Family Solutions International at The Square 717 Texas
We love to get to know our members on a professional and personal level. With a wide variety of businesses using The Square’s flexible workspaces, we have an abundance of skills, knowledge, and understanding under one roof that can give valuable and honest insight into starting and running a business. We sat down with the team at Family Solutions International, a leading egg donor and surrogacy agency for a chat to learn more about what they do, keeping privacy a top priority in a shared workspace, and what they enjoy about Downtown Houston.
What are your roles at Family Solutions International?
Mary: I’m Mary Festillo. I'm the founder and the CEO, and I started my business about 16 years ago. We have 3 divisions, but I originally started with egg donation and then we added surrogacy and now we have consulting. So now we have three companies, donor solution on the donor side, Three Sisters Surrogacy on the surrogacy side, and the Fertility Consultants on the consulting side, which are under the umbrella of Family Solutions International. I'm a registered nurse, and have been for 34 years, and I've been in the fertility world for 24 years.
Sandy: I am Sandy Zapata and I'm the executive administrative assistant. I handle the phones and confirm appointments, make sure that everything is organized, and manage meeting scheduling, and I also help with marketing.
Julie: I’m Julia French, the COO of our company and I manage our egg donor side mostly. I handle matching, we’re kind of like match.com for those looking for egg donors. We have a database of donors and work with women looking to donate as well as recipients, and coordinate and help with matching to build their families.
How long have you been a member of The SQ? Are all of your team members working from this location?
Mary: We moved from another coworking space in March 2022 so we’re in our 14th month now. This is our second office, we were down the hall but we now have a bigger space. There's three of us here and everybody works differently, like one of us works from home two days a week. I live down the street, so I literally come and go as I please but my husband also works from home so it’s great to get out of the house sometimes. Then we have somebody that lives and works in Mexico and another who lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
What is Family Solutions International & 3 Sisters Surrogacy? How do the two work together?
Mary: I started out in egg donation in 2007, and then five years later I built on that as we found that 30 - 40% of intended parents who were using an egg donor also used surrogates. Also with the advent of same-sex marriage being legalized, there was a huge surge in same-sex couples who were in need of egg donors, predominantly male couples.
The consulting side came sometime after the pandemic, because we had a lot of people who were unsure about the process. For example, we would get calls from people who said they wanted a surrogate, and when we asked if they had embryos they didn’t know what that meant. So there’s a lot of education to be done and we launched this new part of the business - it’s a guide to help people as many don’t know where to start. They may come to us because of multiple miscarriages, but they don’t know why they occurred or they don’t have any information about their egg quality or functionality of their uterus. So we help them find their pathway to navigate through it all. There are IVF clinics available, but they’re selling a service - they say that everyone needs IVF but in reality this is not true.
Why is The SQ a great solution for your business needs?
Julie: We are very remote in that our egg donors are all over the United States, the fertility clinics are all over the US, and our intended parents are all over the world, so we didn’t need a whole office where our clients come to meet us but we wanted to be able to work together. As our team grows, we recently just added Sandy, we wanted a place to come together and, because it’s just the three of us really, we didn’t want to be shoved in a standard office where it feels so lonely. We love the coworking space and the community feel of The Square where there are so many people here; it feels like you’re going to a busy, bustling office every day. The downtown location is so nice and fancy, and we’re not just stuck in our PJs working at home and also not in some old school office where it’s just the three of us staring at each other all day. So, The Square provided the best of that solution for us.
Mary: And now that we know other people, at lunchtime (and happy hour!) we can socialize without dealing with the office politics. So, it’s the best of both worlds where you can work in a big bustling office but you don’t have to deal with the office issues. It’s a win-win. This is our second time in a coworking space, we went to two locations with our previous place, but for us it wasn’t sophisticated enough and it was really meant for traveling hacker, tech bro-type people that want to be in a big room with their headphones on.
Julie: And Ashley, the Hospitality Lead, builds that community - she encourages openess, introduces you to people and other companies, and that makes a huge difference.
Mary: And she makes the best snacks! Her charcuterie boards are amazing!
Have you ever worried about privacy being in a shared workspace and the nature of your business? What tools do you use to help?
Julie: Not really, especially here where you guys have so many avenues for stuff like this. Our office doesn’t necessarily have confidential files that people can look into our office and see but for phone calls we have our individual offices and the phone booths, and conference rooms and other things so no, I’ve never had an issue with that.
What do you love about Downtown Houston?
Mary: When people that don't know about the Houston tunnels, they say, wow, it's really dead here. Then you go down the tunnels and it's crazy! Everybody's there going to lunch or buying stuff. So that's the fun part of being here. Also, we’re doing some marketing and needed tissue paper - in a regular office that would mean I'd have to get in my car and go to Walgreens but there's a Hallmark card store in the tunnel and I could quickly go there. When you live in Houston you really don’t want to be outside from May to October because the weather is gross so you can just go down to the tunnels instead - it’s a really big draw to work in Downtown Houston.
And we're across the street from, Jones Hall, which is the Symphony Hall. And we're a block away from the Alley Theatre. And then a short walk to the Wortham, which is where the ballet and the opera are. So I take advantage of this because my husband and I go to all arts events. They’re also building the new Lyn-Wyatt Park a block away, a new outdoor park that's going to have events during the daytime on the first Thursday of the month. They have outdoor jazz concerts so there's some cool stuff.
What are your top 3 tips for anyone starting their own business?
Mary: Number one - and I've said this for 16 years - do not rent a regular office. I would have saved so much money had they had something like The Square 16 years ago. I started my business all by myself and thought I had to have a brick-and-mortar space. So I had this big office that I spent way too much money on, and I was there all of myself with only a part-time employee. It was very lonely. Whereas, if I had been in a space like this, I would have had other people to talk to at least through the day.
Next, it takes a long, long time to build a real, profitable business. You don't do it overnight unless you buy a profitable business. I've been in business for sixteen years and I've always made a profit - but that could have been two dollars. Now we make really good money and I like to be able to share it with my employees.
The third one? You have to work really hard at the beginning. I don’t have to now, and sometimes I feel guilty that I used to work 60 to 70 hours a week, whereas at present I’m in a position to work flexibly and leave my team. But they also know that I’m not going to be sending them emails at 10 o’clock at night and saying don’t read this til the morning! So, I’d say it’s hard work at the start, but after that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and share it with your employees.
If you’re looking for coworking space or private offices in a collaborative and social environment, get in touch with us to book a tour! We’ve got workplace solutions and amenities that can support all kinds of businesses, whether established or starting up.