Co-Founder and Managing Partner
Greg Geronemus is no mere tourist to the search fund space—he’s trekked through its challenging depths and is here to stay. Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Footbridge Partners and former co-CEO of smarTours tour operator, Greg has been a successful search fund entrepreneur and is managing a thriving investment firm, making him a sanctum of valuable advice for new searchers.
Steering the ship of his own search fund journey alongside his business partner David Rosner has equipped Greg with the priceless knowledge that honesty, unrelenting dedication, and invaluable mentorship are the three pillars of a successful search. He encourages searchers to be mindful of how many variables must fit together for a successful search.
As an investor actively guiding entrepreneurs from the passenger seat, Greg uses an innovative model within traditional search to dedicate significantly more time and attention to fewer searchers compared to other investment firms.
Greg Geronemus has faced the converging struggles of being a search fund CEO head-on, and is now leaving an indelible mark in the space as an investor. Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Footbridge Partners and former co-CEO of smarTours, Greg extends invaluable support forged through firsthand encounters with the demanding journey of fundraising, scouting businesses for acquisition, negotiation, transformative growth, and successful divestment. Greg made a professional leap by landing a role in private equity at Goldman Sachs right after graduating from Harvard University cum laude—but yearned for better control over his success and knew there was more to his story.
“I just knew very early on that I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. I wanted to control my own destiny.”
He decided to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School, during which he came across the search fund model and the expansive realm of entrepreneurship through acquisition (ETA) in a twist of fate and fortune. It was love at first sight. Greg felt it was a perfect fit for his experience in private equity investing at Goldman Sachs. It was less risky to buy a mature business with a market, steady revenue and cash flow, and this endeavour would help kickstart his entrepreneurship journey. Despite his experience with private equity, Greg’s decision to focus on small to medium-sized businesses rather than esteemed private equity firms was driven by a strong desire to pursue entrepreneurship and run his own business. Which ultimately led to…
A Search Fund Odyssey
When Greg first entered the search fund world, tourism was nowhere near his radar.
“If you had told me that we would buy a tour operator when we launched our search, I would have asked, ‘What is a tour operator?’ And then I would have told you that you were crazy.”
Greg and his business partner David Rosner, with whom he operates Footbridge Partners, launched their search fund journey in 2012. They networked their way to smarTours, a transformative tourism business that optimizes the logistics of international travel to grant travellers life-changing experiences. After speaking to the Founder and then CEO, Greg and David discovered they had stumbled upon a treasure trove of interesting fundamental business characteristics and opportunities for growth.
“It can be hard enough to source interesting or promising opportunities. And to have somebody say, ‘I've got a business owner that wants to meet with you,’ thinks it's a great business, and turns out has pretty reasonable valuation expectations, that's a gift that many searchers don't get.”
The search fund journey was a rigorous obstacle course for Greg and David. They encountered challenges in team building, creating trust, sales and marketing, operating in an unfamiliar industry, and leading a team with more experience. Greg recalls it being a tremendous learning curve. On the other hand, they did have help in some areas. With an already successful company in place, the search fund model supported their learning and allowed them the luxury of one to two years to find their footing.
“Every searcher faces a steep learning curve — and the reality of this steep learning curve is all the more reason to be disciplined when you buy a business.”
As arduous as being the co-CEO of an acquired business can be, there was also a profound sense of gratifying fulfillment that accompanied the journey. Greg recalls smarTours’ accomplishment of bringing Americans into Cuba for tourism relatively early following the lifting of American tourist restrictions in Cuba. For a brief period, smarTours introduced Americans to the vibrant island's beautiful culture and allowed rich interactions between Cubans and Americans that had been suppressed for decades. Greg and David replicated this triumph with Egypt, bringing a thousand travellers into the country relatively early, following a difficult stretch from a tourism perspective.
“I'll never forget that experience and being able to deliver that kind of impact.”
From a business perspective, Greg takes pride in helping cultivate smarTours’ B2B2C business model, which was virtually non-existent before they acquired the business. They expanded their target market to include organizations such as universities, retirement communities, chambers of commerce, and other similar entities. As a result, they impressively tapped into a new customer base and generated significant revenue.
Their success would not have been achievable without the support of mentors like Jennifer Tombaugh, who was recruited to their board of directors and is an industry veteran. She shared her experience and offered guidance, and Greg likes to think they contributed to her learning by involving her in their work. Overall, he states she was instrumental in them acclimating to the industry and taking the next steps once their feet were firmly on the ground.
Shifting Search Gears
What separates Footbridge Partners from other search fund investment firms is its intensity of collaboration and unshakeable attentive support. As an investment firm, Footbridge acquires small to medium-sized businesses alongside search fund entrepreneurs and provides searchers with mentoring and coaching throughout all phases of business acquisition and operation. Most investors divide their attention between 30 to 50 searchers and 40 to 70 companies.
“We back 2 to 4 searchers per year, looking to end up with 9 or 10 companies—a fundamentally different approach. And I certainly believe our focus and commitment to partnership is unmatched.”
The name "Footbridge Partners" not only carries a melodic charm but also holds a symbolic significance. It draws inspiration from the Weeks Footbridge that spans the Charles River, linking Harvard's main campus and the Harvard Business School housing, where David and Greg lived, respectively. They used the name Footbridge Partners for their own search fund journey and revived the name when Greg and David decided to invest in search funds and give their story a sequel. They decided to do this rather than operate another search fund because they had been thoroughly enjoying their personal investments in search fund entrepreneurs, and eventually asked the next natural question:
“Wouldn't it be great if we could do this all day, every day?”
Greg and David had also observed a gap in the market for traditional search fund investors working closely with their searchers and deeply engaging in their processes, informed by their own experience as searchers. The firm’s partnership-driven model is, in some ways, a hybrid between traditional search investor and accelerator models. It is succeeding in collaborating with businesses such as Softrip, a software company that serves tour operators, and The Skin Center, a leading medical aesthetics practice. Greg and David are making a colossal impact on the search fund model while also having fun.
Experiential Search Advice
Getting into the weeds of the search fund process has taught Greg a few crucial things to keep in mind. He asserts that new searchers should be completely honest about what they want. He states: don’t hesitate to reject an option. According to him, many searchers waste time on opportunities that are clearly dead ends, and he suggests asking yourself: how much do you want this business? Are you ready to invest all your time, effort, and knowledge into it? Interview the investors as much as they interview you, and remember that many intricate parts need to fit with each other to accomplish acquiring and growing a business whose success depends on your management.
“I think it's important to keep in mind that a lot of stars need to align for you to go buy somebody's business. That's not a simple deal. The business needs to have the right fundamental characteristics, be big enough, priced right, and the seller needs to trust you, you need to trust them, investors need to be on board—a lot of things need to line up.”
Because this path is ambiguous, challenging, and if successfully navigated incredibly rewarding, Greg also recommends getting as much financial and mentorship backing as possible. Fortunately, the search fund space is filled with entrepreneurs who want you to succeed and are open to sharing their experiences to make that happen.
Greg also notes that knowing the industry the searcher seeks to buy into is not a prerequisite, although it can be a compelling selling point. As he and David experienced firsthand, it’s more than possible for searchers to overcome the learning curve and make some magic happen from the top after a steep climb. That being said, Greg warns that some industries might be inherently too complex to grasp.
Looking ahead, Greg envisions a more diverse future for search funds. He notes that the percentage of women in the traditional investor-backed search fund space so far has stubbornly remained below 10% and hopes to see the inclusion of more women entrepreneurs in the future. He also sees the ETA landscape evolving with various innovative models emerging, bringing more individuals into the space. But the rapid increase in the number of searchers raises questions about a potential ceiling, as the challenges of acquiring and continuing a retiring founder's business legacy should not be underestimated.
When it comes to navigating the complexities of search funds, Greg Geronemus' experience and wisdom make him an invaluable asset. As Managing Partner of Footbridge Partners, a forward-thinking investment firm, he dedicates himself to guiding entrepreneurs on their journeys. Having traversed the unpredictable landscape of acquisition entrepreneurship, leadership, and operations, Greg emphasizes the importance of being honest with yourself when choosing a business to acquire and run, as it will undoubtedly test your capabilities in unforeseen ways. His journey, from leadership to mentorship, showcases his willingness to take risks and bet on himself — a quality that has consistently fueled his success.
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