Guest columns

3 startup lessons you can learn from this Texas Olympian turned entrepreneur

Whether it's in the gym or the boardroom, the ability to pick yourself up after a failure is key to success, as this former Olympian learned. Getty Images

I've hit rock bottom more times than I can count. As a gymnast, I overcame injuries that would have ended many other athletes' careers — only to watch my Olympic dreams slip out of reach. As a businessman, I built a successful startup — and then lost it all.

The main thing I've learned? Setbacks can be productive if you're willing to learn from them. Today, as I lead a successful company, I constantly inform my decision-making with the lessons I learned as an athlete and entrepreneur.

Three of those lessons can help everyone — both in the gym and in the boardroom.

First, never give up.

When I was 12, I trained under gymnastics coach Ralph Reeves, the toughest coach I ever had. I would spend hours perfecting my craft — getting up on the pommel horse as I tried not to look down at my cracked and bloodied hands. Upon finishing each routine, Coach Reeves would utter one word: "Again."

Not, "Nice work, how about one more?" or, "Can you do another?" Just, "Again." And so I would get back up on the pommel horse — again.

As the Junior Olympic Games, the pinnacle of high school gymnastics, approached during my junior year, it looked like my hard work was about to pay off. Then, I blew out my knee and tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus while training. Refusing to let my injury determine my fate, I went on to win my first national championship.

Next, I headed to the University of Oklahoma to learn from legendary gymnastics coach — Paul Ziert. While my high school coach gave me my discipline, Paul gave me my style. My teammate Bart Conner taught me the true meaning of "first one in last one out." He led by example, encouraging the entire team to practice extra hours. His ability to inspire without uttering a single word stayed with me.

I eventually graduated from the University of Oklahoma as a five-time All-American and NCAA champion with a spot on the Olympic roster. But due to President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, I never got a chance to participate.

I was devastated, but I picked myself up — again — and transitioned to the business world. More setbacks awaited.

Second, forgive others.

In the mid-1980s, I started my first company. But before I knew it, the relationship I had with my business partner had soured and I found myself broke, divorced, and living in a tiny apartment on a loan from my ex-father-in-law.

That episode would have been enough for a logical person to never open another business — to never trust anyone again.

Call me illogical. After this incident, I went on to build and sell multiple successful companies. I say this not to brag, but merely to prove my bona fides to other entrepreneurs who are just starting out and facing their own challenges.

It's crucial to forgive your colleagues, your subordinates, even yourself. I didn't dwell on losing my Olympic dreams; I moved on to compete as a businessman. And I didn't vow revenge on my ex-partner, I forgave him.

In fact, if I ran into him on the street, I'd thank him for teaching me the greatest lesson of my life. The day I stopped hating my ex-partner was the first day I felt joy again.

Finally, trust, but verified.

As an athlete, I had to trust and listen to my body, my doctors, my coaches and trainers to overcome my injuries. After my experiences, I've learned to pay very close attention to what people are saying — and more importantly, what they aren't saying — in the boardroom. Reading body language and getting to know people before you do business with them is just as important as studying their qualifications on paper.

Today, as I lead a business, I spend countless hours strategizing for and planning out my board meetings. Sometimes my preparation lasts three times as long as the actually meeting. But as I learned throughout my athletic experience, preparation is the best way to ensure success.


If you're an entrepreneur, you will eventually experience a business setback. It's inevitable. But the next time you do — pause, make a game plan, and think to yourself, "again."

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Michael Wilson is the CEO of Healthcare Highways.

Elizabeth Gerbel, CEO and founder of Houston-based E.A.G. Services Inc., shares how to navigate M&A activity for both startups and large companies. Pexels

Nervous about an upcoming merger or acquisition? You're not alone. Last year, there were nearly 15,000 mergers and acquisitions in the U.S., according to the Institute for Mergers, Acquisitions and Alliances. These transactions, although executed with optimistic intentions, don't always work out. What is it that separates those that deliver from those whose results simply fall flat?

While you won the legal battle, the real culprit to a failed merger or acquisition transaction lies in post-deal activities such as integrating the divesting company's assets into the acquiring company's existing systems, processes, and organizational structure. If executed poorly, companies could face several hurdles, including:

  • Increased acquisition costs
  • Loss in previously efficient business processes
  • Reduced data quality in current and acquired assets
  • Extended TSA timeline

With the stakes being high, it is critical for each step of a merger or acquisition to be rock solid before moving on to the next stage. In fact, when executed successfully, an M&A transaction can significantly benefit both companies — from startups to well-established corporations.

A strategy for M&A data integration

In order to facilitate efficient and effective merger or acquisition, the critical success factors focus on these driving goals: Minimizing organizational disruption and Maximizing ROI. To achieve these goals, we execute three main stages for every merger and acquisition.

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis
  3. Execution

We start with thorough planning, think of planning as the foundation for a successful merger or acquisition. Without a good plan, the company will be vulnerable to all sorts of structural weaknesses. To prevent key elements from falling through the cracks, companies must define objectives and data requirements, maintain strong communications, and develop both short-term and long-term expectations.

The next step – analysis – since data is absolutely essential in mergers and acquisitions. There is a lot to watch out for: What's the best way to extract and convert the acquired data? Will IT or business support need to be permanently added? What system configuration changes are required? What are the impacts to current business processes and internal audit controls? Will additional training be required? The answers to these questions are highly individualized to each merger and acquisition, and they'll impact how seamless the transition will be. Many people gloss over this stage but then realize the criticality not only in the case of a merger or acquisition but also in the case of a future divestiture.

Finally, the last stage: Execution. This stage is one of the main reasons why some mergers and acquisitions may fall short of expectations. To avoid common issues stemming from poor execution – including disruption of previously effective business processes, impaired customer service, and increase in the cost of the merger or acquisition – we coordinate roles and responsibilities, ensuring that all key tasks are executed. From day one to full integration, we continually monitor to ensure the company is on track to meet its initially defined objectives.

The risks and benefits of a merger or acquisition

I'll be candid: Without a solid foundation through adequate preparation, a merger or acquisition is set up to fail. This risk can be higher for startups and small companies, which don't have the resource buffer that some larger firms can fall back on. Large companies may face a different risk, business processes and data may not be aligned with their current state. And yet, according to Economy Watch, an extensively strategized merger or acquisition transaction, beyond increasing the company's size, can yield significant benefits that include:

  • Improving its strategic position
  • Entering a new market
  • Developing new assets
  • Lowering operational costs
  • Expanding market influence

For smooth mergers and acquisitions, we recommend a multi-step process so that you can identify and reduce risks, condense your integration timeline, and quickly capture value. Because despite the challenges, not all is lost during a merger or acquisition – and there is much to be gained.

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Elizabeth Gerbel is the CEO and founder of Houston-based E.A.G. Services Inc.