Meet the Team
August Spark began out of the belief that many small and privately held companies are missing the opportunity to accelerate their growth. The right partner, one who honors what they have accomplished, can create a catalyst to propel them forward. This is the inspiration behind our name and, more importantly, the reason for our existence.
In 2001, at the age of 25, I founded an internet advertising company called Undertone. As someone who loves entrepreneurship and all things business, this was a dream come true. Like most founders, I knew my industry and how to work with customers, but was inexperienced when it came to strategic planning, HR, finance, operations and more.
Through sheer will and 90-hour work weeks, Undertone grew into a $20m company. And while we were achieving some measure of success, I was unsatisfied because it felt like we could do more. With wise and supportive counsel from my new wife, I realized that we needed help and expertise to achieve our full potential and embarked on the process of selling my firm.
Undertone was fortunate to have many parties interested in the business. As we weighed our options, I ultimately selected a private equity group rather than a strategic buyer. This was the right decision because I was so optimistic about the future and therefore wanted to maintain meaningful upside. Working with a group who cared about my company as much as I did, while providing different perspective, additional networks to tap into, training and more, helped me become a better CEO which only benefited the company.
Over the next 14 years, Undertone grew into a leading internet advertising technology company, achieving nearly $200m in revenue and hundreds of employees in the US and Europe before being acquired in 2015.
I am excited to bring some of what I have learned to portfolio companies who have a huge opportunity ahead, but perhaps need a little help in getting there.
Growing up in a military family, I’ve lived in many different places. From sunny Orange County California to rural potato country in Northern Maine (and quite a few places in between!) to studying in England and working in Budapest, Hungary, my entire life I’ve had to learn to adapt to new situations. My professional life is no different. I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, facing many diverse situations and challenges. Clear patterns have emerged, attributes and functions that allow some companies to be successful when others are not.
I started my career in an odd place for a future investor and entrepreneur. After studying economics in college and graduate school, I came out a newly minted economist for the U.S. Department of Commerce and was assigned to the Fisheries department (where of course every new economist longs to be) working on endangered species. Ultimately, what I learned in that role was a structured and quantitative approach to prioritization, including how to evaluate the tradeoffs involved with making hard decisions.
In 2010, I joined Altman Vilandrie & Company (AV&Co.), a boutique strategy consulting firm in Boston, and found that my skillset to think critically about prioritization was incredibly useful to executives and firms in dynamic industries that were struggling to grow their businesses and needed a new strategy. One example client was Consumer Reports, a beloved publication that I grew up reading with my dad. When they became a client of my firm, I jumped at the chance to work with them. Over a year-long engagement, I worked daily with the CEO and COO to chart a growth strategy path in the new world of digital media. The 600+ people that worked at Consumer Reports were incredibly talented and passionate about their work so designing the future course of the firm was exciting, but also a monumental challenge that I did not take lightly. Strategy means making hard choices and evaluating tradeoffs, both choosing what to do but also committing to saying no. The possibilities for growth and improvement are limitless, but finding the conviction to prioritize a select few options, and follow through, is incredibly difficult.
Leaving AV&Co. was a hard choice. It was hard to sell my wife on leaving a great, stable career in Boston to take on new challenges and risks, but I chose to become part of the first MBA at Cornell Tech, because I fundamentally believed in the importance of developing the skills to adapt and grow in a changing world. Meeting at the Google campus in NYC, my classmates and I were brought together by shared interests in technology but even more so by a shared belief that business models that have worked in the past will need to adapt to work in the future.
I started August Spark because I believe that when companies grow, opportunities for people are created – to learn, to develop skills, to better provide for their families. Growth, improvement, and change are huge challenges – especially for smaller companies. Sometimes you need an outside spark of inspiration to start the process of change.
I grew up in Potomac, Maryland, commonly referred to as “horse country.” By the time I was ten years old I was planning a strategy to persuade my father, an attorney and fierce negotiator, to buy me a horse. In order to present a strong case demonstrating my level of commitment to the responsibility of horse ownership I did a lot of due diligence.
After three years and multiple versions of a pencil written cost analysis, I negotiated an arrangement with a barn that reduced my boarding fees in exchange for work and won my father over. My first week at the barn was thrilling and completely exhausting. Feeling proud of my hard work, I was devastated when the barn manager told me that I had to step up my game in order to maintain our arrangement. That was a defining moment for me and my first real experience with hard work and work ethic. From that moment on, I fully committed myself to being the hardest working and best employee at the barn. Within 2 years, and at the age of 15, I was managing 5 employees and a 40 stall barn. Looking back now, I realize that this experience was pivotal in sparking my drive to become an entrepreneur.
After graduating college with a degree in education I confidently set out to begin my teaching career. However, I was unexpectedly offered an opportunity at the Discovery Channel that completely changed my path. Working in production challenged my existing skill sets and pushed me out of my comfort zone in an exciting way, but my entrepreneurial spirit was driving me to start my own business.
After carefully researching opportunities, I recognized the increasing demand for high quality dog care in Washington, DC. At the age of 25, I left the television world to start a dog daycare and obedience training facility. I poured every bit of my time and energy into growing my reputation and brand. I wanted to outperform my competition and the only way to do that was to work harder than them, which I knew I could do. Within two years, through dedication and perseverance, my company grew from a single-owner operation to a thriving 200 client business with over 30 employees. My company was now well established and known for unsurpassed quality and professionalism.
After seven robust years, my company was bursting at the seams and I decided the time was right to sell. I had set very high standards that my clients had come to expect from me, and my team, and knew that I could only sell to someone who would continue to meet and hopefully exceed those standards. After 6 months of meeting with over a dozen potential buyers, I knew right away when I met the buyer that I was looking for. It’s been over 10 years since I sold my company and I am very proud that not only has the ownership remained in the same hands, the company has expanded and maintained the stellar reputation that I created many years ago.
While other kids might have been talking to their fathers’ about sports, my dinner table chats were centered on the stock market, public companies, real estate and more. At an early age I was interested and fascinated by all things business, which led me to study Finance at Fordham when I graduated high school. At Fordham I wanted to make the best use of my time, so I immediately began researching the various fields within finance to see which would be the right one for me.
I learned about private equity (PE) from a few professors and alumni during my freshman year. I liked what they had to say, especially the part about being hard to do. As someone who has always enjoyed a good challenge, the more they talked about the long odds of successfully buying and growing a company, the more I wanted a chance to prove I could do this.
To learn about the industry and gain real experience, I began exploring internships, which ultimately led me to August Spark. As one of the firm’s first interns, I was charged with doing it all. From calling bankers to financial modeling to buying office supplies, I got a front row seat at an exciting start-up while learning how a family office works (similar to PE, but better).
At August Spark, I have seen firsthand that buying companies is about much more than financial modeling and leverage. To start, you need to find good businesses that are for sale. My primary responsibility at the firm is building meaningful relationships with bankers and brokers, since most of the opportunities we consider come from them. It is critical these firms understand our criteria and view us as a credible buyer. I talk to them about our differences, which starts with the partners, Steve & Mike. The fact we have experience leading and advising companies is a real advantage most others firms do not have. When we meet with companies they like our relatability, culture fit and overall perspective which is more practical and helpful than other buyers out there.
So while undergrad isn’t that far in the past, it is pretty exciting to know I work in my desired field, learn lots every day, and continue to prove to myself that I can do this.