Startup Acquisition Stories Podcast w/ Stephen Nancekivell, Founder of RealEmail

Watch the interview

Learn more about Stephen –


Transcription –

Andrew Gazdecki:
All right. I am here with Stephen Nancekivell. I hope I pronounced that correctly. Did I get it right?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah. There we go. Well, Stephen, thanks so much for joining me on this podcast.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah. Well, thanks for having me here. It’s great to meet you.

Andrew Gazdecki:
My pleasure. For those that may not know you, do you want to give just a quick introduction of yourself?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, sure. I’m Stephen. I’m a developer. Had a go at making a few startups. Always loved startups, and yeah, eventually, I had to grow RealEmail and sell it on Acquire.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. So you had RealEmail Acquired for five figures. Is that correct?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. And then, congrats on that. Now, I guess my first question is what did RealEmail do? What problem was it solving?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, so it was mostly about email address validation. I’m not sure if people are familiar with that, but when you’re sending a lot of email, it can be quite bad if the email addresses are invalid, or like they’re fake emails. Because that means your emails don’t go through, and they get marked as spam, which then if you’re sending a lot of email, that’s bad for your reputation, so a sender could get blocked if they send too many emails to invalid addresses.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. What made you want to build this service? Because I know there’s a few others. What made you want to build this specific product?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, yeah. It was definitely… I guess it’s a bit competitive market to kind of get into.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, but just sort of got really interested in the space, and sort of dived in, and was interested in how they did it, how it worked technically, and what it really involved. Yeah, I guess I sort of started and just made a little library, and then sort of in the depths of the COVID lockdown, I thought I’d actually really give this a go, and make a proper SaaS out of it, and yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. How’d you find your first customers for RealEmail?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah. That was interesting. It was definitely… It takes a bit of determination, to go from having no one to getting some people. But yeah, it took a lot of kind of social outreach. I was mostly diving into Stack Overflows about the topic, and kind of trying to help people, and show them that regex is only going to get them so far, and that kind of thing. And then, I managed to get a bunch of help documents, a bunch of articles kind of starting to rank in search, and that sort of kept the ball rolling.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. Good old SEO, never fails.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah. Just takes a while to get going.

Andrew Gazdecki:
All right, so you built RealEmail. You grew it to a certain revenue point, and then you decided to sell it. You listed it on Acquire. How did that process go? How did you find the right buyer, so to speak?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, you know, it’s pretty interesting kind of listing it, because I guess I was a little… I was pretty hesitant about if it was even big enough to sell on Acquire. Because I saw a lot of other people’s stories saying that they were doing all right. And so yeah, listed it, and was overwhelmed with the amount of interest that it got. But yeah, it was interesting. There was quite a few different buyers sort of asking, and some of them… Most of them were very nice. Some of them seemed to be playing hardball or something. But really, the ones that stood out were the people that just sounded very interested, and they had kind of complementary products themselves, and as having built it so far, I really wanted the thing to kind of carry on and do well, so selling to someone who was interested in the space and had some complementary products that seemed like it would fit in with was good.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. So you find the buyer. If I can ask, how did you structure the deal? Was it all cash up front? Did you do like milestone payments? How did that part of the acquisition work?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah. Well, I wanted it to just be pretty simple. Like, they did sort of float the idea of me retaining some stock and stuff, but I kind of thought like the size of the deal was just simpler if it was kind of a clean handover, so it was handled all cash up front.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. Those are always the best, cash up front, so nicely done on that.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I guess now I’m wondering, so you had a lot of buyers reaching out to you. If you had to give advice for other founders maybe listening to this, that might be looking to sell a business, what advice would you give to them when speaking with buyers?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, I think it was good that I was just kind of quite open, very open with everything, and I was kind of ready with… I had screenshots of the Stripe dashboard, and our search console, and analytics, and stuff, just kind of giving the proof up front, but… And even then, I was very happy to kind of jump on calls and kind of give people the walkthrough, and kind of had a little slide deck there, and was very clear about what you’re getting. You’re definitely getting the demand, the code things to get going and stuff.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. And then-

Stephen Nancekivell:
But yeah, so I guess-

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah, go ahead.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, so I was just going to say like yeah, had plenty of some video calls and walkthroughs of it all, and I guess that was probably overshared a little bit, which I think maybe helped build trust and build a relationship. Yeah, I think one thing that you’ve mentioned, I feel you’ve mentioned on your pod, is that you shouldn’t really share your customer list. That was something.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah, no.

Stephen Nancekivell:
… didn’t really know I shouldn’t have been doing.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah.

Stephen Nancekivell:
To the eventual buyer.

Andrew Gazdecki:
If you do that, I recommend anonymizing the data, just so they don’t have like all the emails and stuff like that. But it still shows proof that there’s transactions going through. And then also depending on the size of the deal, you can always reach out to us as a team and we can help you through that. But I guess now I’m just wondering about… Okay, so you found the buyer. You got to terms. How did the transfer of the assets go? What did you do for that part?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, so it took a little bit of time there. I had kind of built everything in sort of my personal AWS account, but really for the handover, it just made everything so much easier if it was kind of its own account, and it was just kind of everything was all together, and there was only one sort of password to kind of hand over. So spent a little bit of time kind of getting that all in line, to make it easy. But then, it was, yeah, very much just like it was a handful of accounts, we kind of just went through and, yeah, handed over the passwords, made sure they could kind of get in and stuff.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. I always recommend number one, having everything in a separate account. Because I’ve heard a lot of stories of you’ve got 10 different projects and one AWS account, and you’ve got to move it over to another one. And just being able to kind of hand them over that whole account makes it a lot easier. And then also just having a plan, like a transfer plan as you’re selling the business. Because once you get to terms with the buyer, you both might be in a situation of like, “But what do we do now?” So to speak. So just having a, “Here’s basically all the assets that I use. We’ll start by transferring this one, and this one, and this one,” and then milestone payments along the way depending on the size of the deal.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting how many things you kind of end up with. So you end up with like a spreadsheet with like just the lines, and it’s like the AWS, the Stripe.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah. That’s definitely like a product that we’re looking to build into Acquire, basically like an asset transfer list that helps make it a little bit smoother.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Oh yeah? That’d be cool.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Moving over to… I guess as more and more founders, and going through this process of being Acquired, it sounds like you’ve learned quite a bit. If you had to give like three tips to potential founders looking to sell their startups, what would they be?

Stephen Nancekivell:
I would say give it a go. Like, yeah, I mean, it takes a bit of effort and a bit of self-belief that you can kind of really build something and grow it, because it could be pretty stubborn. I think, yeah, just giving it a go is kind of the biggest things. Like, for the time I spent just kind of wondering about it, if I could ever kind of get… if anyone was ever going to use it or if anyone was going to be interested in buying it. If we just kind of gave it a go, it would have been better. Yeah, another one would be, yeah, kind of looking for the right buyer, looking for a buyer that’s interested in seeing your thing carrying on was pretty nice. And yeah, I guess the separate accounts helped, or separating the accounts so you can easily hand over the passwords. But I guess I also had infrastructureless code, which helped a bit with that.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Nice. And then, I definitely got a feeling you’re probably working on something new, I assume.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, sure.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I want to hear it. What is it? What is it?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yes. This is about a problem I sort of experienced with RealEmail. It had been a… And I think this is a pretty common one, is it’s hard going to help users convert from your free tier to your paid tier, or people often have issues with their trials, that people trying to convert from trial to paid. So I’m working on a poller, response-style app helping in that space, so you might have heard of like Netflix are kind of helping kind of cracking down on the password sharing, and trying to help grow those accounts. So we’re sort of helping to do that, probably to bring those sorts of tools to everyone else. It’s the way we do this. We look for changes of how we can kind of help onboard those users. It might be that they’ve already had a couple of trial accounts, and then they might just be signing up for a new trial account, just to get the next episode of Game of Thrones or something.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Interesting.

Stephen Nancekivell:
So it kind of detects, “Oh, you’ve already had one. We may as well not give you a free one. How about we give you a discount, and get you kind of paying a little bit?” And then people are more interested in kind of carrying on.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I love that.

Stephen Nancekivell:
And the other one is like, yeah, people sharing their accounts. You might have… I guess this thing but Netflix, you know? People will kind of give their password to their mom, their brother, and there’s all these people on an account that’s supposed to just be one person. So yeah, we sort of helped that, and kind of encourage people to kind of get on the happy paying path.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I like that. I mean, admittedly, there’s a few services where I’ll share, not frequently, but I’ve definitely done that. So I understand that being a big problem for a lot of people.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, everyone does it. Like, it’s just easy, right? And it’s really hard to kind of tackle properly, unless you’re able to devote a team to it, which most people aren’t, so that’s where we’re stepping in.

Andrew Gazdecki:
That’s awesome. Well, I’m happy you got Acquired, and now it sounds like you’re moving on to something bigger and with potentially more potential, so excited for you, man.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, cheers.

Andrew Gazdecki:
Well, so that’s all I got. I got just one last question that I always like to ask. This one’s kind of out of the blue, but if you were stuck on an island, and you could only bring one thing, what would it be?

Stephen Nancekivell:
One thing. Well, you know, love those survival movies, the ones where someone’s stuck on an island, and they have to make a hut and stuff. I can see myself doing that. So I reckon a knife would be just a practical, going to help you chop down some trees and make your little hut.

Andrew Gazdecki:
I have a feeling…

Stephen Nancekivell:
What about for you?

Andrew Gazdecki:
I have a feeling you’ve got this planned out. What would I bring?

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah.

Andrew Gazdecki:
You know, no one’s actually reversed that question on me. Well done. If I was going to bring anything to an island, I’d bring an iPhone with full service, get out of there. Tell everybody where I am. Get me out of here.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah? That’d help?

Andrew Gazdecki:
Yeah. All right, Stephen. Well, this has been a lot of fun, and congrats on all your success, and congrats on the acquisition. I’m rooting for you, man.

Stephen Nancekivell:
Yeah, thank you. Cheers.

Andrew Gazdecki:
All-