04:29 - Meeting smallpdf
14:37 - Backstabbed by a competitor
22:50 - Identifying acquisition targets
44:39 - Structuring the deal
51:30 - Announcing the acquisition
Dennis Just is a serial entrepreneur and the former CEO at smallpdf, the rapidly growing and fully bootstrapped PDF powerhouse. He holds a BSc in Economics and Engineering from the Technische Universität Berlin and previously founded companies like dSLASH.de, compreo.de, TopFachhandel.de, Numbrs, and Knip AG, and also worked at the famous scaleup DeinDeal. Currently he’s active as a venture partner at the European venture capital group 3VC.
Dennis was CEO at smallpdf from 2019 to March 2023, and during his time there the company acquired PDF Tools AG (2022) for $30M. He advises founders to cultivate a strategic mindset before even beginning the acquisition process: you need to make sure you have both the revenue and the talent to support the massive growth that acquisition implies.
When trying to identify acquisition targets, Dennis suggests liaising with the competitors in your market from early on. Find out who’s who, where they’re headed, whether or not they’re your 1:1 competitors, and, if they’re not, whether it would make sense to join forces with them. In smallpdf’s case, since they’re a bootstrapped company, it didn’t make sense for them to look for companies backed by VCs, since investors tend to have demands which bootstrapped buyers (with building generational, sustainable businesses in mind) typically cannot meet. So instead they looked for bootstrapped companies with a track record of organic growth.
Something that’s also crucial is to assess the cultural fit, and that’s why having a long-term relationship with these companies comes in handy. But regardless of how long you’ve known them, a due diligence process should always include cultural assessment interviews with all employees. It’s important to set clear standards for what you want the culture to be, even if that means losing 30% of the people from the company you acquired.
"The due diligence process should include cultural assessment interviews with every single employee from the company you’re considering buying."
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