Sara Heston & Peter Kelly – Stanford Search Fund Study – Ep.131

I’m joined by Sara Heston and Peter Kelly. Together at Stanford, Sara and Peter, among other projects and teaching, assemble the Stanford Search Study that has been released every year on even years. The study is widely considered the go-to resource for learning about search funds and is often the first resource shared with folks considering the path.

The first study in 1996 was only two pages long, and the 2022 study released in July is over 30 pages, reflecting both the growth in the Search Fund Model and the increased availability of data. Our conversation covers the purpose of the study, it’s evolution since 1996, a half-dozen interesting trends they have observed among Search Funds, characteristics of ideal Searchers, and data sets they want to add to the study in future years. Enjoy.

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Email Sara here:  [email protected] 

Sara Heston on LinkedIn 

Peter Kelly on LinkedIn

2022 Search Fund Study

Search Fund Primer


(1:32) – What’s the background and genesis behind this broad Search Fund Study?

(3:28) – How has the audience changed over time and what are the goals of those reading the data?

(6:28) – What are some decisions you’ve seen made by people utilizing the study?

(8:02) – What’s the methodology for putting together the study?

(9:48) – What are some of the most notable things you’ve added to the study over the years as it’s grown?

(13:10) – Where do you get ideas for new data sets to add?

(15:27) – What are some interesting trends you’re paying attention to based on the study?

(18:49) – Why do you think you’re seeing a spike in returns?

(21:58) – How much of the rise in multiples is due to the 10-year bull market we’ve had?

(26:59) – Is there anything else notable you’ve noticed that’s influencing Searcher equity?

(29:22) – How have you seen exits evolve over time?

(31:53) – Are there any interesting sets of characteristics that the best Searchers have?

(37:07) – Do you see Searchers who feel out of their element building teams around them to pad weaknesses?

(39:20) – What are your thoughts on Partnered Searches?

(42:14) – What are some data sets you’d be excited to add to future studies?

(45:53) – Do you have a sense of how large the self-funded Search community is?

(47:39) – How can folks in the community help make studies more robust?

(49:31) – What strongly held belief have you changed your mind on?

(53:45) – What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?

Think Like an Owner Sponsors:

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Hood & Strong, LLP — Hood & Strong is a CPA firm with a long history of working with search funds and private equity firms on diligence, assurance, tax services, and more. Hood & Strong is highly skilled in working with search funds, providing quality of earnings and due diligence services during the search, along with assurance and tax services post-acquisition. They offer a unique way to approach acquisition diligence and manage costs effectively. To learn more about how Hood & Strong can help your search, acquisition, and beyond, please email one of their partners Jerry Zhou at [email protected] 

Oberle Risk Strategies– Oberle is the leading specialty insurance brokerage catering to search funds and the broader ETA community, providing complimentary due diligence assessments of the target company’s commercial insurance and employee benefits programs. Over the past decade, August Felker and his team have engaged with hundreds of searchers to provide due diligence and ultimately place the most competitive insurance program at closing. Given August’s experience as a searcher himself, he and his team understand all that goes into buying a business and pride themselves on making the insurance portion of closing seamless and hassle-free.

If you are under LOI, please reach out to August to learn more about how Oberle can help with insurance due diligence at Or reach out to August directly at [email protected].

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