John Sears and Josh Collins’ business partnership goes back to 2004 when they teamed up to start a small property servicing company. Throughout the course of the following two years, they operated the company themselves and grew it to a substantial enough size to get the attention of another local businessman who offered to purchase it. They used this business as a stepping-stone to being a face in the community and began to get involved with networking organizations and prominent businesses in the area.
Sears and Collins both have backgrounds in business, so they decided to expand their partnership into investment real estate and both completed their real estate brokerage certifications. Once licensed, they launched their real estate partnership under Benham Real Estate Group, a well-known local real estate company. Through hard work and dedication, Sears and Collins helped Benham Real Estate Group grow into the largest foreclosure real estate brokerage firm in North Carolina, and eventually the largest in America.
As Benham Real Estate Group grew to prominence, it began to franchise under the name Benham REO. Since Sears and Collins had been with the company throughout its development, they were a natural fit to open the first franchise locations. They selected Tallahassee, FL and Wilmington, NC and began their real estate operations. Over the next three years, they opened an additional 16 franchise locations in major cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Houston, Kansas City, Orlando, Tampa, and many others. At their peak, these offices were listing over 3,000 bank-owned properties simultaneously and generating over $285 million per year in real estate sales.
In late 2009, Sears and Collins began development of a property service technology company known as PresPro.com. PresPro launched in March 2009 as a company that came alongside banks, asset managers, and capital groups to renovate and preserve their Real Estate Owned, known in the industry as “REO.” They quickly found success and grew their contractor network to over 4,000 vendors who handled up to 70 full renovations at a time in over 25 states. They got the attention of companies like Chase Bank, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others, which continued to fuel their growth.
At its peak, PresPro.com serviced over 35 corporate clients on a nationwide scale, as well as the largest hedge funds and capital groups in America, such as Blackstone’s Invitation Homes, Colony Homes, Progress Residential, and American Residential Properties.
After the foreclosure boom ground to a halt in 2012, Sears and Collins reinvented their company and launched in the Charlotte market as a local home builder called PresPro Custom Homes. Although the new construction industry was virtually nonexistent at the time, their foresight of a changing market paid off and they became Cabarrus County, NC’s largest home builder by January 2013.
Each year, PresPro Custom Homes has grown to triple the previous year’s sales volume, with its pinnacle achievement to-date being named Charlotte Business Journal’s #1 fastest-growing company in 2017. They have additionally been recognized by Charlotte Business Journal for their rate of growth in 2014 (#8) and 2018 (#5). Inc. 5000 has tapped them on their list of America’s fastest-growing companies in 2014 and 2018, ranking #223 and #2101, respectively.
Sears and Collins are also involved with global humanitarian efforts through a business process outsourcing company they started in Davao, Philippines. Named The O-Link, this company serves as a business center in the Philippines that helps locals get out of poverty and become gainfully employed and redirects profits to help establish other local businesses that are run by local individuals. The O-Link trains its employees in many modern business skills, such as word processing programs, English proficiency, data entry, etc. Sears also serves as an adviser for a largely-successful business process outsourcing firm called Flatworld Solutions, which has grown to employ over 1,000 Filipinos.
Among their other ventures, Sears and Collins have founded multiple private equity groups (Journey Capital, Journey Investment Group, Venture Partners), coaching and training companies (Involusion, The Short Sale Blueprint, REO Web Summit), a marketing and branding agency (Moose Mojo), a business process outsourcing company (The O-Link / Virtual REO), a property management firm (MFP Management), and several technology companies (PresPro.com System, Home Value Agent).
How did the concept for PresPro come about?
PresPro was born out of necessity. We were listing foreclosure properties for banks and asset managers across the US and they required the real estate broker to “GC” complete property renovations. Real estate brokers aren’t contractors, but we saw an opportunity to create a platform to manage the process of connecting banks with contractors to get competitive bids on the work they wanted done at their foreclosure properties. We became the middle man and handled the service for a fee that was charged to the contractor. As a result, we grew a contractor network of over 4,000 vendors and were handling up to 70 full renovations at a time in 25+ states. After the foreclosure boom ground to a halt, we redirected our focus to local home building and reinvented our company. After doing so, we pushed hard and became the fastest-growing company in Charlotte (stat by Charlotte Business Journal) and the 8th fastest-growing home builder in the U.S. (stat by Inc. 5000) within just three years.
How was the first year in business?
It was a lot of hard work. We were managing software developers who were writing code for our management system, and at the same time, we were taking new business as fast as we could sign contracts. It was hectic, but it paid off. After reinventing the company in 2012, and becoming a home builder, it felt like we started over again, but this time with a great deal more knowledge of our industry. It still took long hours and dedication, but we had tasted what it was like to grow and knew how to do it.
What was your marketing strategy?
We leveraged relationships that we already had established through our real estate brokerages. Through owning an asset management service company, we became peers with the directors, CEO’s, and owners of the companies that we were working with, which helped get our foot in the door with new opportunities. When we started building homes, we spent quite a bit of time cold calling and emailing past contacts who we thought would be interested in buying smaller houses for investment purposes. We found a small amount of success doing that, but quickly realized that the housing market would be coming back shortly and that the homes would sell themselves. Since we own a real estate brokerage, we used that company to list and sell our homes.
How do you define success?
Success is being a blessing to others around us and in our community. We don’t measure success by what we have, but rather by what we can give. We are grateful that we are the main source of income for over 30 families and a large part of the income for 100’s of others.
What is the key to success?
Two-fold answer: 1) Ultimately, prayer is the key to success. You have to know what God’s will is, and you can’t know that without connecting with Him through a real relationship. The Bible says that a man plans his course, but the Lord establishes his steps. That means that I can daydream all I want about where I would LIKE to be, but it is ultimately the Lord who causes my feet to successfully walk in that direction. 2) Hard work. When you have vision and purpose, you have to push as hard as you can toward achieving that goal. We are goal setters and also believe we should be brutally honest about areas we fall short of reaching our goal. Sometimes, we do that to avoid things that have wasted our time in the past. Other times, it is simply to ensure we don’t get distracted from the goal.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Don’t let your emotions get involved with your business deals in a detrimental way. Always be willing to walk away from a deal. No deal is so important that it should cause you to compromise on reaching your objectives. Being an emotional person usually goes hand in hand with being an entrepreneur. Without that raw emotion, you wouldn’t have the drive to reach your goals, but that emotion can also cause you to enter into a bad deal if you don’t keep it in check. Maybe it’s the excitement of putting a deal together, or maybe the hatred of losing. But whatever the case, you have to be willing to walk away when the deal isn’t right.
What are some quotes that you live by?
Be a fountain, not a drain. Work harder at what is smarter.
What are some of your favorite books?
The Bible, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, Think Big by Donald Trump / Bill Zanker, The Alchemy of Growth by David White, The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
When we were listing properties for Fannie Mae, there was a day in 2010 when the government passed some red tape regulation that said Fannie Mae had to diversify their listing brokers and no individual broker would be able to list over 25 properties. At the time, we had just over 225 Fannie Mae properties in our inventory and a staff of 28 that had already been handling the pre-marketing service of these assets for up to six months per property. At around 3:00 PM that day, we were notified that we would be losing 200 listings without any type of compensation for the time we had already put in (when you accept a listing of a foreclosed property, you agree to perform services without compensation until the property has sold, at which time you earn a commission.) Our average listing price at the time was $150,000 and we were working to earn a 2.5% commission at sale. So that means we would be looking forward to an average $3,750 commission per property, or over $800,000 total. We were able to salvage around 100 of those listings, but still watched as over $450,000 was wiped off of our plate by the government (I think it was right around tax day to boot). Thankfully, we managed to not lay off any employees, but just kind of took it on the chin and began to rebuild.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The love and challenge of the game. An entrepreneur who doesn’t love adversity won’t last too long. There has to be something innate that drives them to go forward despite hard circumstances.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Think through what you are about to do. Read The E-Myth Revisited and be honest with yourself about which category you fit into. Don’t be afraid to fail…if you are afraid to fail, you aren’t the type of person that will make it as an entrepreneur. The fact is there aren’t a lot of true entrepreneurs out there. There are a lot of people who are “self employed,” but not many of them will establish a wildly successful business (I like to try to scare people out of starting a business, because the true entrepreneur will be motivated instead of scared…it kind of separates the wheat from the chaff, so to speak). If you decide to move forward and start a business, make sure you are thinking LONG TERM and you plan to give it 150% for as long as it takes. Take risks…it will be the difference between growth and stagnation (Think Big is a great book to read for this topic).
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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