Cynics will always do what they do best. I recently wrote a piece on Entrepreneur.com to explain how and why I decided to retire at the ripe old age of 27 years old. I knew the response to my approach and attitude to work and life would be met with a mix of admiration and stinging prejudice. Believe me, I’ve heard it all:
Must be nice to be a trust fund kid. He knew the right people. He must have won the lottery.
The thing about cynical people is that they don’t want to be inspired. Their biggest fear is not that they will never have the same luck as someone who seems to get everything they want. Their biggest fear is that they will hear the true story. They’re terrified to find out that every success story comes with getting your hands dirty and actually doing things to change your lot in life.
But I challenge the cynics to hear me out. Here is how I made $966,803 in my first full year of business and eventually became a retired multi-millionaire just after my 27th birthday.
A series of unfortunate events is just another opportunity waiting to be created. I am one of seven children of a long-haul truck driver and homemaker who grew up in farm country Minnesota -- the furthest thing from being raised by a silver spoon. If I was going to accomplish anything in life, it would be by setting extremely high standards for myself and outdoing everyone else around me.
At 19, I worked for Kellogg’s Snacks, selling cookies and crackers to grocery stores for very little salary but a chance to earn commission. Motivated by that potential, I became Kellogg’s youngest territory manager who took a poor performing route and turned it into the number-one performing route in the state. I was honored with Rookie of the Year and was enjoying a six-figure income at a very young age.
Then I screwed up.
A seemingly small mishap snowballed into grocery chain politics, power trips and eventually my dismissal from the job. I was completely demoralized from the experience. Within two months, I was evicted from my apartment.
A fall from grace such as mine can usually level a person. Instead, I took this tumble in stride and chose instead to see the next opportunity before me. The crazy part is, I would never have recognized the opportunity without the hardship that came with eviction.
I don’t believe in the three-strikes-and-you’re-out theory. It limits opportunity. Researching the eviction process and trying to find another affordable rental was the first seed planted that would eventually lead to me building one of America’s largest property management companies. But first, I had to get back on my feet.
I came across an ad during this time for a real estate agent position, with the potential to earn more than $200,000. After completing the long interview process, I got the job and started at $32,000 salary, a commision plan and a customer database to mine.
Motivated and armed with a laptop and a $960 loan from my father, I set out to get my real estate license and become the number-one agent.
Though the real estate market was on fire, and earning money for the brokerage was not a problem, I couldn’t help but notice how many inquiries I was getting for those needing help renting and managing their properties. There it was again -- property management was something people needed, but few offered services.
I presented my findings to my then-broker, Jon. He had no interest and told me to stay focused on what was booming, not what was a small (but I knew growing) market. It wasn’t long after that conversation that Jon decided to start his own brokerage. Just like that, I was unemployed again.
This did not phase me. I discovered a growing need and knew I had to pursue it. So I immediately started cold calling for-rent ads to do some research. Here was my pitch:
I have no fees upfront, I will pay all the marketing costs, you can still approve the final tenant but if I find you one, you will agree to pay me a fair commission.
Straightforward, I’d say. Certainly someone would be interested, but after the third call and no bites, I grew weary. Good thing I don’t believe in the three-strikes-and-you’re-out theory, since that fourth call was the catalyst behind what is now Renters Warehouse. It immediately took off and in the first year of business, we rented over 600 properties, hired new staff and made $966,803 in profit.
Shock yourself with your own potential. I truly believe you can be your own worst enemy. Before renting all those properties, I had no idea if I could, I just did. Soon I knew that it was time to try to actually build a company, find and groom replicas of myself and bring this value proposition to scale.
My philosophy has always been to seize an opportunity however it may appear to you, because doing anything else is just irresponsible. Just like you can’t wait for a handout or a stroke of luck to get you to your goals, no one can give or teach you fortitude. It’s just a matter of failing and then getting back up and going for it over and over again.
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