Before the pandemic hit in 2020, Create & Cultivate, a community for women professionals and entrepreneurs, was focused on in-person events.
When the spread of COVID-19 pushed everyone online, founder Jaclyn Johnson quickly pivoted to virtual events, which allowed the bootstrapped company to continue to grow — and she sold a majority stake the next year for $22 million.
The Los Angeles-based company reached 1 million women monthly through online platforms and saw 7-figure profitability in 2020, Johnson said. Create & Cultivate, which had 17 employees at the time of sale, was acquired by private equity firm Corridor Capital in March 2021.
“We have always had a content piece of the business, but I would say about 70% of our revenue was events, and 30% digital products and services,” Johnson told Forbes. “In 2020, we simply flipped those numbers and were able to move quickly because we had the infrastructure and teams in place to make it happen.”
Programming for a virtual audience was untapped but not a new idea for Create & Cultivate. They launched a podcast, WorkParty, in 2018, then a membership club in 2019, and ramped up e-commerce offerings before the pandemic shutdown of in-person events and conferences.
Still, selling the company was “challenging” given it was an events-focused business amid a global pandemic, Johnson told They Got Acquired. As her brand thrived digitally, similar companies that could no longer host in-person gatherings failed because they were unable to capitalize on the online experience.
What made Create & Cultivate an appealing acquisition
Johnson credited their mission-driven approach to serving career women as the key to retaining brand sponsorships such as Mastercard, Madewell, Apple TV and Amazon. These relationships were built over the years, she told Forbes, and when the pandemic hit, many sponsors prioritized supporting women-owned small businesses like themselves.
She worked with financial advisory firm Access Media Advisory for the acquisition, which specializes in media and communications companies.
This was Johnson’s second sale. She sold her first business, marketing agency No Subject, which was also bootstrapped, in 2016. She then invested $50,000 from that sale into Create & Cultivate, she told CNBC.
In April 2022, Create & Cultivate announced Kate Spies as the new chief executive officer, according to WWD (Women’s Wear Daily). Johnson stepped down as CEO and now serves as vice chair of the company.
Johnson is also working on New Money Ventures, a venture fund and brand studio.
Her advice to founders looking to exit? “Profitability,” she told They Got Acquired, “is key.”