Gary has worked in a variety of emerging growth markets for more than 24 years in Silicon Valley and India. He’s been successful in emerging markets and public markets in a broad range of industries including residential and commercial real estate, private lending, enterprise software, and high tech manufacturing.
Gary’s early career was in management and technology consulting at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) and in enterprise software sales. During the previous 10 years, he founded and operated both real estate acquisition and lending operations involved in hundreds of profitable property acquisitions, as well as a real estate marketing and software company that services over 1,500 real estate professionals across the United States. He co-founded Wealth Classes, an Inc. 500-featured company with it’s flagship product, The Bankers Code. His most recent venture, RealEstateInvestor.com, with its flagship platform REIvault, made the Inc. 500 list for 2016 and 2017.
How did the concept for RealEstateInvestor.com come about?
It came out of my personal need to find off-market real estate deals in a market that was a decade behind the technology innovation curve. It combined the concept of what my parents used in the 70’s and 80’s, which was mass direct response marketing, with my technical experience of implementing CRM and large scale marketing systems for Fortune 500 companies.
How was the first year in business?
The first year was tough because it required a lot more capital and skilled resources than I originally anticipated. It was the typical entrepreneurial problem – great idea, but grossly underestimating the start up capital and staffing requirements.
What was your marketing strategy?
To utilize strategic partners and affiliates without having to build a large marketing team.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Super fast. Within 2 1/2 years, we were at $6.4 million in sales. The real estate market correction of 2008 had a massive impact that we anticipated and planned for, but took a shift that should have put us out of business. Luckily, I was able to make the hard decisions and downsize quickly which resulted in turning the business essentially off for about three years.
How do you define success?
Personal: combine each of our unique talents with our passions to have a positive impact on others.
Professional: deliver a profitable product/service with customers that are raving fans and competitors that are always in your tailwind.
What is the key to success?
1) A strong vision, well executed.
2) Clarity of vision throughout the organization.
3) Removing friction and inefficiencies from the process.
4) Manage the nickels and know your metrics from day one.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The importance of having a strong coach/mentor who knows you better than yourself.
What are some of your favorite books?
Traction – Gino Wickman
Three Feet from Gold – Sharon L. Lechter & Greg S. Reid
Blue Ocean Strategy – W. Chan Kim
No Man’s Land: Where Growing Companies Fail – Doug Tatum
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Following the real estate crash of 2008, I had to make the hard decision to lay off my executive team and the majority of my staff, contractors, and vendors. After running through all our financial models and metrics, I knew there was no way the existing business could weather the storm and we “couldn’t change out the jet engine in mid-air.” I had to tell all of my investors, friends, and staff, who put up a substantial amount of capital and time, that the business would likely not survive and they would not see the predicted return on their investment. It was very lonely place to be and now I understand why 90% of all businesses in the United States fail in the first year and 95% fail within the first five years. It was an amazing lesson. I learned the importance of 1) speak straight, talk straight, 2) separate your personal bias from fundamental business decisions, and 3) the role of a great CEO/entrepreneur is the ability to see around corners, and ultimately, make the right call.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Absolute persistence and tenacity. Sometimes, we just have to keep laying bricks, even when we can’t see where we’re going. However, we always need to make sure we’re laying them in a straight line to get to the other side, even at points when we don’t see light at the end of the tunnel. As a CEO and entrepreneur, I’ve found it absolutely essential to have a 1-year, 3-year, and 10-year plan and then focusing entirely on a small set of quarterly rocks that move us forward. I always remember a couple of quotes that keep me going, even in times of adversity and challenge: “It is better to have a moderate vision well executed, than a great vision poorly executed,” and you always have to “win in the week.” These quotes came from a great coach of mine, Willie Hooks.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Have a strong, documented vision and plan from day one.
2) Don’t underestimate the amount of capital required to run a business.
3) Get a strong coach to help you see your blind spots.
4) As a CEO, don’t do $10/hr work. Be a CEO.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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