David Gens started Merchant Advance Capital in 2010 when he was just 22. The idea for the business was to create a lender for small businesses who were being turned down by banks.
Gens learned the hard way the importance of not depending on just one or two large clients during the winter of 2013 when two of his largest clients went belly up at the same time.
“One thing that almost sunk me is that I didn’t diversify enough,” he said.
“Everyone intuitively knows that’s a bad situation, and I thought I was smart enough to avoid that situation. But when you’re growing your company you feel like you’re on top of the world and you want to keep growing, so you kind of sweep those reservations under a rug.”
Gens happened to be on the road with a band he was in at the time, and he recalls being on the phone almost constantly trying to save his business while driving across Canada in bitterly cold weather in a van with his eight bandmates. In the end, all of Gens’ frantic efforts didn’t make much of a difference – the businesses went bankrupt, “and we got wiped.”
“That was a really bizarre week in my business,” he said. “I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to make it through.”
In retrospect, Gens sees where he went wrong.
“I didn’t need to do transactions that big. I was definitely chasing something there.”
Although the business was less profitable that year and fundraising was more difficult in the short term, Gens did manage to save his business. Gens and the chairman of his board also worked to put in place safeguards for the future.
“We immediately implemented maximum position sizes, we put in place a credit committee – we put a lot of processes in place to make sure that would never happen again.”
On being straightforward | “[During the crisis] I immediately talked to my chairman, who represents the interests of a lot of the investors that are in my fund, [and was] transparent about what had happened. ... One thing I did do right was I was very transparent. I think that’s why I was able to attract capital when I was very young and didn’t have a track record of my own. I would never try to position things strategically; I was just being straight up.”
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