“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time–none, zero.”
Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway
Entrepreneur Owner-Manager Background
While Mark Taylor was working as an architect, happily designing innovative residences and commercial buildings in California, he had no idea that he was about to become an accidental entrepreneur and positively impact the lives of millions of children.
In the early 1930s, Mark’s grandfather, a researcher, inventor, and educator, had developed a series of products that were used to measure eye movement. These products were used in reading clinics around the country to help children who were struggling with reading. In the 1950s Mark’s father took up leadership of the company, advancing it and its product offering, and publishing a landmark research study linking eye movement to comprehension-based silent reading rates. By the end of the 1990s however, the business was struggling to transition from a hardware business to a software business. Mark agreed to temporarily join the company to help with this transition. He said he’d do it for three years.
Fifteen years later and through many transitions, Mark became the sole owner and CEO of Reading Plus–a leading education technology company serving over 4,500 schools and helping millions of kids improve their reading skills. Not only had Mark stayed beyond his original time commitment, he had relocated the company from New York to Vermont, recruited an experienced senior management team, and fully transitioned the Reading Plus business model from “selling products” to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
In 2017, Mark was introduced to Bigelow by a mutual friend. The very next day he drove from Burlington, VT to Portsmouth, NH to meet with us to tell us his story. And so began a multi-year relationship with Bigelow.
“My dad, grandfather, and great uncle were brilliant engineers and passionate about education, specifically about the role that the eyes played in the process of reading. How we move our eyes and how that allows us to take information in, in a way that steps beyond the conventional way of teaching reading.” Mark Taylor, CEO Reading Plus, LLC
“I see myself as a puzzle maker. I think to have an interesting puzzle you need interesting ingredients, something that’s worthy of solving. I tend to put together the pieces in a way that allows others to help construct something that’s bigger than any of us.” Mark Taylor, CEO Reading Plus, LLC
What emerged from that first Bigelow meeting was a clear picture. In order to scale the business to the size it could be, helping millions of children who need better reading skills, it needed an evolved sales strategy that matched its SaaS model. Mark took a snapshot of his personal goals and realized he was not the “best fit” guy to do that. His passion was developing a world-class solution that helped kids to read, not selling to school boards and districts. It was time to find a new majority investor who could execute on the new sales strategy and bring in a new CEO.
Like most EOM businesses, the company had work to do, so Bigelow worked with Mark to develop a plan for what the company should do to get ready to choose a new majority investor. A third-party market study to confirm the market size and opportunity, a re-branding initiative and new website to better articulate the company’s value proposition, hiring a new sales leader, and some initial changes to the sales model that would be the pre-cursor to a broader, more strategic move to supplement the existing reseller network with a direct sales team.
A year or so later, as the business began to get some traction on the plan, focus shifted to the things that would need to be done ahead of a transaction itself-a quality of earnings report, hiring an M&A attorney, and some estate planning.
The Reading Plus team executed the plan flawlessly.
Two years after meeting Mark, and with the benefit of a robust plan and thoughtful preparation, Bigelow was able to identify and attract the highest caliber education investors to Reading Plus. With significant input from his senior management team, Mark chose to recapitalize the business with Sterling Partners Education Opportunity Fund.
Sterling’s Education Opportunity Fund was launched in partnership with Strada Education Network, a mission-driven, nonprofit organization with a focus on promoting a more purposeful path for students to and through college and on to rewarding careers and successful lives. The cultural and mission fit could not have been stronger.
The management team are now meaningful owners in the company and, day one, Mark was able to transition out of the CEO role and become Chairman.