Episode 153 – Small Giant Merges with Industry Titan: How a 10-Person Firm Successfully Sold Itself to a 300-Person Professional Service Behemoth – Expert Case by Bart Mroz

In this insightful case study, we delve into the remarkable journey of a nimble 10-person professional service firm as they navigate the complexities of selling their business to a 300-strong industry leader. From leveraging their specialized expertise to fostering a culture that resonated with their larger counterpart, this session discusses the key steps taken by the smaller firm to position themselves as an indispensable asset, paving the way for a merger that promises to be a win-win for all parties.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Hi, everyone. This is Greg Alexander, the host of the Pro Serv Podcast, brought to you by Collective 54, the first community dedicated to founders of small services firms that are trying to grow, scale, and someday sell their firms. On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about exiting a small service firm. It’s a very precise thing to do. It doesn’t happen a lot. So when it does happen, we want to shine a light on it and learn as much as we can. And we have an alumni of Collective 54 with us, Bart Mroz. Bart was on an episode of our show before way back in the day Episode 72. I think we’re like in the one seventies now, so it’s good to see you again. Bart. Would you please reacquaint yourself with our audience and provide us an introduction? 

Bart Mroz [00:01:05] Absolutely. It’s great to see you, Greg. Yeah, so I am for the last 13 and a half years, ran company called Sumo Heavy. We were an eCommerce consulting firm and button shop, working closely with enterprise level clients. We, I think, talk we’re talking about Discovery’s if on the rack. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:29] Yeah, you walked us through that and how that led to kind of long standing client relationships, which was an awesome episode. 

Bart Mroz [00:01:36] Yeah, it was fantastic. So funny enough, I am an alumni of of the group. Part of it is because I was going through this all through the year. So. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:49] So yeah, so let’s talk about this. So I read the press release and thank thank you for sending that. I was so happy for you in your team. It’s the conclusion of an entrepreneurial journey. I know you’re still there and you’re still building, but it is a chapter in the story of an entrepreneur when this happens. So I just I want to start at a high level and just, you know, have you tell everybody what happened? And then I’ll have some questions for you. 

Bart Mroz [00:02:16] Sure. Where do I start? About a year ago. A little bit over a year now. I was needing to get out of the house and randomly went to. I was living in Princeton, New Jersey, randomly went to a place and bumped into now our VP of Innovation at the at ATX, which is my new company and just had a good chat with it and just randomly ran into somebody. And it it kind of took that took it to a conversation with them and then they came to Val was like, If you are ever willing to sell your company, let me know. And about six months later, I had a conversation. My business partner were kind of looking at what the market looks like. What are we doing after 13 and a half years is like, are we going to grow this or is there other avenues that we can have? And I gave him a call and then work through the summer and and we got to this point and then on September 1st we are fully acquired, which is always a challenging find. But as a smaller firm, it was it was interesting to go there. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:29] You know, the fact that this was a random encounter, you know, it makes you wonder if if the cosmos was lined up for you here and you were doing the right thing, that that’s a very hard luck. 

Bart Mroz [00:03:41] But also part taken that luck. Right? It’s the serendipity of it. Yes. It’s probably partially putting out there that there’s some need. But also, you know, people say is like always in luck. I think it was a luck thing because, you know, 30 minutes before or third means after walking, you know, until place, it could have changed it. Right. But then taking that opportunity that’s in front of you and have conversation with somebody random kind of get you to that point. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:09] Yeah. I mean, we’ve got to make the most of our lucky breaks and and not waste them. I get it totally. So what I was particularly interested to talk to you about today, because it’s so relevant to our community, is that you had a ten person firm and a lot of people feel that a ten person firm is a non sellable firm, yet you proved all those people wrong and you were able to sell your firm. So how did you overcome that and how did why was is it it is that right? Why was this why was it interested in you all? 

Bart Mroz [00:04:42] So at our height, so we’re 13 years, 13 and a half years, almost 14 at our height, we’re actually 30 and meaning 30 with our contractors, and we’re about 12. 13 at the most here in the States. But because we had this efficient, nimble kind of company, we got to work with larger clients, got to work with them long term. Have some way of a different way of working. As with our last podcast, it was about doing discoveries and discoveries. Because of that, it’s all our being the process and how we work and how we work with our clients. And the fact that we had long term clients was attractive to a bigger company, but also for us from our perspective. Once we started talking to them. It became very clear that there just a very large version of us. We’re like a micro version, meaning our culture is the same. We kind of think the same way. We want to go after the same things. It kind of became clear this is making more and more sense. Now, this was, you know, we got acquired in this one, but this was not our first go at trying to get acquired. We’ve done it two years beforehand and it just didn’t fit what we wanted. And we said no, 80% because of culture. And 20% of because money just made it financially didn’t make sense. Like it just it wasn’t working. The numbers didn’t make sense and all that. So a lot of it was culture or a lot of was that the other side of it for us was having access to a bigger. Of services. You know, we’re very structured on e-commerce, but we’ve never had UX or design or marketing or other things we were trying to pursue. Now we do, you know, it takes us 300 people. So it’s a bigger company. We have a lot more services. On the other side of that, I it had a little bit of econ going on with them. With us, they have the knowledge base now of bigger econ that they can kind of pursue. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:06] Yeah. You know, the lesson here for those that are listening is that when a large firm is thinking about buying a small firm, they often go through a framework called Build, buy or partner. 

Bart Mroz [00:07:19] Mm hmm. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:19] And what I mean by that is they’ll have a gap in their service offering. So in Bard’s case, that was AECOM. And they say to themselves, okay, if we want to fill this gap ourselves, we’re going to build it. Here’s how long it’s going to take his on which money it’s going to cost. And here’s the probability of success. If we were to go partner with somebody. You know, who are those partnerships and same conversation. How long, how much in probability success. And if we buy someone, same thing. So if I compare those items, you know, as a larger firm, what’s better for me, it’s it’s a a way to think through the options. So obviously, in Bart’s case, it just made a lot more sense for them because they could go faster, they had a greater probability of success and, you know, the cost was comparable. So why not go ahead and and buy a firm like Bartz and bring them in? Yeah. 

Bart Mroz [00:08:06] I mean, you’re, you’re looking at you know, do you bring like this is this was our problem too. Like we at least twice a year we would think about do we build design and use sort of practice internally every year, twice a year without fail? And we just never did it. Right. But also, you know, when you’re doing this, you’re acquiring not only the the staff, the team members who are knowledgeable, especially in small firms, they probably have a lot of senior people because they’re willing to do that work, especially if they’re working with bigger clients. There’s growing client. So you have both. Right. You have not only the knowledge base, but also clients, and then you can bring all that knowledge base. You know, it’s a nice circular thing. It just beneficial to every single step. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:49] Yeah, for sure. And it’s beneficial to everybody, including the client, because now you have more things to offer the client, and that’s normally how the justification gets made. The business justification is. So Bart had a great client roster and I t-x, you know, wanted access to that roster and vice versa. I text probably had a great client roster and you guys want access to it. So then the question is, okay, so if we join forces is one plus one equals three here. And obviously it did. So that’s part of the equation. So if you’re if you’re a smaller firm and you’re thinking about selling, you got to ask yourself that question, like, what is the synergy? I don’t mean the cost synergy, I mean the revenue synergy. If we shared clients and we had brought a service set, you know, how much more revenue could we drive by? My next question was I was I was reading in prep for this interview some of the local press that that covered you, by the way. I had no idea you were such a towering figure in the local tech community. Congrats. 

Bart Mroz [00:09:41] Not but thank you. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:43] A lot of the articles were people worried about, you know, you leaving and not participating in all that. One of them classified your acquisition as an acqui hire, which is the merging of two words, an acquisition and a hiring of a team called an acqui hire. Very common in the tech world, not as common in the service world. So that intrigued me. Is that a fair description as to what happened in or not? And what do you think about this idea? 

Bart Mroz [00:10:12] It’s a very it’s actually, Greg, I’m going to correct you, but it’s actually very common right now. Is it really. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:17] Interesting? 

Bart Mroz [00:10:18] Oh, yeah. The same day that we got acquired, one of my friends companies that I acquired Acquired like that. Yeah. So basically the idea is they’re they’re hiring you and they’re acquiring you, basically acquiring, you know, your clients or your things, but also hiring rest of your team. Yeah. So for me, it’s not like the whole team went. So we are now owned by biotechs, Right. But it’s still within those. Rob’s right, my friends. Like, I think the same they I would say four different companies, one within. Between and every single company was between ten and 20 people. Wow. Yeah. From from different. You know, they got fired by other places, obviously, but literally same day and all friends. But yeah, we we all knew this was all happening at the same time, which was really funny. So it’s it’s in service business right now is is that is going to happen and I think that’s it’s a correct statement. I don’t you know some people think it a bit as a as a bad thing. I think it’s fine. I think it’s it’s I feel like it’s worse when it’s a startup, you know, it gets acquired and then it’s like, oh, it’s purchase and stuff like that. When it comes to services, I mean, there’s, you know, we’re not billing it or not. We don’t have technology to sell. We just have humans and humans making things for other clients, right? So it’s it is what it is. Yeah. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s, it’s not it’s, I think it’s a better thing when it comes to service companies because they’re, they’re actually acquiring the whole thing with the team members and the team players don’t get fired, you know, then they lose their jobs. They’re still they’re still there. You know, I. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:57] Mean, I agree. I agree. I think it’s a it’s a much better thing. And I personally don’t view the term as a negative term. I view it as a positive term, although I have read the things that you’ve read where sometimes people talk negatively about it, particularly in the startup context, as a way to kind of firesale a failed startup. But in services it says it’s a people business. It makes a lot of sense and it’s just it’s a mechanism to get a deal done. And I think for the smaller firms, let’s say sub 50 people, it’s an avenue worth pursuing if if that’s something that you want to do. So. So what’s life like for you now that you’re part of a bigger firm? 

Bart Mroz [00:12:37] It’s been it’s been two months, literally, actually two day. So eight weeks. Stressful, crazy, fun all at the same time. You know, as you can imagine, I’m coming from doing a lot of the admin stuff and a lot of sales and that things that that, you know, that requires company to do My business partner was the production side of it and delivery. So he’s stepping into having a delivery team that’s his that’s still our you know, our people. I’m step by step into the sort of the sales operation or what we call engagement leads the management and sales that’s side. And I’m actually really happy to have four or five coworkers in that space now because I was doing this by myself. Yeah, so that’s kind of fun. Um, it’s still, it’s a little bit stressful just because moving, you know, moving your clients over, getting all of those, all those things wrapped up and moving stuff around. Like that’s a lot of stuff while trying to get through, you know, learning all the processes internally for the new company. Also at the same time, having my own sort of business that’s going on at the same time for the company. Um, but that’s going to settle down. It’s slowly settling down of story, you know, starting to get the hang of it and but it’s exciting. I think it’s exciting. A new chapter, you know, you are so used to doing your thing for I mean I did on my own for besides, you know, I’ve been on my own for 20 years on which is kind of fun Now, I haven’t worked for somebody for 20 years. And so that’s kind of a change of pace. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:13] What’s it like having a boss? 

Bart Mroz [00:14:15] I have to. It’s great. Oh, well, believe it or not, I am. I am a happy camper. I have good people above me, good people working with me. And this is kind of funny, but I have no on working for me. Weirdly, I’m okay with that for the moment and not that like our team members were not. They’re great. They’re great people. It’s awesome. Just a just a breath. Taking a breath, I guess, is a good thing. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:42] Yeah. Awesome. All right, listen, we’re at our window here, but congrats to you and your team. I’m really happy for you. I can tell by listening to you and looking at you how happy you are. So that makes me feel great. So congratulations, man. 

Bart Mroz [00:14:57] Thank you so much, Greg. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:58] All right. All right. A few calls. Action for those that are listening. So if you’re a member and look for the meeting, invite for a board session with us, or you could be able to ask some questions to him directly. If you’re not a member, you want to become a member, go to the website and collected 54 and hit apply and we’ll get in touch with you. If you just want to learn more, check out the book The Boutique How to Start Scaling Sell a professional services firm on Amazon. Okay, Thanks, everybody. We’ll talk to you next time.

Episode 72 – How an E-commerce Consulting Firm Developed Multi-Year Client Relationships – Member Case with Bart Mroz

Firms that focus on delivering a great client experience along with their high-quality work reach scale. In this podcast episode, we interview Bart Mroz, CEO at SUMO Heavy Industries, to discuss the client experience and trust-building to develop long-term client relationships.If you wish to grow your consulting business, you must understand how to navigate client relationships.


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54. A podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that don’t know us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster. I’m the founder, Greg Alexander, and I’ll also be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to talk about client experience, and our guest today is member Bart Mroz. Bart, good to see you. 

Bart Mroz [00:00:45] Hello there. How are you? 

Greg Alexander [00:00:46] Pretty good. Would you mind properly introducing yourself to the audience? 

Bart Mroz [00:00:51] Sure. I am the CEO of SUMO Heavy Industries. We are an e-commerce consulting firm. We’ve been around for almost 12 years and started as a web development shop. Grew into a lot more consulting work then than just, you know, development. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:09] I’m looking at these sumo wrestlers behind your shoulder, and I can see the name of your company. So I have to ask, where did that originate from? 

Bart Mroz [00:01:19] I wish therewas a crazier story, but it’s actually our Director of Marketing and myself have known each other for almost 20 years now, and the SU is actually him in it. And the MO is me. And then we didn’t want to have a company name that’s like web development or anything like that and everything in Japan is heavy and industries. 

And ironically, our little tagline sometimes says surprisingly agile, which sumo wrestlers are. So we build a work on big things, but we’re also a really small team, and we’re surprisingly agile. Very cool. So it kind of fit. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:54] Yeah, it does fit . Yeah. Excellent. All right. So today, we’re going to talk about client experience, and I’m going to set this up a little bit. So it’s my opinion that when boutiques are trying to scale, they need to get more sophisticated in the client experience and understand the difference between quality and service. 

And most of our members are true domain experts as you are Bart , and they focus entirely sometimes on the quality, meaning I delivered what I said I was going to do. But the experience of the client goes through along the way is equally important because usually, clients are doing this for maybe for the first time, and they’re engaging with you and building a relationship. 

And there are all kinds of emotional feelings that are happening as we go through the engagement. And clients can become long-term  clients if they literally feel good about the relationship, and that feel good is in addition to the results that you produce. 

Sometimes professional service firms don’t scale because they just produce great results, and they wonder why they don’t have longstanding client relationships. They’ll hear things like, “Greg, I’m doing a great job, and I got fired.” Or, “Hey, I’m clearly the best service provider, but I didn’t get hired.” And that’s because sometimes clients can’t tell. They can’t recognize your brilliance. And what separates the fast-growing firms from the average firm is  this dimension of client experience. 

So, I guess, let me start with my first question Bart,  and  that is just maybe a broad overview of what your thoughts are regarding client experience. And you know, have you documented it or how do you think about that with your firm? 

How to Grow Your Consulting Business: Pay Attention to the Client Experience

Bart Mroz [00:03:39] It’s a huge part of our firm. So in our almost 12 years, we switched to a full retainer kind of company. So it’s a long-term sort of process. I think our longest client has been with us for 11 years now. So our shortest is two months, but we just signed a few new clients. 

So there’s that average like five years right now, which is yeah. So it’s a long term. We are there all the time. We happened to be in an industry that’s e-commerce that’s longer. But it’s all about…For us, sure, we produce awesome work and work with clients, but it’s helping them understand it. 

So I know this is like a long round about thing, but it sets up the whole course of this. It is like half our clients are about 25 million dollars and under online sales, and half of them are one hundred and over. Two different versions and two different things you have to do with them, right? 

The smaller client needs the hand-holding and being them with them at all times. And it could be anything right, they are  like we’re trying to get a new vendor, and we have nothing to do with it. We’re not going to make money off of that, but we’re helping a client get through that process. And it makes it simple for us too. Um, because then we know what the vendor is. 

We can help them with that on the largest client. It’s having those relationships where they’re just longer for us. And the way I can kind of describe that, if it is ever a technical sort of engagement you always have the internal technical team come to the table, right? Oh my God, they’re bringing you consultants and what’s going to happen. And it eventually becomes where they tell most of the senior staff to leave and let the developers talk because it’s the idea of like making relationships that way. 

So for us, to grow your consulting business, it’s about the relationship. It’s about being friendly and just kind of hand-holding a lot of times at the beginning of the relationship, and eventually, it becomes a long-term type thing for us. 

Navigating Client Relationships: How to Work With a Client and Their Team

Greg Alexander [00:05:39] You know, that example you just gave us about the internal team coming to the table, and they’re like, “Oh gosh, how come the consultants are here?” You know, it’s a great story for us to maybe pick on a little bit because I think sometimes we forget that external consultants, whatever type you are, it’s a threat to the internal team. 

The internal team might think, “Hey, this is my job, I know what I’m doing. What do we need these guys for?” So when you’ve dealt with that, and clearly you have multiyear relationships with your clients, how do you overcome that particular concept of they’re threatened by you? 

Bart Mroz [00:06:16] We don’t sit in that meeting, but for us, it’s always been understanding that our job is to walk in the client and make them better than we left them. But that means most of those answers are going to be with the people that been there forever. So, in reality, as a consultant, our job is to take those people’s  sort of answers and present them to the management and go, “Hey, this is what’s had to happen.” 

By the way, we’ll work with your team because they know better how to implement them. So that’s kind of like a weird way of looking at it, but it gets us on the same page with the people actually doing the work. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:52] Yeah. So we’re talking about client experience and how emotionally charged client relationships can be. We just discussed one of the emotions, which is threatened. Another one that I run into all the time is clients can be worried. And what I mean that is they can be worried that you’re going to make them look bad in the process. 

So in that example that you just gave us, you’re working with the team, and you uncover an answer to a problem. You present it up to management. Does the team ever feel like you’re going to make them look bad? And how do you get around that? 

Bart Mroz [00:07:20] I think it’s more of they might. But we don’t feel that just because we tried to make that relationship with that team very solid and the knowledge between the two. I don’t. It’s a weird way of looking at it, but the teams kind of jive really well within the first few weeks. We go through a we call it… We have what we call our discovery process, a weight-in, and it’s a longer process, but it’s that whole relationship building at the same time while we’re actually learning the client’s business. 

It’s a part of that and I think just being in the trenches of with people and going, we can help you. That’s where it doesn’t. It’s the trust factor. Eventually, I think that from many years of doing this, we have this weird knack of being very friendly and making sure those guys are together because we know where some of that work comes from. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:22] Yeah. So this process you just mentioned the weight-in which obviously works very nicely with the name of your firm. Is this like a formal process to try to overcome some of these trust issues? 

Bart Mroz [00:08:35] Yes, it is what we start our relationships with every time or our projects. It’s a two-month  process. It’s very structured, with a lot of phone calls and a lot of Zoom calls, and it’s spread out between, it depends on the client. We work in e-commerce. The ferocity they’re looking at includes, what the client needs, what the business looks like, what the tools are, and code reviews. Those kinds  of things are very important. It’s very structured on purpose. It’s also very long. It’s not your typical discovery. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:03] Yeah, I love it. I think it’s a great idea. And what I like about it is that it’s built for scale, meaning every client goes through the way. And so all of your employees, after a while, are going to get really good at conducting the weigh-in, and you’re hardwiring the client experience right into the delivery of the work. 

And that’s probably one of the reasons why your client relationships are so long and tenure. Okay, let’s talk about another emotion, which is ignorance. You know, you’re clearly an expert, and you go into your clients, and they might not know as much as you know about this particular thing. And you know, they might feel stupid at times. So during the weigh-in  process, how do you help them open up and not feel dumb? 

Bart Mroz [00:09:43] It’s asking those questions and making sure my sort of employees, my staff, all the management understand it’s not. It’s asking questions, right? And no question is wrong. It’s about their business. So, in reality, the way we walk in is like, “Sure. We know how to solve a problem.” But, the client knows their business, right? 

They might not know what kind of tools they need to solve that problem. But our job is to kind of get that from them. So I feel like that’s the weird reverse. Like, that’s where it kind of reversed that is that we’re just curious basically about the business itself. And then we work through, “All right. Hey, listen, you know, you have an old system, you’ve been in the business for a while. Let’s help you go through that.” And that’s asking questions. 

How to Earn Client Trust When Growing Your Consulting Business

Greg Alexander [00:10:28] Yeah, OK. All right. Then one more emotion that I’d like to share with you and see if the weigh-in process, which is your client experience journey, addresses this, and that is this issue of suspicion. You know, sometimes relationships get destroyed because people are suspicious, like, who are these guys? And can I trust them? You know, it takes time to earn trust. And even though the weigh-in process is long, by most standards, it’s still short. It’s only a couple of months. So how do you earn trust that quickly? 

Bart Mroz [00:11:01] So a lot of the clients we have now are coming from people who left and went to other places. And some of them, I think, would just find a client that the guy that the person that brought us in, he’s on his fourth. So you just bring us in. But this is just over the years working through sort of the process of learning people, understanding them. And then, in reality, it’s having a good reference network. 

I mean, that’s you know, and I know that’s may be a cop-out , but it isn’t. If it’s a brand new, we’ve never seen a person before, that is just making sure that we are  making them comfortable, making sure they are comfortable. And we had sort of one. I think we’ve had weigh-ins  where we do for just two months, and we get to a point where it’s like, “Guys, this product is not going to go anywhere. Or, you can take it. It’s too small for us to actually execute. You can take this whole plan with you and go ahead. And people had come back to us or went somewhere else. So that’s our trust, but that’s the trust we built. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:06] Yeah, that’s fantastic. All right. Well, I love it. I mean, this is a best practice here. So for those listening to this, challenge yourself to do what Bart does, which is document your client experience, not just the quality of your work. Think about the emotional context of your client and how you build trust quickly. 

Maybe come up with your version of the weigh-in , and it will go a long way as you try to scale a business. And Bart’s an example because his client relationships are measured in years, not weeks and months, which most of us are. 

Well, Bart, thanks again, man. I appreciate you being here and dropping mad wisdom on us. And for those that want to learn more about this subject or others like it, you can find our book called “The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell A Professional Services Firm” on Amazon. I’m proud to say I just became a bestseller in our niche, and if those of you who are interested in meeting bright, capable people like Bart, consider joining our mastermind  community, and you can find us at Collective54.com. Bart, thanks again. I appreciate it. 

Bart Mroz [00:13:09] Thank you so much. This was great. Greg Alexander [00:13:10] OK, take care.