Money matters

What you need to know for when your startup hits the big time, according to this Houston expert

First thing's first: Don't tell everyone. Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

If you have a successful tech startup, you may be working towards an exit plan where your vision and innovation is turned into liquidity. When a unique, innovative idea hits the big time, investors and other tech companies take notice, and some founders of startups discover themselves with sudden wealth.

Whether you take your company public or are eventually acquired by a much larger organization, you may find yourself looking at millions or billions of dollars one day. If this happens to you, there are crucial steps you should consider to help ensure you stay financially healthy for the long-term.

Keep your head down and do your homework.

First, be as quiet as possible about your new windfall. While selling your company may be public knowledge, keep conversations about your finances and situation minimal and confidential until you have a plan. The more hushed you keep your new financial situation, the less pressure you may have from others asking for favors and handouts.

Additionally, do your research before making any decisions. While you are coming to terms with your new wealth, search for the right team, including a financial adviser, attorney, and accountant, to help you set your goals, both long and short term. This may include tax efficiency and structure, such as trusts and family limited partnerships.

Research a potential advisers' philosophy, fees, and expertise. Have a background check run on anyone you hire, including their financial situation. Review your engagement letter and understand the small print. Be patient as you search for the right team — they are extremely important to your future.

Find an adviser you trust.

Part of your team should include a financial adviser who can be an invaluable resource during this time and into the future for many reasons.

First, he or she can help you identify potential present and future financial goals, plan for the next generation, and structure an income stream, which will ultimately help guide your money to survive you. You might find yourself in the unique position to make donations you have only dreamed of, and that, too, requires guidance.

A financial adviser can also help when friends and organizations are looking for financial contributions from you. Sudden wealth often leads to many changes which are hard to anticipate. Do not let your guard down. Family and friends can come out of the woodwork. Also, be aware of frivolous lawsuits and threats. Keep you and your family safe.

Don't go crazy.

Be disciplined in your spending. Some pro-athletes and lottery winners have filed for bankruptcy after blowing all of their wealth. Do not fall into this trap.

With the help of your financial adviser, you may decide to put your money where you cannot access it easily, such as a house or a 529 savings plan for your children's college. Or, you may decide to have your financial adviser help establish a salary for you each month so you can control your cash better.

After working hard to build a product or platform and the success of selling it for top dollar, ensure you are just as wise with your proceeds. Follow trusted advice from a well-vetted financial adviser and take your time to make major decisions. Trust your gut and enjoy the ride!

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Gail Stalarow is vice president and financial adviser with The Clarity Group in the Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in Houston.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Sportlo is shooting for a one-stop-shop platform for sporting programs in Houston. Cade Martin/Getty Images

In virtually no time at all, Sportlo has built its reputation on the simplest of foundations: community.

Thilo Borgmann and Sebastian Henke founded the local hub for sports parents earlier this year as a tool for sports moms and dads to stay connected with local leagues, sports clubs, coaches, and other parents with children involved in youth sports in the greater Houston area.

"We make it easy for sports parents to keep up with what's happening in their local youth sports community," says Henke. "With our platform, they can discover tryouts, camps, and sports clubs. They can also join and create groups, find private coaches for their kids, and more."

Borgmann and Henke are both former NCAA Division 1 soccer players who starred while they were student athletes at Houston Baptist University, then went on to become well-known private coaches.

The sports-loving duo saw a dearth of useful information for sports parents on popular social media sites, so they created the platform to give users a central place to communicate with each other, join and create groups, discover tryouts and camps for their children and find private coaches across the city to help their young athletes reach their goals.

"We were both involved in sports for most of our lives and then got into private coaching," says Henke. "Overall, what we saw was that there is an entire ecosystem of youth sports and it was very much unorganized."

Henke says sports clubs weren't able to reach potential members and their parents. He says they envisioned a one-stop-shop approach to the sports ecosystem.

"So, Sportlo is focused on sports parents, but within the community, we try to connect persons with coaches, with clubs, with colleges and so on," Henke says. "That's the vision behind it, so people will have a place to have a community, to get advice and tips and then they will have access to certain services and information."

The plan for Sportlo has already evolved in its short life. Originally the platform was going to support just private coaching.

"After we got more feedback from parents and first users, we started to adapt the product and rebuilt the product," Henke says. "Based on the surveys we collected online, parents wanted us to find ways how to connect them with each other, so that's why we started building it as a new page and that's how we realized where it needed to go."

The biggest lesson in listening to their users was understanding that any initial vision to help a community must also be focused on or include what's intrinsically valuable to the users.

"Too often, people get focused on their own ideas and forget that feedback offers surprising moments," says Henke. "Users gave us a whole new path, which kept us from going in the direction where users wouldn't want the product to go."

Feedback from users is key, Henke says, and he recommends startup founders prioritize user experience and constructive criticism.

"All of the ideas that we had in our head, at some point we had to stop and reevaluate them and then focus on the most important thing first and then go from there," he says.

Still, the launch of Sportlo was not without its own unique challenges. Its March go-live date coincided in point of time with the spread of COVID-19, which ultimately turned into a worldwide pandemic.

"We haven't had to make any major changes," says Henke. "But groups on the platform have focused on that topic because there are no sports happening at the moment and they are eager to get them back. But other than that, it's not something we've had to focus on. But for parents, they've focused on related topics, like how to keep their kids busy at home doing exercises, things like that, or when discussing when their kids' clubs are starting back up and how to keep kids safe."

In addition to forming groups and sharing a variety of sports-related topics, parents can post pictures and videos of their child's latest tournament or game, get access to useful articles shared by fellow parents and find recommended sports products for themselves or their child.

"The main reason we added that social component was because we wanted to have a user timeline so when they log in, all the users can see something sports related," says Borgmann. "There's so much noise, with politics and posts that are only about the coronavirus and all that, so we wanted to focus on sports and have parents be able to show how their kid is doing, see other kids in action and support each other with a focus on sports without seeing all the other distractions that might be on other platforms."

For now, Sportlo is focused solely on keeping Houston informed, but it will look to expand to other cities and states when the time comes.

"We are focused right now only on Houston, because we know Houston and Texas and we've experienced different levels of sports in this area, so we want to stay local," says Henke. "Then, the next step is we intend to take it to other cities within Texas. And at some point, our vision is to have the entire youth ecosystem of the United States."

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