Raj Tut – Founder & CEO, Gateway Multifamily Group

Raj Tut has acquired, transformed, and managed over $35 million in multifamily real estate throughout his 5 years of entrepreneurial experience.

Raj oversees everything at Gateway Multifamily Group, from acquisitions and dispositions to asset management and operations. His graceful mastery of multifamily’s sophisticated, yet emotionally-driven processes have enabled him to continue developing a new standard of excellence for Gateway Multifamily’s group of companies.

Raj Tut is a graduate of the University of Guelph’s Real Estate and Housing program. He is also the founder and principal of the property management company, Tut and Tut Properties.

How did the concept for Gateway Multifamily Group come about?
I named the company after the tallest structure in St. Louis but came up with the idea below ground in the basement apartment I rented while I was in college. Based on the experiences of myself and others, I realized many inefficiencies that led landlords to have horrible customer experiences and products – which would be the properties themselves.

In 2013, I left Canada and immigrated to the “land of opportunity” – ultimately opting to call the St. Louis region home. With limited resources and no connections, I started Gateway with the acquisition of a single mobile home.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was challenging. I was 22 years old and had to improve many general skills that are required to be an entrepreneur and more defined skills that are necessary to be in the multifamily space. Not a day went by where I wasn’t questioning myself and thinking of getting a 9-5.

What was your marketing strategy?
We are vertically-integrated so our in-house property management company, Tut and Tut Properties, has our marketing mainly focused on finding suitable renters for our spaces. We develop a narrative that gets woven into the fabric of each property to signal to potential renters what that property represents regarding lifestyle, safety, and other factors. Each property’s branding is unique and cohesive, from the property level to the Internet. We also leverage technology such as 3D tours, online bookings, and more to ensure the best possible leasing experience for potential renters.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In 2013, the single property we owned had a value of $13,000. In 2018, the properties owned and managed had a value of $35 million with revenue of over $3 million. In 2019 and beyond, we’ll continue to grow and begin expanding to other cities.

How do you define success?
If you are positively contributing to society and making your world (not necessarily the world as a whole) a better place, I would say you are a successful person.

What is the key to success?
The key to success is finding your purpose in life and working extremely hard every single day to ensure you fulfill your mission. For me, it is creating the best renting experience possible for as many people as possible.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Never take someone’s word for it. Always do your due diligence and have important points in writing. I prefer to exchange emails over speaking to people on the phone when it comes to important matters so that I have it in a text format and can always refer back to it.

What are some quotes that you live by?
Entrepreneurs such as myself have to take enormous risks, not only to start businesses, but also to grow them. This Robert Kiyosaki quote keeps me going and taking calculated risks: “Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.”

What are some of your favorite books?
I don’t read as often as I would like to, but some of my favorites are The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell, How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and Multi-Family Millions by David Lindahl.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I don’t have a single day that sticks out in my mind, but the first year was by far the toughest. Having to wear so many hats while trying to launch your company is extremely taxing on your mind, body, and soul.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’ve faced much adversity. What pushes me forward is Gateway Multifamily’s purpose. I think our mission is more significant than me and is deserving of my full effort. Gateway Multifamily has one purpose: to create the best renting experience possible. We do this through a unique blend of branding, operations, and physical improvements at all of our properties. With this approach, we’ve helped thousands of renters live their lives to the fullest.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Do it for the right reasons. Very few entrepreneurs succeed unless they are truly focused on adding value to their customers and society.

Troy Korsgaden – President, Korsgaden International

Author of six books on the insurance industry, Troy Korsgaden is president of Korsgaden International in Visalia, California, serving as international insurance carrier and agent consultant, industry main-platform speaker, and representative trainer. Korsgaden advises most major companies in the insurance and financial services industry, working with large carriers, both in property and casualty and in financial services. He also serves as a subject-matter expert in the area of technology and how it applies in the backroom for carriers as well as their distribution. In 1983, Korsgaden established Korsgaden/Jansma Insurance Agency.

How did the concept for Korsgaden International come about?
Korsgaden International was created to help insurance carriers and agency/firms grow a bigger and stronger local advisor presence.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year was off the charts – both consulting and speaking were immediately at maximum capacity.

What was your marketing strategy?
I leveraged my bestselling book, Power Position Your Agency; the book sold more than 100,000+ copies. It gave us credibility and the opportunity to open doors on a national and international level.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Every working day was immediately filled on the calendar for both speaking and consulting venues. My personal motto is, “Serve first and the money will follow.”

How do you define success?
Today, I define success as serving and being of service to companies and individuals, and hitting agreed growth metrics to build a sustainable distribution ecosystem.

What is the key to success?
Putting the customer at the center of all things. I have several cornerstones to success but believe that putting the customer first is a non-negotiable priority.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
In 1983, my mentor, Jay Green, gave me the best advice ever. He said, “Kid, only worry about the things you can control.” Thirty years later, it still rings true.

What are some of your favorite books?
I like reading Jim Rohn who wrote, Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle. He said, “The book you don’t read can’t help you.” With that being said, I am currently reading The Powers: Ten Factors for Building Exponentially More Powerful Brand by Peter van Aartrijk and Tony Wessling. I’m in the first few chapters and I have already found several golden nuggets to improve my business.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest days for me involves the loss of a client for any reason. Next would be losing a team-member/employee for any reason.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
This is an easy subject. I’ve had a tremendous amount of personal and business adversity. Most of my adversity has been self-inflicted. I have always accepted adversity as a learning opportunity. However, recently I have found more personal peace in adversity. I have learned to surrender to the things that are beyond my control. I am more effective when I surrender and focus on my strengths without trying to control everything at the same time.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Focus everything you do on giving great service. If you put the client first and don’t focus on how much you’re going to make, the money will flow naturally.

Sean P. Finelli – CEO, The Tour Guy

Sean P. Finelli is the CEO of The Tour Guy, a new brand that has evolved from the suite of brands including The Roman Guy and The Paris Guy. Finelli left a Wall Street career behind in 2008 to trace his cultural roots back to Italy. Since then, Finelli has created a travel tech company that helps travelers see the best of Italy and Paris without the crowds.

How did the concept for The Roman Guy come about?
There was no “moment of genius” for the company. We try to use common sense; people want to buy exclusive experiences for a decent price. I watched the movie Contact when I was a teenager. Sci-Fi is always so creative. There was a mention of Occam’s Razor. It basically says that the explanation with the least amount of variables (the most simple) is most often the correct one.

Since that point, I have applied that style of thought to my way of doing business. Simple solutions and simple explanations. That is where I got my simple name, “The Roman Guy”. It is also our method of developing activities. Try to simplify how things are explained, as a majority of our customers are not art history majors, but business professionals. They are obviously all smart, but they most likely don’t know when the Baroque period was.

I also apply that to our digital marketing. SEO is this big mystery to so many people, but we simplify it into steps. Google’s mission is to “Organize the world’s information and make it easily accessible and useful.” If we organize our website(s) well, then Google will be happy with us. After that, we organize our off-site content as well.

How was the first year in business?
2008 was when I started off as a tour guide on my own. I was working on the street in front of the Colosseum asking people to take tours with me. Sometimes, I asked for money; other times for tips. It was hard. I had to sleep at a train station for a few nights in 2009. I was moving between apartments and got screwed on my deposit. It took me a bit to rebound before a friend took me in.

When I tell the story to my wife, she always gets sad for me. I was basically begging people to take tours with me and living on nothing. My memories of that year were positive though. I remember being really happy and having fun. I stayed smart and capitalized on opportunities to make money. I had to swallow my ego more than one time. I had a boss that threatened to hit me in front of a group of fifty people. He was a lot bigger than me too. Some colleagues and I just laughed about it afterwards like it was normal. I had to go back to work the next day for him because I didn’t have any money and we both pretended it didn’t happen. Some people would get really offended and take it personally, but that type of stuff only slows you down – too much ego. I don’t hate the guy today either. I am most proud that things like that happened to me. I prefer the rough and rocky road to success. It makes you stronger and nobody can tell me I haven’t earned my seat at the table.

2012 is when my business partner came along. He motivated us to take risks, and in the beginning, they were all in our favor. I was the finance guy and he was the salesman. We were, and still are, yin and yang, but our confidence and commitment to jumping into the deep end meshed well. When data pointed to a project working, we pulled the trigger and owned it.

What was your marketing strategy?
We provide relevant and actionable content that is useful to our end-users. Basically, we explain everything we can possibly explain to prepare them to go to Italy and then we mention our tours. It stems from my achem’s razor idea. Every time someone says we should have a “best selfie social media campaign,” I flip out. Keep it simple. Give people things they need for free and they’ll reciprocate. Reciprocity works.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
When I was on my own, I managed to attract rich clients. I think people saw how hard I worked and appreciated it. I would meet groups at their hotels at 7:00 AM and leave them at 9:00 PM, seven days a week. Americans especially like a hard worker. There were definitely droughts in my first couple of years, and I considered leaving Italy and going home to New Jersey, but then I would receive an email from a whale…and boom! I’m back.

In 2012, my business partner came along and we worked hard, but had fun. It was the best year to be honest. Since 2013, we’ve doubled in revenue every year. Our yearly goal is to look back at 12 months ago and laugh at where we were. How small our office was. The amount of employees we were getting by with. We have always looked back and laugh until now, but that could change any day. I am always afraid of a down month and I have a back pocket full of plans to course-correct. I am always waiting for adversity when it isn’t present.

How do you define success?
I honestly don’t think I am enlightened enough to give a good answer, for the incredibly-driven success, conveniently, evolves over time. That is what keeps us driven. To reach success means there is a finish line you could step over, but there isn’t. Success is always out of reach. Six years ago, I would have said success will be when we move our office out of my basement. Four years ago, I would say success will be when we have offices in multiple countries. After that, maybe buying a house. After that, owning the offices instead of renting. Now, success for me will be when I can make a profound and positive effect on the world and the people in it. Provide opportunity for other driven people who were born into less-fortunate conditions. If I reach that point, something else will come up.

What is the key to success?
Philosophers and authors have tried to put a formula to this for centuries. Malcolm Gladwell attributes success even to things like when you were born. Rockefeller and Carnegie, the two richest people in history, were born four years from one another. There are another fifteen people on the top 100 richest of all-time list in that same decade. Coincidence?

I don’t consider myself successful yet. I have a long road to go, but if I became successful, I would attribute it to hard work and luck. Hard work is self-explanatory. Luck is because I was born in the right time period. Without the Internet, my business could have floundered, but I was born in the perfect period leading up to the Internet era. I capitalized on it and have the advantage of time over any new competitors.

Haim Saban says that luck presents itself to all men (people), but someone has to take the luck. What he didn’t say is that most people don’t take it. I think the key to success is taking the luck.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The best way to get rich is to be poor. When I moved to Europe, I forced myself into poverty and it taught me to work hard. Once you are poor, you get poor PTSD. If you get out of poor, you’ll get poor PTSD. I have slept on the street before, and gotten into some tough situations that I don’t like to brag about, but I’ll never go back to that again.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Application – We have rigid email and communication standards. All meetings end with a recap of meeting minutes and cascading messaging. Leaders must repeat what we have agreed upon and explain how they will explain it to their people. If someone was silently against a decision, it will come out here.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw (I am dyslexic so this one really speaks to me.)

Application – Similar to the below about Dogma, we look to run our business in a way that compliments our strengths and hopefully eliminates our weaknesses.

“Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” – Steve Jobs

Application – Annually, I meet with execs and question different roles in the company. We question the existence of entire departments and methods of running our company. Why do we need sales? Why do we need marketing? The exercise is not to cut costs and fire people, but to understand if there are evolutions to running a business.

“This is an adventure.” – Steve Zissou

Application – Over-dramatize our current projects and be a leader. Get people amped-up about even the smallest project. Make it feel like every day is a race so everyone goes home sweating.

”When the shit gets weird, the weird go pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Application – Weird is the opposite of dogma. If you want to break dogma, you need to let people be as weird as they need to be.

What are some of your favorite books?
I am dyslexic so I can’t read much, but I listen to about three audiobooks a week. I went through over a 100 books in 2018 so it is tough to say which are my absolute favorites, but here it goes:

Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Just Listen by Mark Goulston
The Tipping Point, David and Goliath, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Powerful by Patty McCord
The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
We had a big screw up on June 29, 2018. We oversold on some tours and didn’t realize it until the week before. We pushed hard to solve the problem, but ultimately there were many people displaced. We stopped everything and focused on the problem and how to solve it. We made a lot of people content, but there were many people that were unhappy.

That day, I called dozens of unhappy customers to apologize on my day off. Many of them had really tough remarks. To say it was the darkest day of my life was an understatement. We refunded tens of thousands of dollars to customers to try to make people happy. It was a very tough time, but I moved forward.

The next day, I got on a conference call with leaders of my company and apologized for not making the best path for them. I apologized for not keeping them focused on what is most important. We moved forward and sales rebounded. We’re a better company now and we won’t make that mistake again. We actually made a six-figure investment to guarantee that it won’t happen again.

For advice, I would have to say that entrepreneurs need to be extremely self-aware first. Know your strengths, and more importantly, your weaknesses. Focus on how you can help your customers, regardless of the cost. Set your company’s values as early as possible and stick with them. Read Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage. Read at least a book a week and forget fiction. Arnold Schwarzenegger said famously, “When you are out there partying or horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard. Someone is getting smarter and someone is winning. Just remember that.”

Misael Tagle – Co-Founder & CEO, DuChâteau

Misael Tagle is co-founder and CEO of DuChâteau. He leads the development and execution of the company’s strategic growth initiatives and oversees its sales and marketing departments. Under Misael’s leadership, DUCHATEAU has grown into a global company that is unlike any other in the industry. In addition to offering one of the most unique and innovative flooring concepts in the marketplace, DUCHATEAU is the first niche flooring company to distribute its products nationwide through its own direct sales force to better connect the growing brand with customers throughout the U.S. – a fact Misael takes great pride in.

A lifelong entrepreneur, Misael started Nexus Brokerage, Inc. with his father in 2001, which primarily brokered commodities, such as meat and electronics, to Mexico. He got his start in the surface covering industry in 2005, when an acquaintance introduced him to South American exotic wood floors as a potential business opportunity. He then started NOBLE Hardwoods, Inc. which specialized in importing exotic South American wood flooring to the U.S. Misael met his partner and current company president Benjamin Buzali the following year and together they formed the start of what would become DUCHATEAU.

Misael was born in Mexico City and spent his formative years in Coronado, CA, studied high school abroad in Switzerland and earned his B.A. in Business Administration from the University of San Diego. He is passionate about music of all genres but is especially drawn to classic rock, and enjoys playing the drums, guitar, and bass in his spare time. Misael’s interests also include high performance race cars, fine time pieces, and other things that marry high style and flawless technology. He currently resides in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego.

Tell me about your early career.
Before Duchateau, I founded a company with my father called Nexus Brokerage, Inc. We specialized in brokering meat and electronic commodities to Mexico. I was driving sales, and the business was steadily growing, but I wanted to innovate in a way that wasn’t solely focused on efficiency and price. I have always had a very strong entrepreneurial drive, and even while I was running Nexus, I explored a variety of businesses and opportunities on the side, looking to see what really struck a chord with me. One of the areas I was very interested in was surface coverings.

How did the concept for DuChateau come about?
In 2005, an acquaintance I had spent time with in Brazil and Paraguay introduced me to an entrepreneurial opportunity in South American exotic wood floors. Through his contacts, I began a venture called Noble Hardwoods, importing these exotic floors to the United States. As this was beginning to show promise, my wife introduced me to Benjamin Buzali through his ex-wife, who she knew from college. Benjamin had been in the garment industry in Mexico City for twenty years, while actively managing his many investments. Like me, he wanted something more. Our connection was instantaneous. We both shared the same strong ambition, entrepreneurial drive, and passion for design.

In 2006, I invited Benny to join me at the Surfaces trade show in Las Vegas, the largest flooring trade exhibition in the U.S. I proposed a partnership over a handshake, and our business was born.

How was the first year in business?
In our first year together, we built on Benjamin’s operational and financial background, and my sales and marketing strengths. We originally operated under a new joint venture named B&M NOBLE Co. We realized right away that finding suppliers in China was the key to success. It enabled us to improve quality while lowering costs. During this year, we launched Royalton Floors, offering polyurethane-based flooring that was popular in the U.S., which later became American Guild and is now The GUILD under the Duchateau brand.

What was your marketing strategy?
We knew early on that we did not want to be just one more flooring company, doing the same things that all of the other companies were doing. We knew that true product innovation was the key to our continued success and growth. Drawing on our passion for sophisticated design, we began looking for something to set us apart.

We found a very unique visual that had not been marketed in the U.S. before. This long-length, wide-plank, hard-wax oil finished flooring was common in Europe for centuries but was foreign to the U.S. market. This was more than a business opportunity – it was a chance to shine and express our love of innovation, design and branding.

This decision is what really made all the difference for us. We single-handedly re-defined the luxury flooring segment and set ourselves apart from all of our competitors. We took these disruptive designs to our Chinese suppliers and created flooring that was radically innovative. With this new look, we knew we needed a new name and brand. Duchateau embodied the European inspiration that would change the flooring industry.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our growth was exponential! All of our competitors thought we were crazy to focus on something so niche than what was common in the market. Our failure was predicted time and again. In fact, we were successful right from the start. Our unique and sophisticated visuals struck a chord with consumers right away, and our biggest challenge was meeting the demand.

Within a few years, the very same competitors who laughed at us were introducing their own European inspired hard-wax oil collections. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

How do you define success?
Success to me is being able to do what you love. I have a passion for design, and I get to focus on that every day. I also love getting to be a disruptive force in the marketplace. It fits my hard-charging and passionate nature. Duchateau enables me to bring all these passions together.

What is the key to success?
Innovation is the primary key to success. I have worked tirelessly to create a culture of innovation at Duchateau. From our product visuals, to our supplier relationships, to our customer service – we seek to innovate every day in all areas of our business. Like a shark, if we aren’t moving forward, we’re dying.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
One of the key factors in our success has been the partnership between Benjamin and me. As someone with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, I originally focused on doing everything myself. What I discovered was that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Benjamin and I brought different skills and experiences to the table – and together, we became even stronger. I’m not one of those people who has to do everything myself. I am always open to input and suggestions from others.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I am a huge movie buff. While I have read many of the standard business tomes, I draw the most inspiration from the classic movies that shaped me. In the movie Casino, Ace Rothstein says, “You’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way.” This approach to partnerships – with loved ones, business partners, suppliers, employees – is eloquently simple but absolutely crucial to success.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I remember a day when shipments we had counted on to meet retailer and consumer demand for our flooring were delayed by situations completely out of our control. I knew the importance of meeting commitments, and it was very difficult to have things go wrong and have no control of the situation. But I learned a valuable lesson – being open and honest with our retail partners made our relationship with them stronger, even through tough times. I don’t need to learn that lesson again…but it was a valuable one!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have that entrepreneurial drive. I don’t see obstacles as adversity – just a new challenge to overcome. I love rolling up my sleeves and diving in to find the best pathways forward. I think you have to have that spirit to really succeed as an entrepreneur. Not everyone is cut out for that – and there’s nothing wrong with that. An entrepreneurial leader needs the dedicated support of his or her team to get to that next level. But it comes down to the leader with the constant drive to build their business.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find what you are passionate about. A gifted entrepreneur can make a success in almost any field, but to really gain fulfillment, you should align your entrepreneurship with an industry or project that speaks to your own internal passions. You’ll still work harder than you could have ever imagined, and you’ll still face obstacles – but you’ll find joy in every step.

Huzefa Tinwala – CEO, VIVA Railings

Founded in 1972, brothers Mark and Huzefa Tinwala began making custom hardware that included decorative handles, security door chains, and doorknobs utilizing the in-house capabilities that made the company unique. After nearly 33 years of success, the second generation embarked on creating and fabricating stainless steel modular railing systems, and thus VIVA was born. For over a decade, family-owned VIVA Railings has been designing and engineering modular railing systems for clients all across the United States for companies like Beck and the University of North Texas. Currently, we have worked with well over 400 clients and that number continues to grow. With Huzefa overseeing day-to-day operations and continuing to build long-lasting relationships with construction and architect firms, VIVA continues to grow and expand with new railing systems and infill options like the ELLIPSE™ modular railing system.

Tell me about your early career.
I went to engineering school in Mumbai, came to Texas A&M university to get my Master’s in Construction Management, and worked for about five years with various general contractors while traveling/moving to FL, CA, NY, and TX.

How did the concept for Viva Railings come about?
My father and brother were in the decorative hardware manufacturing business, manufacturing door and window hardware. In 2004, I had just quit my job and wanted to do something on my own, and saw a sample of a railing baluster that my brother brought in from our store in Mumbai. I then started looking into this product line and market, spent the first year trying to sell railing parts to various companies (now our competitors) without much luck, and some money drained. Then, we (my brother and I) decided to venture out directly to architects and large general contractors by providing a turnkey solution of Design, Engineering, Fabrication, and Installation.

What was your marketing strategy?
Provide a quality product at a reasonable price, while maintaining an operational model of high margins, and most importantly, operate totally debt-free. We diversified by working throughout the country, and globally.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Several hundred percent to more than doubling revenue thereafter, and always having double-digit growth because of God’s grace.

How do you define success?
Do what you want, when you want to, with whomever you want. There are lots of important things in life besides money, but if you take care of your finances, it solves 98% of life issues; pray for the other 2%.

What is the key to success?
Don’t watch negative news; put your head down and work. Don’t get into debt, against conventional wisdom of leveraging off of other people’s money. Family always comes first.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I know today more than I did a few years ago…and it continues.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The first year, when I was not bringing any money in, my family was supported on my wife’s income as a architect and we had a baby on the way.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Blessings from parents, prayers, and support from my wife and brother, who is a co-owner of VIVA.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Take a leap early on in life when you are more agile and less anchored down with responsibilities. Give yourself two to three years to make it work, and work hard at it.