Patrick Flynn is the founder & CEO of Northeast Suites, the award-winning furnished housing company based out of Boston, MA. Mr. Flynn founded Northeast Suites out of his garage in 2012, and in the years since, they have won multiple CHPA Tower of Excellence Awards, including “Company of the Year”. Most recently, Northeast Suites placed #706 in the country on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of “America’s Fastest-Growing Companies”.
Mr. Flynn is a Certified Corporate Housing Professional (CCHP), as awarded by the Corporate Housing Providers Association, recognizing his expertise in the industry. Mr. Flynn was also the recipient of the Boston “40 under 40” award in 2015, an honor bestowed upon the leading businessmen and women in Boston who exhibit entrepreneurial and civic leadership.
In addition to Northeast Suites, Mr. Flynn also owns a dating app startup called dipity, and is an investor in CandyClub.com, a silicon valley-based startup specializing in high-end curated candy boxes sent to customers worldwide.
Tell me about your early career.
My first job was with a company called DS-Max, which involved loading my car up in the morning and heading out to various businesses, offering products for sale to people, while they were waiting in line for lunch or walking out of grocery stores, etc. It was a very humbling experience where I learned to deal with people saying “no” to me over and over again, or to “get a real job,” etc. All in all, it ended up being priceless training that laid the foundation for my ability to sell. Once I decided that this wasn’t going to be a viable career, I walked into the leasing office of the apartment community I lived in and was offered a job as a leasing consultant, renting unfurnished apartments to people in the Orlando area. That was my first foray into real estate. About a year into that job, I saw a job opening back in Boston with Equity Corporate Housing, a division of the company I was working for. Equity specialized in furnishing apartments for companies in the area who were looking for an alternative to staying in hotels for extended periods of time. I flew to Orlando for that interview and was hired doing inside sales and customer service, and started my career in the furnished housing business, which I’m still involved with today.
How did the concept for Northeast Suites come about?
In December 2011, I was laid off from my job and it was a devastating experience. I immediately started looking for a new job in the same industry and received a few job offers from companies looking for me to start a business for them in Boston. I took all of them into consideration, but couldn’t help but feel unsure about the future if one of these new companies were to lay me off again, five to ten years down the road. In March 2012, I started Northeast Suites out of my garage, using a loan from my 401k. My thought process was that if I was going to start a business, this was the best time to take the chance considering my age, thinking if for some reason it didn’t work out, I could always go out and get a “normal job.”
How was the first year in business?
My first few months started off very slow. I was able to work out of a friend’s real estate office in Brookline, MA, and I had built my own website with some furnished listings that I didn’t really have. I’d post these links on Craigslist and market them as aggressively as possible on Google and Facebook. The first two months, I didn’t bring in one dime of revenue and morale was a bit low. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and rent an apartment, furnish it myself, go out to area businesses, and fill it. That strategy paid off as I visited some hospitals near the apartment buildings who had patients staying for extended periods of time in nearby hotels. I was able to get them to check-out of the hotel and into my furnished suites at a cost savings (over the hotel). Not to mention much more space and the ability to cook in a full-size kitchen and do laundry as well. I would flip the profits from the first apartment into a second, third, fourth, and so on. I was able to carve out a niche in the Longwood Medical area of Boston, where I started to build a name for myself with area hospitals.
What was your marketing strategy?
I learned that paying for Google ads was a waste of money in the beginning because I was up against companies that had much deeper pockets than I had. So my next option was to go to some old clients of mine I had met over the years at various companies, thinking they would want to help me out and push some business my way. I was quickly shut down by many of them, as they all wished me luck in the new endeavor, but weren’t ready to start working with a new business that had a very little track record, so they would tell me to come back to them in a couple years once we had built up a reputation and had more financial security. As disheartening as that was, it was the catalyst that caused me to hit the ground running and walk into new businesses dead set on filling my apartments, however I could. There really was no other option. If I didn’t fill them, I’d go out of business in a flash. That’s where my direct sales experience at DS-Max came in handy and helped me keep positive spirits, despite constant objections and hurdles in finding new clients and guests.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Once I landed a few clients and showed them the level of service we could provide, things took off. We did $1.3 million in revenue from April to December 2012. In 2013, it shot up to $4.6 million, and in 2014, we pulled in nearly $7 million. In 2016, we made the Inc. 5000 list as the 706th fastest-growing company in the country, with 558% revenue growth over our first three years! That was a goal of mine since I opened our doors, so I flew out to the conference with my right-hand, Michelle Leonard (Northeast Suites’ General Manager), who has been with me since the beginning and who has been instrumental to our success, every single day.
How do you define success?
I think, every day, you have to set goals in the morning about what you want to accomplish that day, week, month, etc. Attainable goals, yet still things that challenge you. To me, success is achieving those personal goals that help define your ability to win and stay a step ahead of the competition.
What is the key to success?
You have to realize that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and you are going to have some failures. What you need to remember is to not let those failures discourage you from pressing forward and constantly trying to innovate, learn, and adapt. If you can keep your head up and always move forward, blocking out the negative and always staying true to your goals and yourself, you will succeed in your own right, no matter what.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
A couple of years ago, we were growing and I started looking towards expanding aggressively into other markets. I had registered some new domain names, interviewed people in other major metro areas, and started to setup apartments in cities I didn’t know much about. In short, I got a bit cocky. I was so confident that “If I build it, they will come” and didn’t take the time to research thoroughly the competition in a few of these new cities. I learned the hard way that expanding too aggressively without doing your homework translates into service issues and quality control issues, which can damage the brand you’ve worked so hard to build. Since then, we’ve scaled back to focus on our core “bread and butter” markets and ensure our quality levels and response times stay in line to where they were in the beginning, and that strategy has brought us back to where we need to be in order to prepare for our next expansion.
What are some of your favorite books?
My favorite business books include Winning by Jack Welch, The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump, and Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. Other books that pique my interest are A Brief History of Time and The Grand Design by Steven Hawking, and Cosmos by Carl Sagain. Currently, I’m reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The day I decided to scale back sticks out in my mind to this day. We had still been growing in our main/core markets, but having to admit to myself and the team that expanding to certain other markets was premature was very difficult, as we had gotten so used to winning most major decisions. It was a learning experience though, as everything is. I learned that it was okay to be wrong, but even worse to stick with a poor decision in order to prove a point, which I see other entrepreneurs do quite often.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My team and my family are always on my mind whenever making business decisions. Every move that I make directly impacts not just my life, but everyone that works for me. That motivation drives me every day to ensure we stay on a path to provide a career for my employees and a livelihood for their families.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
One of the things I encourage to every entrepreneur who is bootstrapping their startup is to ask for advice and look for mentors. Starting out, I visited my local chapter of SCORE in Boston, who paired me with a retired executive who was volunteering his time to help entrepreneurs with advice and support in their business. That meeting proved to be exactly what I needed to make a more educated decision, in the beginning, to make my first hire to free up my time to grow sales and build the business.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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