Three Is The Magic Number: Jan Nikolaisen Becomes An Entrepreneur For the Third Time, This Time Through Acquisition
Jan Nikolaisen has successfully completed NCA’s Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition program (NCA’s ETA program), closing his deal in November 2021 and officially becoming an entrepreneur for the third time in his career. For more details on Jan Nikolaisen’s acquisition, please read the full press release here.
We sat down with him to find out some of the details behind his search process and explore how Jan’s unique career path primed him for success in NCA’s ETA program. Jan Nikolaisen was one of the very first Searchers to join NCA’s ETA program when it officially launched in 2020. Jan’s international background and well-rounded skill set made him a perfect candidate for the program. He grew up in Norway and has lived in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, England, and Scotland. His career has been broad, spanning a diverse range of industries including law, strategy development and implementation, venture/private equity investments, and even entrepreneurship: Before joining NCA, Jan had already co-founded two other companies (renewable energy & biotech).
“I’ve been privileged in the sense that I’ve been allowed to do many different things before I eventually became an entrepreneur myself,” said Jan.
By 2019, Jan had been looking to make his next career move, and that’s when he discovered NCA. Although he had considered co-founding another company, he was also itching for a new challenge.
“At a certain point you start to wonder how many more times you can build something from scratch,” he explained when asked about the appeal of NCA’s ETA program. “The truth is that the first few years as a co-founder involve a lot of risks and most companies don’t even make it past the five-year mark. Something that intrigued me about NCA’s ETA program is the idea of being able to kind of jump ahead of that and go directly to a position of being in charge of a company that already has a certain size and proof of concept in place.”
NCA’s ETA program’s sequence of events and funding process also appealed to Jan.
“As an entrepreneur, you often have an idea or concept that you like, and then you have to spend a lot of time trying to convince investors that they should fund you,” he said. “What motivated me with this program is that it works the other way around: you kind of get the capital first, and then you look for a good idea having expressed itself in the form of a successful company that has potential to grow.”
JAN’S SEARCH IN A NUTSHELL: PEOPLE TO PEOPLE, MENTAL STAMINA & THE CHALLENGES OF COVID
“I can relate to business owners because I’ve been through the hard work of starting something from scratch and going through with it,” Jan explained. “I was actually surprised at the ease of starting conversations with owners. I did a lot of searching in the German-speaking world where there’s quite a bit of skepticism regarding private equity and financial investors. I found that even when owners weren’t looking to sell, they were intrigued that a person was contacting them instead of a competitor or some financial company. And getting to speak to so many different business owners was enriching,” Jan continued. “It added a more human touch to the whole search.”
“That human touch proved to be key because, as any entrepreneur knows, the journey is long, difficult, and often lonely. If that were not enough, Jan had the extra challenge of undertaking his endeavor in the heart of a pandemic. “Because of COVID, business owners didn’t want to meet in person,” he explained. “We did everything over video calls or other virtual ways. That meant there could be multiple days where I didn’t even leave the house, and that was mentally challenging at times.”
“The search process in general has a lot of ups and downs,” Jan added. “One day you think you’ve found a super company, but after you look into it maybe it seems risky, or maybe the owner doesn’t want to talk. So you do a lot of starting over from scratch, and I think having the mental stamina that I had from entrepreneurship helped me in that journey.”
Despite the challenges Jan’s search ended after only 13-months in part because of his highly targeted approach meaning he contacted fewer than 400 companies and spent the majority of that time finalizing the agreement and closing the deal with a health tech company in Spain.
3 KEY ELEMENTS OF NCA SUPPORT
1 Fundraising and Networking
2 M&A Team
3 Other Searchers
When asked how NCA supported him in his journey, Jan highlighted three areas that were specific to his search. The first was support with fundraising and networking.
“My professional ecosystem did not have a lot of overlap with the type of investors who fund this kind of venture,” said Jan. “If I had done this on my own that would have been a very high mountain for me to climb. And even though we were in the middle of the first wave of COVID, NCA was able to put me in front of investors who already knew about the ETA concept. That meant I didn’t have to sell the concept, I could focus on selling myself. So I really believe being selected for the program gave me a leg up in that way and ensured the fundraising phase went smoothly.”
The second area of invaluable support for Jan came from the NCA M&A Team. In addition to saving time when it came to building the financial model, the team helped refine the structure of the deal and offered a different vantage point and insights.
“Sometimes when you are in the thick of it, you can’t tell the forest from the trees,” said Jan, “so it’s always good to have an aspiring partner who’s a little on the outside and who can question your beliefs with a different perspective.”
The third way the NCA program supported Jan in his search actually came in the form of the other searchers. Jan explained:
“When I was up against some of those mental challenges I mentioned, it was helpful to be able to talk about it with other people who were doing the exact same thing as me. The other Searchers can offer a very different discussion from someone like my wife, my friends, or even the NCA team. Being able to share our progress and talk about our roadblocks was particularly useful for me.”
When asked how it feels to have successfully completed the program, Jan admits that at the end of the day, he didn’t actually join NCA’s ETA program for the search itself; he joined it for what comes after the search.
“Now there’s a certain feeling of satisfaction and a sense of relief,” said Jan, “because even though I’ve felt confident about the deal for the past few months, you just never know until everything is signed and the ink is on the paper. That said, the strongest feeling is one of excitement. The search itself was more like a means to an end to get me to where I really want to be, and now I get to look forward to my favorite part.”
ADVICE FOR ANYONE CONSIDERING THE ETA JOURNEY
While everyone’s situation will be different, Jan did have a few suggestions for others who are considering Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition.
“Make sure your motivation is driven by what’s really right for you,” he said, “because it requires a lot of grit and there’s always a risk that it won’t work out.” Jan highlighted the fact that you can’t know where you’ll end up — a simple and often uncomfortable fact of the search journey — and there’s always a chance you might have to relocate. “Of course, that’s part of the excitement,” Jan added, “but on the flip side, if you have a family, it’s not only about you.”
In addition to clear motivational factors, Jan also said it’s important to have a strong support group of good people.
“My advice would be to have people around you who you can trust and really discuss things with,” he said. “It’s impossible for anyone to have all the knowledge and skills and qualifications to do the entire journey on their own. Inevitably there will be things that you don’t know, but you need to have enough self-confidence to know that you can either learn what you don’t know, or you can find people around you who can advise on what you don’t know.”
Despite everything, Jan is ever humble; when prodded about his acquisition he credits luck as the driving factor of his success. As we wrapped up our discussion, he added:
“At the end of the day, you’ll always wonder, ‘is it going to work?’ The truth is, you can prepare all you want but you really just can’t know until you go for it and find out.”
Jan Nikolaisen’s deal closed in November 2021 making him the second searcher to complete NCA’s Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition program since the program’s launch in 2020. To connect with Jan, visit his LinkedIn page.