "The longest pursuit at our firm, we finally landed them as a client." And, of course, that was the kiss of death because they, ultimately, did not sell after we got some great offers for the business. But they're still a prospect. We'll sell that business one day.
Corey Rieck: Yeah, I think that when I think of your name, business development is a second thing that I hear after your name. But, also, in all the relationships that you've developed, I mean, you've been very effective at building these relationships. I always hear nothing but positive things about you. And I think that's a testament to how you've branded yourself and the firm.
Don Bravaldo: Thank you for that.
Corey Rieck: How did you do that?
Don Bravaldo: Well, I think, fundamentally, it just—it comes back from the way I was brought up. I'm very fortunate to have some great parents. They just taught us it's better to give than to receive. And I've tried to build my business the same way, connecting people, helping them where we can. These are things that aren't often synonymous with investment banking; where on Wall Street, they tend to put fees ahead of clients. And I took the opposite approach and just said, "We're going to help people. And in doing so, good things are gonna happen for our firm." In terms of of the networking aspect, it is true that I'm a tremendous networker.
Corey Rieck: That's an understatement.
Don Bravaldo: In our business, people think of us negotiating all day long, spending hours, analyzing businesses. And we do. We have a team for that. I spend about 50%, maybe even 60% of my time developing relationships.
Corey Rieck: Yeah.
Don Bravaldo: And of all those efforts, our firm is a little bit different. We are not trying to work with as many clients as possible. We purposefully have built the business to only work on five to seven transactions a year. But in doing so, to find the high quality company that is willing and interested in working with a firm like ours, we probably meet with a hundred different companies in a year.
Corey Rieck: Yeah. How did you decide that this was the direction, buying and selling companies, helping them get their businesses ready to sell? How did you decide after you decided, "Hey, the track you're on is a CPA. That wasn't exactly what you wanted to do"? How did you decide to start the company?
Don Bravaldo: Well, picking back up at the story, I remember being a young audit manager at Bennett Thrasher. And I was just starting to get an opportunity to develop business. I remember the founding partners starting in to take me out on sales calls. And when we had our sit-down, I started to ask, "Well, what is it going to take to get on a partner track, to be able to do this more often than occasionally?" And we talked about the timeframe. And I reflect back on it being a young business professional and impatient. I would reflect or contrast that to today. I'm not young anymore, but I'm still impatient.
And at the same time that those discussions were going on, I had a recruiter approach me to recruit me for a position with a public company and to join their M&A team. Being young, and single, and wanting an opportunity to again be people-facing, the job was going to require a lot of travel. It was going to require relationship building with potential companies that we wanted to acquire. So, I decided to make a career change and plunge into corporate America, in the corporate development role with Hanger Orthopedic group.
And when I look back, it was a pivotal moment in my business career. But I can say that almost immediately, I realized that I was passionate about the pursuit of doing transactions. I was very fortunate to have an incredible boss who was head of the M&A program at Hanger. He took me under his wing, taught me how to run a corporate development acquisition program, and gave me a lot of responsibility. I was able to travel around the country and acquire businesses a, $100 million transaction sizes and below. Not necessarily on my own. Mind you, I worked very closely with Mike. But that was really the foundation from switching out of a public accounting and getting into the M&A business.
Corey Rieck: And how long were you there?
Don Bravaldo: You know what, in a day and age were corporate careers are short, mine was even shorter. I was there a total of of three years. And the first two years at Hanger were incredible. Drank through the fire hose. As they say in the M&A business, their dog years. 80-hour weeks and the pursuit of a transaction when it's there. We were on fire looking at probably 70 or 80 companies a year and buying ten or fifteen back in those days. But a year and a half after I joined, Corey, we decided to get away from are accretive to earnings, buying smaller companies, and integrating them into our company strategy. We decided to buy our largest competitor, and it was a transaction size of almost equal size as Hanger at that time.
And so, the long story short, that transaction proved very challenging and financially damaging to Hanger at the time. We nearly lost the company. Fortunately, I can say that our department was not in charge of that. Hanger figured out a way to go to Wall Street and pay Wall Street Investment Bank a lot of money to teach him how to overpay for an acquisition. So, I emphasized this story today with a lot of the companies I meet with. I've been a part of hundreds of successful transactions, and I've seen transactions that aren't successful, and I've seen the consequences. So, my last six months with Hanger before things got too bad, they had to reorganize the business and halt the M&A program. We spent on closing, nonperforming NovaCare facilities that we had acquired in that acquisition.
So, three years corporate America, fell in love with the M&A business. That bug bit and hasn't turned loose. So, I wanted to stay in the M&A business, look for other corporate business development jobs here in Atlanta. And at that time, there weren't any M&A positions available. The recruiters were trying to get a Georgia boy to head up to to the northeast or to the West Coast, and I wasn't interested in leaving family that far behind. So, the idea occurred to me that, perhaps, I could take what I'd learned in buying businesses and use that to help private business owners.
Corey Rieck: And when did you start Bravaldo Capital Advisors?
Don Bravaldo: Well, the actual start date was 2010. But in reality, I started doing deals and advising private business owners as long ago as 2000.
Corey Rieck: I was going to say 20 years was going to be my estimate.
Don Bravaldo: Sure.
Corey Rieck: But you certainly have a wealth of experience where you can guide and help folks and be a trusted resource. And certainly, I believe that probably helps you and your credibility when you're schmoozing and meeting people out there who were thinking about selling their businesses.
Don Bravaldo: Well, the experiences of the past 20 years of advising private business owners, there's no substitute for that. The school of hard knocks, I can tell you, we haven't seen it all. That's the beautiful thing about M&A, every day is different. There is always a challenge and always a problem to tackle. But you do get the benefit of that experience. And a lot of the same issues do tend to repeat themselves with the smaller companies to mid-sized companies that we tend to serve.
Stone Payton: Do you have a sweet spot, like an industry, or there's some consistent set of criteria that you have your antenna up for when you're sort of going out and meeting these people and kind of doing your initial assessment?
Don Bravaldo: Sure. Well, the financial criteria, we've built our firm to work with what we call lower middle market companies. And everybody has a different definition. But for us, Stone, that is businesses that could be as large as $300 million in annual revenues to as small as $10 million. Now, I know that's a crazy broad range, but it really depends on the industry group, right? So, a good example of a great client for Bravaldo Capital at the very large end of that range, $200 or $300 million could be a very low margin distributor example building products and fasteners. They operate on a very thin margins. It could be food distribution, food brokerage, very, very low margins. And at that level, it's still a great business that we could work with. On the opposite end of the spectrum. a $10 million revenue company in the technology space that has recurring revenues, that's a very valuable company. They may not have any EBITDA or profitability, but that business is probably going to sell for a multiple revenue, even a high multiple of revenue.
So, revenue range is $300 million to $10 million. We're typically industry agnostics. We're one of the few remaining generalists out there and proud of it. The benefits of working across industries, you get to see a lot of different things. You meet at a number of different buyers. And what people forget about in this day and age of specialization is that the buying community changes its strategy all the time. I've watched corporate America switch CEOs three times in three years, and each one of them has a different acquisition strategy and a different industry that may decide to buy in.
Private equity groups, they may be buying in three or four different industries in a calendar year. And so, being able to cross-pollinate, being able to think quickly on your feet, being able to look at each business and assess it independently of what your experience set may be. These are all the strengths that a generalist firm brings to the table. But that said, we have a great track record in several different industries, industrials being probably the core where I founded the business when I was developing my business from the beginning back in 2000. And we've added on business services, technology, and healthcare. It's probably easier for me to say what we don't do. And it's typically highly regulated industries. That's just something that had a specialist firm would probably be better at than a generalist firm.
Corey Rieck: One of the things that you'd mentioned early on is networking. And my experience with you is that you're very unselfish and are not shy about giving, really, maybe to your own detriment, not thinking about what you might get back. And everybody always says, at least in my experience, "Yeah, Don, I'll make this introduction. Yes, Don, I'll help you with this." And sometimes, they're short on the actual follow through. And that has not been my experience with you. I think that the show is based on we're building—we're following up on relationships where we've had great, great relationships, either because somebody is a subject matter expert like yourself, or they're just unselfish about making introductions, or they're okay, and they think about different ways that they can add value to clients.
And clients, they may need stuff that you don't have any expertise in. But many times, we've earned enough trust with them where they kind of expect you to go out and figure it out. And I think that MarketMate Atlanta, this show is about referring business. It's about subject matter expertise. And I think that at some point the clients that I have are going to want to have a conversation. And the people that I've sent to you have always said good things and positive things. And the other thing about that is I know you follow up. I mean, I just can't be placed in a position to make a referral, and then have a client go, "Hey, your guy never called me."
And I mean—so, I mean, the fact you have this subject matter expertise is great. The fact that you're unselfish with introductions is also great. But I mean, you follow through. So, that's—and in building this group, Stone and I wanted to be able to make sure that we created people that had the right mindset, that are okay thinking about giving as opposed to getting. And you certainly fit the bill on all those metrics.
Don Bravaldo: Well, thank you for that, Corey. And I couldn't agree more with your philosophy. It is ours. Number one, in terms of a follow up, everything that we do in our business, we do it with a sense of urgency, right?
Corey Rieck: Yes.
Don Bravaldo: There's an old adage in M&A, and I'm sure it's true in other businesses, "Time kills deals," right? And so, a business owner that has made the decision to implement their exit strategy wants to see in a maximum effort to making that happen. And so, I'm very fortunate to have built a team that shares that sense of urgency. We're incredibly communicative with our clients. We're available 24/7. And in this day of age where you expect 24/7, we actually follow through on 24/7. It's not uncommon for us to get the late night calls either from the buying community that's had an issue, or from our sellers that are worrying, are they doing the right thing, right? So, that communication is key in M&A to being successful into helping our clients achieve their goals.
As far as collaboration, it does take a village to have a successful M&A transaction. We can't do it alone. Our pieces are critical. But there are other critical pieces, right, that probably come at different times. In a perfect world, we talked about that company that's willing to plan, at least, three years in advance and, preferably, four or five years in advance. And at that stage, you can involve your CPA, your attorney, your wealth manager, your insurance, and risk management folks. And tell them, "Look, this is the plan. We're going to to build the company over the next five years to eventually sell it. I want each of you, as a resident expert in your field of expertise, I want you to know each other. I want you to collaborate. I'm not writing a blank check here. But if you guys want to do some planning together, once every six months, now's the time to really start thinking about these things."
So, we love working with others. Obviously, when we get into the market - i.e. marketing a business professionally for sale - it's an incredibly difficult time. And oftentimes, many of our clients do come to us and say, "I'm ready to execute. There's not three years of planning in advance. Make this happen." So, if we're in that transaction environment, if we're in the market, if we're trying to close a deal, just how critical it is to introduce outside professionals that we know, and trust, and are going to get the job done, it's incredibly important. And so, I can't emphasize that enough. The team that you're building, you have trust in them, And likewise, we do, and you as well. And that's what it takes to really put a deal on the line to bring in somebody else.
Stone Payton: How do you two decide who you're going to let into this sacred circle of trust? I mean, because you've got to be careful, right? Your reputation's on the line. Do you guys have some disciplines on that side of things, like things you're looking for in other people you're like, "Yep, that—"
Corey Rieck: I do. I can speak to that. I'm not going to speak for Don, but I turn 55 at the end of May.
Stone Payton: You've been really hard in putting that out, I'll tell you what. No, you look good.
Corey Rieck: Well, this is a radio show. So, it's good that they don't have the actual video here.
Stone Payton: This is why I do radio. But no, you have some rules, or disciplines or something?
Corey Rieck: I think what I've learned is this, like know trust. I have a really good client. And I asked him the same question. He said, "Like know trust." I said, "what do you mean?" He said, "If I don't like the person, it's hard for me to want to get to know them." And I get that. And he said, "If I don't know him, it's hard for me to make these introductions and do business with them." And so that, the like know trust is, I realized that in my advanced age, I need to listen to those things. If my first gut instinct is that I really think someone is really good, then I need to follow it. And if it's the opposite, I need to also follow that as well. And there's a lot of people here in our industry, in our businesses, and there's a lot of people that think just like us. And so, I'm committed to defining those.
And the other thing I look at is when I do make a referral, on some level, you're kind of like Chuck Woolery on the Love Connection. You've got to match up the personalities. I mean, at least, this is the way I think of it. Like no trust, but you got to match up personalities. You can't match a driver up with somebody that's laid back. It may not work. And so, ultimately, that referral is going to come back to you, and your client may say, "Well, Don, your guy was kind of aggressive." And now, maybe it has the opportunity to adversely affect the relationship that you have with that person. So, for me, there's a lot of considerations. Like no trust. You got to know what you're talking about. I don't want people to go in and sell my clients. I just help them, help educate them, help them get their questions answered. And maybe they do something, maybe they don't. But the whole basis of what Don and I do is education.
I mean, most business owners, they don't know, "Hey, you should take some time and build a runway out there to shore up whatever needs to be shored up in your business and so on." And also, they have to follow through. I just simply cannot be placed in a position where somebody says, "Hey, Stone, your guy never called me." And now, it's a follow up item on my calendar that I gotta go back to the referral that I initially made. So, that's kind of a long answer to a short question.
Don Bravaldo: And, I think I can pick up on just a couple of pieces. Number one, let me reiterate, other professionals, who would we refer? Who would we bring into a deal? Stone, great question. I couldn't agree more with Corey that after answering a few critical questions that personalities do matter. To be able to communicate effectively to the client, there's got to be that mutual trust and respect. And that likability factor certainly helps on the communication front.
I think that the first starting point for us is assessing that their technical ability and having confidence that they're incredibly good at their field of expertise. How do we get insight into that? It's many years of getting to know one another, having the experience of maybe working on a transaction together, or on opposite sides of it, or in our professional community, you, over time, realize who's incredibly successful at what they do.
Another key component that I look for, while I want to see that success. I do want to see that that advisor can be a good listener, right? There are a lot of advisors that are good talkers. But I want to see some good listeners because it does take a lot of patience and listening to get through critical issues on transactions.
And then, finally, we try and match values. We're not going to—when we have a choice, if we don't see that the values aligning from an integrity standpoint or how we do business standpoint. And those are things that you develop an appreciation for and knowledge of over time as you get to know people.
Corey Rieck: The other thing that's important is, it's kind of cool to help out somebody that you built a relationship with. I mean, I think that I'm not going to speak for you, but I know that most of the business that I get, I get on my own because of the things that I've developed blogging, speaking, and so on.
Stone Payton: And your premier radio show, Tuesdays with Corey, the second Tuesday of every month, right?
Corey Rieck: Yes, and MarketMate Atlanta. But I think that it's really cool when you get a referral from someone, especially someone like you, because you know that you've done—you've answered some questions. They have more than a passing interest. It's not a name in a phone book. And it's somebody that is going to understand why I'm calling them or emailing them when I do that.
So, I think that setting it up is very good as well. And when somebody needs a referral, I will set up a virtual introduction, and I'll setup the email, I'll give the contact information, I'll let him know. "Hey, here's what—in this case, here's what Don does. He buys and sells companies. He provides advice prior to the sale. He helps you make the sale and helps you maximize your time that you've put in the business." And I think that if I take the time to do that, that helps. And then, most times I will call both folks. But the whole reason that it was generated in the first place is somebody said, "Do you anybody who can help me sell my company?" And well, "Yeah, let me call them, and let me kind of give him my head's up, and I'll introduce you guys, and you take it from there." Then, I'm out of the middle of it.
Stone Payton: Well, you take it to the nth Degree, though, because it's one thing to do that within your own ecosystem, right? But I could ask you if you know a good roofer, and if you don't, you'll go on the hunt for me. I mean, you're that guy—
Don Bravaldo: Yeah.
Stone Payton: ... which is marvelous. I love that.
Corey Rieck: Well, we just try to be a resource to people. And even if it doesn't affect you directly right now, it may at some point. And one of the stories that I have is I had a client that came to me a number of years ago that was less than satisfied with their payroll processing company. And I was kind of listening to him, and he was going on and on. And then he said, "And I need you to find a solution for me." And I kind of laughed in the end. And I said, "Well, I'm not really—" He said, "Well, think about how many people you know. Surely you must know somebody." And so, the payroll company that he had put the payroll services in, and then, of course, had all the things that they wanted to sell. And they just drove them insane going back to him with these other things. And so, I did find a company that only does payroll. And I heavily vetted the person.
And I realized that's probably not the last time that's going to happen because my wife and I don't have any kids. We go out to eat a lot. And our biggest discussions are, what I'm going to cook on the big green egg, or what bottle of wine we're going to open, or where we're going to go eat. And so, we get asked about all kinds of things. And I realized I needed to come up and find that solution, even if it had really nothing to do with what I do everyday. So, just being a resource, I think is really important.
Stone Payton: But for me, it's one more reason for me to have my antenna up and looking for opportunities to bring you into the fold. I mean, if I will look for and even search out because I'm beginning to learn more and more about who is a good prospective client for you, I'm actively searching that out. But part of the reason is because of the way that you've conducted yourself during the whole-
Corey Rieck: Well, I think, the other thing, that people that get referrals from me, they're going—one of the things that they ask me is, "Okay, what's your experience with this guy?" And certainly when I refer you, I can say, "Well, I've known Stone now for going on three years. We've had a radio show that we do together. I have another show that he helps me with. It's generated X amount of business," and so on. And so, I can say, "Here's the things that you need to be prepared to talk about with him," and vice versa. I mean, you and Holly are clients of mine, which you shared at the outset of the broadcast today. And anybody that needs my expertise, you're going to be able to say, "Well, I'm a client of his, and here's why I like it."
And to me, that really—it really makes it more straightforward because if somebody wants to refer me to somebody that they don't have any experience with, it just—it's sort of—it makes me feel some kind of way. like kind of like, what's the real reason you're sending me this way? So, if I have a personal relationship with someone, if I've done business with them, and that experience is good, then I'm happy to help people because it helps my relationship with both parties. And in people that have known me, they know that I throw compliments around like manhole covers. They know that I would tell them, "Not this guy."
Don Bravaldo: Very true.
Corey Rieck: And so—I mean, but that's the way I was brought up. I mean, my dad was a no-gray-area kind of guy, And just lay it out there, let them know.
Don Bravaldo: Well, it's certainly a testimony to the way you do business because we do have mutual clients in common. And every one of them talks about how you go out of your way to help, even in areas where it's not your field of expertise, but you've gone the extra mile to really do the diligence and help that business owner solve a problem. And really, that's what it's all about in our business too, trying to find ways to help business owners solve problems. One of the really cool things that I enjoy about our business is we get to see so many different types of businesses.
And again, when we have the opportunity to build a community and form a long-term relationship, know it's not just about ultimately the M&A event. It's about our goal for this year is growing X. And we may need some extra capital to be able to do that. Do you know anyone? Do you know a more aggressive lender that potentially would actually pay attention to us and help us through some of the challenges we have? It could be something as crazy as I remember a year or so ago, a business owner approached me and said, "Look, I found out that my wealth management firm has been overcharging me. I think that there's-"
Corey Rieck: Ouch!
Don Bravaldo: "I think that there's some-"
Corey Rieck: I'm sure that cheered him up,.
Don Bravaldo: Yeah. It cheered him up. And he said, "Well, look do you know a lawyer that can help pursue in this particular circumstance?" I've never done this before. But, I was very fortunate that over the years of networking to have met someone that actually specialized in business litigation with broker dealers, which was what was called for. And so, it was actually relatively easy to connect those people.
Many of the things that we get to see, we see business owners doing some amazing things with their business. And those ideas are transferable, right? So, we learn vicariously through them, and we're able to share with other business owners that are trying to tackle that same problem. So, we may not be a widget manufacturers, but we've been in, hundreds of widget manufacturing companies, and we know a good company when we see it, and we know some of the challenges that they face, and we know how others have solved those problems. So, we're readily available and interested in offering advice and connections to help our clients grow their businesses.
Corey Rieck: Now, Don, how many employees does your firm have now?
Don Bravaldo: Internally, we have a team of seven investment banking professionals and support staff, which is a good size. We are trying to add an additional analysts as we speak, and I've had some amazing candidates. And so, it's been a difficult choice trying to zero in on just who we we want to grow our firm with. We also have an amazing advisory board comprised of retired CEOs and executives in transition, and they number another seven advisors. And some of them are very involved in our business. They're very active. And this was an idea that I got years ago. Thankfully, I followed through on it because I have a lot of ideas that sometimes don't get implemented, but this idea was—
Corey Rieck: Gee, I've never heard that before.
Don Bravaldo: Every entrepreneur has that issue. But we wanted to differentiate ourselves, and we knew that this planning thing was very important to our our clients and our future clients. And many times, we'll meet that business owner that says, "Hey, I have a goal of growing my business from $50 million in annual revenues to $100 million," right? "That's what I want to do. And then, I'll sell." Well, we'd get to that point and we'd say,"Well, look, we can do a business valuation. We can do a readiness assessment." But, along the way, we're not going to be capable of giving you operational advice and how to get there. And I realize that, look, there's a great resource. There's many, many high quality retired CEOs in this community. There are many executives that are in transition that are willing to give time. Why not put an operating board together and get some operational expertise?
And so, for a surprisingly very few cases, it's not that we don't mention this service to everyone we meet, it's just many entrepreneurs get busy and don't spend the time to plan. But for a few, we're able to plug them in with some amazing CEOs that have been there and done it. And not only growing a business to $100 million, but I've had P&L responsibility for a billion-dollar-a-year organization. You just got people like George McConnell and Bob Thomas on our board that have done some amazing things and grown some businesses, and they're a great resource for lower middle market companies. They're willing to engage in and are interested in working.
Corey Rieck: How do you keep your employees engaged?
Don Bravaldo: It's fairly easy. We're hungry. Every year, the clock resets. Every calendar year, it's about how many successful transactions you can help your clients achieve. So, all of us are very performance-based. We're not an investment bank that's affiliated with a very large commercial enterprise like a bank. Many M&A firms are a part of the big national banks, or they're part of the Wall Street broker dealer firms, and they have a big referral network. And so, they're not as hungry. They can wait on transactions. And if the deals don't work out in a calendar year, they're still going to do pretty well.
Our firm, everybody there is motivated to to really make things happen, to be responsive. And there is a component to our business where, sometimes, things don't work out. And I try and look for a team that can take a long-term view, which is really hard to find. I mean, everybody wants immediate gratification. But I will tell you in this business, over the long run, and if you can look at it on a two to three-year basis, it can be financially rewarding because you've made great things happen for your clients.
Corey Rieck: Well, I think that in your line of business - and correct me if I'm off in any way, shape or form - you have to have the right relationships. And people, I think, want to watch you, and hear about you, and talk to others about you. And if they have four, five, six, seven, eight years of experience with you, then they're going to—they're likely going to be more apt to say, "Hey, Don, it's time to sell my company," as opposed to somebody you just meet. That's why I think it's one of the things you do—of all the things you do very well, one of the things you continue to do is go out, and rub elbows, and network, and do those business development kind of things.
Don Bravaldo: It's so true. I mean, we were talking about, what do we look for in professionals that we're going to refer in to our clients, especially in a critical kind of M&A type situation, or pre-deal planning type engagement? Those professionals are doing the same thing, right? They're assessing the quality of the firm and how you do business. It's a rare day that I meet a business professional, and they say, "Look, I've got this longtime client that's thinking about selling their business." No, they want to get to know you. They want to assess your values and make sure they align, just like we do with them. So, yes, time is your friend. If you are careful, and you stick to your principles, and you do things the right way, over time, people realize that. And in the long run, they like to do business with people that they know and trust.
Stone Payton: It's an interesting point and an important point. I think as a commission-based sales person early in my career, and as an entrepreneur and business owner later in my career, I've had some real peaks and valleys in income and have like a really strong quarter, even a super strong year. And I know personally, I have caught myself kind of coasting after a really nice quarter, a really nice year, and maybe not exercising what I call high-velocity habits. Just doing the things, the basic blocking and tackling every day, every week, every month. People in my system, sometimes, fall in that trap, our other studio partners personally. I mean, you got to stay on top of that, right? And keep pushing that handle.
Don Bravaldo: No, you absolutely do, Stone. And that's probably the biggest challenge in our business is, we are not a recurring revenue business, right? It's typically—especially on the sell side, it's a one-and-done, right? One-and-done type of event. Now, it's great when you find that technology entrepreneur that's going found, and start, and sell three businesses. But it doesn't typically happen every day. And so, we take the time as a team to celebrate our clients' victories, right, because a lot goes into achieving those victories. I usually give it a a few days for the dust to settle. And then, I am one of those drivers that Corey mentioned. And that's what it really what it takes is, is setting a high pace and a high bar.
And with that, I do encourage my people, take all of your vacation because you're going to need it, right? Because when you're in here, you better bring your A-game. And that's just really the way that we do business. But for a boutique firm, that's not a large firm, but not a small firm, and somewhere in between, there's absolutely peaks and valleys in a business that is very susceptible to economic contractions and expansions.
And so, it's my job as the president of the firm to try and have that crystal ball to see where we're going. And in bad times, our business grows on the buy side. Smart money buys when times are tough and valuations are down. And in times like this, we're heavily weighted towards sell side where valuations are through the roof. And when times are really tough, we help dig through distressed transactions and help owners work out of problems by helping them sell their businesses and get out from under personal guarantees. And we do that in partnership with turnaround firms and others. But that's, hopefully, a different time. That's a long way off in the future. But at some point, we'll be back there again. And that's just a few of the ways we try and deal with those peaks and valleys.
Corey Rieck: Don, what gives you the greatest satisfaction in your day-to-day activities with your company?
Don Bravaldo: Without a doubt, it's really helping that entrepreneur that spent their entire time as an owner/founder building a business, or if it's a family business that is maybe second or third generation, it's the families' generational pursuit building a very valuable asset, and helping them realize the final touchdown to their entrepreneurial or ownership career, and help them put an exclamation point on that. It's a great feeling to see them successfully exit the business on their terms.
Yes, valuation is a key to that. Everybody wants to hit that home run and get wealthy or add to tremendous wealth that they've already generated out of the business, but it's also more than that. It's the satisfaction of helping them decide, determine, and then execute on selling to the right kind of buyer, to taking care of their people in that transaction. For some of those business owners, they care about that legacy, devising a marketing plan that is going to sell the business to someone who's going to continue to run the business very much in the same fashion, and that names survive, and the employees continue to have a home. So, there's a lot of different levers that can get pulled in the transaction. No day is as ever the same. It's a wonderful feeling to really help that entrepreneur achieve success.
And I also reflect back. I don't want to divert too much, but we're in a day and an age where maybe capitalism is being questioned. I'm a staunch capitalist because I see just how difficult it is to grow a business, and I see the sacrifices that American entrepreneurs make every day. And I want them to really find that homerun at the end of the rainbow because they're not appreciated and in some ways, may be under threat going forward. So, I feel like it's a mission and it's a passion.
Corey Rieck: Well, I think, you've worked extremely hard at building your reputation and your business. You've been diligent, you've been enormously disciplined, you've studied, you've got all this history, but another word that I would use for you is proactive. You're out there. You can't—and I know you wouldn't do this, but you're not really in a position where you can coast. And so, you're out. I know you're out beating the bushes every day to continue, because I think, again, the two words that I think about after I hear your name is business development. Well, business development expert because you're out there schmoozing, rubbing elbows, and making an impact on people because, at some point, they'll want to sell their company, or they'll want to talk to somebody about selling their company. Although, know somebody that wants to do those two things.
Don Bravaldo: Well, it's, again, very kind of you to say because I'm not ashamed to admit, there is no formal sales training here. It's all been by accident and just doing what I thought came naturally. But, again, putting people first has been the key to our success, surrounding ourselves with high quality people, whether they're professionals like you, Corey, that we know and trust. And if any of our clients have a long-term planning care need or question, it's an easy call to make to get you involved. To having an incredible team behind me at Bravaldo Capital Advisors that has allowed us to grow, and that care about our clients, and have really helped us develop the business to where we are today. I'm very thankful for that and blessed.
Corey Rieck: How has your business evolved since you started?
Don Bravaldo: Wow, there's been a ton of change as it relates back to M&A. I would just say that 20 years ago, when I was buying businesses for Hanger, the due diligence process was short. I remember that we'd make an offer. And within probably a month to two months, we'd close a deal or less. Due diligence period was probably about two weeks. It consisted of a site visit that might be two or three days. And I remember in the late '90s, due diligence being described as drive by due diligence, right? There were deals happening, and I'm not even sure people went to visit the companies. And that was just the day and age back then.
And today, that period is extended. We've got a deal right now where we've been in due diligence for four months. And it's appropriate. There's been a lot of challenges to get through. And we've got a good buyer that's hung in there, and we've got a great business that has met those challenges head on. They faced headwinds with the tariff situation, and we've worked through that. But the due diligence period is extended, the amount of data and information required has been a big change. The other key change I'll mention, knowing that we have a short amount of time, is private equity. That has been a game changer in our business over the last 10 or 15 years.
Corey Rieck: Good or otherwise?
Don Bravaldo: Good, good. It's helped make a market for smaller market companies where they didn't have private equity as an option before. And there's a lot of reasons for that, but the big reason is top down. A lot of money has gone into alternative assets because people are chasing yields, and these big institutional clients need higher returns to support retirement funds. That money has been allocated to private equity. And because of that, private equity has been forced to compete more and more for a very small number of high quality transactions out there. And they've chosen to do that by differentiating and by going down market.
So, when I started 20 years ago, private equity was for billion-dollar transactions. And 10 years ago, it had come down to $500 million. Five years ago, it had started to creep into lower middle market transactions, $100 million deal sizes below. And today—my time frames off a little bit, but today, a business that is as small as a $5 or $10 million business could become part of a private equity deal. Whether it's that private equity firm that owned something in the industry and is just trying to grow through acquisition or if it's a business that's it's probably north of $10 million could serve as a private equity platform. And that gives owners more of a chance to maximize value and to have different options than just selling to a competitor, which was what existed before.
Corey Rieck: Well, Don, you've had a great run, lots of success over the years. And there—if you could give the younger version of yourself some advice, what would it be?
Don Bravaldo: Pay more attention when you were starting your accounting career. You could have learned a little bit more, but that would be one thing. Number two, read a few sales and marketing books along the way and make things a little easier on yourself in terms of generating clients. I was very fortunate, prior to starting Bravaldo Capital Advisors, to meet up with some folks at a predecessor firm that taught me direct sales, right? And I grounded out on the telephones, building up a book of business that way. So, I've done it both ways, believe it or not. And I was just a much better networker and knew that that would lead to larger, more sophisticated transactions. But I would just say to myself, study up on sales and marketing. That's what it's all about when you're building a business.
Corey Rieck: If there was a young person that wanted to get into your line of work, what advice would you have for them?
Don Bravaldo: Don't do it the way I did it. There's a lot of school of hard knocks in really building a boutique investment bank and not coming out of the industry with a bigger firm, which is the path that most people choose. If you're really interested in investment banking, it would probably be easier to get that experience on Wall Street. And don't learn the bad habits, but learn as much as you can, just like I did at Arthur Andersen. And then, take that same knowledge and apply it to a smaller sized client. That was basically our playbook, and that would be my advice to them.
If it's somebody that is not on that industry track, as many of us, we start in one career and figure out that something else is our calling, for me, that bridge to corporate America, where I got the experience from a very experienced boss that taught me how to acquire businesses, corporate America on the biz dev side was a great training ground for what we do as well. And then, I would add the financial background. It's very difficult to deal with the size businesses that we do and not have an incredibly solid financial background, whether you get that on the accounting side or on the banking side.
Corey Rieck: Don, you've had a great run. You've been a great guest here. If the listenership wanted to get a hold of you, how would they best do that? Do you have a website that they could maybe go to?
Don Bravaldo: Absolutely. It's bravaldocapitaladvisor.com that that would be the best way to to get in touch with us, look us up on the web. Our general number's out there, and we do answer the phones.
Corey Rieck: And what is your phone number if somebody wanted to call your organization?
Don Bravaldo: Our general number is 404-857-2221.
Corey Rieck: And is there a general e-mail address that they might use?
Don Bravaldo: Its firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corey Rieck: Don Bravaldo of Bravaldo Capital Advisors, you've been a great guest. Congratulations on all of your success and continued success. Thank you very much.
Don Bravaldo: Corey, thank you. Thank you, Stone. Really enjoyed it.
Stone Payton: Absolutely. Our pleasure, man. Thank you for sharing your story. All right. This is Stone Payton for Corey Rieck, our guest today, Don Bravaldo with Bravaldo Capital Advisors, and everyone here at the Business RadioX family, we will see you next on MarketMate Atlanta.