Building Community in SMB Acquisitions with Karen Spencer

Buying and running a small business is challenging. However, being part of a strong community of entrepreneurs who understand these challenges can help lighten the load. In this episode of Private Market Insights, we welcome Karen Spencer, a master of community building, co-founder of, and currently the Managing Partner at Fetch Strategies. Our discussion focuses on the importance of robust support networks for those buying and selling small businesses. Karen also offers insights and advice on building these communities, leveraging online platforms effectively, and addressing the common challenges faced by entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds.

To learn more about her journey, what to look for when buying a business, and growing opportunities overseas, we strongly encourage you to watch the full interview here:

I know what my purpose is. I know that I want to support business buyers. I want to ensure that the community is as diverse and equitable and inclusive as possible.”

Karen Spencer

The Digital Transformation of Community in Search Funds

Karen discusses the significant transformation within the search fund community—from small, in-person groups at elite universities to a robust online network connecting people globally. Platforms like Searchfunder have facilitated this change, making it easier to access vital resources such as investors and lending centers, and speeding up the process of securing financing or finding business opportunities.

The Community Has Evolved for More Diverse Searchers

The SMB search fund community is becoming increasingly diverse, a change Karen attributes to its welcoming and supportive nature. However, challenges persist; for example, women often shoulder more household responsibilities, impacting their full participation in the search process and ability to overcome industry biases.

How to Hold the Culture Together

Karen emphasizes that maintaining a strong culture within the search fund community involves not tolerating behavior that contradicts its values. This is especially important as the industry continues to experience rapid growth. In communities that uphold these standards, non-conforming individuals naturally exclude themselves. She stresses the importance of vigilance to ensure these standards are maintained as the community grows. On the Searchfunder platform, for instance, self-serving behavior is quickly identified and discouraged, preserving the community’s integrity and supportive nature.

Building More Relational Connections, Even for Introverts

Karen explains the difference between transactional and relational dynamics in business. In American culture, relationships often revolve around immediate tasks and roles, whereas relational cultures prioritize personal trust over professional status. She advises those from relational backgrounds to adapt to transactional norms while continuing to focus on building trust and credibility. For introverts or those who find networking challenging, Karen recommends fostering smaller numbers of genuine, professional relationships that build trust, facilitating the establishment of necessary connections even without the ability or desire to “work the room” at a networking event.

Why Experienced MBA Searchers are Rising to Prominence

Karen discusses the emergence of “lapsed MBA” searchers – MBA graduates who have worked for a while before entering the search fund space. She believes this group brings valuable experience but may lack the community connections that recent MBA graduates have. Karen is committed to making these searchers feel welcome, using panels at alumni events and her own platform at Fetch Strategies to connect them with the search fund community. This proactive approach not only broadens the community but also taps into the rich experience and readiness of these individuals to lead and innovate as business owners.

What’s Next for Search Funds in 2024

Karen feels optimism for the future of the search fund community, inspired by the increasing diversity at recent self-funded searcher conferences. She expects this trend to continue, supported by various affinity groups that are broadening the demographic scope of searchers and enhancing the community’s success. Internationally, Karen sees significant growth potential for the search fund model, particularly in Europe, Australia, and select Latin American countries. These regions have reached a “threshold level of community” and are poised for substantial growth. The almost unanimous optimism among community members suggests a robust year ahead for both business buyers and sellers in the U.S., with expanding opportunities promising an exciting future for the global search fund ecosystem.

Karen said, I talked with a number of my search barometers over the last few months and all of them are optimistic, even my least optimistic one was optimistic. So, I think it’s going to be a great year for business buyers and business sellers in the US.”

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