What happens when you get a chunk of unexpected money? Mariel van de Loo, a Senior Product Designer who lives and works in Toronto, is no stranger to this question. A few years ago the tech startup she works for, Shopify, went through an IPO and overnight she had a windfall she needed to decide what to do with.
Most people would be tempted to spend it and that’s what many of her coworkers did, buying themselves cars and houses or leaving to start their own businesses. Mariel had a different outlook on the money she got and decided to invest it. “Investing gives you options. It gives you the time to make better decisions,” she says.
We’ve been fortunate to know Mariel for a little while now and are continuously inspired by how kind, thoughtful, and purposeful she is. She knows what she values and she puts her money behind it. We sat down with Mariel to learn what it was like going through an IPO, how she decided what to do with the windfall, and what she thinks it means to be smart with money.
How she got into tech & product design
Mariel went to school for graphic design at NSCAD University. At the time the Canadian tech startup scene was relatively new, so studying User Experience (UX) or Product Design wasn’t an option. Once she graduated, Mariel took an internship at a mobile app agency which got her interested in product design. Eventually, she moved on to an internship at Shopify, a Canadian multinational e-commerce company that now powers over 1,000,000 merchants.
What it was like going through an IPO
About two years after joining the company, Shopify went through an initial public offering (IPO). There’s a huge amount of growth and change that leads up to an IPO. “It was pretty wild seeing a company grow that quickly. You’d come into work one day and a team would no longer exist, or you’d be told you’re working on a different project in a different office,” she shared. The whole experience made her very comfortable with change, which has turned out to be a valuable life skill.
The IPO itself happened quickly. They told employees it was happening a few months beforehand and didn’t give an exact date (for legal and privacy reasons). Employees could figure out a rough idea of what their options would be worth by looking at their contracts, but the whole experience was very confidential.
How she decided what to do with the money
Like many startup employees, Mariel didn’t fully understand stock options at the time. She had always viewed stock options as bonus money she wouldn’t touch or pay attention to. “It’s a perk,” she said. She didn’t need that money for day–to–day, so she didn’t think much about it.
This outlook is in sharp contrast to many of her coworkers who rushed out to buy flashy sports cars. “You saw people blow their money on things that aren’t the most responsible, but I’ve never wanted any of that stuff. Salary is living money, stock options are a bonus for later in life,” reflects Mariel.
To her, this felt like “money from nowhere” and she figured she should invest it.
How she decided where to invest
Mariel started to teach herself about investing by going online and reading personal finance blogs. She looked into self-directed investing but found it overwhelming due to all the conflicting advice. “Learning how to invest could be a whole degree,” she said, so she decided she wanted someone to guide her through it.
She set up a meeting with her bank which didn’t go well. She felt dumb asking questions and felt like she was being talked down to. She found it uncomfortable being in an office of men who made assumptions about where she got her money and what she wanted to do with it, rather than asking her.
It took about two years of searching and a trial with a robo–advisor to find a place that felt like a fit for her. Meeting with a Financial Planner at an independent investment firm, she said she felt relieved to find “someone that cares about my life outside of my money.” “With the bank,” she shared, “they don’t know me or care to. This planner spent an hour getting to know me before talking about money. I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself or why I was here.”
The most surprising thing she learned going through this process at a young age
“The hardest part is finding someone you can trust,” she said. It’s hard to discern what’s trendy (i.e. investing with a robo-advisor or in cryptocurrencies) from what you actually want. She wanted something stable she didn’t have to monitor regularly and she wanted someone she could talk to for broader financial advice. She was surprised by how long it took her to find the right person and firm, but ultimately happy she took her time.
What she thinks it means to be smart with money
When we asked Mariel if she thinks she’s smart with money, she initially said no because there’s so much she still feels like she doesn’t understand about investing and all the jargon behind it. “I guess,” she said, “being smart with your money means you don’t spend more than you earn and you know what you value.” She hasn’t fallen into lifestyle inflation and she values having a good life over a high-paying job. She could double her salary if she moved to San Francisco but that’s not the lifestyle she wants. She cares about quality of life, work-life balance, having flex hours, and being able to travel.
She likes how having money stashed away gives her options. “I don’t have to worry day-to-day,” she says, “that freedom is more valuable to me right now than owning a house.”
What she’s looking forward to
Mariel is excited to be headed to South East Asia for the month of February. She has a one month paid sabbatical from work and she’s looking forward to exploring new places.
Thanks, Mariel, for speaking with us and sharing your outlook on money. The way you live out your values is inspiring. We’re excited to see where life and your career takes you next!