“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This truth can be applied on a personal level, in business, and can be seen throughout nature all the time. I think a wonderful example of this is the tallest tree in the world, a California Redwood, which stands a ginormous 379 feet [116 m] tall (That’s higher than the Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis). In addition to being the tallest trees, Redwoods are some of the oldest living trees on the planet too, living 3,000-3,500+ years! Another amazing fact about these natural skyscrapers is that their roots are less than 5-6 feet deep! (That’s insane… right!?) So how do these giant skyscrapers of the forest become the oldest and biggest trees on the planet, especially with such shallow roots?
Their longevity and massive size can be attributed to the simple fact that these trees only grow in groups. The intricate root systems interconnect and lock to survive together. The Redwoods accomplish more with each other than they ever could alone. Its a beautiful illustration in nature that shows how teamwork isn’t just the difference of surviving, its the secret to accomplishing amazing things that we could NEVER do on our own!
I’m asked all the time how I started my career in real estate and at a fairly young age sell more than 1,000 homes with over $300 million in sales. Here’s a snapshot of my journey and how I was able to build a business based on the same principle of the Redwood trees.
Chapter 1: ‘Growing Up’ After going to college for music at Northwestern, I landed my first ‘real job’ in 2003 at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. For about the next five years, while commuting from St. Paul (usually in rush hour), I worked around 60-80 hours a week on evenings, weekends, and holidays consumed with countless meetings, events, conferences, and missions trips … all while working on my Master’s degree at Bethel Seminary. It was an intense time of learning, personal development, and growing as a leader. With the responsibility of working in a church that had 8,000+ members and attending graduate school, I was forced to create and implement systems, structure, and accountability with everything in my life. In order to survive, I couldn’t just be reactionary, I had to have a well thought out plan that I could execute and evaluate on a daily basis. These were important experiences that shaped me for the future. As busy as this season of life was, it was a ‘coming of age’ for me as an adult, where I was growing up, having serious responsibilities and building strong relationships within the community.
A couple years later while still at Wooddale, I was engaged to my girlfriend Erin and we ended up getting married in 2007. She had been working at the corporate office of Target in downtown Minneapolis and was starting her MBA program at St. Thomas. After I had graduated from seminary, we had both started new jobs that we thought were the ‘next steps’ in our careers. My wife transitioned to opening new athletic clubs for Life Time Fitness while I started a new position at Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville. We bought our first house together as a married couple in the small neighborhood of Hammers Haven, located Chaska, Minnesota, and life as we knew it was good. All the hard work and persistence in the past seemed to be really paying off with new opportunities for the next chapter of our lives. Little did we know the bubble was about to burst and everything in our lives was about to be turned completely upside down.
Chapter 2: “Changing Direction” It was like someone flipped a switch! We didn’t realize how historically awful and devastating the economic crash was going to be until it affected us personally. After just a couple of months at my new job, in the same week we found out my position was being eliminated, my wife’s job was being terminated, and we were officially pregnant! YIKES!
With school debt, a baby on the way, no jobs, and mortgage bills quickly compounding, we were overwhelmed and terrified! I had to do something immediately and didn’t have good options. There wasn’t time to ‘figure out what I really wanted to do’ or find ‘where I really wanted to work,’ I just had to swallow my pride and take the first job I could find. It ended up being at a local hotel in Bloomington as their shuttle driver… working the vampire hours. I never dreamed in a million years that I would end up making $10 an hour to drive a bus for the airport during the night shift, but I had to let go of what was, and have faith in what would come. For better or worse, a restless determination to do something different and bigger with my life was building up. I HAD to make a shift, take a risk, and get out of the deep pit our family was in. While being in the worst personal financial situations of my life, and against the strong advice from everyone I knew, I decided to start a new career as a realtor… in one of the worst economies since the great depression.
I couldn’t articulate how it made sense, or why I would succeed, but I knew I would.. and I HAD to try! I had a fierce motivation to succeed. I didn’t care how much blood, sweat, and tears it would take, I didn’t care how many calls I had to make, or how much rejection I had to face, I was motivated to fight with everything I had to provide better options for my family. Real estate would HAVE to work! It HAD to be the vehicle to get our lives back on track! I had no other options. I was going ‘all in!’
Chapter 3: “Hard work and Persistence!” Even though there was a lot of resistance and grueling challenges, being a realtor became a natural fit for me. I joined a small boutique brokerage in the Twin Cities and unexpectedly found my place. My personality, skill set, and experiences had all come together perfectly for this job. Helping families from every season and walk of life make important decisions was almost the same as working in a church. Marketing myself as a musician, was the same as marketing properties for sale and myself as a realtor. Having amazing hospitality (like in the hotel industry) was critically important as a real estate agent too. All the random dots in my past had finally connected, ‘helping others to live a great life’ aligned exactly with everything I was trying to do before but now I was empowering others in a different arena to do essentially do the same thing. As my business and confidence grew, every day was full of new opportunities. Even though many well-respected realtors around me were retiring and quitting left and right because of the horrible economy, I felt like I had truly stepped into my element and my business was growing. I was developing into a true real estate ninja, able to multi-task, get the results my clients wanted, and handle whatever seemed to come my way.
I would need to hustle long hours and focus on exceeding my client’s expectation. Those first couple years I was on the phone more than some full-time call-center employees. I drove more miles than some commercial semi-trucker drivers through almost every neighborhood in the Twin Cities showing homes. I embraced education and took hundreds of hours of extra training classes, and over time, eventually had the opportunity to work with more and more home buyers and sellers. Even though I looked like I was 16 years old (and asked numerous times at open houses if my parents were home), against all odds my career had developed quickly into something bigger than I could have ever imagined.
I stumbled into a career that was satisfying and allowed me to focus on building strong relationships that would last a lifetime. With relentless persistence, I had found financial success and a career that directly rewarded the amount of effort I put into it. I was living the American dream that seemed to be just getting better and better! In one of the heaviest economic downfalls, while facing the worst personal financial situation of my life, my business was growing and my family had many new great options that didn’t exist before!
Chapter 4: “Exhilaration and Exhaustion” As a solo-agent, I had a newfound sense of accomplishment and control that I was proud of. I had moved past my previous financial situation and had the independence to do everything by myself. As my business kept growing, so did the constant all-consuming responsibility and pressure of doing everything alone. The services I offered and the availability of my time became limited and overbearing. With our two young children Kensie & Kallista, and another baby (Kora) on the way, the demands of life was exponential. I became restricted to how much I could help around my own house and engage with my family. Trying to do everything myself had me juggling compounding tasks that interrupted and consumed every moment of my life. I felt like I was on a constant looping clip of Lucille Ball in her famous Chocolate factory scene.
All the feelings of excitement and self-accomplishment eventually turned into a frantic state of chaos and stress. Long days turned into weeks and months, and the years all blurred together, trying not to drop all the balls of responsibility I was juggling. In the little time I had “off,” I was never ‘fully present’ and had trouble focusing on anything but work. I was exhausted and started becoming calloused with everything around me. My business became chaotic, unmanageable, unpredictable, and it started feeling unrewarding. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was burning out.
Chapter 5: ‘The Breaking Point’ As our family grew, the pressure to take care of and spend more quality time with our three young children started adding up. I was juggling an impossible workload, I was too busy to really realize how numb, tired and emotionally bankrupt I was. I found myself tuning out anything and everyone that didn’t contribute to my business goals. As a result, my key relationships, business growth, and even customer service all began to suffer. I was missing out on some of the most critical moments with my family and friends. It was unhealthy and unfair to the most important people in my life.
If there are hundreds of details with every home transaction and I was helping 35+ families at any given time on my own, my personal life and business could quickly shift to chaos. Over time I felt isolated and alone and didn’t have the passion and energy to do my job. I had been buried in tasks and felt like I had lost my purpose… I felt like I had lost myself.
I needed systems, structure, and accountability to ensure I was living a balanced & healthy life and to make sure everything in my business was staying on track. In order to survive the demands of being a real estate agent long term, it involved strategically working with a team of experts who had more availability, different skill sets, and experiences that could support me and my business.
With very little guardrails in my life to protect my time and relationships, I desperately needed to be in a community with a culture that could help me stay focused, motivated, AND balanced. I was going to start a different kind of real estate team that offers my clients and other agents a great life!
Chapter 6: ‘Pressing Reset’ The word ‘team’ can be interesting in real estate. For some, it’s just referring to the other random agents in an office. For others, it’s like a pyramid scheme where one agent is winning at the top and everyone else scrambles to support them with a fraction of the reward. In the ‘old school’ pyramid model, there were many limitations, extra costs, and a glass ceiling that everyone else had to stay below. The only person who really wins with this approach was the agent on top. There HAD to be a better approach that could offer better service, more value, and better results for my clients. There HAD to be a better way than to try and do everything myself based on my limited availability and skills sets. There had to be a better strategy where we could work and succeed together.
After taking some serious time to reflect and evaluate, I decided to make some major changes to my business model and the way I thought a real estate team should operate. I had to work different and smarter. With one of my best friends, I decided to start a new real estate team. It was going to be radically different…and way better for my clients, for the agents on my team, and for me and my family! It wouldn’t be built around my name, but the service we would provide and location where we work. It wasn’t limited by my skill set but use a whole set of highly trained specialist with a wide range of experience and expertise. We would work together in concert like the Redwood trees. It wasn’t going to be limited by my availability but operate collaboratively with a group of agents from all over the Twin Cities. It wasn’t a dictatorship with agents working for me but a ‘flipped’ pyramid model where I would be working as a servant leader empowering and helping my team members grow and achieve their own success. It wasn’t going to be about ego and entitlement (like most teams), instead, it was going to be about humility, hard work, and transparency. It wasn’t about high-pressure sales, it was going to be about creating a positive experience to help families make well informed and confident real estate decisions. It wasn’t about winning alone, it was about winning TOGETHER. It was a model that allowed my team members to operate within their strengths and passions. It allowed us to collaborate in every situation to be better and offer more value. It allowed us to leverage our time and talents to achieve maximum results and value for our clients. Our team would be called www.TwinCitiesPropertyFinder.com and we would be different and better!
Chapter 7: ‘A Different & New Approach’ I was so excited when we launched our team. It was a refreshing difference to everyone! Each client could work directly with me AND have an actual builder, lawyer, an interior designer, a past home inspector, along with 18 other realtors who came from a diverse past with a lot of specialization. Instead of trying to be a ‘jack of all trades & master of none,’ we were exactly the opposite, super focused experts with over 100 years combined experience. It didn’t just offer a better balance to life and more availability to clients, it allowed me to offer tremendously better service and results then what I could do on my own before. Everything was better!
More agents wanted to be apart of our team who each contributed to the diversity, culture, and strength of it. We also decided that instead of focusing our resources and time on having a building and filling it with expensive equipment and lots of employees to manage it, we would become a virtual team. This allowed us to focus on developing our own powerful online tools and unique resources to help our clients. This allowed our team to continue to grow, become stronger, offer more value to clients, and become more innovative every day.
We won numerous local and national award and were able to have options that I never thought were possible.
When I started our real estate team I used the same principle as the Redwood trees. Instead of trying to be like an island and do everything on my own, I realized the secret to reaching my individual goals was actually helping other people reach theirs. Business and life are better together. Teamwork really does make the dream work!
How can you, your clients, and your family benefit from teamwork? What’s preventing you from trying to work with others? How can you strategically create a win/win situation with others around you?