For our very first installment of our Operator Spotlight Series, we sat down with the co-founder of GT Entrepreneurs and current CEO of Pro Max Fence Systems, Brenden Van Buren. Brenden, who previously worked as a project manager for a heavy highway construction materials company, chose to attend Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business for his MBA where he graduated in 2017. Prior to attending CMU, his father Jamie Van Buren recently purchased his own business, which gave Brendan his first taste of small business ownership. While in school, Brenden befriended Rob Southern, son of Jim Southern - partner at Pacific Lake Partners. Rob introduced Brenden to the concept of search fund and he quickly started learning as much as he could about the search fund process.
After learning about search funds, Brenden and Jamie, with their experiences in small business ownership, decided that it would be great to help others reduce the inefficiency of search. Because of this, Brendan and a fellow classmate, Gabe Chick, decided to start their own search fund platform to help aspiring entrepreneurs find companies that they could successfully operate. Through GT Entrepreneurs they started seeking more companies to put into their portfolio.
“My story parallels GTE in a lot of ways. When I was still in school, I reached out to anyone who would talk to me, from searchers to private equity associates, and learned about the pain points when searching. Gathering lists and hiring interns takes away from outreach, so we wanted to form a more efficient way to help searchers spend as much time actively looking for a business to close within twenty-four months. Because of that we decided to start our own platform, rather than searching on our own, to give entrepreneurs the footing they needed to successfully acquire a company.”
Beginning the search process isn’t easy, so I asked Brenden about some of these “pain points” he talked about when starting searching and starting GTE:
“All searchers start with the same problem when beginning and it's that you have to start running. Previous searchers told us it was best to have three to four hundred communications a week, so Gabe and I were looking for the most efficient ways to get to that number. Through trial and error we developed what we believe are the best ways to search. Once we gathered the databases and company profiles we needed for outreach, and also sent out our first set of emails and letters, we received a lot of promising leads and it helped me close in thirteen months.”
After establishing GTE, Brenden acquired ProMax Fence, an industrial and commercial fencing company based in Reading, Pennsylvania.
“Coming from a background in heavy highway construction, I was searching for companies in a similar industry to fit my skill set. I used our lists we put together to search for contracting companies and material suppliers to help use my background as leverage. Once I found ProMax, I knew it was in the right industry for me. After I talked to the previous owner and realized we had similar personalities, I knew it was a match.”