Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote,”every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” It’s one of my favorite quotes. This post is the second in a series that highlight some of the awesome people I’ve had the privilege to learn from.
Joe Boucher taught me that sometimes swollowing my pride can be the best decision.
I met Joe when I was a 19 year old sophomore at the University of Wisconsin. He was a judge in the practice version of the Burrill Business Plan Competition. I pitched ExchangeHut to a panel of judges that included Joe and he liked what he heard. He told me to contact him if I needed any help. A few weeks later, we got our first potential buyout offer from a competitior. We were really excited.
My business partner and I went to meet Joe out at his law office in Madison. He walked us through our options and helped us decide that we didn’t want to sell the business just yet. As we grew our company, we hired Joe to do our legal work. But we didn’t just gain an attorney, we gained a mentor. I went to Joe whenever I had business questions and he always had great advice. He pushed us to think through each action we could potentially take and what the consequences of each action would be.
One time, a competitor hacked our site. We were incensed and wanted to strike back via police action and publicly expose the individual immediately. We wanted revenge. Joe calmed us down, helped us work through our options and made us think about what was best for our business, not what would make us feel good in the short term. We devised a plan and executed it calmly. We filed a police report, sent a cease and desist letter and I gave an interview to the press. We got what we wanted and looked good doing it.
Another time, we charged a customer about $160 in fees, which caused her to overdraw her checking account. She was furious, threatening legal action and demanding a full refund plus all of her overdraft fees. We were in the right. She was in the wrong. I wanted to offer her half of her fees back, but after speaking with Joe, he convinced me that giving back the full $160 would not only make the problem go away, but we would likely gain a customer. I met with the customer, returned the $160 and he was right. She was a user for three more years until she graduated.
Joe really drove the lesson home when we were selling our business. We had a signed deal and all sides were happy. After closing, but before we recieved our money, one of the parties in the deal wanted to make changes that would cost us a significant amount of money. They threatened to blow up the deal if we did not comply. What they were doing was blatantly illegal and we had them dead to rights with email and phone messages.
My business partners and I wanted to sue. I met with Joe and shared all of my evidence. He told me that I was right, we did have a great case. If we decided to sue, we would likely be awarded a judgement of 2-4x the initial value of the deal, a significant amount of money. He told me he would be happy to try the case for me.
But he told me that a lawsuit would blow up our deal. And we would incur lots of legal costs. And we likely would be in court for at least 2 years. And then if we won, we would have to collect from the offending party and that it would be difficult because they were in a different state. He asked me if I could still be happy with the final amount of the deal at the reduced rate if I didn’t have the original offer on the table. I said yes.
He convinced me that it would be better to swallow my pride, sell the business, collect the money and be happy about having an exit at age 22. After letting my anger subside, I knew he was right and we accepted the lower amount. From then on, I took steps in all future negotiations to never be in that position again.
For the past 8 years Joe has been my attorney, but moreso my mentor. He’s taught me many, many things and helped me through all manner of business and personal challenges. He even put his law firm at our disposition to create the first version of Entrustet. But the most important thing I learned from Joe Boucher was to take a step back, calmly evaluate my options and sometimes swallow my pride. His important lessons have helped me in every aspect of my life and are a major part of my success and happiness today. Thank you Joe.
With hindsight, you can still honestly say you’re glad you sold your
company later on for basically pennies on the dollar compared to the
potential $25M dollar deal?
I can 100% say I am very happy with how it turned out and knowing the same information that I knew then, I would make the same decision every single time.
When we met the first potential acquirers, we thought they were like many people who offer equity and a small amount of cash: scammers. Even if they were successful, we didn’t think it would be a $1b company, much less a bigger one.
We ended up with a great experience where I learned a ton, and still made good money on our final acquisition.
I was disappointed that the first buyers didn’t invest in ExchangeHut like I had hoped they would, but it’s not completely their fault. The confluence of improved competition and lack of investment in both new technology and promotions ultimately brought it down to the level that it is today.
There’s still a market for a ticket marketplace for students like ExchangeHut, it just needs to have someone on campus who is willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.