M&A From the Inside: What We Were Thinking As We Bought Our First Company

This summer, we announced our first acquisition of another business: we purchased Bitmaker, Canada’s largest career accelerator, based out of Toronto. The acquisition marked our expansion into a new international market, meaning that General Assembly now has a physical presence in six countries. 

While I could go on about what this means for the future of General Assembly (GA) and how we’re confronting a global skills gap, I thought it could be helpful and relevant to offer some insights and takeaways from our experience.

Considering that almost everyone in business will hope to be on some side of an M&A deal someday - whether that be buying a company or getting acquired, I hope these insights can add some useful perspective.

The management team is material – especially when you think about the role they will play in terms of successful integration and ongoing operations. So if that wasn’t proven out in our due diligence, we definitely would not have moved forward

It will take much longer than you think

Going back through my emails, I first made contact with Andrew Mawer, Bitmaker’s CEO, in February of 2014. The deal closed two-and-a half years later.

Of course, a lot happened in that time period and there were a couple of starts and stops in our conversations. But that time was what eventually allowed us to build enough of a relationship to be able to complete a successful transaction – and enough comfort that we knew that this was the right move for both Bitmaker and GA.

It’s all about the management team

The other thing about getting to know Andrew was that it gave us extreme confidence in the quality of the management team. The Bitmaker team wanted to stay on through the acquisition and that was an important factor for GA.

Maybe in some cases, M&A is about some core assets and the management team is considered a non-factor. But in my experience, that’s never been the case.

The management team is material – especially when you think about the role they will play in terms of successful integration and ongoing operations. So if that wasn’t proven out in our due diligence, we definitely would not have moved forward with a deal.

The price must make sense

Price is always important, but the framework isn’t always intuitive.

For us, the way we looked at the deal was this: if we invested our own money in opening a GA campus ourselves in Canada (and played that out over three years), would we have a more valuable asset than buying and growing Bitmaker, net of the acquisition price and the three-year cost of that capital?

Most deals we look at don’t ever meet that threshold. But when they do, we are very eager and interested buyers.

The company represented a piece of our strategic goals

This seems obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many M&A pitches and discussions are off point. We had already identified Canada on our expansion roadmap, independent of a potential Bitmaker transaction. Therefore, it made sense to invest time in conversations with Bitmaker!

If it hadn’t been on our roadmap, it would have been a much higher hurdle to even start thinking about a deal and might have led to pulling focus away from other strategic goals.

We are so thrilled with the Bitmaker team and it’s been a really positive experience to bring them into the GA family. What's next for our M&A? I can't say anything with 100% certainty, but I do know that it will fit all the criteria above, and be a great piece of our ever-expanding story here at General Assembly.

About the Author

Jake Schwartz is CEO and Co-Founder of General Assembly, a US education company that focuses on web development, data analysis and other technology courses. With the Bitmaker acquisition, it now has campuses in six markets, including Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. This article first appeared in LinkedIn’s Influencer blog.  

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