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Steven Epstein | An In-Depth M&A Case Study
POSTED 10.29.19 M&A Masters Podcast

The first of a two-part series of a real-world M&A transaction. First up, I’m talking to Steven Epstein, the founder of RedCAT systems, a Colorado-based SAAS company involved in HR and compensation solutions for clients like LinkedIn, Uber, NYSE, and many more.

They were recently funded by PE firm Broadtree Partners. 

Specifically, we’ll be looking at how Representations and Warranty (R&W) insurance played a key role in the transaction. What’s interesting is that RedCAT would not have been eligible to use R&W coverage to be reimbursed by a third-party – the insurer – if there had been any breach in the Seller’s reps. 

We’ll talk about why insurers were willing to play ball now and how that could impact whether or not you can use R&W insurance on your next deal, as well as…

  • Why one of their partners insisted on R&W insurance – and the Buyer said yes
  • What they did to find a Seller who matched their philosophy
  • The biggest thing he would have done differently prior to the sale
  • The top benefits of R&W coverage and the surprising impact they had on the deal
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Patrick Stroth: Hello there. I’m Patrick Stroth. Welcome to M&A Masters where I speak with the leading experts in mergers and acquisitions. We’re all about one thing here, that’s a clean exit for owners, founders, and their investors. Today is the first of a two-part series where we’re going to provide a case study of an actual M&A transaction from both the Buyer side and the sell-side perspectives, where rep and warranty was used and played a key role. The first side is with the Buyer side, which is Mr. Steven Epstein. He’s the founder of RedCAT Systems, a SAAS company based in Colorado. 

I’ll let Steven tell you his experiences in his own words and the benefits he got. What’s important here is for you to understand that prior to 2019, RedCAT Systems would not have been eligible for consideration for rep and warranty. It was a lower-middle market company with a transaction value well below $30 million. They did not have audited financials, and they were seeking insurance to a level that was well over half of the transaction value. Any of these three would have made RedCAT ineligible. But in 2019, not only was there a solution available, but it came in at the right price. 

The other thing to consider for any of you that are either part of a lower-middle market company, or represent a lower-middle market company, the benefits that RedCAT both on the sell-side and the buys I’ve received are no different from benefits that are received with billion-dollar transactions. And now let’s turn it over to Steven. I’m here with Steven Epstein of RedCAT Systems. And Steven, if you could tell us real quick, tell me about RecCAT. What exactly is it and how did it start? Give us the background of the organization. 

Origins of RedCAT Systems

Steven Epstein: Sure. We formed a company prior to RedCAT in 1996 and started doing HR solutions. Started with recruiting. And then throughout the years, it’s worked on various projects for lots of mostly friends, and then that turned into acquaintances. And then as people moved, we grew holistically. And then in 2014, we formed RedCAT with a new partner. 

And we kind of focus more on enterprise HR. Basically replacing technological solutions in the HR space, and then our specialty became compensation. So we end up doing our primary thing is high-end compensation for fortune 500 companies, the large global footprints of how they manage their compensation process, and then also in the performance management space a bit as well. 

Patrick: Now the very important stuff, particularly as you get more and more people, you’ve got to keep track of who has stock options, who has shares in the company, all those types of things. 

Steven: Oh yeah. And it’s difficult for large global organizations with 10s of thousands of people to manage this. If you’re in, say, 120 countries, you have a lot of currency fluctuations. You have a tremendous array of compensation decisions, from base salary to bonus, exponents, retention, performance-based stock, market conditions, performance conditions, you know, top performers retention thing. There’s a whole array of how a company would do this, but totally separate from things like payroll, actually giving an employee compensation. 

So the tools that we do allow companies to manage that process efficiently, either sometimes with small teams. You know, some of the companies might have 50 people on a compensation team. 50 full-time people are actually thinking about compensation. And so the tool becomes a focal point and allows them to A, you know, look at all the data and manage the entire process efficiently. Because it’s easy for companies to forget that in most cases, for a lot of companies compensation is their business expense, by far. 

It vastly outnumbers any other expense in those companies. And people take it for granted like, Oh, well, we just have to pay that. 94% of our total expenses, oh, that’s just a given. And they’re not really optimizing the fact that compensation totally affects more, you know, its morale, its retention it’s growth. It’s how employees view the company. Even though it’s sort of a fairly, you know, a  basic metric, it’s sometimes not viewed the right way. And if you,

Patrick: Yeah, it’s a very intimately personal viewpoint held for every single person in and organization so that is central to their core why there with a company. That becomes a pretty daunting task when you got that many people. 

Steven: Exactly. Yep. And even, sometimes even smaller companies in the financial services sector. Some of our clients may only have 1000 or 2000 employees, but especially in financial services, one of the key things is compensation. That’s why they’re at the job that they’re doing. And therefore, it’s extremely important. A lot of white-glove services, you have lots of people that are very interested in the outcome of compensation that year. So, 

Patrick: Absolutely, absolutely. So as you got going in 2014, what led the decision to go out and be acquired?

Why Steven Chose to Sell

Steven: So the decision to be acquired was mostly related to the fact that we have a lot of pressure to grow. And we didn’t really want to go with the venture capital route. We had various friends and acquaintances that, you know, had gone that route, the whole bit of it and we were finding it difficult to stay our current size and get the types of clients, very top tier clients, often multi-billion-dollar payout, run the cycle, it was difficult with our headcount. 

We’re very small. And so we knew to be able to stay relevant and to meet the types of compliance for GDPR and complexity, technically, we needed to grow. And we had tried a little ourselves and we just knew we needed more help. And so we kind of helped to, decided to find individuals that had our same philosophy, or cultural you know, had our vision group culture and philosophy, and to help to get the help we needed to be able to grow. 

Patrick: So, as you looked at culture, philosophy. How did the process look? Did you run out and solicit a bunch of contacts that you had or did the organization come to find you? How did you go out there to find a partner that you could team up with? 

Steven: So we originally, I mean, we were somewhat blessed because one of our partners is very well connected in the financial services industry. And he had various friends that had, you know, connections through banks and advisors and people in the M&A space who do this, right? As that’s their full-time thing is to go and find and connect Buyers and Sellers. And so for a year or two, we hadn’t you know, there was a DAC into words and approached lots and lots of possible requiring entities about us, but I think for a little while it was we were just a little too small at that time. 

And you know, there’s a, you know, there’s sort of like this unwritten say 2 million habit of rule that sort of seems to be out there, revenue, whatever it is. And finding the kind The type of client, the type of company was we work with, we had, we began negotiations with a few that were interested, but we could tell right away that they were more interested in like, massive growth Lots of money, hire lots of people and try to mass market. And that really wasn’t our, not our client base and it wasn’t our philosophy.

Patrick: So how did you settle on Broadtree?

Steven: The Broadtree was more, you know, when we first were introduced to them, they had a different idea of growth. It wasn’t like let’s hire 10 or 20 people right away and just sort of throw them in the fire and see if they can grow. It was much more measured growth, which was myself and Bonnie, our philosophy was more about that. Because of the clients, we had a fairly small number of clients. About a dozen at the time, and they were all very high-end. 

They’re all you know, names that pretty much anyone in America would generally know if you just said it. And from that, we wanted to would make sure that our clients were treated very well, right? Which is very high-level service. There’s really nothing that we would be asked that we weren’t able to fulfill on time, on budget and pretty much the experience was exceptional. That’s why we were able to get the types of work that we do. And we wanted someone who would had share that philosophy and maintain that while at the same time doing measured growth.

Patrick: Okay, and so then the process begins about when did you guys start the process of Broadtree? Just give us an idea of the time scope on this so, timing. 

Steven: So when did we start Broadtree? I think it was about from now about a year and two months ago. We had a process, effectively once we had assigned LY it took roughly nine months to actually close the deal. That’s something that I had read about like, oh, diligence is hard. Oh, no diligence is nutty. Nutty hard. Oh, Welcome to the diligence process, detail. We did an okay job prior to this whole process. Had I known at the time, like now what I knew then, as a company if that was your plan I would be just keep much more meticulous track of documents with every single document. 

The same copy, the dated copy the stamped copy. We have like 600 pages of documents like this is part of our binder. Every contract, every single thing, we’re normally like in an email, you don’t think about it, you get back a signed PDF and you’re like, Okay, they signed the contract. And whether or not you signed it immediately filed it, stored in the right thing he date it, back that type of thing and all the minutes. 

It’s every little bit of every single dollar was ever spent took a lot of effort to come up with. And then all the contracts for you know, thousands of pages of contracts that we had already signed, but then looking and reviewing every single thing took quite a while. 

Like when we started in September, we’re like, oh, we’ll be done by the end of the year. Like wow, that’s great. That’s already a couple of months. And just things seem to take longer than they should. Even when we are near like after all the months and diligence, even near the end, when we’re getting closer to actually doing the deal. It still kept slipping. 

Like oh, it’ll be next week. Oh, no. Oh, we don’t have the certificate from California because you know, it’s only good for 10 days and then it expires and you have to get a new one. And oh, we have seven of those in all these different states. Oh, and this state only accepts mailed copies, things like that. Like constantly there was always some extra-long extra thing that made it difficult to close but in the end, we did. 

Patrick: You make one, that’s one real danger out there is that you get so busy getting everything set up for being acquired and going through the diligence process that it becomes a separate full- time job, you still have to keep your eye on the ball and keep, you know, operating and doing your client work.

Steven: Absolutely, that’s actually something that a few of the delays are just because of that exactly. Like I don’t really have time to respond in an efficient manner, because we’re in the thick of doing a project, for example. But really that in our case, it was more like I just sort of worked too hard for me for the nine months, rather than pushing it too much. 

But it’s something that that like you read about, but you probably don’t fully understand the depth. At least in our industry, like in tech, of the level of diligence. And every bit of open source code, even when it was like 20 lines of code that was copied from something that was then felt like had no relevance whatsoever. Well, technically, it’s still an open-source piece of code that prints a little warning message. Oh, okay. Well, we have to disclose that.

Patrick: Gotcha that, Gotcha. There’s a lot to that. Now one of your partners was insistent on having a deal insured with rep and warranty insurance. What was the background on that? And how did you actually, how did that lead you to us? 

What Led Steven to Seek Out Rep and Warranty Insurance?

Steven: Yes, good question. So the background is that one of our partners is part of a high net worth individual and he was more concerned about liability, about being personally sued or doing this big deal and then like what if some crazy thing happened, you know, in personally fantastical scenarios but conceivably possible given the type of, you know, our size is a very small company, versus you know, the giants and Oracle. If Oracle decided to sue us for no reason, just because we technically compete with them in an area that they would likely win, simply because they can outspend any possible sense. 

In that vein, he wanted to have the ability need to have coverage effectively, to be able to help shield that liability. And so at the time, and when we first looked at this, the expectation for everyone we’ve spoken with was that rep and warranty wasn’t really available to a company of our size. Because it seemed to be in the 50 million hundred million, you know, big, big deals. And I, of course, did a quick Google. Google’s great, and, you know, spent 20 minutes actually reading various things, and they came across some, an article that you had written actually. 

And that really resonated. I was like, Oh, that sounds like something, you know, an opportunity to have a solution here rather than just like we can’t do it. Like we’re going to put in a max cap that’s too low because I knew that the Buyers wouldn’t go for that. They’d be like, Well wait, if we’re spending all this money, we want to be able to have a higher limitation of our expense rather than say, a couple of million dollars. 

So that seemed like there was actually an opportunity. And then the next thing that came out was cost. We’re like, oh, Well, you can get this revenue warranty insurance as a smaller entity, but is the cost prohibitive? Is it completely, if it’s like, oh, it’s 10% of the deal price, most likely that would make it completely prohibitive. But it, you know, obviously, as you know, the rates have been dropping, and it became something that was in the realm of possibility. 

Patrick: When you presented this to the bar, what was the Buyer’s response? 

Steven: Well, at first, the Buyer’s response was, Oh, that’s great. We don’t think we need it. Because the liability from us was very small because of the relatively limited number of possible infractions. We didn’t have that many contracts. There wasn’t that many, there wasn’t that much code that actually could possibly be infringing. But still, I think in the end, they were appreciative. It allayed our partners’ fears, basically of the deal as well as the liability. 

It eliminated, from our perspective, because we stayed on, right? We’re staying on as very integral to the continued success. And if something did come up, I think it would be tremendously valuable to have in that. And why? Because if something came up, and it was like, oh, well we’re going to put something back on the Sellers originally. Like, let’s, you know, let’s say we had, we didn’t in the end because we haven’t RW. But let’s say, we did put the same, you know, million five or $2 million in escrow. 

And then some kind of obscure thing came out, right? And we disagreed with it. We’re like, well, we don’t really feel that this is a valid thing. The defense wasn’t done right. That would cause a serious breach. Not only of you know, say it’s a million or two dollars, but then we probably wouldn’t want to stay on. And the effect is that most likely would be the failure of the business, the new business. 

Patrick: That dilemma is something we see quite a bit where you have technology Buyer and post-closing they bring on the target company and they bring on a bulk of the personnel, the management team and so forth. They bring them on in, and that new group are just rock stars and they’re getting along great. And then all of a sudden there will be great to happen. And now the, you know, the dilemma, well do we take away their escrow that we’ve been holding? Or do we just eat it because we don’t want to have a drop in morale? 

And we don’t want these guys mentally checking out on us. And so they end up a lot of times having to eat a loss that otherwise would have been insured. And so yeah, that’s a real great point. And  I think that the Buyer, I agree, I think the Buyer was at first, you know, a bit ambivalent, but as the process went on, they really started to embrace it, largely because, you know, it put your partner at a lot more comfort and I think that really helped the process move forward a lot smoother. 

Steven: Oh, absolutely. I completely agree. Yes. So in the end, I think I mean, obviously it still is. You know, the numbers still feel big. You’re like, wow, that’s expensive. That’s a lot but the peace of mind can be priceless, right? Just that feeling like well okay, well, I don’t have to worry about this. If some frivolous thing happened then we’re covered. It’s not a thing that will A, damage the relationship and B, you know, just consume life energy where you’re fighting about something that is likely frivolous. 

Patrick: Well said. I could not have said that better myself. A lot of times with the rep and warranty policies, they’re dealt with between the Buyer and the insurance people. I don’t know how much involvement you had. Did you have any involvement in doing anything other than getting us connected with your Buyer team?

Steven’s Involvement in the Rest of the Process

Steven: A little bit. Sure. We looked at, you know, obviously the actual policy itself and then you push back on like the wording of a couple things like, Oh, we won’t cover this little obscure thing and you say, oh, why not? And then we discuss it a little bit and we tweak those and but nothing truly material. It was all fairly small and benign.

Patrick: It didn’t slow down your process of the deal or anything like that. It wasn’t too much extra work being dumped on you? 

Steven: No, not really no. The insurance bit was relatively benign timewise. We didn’t spend I mean, you have to read it. You know, we read a lot, you know, still 20 pages of reading, but that it wasn’t like we spent a lot of time and effort on it. And as far as you know, the actual timeline of the deal, it was fine. Had we closed, like right away, it still seemed like that was, it was something that we could have if we were extremely expeditious, we would have been able to still meet our deadline. As it turned out, we had extra time. So it was fine. 

Patrick: So aside from now having the knowledge of watching all your documents very closely and making sure you pay attention to every dollar that’s spent and why and all the code having that accounted for, any other lessons from this experience, or is there you know, anything that really surprised you other than the minutia on the documents and details?

Steven: Document details was big. I would say, you know, obviously, you work very closely, in our case, with the Buyer spending a lot of time going through a lot of diligence, a lot of discussions. And so making sure that probably and that’s something that would evolve over time, but I would think that would be very important to ensure that the people that you’re working with your Buyer for your company like us, that you liked them. That they’re good people. Luckily we worked out. Our Buyer is great. I talked to him right before this call. He’s great. We love, I think it’s a good working relationship. 

Other surprises that came up, not tremendous. I think that we, it’s easy to focus on some things that in retrospect, we spent too much time focusing on. Some of the numbers and so forth that it’s easy to imagine scenarios that are completely unrealistic to focus on like outcomes or future cases. I know that they can happen, which is why, obviously, like rep and insurance rep and warranty insurance, why it exists. But I think that probably could be streamlined. That’s something I’d like to see actually, like from you, Patrick, would be like a cheat sheet. 

Hey, just in a lot of deals, these are the things that probably that you should be focusing on rather than this generic like oh, what if? What if that? What if this? And then coming up with language to address cases that are probably discovered for good like, reward too. Like, we did a lot of that before we had the rep and warranty. Like, oh, what about this case? What about that case? What’s the limit of this liability? How many months for this? And really all that was a waste of time because we knew that once we knew we were going to get several warranties. 

Patrick: Yeah, then there were fewer contingencies to worry about. 

Steven: Exactly. And some of the, and a lot of the contingencies, we spent too much time talking about that. We’re very far-fetched from my perspective. Things like oh, some unknown company in Russia is going to sue you for code that, like you’ve never really like, things like that. 

Patrick: Yeah, gotcha. Well, now you’ve already gone through your first board meeting with your new partners and everything. How are things going? You mentioned that you liked them, which is always a really, really positive thing. But how’s it going? 

Steven: It’s going well, yeah. I mean, you know, as I may have mentioned, our primary problem is capacity. Capacity strain, meaning that we’re small, and to really handle like larger volumes of the types of clients we work with, we need, you know, highly-skilled people that are really good. And that is a difficult challenge to find. But we’re doing our best, you know, we have fairly, you know, we’ve had recruiters, we’ve had thousands of applicants. 

And then we have, you know, various tools that we’re using internally to try to ascertain, you know, is this person a good fit? And assuming that goes well, and hopefully it will, it should be good. Yeah I mean, then it’s just more of a How much do we want to scale? How long do we want to play this game? I mean, while it’s still fun, and that’s a big thing, make sure it’s fun. Like you have to enjoy what you’re doing or otherwise you probably shouldn’t be doing it. 

Patrick: Absolutely, absolutely. Well as you’re having fun, there may be some other people that could have some questions for you. How can people reach you? 

Steven: I think LinkedIn is a great way. Just reach out on my LinkedIn and ask a question. That’s easy. 

Patrick: Sure. Okay. So it was on LinkedIn. Steven with a V, and then Epstein, EPSTEIN? 

Steven: Yep. On RedCAT Systems. 

Patrick: Great. RedCAT Systems. Well Steven, thank you very much. This has been real helpful and I’m glad that this all worked out. I mean, our objective on this whole venture that we have at Rubicon is we want to help people who created something from nothing be able to move on and exit one platform and move on to another where whether that you know, being acquired by a strategic or just going riding off into the sunset with a clean exit for a great retirement. 

You’ve added tremendous value. RedCAT Systems is very successful. And your company are a list of the who’s who of Fortune 100 firms and you’re definitely adding value with what you’re doing. And I really sincerely wish you the very best of luck. And hopefully we’ll be with you when the next, you know, nine or 10 figure deal comes up for you. 

Steven: That sounds great. Yeah, I mean like this was another interesting thing you could add of course is that once you’ve done this once you think oh, wow what about this idea? That would be fun. So there’s lots of ideas out there. I think it’s just finding the passion. And one extra thing that I’ll give you a little bit that you can throw on if you’re editing something together is when I first found Rubicon from the article, which I liked, and give me, you know, basis, of course, there’s everyone else had someone like did you talk to Marsh? Did you talk to this person? Did you talk to that person? And it was fine. 

I tried to stay out of spending a lot of time on it. In the end, I think that everything you did was fine. It was great. The pricing was all similar normalish. It wasn’t a lot of like, wow, I need to shop around a whole lot. And it was very convenient that you were like, had worked with enough companies that you could quickly give us like an overview that you’re able to shop to the various insurance companies. So we didn’t have to spend lots of time shopping. Meaning like I felt confident that that was approximately what we would expect, and was great. It saved more time. 

Patrick: I appreciate that. Yeah. That’s the other thing that is new out there is there when you and I spoke our first conversation was in fact, there were probably about 11 or 12 insurance companies active in rep and warranty. There are now as, just in a few months now we’re up to 20 companies. 

And they are going all over the map from one stage focuses just on sub $50 million transactions and then others that won’t go below 100 million because they want that segment of the market. So it’s definitely maturing and something to go forward with. But I just wish you all the best of luck and we’re going to do what we can to stay in touch with you, Steven, and keep track of RedCAT Systems.