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Very few people have built, grown, and sold more online businesses than Brian Casel. He has experience with everything from WordPress themes to productized services to SaaS.
Brian’s largest exit came in September 2021 when he sold Audience Ops, a content creation agency that produces blog posts, case studies, podcasts, and videos. The upper six-figure sale represented the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
As a serial entrepreneur, it’s no surprise that Brian has two other businesses that he’s growing today. More details on those businesses later, but first let’s look at how he grew and sold Audience Ops.
In January of 2008, Brian Casel left his full-time job as a front-end developer to go out on his own. For the first few years, he did a lot of design and development work for clients before focusing on his own businesses and products.
Brian’s first products were premium WordPress themes. He launched his theme shop, ThemeJam, in 2009 and grew it for several years before selling the business in 2015.
In 2011, Brian launched Restaurant Engine, a SaaS built on WordPress. Restaurants could easily launch and maintain their own websites using Restaurant Engine, which Brian also sold in 2015 for a six-figure sum.
Starting and Growing Audience Ops
After selling ThemeJam and Restaurant Engine, Brian started Audience Ops, which he thought would be a temporary project until he figured out what his next “real business” would be. But despite the modest initial goals, Audience Ops quickly showed much bigger potential.
The business quickly grew to five figures in monthly recurring revenue. Brian started by reaching out to his existing network of business owners and SaaS founders. “I sent a personal email to a bunch of them to introduce them to this new done-for-you content service,” Brian said.
He designed a landing page and simply asked his contacts for feedback on the idea while also asking if they needed a content creation service. “The offer really resonated quite a bit with people right out of the gate,” Brian explained.
The fast growth of Audience Ops and the high level of demand proved the business had excellent potential. Over the next few years, the business continued to grow organically to the point that Brian had a team of 25 people running Audience Ops and serving hundreds of clients.
During the years that Brian owned Audience Ops (2015 – 2021), the business generated a few million dollars in revenue.
When asked about the keys to success with Audience Ops, Brian mentioned the fantastic team, including writers, assistants, and account managers. “Everyone was super talented and effective with executing our mission of delivering really predictable quality and consistency when it comes to content as a service.”
He also emphasized the importance of standardized processes and operating procedures, “making a service business operate like a really predictable machine.”
By 2018, Brian was mostly removed from the day-to-day operations of Audience Ops. He used that free time to expand his skill set, which ultimately led to a shift in his business focus. “I used the time in those years to learn how to code,” Brian said. “I learned how to build software products and launch multiple SaaS products myself.”
In 2021, with Audience Ops doing well and a growing passion for a different business model, Brian decided it was time to sell. He had launched Clarityflow (which was called ZipMessage at the time) and wanted to focus on it going forward.
Brian listed Audience Ops for sale on the Acquire.com marketplace and simultaneously reached out to his existing network. The Acquire.com listing led to a lot of interest, including an offer slightly above Brian’s asking price.
However, Brian also got another strong offer through his network from JD Gaffam. Brian accepted this offer because of his confidence in the buyer and the future of Audience Ops. The new owner retained Brian’s entire team to maintain smooth operations.
After selling Audience Ops, Brian decided to sell four other projects in his portfolio to free up even more of his time and focus. He sold Productize, ProcessKit, Sunrise KPI, and Thready through Acquire.com in 2021 and 2022.
Building to Sell
After starting, growing, and selling several online businesses, Brian has learned to keep the potential for an exit in mind from the start.
“I can’t predict what the future will hold for every business,” Brian said. “But I just assume that the most likely scenario for every new business that I ever start would be to sell it to someone else at some point down the road. That could be three years from now, that could be 10 years from now or longer.
“And with that in mind, I do take certain steps when I build the business to develop it as an asset that can be received and run by another owner, and the owner can still run and get value from the things I’m building now.”
Brian takes a very hands-on approach to his businesses early on, but he works to slowly remove himself from the day-to-day operations over time by hiring others or automating.
Brian’s Advice for Sellers
Brian has unique experience because he’s sold online businesses through a broker, a marketplace, and through his own network. He points out that each seller and project is unique, and there’s no right or wrong option for selling. Brain said, “It totally depends on each individual seller’s preference and the specific circumstance of each business.”
Back in 2015, when Brian sold Restaurant Engine through a broker, his network was much smaller than when he sold Audience Ops in 2021. He valued the broker’s ability to introduce him to potential buyers and provide assistance throughout the process. “I would still recommend using a broker if the business is large enough to justify the cost of a broker,” he said.
Brian believes that marketplaces like Acquire.com are generally a good option for sales that are six figures or below.
Brian’s Current Projects
After selling Audience Ops and a few smaller projects from his portfolio, Brian turned his focus toward Clarityflow. This asynchronous video tool makes it easy for coaches to communicate with clients or create and sell coaching programs.
Brian is also in the process of launching Instrumental Products, which helps business owners and entrepreneurs transition to a product-based business. With Brian’s track record and proven ability to create successful products, this venture seems like a natural fit.
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