Startup Acquisition Stories Podcast w/ Chris Achard – Founder of AcornChat

Watch the interview

Learn more about Chris –


Transcription –

Andrew Gazdecki:
All right. Today I am with Chris, who recently got Acquired for five figures. Chris, how’re you doing today?

Chris Achard:
I’m doing pretty well. How are you?

Andrew Gazdecki:
I am doing fantastic. Well hey, congrats on the acquisition to start, and for people that may not know you that are listening, do you want to just give a brief introduction of yourself?

Chris Achard:
Sure, yeah. I’ve been a web developer for 14 years, something like that. I’ve been an independent consultant for a long part of that and yeah, recently, just before COVID, I started startup called Meeting Place or SaaS and yeah, that’s the one that got sold earlier this year, so about two years later.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. Right on, man. What did Meeting Place do?

Chris Achard:
It was a Meetup alternative and it was because I was running a Meetup here in Indianapolis. This was when Meetup was owned by WeWork and they were going to do something very strange. They were going to try to charge free users $2 to RSVP to free events. They were calling it a pricing test. It was clearly a way to try to get more money out of users.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Oh, no.

Chris Achard:
I was like, “That’s lame,” so I started an alternative and I launched it in about a couple weeks, under a month anyway, and got a bunch of users, and-

Andrew Gazdecki:
I love that. You saw another product that was successful, and then you saw them doing something that might have made it less successful, and then you put your own spin on it. That’s genius, right on, man. How long did it take you to build, did you say six months?

Chris Achard:
Six weeks. Yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Six weeks?

Chris Achard:
Yeah. The initial version was out in under a month because I wanted to use it for my Meetup, so it was out really fast. That was end of 2019. Then I worked on it at the beginning of 2020, and then COVID hit and all Meetups sort of stopped, and so that really took the wind out of my sails, but yeah, it was fully operational in probably a couple of months really, but the first version under a month. Yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I love how you rode it out though, and you waited until the world started to heal in a sense. I remember right when COVID hit, we had a lot of really large event app and they would connect their revenue metrics, and it would… For those listening, I have my hand showing my little line… And there’s a big drop as if the CEO was indicted for fraud if it was a public company. It was rough for a lot of event-based companies, so glad to hear you weathered this storm.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Tell me about your experience on Acquire. First, I’d love to know how’d you hear about it and what made you decide to list Meeting Place?

Chris Achard:
Yeah, so I’ve been in the sort of micro SaaS space for a while. I’ve had other small projects and I knew about some of the larger firms, brokerage firms and things like that, but this project was always sort of a side project. Throughout most of the time I was consulting, I actually wasn’t doing this full-time, and so it didn’t really make sense to sell through one of the big firms. I think I heard about you through MicroConf, but I heard people there and yeah.

Chris Achard:
I also do a podcast with someone else who does SaaS kind of stuff, and he was like, “You should just try to list it.” Because at the time, I had kind of run out of steam on it. I was trying to do it as a solo dev, but it’s the type of business that I think makes more sense to build a team for or raise money for because it was a freemium app and so there were a lot of free groups and to really get the word out, I would’ve had to spend a lot more time doing things that I just didn’t have time to do.

Chris Achard:
Anyway, he said, “You should just try to list it on Acquire,” and so I did. Your onboarding is really great because I was just filling out my profile and I was like, “We’ll see where this goes,” and then it was like, “Do you want to list it?” and I said, “Sure.” Then I started getting inbound requests the next day. So plus one for your onboarding, yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. Yeah, that’s fantastic to hear and shout out to MicroConf as well. I’m a big fan of that conference, but never been.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I guess my second question would be in terms of buyers start reaching out, how did you find the right buyer? How did you know he or she was a good match, and how did you weed out, maybe some of the ones that may have been tire kickers or you knew might be wasting your time?

Chris Achard:
Anyone who responded, I tried to engage like they were fully invested, but that I did find a lot of them, they would reach out once, so I’d give them some information and I just wouldn’t hear back. Which is okay, I guess, if you’re reaching out to a bunch of people, but I did get two, so I got maybe 15 requests in under a week, and then I got two really serious people, talked to them on Zoom. I got offers from both of them. One of them was a developer like me, he wanted to pay all cash, he was excited about the product. Then the other one seemed like he was building a portfolio of things. He wanted some more ongoing support from me, and like I mentioned, I just started a master’s program as well. I had a master’s program, I had consulting and so I kind of just wanted to be done with it. He wanted to pay out over time and it was actually more money, but over a longer period of time. Those were my two options. I chose the all cash up front.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. I like that. I always recommend cash up front, because seller financing can work out really well in a lot of scenarios, but if you have an all-cash offer, it just reduces so much risk on your end because you’re not chasing the other person down for either monthly payments or whatever you agree to.

Chris Achard:
Yep.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I recently was in a situation where I actually, I haven’t announced this yet, but we bought Shopify SaaS for 60K a year ago and we had two offers. One was all cash and one had seller financing, the all-cash offer was a little lower and without a doubt, I was like, “Let’s go with that. It’s cleaner, you can walk away faster.” Obviously I’m still in touch with the buyer, but good move there.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Then I guess my next question would be was how did you handle due diligence? Can you walk me through just the steps or maybe some learnings from going through that process?

Chris Achard:
In a lot of ways it was a good first sale. It was my first time selling something and the buyer’s first time buying something, and so we didn’t really know what we were doing. I think Acquire is great here. You have a list of things that you should ask for and due diligence, I think. He asked for several things, like screenshots of different things, screenshots of Stripe and a quick code walkthrough, I think just to make sure it wasn’t all spaghetti, and then financials and stuff like that. But it went pretty quickly because it wasn’t like I was selling a business with a bunch of employees and so there were small fixed set of things he wanted to see, and so that’s how due diligence went for us. It was pretty painless, really.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. Did you use escrow?

Chris Achard:
No, we didn’t sort did our own escrow kind of on accident because he was in Canada and I’m in the US and there was a cap on the amount he could wire per day to the US without doing something fancy or incurring more fees or whatever. So he would send me some one day and I did one account transfer and he sent some more and I did another account transfer. It’s kind of like we did our own escrow and we kind of were just acting in good faith. Part of it is, it’s not like a million dollar sale or anything like that, and so we didn’t feel like we needed a real escrow, I guess, which probably goes right a lot of the time. I don’t recommend it, because if it goes wrong, then it really goes wrong, but it went right for us.

Andrew Gazdecki:
That’s awesome. In a way you were kind of staggering, I mean rather than just the buyer wiring funds and then you’re kind of stuck. I always recommend an escrow service, but it sounds like it worked out well for you, so nice job on that.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I guess my next question would be, can you walk me through, how did you transfer the assets? How long did it take? Any sort of tips for that? Did you guys have a list of all the assets that you were going to move over one at a time?

Chris Achard:
Yep. As part of that due diligence, he wanted basically a list of every technology, every account where everything was running, so that if he chose to buy it, we basically had an exact list of what we had to transfer. So that list was already made, and then we basically set up a series of meetings over a few days where he and I just sat down and transferred everything. Most of it was okay. Some of the harder things were two-factor auth was tied to my personal cell phone, so we had to do the dance where I turned two-factor off or I switched it to his phone and then he read the code to me and stuff. So there’s sort of a dance around some of the accounts.

Chris Achard:
Then the other thing that was tricky was AWS. I have a lot of projects in AWS and you can’t just transfer a bucket to someone else, so we had to download all of the assets and re-upload them and it’s only one step, but it has a potential to take down the app while you do that. If I was going to do that again, for any app I wanted to sell, I would set up a separate AWS account, an entire account, and that would’ve gone much, much cleaner, but everything else was just transferring account.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. So with other people looking to sell a SaaS startup and after going through an acquisition yourself, what’s maybe a few tips you’d give some people?

Chris Achard:
The biggest thing that I would say is one, don’t be scared of it. I hadn’t done it before and I managed to get out just fine. But the other is always be super upfront about things, especially with things that might be bad about the app. You might think it’s a turnoff, but it’s actually… The new buyer, they know that some things aren’t going to be right and that’s why you’re selling it. So always be upfront about why you’re selling it. For example, in my app, I had a lot of free groups. It was a freemium model and I hadn’t actually turned on the code that would force them to upgrade. So I was like, “You write this code and you get, I don’t know, 10 groups or whatever were abusing the free plan, basically.” If you outline the things that you know are wrong with the app, then they can figure out some quick wins as soon as they buy it. I think that helped in that case.

Chris Achard:
My app was small, so the process wasn’t that long, but it might be very long, so also be prepared for that. I’ve heard of stories where it takes months and months. So it can go both ways, I guess.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Oh yeah, the larger the deal, the more complex due diligence gets and also transferring assets, because you just have more of them, but I love what you just said in terms of pointing out growth opportunities, because usually people buying assets at this size are looking to grow the asset. I always say, “Bring your startup projects, whatever you want to call it and share everything you haven’t done or what could be done.”

Andrew Gazdecki:
It sounds like you have, like “Hey, you can just raise prices if you click this button, but I haven’t pressed it yet.” Buyers love that because again, what you’re doing is, and just being honest about, “I’ve never raised prices. I’ve never tried this. I’ve never invested in SEO, like social marketing, there’s all these things I haven’t done,” and that gives a buyer an idea of the potential, because if you’ve tried everything and that could also be good in a sense where if you’ve tried everything, you might have a little bit of data on kind of what’s working, what’s not working, but yeah, just having those growth opportunities on how you would continue growing this startup with a buyer, I think is a huge selling point. Because you just give them a roadmap. That’s awesome.

Andrew Gazdecki:
What are you building now? I have a feeling you’re a serial builder.

Chris Achard:
Yeah. I always have stuff going on. Like I mentioned, I’m doing my master’s program. I’m also transitioning from web development into AI, so I’ve been doing a lot of AI the last couple of years. I’m doing a lot of that data science contests and stuff like that. But I do have another SaaS that’s going. It’s a Slack app. It’s like the Intercom chat widget, but just that, so it’s super simple. I chose it for a few reasons. One, I know there’s lots of competition out there. I wanted to do something that’s already been done before several times, just get that experience. And since I’m doing all this stuff with my masters and everything, I wanted something in an app store. So that hopefully that provides some of the marketing because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do full-time marketing pushes on it. That just got approved actually recently in the Slack app store, and I got my first paying customer, so one paying customer on my new thing.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. I always say, if you can get one, you can get 10, you get 100, you can get 1000, if you don’t have a bunch of churn, that is. What is the name of the app?

Chris Achard:
It’s called AcornChat. So acornchat.com and a-

Andrew Gazdecki:
Right on, I’ll put that in the show notes. I’m just curious, in terms of building startups, are there any books you’d recommend for some founders or… Love that cup, man! I see that.

Chris Achard:
Oh yeah, yeah. Actually, this is for people listening, this is the “I got Acquired” cup. I didn’t even plan that. This has been on my desk since I got it.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Right on. Going back to my question, I’m just curious. It sounds like you’re a phenomenal engineer and a builder.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I’m going to just throw out a crazy question.

Chris Achard:
Sure.

Andrew Gazdecki:
If you were on an island and you could only bring three books and maybe two podcasts, what would you bring?

Chris Achard:
Let’s see. Podcasts, so the Indie Hackers podcast, I think is great…

Andrew Gazdecki:
Oh, you get a laptop too, so you can build your startup.

Chris Achard:
All right. Indie Hackers podcast, I think is great. That’s one of the ones I’ve been listening to for a long time.

Chris Achard:
I have a bunch of books behind me. Let me look real quick because I’m sure that I… Oh, so for some inspiration stuff, maybe The War of Art. If people haven’t heard of that, that’s not SaaS-specific, but it’s about how, when you want to do something and then you hit resistance, how do you overcome that? It’s a short little book. It’s a great read. So maybe that.

Chris Achard:
Let’s see, have a couple books by Arvid Kahl over there. As a solo developer, he developed something with two people, but he has great insights about what to do and what to build. Those are some of them.

Chris Achard:
Oh, April Dunford is great too. I have her book back here about marketing positioning. That’s what I need to focus on now.

Andrew Gazdecki:
So Arvid’s book, Zero to Sold, and then April Dunford, Obviously Awesome?

Chris Achard:
Yep. That’s the one.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yep. You want a few book recommendations?

Chris Achard:
Definitely. Sure.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Because I also have books.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I literally have those same headphones and we have the same mic.

Chris Achard:
Oh, really?

Andrew Gazdecki:
We have the same Sony headphones and it’s great. I like your setup. For those listening, Chris has a baller set up with a nice mic and a blue… He’s making me look bad. One book that I’ve been really enjoying is called Play Bigger. It’s about category creation and basically brand marketing and then Tuned In, it’s a book about how to get real insights from customers. I’m an avid reader, so… I’m a nerd, I don’t know.

Andrew Gazdecki:
That’s all I got, I guess final question, if you could meet one entrepreneur in the whole world, who would it be?

Chris Achard:
Oh one entrepreneur. They’re not great for the micro SaaS stuff, but I think Paul Graham has a ton of unique insights about everything, so I really love his essays.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Oh, he has so many good one-liners. I think my personal favorite is, “Do the things that don’t scale,” so good answer there.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Well, that’s all I got. Well, thanks so much for joining me on this podcast and sharing your story. I’m super happy for you and I’m glad the acquisition worked out. If people want to get ahold of you to learn more about what you’re working on next, where should they go?

Chris Achard:
Probably Twitter. I’m @chrisachard at Twitter and yeah. Have the DMS open. Happy to talk.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah, I’ll put that in the show notes. So Chris, pleasure chatting, again, love the mic, headphones, book recommendations and congrats again on the acquisition.

Chris Achard:
Thanks so much.

Andrew Gazdecki:
All right. Cheers, man.