120: Johnny Youssef: Pursuing Opportunity Over Passion: An Entrepreneur Redeeming Real Estate While Embracing The Tensions Of Life
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Johnny Youssef: Pursuing Opportunity Over Passion: An Entrepreneur Redeeming Real Estate While Embracing The Tensions Of Life
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This is an interview with Johnny Youssef. Who is Johnny? He is the Swiss Army knife of home renovation. He is a real estate investor, renovator and designer. His passion is turning ugly properties into pieces of art while creating passive income. Johnny specializes in long-term rentals, short-term Airbnb properties and flips. He loves showing others how to get into real estate and has renovated and designed over 50 homes. Besides homes, he has a passion for storytelling, public speaking and content creation. His primary topics of interest are related to entrepreneurship, faith and culture.
Throughout the years, Johnny has taken on a lot of roles including being a young adult pastor, a television news editor, a real estate agent investor, renovator landlord, interior designer, public speaker, event planner and more. Johnny was born in Cairo, Egypt and moved to Richmond, Virginia at the age of fifteen. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a BS in Mass Communications with a concentration in Broadcast Journalism. You can find more about Johnny on Instagram @JohnnyYou or by visiting his website at JohnnyYou.com.
This was a great interview and one that I enjoyed. Johnny and I got connected a few years back and I’ve been following along and staying in touch with him ever since. He is an inspiring up and comer. We talk a lot about different perspectives from the different cultures he lived in. We talk about being raised with an entrepreneurial mindset. He had two parents who were both entrepreneurs and just being raised in that environment and how he views risk as a result. We talk about some of the things he’s learning, like learning how to say no and living in different tensions from different seasons of life.
We also talk about living in the middle of different ideologies from different cultures. We talk about being a first-generation immigrant. One of the large themes was the difference between passion and opportunity. Whether you pursue your passion, whether you pursue the opportunity, valuable stuff on that. The power of storytelling was mentioned and chunking down goals into smaller pieces and much more. It’s chock-full of practical, helpful stories and insight. I know you are going to enjoy this interview, so please sit back, relax and enjoy this interview with Johnny Youssef.
Johnny Youssef, welcome.
I’m excited to be here.
It’s great to have you here. It’s been a while in the making so I’m glad we finally got to make this happen. Scheduling is hard and when we live in two different places, it makes it even harder. Here we are and it worked out.
We’re making it happen. I’m so excited to be here and I love what you do. This is going to be fun.
I want to start here. From what I hear, you may be a pretty renowned Monopoly player.
I’m good at Monopoly. Real life taught me.
What makes you a good Monopoly player?
I feel like doing real estate day-to-day, you have to make quick decisions and you have to make wise decisions. I just learned how to monopolize, I guess.
Would you say you’re a pro grade at Monopoly?
I don’t know. We’ll have to play and then we’ll see.
One thing I’ve heard that you may not be as good or gifted at is snowboarding.
Growing up in Egypt, we didn’t have much opportunity for snowboarding, but I’d like to say that on my second time of snowboarding, I was still going down the slope. Maybe it took me 45 minutes while it took others fifteen, but I made it happen.
Have you been back snowboarding since?
I’ve done it twice and it just takes me a while, but I do it.
Let’s talk about Egypt. You grew up in Egypt. Where in Egypt did you grow up in?
I grew up in Cairo in the middle of the city and I was there until I was fifteen. A big chunk of my life, all my childhood was there.
How big is your family?
I have one brother and parents, mom, dad and then a bunch of cousins, aunts and uncles.
I’ve never been to Cairo and I’m guessing a lot of people haven’t, but how would you describe Cairo and growing up there and your childhood experiences?
I grew up in a city and that was good for me. Cairo was very chaotic. You think of New York but messier, crazier traffic, less organized and less the systems in place, but I loved it. Looking back now, I can see the value of how I grew up in the city. I see friends here or friends that grew up in the suburbs and I think there’s something beautiful about that, having a big backyard, consistency and all that. I also feel like the reason I am who I am now, part of it is growing up in a city.
Culturally, what were some of those gaps for you? What age did you move to America?
I moved at the age of fifteen. There are a lot of cultural gaps and there are definitely culture shock moving. I think growing up in Egypt, one is it helped me prepare for the real world. I’m not saying growing up in the city is better than suburbs or anything like that, but for me growing up in the city meant seeing what traffic looks like and how people interact and being around stores and car accidents. I was exposed to so much. Versus sometimes when you grow up in a suburb or more rural area, it can be very closed off to your community and your friends that you can’t see the real world.
One thing growing up in the city was it exposed me to real life. Another thing is it made me hungry for new experiences. When you grew up in a city where there are new things happening all the time and new restaurants, new parks, new this, new that. I started riding the subway when I was twelve years old. I would hop on their subway to go see my friend on the other side of Cairo. Being exposed to that, it opened me up to wanting new experiences and new responsibilities. Moving here was definitely a shocker because it was very different.
What were your parents’ occupations in Egypt?There is so much push about going after your dreams. Click To Tweet
My dad is an entrepreneur. My parents met in college and fell in love and got married. They never used their degree. They’re both engineers. Instead they opened a shop for making clothes. They had tons of employees and they basically made clothes for places like JCPenney, Walmart and Target. They had a big factory with employees and systems in place. That definitely helped being with business parents just opened my eyes to entrepreneurship and business ownership.
That is interesting coming from two parents who are both entrepreneurs. Looking back on it, maybe at the moment, did you see that as unique or different from maybe your friends or other people in your life or was that normal to you?
At the time, I didn’t see it as much as now, but I did see how my parents were different in the sense of there are pros and cons. Sometimes I would envy my other friends that had parents that work 9 to 5. Life was consistent. My life was a little bit more chaotic because my parents sometimes would be busy. My great aunt, who was basically my grandma, lived with us. They had seasons in life where they had deadlines and they were working until 9:00 to 10:00 PM and they had other times where they’re more flexible. We would travel more than my other friends because my parents were able to take off work because it’s their own business. There are pros and cons, but I think from a younger age, I knew that they are different in the sense of life is going to be a little bit more chaotic and a little bit less consistent.
As you think about it now, having your parents be in those roles, how did that frame your own perspective in choosing to go the entrepreneurial route for yourself? How did that inform your perspective or your approach to that?
It did a lot. One thing is it gave me the courage to say I’m going to go after starting something rather than for a lot of people that grow in very predictable homes, which there’s nothing wrong with that. Very predictable homes, jobs, careers, maybe the corporate world. For them, the idea of starting something or saying no to corporate world is scary and a lot of times they don’t even get support from parents because your parents know you work in the same place and you grow and you make more money. If you know you’re adventurous and risky, maybe you apply for jobs in the same streamline and find a job that will pay you more. That’s as much risk as you take. I think growing up with entrepreneurship at home, it did give me the courage to say, “I’m going to try this. I’m going to see if I’m going to do it or not.” Another thing, it did help me with is I feel like I’m a lot more hungry for adventure and for new things and I’m not as scared of failure. That’s huge. A lot of times we don’t do things because we’re afraid of failure. Growing up in that culture and in that household has made me just more comfortable with trying and feeling.
I love those because it brings so much richness and joy to life and fullness a lot of times. The thing I’m always curious about is would most people benefit from that? What would you say your perspective is? I’m always curious about even being from a small town in Kansas versus now living in LA, there are vast differences in culture and types of people. There are lots of people that wouldn’t do well in LA that live in the middle of Kansas as much as a lot of people that live in LA wouldn’t do well in Kansas. That’s not right or wrong or better or worse, it’s just different. Even when you think about some of the core components of being an entrepreneur is are you able to handle more risk? Are you able to live with more risks and take on more risk? Are you able to embrace the adventure, the new experiences? These kinds of things that I think fundamentally as humans we probably would benefit from as a whole, but maybe not everyone would need that or should have.
I want to be very careful because I think something that I don’t like about a lot of entrepreneurs out there and it’s getting more popular in social media, a lot of people are sharing quotes from the big well-known entrepreneurs. A lot of times those quotes and those people make it sound like if you have a 9 to 5 job or if you are taking the safe route, you’re a loser. I want to be clear that that’s not the case at all. We need doctors and we need teachers. Without teachers, we’re going to have a failed culture and society in general. We honestly need the cashier at a grocery store. We need everyone that’s doing 9 to 5 to do 9 to 5. The point is not to push people and tell them, “Quit your 9 to 5.”
I see that a lot. I see a lot of memes like, “Quit your 9 to 5. You’re not born for 9 to 5,” and there’s some truth to that. At the same time, I think it’s about what I’m hoping even from my life is to help those 9 to 5 see the other side and learn from it and know how to adjust their own life to learn the good from the entrepreneurs. It’s like I am learning a lot from those 9 to 5s. Maybe even or small towns, they don’t go hand in hand as a small town person. For example, I can guarantee you that I can learn from you a lot about consistency, about building something slow. A lot of people that grew up in a small town or maybe blue-collar, they learn to enjoy day-to-day. They learn to appreciate the mundane. They learn to build life slowly and be okay with that.
Consistently, a lot of small town people learn how to prioritize people and family. I can learn so much, a big city guy, from a small town about those things. Learn how to use your hands and get your hands dirty. A lot of people that grew up in the city would not try to fix anything. The same is true and that’s where I’m coming in the picture where I also want to help whether you’re small town. Whether you’re a 9 to 5, I want to help you learn how to take a little bit of risk. If you hate your job, but you don’t see yourself starting your business, how to take a little bit of chances, how to figure out what you want and how to maybe do a side thing that you’re passionate about on the side without having to give up the lifestyle you want.
It’s such a sweet perspective and so neat. I’m so glad you brought that up because it’s both ends saying that, “It’s not this or that. It’s both. They’re both good. They’re both important and they’re both needed. They both need each other.” Both sides of the equation need each other and it’s not about which side of the equation is better or right. It’s about how can both sides help each other. That’s a place with more tension a lot of times because you’re coming to the middle between the two but it’s so true. I got back from being in Hutchinson where I’m from for a weekend. I love it. It’s such a sweet place and it brings me so much joy and that people are so grounded. LA is often the opposite but they’re both amazing and needed. What helps you be grounded in that? Coming from a bigger city or being an entrepreneur and being more in that non-traditional, non-typical 9 to 5 hustle, what are the things that you see that you need from the other side of the fence that help you in life?
I lived in LA for a while. Part of the reason why I moved to Kansas City, I lived in Kansas City before LA and I moved back is because I got to a place where I was too much FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out in LA. I wanted to do so much that it was hard to stay grounded. I have real estate business in Kansas City and I wanted to be in a place where I can slow down. I wanted to still live in the city or close to the city, but I want it to be in a place where I can slow down and focus on consistency, focus on roots, focus on building things, even if it’s slower, but building a stronger business. I think for me that was a choice that I made for those things.
A quiet distraction has been helpful to me. It’s one of the biggest things I need to learn to get better on but I definitely saw a lot of improvement lately. This is one thing like decision fatigue is a real thing. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s when you have to make so many choices in a day, no matter how good of a decision maker you are, no matter how smart you are, it gets you. I’m sure a lot of people heard about how Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day because he wanted to focus his mind on things that matter. If you’re going to wake up and you’re going to have to decide, “What am I going to wear? What am I going to eat? Do I take this with me or do I take that with me to work?”
You go to work and you have so many choices and then you go to lunch and it’s like, “Do I want this place or that place?” When you get there, you’re going to go Chipotle and it’s like, “Do I feel like chicken?” When you make so many choices in a day, you get decision fatigue and you start making decisions for things that don’t matter as much, but then you don’t have the emotional capacity to go after things that matter. Like, “What career path? How do I start my business? What business do I want to start?” I think for me, I’ve been trying to simplify my life, learn to say no, not have to jump to everything and also make lesser choices.
There’s a lot of science and research that’s saying lesser choices make people happier. I know that’s crazy, but like they’ve done research on even ice cream choices. They found out that if you go to an ice cream shop where you have three options and you leave versus another ice cream shop that has hundreds of options. If you go to Cold Stone, that’s one of the basic ice cream, between the mixings and between the flavors, it was over a thousand different options. They did their research where they found out that the people that had fewer options when they went to the old school ice cream shop where it’s vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, they were actually more satisfied with their decision when they went out. They said, “It was great. That’s what we wanted.” Versus when they went to other ice cream shops with a lot of choices and people say, “I should have tried that. It was good, but there was definitely something better that we haven’t tried yet.” Trying to simplify those things has been helpful for me.
There’s so much beauty in limitations and restrictions and that’s where discipline equals freedom, which is what Jocko Willink talks a lot about. It’s true. Once we get these restrictions in place, we actually have more freedom and joy in what we can do. We thrive off of that. That’s how it gets created. For you, what has been helpful in eliminating decisions? What habits or practices that you put into your life to help with decision fatigue?
I’m talking about my weaknesses. In some ways I feel like a hypocrite because I’m still learning to master it but in some ways, I also feel like I can give some insight because it’s hard for me. It doesn’t come up naturally probably like you. Some things would be scheduling. I’m trying to have slots in a week where that’s my social slot. Just because something fun is happening, like Friday and Saturday I’m going to go out with friends one of those days. I don’t need to do both weekends because I can capture so much in those four hours in an evening when everyone is going to have fun. I can have the fun I like to have with planning business and stuff rather than going to different options over the weekend. The scheduling is huge.
Another thing is even for example, going to buy clothes, if I go to J.Crew or H&M and I don’t have a plan. I’ll find myself buying stuff that I like and it’s a great deal, but I don’t need versus before going, I’m like, “Here’s what I need. I need dress pants and I need a tie,” and I’m going for those purposes. I’m focused on that. I do that with life now where what do I need to do this week? If it’s not serving those specific purposes, I don’t listen to the noise. “Johnny, there is this great real state speaker. You need to come.” My goal right now is not to learn more about the real state. My goal is to manage this better so I’m not going to go. I’m not going to even distract my mind.
You have the end of mind and I’m sure you’ve heard that before. What is the end goal for this week? What is the end goal for this year? If it doesn’t serve that, then don’t let them get to you. When people call me to try to sell me stuff where I get emails about promotions, at first I would read everything because I’m like, “That’s a great promotion for this,” but I’m like, “No. Right now, I’m not trying to grow my clientele as a realtor.” No, I know that I have a free month subscription. It sounds great, but that’s actually going to take me to a different direction.
The other thing you brought up that is super important is learning how to say no. I’m curious, what would you say is still the hardest for you to learn how to say no to?
I’m a pleaser. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the book How We Love. It’s a great book that talks about how people are different. They’re pleasers and avoider, but I’m a pleaser, especially when someone invites me to something. They want me or when I get a promotion, even if it’s an email, not a personal call. They’re giving me a free month. I feel like it’s my obligation or something to say yes. Learning for me personally, to be able to say no and not to feel this tension of apologizing is huge.You have to learn to see the opportunities in front of you to try things and to be willing to adjust accordingly. Click To Tweet
One of the things that I feel like I picked up a little bit in this conversation, it seems like you are a very self-aware person. You’ve almost had to be when you run your own business and you are going on for a route because you have to know how you can best operate for the success of what you’re trying to do and the goals you’re trying to accomplish. In your own development process and becoming more aware of yourself, what are the things that have helped you understand the way you think, the way you make decisions, the way you operate over the years in the past and the journey?
Here’s the thing that I didn’t get into, but growing up in a different culture has been a huge benefit. At the age of fifteen, when you come from a very different culture and you have to regularly go through logical reasoning to make a decision. My parents are very open-minded. I grew up going to Christian private school learning English from a young age. I’ve had it easy compared to other people that grew up in a totally different culture, but I still had to regularly compare and contrast different ideologies and priorities. That helped me. For example, things like when I moved, I knew that I had to make a decision because I saw how immigrants my age that moved to the US become more part of their culture. They find their tribe, they find their community, and I’ve seen that. I had to make a decision mentally.
I’ve seen how Egyptians that even come younger than me, like twelve years old, ten years old or maybe even born here. Their parents huddled them into the tribe of other Egyptians. Even though they may have been born in the US, they grew up with a thick accent, they grew up not Americanized at all. They grew up in a small community of their tribe and the myriad within it versus you see other people that come in and it’s an extreme. They are completely Americanized that they don’t even associate with their culture. That in itself, I didn’t want to betray who I am, but I also want it to be open. I’m part of a new culture and I want to add to it, not just take from it in my closed culture. I have to regularly contrast and even faith versus reason a lot of times honestly can be challenged.
This is what my faith tells me but reason says that. How can I reconcile both? If someone’s reading and they’re not from a different culture, it doesn’t mean you cannot take advantage of that. That has been helpful to me to be able to look and be able to reason outside of what the norm is saying. Elon Musk, Gary Vee, all these people are immigrants. Their parents are immigrants. They’re first generation. I think the two things that make those guys talented and successful, one is they had to think and compare and contrast different mindsets and ideologies. Like left-handed people can have a lot more giftings or more artistic abilities because they have to live in a right-handed world.
What happens is you have to adjust to a different environment, which makes you good. It’s like someone who’s blind can naturally start to develop good hearing. Your body wants to survive so you get better at this so that you can adjust to the environment. The same growing up in different cultures. I’ll tell people that the two keys that I think immigrants do well is one compare and contrast and always be thinking. Secondly, is they see the value of the opportunity in front of them. If you grow up in a culture where you have it all given to you, you don’t see opportunities. Sometimes a challenge for you is a setback rather than seeing it as challenges and opportunity. I would tell people reading, learn to always think even politically, philosophically. What’s good here, what’s bad here and how can I analyze it? Is it worth my risk or not? It’s a huge way to live in a way where you can grow rather than being closed up to your tribe or to your familiar environment. Secondly, look for opportunities and take risks.
I want to underscore how interesting and important it is. You said adding to the culture and not just taking from it. That’s such a powerful concept that our role isn’t to take something. What can we take from this culture? What can we have or how can we assimilate? How can we not take from but add to it and contribute to culture in a positive, healthy and impactful way? I don’t know, hardly anybody, including myself who thinks that way. We were like, “How do we start thinking more that way and what does that look like?” What does look like for you as you thought through not becoming Americanized, but not also being an American-Egyptian, but going in the middle or adding to both sides? How did you go through that in your mind or what were even phases of that like for you?
I’m trying to think of specific examples, but I knew that I regularly had to do that. For example, I grew up in a culture where being a doctor is like the best thing you can do. I felt a lot of pressure not even from my parents, just from culture in general. You get to choose your major, choose the best thing, being a doctor. I remember also seeing in the American culture how it’s like a very different ideology where it’s not to go after the prestigious and highest way to help people and make money. That’s how the culture looks. Being a doctor is the most prestigious, you’re going to make a lot more money. It’s a very safe job and it helps a lot of people.
You go after that versus American ideologies, go after what you love. What do you want to do? Do you want to be an art history major? Do it. You want to be a YouTuber, do it. That was one of the hardest things. It’s almost like I agree with both sides and I see the disadvantages of both extremes. I started college as a premed and I gave it a try. I think that’s the part where I tried to do part of my culture. I gave it a try and I took a bunch of classes, but I was unhappy, but also understood where my family was coming from and my culture where it’s like, “What’s your plan to bring something to society?” I was like, “I think I can by being an entrepreneur and I have a mass communications journalism degree.”
Learning communications is part of my gifting. This is where I was more Americanized where I said I’m going to go after something I’m passionate about. That being said, I was also conscious of I’m not going to go blindly after my passion or I would not have gotten in real estate. My passion is I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to go share documentaries. What happened is I had opportunities that came right in front of me with real estate. American culture would say, “That’s not your dream. Don’t compromise. Go after your dream.” Egyptian culture says, “This is an opportunity. Give it a try. You don’t know where it takes you.” I did that and I’m so thankful I was Egyptian in that side of it because I realize how much I enjoy it.
Now, I’m in a place where I still feel like I’m a storyteller, but I don’t have to go through the system of trying to be an anchor in some new station, grow and taking ten years to make it big. I built a business and I can still be a storyteller and thank God for the direction where media is. We’re sitting together because you can start your own podcast. You don’t have to go to a radio station and get a job. You can stick it to the man and do your own thing. This is an example, my career, of how I was able to learn from both cultures and find a happy medium.
I want to go back to that time in college. How long did you go the pre-med route before you decided to make the shift and then how did you make that decision? Inevitably, there’s opposition to change the thing that you set up especially in college. You pick a major and sometimes it’s hard to shift and there are lots of unknowns, pressure from family and all those other factors. When did you make it and how did you come to that?
It took me an extra year in college because of that decision. I was biology pre-med for 1.5 years, for three semesters. At that point, I took some courses that I never needed because they were focused on that. For me, the turning point is when I went to one of the lectures one day. The professor rolled in what appeared to be a body. She said, “It’s cadaver’s day. Everyone come in,” and I remember wanting to puke. The idea that there’s a dead body in the room. I remember I literally left class and I went directly to the administration office. I said, “I’m changing my major.” Also my GPA, I was a 2.8 and I’m like, “My chances of being a doctor with 2.8 because of my Cs were all biology-related.”
I was like, “My chances are I’m going to end up having a biology degree that I can’t use anywhere because I’m not going to make it to med school.” I switched and I thought, “That’s the great thing about America. You can switch. Worst case, you’re back at semester or a year.” I know that sounds dramatic, but in a lot of other places, if you choose a major or if you choose something, you can never go back. I changed my major. That semester my GPA was 3.9. I had one B and I was like, “I’m not dumb. I’m actually good at what I do. It’s just that I was doing the wrong thing.”
What I tell people is I don’t like how there’s so much push about, “Go after your dreams.” It’s such an inspiring quote. Singers sing it, writers write but that’s because they made it. How many millions of singers-wannabe never make it, but you have the one that makes? They say, “Go after your dreams,” or actors and celebrities. If we’re real, there are also 99% of actors-wannabe and singers-wannabe that never make it. They hear this message and they keep going and then it’s disappointing. Life is hard. It’s easy to play victim because you’ve done everything and you couldn’t do it. That’s why I don’t like the whole, “Go after your dreams.” I do believe you go after what you’re good at and what you enjoy. There’s something so great about going after your dreams, but you cannot do this blindly. You have to learn to see the opportunities in front of you to try things and to be willing to adjust accordingly. In the process, I do think your dreams become what you do. If not, you’re going to keep adjusting until you reach those dreams.
It’s interesting because as I say, it’s like 99.9% that don’t make it. We’re talking about 0.1% that makes any of those dreams a lot of times. That’s not to say it’s not worth pursuing, but it’s also not to say that it is what you should pursue. It’s a weird tension in the middle, but I do love the comparison you gave of passion versus opportunity. Especially in America, most people reading are in America, there’s such an emphasis on what are you passionate about. What brings you life? I think that’s helpful and unhelpful thing at the same time because that’s not the whole story. That’s part of the story. If you find what you’re uniquely gifted and talented at, that will be intrinsically rewarding. You have skill and ability there and you can bring that in a helpful way for others. That will bring you passion and joy in it, even if it wasn’t what you thought your passion was.
Let me give you an example. One of my best friends grew up wanting to be an actor. That’s all that he wanted to do. His parents from a young age have invested in him. “You’re going to be an actor.” He had the look, he had everything. He went to the best schools for acting. He has a lot of debt probably because of that school. Everything was playing for that and that was the only focus. I saw how he was struggling because he had everything it takes. He would go to so many auditions where there are 100 guys that look like him. They pick another guy just because he’s two inches too tall or the other guy is two years younger. I can see how it was causing so much pain. He grew up with the mentality that if you go after anything else, you’re in compromise.
He had to work restaurant jobs, like 99% of actors in LA, which tons of respect, but he hated the restaurant job. He was stuck. His whole life was waiting on the lottery tickets. Here’s what I’ve seen with him. He got to a point where he decided that what he loves in the process is teaching acting. He loves the art of it. Not just being on screen, but I saw how he would talk about the techniques of acting and he would get lit up. In the process, he got a job. I pushed him. I was like, “Go apply and see if you can be a cultured acting teacher.” Now he’s working in acting studio. I saw him and he’s so much happier. He loves teaching. He actually moved to Atlanta. He was stuck with LA because if you’re following your dreams, LA’s where acting is. Even though Atlanta is a great market, it’s growing, but it can feel a compromise if you’re following your dreams. Why would you leave LA if you want to be an actor?
He was willing to make the move. I went and visited him in Atlanta and his life is so much richer. One, he’s doing what he likes. He’s not working in restaurants anymore. He’s working on the skills he loves, which is the art of acting. Two, he’s still auditioning and it’s not the number one place, but Stranger Things filmed in Atlanta. Many crazy amazing things are getting filmed in Atlanta that the opportunity there is actually maybe even bigger compared to the number of people auditioning. I’ve seen how his life is no longer on a wait. It was on wait until he reaches a dream and until then he’s upset or disappointed. Now he’s like, “I love what I do. I wake up every day doing what I do. I’m no longer poor living paycheck to paycheck. I’m no longer working at a restaurant while my whole life is on wait. I’m still auditioning. If things come, awesome. If not, I don’t feel like I wasted years of my life.”
It speaks into the difference between scarcity and abundance and our mindset in that. Like it’s so easy to shift into a scarcity. That’s our default for everyone is here too like this is the only option. If it goes away, then there’s nothing else. It’s not true. I don’t think it’s ever true honestly, even though it makes me feel like it. You think about going down a path and failing at it. For me in golf, the scarcity mindset that’s natural without it is like, “I’m going to go down this path,” then it doesn’t work out and then wasted twenty years of my life. That’s never true. You’re gaining skills, talents, abilities and perspectives that are going to help you for your next journey.
It’s so hard for us all to have that shift or to be able to constantly make that shift over and over again. It’s going to keep persisting our whole lives. That’s fascinating. One last thing on this, I’m curious, feeling this is an important topic, this passion versus opportunities. Where is that tension for you now? When you think about where you’re currently at, how do you find the balance between passion and opportunities? You even talk about where you’re at in your own business and where you’re trying to shift or where you’re trying to get to. How do you incorporate that into your decision making, especially with your direction in your career?
It’s funny you’re asking this because it’s perfect timing. I’m in a place now where I was going after opportunity, knowing what my passions are and being aware of them. Doing things on the side to keep them alive, but at the same time not seeing new opportunities. My passion, I see myself as a storyteller. I have a degree in journalism. I love it when I see people’s hearts and lives change because of what I share. It makes me alive, not specifically through one outlet. Maybe that’s public speaking. Maybe starting a podcast, maybe sharing on my Instagram just thoughts. For a long time, I was stuck thinking I’m going to compromise because I’m not figuring out exactly what the outlet is and giving you all my time. I got too busy with opportunity that I let this go aside. I can tell that I was getting into because I don’t want to live my life every day doing real estate and that’s it.If the numbers make sense, you can obsess with the perfect opportunity while losing what you have now. Click To Tweet
I’m in phase two or phase one was saying yes to opportunity and seeming busy, but not forgetting your passion. Now, I’m in a place because I’ve built that opportunity. I’ve built my real estate. I have rentals. I have Airbnbs. I’m a realtor. I can sell and buy properties. I’m an investor. I rehab houses. I have a rehabbing team. I’m in a place now where it’s like, “This is awesome, but I’m getting too busy doing that and forgetting that I have other passions.” I’m in a place right now, which is like phase two where it’s like I can be more selective about the opportunities I have. I’m going to have more time carved aside than I usually do to pursue those things. Whether it’s working YouTube channel or whether it’s collaborating with artists or interior designers, which I love doing that too, I’m in that phase.
The tension is not black and white. It depends on your career and your lifestyle. It’s how important your passion is versus your opportunity. You have to revisit. Every three months, I do like a personal life quarterly review, where I sit down and say, “What do I want to do differently for the next three months?” For example, I don’t want to buy single-family homes right now. Even if it’s a great deal, it’s a distraction. Even if I’ll make good money from it, it’s taking me away from doing things that I want to do. I’m learning to say no to those things. I do not even look online for good deals because that will be tempting. Re-evaluating regularly, seeing what do I do for the next season and then adjusting accordingly for me is key.
What else is in that quarterly review for you?
I reassess relationships. I’m an extrovert and I love people and grew up in a very hospitable home and it’s part of the culture. I love having people over, meeting new people and going deep with old people, but also reevaluating. This relationship brings life to me and I need to spend more time in it or this old friend they haven’t talked to for a while and he’s worth investing too. Being able to be aware though of which ones fill you up, which can be mutual. You can be filling someone up and bringing encouragement, but they do the same to you and which one drain you. You can love someone so much.
I have friends or friends like a little brother, a little sister that I will be for them the rest of my life, but they can be draining. If I’m hanging out with that person every weekend, it reflects on my productivity and my how positive I am. Being able to reevaluate relationships, being able to reevaluate how do I want to spend my time in career and opportunity versus passion. A challenge of mine too is habits. It’s hard for me to not snooze the snooze button or make my bed or have a consistent schedule. What do I need to do to have space to do that? Being able to reevaluate and focus on that.
That’s an important process. One thing you mentioned a couple of times is the passion for storytelling. It’s interesting because you are so heavily involved with your business in the real estate world, yet you have this passion for storytelling. You have a degree in Broadcast Journalism and it seemed like they’re not incompatible, but they’re parallel and different, divergent in a lot of ways. Where did this passion or love for storytelling come from?
I don’t because it’s so funny. In my family, they’re all shy and more introverted. I was the loud guy that likes animating stories. I remember as a kid, my parents would be working hard hours but I’m like, “When they come home, I’m going to tell them about this story in school. It’s going to make them laugh.” I’ve always been attracted to storytelling. The cool thing is not to even go dive deep into religion, but when you look at Jesus, he barely, if at all, ever share theology. It was always stories, the parables. What are the parables? It’s Jesus sharing stories because there’s something so powerful about stories where people can remember stories well. If I ask you about podcasts or sermons that still stuck out to you, you’re going to probably remember a story or a life lesson from someone that’s sharing it versus, “It’s the three points of a happy ending.” Throughout cultures and history, stories are what kept people learning and kept people understanding who you are, what is important and what’s not.
I’ve always loved the power of a story. That can be in any form of theater, movies, sharing in a podcast. Stories are powerful. I love it and I want to do more of it. With real estate, I realized why am I attracted to remodeling homes and what is it about it? I actually realized I love the idea of restoration, the idea of something that the city can tell you, “You need to tear down that building. It’s historic, but it’s ugly and it’s going to cost you a lot.” Me taking the challenge of like, “No, I want to see it completely restored,” is a story to tell. That’s our lies. As humans, each of us believes in lies and we have our insecurities. We have our pain points and maybe on forgiveness and bad memories. Stories are what can get people out of those things. Owning your story and sharing your story with others can be an empowering tool to help others also come out of it. I think stories and restoration come hand in hand. That’s what I do full-time with real estate. I feel like in some ways it’s parallel.
It is. That’s super rad and cool because you wouldn’t assume that right away. That’s how it flushes out and it’s a beautiful thing. I’d love to hear a little bit about the real estate side. How did you end up getting into the realm of real estate initially and then how has your path been different than you expected in this career?
When I was in college, I remember doing some math because keeping an eye on the opportunity and I was like, “I’m going to be in college for four years,” which ended up being five. “I’m going to have to pay rent for some landlords for five years. After that, my brother is probably going to go to the same college.” It was pretty close to home, big university, twenty miles from parents and homes. It’s Virginia Commonwealth University. I’m like, “That means between my brother and me, that’s 8 to 9 years of college.” You do the math and that’s like $100,000 to pay a landlord over eight years.
At the top, I thought, I’m not leaving Virginia. I love it there. My friends are there, everything’s there. I thought, looking for opportunities, why don’t I buy a home close to campus and rent it to friends? They can pay the mortgage? I convinced my parents to look into it because obviously I didn’t have any credits or anything. I was eighteen. They looked into it and they were like, “Let’s see if we qualify,” and we qualified. At the time, people were overpaying for houses. It was not a good time to get into real estate. One thing I learned is people overanalyze with real estate. I was just talking to an investor. I call her investor. She’s not investor because she’s had a lot of money and for the past number of years, on and off, maybe once a year she would call me and say, “I think I’m ready to do real estate now,” but she never executed because she’s overanalyzing. She wants the perfect deal and that never comes.
One thing that I learned is if the numbers make sense, you can obsess with the perfect opportunity while losing what you have now. At the time, the economy was good, the prices were too high. That being said, it was no brainer for my parents when I was looking into it with them. They said, “You’re going to have three roommates and they are going to cover all the mortgage. That’s enough for you to live for free.” On top of that, someone else is paying the debt on the house. Why not? Rather than being like, “The economy isn’t good right now. Let’s wait for five years. Maybe the economy will feel and that will be perfect timing.” If they looked at now, “This is good. Let’s go for it.” They got the first house and that’s all I wanted, a house for me to live in, a couple of blocks from campus and have roommates.
I did that. They came to me and said, “This whole block, a lot of houses are being sold.” It was the time when everyone qualified for a mortgage, even if they shouldn’t qualify before the crash. They were like, “We went under contract on six other houses.” I’m like, “What? No.” They were like, “It makes sense. You can rent it for students and they’re going to pay mortgage and we don’t have to pay anything and we’re going to own houses.” I’m like, “No.” I’m also full-time college student and overnight, literally within six months, I was managing 35 college students, five students in every house.
That was my part-time job but, in the process, I saw how opportunity can change your life. At first I was bitter actually. I was like, “What if I want to do something else during college?” I could have said no, but I looked at it as this is an opportunity for me to learn so much about business, communications with people, boundaries, contracts and I did. That’s how I got into it. When I was in Kansas City, I moved to Kansas City for an internship and when I was there, the economy was bad at that time. I was like, “Maybe I should stick around and see an opportunity here.” That’s what got me into real estate.
You were managing 35 renters that were college students.
There were lots of stories there.
What is one of the most outrageous stories that come to mind from that?
At 3:00 in the morning getting a call from a policeman saying that, “There’s a guy peeing on the neighbor’s house at 3:00 in the morning.” I get out and I realized that one of my tenants decided they were having a party. He decided to walk to the neighbor next door and start peeing on their house. Obviously, even having to be a leader, that tenant was older than me, but being like, “Forget that I’m a college student next door. I am the property manager. I know I’m nineteen but you’re going to take me seriously and this is a warning. If this happens again, you’re going to be kicked out and you’re going to lose your deposit.” That was one of the learning stories for me too.
During this time, did your parents basically say, “We’ve funded this. Now, go take care of it?” Were they helping you and manage it or getting the system set up or were you on your own?
That’s when I say the culture is a chaotic road. They look at an opportunity, go for it and then they figure it out. They didn’t have a plan, which is part of the frustration. I’m so thankful for that looking back, but at the time it was not pretty because I was like, “What are we going to do?” “I don’t know. We will figure it out as we go. Here are your keys.” They were not throwing everything on me. They’re like, “We’ll make copies of keys and give them to people.” “Do we have a contract?” “No. I guess we need one of those.” I’m researching on Google for contracts and editing contracts and winging it as I go.
That’s the thing that I would say also is a key success for a lot of people. They wing it until they make it rather than people that research it. They need to do twenty online courses before they start anything. I was winging it and perfecting the system as I go. “Here are the keys, here are the systems, here are labels, here are contracts and here are the rules.” The first year, “People do that and that doesn’t protect us in our contract. People break this and that. Let’s add to the contract so that they can be fined if they do this.” Every year I’m editing that contract. It will never be perfect, but it’s getting close to perfect because it’s winging it as you go.Blessed are those who believe without seeing. Click To Tweet
You have to start before you’re ready and everything and you learn by doing it. It’s an experience. It’s true with this. I cringe when I go back and I’m not going to go back. It’s hilarious. Moving forward from that, it was originally that in college was a massive learning. It seems like even in the past sense, and I’m curious to hear about it, but it seems like you are a self-learner. You’re very motivated, driven and capable of learning on your own. You don’t wait to have someone give you the perfect system. When you say that’s held true as you’ve moved forward in your career, give us a little taste of what that path has been like in the real estate world.
There are two types of people. There are ones when they buy a new camera that takes it out of the box, they keep pushing buttons or a new laptop or whatever until they figure it out. There’s the type that opens the manual and reached step-by-step and figures it out that way. Both have pros and cons. I’m definitely the extreme of I will never open a manual on board. That gets you in trouble with IKEA, by the way. IKEA assembly without reading those things, you build a table and you realize you did it all wrong and you start over. There are pros and cons to both. I would say though, in our culture in the West, I think there’s too much emphasis on go by the book, follow the manual. I would say go for it, figure it out as you go. From what I’ve seen, that typically works better. If you’re naturally someone that goes step-by-step, that’s great. Let yourself have the courage also to go forth and learn by mistake and wing it a little bit. If you don’t, you’re doing what everyone else is doing. It’s following the manual and if you do that, you’re not going to stand out. Sometimes following the rules and the manuals actually ruin us. It puts you in a box rather than also realizing, “Why do we have to do that?” That’s been good in this business with my dad. For example, this is silly, but I’ll share an example.
Garbage disposal is one of the costly things and I know that’s a silly example, but I can give you an idea. They are $150 to replace. With college students, you have a lot of people deciding to throw the little metal beer bottle tops and they get ruined. I remember my dad is like, “We need to put that this is not covered in the lease. If you break it, you pay to fix it because they’re costing us a lot every year.” I’m like, “No, dad. The rules are the landlord fixes these things.” I’m refusing to remove that. That’s our job. I later asked an attorney and he said, you can absolutely put that as something outside of the lease.
I was thinking too much in the box. Every lease I read this, not have that. Being able to think outside the box, we can actually make a different rule about this. Since we’ve put that in the contract, we’ve never had a complaint or someone putting stuff that they shouldn’t put in the garbage disposal. Literally this saved us thousands of dollars in the past several years. It’s being able to look at the manual, look at the standards because they’re there for a reason and if it’s not broke, why fix it in some ways, but at the same time be able to ask why and go your path if you need to and learn from it.
That’s such a massive thing. We all struggle with this and that’s thinking critically and intuitively about anything. It’s so much easier to say, “What are the rules or what are the steps as you need to follow it?” You have to think about it, you execute and that’s helpful in some things. Some things like, “This has already been predetermined. It’s the best route for assembling an IKEA table. I need to follow that.” A headache saved, but there are lots of things like where that’s very limiting because you put boxes around everything. It’s the same with golf. For me when I turned professional, I remember I kept looking for the perfect formula for success. I kept looking at other professional golfers and their games and their techniques or strategies and how they brought out their best results. I didn’t realize that that was best for them but not for me. I’ll learn what’s best for me and not for them if I was going to be successful.
This reminds me of going back to the snowboarding part, but let’s not talk about snowboarding as much. We’re going to talk about surfing. I’ve surfed a couple of times and I remember the first day of surf, the guy just gave me instructions, but I was so focused. I wanted to get up. I wasn’t paying attention much to the instructions and I was following my gut. I stood up and I remember on the first day of surfing, I stood up several times and I was excited. The second day I was like, “I get to perfect my techniques.” I was listening to everything he said. I was like, “Put my foot, do this, do that. Step 1, 2, 3, 4.” I lost touch with the gut of like, “Here are the waves and I think I need to balance myself like that. You just do it.”
The second time I could not stand up and I’m so frustrated. Why was it I was able to stand up the first time when I wasn’t paying attention to the instructions? The second time I actually listened to everything and I was like, “1, 2, 3. Dang it.” That’s where his instructions are true and good and I need to listen to them. When you get to a point where you are putting too much emphasis on it, you are not even true to what your body is telling you. You need to curve it a little bit without him having to tell me that’s all you’re going to fall. That’s where you learn from both. If you put too much emphasis on step-by-step with work, with career, with relationships, even if you’re not behind, you’re not going to excel or shine.
It’s even like the difference between practicing and performing in dance or in golf or other sports. One of them, you have to be in your head and super analytical. The other is you have to be in your body and let go of the mind. Both are useful, but you’ve got to recognize when it is useful. It is a beautiful dance. In the career trajectory, give me an overview of how you went from managing 35 renters in college in these properties to where you’re at now with your current portfolio. The business you’re running and the pivot where you’re making, it’s been quite a journey. I know that. Could you maybe give an overview of maybe some of the different phases you found yourself in the real estate business as you went through it? What each of those phases gave you with your business?
I started again with nothing. When I moved to Kansas City, I was there for an internship and I didn’t have anything. The properties in Virginia were managed pretty well and my parents learned those systems that I created for the most part. They were doing that on their own. I didn’t have money or anything to start. Instead of getting obsessed about how do I become an investor, what are the steps, what courses I need to take or that’s not even my passion, I’m going to move. I spoke to the opportunity in front of me. The only opportunity that I had in front of me was to be a realtor. I knew I can afford to do that. It’s a few hundred dollars but I knew that this opportunity will teach me so much about real estate. It will get me connections. It will get me familiar with the market.
That was the only opportunity. I got in it because I saw that you can buy at the time $25,000 houses. I was like, “I’m going to be a realtor.” I got my license and I started being a realtor. Many agents didn’t know that I was working with and did not see the opportunity. With the economy being bad, they were complaining about, “We used to sell $200,000 houses. Now, it’s only investors wanting to buy $50,000 houses. Our commission is cut in the quarter.” People were saying that, but I was saying this is an opportunity where we can still get paid to learn to help investors. I’ll tell agents, “If you guys have a deal that’s too small or investor that wants to buy a bunch of small houses and it’s not worth your money, just send them my way.”
I looked at that and I said, “I’m going to learn from them and I’ll get paid some money.” Not much, but I’ll get paid some money. I start working with investors that literally handed off from agents but in the process I learned, what do sophisticated investors look for? What is a good deal? What’s a bad deal? What are areas to invest in? I started making commission saving money while keeping my eyes on the best deals. When I was in a place where I can qualify for a loan and I have some cash for down payment, I was in front of the line with opportunities. I have access to find those houses before they’re out to the public on Zillow. I started buying in that way. I started buying 1 rental, 2 rentals, 3 rentals, my own house and in the process, fast forward, I owned around 30 homes.
That’s when I also started listening about the Airbnbs and how it can be profitable. I decided that I’m going to try Airbnb. How much would it cost to put furniture on it? One thing I’ll tell people is when something feels too overwhelming, break it into pieces. I don’t know if you’ve heard this before. It’s like, “How do you eat an elephant?” You’re going to cut it into chewable pieces. It can feel overwhelming, but instead of being overwhelmed, I’m like, “You’re being mean. I’ve never done that. How do you do it? What are the rules? How can I afford furniture? What about cleaning?” I took one a step at a time. “This house is in a great area. I own it. Instead of flipping it and making some cash and leaving, what if I get some furniture and I do it affordably?” By the way, Amazon, IKEA and all these places you can get great stuff now for way cheaper. It’s so much easier now to get into anything you want. There’s more competition, but it’s a lot easier to furnish. It’s a lot easier to start your podcast. It’s a lot easier to start your YouTube channel and that’s such a great time we’re living in. There’s competition but we have the opportunity to just go for it.
I literally furnished the first house for $2,500, the whole place. I got some pictures. I took pictures of myself because I didn’t want to pay for a photographer. Now, I can afford a photographer and I put it on Airbnb. I was expecting that if I would have rented this place long-term, it would have made maybe $1,500 a month. It went on Airbnb and it was netting $4,000. It was more than doubled. That’s when I was like, “This worked.” I had plan B, what’s the worst case? What’s plan B if Airbnb didn’t work? I need to move this furniture in storage or sell it and lose some money and then I’ll flip it or make it a rental. I had a plan B fall to and that’s one of those things that yes, I’m a risk-taker, but because I take calculated risks, I do the math. It’s lot less feeling and more numbers.
After I do that, I always have a plan B. My key for people when they’re like, “Should we buy this? Should we rent it? Is that a big deal?” I say first of all, break it down to pieces. What are the steps and get the numbers in place because that makes it easier. The worst case, I can flip it for this much, the best case that much. What happens if it’s the worst case, what do I do? I’m stuck with it. I’m going to foreclose on my own house. Don’t do it. If plan B is, “If that happens, I can still rent it and cover myself for a couple of years until the market is better or until I pay off some debt,” then do it. Do plan A, plan B and do calculated risk. Take it down from emotions to numbers.
That’s good because emotions are so misleading. They’re not bad, they’re just super misleading at the moment. I love breaking it down into sizable actionable steps of how can I take the next step? One of my favorite sayings is, “Baby steps to greatness.” It’s one step at the time, it’s baby steps and how can you take as many baby steps as possible in that? It’s funny because a lot of times I’m guessing that when people see your portfolio and where your business is at, it can feel like, “That’s so crazy. How did you get there? How is that possible? I’d feel like I’ll never get there.” What isn’t often seen is that it doesn’t feel like that ever in a moment for you. It wasn’t your magical plan to get there. It wasn’t like, “This is where I want to be and now I’ve drawn it up perfectly and here I am.”
Not at all. Not to compare other people and stuff, but I did a lot of mistakes. I hired the wrong contractors. I lost money. Thank God, because I did calculate risk, the worst deal I’ve done, I flipped the house, took a lot of time and effort and I sold it. I basically broke even or maybe made $500. Even that was a learning experience. It looks that way. If everything was perfect, like people can assume that everything was smooth, I would have probably had tripled the number of homes. If I had more discipline and better at habits and better at saying no years ago, I literally would’ve had triple the number of properties. My point is because I still tried despite my failure, mistakes, bad habits and sometimes laziness, I was still able to accomplish that versus those who are perfectionist. They’re waiting and over analyzing but they’re not doing anything.
In talking to some of your community, one of the things that are mentioned often and I would agree is that you’re incredibly smart when it comes to business, running the numbers and finding out what makes sense and what doesn’t and acting on it. There are many people that praise your business sense, savvy and saying how incredibly great you are. I would agree with what I know. I’m curious about that. Would you say that it has come through the amount of experience of doing it? Has some of it come naturally from who you are from birth? What would you say has contributed to that business sense or savvy?
I appreciate the compliments. Here’s the funny thing is my gifting is not Excel sheets and numbers and that worked for my favor and not at the same time. A lot of investors I know are successful because they are able to take 100% of their emotions out of it. They look at deals and they look at it as numbers. They decide how much it’s going to make them money versus how much time it’s going to take. They calculate that perfectly. That is not my gift because if I don’t have my heart in it and there’s no creative aspect in it, I don’t go for it. I’ve had deals that are not that great but I was excited and there are little bit of emotions there. I was excited about the process that I went forth and I’m thankful for that. If I’m gifted at numbers, I would have done a lot more. I would have had a lot less hassle in some areas. I’m also all about being true to your passion. For me, if I would just look at numbers, I would have bought a lot more rentals in not great areas that I don’t believe in. I had Section 8 tenants where the government is paying for guaranteed checks.
A lot of investors go those routes because they are guaranteed money and it’s like the best for your buck. I still have to do the equation on numbers. I learned that over time because it’s actually not naturally me. I’m much more of a creative person. Over time I had to learn to slow down my creativity and also look at numbers. I’m not getting into something that’s going to take me six months and no profit. I still want to stay true to myself where I’m a creative person, I want to believe in the product and I’m excited about it, even if it means less money. I would say for me, it was the muscle that had to be worked. It’s how can I be creative, but also how can I be smart? For me, that’s a muscle that was worked. It’s not natural.
Putting in the reps that you have with the process. You can speak to any part because I know you have a multifaceted business within it right now. Within the process of your business along the way and even now, what is the hardest part for you? What is the thing that’s still the hardest part or the things that people don’t see about this work?
People are very hard. I say that even though I know one of my gift is in people. I know how to communicate well. I’d like to think I treat people well. I sometimes worry too much about how everyone is doing and how everyone’s feelings and how the deal’s going too much. That being said, people are complex. I heard Warren Buffett said, “Systems are easy. Making money is so easy. It’s working with people that’s hard.” It’s because when you’re leading, you have to learn how to win people over, how to win trust. You get to a point where you can’t do it all by yourself. I was able to do with 35 students because I lived on the block. You get to a point where you need to delegate and people make bad decisions or they will overspend.Being able to think outside the box can actually make a different rule. Click To Tweet
Learning how to mentor people, how to coach people and how to delegate and let go. Sometimes it’s like, “If I give it to someone, they’re not going to do it as well, but it’s also going to save me ten hours this week so I should, even if it’s going to be 70% return.” Learning that and learning when to say this person is not good for the job. I’ve had it before where I kept dragging the wrong people, believing in them. Being able to learn now to say you can believe in someone, but they’re not in the right place and they’re actually making you lose money. For me that’s a big chance, trusting. When I overtrust the contractor because they’re recommended or whatever and then I realized they’re not honest, that can get to you. Learning the skill of being business savvy and smart and having good boundaries and not taking people’s crap, lies, deceit or even lack of drivenness, but at the same time still being good with people and loving, caring and making people want to work with you is a trick and it’s aligned. It’s hard to do well.
That is definitely a tension and challenging. In the past or in the career path or even in the journey over the past few years, what are some of the lowest moments that come to mind?
I’ve had a couple but it still has to do with people. Learning to love myself and to trust myself and in the process. I’ve had several and sadly a couple of them have been more recent. I’m going through one right now. I would like to say it was very similar to one that happened before, but it’s not as low. Even though maybe it’s even worse than before because I learned so much from the first one. It gave me the strength to know how to handle it. I’ve had a house before. It was an elderly caregiving facility. It was a huge, massive, weird-looking building. It was designed for an elderly caregiving facility. It was abandoned and it was on an awkward street. There are only three other houses on the whole street and it was left. No one wanted it.
I saw an opportunity for a bed and breakfast and it was next to a ministry that people travel to. I thought, “This would be great bed and breakfast place.” It’s before Airbnb was big. I approached the process to do a bed and breakfast. I had a neighbor that was so nasty. He was used to the property being empty. When I bought the property from the elderly caregiving facility, after signing the paper, the guy met me and told me, “I will warn you, you have a terrible rude, mean neighbor that doesn’t like anyone on his street.” I went through the process of trying to get the licensing before Airbnb to have it as a bed and breakfast. I got support from the city. The city was excited because they’re like, “We don’t know what to do with this awkward building. This is great.”
That guy was so nasty in the sense of like he would lie about me. He would take pictures. He would be hiding behind a tree taking pictures trying to find anything wrong, too many people are coming in. He was just trying anything, try to find trash and take pictures of it. He was going to fight it because he didn’t want a bed and breakfast. In his head, bed and breakfast means we’re turning it into a hotel and unsafe people are coming to my street. I remember taking it so personally, “I’m a good person.” He rallied the other three neighbors. One of them was neutral, but the other two like had this picture that I’m this thief coming to the neighborhood. I’m going through the same thing where I was trying to get this massive building become a six-plex because it’s huge.
It’s an old house. It’s 6,000 square feet but it was left for years. No one wants to buy it because it’s too big to remodel. I figured 6,000 square feet, 1,000 per unit. That’s a great size apartment to have luxury high-end quality tenants in an area that’s full of apartments. The neighbor right across, she’s an attorney and she happened to be the ex-president of that neighborhood association. She is doing the same thing that happened to me with the first guy. The first guy ended up saying it’s not worth the fight. I felt like I can put it on Airbnb because they review becoming popular and he can’t do anything because you can just tell me no and tell the whole world yes.
The city was like, “You can put it on Airbnb and then he’s going to get mad, but he can’t do anything about it,” or I can sell it. I prayed about it at the time and I felt this piece of like, “Do you want to fight this? See if you can sell it for profit.” I put a crazy high number for the sale price and double of what I bought it for a year before. I thought, “If I sell it for that number, I make great profits, then it’s like God confirming it’s not worth the fight. If I can sell for that number, I’m going to put it on Airbnb. I wanted to put it out there.” I did and it sold so fast. It made no sense. It’s funny. It got sold to a drug rehab center that doesn’t require rezoning.
The guy now is probably dealing with ex-druggies, trying to get out of drugs. It’s funny how it all panned out. The same thing is happening right now with this lady where she’s like, “I’m going to fight it. We’re not going to have enough another apartment on my street.” The way she is doing it, she didn’t come to me. She rallied all 70-plus-year-old tenants in the neighborhood and they’re all terrified. They are thinking, “This young guy is turning our street into mayhem.” The way she’s doing it is mean. She wouldn’t even talk to me. I tried to meet with her. That’s a low point, but it’s not getting me this time because I know myself. I care about people so I’m going to go for it. If it doesn’t go through, I have plan B and plan C. That’s what I learned.
People are hard. We’re complicated people. One of the things that’d be remiss if we didn’t chat about this, your faith and how that incorporates. One of the people I get to talk to is a pastor and mentor of yours. It was cool to the perspective you brought up that the redemptive story is so it’s seen so beautifully even in the work you do. As Jesus’ followers, it’s a big part of my life and knows it’s a big part of yours. I’d love to hear a little bit about how you’ve seen God use your work for His kingdom and also how your faith impacts what you do and how even the real estate business you’re a part of is an illustration of even what he does in our own lives.
When I say that, I tend to lean and advise people to lean for an opportunity before passion. I say that then I shrugged because I’m like, “That sounds so anti-American culture,” because I’m also passionate about passion. The downfall that is I got to a place where there are so many opportunities and we live in the land of opportunities. Many opportunities and business deals and other ideas that can make more money. It’s overwhelming when you don’t know who you are and what your passion is. That’s where passion is so important. What are you passionate about? In 2019, I’ve been taking steps back and saying, “What is my God-given passion?” Not just chase opportunities. In the process, I realized one thing that’s important to me is to be able to give back and help others that are in need that have no way out.
For me personally, because I grew up in a third world country and I’m not dismissing poverty in America. It’s real. Addiction is real and homelessness is real. I’ve also grown up in a culture where you can have families on the street, not because of drug issues, not because they are lazy, but literally because there’s zero opportunity. They are willing to take any jobs and they don’t know how to feed their kids and they’re on the streets begging, but they’re trying to do it with dignity. They try to get towels somewhere and wipe the car in a stoplight just to get any money without feeling like they’re begging. I’ve seen so much of that. Kids on the streets because mom and dad died and there’s no family and they’re literally on the street trying to survive, which makes them very vulnerable in society for a lot of bad things.
I’m going to Egypt because I’m coming to a place where it’s like, “How can my faith actually reflect in my life?” I’m going on a journey trying to figure out what do I do there? In the long run, I would love to use real estate to do that, to give back. I’m looking into how much would it cost to build a building in Egypt? Material and labor is so cheap. I found out that I can build an orphanage that can fit possibly 30 to 40 kids for $70,000, a three-story building for $70,000. Obviously, there are a lot more complexities like teaching, educating, funding and all that.
For me with faith, I want to remember always how important it is to do things that I believe in. I’m not living on my own in this life to make money for what. I’m going to die. For my kids, great but how am I changing lives? I think the church in a lot of ways has had bad rep because it’s so easy for us to preach without doing. I also recognize that I would like to remind people, if you look at history of the church, the church has done so much. Despite the brokenness of the church, so much good has come out of that. I want to be able to continue that in a way that is actually helping people in need and contributing to society.
It’s been a journey with God because this year has been hard with faith. You’re being exposed to more nonbelievers, working with nonbelievers. You’re working with people in different faith and working with people that are angry at God. I have that too and not being in the Christian bubble, which I’ve always been to until college. In some ways, I was thankful that I was somewhat in a Christian bubble because it’s helped me have the friendships I have right now and learn a lot about God. Now that I’m outside, exposed to so many different beliefs, mindsets and even doubts, I’m starting to have doubts that I’ve never had before. At first it was scaring me because I’m like, “Am I becoming non-Christian heathen?” I’m actually so glad I’m able to ask the hard questions for God versus a lot of people in the church and close cultures or environments. We have those doubts but we shut them down. I’m asking the hard questions with God but in the process of not even having some answers. I don’t want to put my whole life on pause trying to figure it out so I can continue my faith. I want to be able to still continue. How can I build something in society? How can my faith, the goodness of God, reflect in what I do?
If we aren’t asking questions and I don’t know if we’re operating on faith. Faith asks questions that don’t have explicit answers for it. That’s what faith is.
A lot of people may not be familiar with this. There’s a story about how when Jesus was raised from the dead. The twelve close friends of Jesus heard that he was alive. There was a guy named Thomas who said, “I don’t care how many of you guys say that he’s alive. I don’t care even if you have Instagram pictures of him that you can show me. If he doesn’t come in person and if I can’t touch him, I don’t doubt that it’s my eyes and actually see the piercing of his nails on his hand because maybe it’s his twin that we never met. If I don’t see those things, I’m not going to believe he’s alive.” Growing up, I was exposed in Egypt, Cairo, to culture and all that. Growing up in overall is still like a Christian bubble.
I remember praying as a kid, “I don’t want to be like Thomas, God. I want to be the guy that believes without seeing.” Jesus later sees him and Jesus lets him touch him, where he was crucified. Jesus still met him in his doubt. Jesus said this quote, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” That’s an invitation from Jesus. I want you guys to believe without having proof. Growing up I was like, “Jesus, I want that too. I want to be able to believe you.” That’s a great prayer. I’m in a place in life where I’m like we get sometimes in places in life where it’s like, “Jesus, if I don’t see and if I don’t touch, I don’t know how I can believe.” God is not offended by questioning. God is not upset because we see here. In his humility and kindness, he still came and said, “You can touch it,” instead of like, “How dare you?” I think it takes courage to say, “I don’t have the courage to believe. Can you help me with that?” He comes to me and meets us there.
I interviewed this guy, Lanny Hunter and his book, Stories of Desire and Narratives of Faith, which is good. He’s 83 and just so wise. He said in a chapter I read that the opposite of faith does not doubt. The opposite of faith is servitude. It’s so good.
One thing that I actually like. I heard this before, so I’m just going to quote it, “Faith is spelled RISK.” I would like to think that me being able to ask God and say, “God, I want to take the risk of saying I have a lot of doubt and I need you to come in a crazy way,” that’s a risk. If it doesn’t come, then that can cause some people offense. It can cause anger, it can cause more unbelief. It’s risky to ask questions like that to God but “Faith is spelled RISK.”
A few one-offs before we’re done. The first question is what question do you ask yourself the most?
I ask myself often, “Am I maximizing on who I am now?” I’m always thinking, “How can I shine my light?” We all have light and we can get distracted or do the wrong things or waste time.
Imagining your 50-year-old self, what advice do you think you would give your current self?
I would tell myself to love yourself better. That’s self-care. That’s being patient with myself when my deadlines are not met. It’s good to have great goals, but it’s also good to just know that it’s a process. I’d say love myself better. Loving myself better also means being able to say more noes or being able to not let people’s opinions touch me as much. I’ve seen tons of improvement in all these areas, but I’ll remind myself, love yourself better, treasure your time. Treasure what goes into your heart. Be okay with things slowing down, be okay with mistakes and be okay with failure. That definitely would be my number one.
What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?
A business one would be probably Rich Dad Poor Dad. Everyone recommends that. I would recommend it. I would say I recommend it with caution. Even though I don’t think it’s meant to be, some of it can come across a little bit selfish or too hardcore and I have to have my heart in any deal. I would say Rich Dad Poor Dad is a good, eye-opening book. I’ll throw another one in business, The E-Myth, Entrepreneur Myth is really good. If you want to start any business, it does help you know how to run a basic business. I’m not a great reader. If it’s too deep and intense, I don’t know how to deal with it as well, but that one is pretty simple. It’s captivating for a business book. As far as personal, there are a lot. One that changed my life is called Is That Really You, God? by Loren Cunningham. It’s this guy that started this ministry, youth with a mission that’s one of the biggest ministries. It has an entrepreneurial side of it, but it also has it in a beautiful, captivating story of trust and of saying yes when there’s so much uncertainty. In some ways, it’s for entrepreneurs.
The Hiding Place is a great book by Corrie Ten Boom. She was in Amsterdam during the Holocaust and she was able to save 10,000 Jews by hiding them. They will go in and out, but she created a fake closet and she hid them. I actually went and saw the house and I was just so emotional being there. In the end she got caught, she and her family and they went through concentration camp. Her entire family died, but she came out and she was one of the most cheerful, loving and kind people. She will teach you so much about taking risks for the sake of people and having faith and even having faith and forgiving those who wronged you. It’s a great book. It’s easy and super quick to read.
We ask every guest this question. If you could send a morning text reminder to every Up and Comer out there, it’s a text that they would get on the phone each and every morning, what would you say and why?
I would say, “Don’t overanalyze. Go for it. The relationships around you determine your future.”
Johnny, this has been awesome. What are your places for people to find you, your work and to see what’s going on or reach out and say hi?
I’m working on a lot. That’s going to come up soon, but I would say a good place to start is my website is JohnnyYou.com or my Instagram, which is the same is @JohnnyYou. Those are great places to start.
I’m excited to see all of what’s ahead for you and what God has in store because it’s going to be some awesome stuff. Thank you again for coming on and sharing the day. This has been a blast and I know it’s going to encourage so many people. Until next time.
We hope you have an up and coming week.
- iTunes – The Up & Comers Show
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- Johnny Youssef
- @JohnnyYou – Johnny’s Instagram page
- How We Love
- Lanny Hunter – previous episode
- Stories of Desire and Narratives of Faith
- Rich Dad Poor Dad
- The E-Myth
- Is That Really You, God?
- The Hiding Place
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