Vincent Balagia has kicked Stallion Funding into full gear to provide hard money loans to real estate investors in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
Vincent Balagia was 26 years old when he founded Stallion Funding in Austin. It was 2007, on the cusp of the Great Recession. Balagia didn’t have much entrepreneurial experience, but he knew he had to strike out on his own.
Twelve years later, Stallion Funding has deployed more than $250 million into Texas real estate markets and produced consistent, high-yield returns for investors.
Balagia likes to be in the driver’s seat, whether at his company or in one of the several sports cars he owns. He’s driven by the desire to create an environment that helps employees grow while also making a visible difference throughout Texas, especially in Austin. Above all, he’s driven by his faith.
“I lead this business by faith,” he said. “I don’t know what’s coming around the corner, but I try to be diligent about it and do the best I can for God and for the people around me.”
Off to the Races
After studying finance at the University of Texas-Austin, Balagia started his career in traditional asset management before becoming interested in a new company that he was introduced to by a friend from church.
The company created its own investments using real estate, and Balagia was intrigued—he was passionate about creating portfolios and investment analysis.
“I asked for a job,” he said.
Balagia got it and worked at the company for two years, learning the ropes. But after a while, he said, “I felt the call to try it out on my own.”
“With other jobs, I felt boxed in. They came with safety and stability, but I was always willing to see if I could do it on my own,” Balagia said. “I tried to be a good employee, to treat the company like it was my own, but I wanted it to be my own.”
So, in his mid-20s, he took the plunge. Stallion Funding started with one investor and one loan.
His goal was simple: Stay in business for as long as possible.
The plan is still working, and Stallion Funding now employs 15 people.
For Balagia, one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a company is seeing personal development in his employees.
“As the owner, the boss, people are investing in me, and I’m investing in them,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want them to feel like that was time well-spent.”
Balagia approaches employment as an opportunity for growth—and that applies to him as well as his employees. At Stallion, everyone maps their personality using the Enneagram, a popular personality test. Balagia said that when co-workers know more about each other, they understand and appreciate their differences.
“When you read someone’s profile and it’s right on, you understand their motivation,” he said.
Likewise, Balagia said using the assessment has helped him see personality quirks as a person’s unique strengths.
“Knowing each other and being known is better for relationships and communication,” he said.
In that same vein, Balagia also uses principles from “The Five Love Languages” to understand how individual employees feel most appreciated, whether through words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time or touch.
“If you can understand what’s important to other people, that gives you a reference point,” he said. “You can really be a blessing to someone and not just a work relationship.”
Everyone Takes Ownership
From a leadership perspective, Balagia said he has learned to speak truth to employees about the progress they’ve made at work and the unique skills they bring to the company.
“I get to see them enjoying their position and have a sense of accomplishment, help other people and get traction, and take advantage of the gifts they’ve been given,” he said.
Even for employees who decide they’ve outgrown their role and choose to move on, Balagia said he’s seen the courage build in them over time to take that next step.
Balagia said that the company’s core values relate to the culture at Stallion Funding. One of those values is relationships—understanding his employees leads to better relationships internally, and when employees gel, they can build better relationships with clients, vendors and others outside the company.
Another is ownership. As stewards of investors’ resources, it is crucial for everyone at Stallion Funding to act for the benefit of others.
“I love to see people own their piece of the business with a passion—to see them really caring, really activated and caring about results,” Balagia said.
Balagia cites the culture of ownership as one of the reasons the company was able to keep the doors open during the Great Recession. Balagia refers to that time period as “character-building years.”
It was a particularly tricky time for a young real estate finance firm.
“Everyone wanted to get out of real estate,” Balagia said.
He briefly considered getting a side gig but decided to train his full focus on the company. He had brought investors into the market, so he focused on getting them out of it with the best possible outcomes.
“We tipped our head down and did everything we could each day,” he said.
Balagia learned valuable lessons during that time. Dealing with foreclosures “took away the fear factor,” he said. And he saw that the market eventually turns around.
“When we have another recession—hopefully not a Great Recession—we know that we don’t stop. We provide solutions that bless everyone rather than be vultures,” he said.
When he needs an off-ramp from work, Balagia turns to his collection of sports cars and a racetrack in Austin.
“One thing I like about them is when you’re engaged in driving at the track, you get in the zone and the stresses of the day or the season melt away when you’re hitting that corner just right. It makes everything very real and brings you to the present moment,” he said.
When driving at high speeds, “nothing really matters if you don’t get through this present moment.”
Balagia’s interest isn’t in just the cars. It’s also in the power they have and how they make you feel when you’re in the driver’s seat, he said. His collection includes a Lamborghini Huracán, Nissan GTR, BMW M5, 1969 Corvette and a Honda S2000.
He’s not clamoring to add a self-driving car.
“I think the world will be a safer place, but I hate being put in a box and having to go with the flow. That’s why I like driving,” he said.
Seeing Dreams Come True
Although he can’t always steer the outcome, Balagia has enjoyed being part of the real estate industry.
“Real estate is great because we see the benefit of projects we finance,” he said.
Balagia has seen some parts of Austin visibly change, partly through Stallion Funding investments. He’s witnessed underutilized areas come back to life, rundown buildings get a facelift and even crime rates come down in some areas, thanks in part to redevelopment. He’s also seen builders “make their dreams come true” by starting out on smaller rehabs and moving onto increasingly larger jobs.
“It’s very satisfying to see others in a much better place because they partnered with us,” he said.
Seeing the tangible results of the company’s work makes it far more rewarding than traditional investing, Balagia said.
“Real estate really connects with people. We all need to have a place we call home.”