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Real Entrepreneurship

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There is a viral YouTube video going around right now, a “parody/spoof” of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys.  Here it is, in case you haven’t seen it:

I understand that the people behind the video, one Pantless Knights, were making a parody.  I hope to God that they’re ridiculing the people being held up as examples of successful entrepreneurs by the media.  The intro in the sidebar hints that may be the case:

This is a Pantless Knights tribute to our favorite entrepreneurs (who are all “new dorks”). It’s a spoof of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” from the guys behind Grasshopper.com (thank you!). We made it because there’s a new type of dork that is cooler than ever. Look at tech entrepreneurs, hipsters, Computer Science Barbie – they’re all super popular new dorks! Don’t forget to rate, comment and subscribe!

Trouble is, even if Pantless Knights were ridiculing the hipsters and Computer Science Barbies who flock to the latest get-rich-quick schemes that make up so much of the “Web 2.0/social media” world, there are entirely too many slackoisies in that industry making fools of themselves and cheapening the word “entrepreneur”.

Let me rage properly at these fools.

Entrepreneurship Is Easy!  NOT

Now I’m in the blogosphere, Now I’m in the twitterverse
Fans get so immersed, But I’m a nerd forever
I’m the new Zuckerberg, And since my website
I been cookin’ dough like a chef servin killa-bytes
Used to be the basement, Back at my mom’s place
Buildin’ web traffic so that we could sell an ad space

Too many idiots think that being an “entrepreneur” is just a matter of putting up a website, doing some blogs, getting on Twitter, and watching the money roll in.  Fucking juvenile.

Even with tech entrepreneurs, let’s skip over the sleepless nights, the neverending work; ignore the spectre of poverty that hangs over your shoulder every hour of every day since you’ve put your life savings into your idea, and borrowed money from friends and family to boot; don’t look into that yawning pit of despair that every entrepreneur has to go through when you’ve got $10 in the bank account, you need to bring a product to market and you’re not even close; disregard the pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch to investors where they look at you like you’ve got a serious case of brain damage; forget the phone calls with parents where you have to beg them for more money to make rent… let’s skip over all that.

You want a decent idea of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur?  This is a pretty decent, short article.  And those are Yale students, being partially supported by the University, with all of the advantages that being connected to one of the best academic institutions in the world bring them, and often with wealthy parents who can support their wild dreams.

“I’m going to build this website, and it’s gonna be great, because everyone wants to socially network with other blind quadraplegics looking for condos in Miami, and we just need to get to a million page views, and we’ll get significant advertising revenues.”

Except you got no team, no pro forma, no market studies, no experience, and no business plan.  Build a website, get on Twitter, and make money — all you need is an idea, man!

Fake-ass entrepreneurs, who have no earthly idea what it takes to start and run a business, latching onto the latest fad, thinking that “If that Zuckerberg kid could be a billionaire, damn, so could I!”

Real Entrepreneurship

Now I’m pitchin business plans, From the backs of napkans
Micro-lend to Africans, Monetize Kazakastan
Catch me up on linked-in, Dog, C.E.O.
You can see where I be, With the I.P.O.
Now I’m up in skinny jeans, Now a hipster’s lurkin’
Used to be a reject, But now I’m steady jerkin’
Now my glasses mainstream, Now the girlies eyein me
Popular kids copy me, The new swag is irony
Comin’ from the small time, Girls couldn’t find me
Now I scale models, Like I climb on top of Heidi
Start big trends, with tweets that I pass on

Let me tell you one of the reasons why I love the real estate industry: it’s full of real entrepreneurs.

My first week working at Realogy, I met one of the franchisees — a very wealthy, successful commercial broker in San Diego.  He was a white-haired dignified man, full of smiles and charm, and kind.  I figured he was the scion of some ancient California family who inherited a real estate empire.

Wrong.  He told me the story of how joined the Marines straight out of high school, did two tours in Vietnam, got injured, and left the military.  He came home to a young wife and a newborn babe, and found there was no work to be had.  The factory where he had worked prior to the war had gone bankrupt, the economy was bad, and he found himself with about $20 in the bank, and a new family dependent on him.

He started in real estate because it was a pure commission job (as it is today); the brokerage company wasn’t paying him until he sold something, so they were cool to bring him on as an agent.

The man went door to door every day in his neighborhood, in nearby towns, talked to everyone he knew, hustled, then hustled some more, and then hustled even more until he started to pick up a client here and a client there.  He told me about driving 80 miles in the middle of the night in a nearly broken down car to some farmer’s house to get a signature on a contract, knowing that if he didn’t get that deal done that night, he couldn’t make rent.

Over the next thirty years or so, he worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, without a vacation.  He built up his real estate practice, then opened his own brokerage firm, went up, then went down, came close to bankruptcy several times, then got back up again, fought for market share with bigger, stronger competitors, won a few battles, lost some battles, and over time built a business.  He built that business, almost brick by brick, customer by customer, dollar by dollar.

After achieving success, for his wife’s sixtieth birthday, he bought her a brand new Mercedes convertible; it was the first new car that he had bought in forty years.  This was no easy-street “entrepreneur”, nor was he a rich kid born to all the privilege in the world.  This was a real entrepreneur who took chances, who faced failure after failure, and somehow clawed his way back from the brink.

He then turned to me and said, “So when I signed with you guys, licensing your name and your brand, I want you to know that I’m entrusting you with my business that I’ve built over forty years of my blood, sweat, and tears.  Don’t screw it up.”

That stayed with me throughout my entire time at Realogy, and it stays with me now.

Even today, even in the age of Twitter and YouTube, real estate entrepreneurs go out every single day hustling, then hustling, then hustling some more to get customers, get clients, and to meet those customers’ needs to put food on the table and to pay rent.  Some of them are crooks and liars, and some of them are incompetent fools, but others are hardworking, honest, ethical people trying their best in tough times.

These are real entrepreneurs.  Few hipsters toting around business plans for monetizing Kazakhstan exist in that world.

A friend of mine is the owner of a small brokerage company.  She confided in me a while back about some of her issues.  How to make payroll so that her two staff people, whose husbands had lost their jobs, don’t have to go on welfare?  How to compete with better funded, bigger brokerages with what little she has?  She wasn’t living in the lap of luxury, and nearly every evening was spent looking at the books, then looking again, to see where costs can be cut and where more revenues can be brought in, so she herself could make mortgage payments, and tax payments, and a hundred other things that an entrepreneur has to do.

My friend is just one small broker-owner.  She’s no Zuckerberg.  She’s not on the frontpage of TechCrunch and going to parties at 1Oak, burning VC capital.  She’s making it work, every single day, with every agent, with every client.  She’s making money, one ingredient at a time.

That is real entrepreneurship.  I’m proud to know people like that, to call them friends, and where I can, to help them in what little ways I can.

The slackoisie mentality, where one thinks that one is entitled to business success, that VC’s are lined up to hand them money for some random idea or another, that being an entrepreneur is getting wined and dined and partying at A-list nightclubs with rockstars, is pure unadulterated idiocy.  May some of them get the chance to learn what real entrepreneurship is like.

It’s the hardest work in the world (after maybe raising children).  But if you persevere and make it, it’s the most rewarding work in the world (after maybe raising good kids).

And there ain’t no rap song that will capture that essence.

-rsh

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Rob Hahn
Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Massive Blog Post by @robhahn Bravo my Friend, Bravo.!!! I am both moved and motivated all in a instant upon reading this powerful Post. http://bit.ly/bHkPki Thank you for laying it all out!!

  2. Damn Rob, you touched me! I know some good folks that meet your description as well. I am still hanging in there but I am most proud of raising a beautiful Princess that turned into a wonderful Woman! Thanks for the thoughts.

  3. Rob, I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you for expressing such a convoluted matter in a such beautiful manner.

  4. Hey Rob – did I ever tell you that I opened my first office renting the front half of a store front? Or how I got my first business loan? Oh well – maybe next time 😉 Great post

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