Seminary to CEO of 1 Billion dollar company

Bruce: So where did you grow up?

Bob Carter: I grew up in small-town, working-class Texas. Three little places you’ve never heard of, Lulling, Kilgore, and Victoria.

Bruce: I’ve heard of Kilgore.

Bob Carter: My dad was in the working end of the oil field, and we moved around a lot, ended up in Lulling, Texas, town of five thousand, forty-five miles south of Austin, going to high school. Continue reading

Best Realtor in Texas

Bruce: Drew Marye. The Marye Company. How long have you been in real estate?
Drew: Since 1992. I started off working for a real estate developer while I was going to University of Texas. In 1996, I got my real estate license and then shifted focus from development to residential sales. I worked for a company up in West Lake called Stanberry and Associates. Basically, I met a realtor out at Circle C. I was the Realtor Liaison for Circle C Ranch at the time, and I had a bunch of realtor contacts.
Bruce: How did you get those contacts?
Drew: Well, I was the manager of the Information Center. Propaganda Director. I was basically meeting people when they came into the neighborhood and then directing them down into the mobile homes. And out of that traffic, I’d say, 70% of that traffic was realtors bringing in their clients to get the whole … watch the video. We had a video with a little viewing area. We had a big map overhead, Model home information, everything. It was a one-stop shop. They knew exactly where to go, where the new sections were, where they were opening up new lots.
Bruce: How did you get that job?
Drew: From a friend of mine in college.
Bruce: What did he do?
Drew: She. She was the receptionist for Bradley at the time, and I started off as a runner.
Bruce: What was a runner?
Drew: Errand boy.
Bruce: This is while you were in school?
Drew: Yep. Worked 25 hours a week.
Bruce: For how much an hour?
Drew: I don’t have my pay stub! It was cheap. I’m sure it was like 10 bucks an hour, maybe. They’d pay me mileage, though, and I was driving all over town in my little red Civic. All over town. I probably put a hundred miles on my car a day. I think they were paying me 25 cents a mile. Something like that. It was a money-maker. So, I did that. Graduated. Actually, I started there in 1990, not ’92. In ’92 I graduated from college. Then it was natural; I just stayed in that environment because I already had a job. Once I graduated, he basically gave me more responsibility, and figured I was a good man to be the Realtor Liaison. So I saw all the realtors being very successful at the time, because Circle C was the #1 selling neighborhood in Central Texas.
Bruce: Wow.
Drew: They were killing it. I kept spinning my wheels on the development side. He just kept promising me I’d be selling golf course lots, on the golf course back in the day. It never happened.
Bruce: So he promised you the position of selling but he never did it?
Drew: Right. So if you look at the history of Circle C, you’ll know why. He was always battling the city. Hard to develop. But Austin had to develop. That’s the biggest lesson I brought away – That cities have to grow. They have to develop. You have to have the infrastructure in place, and he was a visionary because he knew exactly where … He took MoPac to Slaughter Lake through that was my old boss. So he was more of a mover and shaker behind the scenes as far as working with lobbyists and politicians and everything else.
Bruce: So, how did you make the transition from working for a developer to selling homes?
Drew: So basically I met a realtor there, a lady named Debi Leavitt, and she was one of my favorite realtors. She knew I had the Circle C experience, and a lot of the contacts, and she lived in the neighborhood, and I asked her about her brokerage with the Stanberry at the time, and she said, “Come on. You can be on my team.” She was my mentor in residential sales for probably the first year while I was there. We did some Circle C marketing campaigns.
Bruce: Did you get licensed and start selling for her?
Drew: Yeah … I was already licensed when I when to go interview at Stanberry. And a then it was a quick shift. I just shifted everything from development to residential sales. I became a realtor at that time basically.
Bruce: Well how did you get the work?
Drew: I got in with her people for probably about a year, and she’d give me some deals here and there. The dregs. The deals she didn’t want to work, which, when you’re a new agent, you’ll always get those. I remember showing people, driving into Pflugerville, Round Rock, Georgetown for a whole weekend, and I learned real fast that’s not what I wanted to do, so I reeled back in. But you got to get your experience …
Bruce: What do you mean, “That’s not what you want to do”?
Drew: Well, I didn’t want to show up in Round Rock and Georgetown. I’m a Central Austin guy.
Bruce: How far are those from Central Austin?
Drew: Well, Georgetown’s 35 miles. It’s not where my interests lie as far as architecture and homes.
Bruce: So, what is your interest in architecture?
Drew: Well, I’m a big fan of mid-century modern design, architecture. What I’ve found is people that share the same interest, you’re going to be able to do business with those folks.
Bruce: How did you make a shift from taking these people to wherever they wanted to go to finding people who only wanted to do it in the area that you wanted to do it?
Drew: Well, it takes a while to build up you referral base, your client base, and as you know, in this business or in any business, referral-based clients is where it’s at. Those are your best source of leads and new business. It took a long time to build it up. I started, basically, I worked from Stanberry from ’96 to 2001. In 2001, I started the Marye Company. So I had four and a half years, five years under Stanberry. Building client relationships, starting my client base there. I was very lucky. I rode that whole tech wave, the whole dot com boom in Austin, in the late ’90’s through 2001 when I started my company. I partnered up with ….
Bruce: Well, define that for me.
Drew: Well …
Bruce: What was the tech boom here?
Drew: The tech boom was basically all the startups, all the dot com companies. These companies would form and would have millions in the bank on paper overnight.
Bruce: How did that impact you?
Drew: A lot of those young entrepreneurs were renters. They were young. They had always rented. They were highly educated. And the tech field, for one reason or the other, they were not buying homes. So, I teamed up with a local mortgage broker and we would go take beer and pizza to these guys after work on a Friday and have a New Home Buying Seminar. I probably closed thirty of those guys in one year.
Bruce: So tell me, how did you set up a New Home Buying Seminar? Where did you do it? What did it look like?
Drew: We did it at their office. We would go to them and we would …
Bruce: You just walked in the front door with beer and pizza? Or did you …
Drew: Well, no. We set it up.
Bruce: How did you set it up?
Drew: I knew the CEO of the company, and …
Bruce: How did you know the CEO of the company?
Drew: How did I meet him? Through a friend of my brother at the time, I think.
Drew: I knew that he was a very influential guy. If he would buy a house from me, it would trickle down to his employees. Really, when you lay that out for people that have been renting, and then you realize that they’re throwing their money away every month, and then you can show them how easy it is to buy. Getting a mortgage at the time, it was daunting. If you’ve never done it before … you got to know how to deal with it.
Bruce: So what was the company?
Drew: The company was called FG Squared.
Drew: I met the CEO through a relationship with my brother
Drew: My brother was friends with one of his technical or technology guys there. He was friends with his brother. So it was all, it was through …
Bruce: So where did you meet him?
Drew: At a Barbecue.
Bruce: How’d you swap business cards with him? Were you like, “Hey, I’m a realtor”? You like that brisket? You want my business card?
Drew: Pretty much! Yeah.
Bruce: So you’re at a barbecue. You meet at your brother’s house. You meet some guy. You exchange cards. Then how did you re-connect with the guy? Do you remember?
Drew: Yes, I’m sure I called them at the time before the … well, the internet was there but people weren’t emailing like they are now. So I’m sure I called him and set up a time to come in and visit and then say, “Hey. Here’s what I want to do.”
Bruce: To visit with him about what?
Drew: About setting up the New Home Buying Seminar for his employees.
Bruce: How do you broach that subject with him?
Drew: Oh! Just like, “Hey, I’d love to come in. Introduce myself. Let me bring in a few pizzas. Bring in a case of beer and take 30 minutes of your guys’ time.” And that was it.
Bruce: And tell them about how they can buy a house?
Drew: Yeah. And basically set …
Bruce: And he was interested in doing that?
Drew: Oh, yeah.
Bruce: Why was he interested in doing that?
Drew: Well he owned a house at the time, but he knew that he had a bunch of young guns working for him that had cash. That were making good money. And I think he wanted to help them figure out a way to buy, too. So that was really my first big networking experience.
Bruce: Then out of that pizza and beer … How many pizza and beers did you do there?
Drew: Probably three. Not that many. I mean, once they figured out the game plan, it was on. They were calling. I had them lined up.
Bruce: They called you. You took them out. Showed them houses.
Drew: Got them pre-qualified.
Bruce: So your mortgage buddy pre-qualified all of them.
Drew: Yeah. That was key. We wanted to make sure they were ready to go and could get a loan. Had their money down. Knew all their options. The easy part was going out and finding the properties. That was it.
Bruce: Did they typically all want to live in Central Austin?
Drew: Yeah, Central … some kind of southwest, but, yeah, mainly Austin, Central Austin, and 95% of all those people called me when they wanted to sell and move up.
Bruce: How did you stay in touch with those people?
Drew: Well …
Bruce: Or did you?
Drew: No, I did. I did. I would do my Christmas calendars every year, the easy stuff. You’re supposed to reach out and touch your client base once a month.
Bruce: How many times a month did you reach out or how many times a year …
Drew: Not enough.
Bruce: So, how many?
Drew: Oh, I would do once a year.
Bruce: You did a Christmas calendar, the little magnetic thing …
Drew: Yeah, the little magnetic Christmas calendars.
Bruce: What else?
Drew: That’s pretty much it.
Bruce: And it worked?
Drew: (Laughs) Yeah, it worked. People like me, Bruce. Yeah, they did.
Bruce: Why did they like you?
Drew: Oh, because I’m, I think I’m very personable. I’m approachable. I’m knowledgeable about the market. I’ve been doing it a long time. I sell homes that interest me. I’m not going to put somebody in a bad house where it’s not right, just doesn’t feel right. I want to make sure the value’s there. That the house is going to appreciate, and it’s a good investment for my client … You’re putting together a team.
Bruce: That was your first experience at networking where you worked with a company. Did you replicate that process?
Drew: No, and I should have.
Bruce: That’s the only time you did the pizza and beer?
Drew: Yeah, for a big tech company. Yes.
Bruce: Well, how about a little company? Or another company? Did you ever …
Drew: Yeah, there were other times I’m sure I would go out and meet and greet, but I’ve been fortunate, knock on wood, people, once I got that going, people were coming to me. They knew that I was kind of a little boutique broker and could find cool houses and smother them with service. That’s my whole deal is concierge real estate service. Do whatever it takes to get a deal done.
Bruce: I’ve personally experienced that.
Drew: I’ve cleaned houses. I had to go chase a washer and dryer down to Rockport one time.
Bruce: What’s Rockport?
Drew: It’s about a three-hour drive on the coast. Seller took their washer and dryer. My client was furious and I said I’d go get it. So I left that day. I had a pickup truck at the time. Went and picked them up. The guy was drunk when I got there. (Laughs)
Bruce: All right. So, how did you encourage these guys from this F Squared or whatever it was, high-tech company, your first networking experience, to refer other people to you?
Drew: Obviously, I would always give them good closing gifts, whether it’s a gift card or a nice bottle of wine, and a note saying, “Hey, I appreciate your business.” Get in that referral line. “If there’s anything I can do for you or any friends, a referral would be greatly appreciated.” I would typically follow that up, too, if I got a referral. My best clients every year, I’d send the turkeys out. And then if anybody sends me a referral they get a turkey on Thanksgiving. Any other referrals I’ll send out little gift cards to Rudy’s, or just a little note. That’s that biggest part of it, I think.
Bruce: Do you spend a dedicated amount of time a week doing that sort of follow-up stuff?
Drew: Not enough. This is going to be a wake-up call interview for me. To get my networking stuff together, because it’s a full-time job.
Bruce: I’ve interviewed 20 people now and everybody says the same thing.
Drew: So my business is probably geared towards that a lot more than other businesses. But I guess I’ve been spoiled, I’ll tell you right now that I’ve been spoiled. I had a great client base. I’ve been very fortunate. They’ve all wanted to call me back and work with me. Have I lost Yeah. The old saying goes, “Everybody knows a realtor.”
Bruce: And then somebody sends you a referral and it turns into a good relationship. What do you do to follow-up on that?
Drew: Well, obviously I’ll contact the referral immediately. Make sure I can help. Figure out and report back what’s going on to the person that gave me the referral, and thank them.
Bruce: And if that person ends up buying a house?
Drew: Call them to thank them. The champion deal, anybody who gave me a referral last year, I’d send them a turkey at Thanksgiving which was my thanks. I’d rather get that than a Starbucks gift card. A lot of people do the Starbucks gift card. That’s kind of a realtor standard. A ten dollar gift card saying thanks.
Bruce: When you had a down year, or down month, or whatever, when did you have that?
Drew: 2001. I put my first sign out September the first. Not a lot of it came around, and everything stopped.
Bruce: Your first sign as a realtor?
Drew: Well, no. That was my first sign under the Marye Company. That’s when I went out on my own. First sign. Bam!
Bruce: So, ten days before 9/11. When you opened. So what was that like?
Drew: Oh, my gosh, it was horrible! Closings. Title companies closed. Everyone … everything was closed.
Bruce: How did you stay alive?
Drew: Just barely tread water.
Bruce: You still sold some homes?
Drew: Some sleepless nights, that’s for sure. Trying to figure out how to pay my mortgage and everything else. What did I do? I’m sure I had some savings at the time. I think I was fortunate enough, too, you know what I did that fall, I stripped my house. I refi’ed my house so I could catch that refi. So that saved me that year. Old realtor trick.
Bruce: How many sales that year?
Drew: I don’t know. I’d have to go back and look. Probably twenty. Not a lot. I was just starting out.
Bruce: What did you do that year to keep yourself going? How did you …
Drew: Everybody just freaked out. That was more of a just “stay calm” and hope for the best and wait for things to start coming back. That’s what we had to do. For real estate like that, that’s a game changer. That shut everything down.
Bruce: So did you do more open houses? Did you do more networking? Did you do more cold … How did you sell houses?
Drew: I just went out. Basically, I had a group of clients I was working with and I just kept working my leads, and let the business build back up. That was it. So it basically, it took care of itself. It could have been a lot worse. And the other down market was ’08 to ’09, which, I had to sell my house to get out of that. That’s what happened there.
Bruce: So it sounds like it was your personal equity that kept you through the downturns.
Drew: Absolutely.
Bruce: What are you doing now to prepare for the next one?
Drew: Now you just have to be prepared. I just don’t know what else to say. In this business, if there was a terrorist attack or something again and everything shut down … Here’s the thing, in a down market, I can still sell houses. People still need to sell.
Bruce: For the young entrepreneur thinking about going into any kind of sales business, what’s your advice for them? Financially, what should they have in the bank?
Drew: Well, I think they need to have a good little nest egg to get started. For a real estate agent it doesn’t take that much. Ten to twenty grand, I would say, it might take you six months to get started. So have money for licensing and branding and equipment and website and office and you can start small in real estate.
Bruce: So, if you’re a realtor starting out today, you’d have ten, twenty grand to set your business up. What about reserves for if a 9/11 hit? What should they plan on? Six months? Or a year?
Drew: I don’t know. I don’t have a game plan for that. I need to have a game plan for that.
Bruce: Well, you have a game plan for that, because … I know you have substantial savings. I know you’re very conservative in your spending habits.
Drew: Talk to my wife on that one. I have a game plan. Tap into savings I guess. I don’t know. I guess if the shit really hit the fan, I wouldn’t want to sell my house or anything, but being in real estate, it’s a luxury. If you have to pull the rip cord, I could make it happen faster than anybody else. For free.
Bruce: In picking a city to start your career in, what advice to you have for folks?
Drew: Picking a city? Like anywhere?
Bruce: Yeah. A person that wants to go into the real estate business walks into your office and says, “What should I do? Where should I start?” What impact will that have? Because obviously …
Drew: Well, I kind of fell into real estate, honestly. And I was already at UT, so Austin was just kind of a natural fit for me. I didn’t want to go back to Houston. But I think you’d have to look at, obviously, the local economy. Demographics. Future growth. You have to look at the big picture.
Bruce: What are you looking for there?
Drew: Well, I’m looking for a vibrant economy. I’m looking for demographics, maybe more professionals moving in to an area. Those are going to be people that are going to help sustain a real estate market that’s going to appreciate. We’ve had a big lecture here in Texas. You know we had all the Californians coming out. There was an exodus pretty much steadily from early 2000 through today. People are getting out. They’re cashing out and coming here. And being able to afford a lot more here
I think you just look at the big picture, and make sure the city economy is moving in the right direction, which, Austin, we’ve been real fortunate. It’s been all growth since I’ve been here.
Bruce: What do you think the other factors are around Texas in the growth?
Drew: Well, the oil-based economy is huge. A lot of money in Houston. A lot of money in Dallas. Austin I don’t think really falls into that. You’ve got little sleepy college town with the state capital and then the whole tech thing blew up here and we’ve been fortunate because it’s been such a diverse economy. And spread out. And Austin’s always had that creative edge that people love. So I think that’s part of … I think you can tie that back into my whole networking campaign.
You said, “How do you get business?” People that share the same interest. People that are creative, that have vision. Like the same architectures. Easy as that sounds … We both could subscribe to Atomic Ranch. And love the same things in there. That’ll translate into other areas, I think, too. Whether it’s business down the road. It can be hobbies. You name it! I think that’s just how the way the world works.

Making Networking work for The Analytical

Kerr: Today I am speaking with Bryan Kerr, tech guru, wizard from Menlo Park. One of the original folks from Silicon Valley that has made a career out of the semiconductor industry and the growth of technology in America. Bryan, I want to ask you about, really, what’s networking to Bryan?

Bryan: I am a geek; networking has always been a bit of a challenge because it requires me to get out of myself to reach out to people. Networking really is just two fold. One is it’s just to keep in the flow of knowledge that is swirling about and that is not easy with today’s pace. Technology continues to race ahead.
The other is to just fulfill our basic belief that if you want to accomplish anything you have got to be out moving about. And by that I mean If I am in motion opportunities and information, everything else I’m looking for presents itself to me.
Kerr: How do you do that? How do you stay in touch with folks?
Bryan: For me, there’s a lot that has shifted to almost entirely online in the last few years. I’m able to maintain relationships that go back fifteen, twenty sometimes thirty years. I keep in touch with what’s going on with them as they share what’s going on in their lives thru the normal avenues: LinkedIn, Face book, Twitter, etc.
I try to reach out and connect with people at least once a year and get together, just go have coffee, just casual stuff and just approach it on a personal basis of what’s going on in your life and share what’s going on with mine. Just skip over all of the formalities of the business networking, the stuffiness.
Kerr: Give me an example of somebody that you wanted to meet. How did you connect? How did you work that system to get yourself in front of them or make that connection?
Bryan: Again, I can’t say what I do is necessarily what works for everybody. I tend to be very analytic in how I approach things. If there is a business connection or a relationship that I’m interested in, I will invest a great deal of time to just investigate the background on the person and the company..
The idea is to identify something that will engage the, get their attention so the conversation isn’t just out of the blue for them without being too intrusive.
I strip off the top level; look inside to see if there is an obvious market hole or an obvious technology and then do a write up. Not extensive just a page or a page and a half, nothing super heavy but just to acknowledge that I see what’s going on.
Providing information and a bit of structure – it’s basically a consulting step. I’m providing my thoughts with no hook nothing other than a direct approach to begin a conversation.

Interesting History in the world of the personal computer – $2,000,000 Company into a $250,000 Company

Kerr: Take me back, I know you worked in the very first personal computer store in San Jose, California, The Byte Shop, how did you secure that position?
Bryan: That, actually, was a family connection that resulted in a paid internship. It was right place, right time, right moment in time and I just expressed an interest in doing it and it was a good match. I went in hardly knowing anything but it looked interesting. I had no idea the guys I was interacting with would so radically change the face of America.
Kerr: That was when you were in college, right? You took a term off from college or a year off or something?
Bryan: I went down to California to work for the summer.
Kerr: You worked for the legendary Paul Terrell right?
Bryan: Yes, Paul Terrell.
Kerr: The guy that bought the very first Apple computer.
Bryan: Yes he was developing a chain of stores. When I got there I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was sort of thrown into a very serious role just because I was ready and able. Incredible experience.
I was going to go work for the summer. It turned out I stayed for a year and we grew from just a handful of locations that were loosely associated to over fifty locations across the U.S. It was early days of computers where people were assembling their own. Still, it was where the Apple Ones were sold and launched, where Apple got its launch.
Numerous other companies evolved from that little computer shop. I learned a tremendous amount and made a lot of relationships. Those relationships have had a significant impact on my career.
Kerr: Wow. Tell me some of the people beside Steve Jobs that you interfaced with there. That people would know.
Bryan: Yeah, the two peers, I guess, we were all born in the same year, was Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. We were selling the original product, the ulterior micro processor system, that Gates and his partner had written. The ulterior basics later evolved into Microsoft.
Kerr: You also worked for Atari. Was that the next step?
Bryan: Actually, no. When I left Byte Shops, I acted on what seemed to be the responsible thing and finished my Engineering degree. Then I went to work for Xerox in the Bay area.
I helped design and configure the automated software systems computer controls in the manufacturing environment for our new factory that produced the Daisy Wheel printer.
From there I went to Atari which was going through this incredible growth phase from one to two billion in sales in one year. I made a big leap of transition out of manufacturing engineering into a small, internal startup company that was producing the software for Atari hardware.
The startup experience was pretty amazing. We did over fifty million dollars the first year. From just a zero start to pushing product into the large mass retailers in just seven months.
Kerr: Wow.
Bryan: That was Atari. I did a couple years but Atari went through its fortunes. Our little group produced tremendous profits but the rest of the company’s financial trouble was of historic proportion. The company eventually sold to a storied entrepreneur by the name of Jack Trumell. He was the founder of Commodore Computers back in the day.
Jack Trumell and his family bought Atari. I was part of a very small group who were asked to stay on. The next two years with them was just an amazing experience. I don’t expect I’ll ever go through it again, but when you take a two to two and a half billion dollar company and you, basically, turn almost all the the lights off, there’s a lot of things that you have to do that are really not like any other activity in business that you’ll ever do in your life.
Kerr: How many employees when it was two billion?
Bryan: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I know there were eighty vice presidents. That doesn’t include the senior and executive vice presidents, it’s just vice presidents. There were well in excess of twenty thousand employees.
Kerr: How many employees when Trumells bought it?
Bryan: When the Trumells bought it all of the manufacturing had been outsourced so there were five or six thousand employees.
Kerr: How many employees came with you when they took it over?
Bryan: Less than three hundred.
Kerr: Wow. Then, you continued on with them for two more years?
Bryan: I stayed for two years. I wasn’t offered an exit package, in fact, I had been given by the prior management an incentive to stay on because of the success of what I did with this whole software group, I’d been elevated. It was, kind of, elevating it to an upper deck in the Titanic, in some ways. I hung around and it turned out to be an amazing education. I worked directly with Jack Trumell. This was a gentlemen who was an Nazi Death Camp survivor. He had a really interesting take on how to deal with people and business. We turned the company around. It was pretty amazing. We launched another line of computers under the Atari brand. I had a role in finding the market segment for that computer line. It was just pure Networking, exploring and listening.
We launched the Atari FT line of computers. The market segment that I found was with musicians. It was a graphic interface much like an Apple Mac is now. It had power equal to any Macintosh produced at the time. It was more affordable and we had some enthusiast software development guys that had ported the Atari software onto the new generation. When I went out to explore, we were having a challenge getting back into the big retailers because there was a lot of bad blood from the collapse of Atari.
We were not meeting with great success. I went looking for other niche areas. I happened to find a guitar showcase down on Bastam Avenue in San Jose. I walked in the door and found out that they had a problem.