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11am, Wednesday 7th July 2021

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STORY OF A SALE: 1000Heads Group

  • In 2000, Mike Rowe launched 1000Heads in a ‘haze of excitement’ from a converted cowshed.
  • 19 years later, he sold his now international business to a private equity firm, for a figure in excess of £30m.
  • He’ll be telling us his sale story, why he didn’t want to do an earn-out, and about his newfound perspective on the business.

In this new Agency Hackers series, we’ll be investigating the ins, outs, highs, and lows of an agency sale – straight from the leaders themselves.

Mike Rowe sold his agency, 1000Heads Group, in June 2019 to private equity firm, Phoenix for a figure in excess of £30m. He’s been a non-executive director there ever since, and says it’s been a fascinating transition.

“It’s like seeing your own child from a distance. It’s been quite an interesting, introspective view on where you are, what you’ve done and what you’ve done wrong,” he says. “I’ve actually really enjoyed it. It’s given me a new lease of life within the business.”

The agency was launched in 2000 in a “haze of excitement”.

“It was all-consuming, so thinking about selling wasn’t really on the table,” he says. “We were approached several times and had conversations with various people, but it wasn’t until 2015 when I thought, ‘I’m not getting any younger. What’s my future and the future of the business?’ After 15 years, the business needed to regenerate.”

Once they decided to sell, he realised he’d rather exit than complete an earn-out. 

“I wanted to exit at that point as having been an entrepreneur all my life, I don’t think I’d have made a very good employee!” he says. “I’d already built a successful management team behind me, so I sat them down before we started the sales process in 2016 and told them we were on this three-year journey together, with the aim to sell the business at the end of those three years.”

The process was a smooth one, and once they signed on the dotted line in June 2019, Mike admits it was a moment of mixed emotions.

“There was a kind of epiphany that we’d grown this little business from a converted cowshed in rural Oxfordshire into a successful international business,” he says. “But at the same time, it was a slight anti-climax. You’re in a room with all these accountants, and you walk out and that’s it. Everyone continued doing what they were doing.”

Going down the private equity route was the best choice for Mike, as Phoenix understood that he didn’t want the agency to be transformed or merged – but he realises this route isn’t the right one for every agency leader.

“For all agencies, private equity isn’t always the route forward, but it was always my preference. It was for slightly selfish reasons, but also I thought it best for the business,” he says. “Two years on, I feel extremely lucky and privileged to be where I am, and to still be involved with the business.”

Join us in conversation with Mike and hear more about his sale story – especially if you’re looking for advice in that department too.