Closing Your Dream Deal Is Easy When You Talk It Out, Say Joel and Quinn

Quinn Cox found the perfect buyer for Giving Bag in under two weeks. Joel Lowinger fit his ideal buyer profile – a mission-driven marketing expert who matched Quinn’s values. But the more the two talked, the more they saw the potential in a partnership, not just an acquisition. 

Giving Bag partners with hotels to help guests donate clothing, shoes, books, and other gently used items to local charities via a branded bag inside their room. After running the business for nearly a decade, Quinn and his wife, Lilia, listed Giving Bag on Acquire.com to find a full-time marketer and operator to take the reins. 

Enter Joel. 

Joel and Quinn hit it off during the first few calls. They talked about their backgrounds, families, and goals for the future. When Joel recognized how close they’d become, he proposed buying a partial stake in the company, working as a partner to elevate Giving Bag’s performance. 

Have Joel and Quinn been successful? Read on to discover how pursuing a new deal structure helped Quinn achieve his acquisition goals and gain a lifelong friend. 

The Winning Idea That Helped Bootstrap a Startup

Quinn grew up wanting to become the general manager of a Four Seasons hotel. He imagined traveling the world, bouncing between Four Seasons properties until he rose to a managerial position. 

In his sophomore year at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, Quinn met Lilia. She says the two quickly bonded over “our shared love for travel, sustainability, and dreaming up creative ideas.” Within a few months, they started dating.

While Quinn ran multiple side hustles as a kid, Lilia first explored entrepreneurship at Cornell. Together, they entered a business sustainability competition, and Lilia proposed the winning idea. 

“She saw that a lot of the swag you get at conferences, like t-shirts or water bottles, often gets left in the hotel room,” Quinn says. “And the hotel is required, in many cases, to put those items in the lost and found for three to six months, even though you’ll never claim them.” 

“Our idea was to solve this inefficient lost and found process and create a way to donate those items to local charities instead of leaving them there unused,” he adds. 

To Quinn and Lilia’s surprise, several hotels wanted to test their idea, so they invested all $2,000 of their winnings into bootstrapping Giving Bag.  

The Struggles of Juggling One Too Many Projects

Quinn and Lilia didn’t expect to build a startup when they first entered the sustainability competition. Still in school and planning to work other jobs post-grad, they were excited to see where they could take Giving Bag with their early clients. But they needed to balance the business with other competing priorities.

Quinn and Lilia tested different business models over the next few years. Both worked full-time and spent their free hours brainstorming ways to handle Giving Bag’s logistics. It reached a point where the couple had to decide whether to give the startup all of their time.

“It’s the nature of an entrepreneur to have lots of ideas and projects at once. There are competing priorities at different times,” Quinn says. “But it probably took us two years to understand that Giving Bag was something we wanted to spend time on. We won this competition. We had a couple of hotels reaching out. But what could we provide?”

They finally settled on licensing Giving Bag to hotels in Europe and Asia. The hotels would receive logos and marketing materials for their bags, and Giving Bag would organize the collection and delivery of donated items to local charities. Since launch, the startup has worked with top global hotels such as Four Seasons, Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Le Bristol, Alila Hotels & Resorts, Taj Hotels, Six Senses, Shinsho-An, and more. 

Problem solved – or so they thought. Just when Quinn and Lilia planned to invest more into Giving Bag’s marketing, the pandemic struck a blow to the hospitality industry. 

The couple paused their marketing plan and focused on other projects. Lilia stepped back from Giving Bag to focus full-time on her other startup, becoming a silent partner and leaving Quinn to expand the business solo. By mid-2022, they both felt the startup needed someone new to rejuvenate the business.

“We realized we needed additional hands to help us scale,” Quinn says. “The business needed a push of energy.” 

Third Startup’s the Charm

Joel Lowinger had already launched two startups before meeting Quinn. He believes that “any person, with any budget, can find a way to launch a business.” No matter how big or small the startup, he enjoys being scrappy and doing whatever it takes to build momentum and revenue. 

In 2015, two years after graduating, Joel started Digital Stairway, offering SEO, social media, website analytics, and other digital marketing services to clients. 

Since then, Joel has helped over 100 businesses with their digital marketing campaigns. Many companies he worked with were fellow startups trying to reach their target audiences. 

After the pandemic hit and TikTok’s popularity surged, Joel became invested in the app and its marketing potential. He posted recreational TikToks with his comedy group and learned how to attract followers and create traction. During lockdown, Joel launched TikTalk Marketing Agency to help other businesses grow their digital audience. 

Joel spent almost a decade in marketing, but in 2022, he started thinking about a new direction. 

“I enjoy the different marketing work that I do, and I like helping companies grow and find creative solutions. But I also had the itch to run a company that wasn’t marketing related,” Joel says. “I decided to follow Acquire.com’s advice. Instead of starting a business, I’d look for one that’s already had success, getting rid of some of the headaches of starting one myself.”

Joel spent three to four months browsing Acquire.com’s marketplace for the right business to invest in. His criteria? “I tried to find something that created more value in the world. I was looking for something that was already profitable. A startup whose founder seemed like a good and reputable person. And something original,” Joel says. 

After exploring ten different businesses that didn’t quite fit, Joel finally stumbled across Quinn’s listing for Giving Bag on Acquire.com.

Patching Together a Partnership

On their first call together, Quinn and Joel broke the ice by joking that their similar haircuts made them look like brothers. The laughter dissolved any first-meeting jitters. 

Quinn soon learned that Joel’s experience in marketing and advertising perfectly matched what Giving Bag needed in a new owner. But he also learned, from Joel’s friendly conversation, that the buyer had connections in the hospitality industry.

“I was asking myself, does he understand the industry and what we’re doing? Is he mission-driven? Does he care about what we’re doing? Or is it just a business transaction for him? A lot of those values matched up,” Quinn says. 

Joel quickly saw how their complementary skills could help Giving Bag scale. While Quinn initially tried to sell Joel on the business, Joel now had to sell Quinn on himself. 

“We took a different approach than your typical Acquire acquisition,” Joel says. “It started with Quinn selling me on the value of Giving Bag and why it would be a great company to acquire. I countered with an offer for a stake in the company and working to develop more equity.” 

Joel gave Quinn a month-by-month rundown of how he’d boost Giving Bag’s marketing performance. Quinn listened and suggested different KPIs and priorities for the marketing team. The dynamic quickly shifted from a buyer communicating with a seller to potential partners seeing if they would gel. 

“When we spoke, it was a test for both of us to see what it would be like speaking regularly and working together,” Joel says. “We weren’t just trying to learn about a company, but also about each other. Clicking so easily made our conversations very straightforward and personable.” 

Instead of debating closing conditions and purchase price, Joel and Quinn mostly negotiated Joel’s new role in the company. How much sweat equity would he contribute? What were his goals for the marketing department? How could they align on Giving Bag’s future? 

Joel says they were mostly on the same page when planning their partnership. His skill set matched what Giving Bag needed to help streamline negotiations. But Joel has some advice for other founders looking into partnerships. 

“Be open to different partnership structures. Several different types of partnerships exist, so it’s important to find the right one for you,” Joel says. “Also, establish open and transparent communication channels from the start. Regular check-ins, meetings, and clear lines of communication have helped us maintain a healthy partnership. Lastly, develop a comprehensive partnership agreement that outlines the terms, obligations, and expectations.”

Joel and Quinn finalized their partnership agreement after just two months, closing in mid-February 2023. Joel acquired a partial stake in the company, and the two kicked off their new partnership that same month. 

Becoming BFFs: Business Friends Forever

When Quinn first listed Giving Bag on Acquire.com, he hoped to find a mission-driven buyer to take over. Instead, he found a new partner to help give his startup the momentum it needed. 

“The agreement we came up with was probably what my ideal scenario would have been. I initially pursued a full acquisition because I thought bringing on a partner would draw things out,” Quinn says. “But the process exceeded my expectations of how smooth it would be.” 

Over the next few months, the two reached a level of trust and camaraderie that has Quinn wishing he’d brought Joel on ages ago. 

The duo is already hard at work expanding Giving Bag’s market. While Quinn works to connect with more hotels and offer more services, Joel focuses on brand recognition and reaching new markets. He’s created a consistent content calendar [including for Instagram and LinkedIn], fine-tuned the website, improved client relationships, and worked on new growth channels for the brand. In between weekly updates, the two catch up over the phone regularly. 

Giving Bag likely wouldn’t be where it is today if either partner had tried to tackle everything on his own. But together, they can play off each other’s strengths to help the business grow. 

Quinn and Joel’s advice for other founders and buyers? Build rapport during those initial conversations. What you learn from your fellow negotiator could improve your deal and what you get out of it. 

“Acquire.com was fantastic in helping us move the deal forward quickly. But I also learned a lot by taking the time to talk to people. Get advice from others about your pitch, business description, ideal buyer, and profile,” Quinn says. “The more conversations you have, the more you’ll know who you want to acquire your business or become your partner.” 

Joel adds, “If you’re going to reach out to someone, do it with intent rather than send a copy-paste message. Look for a company that you can be proud of and have fun with.”

Watching them together, it’s easy to see how much fun Quinn and Joel have with one another. Was it luck that brought them together in the marketplace? Perhaps. But it was that natural connection that helped them become true friends and partners.

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