'87

ABOUT

ABOUT US

We like businesses whose success depends on a deep and direct relationship with their customer.  

‘87 isn’t another incubator.  Or accelerator. Or scaler. ‘87 is here to build.  To get our hands dirty. To go from idea to impact faster than you probably thought possible.

We’re picky, passionate, and persistent about with whom and how we work. We like businesses whose success depends on a deep and direct relationship with their customer.  We like a founder with more than a resume, someone who lives the life he or she is selling. We prefer not to rely on the next venture dollar to keep the lights on.  In short, we’re midwesterners who think making a profit is, you know, sort of a key component of a company.

Our process is a little bit different than other folks’.  The team comes from all over the map, bringing different brains, skills, and talents to the table.  From the moment we buy into a pitch, our wheels are turning, cranking out bottoms-up business models, figuring out audiences, racing to find product/market fit, and generally executing the ten thousand things that have to happen to go from zero to hero right alongside you.

You see, our team has built and launched everything from toothpaste to tech brands.  We know the booby traps and the power-ups and, unlike many of the other folks, we don’t just preach from a slick boardroom - we’re there turning the knobs with you.  Whether it’s setting up a tech stack for recurring billings, recruiting a CFO, creating a content calendar for launch, or negotiating a lease with a tricky landlord, our team and vetted global network of experts-on-tap ensure that our companies are never more than a phone call away from a solution.

‘87 is your partner, your problem solver, and your player-coach.  We’re not for everyone, but maybe we’re for you.

‘87: Builders since, well, ‘87.

‘87 was developed within and spun out of Sterling Partners, a multi-strategy investment firm founded over 35 years ago.  While separate from Sterling’s broader private equity practice, ‘87 and our founder partners leverage Sterling’s robust and sophisticated operational infrastructure.

OUR ORIGIN STORY

From four guys rocking an IBM PC-AT to a company that is hell-bent on working with entrepreneurs and teams that are maniacally focused on building brands that consumers will love.  That is ‘87.

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The story starts in 1983 with four guys, one of whom was in high school and the rest in college, wondering if they could digitize medical health records.  So that’s what they did, and by 1985 they got snapped up by Blue Cross of Maryland for a non-trivial chunk of change.  Fast forward two years to 1987, the guys had diversified their holdings into real estate, media, business services, and more - buying, building, and selling dozens of companies.  

In the early 2000s, two of the four decided to invest other people’s money and went on to raise billions in private equity funds that they successfully invested for two decades. Meanwhile, the other two started and ran a number of technology and education companies, including Laureate Education, which at last count was doing billions in revenue.

In late 2016, the ‘fund’ guys realized the ‘builder’ guys were having much more fun, so they declined to raise more money and instead decided to get back to their entrepreneurial roots, seeding and starting companies while working with founders to grow their ideas into businesses.  

At the same time, the partners had been collecting people from various successful ventures across the nation and posed to them a question:

“What would you do if you had the capital, resources, 120 years of collective real-world experience from the founders, and could build a world-class team to do whatever you wanted?”


And thus came ‘87.  We honed our thesis around investing and building brands with passionate founders, tapping into sleepy markets using the unfair advantages of direct-to-consumer engagement, and focusing on a realistic path towards profit.  We invested early in a few brands, built an operating model, thrashed the operating model, built it again, and repeated the process over and over until we understood the pieces that were required to go from idea to company with lower execution risk than traditional incubation models.

So now here we are.  From four guys rocking an IBM PC-AT to a company that is hell-bent on working with entrepreneurs and teams that are maniacally focused on building brands that consumers will love.  That is ‘87.

SHOULD I CONSIDER ’87?

We are picky but not arrogant.  We just know where we can be helpful, so we’d rather not burn your time if we don’t fit your model.  With that, here are some things we like to see in founders or companies we bring into the ‘87 fold:

  • Founder-led with a compelling story

  • Direct-to-consumer business model, preferably a subscription

  • 80%+ gross margins (excluding fulfillment costs)

  • Rational customer acquisition costs

  • High net promoter score  (for those already launched)

  • Revenue in excess of over $1M (for those already launched)

  • $2 billion total addressable market

  • Non-saturated direct-to-consumer market for the product with lazy incumbents