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Today we’re talking to Harsh Patel, co-founder and CEO of MakerSquare. Harsh taught himself to code in his free time and then started his own coding boot camp with a friend. The company then went through multiple exits over the years, growing and growing. Some offers came to them and some offers were sought out. Some acquisitions were easy while others didn’t go as smoothly. Harsh has dealt with many exits, all more successful than the last, and today he shares what that looks like.

From Teaching To Learning To Teaching

Harsh was originally a teacher, teaching middle school math and science, when he started working on an app building software for teachers. Harsh didn’t know how to program and was instead leading a team of programmers. Getting frustrated that he couldn’t contribute more, he decided he wanted to learn to code. Harsh started teaching himself to code on nights and weekends until he was proficient. A friend of Harsh became interested in learning to code as well and so Harsh compiled all of the resources he used to learn. Instead, Harsh’s friend thought they should jump in and start a school for coding and convinced Harsh to come to Austin, TX to potentially start this endeavor. They put up a website offering their services and soon had a lot of interest. So, Harsh stopped working on his teaching and software app, dove in, and MakerSquare was born.  

A Trip To The White House

When former President Obama put together a panel about getting veterans jobs, MakerSquare was invited to attend. Also in attendance was Hack Reactor, another coding boot camp company. There were others in attendance but MakerSquare and Hack Reactor realized they were on the same page and had the same values, so they kept in touch. MakerSquare ended up getting an inbound offer from the University of Phoenix to buy MakerSquare. At the time, the University of Phoenix had a bad reputation and Harsh didn’t want to sell to them. Instead, he reached out to Hack Reactor and said because we have the same values we’d like to sell to you, would you meet or beat this offer. Hack Reactor decided to go for it and the exit began.

An Easy Transition

While Hack Reactor was big in San Francisco, MakerSquare was in both San Francisco and Austin. As they knew they wanted to grow into other markets, the whole team from MakerSquare stayed on. They continued to operate separately and grew 4x in the first year. The two teams had great communication but the CEO of Hack Reactor was getting burnt out. He approached Harsh about taking on more responsibility and so Harsh became COO for a while to learn more about Hack Reactors ins and outs. Finally, he stepped into his role as CEO and took over. As they were very similar in their values and operations, it was an easy transition.

Shopping For A Buyer

When it came time to grow even further, an investment banker was brought on to shop around for a good partner. Harsh knew in order to grow further they either needed more capital or needed a partner with the capital. They ended up doing a ton of meetings with different firms and strategic partners but ultimately decided to go with Galvanize, a coding and data science training company. Galvanize already had a lot of locations across the country so they knew it would be a good move. From the time they brought the banker on, to the time of closing on the deal was about 4-6 months. It was a big exit for the whole team and the integration didn’t go as smoothly as they wanted as expectations weren’t set in the beginning. After the exit, Harsh was Chief Product Officer but decided this wasn’t working out as he had different hopes for the company than Galvanize did. Harsh decided it best that he left the company and so he put together a 3-4 month exit plan, but the board wasn’t ready to let him go. The board told Harsh they would rather get rid of the old management team and put Harsh in charge than to have him leave. While Harsh was humbled he said he wasn’t interested. The board kept on insisting and finally Harsh decided to stay on as the new CEO.

A Quick Exit

During a conference that Harsh was speaking at, he was approached by someone from K12. They were interested in getting into this type of work and wanted to talk about an acquisition but Galvanize wasn’t for sale. Harsh shared that they were in the middle of building, had a plan for the next few years, and would maybe consider it after that. This made them even more desirable to K12. When asked if they could accelerate their plan with more capital, Harsh became interested. Galvanize decided to sell to K12, who would also invest in the company. It was a large deal but only took 3 months from the first email to closing. Harsh contributes the quick sale with setting clear expectations upfront. Not only did Harsh tell them the price they would need to get everyone on board, but he also told them the timeline he wanted and made them aware of any skeletons the company may have. Harsh says it’s always best to be straightforward, don’t try to play any games or hide anything.

What Would You Tell Yourself Ten Years Ago?

Harsh says that assuming he’s trying to go for the biggest exit amount, he would tell himself to make sure you have month over month growth. You don’t need an explosive month if that means a slow down the next. Slow and steady is best, you want your company to always be growing.

Where To Find Harsh Patel?

Harsh can be found on Twitter @harshoninternet

Steve McGarry

Steve McGarry

Steve McGarry is an entrepreneur, content creator, and investor based in sunny Tampa, Florida. In 2015, while living in San Francisco, Steve sold his first fintech startup LendLayer to Max Levchin’s (founder of PayPal) consumer finance company Affirm. In the last 5 years, Steve has both built an online community that reaches 1.4 million people every month on social media and a portfolio of over a dozen web properties. Currently, he’s the co-founder of a next-generation fintech startup called GrowYourBase while managing his portfolio of online businesses.