As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kison Patel.
Kison Patel is the Founder and CEO of DealRoom, a lifecycle management software for financial transactions, as well as the author of Agile M&A: Proven Techniques to Close Deals Faster and Maximize Value. In 2016, he started M&A Science, an educational podcast featuring behind-the-scenes stories from leading M&A practitioners. Now boasting over 20k listeners, Kison has expanded the M&A Science platform to include a training program, M&A Science Academy, allowing others to learn practical how-to’s they can easily apply to their own practices from active M&A professionals.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Previously, I worked as an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) advisor for 10 years which gave me firsthand exposure of all the pain points and challenges the industry has. During one of the recessions, I saw a trend of project management tools from the software industry being adopted by other spaces, like education and tech. I took that as an opportunity to build a project management product for M&A. DealRoom was then created and founded in 2012.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I would call other brokers and bankers and pretend to have a potential buyer as a way to do diligence on various companies and be sent information. I’d sign NDAs of course, but that is how I learned about the process quickly. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a mistake, but it’s probably not a very traditional way of doing things. The more important takeaway was learning how to have a conversation with a lot of different people using the industry’s language.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Back when I was doing residential real estate I worked in an office of about 90 people. Out of those 90, only one of them was selling commercials properties instead of residential. I ended up building a relationship with him and through that relationship, I discovered what I was really passionate about.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
What drove the business was seeing these companies conduct multi-million and multi-billion dollar deals in such antiquated ways that only made the deal process more difficult and destroyed the company’s value. I could see there was an opportunity to make the process more efficient and less headache-inducing. I wanted to bring science and proven techniques to the industry to help innovate.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
DealRoom provides deal lifecycle management solution that helps companies through M&A (mergers and acquisitions) from sourcing deals, to due diligence, to integration. Our platform enables the centralization of information, better distribution of information, real-time reporting, and improved collaboration. Overall, it helps practitioners spend less time on administrative tasks that don’t add value and spend more time on tasks that do add value.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Cloud technology in general was a big disrupter because it created this playing field for providers to create different solutions. In the end, it really just made it easier for us to adopt the technology. It also grounded our company and made it more competitive. Companies were looking to innovate where, before, the cloud providers weren’t innovative at all. They had a basic product that did the bare minimum and charged a lot for it. With the advancement of cloud technology, more players were able to enter the arena that made the space much more competitive.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
While everyone else was focused on file security, we focused more on the actual deal, the workflow, and the deal lifecycle. By shifting our focus on the end to end process of the deal, we put more emphasis on project management.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
The biggest “Aha moment” came after talking to a prospective client and understanding where their pain points and challenges were. It was probably the first time I stopped trying to sell and just sat back and listened to them and their issues. As he described it, the issue was around managing these long diligence lists that come in from buyers and trying to manage the meticulous details in Excel. That’s when it hit me — this was a similar issue to what we deal with as software developers and billing software, and our solution to that was project management to help manage workflow. I saw an opportunity to bring a new solution to an old industry.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
We had to make that pivot a few years back and initially it was a struggle. As we iterated our product, we found really good traction with corporate clients and things have been going really well. We’ve been doubling revenues the last three years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
When we started this pivot, a buddy of mine told me I should get into podcasting and my response was, “What the hell is a podcast?”. He told me it was going to be the next big thing and I took his word for it. Fast forward a few years and now I host the most listened to M&A podcast, M&A Science.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
The most critical role of a leader during disruption is communication. You need to make sure you’re talking to your team and creating an open dialogue so people can address their concerns and share how they feel. Leaders also need to continue to recognize contributions being made by their employees. If you notice they’re working harder, acknowledge the effort being made. Lastly, leaders need to be able to assess their strategy. If you’re experiencing a period of disruption, you may need to change some things you’re doing, and the sooner the better. Being agile in the face of disruption is imperative for survival.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Don’t dwindle in the past. You can’t change the variables of the past now, so keep looking forward. Look at the opportunities that lie ahead and what you can do now to change your circumstances. For example, we knew our company wouldn’t be doing a lot of sales in the face of COVID, so we shifted focus to marketing. We got our name out there and in the end, it worked out really well.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle is being resilient and dauntless. The one thing that is inevitable in life is that there will be ups and downs, so you need to be able to keep a certain level of optimism, whether it’s real or artificial, but you need to persevere. You need to always find a reason to keep moving forward. The number one reason why organizations fail is because they give up. As long as you are optimistic about the future, you will get closer to your goals.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I’ve seen people not do anything, which is probably the biggest mistake you can make. Panicking is another mistake companies make. They fold under the pressure and can’t get back on their feet. I’ve also seen leaders get selfish and do what’s best for them with no regard to the rest of the people at the company. There is no way to survive with that mentality. Lastly, businesses need to look at threats as an opportunity to better themselves.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Open communication platform. Business leaders need to create a platform where everyone is comfortable sharing their opinions and thoughts because the best ideas probably won’t come from the top, they’ll come from the people closest to the field.
- Assess and re-assess strategy. Like I said earlier, being agile in the face of disruption is imperative to survival.
- Cultivating a culture and willingness to move quickly. Disruption happens when you lose the mindset of wanting to continuously improve, so constantly pushing the boundaries is a way to be less blindsided by disruption.
- Lead by example. The phrase ‘do what I say, not as I do” does not and cannot work in the face of disruption. Business leaders need to do their job and lead others in the right direction.
- Be aware of your market. Along the same lines as the desire to continuously improve, there needs to be a desire to learn and a curiosity of your industry that will keep you at the top of your game.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m going to paraphrase, but my favorite life lesson quote is about lost opportunities to interact with people. We walk past people every day (although less so now with the pandemic) and those are all different opportunities to talk to someone new and find a connection. There’s opportunity everywhere, you just have to pursue it.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow my LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kisonpatel/
My podcast website: https://www.mascience.com/