Jim Barnish’s mission is to grow SaaS companies and make them worth A LOT more on the path towards exit/acquisition. From his start in the family business until today, Jim spent the last two decades working as an entrepreneur, operator, venture capitalist, and consultant. Throughout these years, he had an incredible amount of hard work and failure.
No matter the role he had in/on the business, all of the growth stage tech companies he worked alongside experienced the same growth/value obstacles, while boiled down to the 5 pillars of value creation – Strategy, Talent, Product, Revenue, Operations. All of them seemed to hit an inflection point, and all of the required outside expertise to navigate this inflection point.
Eventually, Jim navigated his way through 50+ transactions as an operator/investor and $1B+ shareholder value. Ultimately, Jim felt like there needed to be a better way to reach these successes without all failures along the way, and spent his recent years identifying/documenting a path to make SaaS companies worth so much more by identifying levers to unlock growth and value in tech businesses.
Fast forward – Jim now runs Orchid Black, a growth services firm complete with 30+ entrepreneurs, operators, and strategists that share an incredible track record maximizing growth and enterprise value for technology companies, and that are all so confident in the work that they do, that they often take ‘other than cash consideration’ for their services, where they only get paid well when the founder gets paid well.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Jim Barnish: Simply put, I am OBSESSED with helping founders grow their businesses, and realize massive increases in the value of their business when it comes time to exit. I’ve been obsessed with this ever since I got recruited to work in my family business at the ripe young age of 15. This obsession turned towards growth-stage SaaS businesses while I was working for a local venture capital (VC) firm, which is now the most active in the state of Florida – Florida Funders.
At Florida Funders, I was responsible for finding the best tech companies that I could see 100x potential. Companies where our investors’ capital could see the highest possible ‘passive’ return on some, even if many of those companies failed along the way – essentially the well-known VC model. Let’s call these companies that “unicorns” as many in the industry call Billion-dollar companies.
Well, along the way, I saw many companies with incredible potential to generate awesome returns, provided they had the right expert pruning and care. Companies that may take a little bit of active work, and had the chance to become incredibly amazing companies. Companies that had a much higher chance of survival and getting to 10 or 20x but had little chance to become a $B company and reach 100x ROI. Let’s call these companies “Orchids”, since orchids can grow for over 100 years when tended to properly.
I thought back to my days as an operator of “Orchid” companies, and wish I had experts to tend to me with the right pruning and care to take my company to the next level and maybe even take their fees based on performance.
And so, I started a firm, Orchid Black, alongside my co-founder Steven Horwitz, to hunt for the best “Orchids” between $3M and $50M that are also “in the black” (profitable) where we can significantly increase the value of the business – ultimately helping these companies to flourish – and their founders to leave an incredible legacy!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Jim Barnish: Of course no one’s path is all rainbows and unicorns. We all deal with adversity but it’s not about whether you get knocked down, it’s how you get back up.
Since we are fundamentally in the people business, both internally and managing our founder relationships, most of my learning has come on the people side. One of my blind spots over the years was that I wanted to do everything. I was so confident in my ability to deliver results and grew so close to my clients that I wanted to personally ensure everything was done to my level of satisfaction. However, that’s not scalable as we grow.
So me and Steve Horwitz, my co-founder at Orchid Black, looked in the mirror about what we were both great at and where we should focus our time to best serve our clients. It was clear to us that we needed an experienced founder and process-thinker to bring sophistication to OB’s internal operations. If we could find someone that also had experience working with clients, that would be a bonus.
I am lucky that Steve had the perfect person on his contact list. Howard Joyce (now our third Managing Partner) is all the things I described and more. Howard performs all the internal work for our business but also lends his perspective on client matters. It allows Steve to focus just on growing our client base and partnerships, and me to focus on strategy and solutions for OB’s future growth.
Howard has filled a role that now allows me and Steven to do what we do best. It’s a perfect example of being self-aware of what you are good at and filling out your teams with complementary strengths. It’s now front of mind for me when I assemble client teams to serve our founders.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Jim Barnish: Look at any “toughest challenges for business owners list” and you’ll find “hiring and retaining employees” at or near the top. Building a business of qualified, talented people that are going to treat your clients like you would treat them is never easy. It’s even harder in the earlier stages of a company where you have a confluence of factors working against you: A) a million things to do and hiring is a time-consuming process B) likely don’t have the cash to compete with comparable job roles at much larger companies.
But you do have something on your side, the ability to let your most talented people grow with the company and take on as much responsibility as they’re capable of. And that’s what we’ve done. As much is reasonably possible, we’ve built Orchid Black as a meritocracy from the top-down. It all emanates from the performance-based model that we employ with our partner clients, which gives us the ability to attract top Operating Partners who are willing to bet on themselves and our process because they know it can yield results that they wouldn’t see at different companies.
And it trickles down to our Associate/Analyst team where we obviously have competitive compensation, but more importantly, we have a flat organizational structure that allows these “early-career leaders” to learn from some of the “best in the business of growing businesses.” There is no university (and quite frankly few other companies) where someone will get the opportunity to learn from the lens of an operator, consultant, and investor and work on the types of projects that we do. Similar to the companies we serve, it sets up career optionality for them for the rest of their lives – but of course, hoping they love it so much they either stay with us or perhaps become a founder themselves that we can eventually work alongside!
This time last year, we were about a 15-person company. Today we have now doubled the team around the country with that number growing by the month as we get more and more inquiries and referrals in as people begin to learn more about our model and the win-win-win that it creates between the client, Orchid Black, and our team.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Jim Barnish: As many leaders can relate to, the business environment has been and will continue to be very challenging, in many cases squeezing margins and straining operating budgets. Running a lean and efficient operation has been critical to weather this storm, along with effective leadership.
These turbulent times allowed for a lot of introspection, and I realized that despite the company growing, I felt like I had plateaued as a leader and was having trouble getting to the next level. Since great opportunities always emerge during uncertain and tumultuous times, I took this as a sign that I needed to do something about this plateau.
My own advisory/peer network recommended that I look into an executive coach. I went down a path that resulted in dozens of conversations until I landed on the perfect coach for me – Coach Mike. Mike helped me with many things, including how to adapt many of my traditional “Peacetime Leader” traits towards “Wartime Leader” traits given the pandemic.
Fast forward a year later, and I am incredibly thankful. Working with Coach Mike and evolving my leadership abilities has been transformative for me in both my professional and personal life. I’ve seen new levels of breakthroughs in my self-awareness, in my relationships, and the company itself, and if it wasn’t for the pandemic, who knows if I would have made the choice to learn these new leadership skills!
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Jim Barnish: We started Orchid Black to serve founders looking to get ‘un-stuck’, grow, and make their companies worth SO MUCH MORE. Founders that didn’t fully realize what needed to be done to maximize the value of their business and exit.
Our successes partnering with the right founders and companies have allowed us to achieve tremendous growth over the past few years. Which has in turn allowed us to serve more founders… We are doubling down on this growth over the next year as we expect to have several major exits by the end of 2022, fueling these profits right back into the company to help even more founders achieve the exit and legacy they deserve. If I think 5 years out, I would not only love to see this 2x growth each year but also will be collecting some incredibly meaningful data around the underserved market that we work within, which I hope will ultimately change the VC/PE market for the better.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Jim Barnish: This is a great question and I love answering it because I think it’s important to highlight. You see, there’s a reason why we call what we do ‘Growth Services’ – We are not simply a consulting firm (our competitors). Consulting firms charge you a retainer to interview you and tell you what you already know or use a standard playbook that doesn’t go to the heart of the company’s issue. Also, they get paid no matter what.
The founders we work with want a partnership where they get the expert advice but also get experienced operators that help run the business and have incentives fully aligned. That is not the consulting model. We needed to find people that would see our vision of providing this service to founders in the way that worked for them best.
We found the solution. We assembled a world-class team of founders and operators who know how to drive growth and higher exits. They are comfortable with the model of betting on themselves and only getting paid well if the founder is getting paid.
We are proud that we have a business model and a team that finally is founder-focused, not consulting firm-focused. Founders who saw their business grow with no significant guaranteed payments to us.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Jim Barnish: Absolutely! A CEO’s personal values must directly connect back to the company’s values. And every CEO must have a personal life strategy the same way they do a company strategy, because your business is built around you and 50% of building a great business is the personal mindset/leadership of the CEO.
For me, my personal values are Self Awareness, Do Good, Trust Others, Team First, Growth, and Results. I track myself on these the same way we track company awareness and accountability across the team to our company values. It all connects.
How would you define “leadership”?
Jim Barnish: Leadership is a process, not a position. There was a time when people used the terms ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ interchangeably, but there is a massive difference between the two. But, leadership deals with people and their dynamics, which are continually changing. The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth. Those conditions require movement, which is inherent to moving up from one level of leadership to the next. Good leadership isn’t about advancing you (like a career path), it is about advancing your team.
Hire the right talent and take care of them. They will take care of your customers. And your customers will take care of you and the organization. All three: org alignment, customers, employees make the business run, and you must have an aligned strategy to ensure success – and you must have a purposeful exit strategy to maximize transferable value.
I highly suggest that all leaders read “How Successful People Lead” & “Trillion Dollar Coach” & ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People”. These are the three leadership-focused books that stand by!
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Jim Barnish: Are you sure? Just kidding. Starting a business is hard, and growing a business is even harder, but it is so worth it! What I would ask is that all young leaders make sure that both entrepreneurialism as a whole and the problem they are looking to solve as an entrepreneur, align with their ‘Ikigai’. My story with Ikigai is below…
For the longest time, I was always looking for a simple way to understand my best career path. I did lots of career tests and personality tests, and you name it… but nothing really clicked for me.
Ultimately, I was looking for a way to connect what I want to do, what I love to do, what I can get paid to do, and where I can have an impact on the world. Many people I know go through a similar challenge. So, about a decade ago now, I did a bit of research and asked around, ultimately landing on a fairly simple diagram that simplifies such a complex question that most people never get answered in their lifetime… It all connects back to the concept of IKIGAI, or the Japanese term for “a reason for being” – “TRUE PURPOSE”
If you draw four circles..
- What you want to do
- Great at
- Paid to do
- Impact on the world
..then the intersection is your Ikigai… a simple a-ha for me that took out all the complexity that plagued my question b/c ultimately that is exactly what I was looking for, and would strongly encourage everyone to do the same exercise, which I very much encourage every member of my team to go through.
For me, entrepreneurialism as a whole, along with the problem I am solving (helping founders make their businesses worth SO MUCH MORE) were both right in my Ikigai – and so starting Orchid Black was a no brainer for me!
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Jim Barnish: “Talent wins games, but team and intelligence win championships”
I used to be the do-it-all leader. The one who starts working at 5 am and turns the computer off at midnight. The grind never stopped. It was exhausting: physically, mentally, spiritually – you name it, I was worn out. I felt like I needed to do everything.
If I didn’t, who would? I had cofounders and employees, but every time I unloaded one responsibility I would take on two more. It was unsustainable, and beyond that, it wasn’t working. We were growing, but not at the pace we were planning on, and not in a scalable way. Until I stopped trying to be the driving force behind everything in the company (think Michael Jordan in the 80s; Scoring Champion with 3 playoff losses), this cycle was doomed to repeat.
It was a lesson in letting go by putting the right people in the right places and letting them grow. It has sparked a fire in the company that I’ve been waiting to see. One that leads the company and the talent driving the company forward and allows the organization to flourish over the coming months and years. The takeaway: Be Like Mike. Championships > Scoring Titles.
You can still be the leader, but you don’t always need the ball in your hands.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Jim Barnish for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Jim Barnish or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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