Deferred payments are a mainstay of modern deal structures, but they are not always popular with the seller. But for Alisa and Rob Miller, it turned out to be the best way of letting go of their company.
“Psychologically, the earnout period is really interesting,” Alisa says, “At the beginning it was still territorial. Then the responsibilities fell away bit by bit, including payroll and other headaches. When the transition came it was complete.
“One thing you can’t put a value on is, when running a business, there’s this constant background strain like something wrapped around you. Then I noticed the noise had gone. The acquirer had really taken the reins, and we realised that we had finally let go.”
In truth, Rob and Alisa had no idea they would be in this position when they set up their London agency PCM Healthcare in 2006.
The couple met and married while working together at a large medical communications agency in Kent, and Rob recalls: “In that agency, Alisa and I were the two rising stars, but the business wasn’t in great shape. When Alisa got pregnant [with our first child], we decided it would actually be a lower risk for us to become partners in business than stay as employees.
Spare room start-up
From humble beginnings in the couple’s spare bedroom, the mix of Rob’s digital marketing skills and Alisa’s academic background saw the agency rapidly make inroads in the highly competitive healthcare communications industry, reaching £1m turnover for the first time after just three years – entirely self-funded.
Alisa says: “We quickly got to a point where we were forced to take on staff and become a grown-up business. Soon, we saw ways to improve on what our industry was doing and up the game for our sector.
“To change doctor and patient behaviour, you have to have a methodology that calls on a range of disciplines. In our industry, there was a lot of focus on content or message, but very little on how to drive change and measure results. There are three or four others approaching it this way now, but for a while we were the only one.”
With their unique selling point identified, PCM Healthcare continued to grow, moving into plush London offices and successfully bidding for large and complex projects.