Brad Kotansky the 42-year-old founder of Onist, a collaboration platform for household finances, discovered opportunity the hard way: through a family crisis.
After a 25-year-long career in finance and hedge funds, Kotansky and his wife moved from New York to Phoenix, Arizona where his wife’s family lived. He made successful investments in undervalued real estate, selling off a portfolio of single-family homes to a real estate investment trust.
But Kotansky was grappling with a serious family challenge. His father, who lived in Montreal, started to rapidly decline, seemingly from Alzheimer’s. The Canadian-born Kotansky tried to manage family affairs from afar.
“When my father fell ill, I thought it would be easy to figure out his financial affairs since I had worked on Wall Street,” he says. “It wasn’t. I called up my mother and she knew nothing. It was a very stressful time.”
Then one weekend Kotansky was at a fundraiser and sat next to a dad in his son’s class, a neurosurgeon. “I explained all of my father’s symptoms and he said: ‘You father doesn’t have Alzheimer’s.’” After an MRI, Kotansky’s father was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition that was cured with a shunt that took excess fluid from the brain.
“The next day my father looked at me and said: ‘Brad how are the markets?’ I got my father back. My mother got her husband back. It’s a beautiful story. But it made clear that I had to know more about his finances. For three years, I had not been able to communicate with him.”
The confusion of those years propelled Kotansky to develop a product not just for seniors but also for multiple generations of a family. “We have created a solution where families can collaborate around finance,” he says. “In the scenario in which something bad happens, everything will be accessible to everyone in the family.”
Onist, launched in October of 2017, aims to “break down silos and make finances a household affair,” he says. Kotansky funded the start up himself and based it in Toronto because of the talent pool available and tax credits for research and development—which he used in created the software’s privacy architecture.
The product combines data aggregation, cloud based storage, sharing and permissioning, and can be set up by a family member or financial advisor.
Family members upload documents like wills, life insurance policies and partnership agreements and can link data from bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts. Kotansky for example happens to have a valuable collection of Michael Jordan memorabilia. It’s on their Onist account, as are the financial documents relating to his wife’s interior design business.
Onist gives family members a snapshot of the financial status of the household as a whole: assets, liabilities and cash flow. And it has a growing consumer and professional subscription base.
“I was solving a major pain point that I went through myself,” says the entrepreneur. But in seeking to help his aging parents, he tapped into a market for all families, from millennials to baby boomers and their parents.