Mac Lackey is an American entrepreneur who has started, scaled and sold six companies (all seven or eight figure exits). Mac and his companies have been featured on CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Business North Carolina, USA Today and The New York Times.
Notable ventures include: KYCK (acquired by NBC Sports), Mountain Khakis (acquired by Remington) and InternetSoccer Network (acquired by division of News Corp/Sky). He additionally served as a member of the Board of Directors for publicly traded Lending Tree (NASDAQ: TREE) for over five years and is currently an angel investor in over 50 companies.
Mac was a collegiate All-American and played professional soccer before starting his first Internet company in 1995.
Key Takeaways From Our Conversation
- Helps create a repeatable business model
- Ensures the business is sellable
- Sets you up for a premium exit from the start
Staying hyper focused on your area of expertise or interest ensures your brand will have the consistency necessary to become replicable.
It’s important to be intentional about the model you will follow in order to set yourself up for success later on.
If you create something valuable, people will pay a premium for it.
“Intentional business design is about designing a company that someone is going to want to buy and pay you a premium for.” – Mac Lackey
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Resources · Transcript · Tell YOUR Story
For help optimizing your business for exit visit Mac Lackey’s website and learn how to build your exit DNA! He offers resources and mentoring that can take a seven figure entrepreneurial venture to eight or even nine.
Optimize your life today!
Nicole Holland 0:00
Hey there. Welcome back to season one, Episode Four of fascinating founders. I'm your host, Nicole Holland and I am thrilled to be your guide as we dive in and uncover the stories that came before the success of some of the world's most fascinating founders. hailing from a multitude of industries and socio economic starts, you're going to learn what's made these fascinating men and women realise their dreams from an inspired idea to millions in revenue disrupting, innovating and impacting humanity for the better. You never know what's going to come up in our casual conversations. So get your notebooks ready cosy up with a great Cup of Joe and join us as I dive in to learn about how these inspiring individuals have figured out how to thrive in a time where most people give up on their dreams. My guest today is Mac Lackey. He's an American entrepreneur who has started scaled and sold six companies all seven or eight figure exits Mac and his companies have been featured on CNN, The Wall Street Journal Fast Company business North Carolina. USA today and the New York Times notable ventures include ky ck acquired by NBC Sports mountain khakis acquired by Remington and internet soccer network acquired by a division of News Corp sky. He additionally served as a member of the board of directors for publicly traded lending tree for over five years and is currently an angel investor in over 50 companies. Mack was a collegiate all American and played professional soccer before starting his first internet company in 1995. Enjoy this interview with Mac Lackey. Hello, Mac, welcome to the show.
Mac Lackey 1:37
Hi Nicole. Very excited to be here.
Nicole Holland 1:39
Excellent. All right. So back before your very first business, it was it was an internet business, your first business?
Mac Lackey 1:46
it was Yes.
Nicole Holland 1:48
So back before that, how did you know that entrepreneurship was your calling?
Mac Lackey 1:53
Yeah, really good question. Up until I started my first company. My life was 100% focused. On soccer, that's really all I've thought about that was sort of my aspirations and goals. And one of the things that was really interesting is my father who was in corporate America and has had worked his way up, used to come home around the dinner table, and we would talk about business. And he was not an entrepreneur, but he would often talk about corporate bureaucracy and the challenges. And so it sort of burned in my brain that I just didn't want that the way he was describing day to day life. So I started my first company, the first quarter of 1995. Right after, you know, Netscape launched its browser. And it was really candidly just not knowing any better. I didn't understand the risk. I was like, I'm not going to be in the corporate world. And I just quickly fell in love with it. So it kind of got my start that way.
Nicole Holland 2:47
And what was your first venture at that point?
Mac Lackey 2:50
So we had a company called in touch interactive, which was again, literally months after Netscape launched its web browser. We were very, very early how helping companies develop a web presence. And this was back before people understood why they would be there, you know, so I was in my early 20s, and talking to fortune 500 companies about using the internet for business. And, you know, got in early and had a had a real learned a lot, but had a really, really good experience, building up that company.
Nicole Holland 3:25
And how long did you have that company for? And what was the Did you like? How did it end?
Mac Lackey 3:30
Sure. So we started that company with a $10,000 loan, and it was truly a garage startup. I was newly married, I had a one bedroom apartment. So it was kind of the typical garage startup where I was working, you know, kitchen table, but we built it up very quickly and pretty profitably. And the space that we were in started kind of heating up in the 1998 timeframe. And we were several people came very quickly. To buy the company and that was never our intention at the time. But we ended up having a little bit of a bidding war, we sold to a company that rolled up about 30 companies like mine and took them all public in 1999. And so it was kind of a one two punch, we sold the company, the acquiring company went public, and I saw that whole lifecycle and how much value can be created. And you know, it was an eight figure exit I was in my early 20s. So it was it was a life changing moment, in so many ways. So it really set a tone for what would be my future at that point.
Nicole Holland 4:35
That's amazing. So let me ask you, you say we who is we that started it, like Whose idea was it from the beginning to do this and and how did you go about that, like getting the loan in the first place? or How did you even go from, huh? Here's this opportunity I see and actually getting through those first years because it's not like it just happened overnight. night to where you were able to do an eight figure exit. You went through some ups and downs, I imagine.
Mac Lackey 5:08
Absolutely. Yeah. So getting started, I was I worked for less than six months I played, you know, professional soccer after college. After I stopped playing, I took a job, which was really my only job in my life for a software company, and I met an engineer there. And this software company was doing educational focus software, and everything we were doing, we felt like had business application, but the president of that company just really was focused on educational markets. And as a matter of fact, we presented a kind of an internal plan to create a business focus division, and there just wasn't a lot of interest. So he and I resigned. We got a loan from family member and just kind of hung out the shingle and the roles were very clearly he's an engineer. He can build stuff. I can talk about stuff So we're just going to go out and find clients. And we honestly, that's literally how we started, we thought, all right, we probably have about a month or two before, we're not going to be able to pay our apartment rent, so we need to get going. So high pressure.
Nicole Holland 6:14
Amazing. And I love that it worked, because that's not the norm, right? It's not the norm that the first the first shake is the one that that takes off. And then you have that bug. And you recognise that you could do more. So what was the next step? Once you took that exit? Was there sort of a period of time that you just lived without doing anything specific? Are you you just kind of enjoyed the fruits of your labour or were you right into that next thing?
Mac Lackey 6:46
Yeah, that's a really good question. I think it's, it's also, you know, so we own that company for three years, and it was more down and up. So I certainly don't want to imply that, you know, we just kind of clicked and went The moon, we made a lot of mistakes, we learn things the hard way. You know, we, we struggled. I mean, as individuals, you know, we were not making any money, it was really hard to kind of stay afloat as we were building this company. But, you know, we worked hard at it. And we eventually got to a really good outcome. But I was really passionate about just what we created. And I wanted to do it right away. So soon as the company that acquired us went public, literally the next day, I resigned to start my next company already had a kind of a business plan in mind. And it was really combining my love of soccer, which was kind of my personal passion with technology that we had just kind of come out of. So my next business was that intersection of those two passions. And similarly, just, you know, sign of the times to some degree, but we built that company, raised capital started and sold it to a public company in 14 months for another eight figure. So it was A really fast kind of height of the internet boom effectively. But I just like you said I had the bug. That's the way I describe it. I was just sort of bit by I have to do this. And I loved it.
Nicole Holland 8:12
Amazing. And so with that, two questions number one, again, you say we so I'm curious who that person was if it was your same partner. And number two, at this point, now, you had that successful exit that you hadn't planned for on the first on the first go. Is that real? Is that like, was that a factor in building this for that 14 month sale like you wanted, then you knew you could replicate that?
Mac Lackey 8:39
Yeah, I have. In hindsight, I've had two fundamental shifts in my thinking over the years. That was the first one which was when I saw the light bulb go off that wow, you create something valuable and people will pay you a premium for it. That was part of my design going forward. And so almost every business I built there, on had at least a focus towards optimising it for exit whether I ever sold it or not. I wanted it to be sellable. And ideally in a way that that made it, you know, a premium kind of exit, so very much. So when we started that company, one of the pages on our presentation deck was, you know, the exit and who we thought we may sell to. So I was very intentional about it. And I have stuck with that theme. You know, since that time, it's been kind of a repeatable theme, as you said,
Nicole Holland 9:29
cool. And was this worry? Did you go off on your own and do this or did you start it with somebody else?
Mac Lackey 9:36
So I had my original, one of my original founders for my first company, and I continued partnering we also brought in another someone in my first company, who was a very good friend of mine, very talented guy, became a co founder and my next business, and again, sort of a repeatable formula for me is I really try to stay hyper focused on Kind of my lane where I think I'm, you know, focused and talented if anywhere, and I really focused on surrounding myself with great people. And I was fortunate early to have some really good co founders, one of which, you know, I co founded four or five companies with over the years. So I had a very fortunate experience there because that can be tough. But I got, you know, I got lucky to have a great co founder,
Nicole Holland 10:23
that's amazing that you can keep doing things. So or without, you know, with that person with that talent. And I want to pivot I know, you got a lot more experience with founding companies we could talk about, but you have one of your programmes now is called exit DNA. And you specifically help founders plan for and move into if they hadn't already planned for that exit. Do you want to explain a little bit about your philosophy on exit DNA and who it's for and how it helps?
Mac Lackey 10:58
Sure. So yeah, I've been I've been very fortunate at this point in my life, I have kind of shifted from building companies to helping other people. That's what I'm passionate about. And I do that with two kind of focused areas. And as you said, one is called exit DNA. And at a high level, my thesis, which I think I proved out over a lot of test was simply that if you design a company that can run without the founder, that it is designed to really be efficient, and can scale and you really focus on designing it for a third party. And the reason I did that was not because I was so focused on selling it, but it became a really clarifying lens for me to build a company. So if I asked myself constantly, how would a third party look at this decision? Maybe I want to open a new office with a third party think that was a smart move, or would they consider that a liability. So it became this really powerful lens that I was able to use again and again, to create value in a company that ultimately ends up being optimised for exit. And as I always tell founders, the great news is if you design a company that way, you can always choose not to sell it and be the beneficiary of all those steps. And so it's really about intentional business design, I have a whole of course framework that I take people through to do that. But at the end of the day, it's really just trying to design a company, so that someone is going to want to buy it and want to pay your premium for what you've created. And then you as a founder have the option.
Nicole Holland 12:30
I love that because you and I have talked before about how when I was getting started with what I'm doing, I had people tell it because I wanted to build it so that I could sell it and do the next thing. And I had people just that didn't understand that and and would say, Well, why would you do that just make just get bigger and that's like, I don't know. For me a big part of the joy is the creation process. process, but also like I don't want to be working forever, not even running things forever, I don't know. But I want that option to be able to step out or continue and I love that your philosophy on working I think and and how we should be living our lives is very interesting, valuable and and I really appreciate especially as somebody who is able to replicate that success of building, exiting, building, exiting, building exiting. And so I think that's something awesome to chat about. Cool. How about sharing your other framework and sort of what you came to understand and know is true through your experiences as an entrepreneur?
Mac Lackey 13:48
Absolutely. So Nicole, I'm I mentioned there were two pivot points. And you know, the first one came after I sold that first company and I fell in love with the process of building a company. But the second one which I think was more profound and is led to the life I live today. And what I'm very passionate about really came just after I sold that second company. So July of 2000, I sold my second business in so many ways I was on top of the world. I just felt like I had this repeatable formula. I had proven, you know, I could create some success. But I had a little baby girl that was born in August of 2000. And everyone around me was telling me, because I was so excited to be a great dad and I had this vision of what that was going to look like. And everyone was telling me that I was going to have to choose, you know, basically, Mac, you've worked, you've created some great value, but you've also been working 80 hours a week you sleep on the floor in your office, you travel all the time, how can you be home for dinner every night with your daughter. And so long story short, I got really depressed about it got really upset and because of course I was committed to being a great dad, and I made a decision in August of 2000 that I was not going Going to accept the trade off. I just said, You know what, I'm going to be a great Dad, I'm going to be there as much as I can. But I'm not willing to give up on what I was thinking or scale companies and building these, you know, eight, nine figure businesses. So that was the decision I made. And in so many ways, I, when I made that decision, I just never looked back. I designed every company around my goal to scale my goal to exit which we talked about, but I also designed it so that I could take my daughter to school every day, have dinner with her every night, be at every play on Tuesday at two o'clock. And so, as I often describe it, I still get chills when I say it, but that little girl I just dropped off at NYU three weeks ago. And so 19 years later, during that time period, I can say I built and sold for more companies, and I never missed the doughnuts for dad I literally designed my life around. Every moment we travel the world together and I have another daughter but so my whole family moved abroad. checked off most of my bucket list while building scale company. So, yes, I'm really passionate about it, particularly at a time when I think people are getting this hustle message that you just put in the work. And I know that I don't regret at all. I'm thankful that I look back and think, gosh, I really spent the time and I think people need to hear that message. So I designed a programme called scale with freedom, which is just literally me teaching founders how to do that.
Nicole Holland 16:27
So good. So that in itself is like massive, massive value. This whole interview has been really great. I have one last question for you. And that is if you could sum up your very best advice for a business owner wanting to follow in your footsteps and under 60 seconds, what would you tell them? high pressure question.
Mac Lackey 16:50
I think without a doubt, the thing I would do is kind of to twofold. One is commit to not accepting the trade offs or whatever those are for you. Your business and your health, your business and your family, whatever those trade offs are, and then you intentionally design your business take the time to imagine you living that, that life that you want, and reverse engineering every part of it. How many hours a day do you work? Where are you who's got to be on your team? That intentional business design is the difference between scaling with freedom or your business owning you? 30 so I love it.
Nicole Holland 17:27
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience with us today. Before I let you go, let's make sure everyone knows how to reach you. So feel free to share any last words of wisdom that you'd like as well and where my listeners can go to connect.
Mac Lackey 17:41
Thank you for having me, Nicole. If you want to follow up with me, you can find me My website is Mac Lackey, calm and that's ma si l AC ke y.com. And I'm at Mac lackey across all the socials and I'm really focused on helping at this point. So if you're a seven figure entrepreneur trying to get Eight or your eight trying to get to nine. And these messages resonate with you definitely check out my site I'd love to help you.
Nicole Holland 18:06
Thanks again to Mac for being my guest on today's show and for sharing his founders journey with us. We'll have links for you to connect directly with Mac resources discuss plus the full transcript of this episode and more at fascinating founders calm remember that successful people surround themselves with successful people. Until next time, this is Nicole haulin signing off.NicoleMNicol
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