women to women

4 corporate housekeeping tips for female founders from Houston experts

A panel for women by women highlighted key things to keep in mind when starting a company. Getty Images

Laying the proper foundation of a startup might be one of the most important parts of starting a company — right behind the innovative solution your startup aims to provide.

At a female-founder focused panel at Baker Botts cohosted by The Artemis Fund earlier this month, a group of experts gave their advice from managing contracts and hiring to salary and investment.

The panel was moderated by Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, and featured an investor, a founder, and a legal representative — Leslie Goldman, general partner and co-founder of The Artemis Fund; Emma Fauss, CEO of Medical Informatics Corp.; and Katie Belleville, associate at Baker Botts L.L.P, respectively.

If you missed the event, here are four pieces of advice from the panelists.

Be aware of an investor's founder red flags

When asked about what she looks for in a potential investment opportunity, Goldman, who's fund invests in female-led startups, looks at a myriad of things, but the big one is the founder herself.

"Ninety percent of it is about the founder," Goldman says on the panel. "The founder is key."

She goes on to say that her founder red flags include lack of transparency, not knowing her numbers, and not having the proper legal paperwork in order.

Representing the legal side, Belleville echoed the importance of getting the proper legal paperwork together from day one.

"It is important to get you organizational documents in order in the beginning to avoid a problem later down the line," Belleville says. "Going to a lawyer to help you set up your company and what documents you need."

She adds that startup founders can expect to pay lawyers by the hour like most legal exchanges, but a lot of legal professionals will offer a preliminary meeting to understand each other for free.

Be smart about who's giving you money

For Fauss, who closed an $11.9 million round in January, and most entrepreneurs, finding investors is a huge challenge and commitment.

"Raising money is probably my least favorite activity. It's a brutal process," Fauss tells the audience. "You are getting married to someone for 20-plus years. And it's easier to get a divorce from your husband than it is to get a divorce from your board members."

She explains how keeping that in mind really led her to be picky about her investors and find ones that were right for her and her company.

When it comes to hiring and salary — get it on paper

Every founder will eventually get to a point when they'll need to hire as their company grows. Fauss says she was fortunate to find her early team members organically — through networking opportunities. When it comes to listing jobs online, she recommends being specific to what expertise you're looking for.

In tandem with hiring, founders must decide how they plan to compensate their employees and whether they offer equity — something Goldman says impresses her.

"If a founder convinced other people to join their team based on a promise of getting a part of the company, it means that they are a charismatic entrepreneur and it means that the people who join them believe strongly and passionately about the company," Goldman says.

Belleville adds that founders should be aware of employment agreements, which she doesn't think is necessary in every situation, and confidentiality agreements, which she highly recommends when it comes to protecting the company's intellectual property.

"If you make it part of the [on boarding] process, then everyone has one and you've got that security at the point when they're leaving," Belleville says.

At one point in the panel, Fauss brings up a salary issue she's passionate about.

"Don't forget to budget in your own salary," Fauss says. "Your sweat equity, your worth does have a cost."

She adds that even if you're not getting paid a full salary when you're starting out, it's important to keep in the budget especially when factoring VC money.

Keep your paperwork in order

This might be a no-brainer, but the panelists all echoed the need for properly organized paperwork, especially when it comes to contracts and letters of intent with clients, for general bookkeeping reasons but also for review of potential investors.

"I'm going to want to see that there's actually a binding contract there," Goldman says, adding that the legality and terms of those types of agreements are crucial for her role as an investor.

Belleville says that one way for founders to keep track is by making a detailed spreadsheet with all that's in the contracts — terms, renewal, and termination details, for example.

The panelists — and even some founders in the audience — recommended digital filing systems like Carta, or its free version called captable.io. DocSend was also recommended for sharing your pitch deck because it offers stats so you can see how much time was spent on each page. At the very least, founders should keep files backed up online in Google Docs or DropBox.

When it comes to issuing contacts, Fauss recommends working with a legal team to streamline that process. Ninety percent of contracts will stay the same between clients, she says, so put together a playbook to know which variables to use and when.

Houston small businesses are struggling to pay their rent with doors closed and operations ceased — but where should the relief come from? Getty Images

It's not too huge of an assumption to make that many Houston startups and small businesses failed to pay their rents in full yesterday. Since the city's stay-at-home mandate on March 24 — and even preceding that — most businesses have seen a slowdown of revenue as a result of COVID-19-caused business disruptions.

Business owners are frantically looking in their leases and searching online to see what rights they have and what sort of protection they have in such an unprecedented time.

"People are confused. They don't know what to do, and finding information is hard," says Meredith Wheeler, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sesh Coworking, which opened earlier this year.

Wheeler and Sesh's co-founder, Maggie Segrich, have created a petition to get on the radar of local elected officials to challenge them to pass legislation to protect small businesses in this time.

"At the end of the day, it would be so wonderful and idealistic to say that we could rely on the niceties and the moral compasses of our landlords, but it's probably not true for everyone and so that's why we need legislation to dictate what is right," Wheeler says.

But landlords are also in unchartered territory, says Josh Feinberg, who has worked in Houston as a commercial real estate broker and co-founded CRE tech platform, Tenavox.

"There's this idea that there's this acrimony between tenant and landlord, and I think, as a former broker, we're set up that way to get our side the best deal. But in reality, that's just not true," Feinberg says. "The majority of commercial real estate is owned by regular people — not usually some faceless, gigantic corporation."

And they have a piper to pay too, Feinberg adds. Ninety percent of CRE is owned by debt, he says. If the government steps in anywhere, it should be on the lender level, as well as creating some sort of tax relief.

"If there's any relief here, it's going to have to come from lenders, and I think you'd hear that from owners and brokers," Feinberg says.

In somewhat convenient timing, Tenavox has recently co-founded a new company that provides a bit of a solution for small businesses. Otso provides landlords with an alternative to cash security deposits. Traditionally, deposits are held onto by landlords — they aren't legally allowed to spend it unless the tenant defaults.

"In general, I think cash deposits are wasteful," Feinberg says. "It's critical capital that the business can hire with, invest, and use."

Tenavox teamed up with Euler Hermes, a 135-year-old credit insurance company, to create Otso, and the credit company backs the lease performance of each tenant that is approved by Otso. The transaction calls for a fee added to the rent, but no large cash deposit would be required.

The tool can be used on new leases, and, in light of the current situation, Otso can also be used to create an addendum in existing leases so that the tenant can get back their deposit and use it in this time of crisis. Either landlord or tenant can apply online and hear back that same day — Feinberg says he's focused on a speedy response to help get this deposit money back to the tenant.

"If we can get some liquidity back into the hands of the business, they have some a better chance of survival," Feinberg says.

Other than looking into Otso, Feinberg has some other recommendations for small business owners. He says they should be applying for relief from the Small Business Administration, which has more money to dole out than they have ever had. And, as it pertains to working with their landlords, communication is key. Show financials and specific information — like what March 2019 looks like compared to 2020 — so that landlords can take that to their lenders.

"An unprecedented crisis is going to require unprecedented solutions," Feinberg says.