In this episode of The Sweaty Startup, I was invited by my good friend Moses Kagan who organized a real estate private equity conference: Reconvene. We talked about how I got started in an incredibly challenging business and subsequently moved into storage, my experiments with spreading my message via different media, how I got on Twitter, and what I learned along the way about the essentials of entrepreneurship and small business management.
Highlights from the Event
Radical Approach to Marketing
Over the last few years of getting myself involved with this industry, I have taken a different approach of putting myself out there. Many feel I am “exposing” all my company trade secrets and that it is going to determine my future in this business. At one point my own partner even said, “Nick! What the F#&k are you doing? Why are you telling everyone how we make money? You are opening our books, consulting on the side, and building online courses….”
The reality is not only am I learning immensely by putting myself out there and creating all this content, but I’m making connections and building trust with followers/potential investors.
Sweaty Startup Concept
Too often those going into entrepreneurship and trying to come up with startup business ideas, they think too big. Many think of Elon Musk, Mark Zucherberg, and Shark Tank, when this is more the exception than the case. Many talk about the ‘Blue Ocean’ Concept where someone creates their own market so they have no competitors.
This is ridiculous! It is rare and near impossible to jump into a market that doesn’t yet exist. Rather it is better business to attack markets that are already proven and simply do it better than everyone else. Personally, I believed in doing service based businesses. In my opinion this simplifies entrepreneurship. Do smaller sweatier things!
Where I Came From in My Career
“What makes me different from a lot of other operators is… I came from the hardest business in the history of the world.” 05:01-05:06 I started my entrepreneurial career starting a service business doing deliveries in box trucks across the country in major cities. It was a lot of work having to coordinate so many young part time employees, but “…we learned a hell of a lot about being resourceful and solving problems” 05:32-05:34
In my mind, business is about momentum, therefore it’s crucial to leverage that into making money. Take every opportunity to learn what you can about operations, dealing with people, solving problems, how to sell yourself, how to communicate clearly, etc.; learn all that shit along the way, make some money. Then you are in a prime position to get into real estate.
What I Learned About Dealing with Online Haters
I started out online on Reddit and frankly, “people were cruel on Reddit.” I think the anonymity created a space for people to say whatever they want without recourse. Soon after encouragement from Moses Kagan, I hopped onto Twitter and began to grow there. Opposing comments from those on Twitter often seem to follow a herd mentality “I’ll have a tweet and if the first response is a good response then the following ones tend to be positive. If the first is negative, then the post continues to get chewed apart. I’ll tweet the same thing every three months.
My Experience Growing Followers on Twitter
One of the key things I have learned in growing my following on Twitter is that “you can leverage Twitter to build a brand, to meet people, to raise money, “ 09:35 The key is knowing how to increase engagement, and tweet relevant content.
Something I found is that controversy builds reaction, which in turn increases engagement. This often leads to more followers. One strategy I have been implementing lately is I will tweet about something controversial and then wait for engagement. After there are a lot of interactions, the algorithm is ready in a way so when I tweet about high value content more people will view it.
I feel like most people tweet too much, sending out these one-off tweets all the time. I’m all about trying to build a deeper relationship with my followers. This is the kind of following that helps me the most in the real estate twitter space. In the end, “the time on Twitter in the last two years has been the highest value work that I’ve ever done.” 14:23 One of the most important things I can currently do for Bolt Storage is to tweet.
Something else I learned early on is that you can’t go out into no-mans-land and expect to grow followers. I needed someone to vouch for me to help build my initial following. Which is why having connection with Moses Kagan was so key.
More importantly than tweeting, something that has to happen before you tweet is DOING something. “you can’t grow a following on Twitter if you’re not doing anything.” 15:48 By putting yourself out there and doing something in the industry that people care to hear and see about is vital to making things relevant.
Touching On Some of the Videos I Post
One of the things that Moses brought up that I have done is some of the quick videos I have put together. In these I’m sitting in a truck or at one of my facilities explaining what is currently going on with that specific property. The key attributes that make these videos is that they are super raw, natural, not produced.
I came into my online presence as someone too cocky. I quickly got a humility check and changed my approach. I started being real and not acting like I was the smartest one in the room. I did this in two ways, I would say that I’m not sure about something and ask for others’ thoughts or I would make a definitive statement about something I was unsure about and wait for the opinions to flow in.
Doing this was a great way for me to get feedback from a lot of really smart people. It was a great way for me to learn a lot FAST. I’ve gained so much since I have been doing this, and because of that, I honestly wish I could convince everybody going into the real estate industry to put themselves out there on the internet. 10:47-10:511
Our Company Growth and Raising Money
Raising money now is in large part because of the presence we have online. To put that in perspective, I have people wiring me money that I have never met in person. These are people that follow me. Why? It’s because many of these have followed me for so long that they already feel they know me.
Many think that because of our growth and size that we have been functioning for a long time. The reality is, Bolt Storage is young. I’m not going to pretend to know everything in the private real estate industry. I may act like an expert on twitter, but I’m not doing anything outlandishly complicated. This industry isn’t that complex.
How I Deal with a Remote Team
Things took a downturn in my original venture with College deliveries when COVID hit the world. Luckily we shifted our efforts and we were lucky. Now we are hiring and refining our company, building up systems and even hiring abroad. But the main part of all of this is we have become a very remote company. In fact, hiring abroad is probably the most important part of my company.” 29:05
“Growing from 6 to 25 employees was pretty stressful because we had to figure out who those people were, who could make decisions, etc. Now, we know what our people are competent at, who we need leading teams; we are spending much of our time creating systems, it’s about training more people and bringing them in.“ 30:37
How do we deal with the challenges of bringing in people and cultrating them? I spend almost all my time chasing talent. We have written procedures to systemize things for our employees. Employees appreciate the clarity in their job descriptions.
What Is It That Bolt Storage Does
When it comes to the self storage industry, many of the key players (i.e. Extra Space Storage, Public Storage, and Cube Smart) only own 30% of the market and they have an in-person manager in each of their facilities. I think that will be the case for perhaps 10 more years. Bolt Storage has sought to automate and run things digitally. Not only do we cut costs, but we are about to drive revenue more efficiently finding market value. On top of this, we are able to buy facilities in different asset classes and run them far more effectively than any surrounding properties.
Primarily, we are running 3 businesses (the LP, The GP, and Property Management) and we are always looking to be sure that each of these businesses is profitable. In my videos, I love to show how we are running things. Unlike many, I hate putting together a 5 year plan, because there are too many things out of my control. But, what I can control is how I operate the business.
In many ways it’s this raw display of how we operate and function at Bolt Storage that builds a sense of trust by those following us in the community. This type of marketing provides investor opportunities that help us grow as a company. These videos allow for investors to see exactly how we think which in turn reassures them in our investment-partnership relationship. In the end, doing my podcasts is selling myself to my investors and the vision I have for our company. At the end of the day, I remind myself why I am doing all of this. On one hand, I have all this drive to be a big-name person like Chris Powers and others well known in the industry, but on the other, I have a vision of what success looks like to me. That vision is being able to have a deep relationship with my family, and watch them grow and be successful for themselves.
Three Key Takeaways:
- It’s important for those trying to think of startup business ideas to think smaller and sweatier. Consider service based businesses.
- It’s important online not to go in too cocky acting like you are the smartest person in the room. Take the opportunity to learn from those with much experience in the community by asking questions, and showing that humbler side.
- An authentic and raw perspective in an online presence can help with investment opportunities by allowing investors to see into the way you think; it builds trust.
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