The BluWave Story
Growing up in a large, entrepreneurial family in Texas, Sean followed an unquestioned path that led him to study in D.C, to then investment banking in New York, to a nearly 20-year career in private equity. Learn why Sean decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee, to start building BluWave in 2016, how he managed the highest highs and lowest lows in the early days, and why it wasn’t a straight path to Rome.
Welcome to BluWave's Karma School of Business. I'm Sean Mooney, the founder and CEO of BluWave. Today, we're gonna talk about the BluWave origin story. Some say life is a circle rather than a line. The BluWave story certainly fits this perspective. The short story of BluWave is as follows. BluWave is a culmination of life growing up in a large entrepreneurial family, as a child thinking someday I'd work with great people to build and grow a business like my dad John did. Like many, as I grew up, I ended up following an almost unquestioned path of checking boxes and chasing ribbons and medals. This path ultimately led me to a great college in Washington, DC, and then to investment banking, New York, and ultimately to a nearly 20-year career in the amazing private equity industry. Eventually, after lots of hard work and learning from years of working with some of the best business builders in the world, and candidly, with admiration, probably people who are much smarter than I am,
Sean Mooney (01:04):
I achieved what I thought was my ultimate goal of becoming a partner at a top private equity firm in New York. Once I got there though, almost inexplicably, I couldn't help but feel like something was missing. In 2015, I began taking my blinders off and started to look around thinking, entrepreneurially, how to make the business a private equity better. I came up with a solution to a key challenge I experienced while trying to more effectively assess opportunities and build companies with more speed and certainty. The solution was what eventually became BluWave. Originally, my plan was to back the concept of BluWave because that's what people like me did. The thought of personally doing BluWave, candidly, was really scary. I think I was at that point much more comfortable saying than doing, but at that point in time, I eventually remembered my dream as a kid was to start a company.
Sean Mooney (01:57):
I think no doubt enabled by an early-forties midlife crisis, I eventually said, ‘What the heck? You only live once. I’m gonna go do this thing.’ My wife, somehow, amazingly went along with this plan. We then did what everyone thought was absolutely crazy. I spun out of a nice job with a great PE firm and decided to do a startup called BluWave. As a side note, I really love the name BluWave on a number of levels, is it completely resonates with me when I was thinking about building a company and all the experiences, ups and downs that go along with it. All the credit goes to my wife, who came up with the name. For those in and around Fairfield County, Connecticut, you might find the name familiar, particularly if your kids play sports. As we got started, we realized if we were gonna do a startup, it would cost twice as much to launch a company where I lived in the New York area.
Sean Mooney (02:46):
So I did a market study, which led us to this utterly fantastic city of Nashville, Tennessee. In 2016, we threw caution to the wind, loaded up the truck, and moved to Tennessee. From there, it became immediately clear to me that if BluWave was left to my own devices, we'd be in a lot of trouble. So I brought in a group of really smart friends in the PE ecosystem as investors who could be a legion of advisors to me. I heavily leaned on my dad John, and brother Tim, and father-in-law Mike for entrepreneurial advice. And then as quick as possible, I brought in much better people than myself to help build BluWave and grow the company. Since our founding we've been pretty successful, but particularly in the early days, it was not a straight path to roam. Early on, we had ups and downs and sideways, and I had lots of sleepless nights. During the first couple of years, I’d say I had the highest highs and the lowest lows, probably seven times a day.
Sean Mooney (03:41):
I’ll definitely admit that it was a lot harder starting something from nothing than I thought it would be. During the first year in particular, I was having a really hard time getting the business going. In the middle of a parking lot, across from our first office, was a standalone building that housed a dentist’s office. As I was desperately trying to figure things out, I would literally walk around that dental office for hours at a time trying to figure things out. Pretty much every day I was having near panic attacks saying, ‘What have I done?’ I was thinking to myself, ‘Not only am I gonna fail and lose my friends’ money and my own money, but I'm also going to be accused of being some sort of sicko who likes watching people get their teeth cleaned at this dentist’s office.’ Thankfully, that never happened. However, during that time I learned probably one of the most important questions of starting a business,
Sean Mooney (04:31):
and that was that you need to ask for help. So my walks around the parking lot turned into call sessions where I would call everyone I knew for advice. My brother, Tim, gave me some great advice during probably some of the darkest days. Tim was an entrepreneur who started a company of his own. One day, I called him really distraught, almost, you know, candidly, on the verge of tears. And he shared as an entrepreneur, you gotta be resilient. He used this phrase that I'll never forget. He said, “You gotta stay in the batter’s box.” And he just said, “You gotta keep on swinging and foul tipping until you figure it out. And you'll eventually start getting the bat on the ball, and then you're gonna get on base, and then you’re gonna get home eventually.” So the team and I doubled down, tried things different ways, and eventually started figuring things out. And as I reflect back on the early days, I think truly because of a lot of generosity of others who freely shared great advice, in combination with our team's utter tenacity, grit, cleverness, commitment to focusing on listening, asking our customers what they wanted, and then serving and supporting the success of others in a Karma School of Business way, the flywheel started spinning faster and faster,
Sean Mooney (05:41):
and five private equity fund customers became 50, became a hundred, became 200, became 300, 400, 500, and so on. Today, we've been able to create a category that hasn't existed in the business world before. If you fast forward six years, the really top-notch team at BluWave is building a company that's now trusted by more than 500 leading PE firms and thousands of proactive companies to connect them with the very best-in-class service providers they need, the exact time they need them, for a wide range of multi-variable outsource business needs. In 2021, we were very proud to be named to the top 3% of the Inc. 5,000, which brings me to the problem we solved. When I was in PE, I needed lots of third parties to help us expertly assess companies before we invested in them and build value afterwards. As it may resonate with our listeners, the problem was that it was hard to build a business using third parties.
Sean Mooney (06:40):
We had a long tail of episodic needs. As a PE investor, my team and I looked at hundreds of companies a year. Each one was different. Every company we invested in was different. So each of the third-party service providers we needed had to be slightly different, and in a specialized way. At the same time, while our portfolio company leaders would insource their 80% needs, they needed to outsource 20% of their non-core needs to grow in a best-in-breed way. So, my PE team, our PCO leaders, my peers at other PE firms, and I spent a crazy amount of time, literally Googling “problem in industry” and probably adding private equity at the end of the search string and, and calling friends saying, “Do you know someone who does this?” It was time-intensive and delivered mixed-at-best results. I got to thinking for my personal leads, I can go to Amazon for consumer products, Angie's List for my house, and Yelp for restaurants, but for any business need more sophisticated than a logo or data entry,
Sean Mooney (07:43):
I had nowhere to go. So what we did is we Googled and called friends every day. At the same time, the really good service providers were equally frustrated with this dynamic. One day, a service provider friend of mine called me. And while I was still in PE, and I'll never forget this, he said, “Sean, you're on fire, and I sell fire extinguishers, but you're too busy to pick up the phone unless I call you at the exact time my fire extinguisher puts out the exact fire that's burning your ankles at the time.” And as I thought about it, I realized he was completely right. I and my teams wanted to know him and wanted to know people like him. We wanted to know the best-at-best in advance, but I just didn't have any time because I couldn't forecast my needs and felt like I was constantly surrounded by fires and could only focus on the most pressing needs at any one given time.
Sean Mooney (08:32):
So late at night, I started thinking, ‘What I wish I had was something like a Gartner Magic Quadrant meets an Amazon or Yelp on steroids for business.’ I needed a marketplace, meets a network, meets a four-by-four consultancy framework that’s filled with only the best resources and is smart enough to solve the multivariable needs that I had. That late-night epiphany became BluWave. BluWave evolved into a, an intelligent marketplace that solved the problems my friends and business and I had. We use a combination of technology, data, AI engines, and very importantly brains to understand our client needs and expertly calibrate the matches between needs and skills. We have a dedicated research team that pre-vets resources and invites them into our universe based on validated PE grade reputations for excellence. We treat our customers and service providers with a human touch that they deserve and want, and interact in an intellectual white-glove way
Sean Mooney (09:33):
So our clients can focus on all of the other fires that are burning their ankles and not spend wasteful, ineffective time filling out forms, Googling, sifting through countless unvetted RFP-type responses. Ultimately, our core job is to embrace the Karma School of Business, supporting the success of two groups by bringing really good together with really good at the exact time they need to know each other, in a situation that maximizes success. Every day, we're called as kind of a Batphone by the top business leaders in the world in private equity, and thousands of portfolio and independent company leaders. We're connecting them with specialized PE-grade service providers, independent consultants, interim executives, you name it, with those in need of their power alleys. We're doing so across due diligence and value creation and preparing-for-sale needs across every single functional area of a company. PE firms and companies of all sizes, from lower middle market to the largest of large cap private equity firms, are using the BluWave engine to save time, get better results by seamlessly connecting them with the exceptional third parties that can uniquely and specifically support their success.
Sean Mooney (10:42):
All of this has been enabled by a flywheel business model that spins faster and faster, and it's gotten better and better across thousands and thousands of projects. At this point, we with very rare exception know everyone and everything our clients need before they need them and in real time, understanding how the ecosystem changes every day. Working with our team to build this multi-variable fly engine has been one of the most rewarding things I think I've ever done. Don't tell my kids that; they're slightly ahead, but this is pretty close. So that's the BluWave story so far. We're still very much in the early innings and have a mantra of you never get close to the finish line. Thank you for listening to our origin story. Please continue to look for us anywhere you find your favorite podcasts, including Google, Apple, and Spotify. We truly appreciate your support. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, review, and share. In the meantime, let us know if there's anything we can do to support your success. Onward.
BluWave Founder & CEO Sean Mooney hosts the Private Equity Karma School of Business Podcast. BluWave is the business builders’ network for private equity grade due diligence and value creation needs.
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