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Authentic Deal-Making Deal-Driven Growth

Seed Stage Venture Capital Funds

Today’s guest, Nick Adams, has a background in tech companies and deal-making. Now he’s a Managing Partner and co-founder at Differential Ventures, a seed stage venture capital fund. His group invests early in the process, which gives him a bird’s eye view of mistakes and innovations in the field. In addition, Nick’s been part of growth and deals connected to scaling from two million to ten, or ten million to twenty-five. He’s seen how deals and decision making can make or break a business.

Getting Into Venture Capital

Nick shares that, as a kid, he wanted to be a major league baseball shortstop. Although he did play ball throughout college, his career ended there. At age 22 he played his last official game, and moved on with his future.

One of Nick’s earliest memorable deals involved early software sales. He remembers closing the deal with the A&P supermarket chain and being elated. Now he’s in the venture capital field. His focus is in investing in companies in their earliest stages. This is usually a step beyond “idea stages”, but pre-revenue.

Often when companies raise money, early rounds include family and friends. This is also where angel investors might get involved. After this you’ll find seed stage investors, followed by series B, C, D and so on until fundraising is done or the company is placed on the market for public buy ins.

Differential Ventures often comes in with investments between $250,000 and 1.2 million as part of a seed room. In exchange they usually receive a board seat, and work with founders to build out the company. This involves everything from product development to finding those first few customers. Nick finds that each company’s needs vary greatly. Often, his team tends to pick up more technically based founders, so one thing they look for is whether there is going to be an ability for the founder or founding team to build a product all the way out to being saleable.

To learn which is more essential: team, technology, or market, listen to the full episode!

Do Venture Capitalists Eliminate Founders?

Nick notes that his sort of venture capital work isn’t for everyone. First and foremost, founders need to have an awareness of whether their company warrants outside investment at a higher level, as well as what that sort of increase in funds will mean for their organizations. Out of curiosity, I asked him to share more about what happens when VC money comes in, and founders get pushed out.

In my experience, founders and CEOs who leave their companies after investments are granted are usually looked on favorably. The public seems ready to take their side, and venture capitalists can end up looking like the “bad guys”. Although Nick acknowledges that things do go wildly sideways sometimes, that tends to be the exception, not the rule.

He does share that sometimes founders get pushed out, but this can happen for a variety of reasons. Timing, personality, growth needs, or even a founder no longer wanting to be part of the deal. Sometimes technical founders loved creating and building, but have little desire to take on a CEO role. In that case, they may initiate their own transition. However, it’s rare for a VC to come into a business and actually force a founder or CEO out of their role.

In his opinion, Nick finds that most VC’s are pretty good actors. Their funding and outcomes are very much attached to a start-ups success and needs. There are long holding periods, things move slow, and there is a strenuous process involved in really making a profit. In fact, he finds that angel investors can sometimes put more pressure on a young business simply because they don’t understand the nature of the slow game that investing can be.

Is Venture Capital Funding For You?

The percentage of companies that are really right for VC funding is small. For one thing, they need to be ready for massive growth, and to take the market by storm. For another, they should actually need the money as an avenue for growth.

Nick shares that he recently had a potential client who shared that he wouldn’t be bothered with an early exit from the fund if taken on. The rejoinder: Nick knew immediately his company wasn’t interested. In order for VC funding to make sense, there needs to be a large return that can pay off investors and create profit. Although the potential client was shocked to be turned down so quickly, Nicks’ been in VC funding long enough to know that short term thinking doesn’t work well.

He also knows that this kind of long term, high dollar deal isn’t for everybody. Neither is venture capital funding! Unlike angel investors (who are using their own money), a fund mathematically requires a high return to pay back each party involved.

The Ideal Founder

If you’re considering approaching a venture capital fund, Nick suggests that the best founding teams combine leaders who have:

+ Strong technical differential and skills (academic background, work history, etc)
+ Entrepreneurial by nature
+ Experience working with both engineers/creators and customers
+ Product management ability

In addition, Nick shares that their best founders who seem to be most successful are usually in it for some reason larger than just “being” a founder. They often have some deep sense of obligation to a family member, friend, community, or other group that they want to prove themselves to. When someone has believed in you and invested in you, you’re highly motivated to make good in their name.

Having a deeper drive and purpose is a key part of pushing through hardship and delivering the best possible outcome. This is true for any entrepreneurial group, but especially so for founders who want to bring on venture capital funds!

There is a risk calculation here: how far are you willing to go to bring your idea to life? Depending on your savings, your family’s needs, and your ability to handle risk, your answer might be quite different from someone else’s. There are no wrong answers, but it’s vital that you’re honest with yourself about what those answers are for you.

Nick encourages founders to establish the amount of risk they’re willing and able to take on for themselves prior to seeking funding.

Venture Capital Funding and Covid-19

Nick shares that he believes there has been too much capital in too many startups across the market. Leading up to February, the market was fairly overheated, and it contained a number of startups and investors who probably didn’t belong in the market for the long haul.

When Covid-19 broke out and businesses started to close, a great deal of capital either froze or dried up. After a slow March and April and a brutal adjustment period, Nick has seen changes taking place. They completed their first completely remote deal in which they hadn’t known the founder in any capacity beforehand at the end of June.

They negotiated the terms sheet at 6pm, and the founder’s 6-year old was present for the end of the call, staring into the Zoom screen and watching the proceedings. The market is still moving along, and Nick is optimistic about the direction it’s taking.

You can connect with Nick by emailing him at [email protected]. He encourages you to be able to succinctly communicate:

What are you doing?
Why is it important?
Why are you uniquely qualified?
What proof points do you have?

Listen to the full episode here!

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

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Authentic Business Relationships Authentic Conversations About Difference Authentic Deal-Making Authentic Leadership Authentic Negotiating Deal-Driven Growth

Key Decisions During Challenging Times

In this week’s episode, I break down the key decisions that we all need to make in these challenging times. The insights I offer on this topic come out of my own experience in dealing with challenging times in the past. For instance, coming through previous recessions and Superstorm Sandy.

Leadership Opportunities

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, I think we all have an opportunity to really look closely at two key decision points. The first one is:

Are we going to let these challenging times of crises get us down and derail key decisions?
Will we allow them to adversely impact us in terms of our mental state, our spiritual state, or our emotional state? Or are we going to find a way to rally?

During difficult times, it’s imperative that we stay positive and look for opportunities to excel. That may mean we need to pivot in our businesses, or use this time to develop new offerings for our clients. At an absolute minimum, it means we need to find new ways to stay in contact with clients by finding our own space of attraction and service.

If we don’t do that, we can easily end up in a place of fear and scarcity.

I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of leaders who have rallied, and leaders who have floundered. In fact, both things are happening in the extremes right now. And of course you know certain people in between; treading water and getting by. You get decide what kind of leader you will be! You can make key decisions that will allow you to grow, even through difficulty.

The Power of Positive Entrepreneurs

What I love about entrepreneurs is that, in general, I find them to be generally more positive and optimistic than many other types of people.

They are used to being innovative and finding creative ways to make things happen! And it could be that optimism comes more easily in times of crisis because they’re in control to a greater degree than those who work for others. Being an entrepreneur is different because you have so much agency. Instead of wondering if you’re going to get laid off from a job, you’re able to gear up and create change. But you an only do so if you’re maintaining a positive mindset!

As a business owner, what you’re dealing with is your business. You have the power to make changes or pivot as you see fit. And entrepreneurs clearly take advantage of this ability! In every down time, there are always companies that come out of it stronger than before. Why?

Because they are empowered to create changes and adapt.

Some businesses will use the crisis to figure out how to become more efficient, how to make different offers, and how to produce products that are more appealing to their clients. Some of the most successful companies throughout history, going all the way back to the Great Depression and beyond, have been formed out of downtimes in the economy.

It all starts with whether you look at everything as an opportunity. You can choose to approach this challenge with an open mind, equipping yourself to not only survive, but to thrive.

Stand Strong

Are you constantly asking yourself how you’re going to put the best spin on this?

Are you searching for how you’re going to use this time most effectively?

You have to understand that if you’re in a place of fear or scarcity or lack, if you’re sort of shutting down and letting things affect you, it is going to impact your business. Mindset is everything. If you focus on scarcity, you are more likely to have that come into your life. Choosing to stay positive is one of the most key decisions you can make.

When you focus on positive ways to serve your clients, serve humanity, serve people, you empower yourself.

If you focus on making a difference, being there, and supporting others in these times — that will shine through. And you’ll make an impact on not only your own life, but the lives of others.

Because honestly, whether you worry about it or not, it’s going to be what it’s going to be. So much is outside of your control. When we can get to the point where we are only focusing on the things that we can actually do something about, and not worrying about those that are outside of our control, that’s when we have the opportunity to be in our best position.

So that’s the first fundamental decision you have to make. But you’re not in it alone!

To help leaders in maintaining this positive outlook, I’m bringing entrepreneurs and business leaders together on Zoom calls where we can support each other. The goal is to maintain a positive energy, keep a growth mindset, and share best practices and while in community. The previous calls have been really amazing, and I would encourage you to join us if you haven’t yet!

Key Decisions Include How You Will Serve Others

The second big decision that I want you all to think about is this:

Are you looking for positive ways to serve?
Really consider: are you finding ways of just being there as human beings for each other? How are you actively supporting others in ways that are unrelated to making money or building your business?

And how are you serving your clients and being a resource to them, while also continuing to get paid a fair value for your services?

We all want to be people who make a difference in other people’s lives. It’s vital that we do so in ways that are fair and in keeping with our morals,values, and highest ideals. In these times, especially if you’re facing scarcity, fear, or worry about money, your decisions can get clouded by need.

I know what it’s like to sleep on an air mattress in my office, because I gave up my apartment during the 2008 recession. I know what it’s like to go into $325,000 of debt trying to make it all happen. These are hard times for many businesses, and I understand all too well what that feels like.

But what I also knew in that time was that it was vital to handle my business with character and in alignment to my true values. This is vital; no matter how hard it is, you must act on principle and maintain your core values.

So, how are we going to carry ourselves in these challenging times?

If we have an opportunity to still be in business and sell services and products, are we going to be gouging prices?

Or are we going to charge a fair price, are we going to actively look for ways to be of service? Can we look for ways to still uphold our value for the services that we’re providing, but also accommodate our client’s needs?

Let’s Talk Deals

There are going to be a lot of deals to be had in any kind of down economy. And we each have a choice: you can leverage and take advantage of somebody, or choose to be fair with somebody.

Because yes, there are the “distressed assets” – whether it’s property or business valuations that are tanking – and people who are afraid and may even feel desperate. Some investors will jump on the chance to leverage short-term profit. But others will operate from a place of integrity, a place of character and balance an appropriate adjustment in price and terms with a longer term view that takes into account relationships, valuing talent and fairness under the circumstances.

If you’re entering into a deal, you must consider your legacy and reputation. Not from a place of ego, but from a place of building the kind of business that you can be proud of once this crisis has passed. Certain key decisions regarding deals can leave you worse off down the road if you don’t consider values and relationships.

Be very sensitive about taking advantage of others in the business world; don’t be someone who leverages people’s misfortunes for your own gain.

Remember, most deals are either the start, or the continuation of, a business relationship.

A company might take a deal in the short run, because they’re desperate. They need the money. But if you demoralize everyone involved, is that deal going to work out for you in the long run? Probably not. It’s not going to work out as well as if you had done it the right way.

There’s a difference between right-sizing a deal, and trying to leverage somebody’s misfortune just because you know they don’t have options.
There are ways to structure deals where you can respect both party’s risks. For example, you might commit to a purchase price based upon today’s valuation, which may be down from yesterday’s. But you could also give the ability of the seller to earn some upside if, over the next number of years, the business comes back to where it was.

Then you’re paying for revenue and profits that you will get, but only if you get them, and the deal works out fairly. This is far preferable to trying to leverage somebody at the bottom, and then keeping all the advantage of the upside for yourself.

Long Term Relationships

Doing an honorable deal in times of crisis increases the odds of the seller (and the seller’s team) becoming good employees or minority partners, depending upon how the deal is structured. It makes it more likely you’ll have a deal that will work in the long term. Just from a pure business point of view, it makes sense.

But it’s more than business.

I happen to believe that when we’re out of alignment, even if our actions initially make us more money in the short run, we create problems for ourselves in the long run. Don’t get me wrong: It’s absolutely the time to look for opportunities.

But you have to consider how you’re going to take advantage of those opportunities. Are you going to do so in a way that honors your values?

Key Decisions Provide Both Opportunity and Challenge

So this is our opportunity. This is our challenge. How are we going to stay in a positive mindset while we seek opportunities that are aligned, while also being mindful not to take advantage of people? How are we going to serve others? You can listen in to more of my thoughts on this over on the podcast.

I want to say I’m here as a resource. If anybody’s struggling, or anybody wants to talk through a few things, let’s connect. If you’re wondering: How do I take advantage of opportunities in this market without doing it in a way that’s not aligned? Reach out. I’m here for you.

Earlier I mentioned the Zoom calls, which are free; please join us there. They are going to bring the community together, help us stay aligned with our values, and help us make key decisions and stay positive in these challenging times.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Categories
Authentic Business Relationships Authentic Deal-Making Authentic Negotiating

Deals in a New Industry

Although Neil Rosen started his career as a teacher, he would later be driven to serial entrepreneurship by fate. Neil’s passions culminated in his first business, a children’s furniture store, which grew into five locations that were immensely successful.

The chain of stores provided Neil with the financial means to pursue his next great endeavor, which he ultimately achieved by selling the store to his employees. That was the first major deal Neil did, and it laid the foundation for his next businesses, while also teaching him the fundamentals of dealmaking.

Neil was able to keep the skilled management team on staff while receiving payouts over time, and it was a great deal for every party involved. But nothing would prepare him for doing deals as a pioneer of internet companies.

The School Report

Neil’s next business, The School Report, designed a program to gather 3rd party data about public school districts. That information was then sold to real estate brokerages and shared with potential homebuyers for a win-win-win. Although Neil started the business with his wife in their basement, it grew rapidly and brought a lot of new deals to the table.

He had technical experts providing services for equity. He used a participation interest vehicle to raise more capital without losing equity. He then raised venture capital. There were many different types of deals that Neil had to navigate throughout the lifespan of the business. But the difficulty of doing deals as an early-stage internet company prepared him for every challenge he would face moving forward.

Raising Capital

From the early days of commercial internet, through the boom and bust of the late 90’s and early 2000’s the landscape was changing and the learning curve was getting much steeper. When you are working with venture capitalists, there is an expectation of rapid growth. However, it is much more difficult to sell your ability to deliver in an industry that is just getting on its feet.

VCs were hesitant to work with internet companies at the time and it posed a lot of problems for Neil and his team. They had to pivot numerous times and even renegotiated with their VC to reduce its stake in the company before selling it a short time later. But a lot of valuable lessons came out of the experience, which Neil brought forth into his future endeavors with eWayDirect and Certain Source.

If you want to learn more about Neil’s journey, listen to his episode here: https://www.coreykupfer.com/podcasts/neil-rosen/. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

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Authentic Deal-Making

From High School Dropout to Entrepreneur

At the age of sixteen, Ralph Peterson was told that he was a hands-on learner destined for manual labor, so he quit school and began working in construction. Despite the fact that he always wanted to be a writer, Peterson took these words of “wisdom” to heart and spent eight years on the mud-boots path until he woke up. Peterson always knew that he was capable of doing so much more with his career, but it wasn’t until twenty-four that he decided to finish high school and enroll in college, where he eventually received an associate’s degree in creative writing, a bachelor’s degree in U.S. history, a second bachelor’s degree in business administration, and a master’s degree in organizational leadership.

The Power of a Good Story

Ralph Peterson achieved his dream of becoming a writer, but with all of the accolades aside, he considers himself a teacher before anything else. At its core, Peterson’s role is to teach people in the ancillary departments how to make their processes better, but the ability to monetize his expertise came through an unexpected opportunity during his time as a sales representative.

One of the main reasons that Peterson was driven to become a writer was his passion for storytelling and public speaking, but he only got to employ a half-hearted version of his skill during a thirteen-year career selling housekeeping management systems. The client-facing role provided a means to showcase his skill in the art of speaking, and eventually, he was asked to fill-in for a keynote speaker at a seminar for “housekeeping as a business.” Peterson un-begrudgingly agreed to do the event for free and at the end, he was offered a consultancy opportunity by one of the attendees and his business was born.

Housekeeping in Long-term Care

Peterson deals with two competing business models in the realm of housekeeping and long-term care, but he was able to find a solution that spans both sides. With housekeeping, laundry, maintenance, and dietary, some businesses will come in and take over everything including staff, purchasing, training, oversight, management responsibilities etc. Other businesses choose to opt-out of paying for everything while still providing the management, training, and oversight. Peterson’s niche is right in the middle, where he comes into the same businesses and develops a program for them to follow, then provides oversight of the program moving forward.

Doing Deals as a New Small Business

Initially, Peterson was doing everything himself, but as his client roster grew and the territory expanded, he brought on a Director of Operations for support. The business had limited resources since it was just starting out, but Peterson forged a PTO and benefits package that no one could resist. He prioritized company culture at a very early stage, but he also learned the importance of doing deals internally to increase performance, morale, and employee retention.

On top of increasing his capacity with an additional employee, Peterson is moving a lot of his work to digital platforms so that he can travel less and do more. He hosts webinars with current clients to ensure the success of their new programs, but he is also using technology to bolster a new offering; education and breakdown of nursing home systems and processes. The new product is taking off right now, and 75% of it is done online.

Pay it Forward

Peterson wants to work with clients who are motivated, passionate, and want to get better. It is not about the size of the client so much as their intention since they are both fighting for better care. This includes prospective students for which Peterson is currently building a business model. He is extremely passionate about teaching other adults that there is more to a career than what they currently understand, and he wants to give them the tools to achieve entrepreneurial success in the same industry like he did, regardless of their specialization. Housekeeping used to have a negative connotation for Peterson but now, he understands that it gave him every opportunity and he wants to pay it forward.

You can learn more about Peterson’s story in his episode on Fueling Deals.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Categories
Authentic Deal-Making

Learn From Your Deals

We have already explored a lot of different ways that you can grow your business inorganically through deals. This time, I want to look at deals on a more personal level. I have done many deals and negotiations for other people as an attorney. But I’ve also done them for myself as a dealmaker. Some have gone well, while others provided great lessons. However, every deal has increased my capability as an entrepreneur, investor, partner and attorney.

Lessons of Early Entrepreneurship

I was familiar with entrepreneurship by the age of fifteen when I started my first business and managed real cashflow. I built a book of accounts and a team of employees, and we distributed flyers and other marketing materials for local businesses. It yielded roughly $300 a week and provided my first lesson in doing deals. The experience didn’t sink in until later. I didn’t recognize the monetary value of the accounts themselves. I didn’t even think about selling them but, instead, just closed the business when I left for college – a lost opportunity and good learning lesson.

In college, I managed to strike a deal with Clare Rose that gave me one of two distributor’s slots for beer kegs on campus. That provided a variety of perks, as I’m sure you can imagine. But in undergrad, law school, and beyond, the enterprise mindset was always present. Whether I purchased equity in small businesses or pursued side projects like real estate, I was always looking for new ways to do deals.

Higher Stakes Deals

With great opportunities, you need to act quickly, and I lost a few of those when I was younger due to a lack of capital. Partnerships can be restrictive, but they can also be a solution. I went into a real estate partnership and raised a fund so we would have money available to be able to act quickly on good deals. However, in real estate deals, everyone is exuberant when things are going well and they run away when a down market hits. We had to pull out of those investments after the investors refused to double down during the recession – another huge opportunity lost.

There are significant challenges for dealmakers of any experience level, but they will always prepare you for the next opportunity. Whether you are doing deals for your business or on the side, there are lessons you can take away from my mistakes and successes alike. Those lessons have led me to a number of deals that have been very successful for me. If you are interested in hearing more about some of the deals I have been apart of, listen to my podcast episode, Growing as a Dealmaker, with Corey Kupfer.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Categories
Authentic Deal-Making Authentic Leadership Deal-Driven Growth

Entrepreneurial Freedom

As the CSO of Popdog, Niles Heron embodies an entrepreneurial spirit driven by freedom and the ability to control his own destiny. He has witnessed successful careers built under the restraint of golden shackles, but when the going is tough and failure is imminent, Heron finds comfort in the fact that his decisions yield the final outcome. Wealthy and untethered is the name of the game, and Heron has lived by that notion since he started his first internet radio business at fifteen years old.

Popdog is fundamentally focused on content creation and consumption in the world of live streaming, and they provide services and technology to some of the top content creators in the esports and video-on-demand spaces. This includes analytics tools that better portray their value to brands for sponsorship and monetization, and management services for nearly the top 40 content creators in the gaming industry.

Organic and Inorganic Growth in the Startup Space

Heron’s experience with accelerator programs in Michigan gave him a lot of access to early-stage startups where he found inspiration in nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs, but a lot of businesses try to raise money to solve problems without finding a proper product-market fit. This led Heron to realize that his true passion was not in raising capital, but in helping people make their products work. As a result, Heron shifted his focus to consulting and built a powerful resume that paved the way for his future endeavors.

“If all you need is money, you can go to the bank, but what you need is proof that your business works.”

There are many types of deals out there and organic growth has to be the foundation, but once you’ve found the actual customers for your actual product, you can start augmenting. From this position, you have the ability to force growth in any number of directions, but if you go in all directions you will grow much slower. If you’re trying to scale, you need to pick one direction and understand that this is where investment really matters.

The reason you need to have one customer is so you can comprehend why you don’t have two customers, and if you can’t answer that you might as well have zero. The whole point of the partnership is to expand your customer base by deepening the relationship with existing customers or finding new ones. Demand limit is important to consider but if you can’t figure out why you’re not acquiring more customers, the partnership grows frail.

Doing Deals vs. Adding Value

People don’t go and seek deals because they often don’t understand the problem they’re trying to solve when they get the deal. The reality is that you can’t do deals if you’re not willing to be extremely self-critical. On the other hand, if there is no natural limitation set, deals become arbitrary since your focus should always be getting more customers. Unfortunately, that is not the way most businesses work since the markets have become over-saturated.

Before this episode, Niles Heron never saw himself as someone who does deals, but he always identified as somebody who seeks to add more value by any means necessary. Whether he is helping someone generate organic growth or finding a partner that can provide the means, he stresses that anyone trying to “do deals” should really be focusing on how they can add value. This requires time, but if you strive to accomplish something a “deal” is just the facilitator.

Click here to listen to his Fueling Deals podcast episode.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!