Testimonial: How the Pandemic Helped an Online Learning Company Transition Ownership
The Story: Made in Montana
Montana Psychologist William Cook had a problem as he was nearing the end of 2003. Running his private practice in his home state, he knew well that Montana psychologists have to complete 40 hours of Continuing Education (CE) each two-year licensing period.
The issue– which turned out to have much more than a silver lining– was that he had miscalculated his exam period, and in mid-December, he realized that he only had two weeks to complete his CEs. The oversight began a frantic period of overnighting materials to read, circling in answers on a bubble sheet, and overnighting the exam back to the CE provider to be graded.
Stressed out and caught in the depths of an outdated, manual process, he thought to himself: "There has to be a better way.”
As it happened, his friend Doug had just completed his Master's Degree in computer science, and the pair were in the habit of batting around business ideas whenever they got together.
“Our families had a tradition of spending New Year's together. We were standing around a fire just a couple of days after I had wrapped up my scramble to pass my test,” said Cook. “ I bounced the idea of an online Continuing Education business off of Doug, and he said it sounded like a great idea to him.”
And so CE4Less.com was first launched in January of 2004.
The Business: Built for and By Customers
Next came the process of developing courses and obtaining approvals from the major professional approval bodies, which they did. They also eventually switched the focus of the coursework from manual books to online, downloadable documents. “What really drove the growth of CE4Less was our customers,” added Cook. “As a part of our marketing strategy at the time, I answered every customer service email, which let me know what issues our customers were having. Doug could quickly implement changes. Customers were also helpful in letting us know of required courses for their state boards.”
That customer feedback allowed his users to lead the product’s design and functionality, and to this day it’s the reality to which he credit’s most of his company’s success.
Ce4Less has been providing continuing education online for 16 years. It has a strong catalog of courses and provider approval for the approving boards of the major mental health professions. It is also top-ranked for the most relevant CE search terms.
Working With Raincatcher: A Winding Journey
As time went on, the pair kept growing the business and eventually, NurseCE4Less.com was launched alongside it followed by new entities over time.
“I had grown passionate about starting the new entities within the CE4Less umbrella,” said Cook of the company’s growth over the span of more than 15 years. “but was ready to move on from the day-to-day operations of running the more established businesses.”
And so he eventually approached Raincatcher.
“I was at a point where I was ready to make a move towards the next chapter in my life. What attracted me to Raincatcher was the team approach,” said Cook.” I felt very supported by them, and they were willing to work incredibly hard, always focusing on what was in my best interest.”
Cook began the process of pulling together all the information to bring CE4Less to sale, but the sale’s journey did not exactly take a straight course. Thanks to the pandemic, it instead took a long, winding road.
Getting Closer to the Finish Line: The Pandemic & The Sale
As it happened, the pandemic hit during the sales process. While many industries and businesses suffered, a digital one such as CE4Less did well-- not to mention an online business with a strong historical footprint as they had. Put simply, business was booming for CE4Less and its properties.
“One day, one of the Raincatcher team members reached out to me to discuss what the pandemic had done for my business. After some conversation, there wasn’t much doubt that it was time to head straight back to the selling table,” said Cook. “We re-ran the numbers, and the valuation came back at a very favorable number, so we went to market.”
As Cook and the Raincatcher Deal Team spoke to more buyers, the conversation became increasingly focused on Cook retaining a percentage of ownership of the company.
While he wasn’t initially keen on retaining ownership, the Raincatcher team worked with him to recognize the value of such an arrangement: The buyers could continue growing the businesses, and he could share in their successes down the road when they would be ready to sell.
“Because the buyers had such impressive experience in this industry, I began to see incredible value in retaining equity,” added Cook.
As the negotiations continued and the pandemic pushed on, the conversations between the deal team and the buyer progressed, and all were able to come to an agreement that was much better than Cook had initially planned for when he knew it was time to sell.
“It was just so much stronger than I had ever imagined before setting off on this journey,” said Cook. “I was able to retain a meaningful ownership percentage, and the new buyers had impressive experience in our space so they should be able to enhance our exciting growth. I am thrilled to have found the right partner and continue working with them in a new role as we set out to achieve our lofty goals.”
Conclusion: The Power of a Team
“The power of partnering with Raincatcher and their highly skilled team was realizing a much better outcome than I originally hoped for when I decided to join forces with them,” said Cook. “It may not have been the most relaxing process to sell my businesses, but I could not be happier with the result.”
Raincatcher’s team approach brought many different areas of expertise to the sale.
“They were able to field all the changes in tack that this sale took because they had the skills necessary to weather all of the different scenarios that came to rise,” said Cook.” They were always supportive and professional but also came to be friends that took me to the end of an incredible journey.”
Cook added of his entrepreneurial journey to date: “When Doug and I shot ideas over a fire in the snow nearly 20 years ago, they could have never imagined that would do what we did, or be able to invite such abundance into our lives.”
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