When selling your business, it’s OK to put your own needs first, says rEvolution Founder and President John Rowady.
“When you eventually sell your company, and you want to sell it for as much as possible because that’s your payday, that’s one of your most selfish moments that doesn’t really fit with team culture and things like that,” Rowady says. “But what are you supposed to do?”
Rowady’s business has grown to more than 100 employees and has worked with well-known companies such as Red Bull, Chipotle, Land Rover USA and Continental Tire to develop integrated sports marketing campaigns. Dealmaking has played a key role in rEvolution’s success, as the company has made four acquisitions since 2009 to broaden its reach.
And the investor community has taken notice of what Rowady has built.
“The more we’re doing within the sports business and the more we grow, there are always bigger fish,” he says. “So now we’re attracting a much larger group of strategic partners that would love to figure out whether we’re up for investment, or even up for sale.”
Dealmakers caught up with Rowady to talk strategy when your business attracts outside interest, as well as where he turns to get honest feedback that informs his strategic decision-making process.
Study your playbook
When Rowady launched rEvolution in 2001, he sought to put a new spin on the world of branding and sports marketing. His efforts have paid off, and nearly 20 years later, he has positioned the company to be a major player in this space.
He’s still looking for additional opportunities to continue growing.
“I’m always out looking to bolt on new strategic companies and clients,” Rowady says. “We’ve been looking at everything from digital companies to research and analytics firms to production companies.”
Events such as the World Cup and the Summer Olympics, which are coming to the U.S. in 2026 and 2028, respectively, have Rowady making big plans. In the midst of that, he’s fielding a lot of inquiries from people interested in rEvolution from the buy side, particularly former professional athletes.
“They understand sports and the excitement of sports,” Rowady says. “They’re excited about opportunities to invest in companies like this.”
Potential buyers and investors bring different things to the table that are important to consider when you’re drawing interest.
“Let’s say I get into a conversation with private equity,” Rowady says. “They’re investing in different types of growth platforms. They may not care about sports. They’re just like, ‘Hey, I’ll lend you money. What do you think you can do? What’s your financial profile?’”
Strategic buyers typically have a specific reason for reaching out and will likely reduce the control you have over the direction of your company.
“There are things I would need to give up to consider being invested in or purchased by a strategic buyer, such as a much bigger sports marketing agency,” he says.
In the case of athletes — individuals who may not have a strong business background but have a lot of wealth — the path may have some twists and turns.
“You’re not necessarily going to have people who know how to build and run these types of companies,” Rowady says. “But they’re going to be excited because of their personal money and being involved in sports. How do you utilize them to be active members and influencers for your business to help it grow?”
Drawing up the next move
As opportunities present themselves, you need to take time to think about what you’re looking for and how a potential deal would sit with you moving forward.
“It’s like selling and buying your house,” he says. “At some point in time, you become disjointed on where your motivations lie. It still comes down to who can you trust and how do you work out a fair deal. How do you make sure that you don’t get compromised at the end?”
Rowady has people he can count on for honest, constructive feedback, and others who have a hard time seeing past their own future.
“There are times where you just are alone, you feel alone,” he says. “That’s why I started to get involved in other groups and have other voices and opinions outside of that.”
Rowady has found support with groups like Vistage and Young Presidents Organization, as well as key people such as his wife, his lawyer and his financial advisers.
“We have quarterly meetings about the things that we’re thinking about as it relates to succession and risk and how we’re deploying resources,” he says. “And I think that that has become another good independent voice.”
Rowady is taking steps to ensure that he’ll be ready to respond when the time comes.
“You can’t just go, ‘Oh, I should have done these things before, let me do it now,’” he says. “It takes time.”
The best way to learn, Rowady says, is to go out and talk to companies, purchase companies and stay active in the dealmaking space so that you continue to refine and advance your organization.
“At some point, you want it to be you that eventually monetizes and moves to the next phase of whatever you’re going to do,” he says.