In just a few days, BiggerPockets.com, a company that I founded close to 8 years ago, will cross the 100,000 member milestone. In that time, we’ve seen over 10 million unique visitors to our site, our forums, our thousands of articles, and the hundreds of resource pages that we’ve put together.
The journey for both BiggerPockets and I has been one filled with highs and lows. I’ve seen the absolute best in people and have seen the absolute worst in some of the nastiest people you’ve ever met. But, through it all, one thing has remained constant: my desire to help other real estate investors and professionals succeed in their ventures.
Truth be told, the site was actually created so that I could find help with my own real estate investing questions. Like many of the countless other visitors who come to our site looking for help, I was just another investor looking to build a nest egg for my family and simply do it on my own.
The Early Days: Birth of a Site and Philosophy
It was October 2004 and I was a teacher at a Special Education school in North Hills, California. I had purchased several multi-family properties out of state and what was supposed to be a path to quality cash-flow, was quickly becoming a disaster for me. Facing utterly disastrous property management and bleeding cash, I realized that the Carleton Sheets course that my brother had given me was not going to be of any help. The course was basic, and had enough information to get me going, but simply didn’t account for all the contingencies that I would have to deal with . . . how could it? There’s no course on earth that is comprehensive enough to answer every possible question that an investor might have.
I ventured to the local library to see if I could find any books to help, but again struck out. My questions were simply not going to be covered by a book on investing or landlording fundamentals, so I went online searching for answers. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great books out there, but there are so many things that can happen to an investor that no one book or course could possibly be detailed enough to cover the possibilities.
At the time, there were a few forums for real estate investors, but I never felt like I could speak freely without someone jumping in to sell me on something. While there was certainly some solid information to be found on them, I noted that these sites were moderated or managed by other “personalities” in the investing space, which may have been why the focus on selling was obvious. I didn’t know very much about the industry, but quickly realized that the information that existed for real estate investors online was ultimately dominated by the “guru” crowd – a group of
educators marketers whose goal, I believed (and still do) was to upsell you until you had nothing more to give. As a teacher, I could smell something was fishy in the industry and I simply didn’t trust what was out there. I was looking for a place where other people like me could talk to one another without worrying about being pitched something. I wanted a place where real educators would spend their time helping out.
I wanted BiggerPockets . . . but it simply didn’t exist yet.
A Site is Born!
Although I’ve got a background in Marketing and Political Science, I started building websites in 1994 while attending my freshman year in college. With a limited ability to program, I was capable of hacking away and teaching myself the basics. With a few years of experience as a confessed hack, I still figured that it wouldn’t be hard for me to put together a discussion forum where I could get answers to my real estate problems. When BiggerPockets was born in October 2004, I used an Open Source platform called PHPbb for our forums and started to put together lists of resources that I found helpful as I browsed the web and shared them via a resource directory. Knowing that I needed other intelligent investors to participate, I decided that I’d use other financial forums that I felt to be reputable to get out the word. By engaging on those sites, by helping others when I could with the areas that I was competent in, and by including a signature at the bottom of my posts which pointed back to BiggerPockets, we attracted our first members.
I wasn’t telling people to come to the site on those forums. I wasn’t trolling. I wasn’t advertising. I was simply adding value, and by doing so, people wanted to know more about the website that I had in my signature.
To be honest, I was amazed at how effective this simple tactic was. Little by little, we began to hit milestones. I remember calling my brother on our first signup, our fifth, our tenth, and so on. People started to answer some of the questions I had posted and others started asking their own. I recruited friends to post from time to time when posting was slow, in order to get a little momentum, and the information began to trickle in.
I continued to work at school during the day, and at night I spent my time reading everything there was to read about building and managing a forum community. I networked with other webmasters, I asked questions, and I established a philosophy that would drive the management of the site to this day. BiggerPockets was not only going to be a place for asking and answering real estate investing questions, but would be a no-nonsense, no-upsell destination where the influence of gurus would be kept to a minimum.
I established rules for the kind of posts that were acceptable and for what we would not put up with. Ultimately, people were free to share their acquired wisdom, but would not be allowed to use their posts as a hook to pitch people on any products or services they were pitching.
The problem with this philosophy was that it went completely against the grain of what was the norm at the time. The gurus and other marketers who were peddling real estate investing information products eventually learned of us and started coming to the site. As quickly as they violated our rules, and were penalized for it, I realized that I was in for a battle ahead. The hate email and threats that came in during the early days nearly scared me off, but growing up in New York gave me the thick skin I needed to get through. (I actually have had people threaten to ‘find me and kick my ass’ for throwing them off the site on more than one occasion)
That said, it was thrilling to finally not only get the help that I needed, but to see others benefit from what I was building. The small core group of posters who had become our early regulars were extremely supportive of our policies, our philosophy, and our dedication to improving the way information in the industry flowed freely on BP.
From Community to Social Network
While Facebook is today undeniably, the king of social networks, its precursor MySpace had taken forums and other similar community sites to the next level, establishing the modern social network. I was completely blown away by MySpace, and knew that for us to continue to grow BiggerPockets, we’d need to improve our technology. BiggerPockets was slowly building a following, and in time would surpass the other sites in the niche as the go-to real estate investing forum. But first, we had to build our version of MySpace — targeted to the real estate space.
I’ll be discussing the next stages of BiggerPockets in the coming posts. Stay tuned to learn a little more about how we got to where we are today, with the undisputed, most credible, and largest destination for real estate investing networking and information online or off.
350,000+ monthly unique visitors can’t be wrong . . .Countdown to 100,000 Members: A Look at the Origin of BiggerPockets by Joshua Dorkin