At 26 years old, I left a comfortable corporate job in banking where I was well-paid, well-taken care of and had 4+ weeks of paid vacation. I left to launch a real estate crowdfunding company, RealtyMogul.com, where I was quickly over-worked, under-paid and the word “vacation” was non-existent in my vocabulary – it could not have been a better move.
We launched our first deal in 2013, funding a $110,000 real estate loan to renovate a duplex in Compton, California and it was the beginning of what is now a thriving fintech company.
This early success was thrilling, but getting from “Point A” of a cushy, well-paying corporate job to “Point B” of running my own successful fintech wasn’t a smooth, easy road.
I won’t pretend that the choices I made would work out so well for every person dreaming of launching a tech startup – or any kind of company, really. However, in reflecting on the different factors that convinced me to make the leap, I hope my story gives those who are facing their own internal struggle with corporate America a framework for determining how and when to make a move into tech entrepreneurship.
Using My Entrepreneurial Background
I grew up as the youngest of seven children (four of whom are business owners), to parents who were both successful entrepreneurs. At the dinner table, I’d listen to my dad talk about his import/export business, which taught me two things: one, I didn’t want to go into any kind of business involving inventory and more importantly, two, that I eventually wanted to become a CEO myself.
Moreover, my personality lends itself well to that goal. Growing up, I had a strong academic hunger and a personal motivation to never be bored. I’m also a futuristic thinker. (If you’ve ever read StrengthsFinder you’ll know what I mean.) I’m happiest when I’m thinking about what markets and market behaviors will look like 10 years from now, and entrepreneurship is one of the few fields that lets me capitalize on that. Even if you don’t come from a family of business owners, if you have a similar appetite for knowledge and a knack for identifying market trends, you probably have the makings of an entrepreneur, too.
Finding the Right Timing
Several factors came together in 2012 to show me that the time was right to build a fintech company.
On the professional side, I’d topped out in my growth trajectory in banking. I was lucky that the senior management team there saw not just my Millennial drive to learn and grow quickly, but also my willingness to actually do the hard work needed to climb the corporate ladder. Still, I hit a point where I was asked to slow down. That didn’t sit well with my entrepreneurial drive to control my own destiny.
Around the same time, the JOBS Act was passed. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who’s read the full legislation cover-to-cover, but doing so showed me that it was going to be to the securities world what the Affordable Care Act was to healthcare. From my exposure to wealth management at Union Bank, I knew that many of the firm’s wealthiest clients were using real estate as a primary means of building their estates. I also knew that real estate is a hard asset class to get into if you are uninitiated. Paired with the growth of crowdfunding, I saw that the future of real estate was going to be democratic, that it was going to be online, and that the marketing opportunity was going to be big.
Back in the 80s, my dad was dubbed the “Fad Man,” which minimizes the fact that he and his business were far ahead of their time. He’d buy tons of product and run massive hyperlocal marketing campaigns, giving away loss leaders for practically nothing. So when people came in to get their free products, they’d wind up spending more money on other things in the store. It was true blitzkrieg marketing, and he was doing it long before most businesses realized it was possible.
I look at our industry in a similar way. Traditional real estate is archaic and slow to change. Most of the standard, established companies are run by older white men, which is fine, but it also means that they’re not always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. It was clearly an industry ripe for disruption. With the JOBS Act, I saw the opportunity to take real estate directly to consumers - the same way my dad took his import/export business directly to retail back in the 1980s.
The main lesson here is that timing is everything: you need to look carefully at what’s going on in your industry – whether it’s new regulations, new technology or new customers – and what kinds of solutions your startup will offer in this new landscape.
Making The Decision
Despite the clear opportunity in front of me and my desire to leave a stifling corporate hierarchy, I wasn’t all-in on the idea of founding my own fintech company. Before I started working on the platform, I was exploring another idea for a transactional service in international medical tourism. I worked on it for about 3-4 weeks before I realized how much I hated the industry. (Nothing against healthcare, but I couldn’t get my mind around the thought of talking about chin implants all day.)
There were personal hurdles as well. Leaving my safe corporate job turned out to be the right gamble, but at the time, it seemed like pure foolishness. I’m fortunate to have an incredible team of mentors to guide my decisions, though, and they helped me see that this really was the right moment. I don’t have kids; my weekends aren’t consumed by t-ball practice or dance recitals. Whether that happens for me in the future or not, there may never be another point in my life when I’m so eager to work 120 hours a week.
In retrospect, it was hardly a gamble. I had a rough prototype and a shoestring deck of the product that would become RealtyMogul.com before I left my job at Union Bank, and I’d saved up enough salary that, with a few lifestyle adjustments, I didn’t have to worry about taking a paycheck for two years.
If you’re thinking about making the same leap yourself, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have plan — not just an idea. And if you can’t handle working a 40-hour day job and a 60-hour night job, the truth is that you probably aren’t cut out for business ownership.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that real estate is a $37 billion industry - and that we’ve only cracked the surface of it. What I do know is that, for the first time in my life, I wake up every morning energized, thinking about the future that lies ahead for our company.
So if taking enormous risks, working long hours and attempting to disrupt traditional industries excites, rather than scares you, you may also find your fit in the world of entrepreneurship.