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While we are often focused on leveraging paid solutions, we all know that in reality many paid solutions can be narrow, oversubscribed by competitors, or not useful for discovery or testing an investment thesis.
Broadly speaking, there are two buckets of utilities available, process focused applications and tactic focused tools. On the process-focused side, there are a variety of options out there that specialize in creating the efficiency, interoperability across the firm, and scalability that New School Deal Sourcing demands. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the best free deal origination resources out there. Utilizing this list should help you get started with finding great quality information you can leverage when kickstarting your work.
13 Free Deal Origination Resources & Tool Types
1) Free Company Directory Lists
Oh how times have changed since deal sourcing was constrained to personal networks, D&B info, or even the yellow pages. You’re likely familiar with many of these lists, but they’re often an excellent starting point for research.
- The various lists created by Forbes are a useful mainstay of research, especially if you’re looking for a general trend in any given year.
- Wikipedia offers a variety of free lists, as well as more in depth information on individual companies and their history. Some great resources include:
- The Inc 5000 is a yearly list of companies that are on the rise and might be seeking investment dollars. Luckily we can save you a significant amount of time as we’ve collated all the information you’ll need on these companies. Into a free downloadable Inc. 5000 lead list.
- Fortune’s list of the most important private companies can be an excellent resource.
- Thomasnet is a powerful tool for searching for product sourcing and suppliers, which can be an excellent way to work your way back to potential deals.
- At SourceScrub we deliver an annual “Best of Bootstrapped” award across three categories, which is great for finding excellent mid-market targets:
- SourceScrub's Best of Bootstrapped Financial Services 2020
- SourceScrub's Best of Bootstrapped Healthcare 2020
- SourceScrub's Best of Bootstrapped Software 2020
- The BizJournals cluster of sites keeps a useful list of state, city, and executive specific lists and articles that can be helpful when doing research within your area.
2) Free Conference Exhibitor Lists
Don’t go to conferences unprepared, or ignore easy market research through industry specific conferences. While you can manually go through exhibitor lists on conference websites there are a few elegant solutions out there.
- SourceScrub cultivates a list of exhibitors that you can count on to be reliable and up-to-date. We also have historical information on exhibitors from previous years.
If we don’t have the list you’re looking for or you want to go the manual route there are a variety of tools like Instant Data Scraper that allow you to easily compile, organize, and export contacts without much HTML or programming knowledge.
3) Public Data From the U.S. Government
Even for private companies there are a variety of publicly available resources which can be useful for sourcing potential deals.
- USASpending.gov is a great way to track government spending, which can lead to potential deals. While the search functionality here is clunky, private companies receiving large government contracts can often be appealing acquisition targets.
- This list from NASS is comprehensive and useful for determining state-by-state registrations.
- Patents and trademarks typically indicate a certain degree of maturity or focus within a company. While a little bit involved, trademark searches as well as patent searches with tools like Google Patents or Claimparse can be useful for monitoring specific technological niches or investigating company R&D.
- PPP loan data is also currently publicly accessible and searchable, and you can find significant financial information about companies that received the loan.
4) Free Lead Data Enrichment Tools
Often finding relevant contact info is the first major hurdle while deal sourcing. The tools below can make the process of investigating a company smoother.
- FindThatLead - This service makes finding emails and creating lead emails easier than ever, and also has a free trial.
- At SourceScrub, we have free web extensions built for deal sourcing on both Firefox and Chrome. These tools quickly show you top level company data, which is quite often hard to find, right in your browser.
- Hunter.io - Another tool that allows you to source emails and do plenty of sales intelligence.
5) Contact Lists
Nearly all contact and lead lists require payment, and you can find lead information easily once you know what companies you’re looking for. If you’re looking to search on a budget, contact lists probably won’t work. If you’re looking for executive contact info strategies #1, #3, & #4 above can often be powerful for unearthing the names and contact info of potential prospects.
6) News Aggregators
News aggregators are an easy way to monitor the latest news in any industry you’re examining, allowing you to spot emergent brands and products.
- Owler - This service aggregates customizable search results about companies and their happenings.
- Mention - If you’re looking for broader brand monitoring, Mention has an excellent free plan that can provide some of these insights. .
Google News - Always reliable and free, run a Google News search on any company, and you’ll get some results.
7) Job Search Sites
Often, specific job titles can tip you off to potential internal investments that may not be on your radar. (For example an agriculture equipment company hiring heavily for robotics and machine learning might warrant a closer look.) If a company is hiring rapidly, that can also be a useful signal, and indeed is something we specifically facilitate for customers. Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Monster are great resources for analyzing who is hiring for what. SourceScrub’s nativetech, as far as a few other companies, also curate information on growth through hiring, which can be useful for filtering targets.
8) Technological Utilization
Sometimes technological capability can be utilized to find good acquisition target matches. Here are some tools for browsing tools and tech stacks:
- BuiltWith - BuiltWith is a useful browser extension which also provides some useful free searchable information. (They do also sell expansive lists.)
- G2 Crowd - You’re likely familiar with G2, while they have some useful paid features, they provide a decent amount of info on potential investments or for quickly understanding the technologies a company is using.
- StackShare - StackShare is focused on bigger businesses but can be useful for understanding what a “blue chip” tech stack might look like in a specific space.
9) Public Perception
Want to know more about how a potential investment is perceived by both its employees and the broader public? Facebook, Instagram, and Glassdoor are great places to do your research, especially if you check out the comments. While anecdotal data may not help you spot new deals per se, it could help you avoid lemons.
10) Alumni Groups
While they sometimes can be a longshot, alumni groups can be a good place to expand your network, lean into new specialties, and procure introductions.
11) Press Releases
PR Newswire and other press release aggregators can give you insight into what companies are publicizing. While press releases are often overly optimistic they can often provide a decent snapshot into information rarely available for private companies.
12) SEC Filings
Getting accurate financial information for private companies can be nearly impossible. If a company was previously public but went private, you can mitigate that blackbox by utilizing SEC filings from when these companies were still public. The new EDGAR tool from the SEC makes this easier than ever before, and it tracks filings since 2001.
13) Search Engine Research
Brute force research on search engines is usually where most people start with a broad search, but if you’ve exhausted all the other resources in our list this may be your best option for finding quality investment targets or data.
You can often find useful niche info if you’re willing to connect the dots between news stories, analyst reports, suppliers, Quora, forums, and/or company websites. Furthermore tools like Google Trends can be extremely useful for spotting emerging trends within industries.
Search engines can occasionally reveal information that may not be widely distributed. For example on Google if you use the “site:” and “filetype:” modifiers, searching for example ‘site:example.com filetype:pdf’ or ‘site:example.com filetype:docx’ you can occasionally find informative company documents or presentations.
Keeping Your Networks Primed With or Without a Pandemic
In the context of a pandemic and its aftermath, networking still matters. Direct calls and casual zoom conversations can keep personal networks primed even when there’s no in person meetings or events.
This year might be an excellent opportunity to evaluate your current deal origination workflow and utilize some of these free resources to augment the tools already in your arsenal or broaden your research. Reach out for a demo if you’re interested in sourcing much of the information included in this list in one easily searchable contact database:)( and M&A platform.