In late 2018 I met with Tasia Duske (CEO) and Michael Alexis (Director of Marketing) at our usual lunch spot.
Tasia sat down and calmly said: “Nick, we want to take over Museum Hack.”
In movies featuring hostile takeovers, this is the part where my character is supposed to flip the table and call my lawyers. I didn’t do that (yet).
Before I tell you how much money I’ll get and how we came to terms, allow me to set the stage.
A Brief History
Way back in 2011 is when I started leading renegade museum tours. I called the project Hack the Met; it was just me, my harmonica, and my friends appreciating art in a new way. My TEDx talk features how I got started.
Museum Hack has grown a lot since then. Our revenue last year was $2.8 million. We brought tens of thousands of people to a museum for the first time. That momentum landed us a spot in the Inc 5000 as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America.
In January of 2018 I promoted Tasia to CEO . She and Michael had been running the company (very effectively) without me during the past 18 months.
Right up until our lunch meeting, I was having a hard time designing a compensation plan to keep them both around. I was thinking about things like profit share, ghost equity, and bonus options.
Selling them the company wasn’t even on my radar.
My Questions On A Sale
I was intrigued by Tasia and Michael’s offer. A sale could keep both of them on board and would totally free me up for something new. But I had some questions:
- What would it mean to give up my company? Museum Hack was the main work product of my 30s. It has been my most successful personal project. What would happen to that legacy? And will my side-hustle cataloging New York City’s best dumpling spots ever meet that potential? (Spoiler: it won’t, but I still love it).
- Where the heck would we start negotiations? The sale of Flight Display Systems in 2014 was entirely different (and I was hardly involved). I wasn’t sure how we would negotiate the price, deal structure, or contract terms.
Despite my initial questions, I knew in my heart that I wanted to sell and that Tasia and Michael were the best possible buyers.
Over the past four years, I’ve worked with them as business partners and close friends. I knew that they would take Museum Hack to its highest potential. And even though selling my company was frightening, I left that lunch meeting more excited than scared.
Details of The Deal
The way we structured the sale is unique and could be helpful for other business owners. If you’re interested in the details of how we negotiated terms or have specific questions, let me know in the comments. I’ll write more next week about the specific terms.
Three things I can share now:
- I’ll receive a seven-figure sum. I’m not a billionaire yet, but the sale will fund at least a few more of my poorly-timed stock market picks.
- I still own 15% of Museum Hack. I’m happy with this. The growth potential is big and achievable.
- It was a seller-financed transaction. Seller-financed means the buyer takes on a debt to the seller. The business serves as collateral to make sure the debt is paid. Doing it that way provided us with unique opportunities to make it win-win. I’ll get more money and Tasia and Michael have less risk.
Once we started talking about how much to sell and at what value, that’s when the fun of negotiating began. If you’re interested in reading about that, leave a comment or let me know. Then I’ll share how it all went down in a new post. Or join my Friends Newsletter here and I’ll email you those notes when I publish them.
The Exciting Next Chapter
We completed the sale and transfer of ownership six months ago.
Today, Museum Hack is doing better than ever. They are taking on new projects I never could have done. Michael recently told me that they landed something huge that I’d wanted to do for years and was never able to pull off. They’ll share that news in the coming months.
As for me and what’s next, I look forward to researching BDCs, making my list of IR firms, and finally finishing my book. It’s a super simple guide to teach you how to throw small cocktail parties that help you build big work relationships and make new friends. It will come out next year. I also plan to keep traveling the world. It is a privilege to enjoy this luxury of free time. I hope to do good things with what I have.
I’m still invested in Museum Hack’s future, both in heart and with my share of the equity. I’m an advisor to the company and look forward to seeing where Tasia and Michael take it next.
Thank You Notes
Many people have contributed to Museum Hack over the years. I want to thank all of our tour guides, managers, support team, contractors, customers, the museum world, suppliers, journalists, friends, my mother (thank you Mom!), and many more.
Tasia Duske should be called the Queen of Business Transitions. There was an insane amount of work that went into coordinating the transfer of operations. And you definitely want Michael Alexis on your side in a negotiation.
To everyone who provided guidance as I navigated the sale: I’m forever grateful.
To my team of lawyers: I couldn’t have paid tens of thousands in legal fees without you.
Thanks to Bud Hennekes, Brian Kurtzman, Bryan Harris, Regan Starr, Cathryn Lavery, Noah Kagan, Dan Pierson, Danielle Strle, Judhajit De, Hagan Blount, Taylor McKnight, and George Bryant for reading a draft of this post. Michael Alexis helped me write the majority of it. Any edits or errors are my own.
- Business Case Study: Growing Museum Hack Past $3 Million
- Museum Hack Featured In Bloomberg Businessweek
- New York Times Feature On Museum Hack
- Game of Thrones Star Joins a Museum Hack Tour
- Museum Hack featured in Chicago Tribune
- Private Party at The Met Museum For My 36th Birthday
- Tasia Duske Promoted to CEO of Museum Hack
- My TEDx talk: How I learned to stop hating and love museums
- [VIDEO] How To Best Visit A Museum, by Nick Gray