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Putting Your Business on Auto-Pilot

The BiggerPockets Business Podcast
46 min read
Putting Your Business on Auto-Pilot

Do you want to get your business to the point where you can simply leave for several months without worrying about things continuing to operate and grow?  Do you want to get there quickly and with little risk?

If so, today’s episode is for you!

Justin Silverio – real estate investor and founder/owner of the real estate marketing company, Open Letter Marketing — is here to tell us how he he was able to position his company to run on its own in just a couple years.  Justin talks to us about key hiring, setting up processes and organizing operations in a way that will allow you, the CEO, to put your team in charge and free you up to focus on other pursuits.

In this episode, we talk about pricing strategy (and mistakes), how to massively reduce your expenses, and how to hire the perfect employees who you can trust to manage and run your business.

And, for you real estate investors, Justin provides his expertise on how to best handle acquisition marketing for your deals in today’s crazy real estate world!

Make sure you listen for Justin’s tip on how to ensure you hire the right person THE FIRST TIME, and don’t end up making a bad hire because you didn’t have all the information you needed about the candidate.  This may be one of the best hiring tips we’ve ever heard!

Check him out, and subscribe to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast so you won’t miss our next show!

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J: Welcome to the BiggerPockets business podcast show number 82,

Justin: honestly. Yeah, I think COVID really helped out with me kind of saying this because when COVID hit, everybody had to work remotely with the exception of the people that were doing production. So we learned to adapt to zoom and working online and all of that.

And it ran actually very well. Welcome to a real world. MBA from the school of hard knocks, where entrepreneurs reveal, what it

J: really takes

Justin: to make it, whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there. This show is for you. This is bigger pockets business.

J: How’s it going everybody. I am Jay Scott, your cohost for the BiggerPockets business podcast and sitting across from me is my lovely wife. And co-host Carol Scott. How’s it

Justin: going today, Carl?

Carol: Doing so well, seriously, honey, how delicious tasty was that chili that I made today? Right? It was so good. So here’s the deal, first of all, thank you.

Once again. I can’t say thank you enough, honey. Once again. Yes, listeners. I’m here saying thank you, honey, honey, honey. But it’s what I do for moving to Florida. Last year, I got to tell you this sunshine and the Palm trees have been amazing. That sad. It’s the craziest. Thing it’s November, which means it’s time for chili.

And you know, what else? It’s time for it’s time for pumpkin pie and it’s time for peppermint mocha, coffee creamer, best time of the year, no matter where you’re living.

J: Okay. You seem passionate about that holiday food and we’re still a couple of weeks out.

Carol: No it, but it does. It doesn’t even matter. I am just, I am ready.

TIS the season. Let’s rock and roll. Okay.

J: Well, I’m glad you’re in a good mood today and you shouldn’t be in a good mood today cause we have a. Fun fun episode. Our guest this week is Justin Silverio. He is founder of a company called open letter marketing, and they are a real estate marketing business.

Actually, I’m going to make a full disclosure here. Uh, we are a customer of open letter marketing. They do all of our direct mail campaigns, and I’ve been a big fan of this business for a few years, and I love the way Justin runs the business and what he’s doing. That’s why I wanted to have him on the show.

So with that said, our main focus on the business today is the fact that Justin is now in the middle of a four month RV trip with his family, basically away from his business. But at the same time, he is still operating the business or the business is operating without him. He is still growing the business or.

I should say the business has grown without him. Basically he’s figured out how, after four years of running this business, how he’s was able to extract himself from the business, kind of put it on autopilot so that he could take a four month trip with his family. And he tells us all about how he did that and how you.

Can do it as well in your business. In this episode, we also talk about pricing strategies and Justin reveals a big pricing mistake. He made early in his business development, and we talk about how to make that first strategic hire, how to hire somebody into your business that can take a whole lot of the daily grind off of your plate.

Finally for all of you real estate investors out there, make sure you listen to the end because as long as we have a real estate marketing expert on the show, I had to ask him some of his best marketing tips for those of us who are trying to, uh, find and acquire deals in today’s real estate market. So if you’re a real estate investor, make sure you listen to the end and hear some of them.

Justin’s amazing tips for building up your acquisition marketing today. If you want to find out more about Justin, about his company or about anything we talk about in this episode, check out our show notes at biggerpockets.com/biz show 82. Again, that’s biggerpockets.com/biz show 82. Now without any further ado.

Let’s welcome, Justin Silverio to the show,

Carol: Justin, welcome to our show. This has been a long time coming. We are. So, so, so looking forward to hearing your story, learning more about you, and I’m absolutely loving the fact that you are recording from your RV in sunny San Diego. And I can’t wait for everybody to hear more about how you’ve made that happen.

So thanks for being here today.

Justin: Thank you guys so much for having me on. I’m really excited to be on the show.

J: Yeah. We’re excited to have you. I know we’ve known each other for a long time, so I feel like I know your story, but I know our listeners do not know your story. So can you take a couple of minutes and just take us back and tell us basically what led you to the point of starting your business?

What was your path?

Justin: Yeah, my path. So going back a little bit, I was an accountant and I got into accounting because I really loved businesses. And I re and I wanted to understand how they worked and how they grew and all the historical data. So that was kind of my first start to getting in and learning about businesses.

I always knew that I wanted to start a business. So I thought no other kind of industry to get into would be accounting, so I could learn really what, um, businesses are all about throughout my accounting career. It was kind of like boring. So I was always trying to find something that I could like sink my teeth into and really, uh, get it.

Excited about, and I got into real estate investing first because real estate investing, I liked being on the front end of deals. Negotiating talking to you, making deals really, and also on the construction side. So my father owned a general contracting company for about 35 years. And I always was fascinated about what he was doing and wanted to do something similar, but not really get into the construction.

So I got started in real estate, investing back in 2010. And as I started getting into investing, I wanted to make sure that I always could generate my own deals. And so I started to become really good with marketing because investors in general, don’t really focus on marketing. So that’s what I did. I wanted to stand out from all of my other competition and really figure out how to do it.

Well. And that kind of naturally led me into creating a strategy that nobody else was really working with and employing. So from there I said, Hey, there is like a huge void in the market for really good marketing for real estate investors. I am living and breathing it every single day. I understand how it works.

I understand why it works. I understand the responses and how to reply back to sellers. So I said, this might be a good opportunity to get into the marketing business and help other investors around the country. Do what I’m doing and find deals, how I’m finding them. So that’s kind of how it all started.

And I launched my marketing company open letter marketing in 2016, about one week after I quit my full-time job, my accounting gig.

Carol: Wow. So it sounds like, and, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you are still doing your full-time accounting job. While you are investing in real estate and prepping to launch your new business.

You’re doing all three at the same time. Is that

Justin: accurate? That is accurate. Yes.

Carol: That’s a full plate. So before, before we jump into you starting the business and full on going ahead, do you have any tips for other people that might be in the same type of situation you’re in? Right? Like they have a full-time job.

They realize there are other, other things that they would like to be doing. Just some tips and pointers on how to successfully make that transition and get over the

Justin: scariness of it. Yeah, for me, it’s, it’s all about just hard work. I don’t think there’s any substitute for hard work. Like if I was to say, Oh, it was, it was easy.

I just was working my full-time job. And then I got into real estate and creating, you know, really two businesses at the same time in parallel, we’ll doing the full-time job and it not impacting anything. That’s that would be a complete lie. I was working mornings before work lunchtime. I’d be on the phone with sellers and the evening I’d be researching and figuring out how, like a good launch strategy weekends I’d be looking at projects.

So it was a lot of work. And honestly, there is no way I’d be able to do any of this without the support for my wife. Um, because from the very beginning, she was 100% supportive of what I was doing because. Eventually she saw kind of, we outlined the path of what our life would look like when this kind of all came together and I was able to quit my full-time job and run my own business.

And it was more time spending with family and just being like together and being able to. Create a much better family life and a work-life balance. So that was kind of the vision. And, uh, really, she supported me through the whole way, through all the struggles. And there were many, many, many struggles through it, but at the end of the day, like the, the reason that I quit in 2016 was because things just started.

I was. Dropping the ball too much. Like at work, I kind of sometimes be doing my, uh, you know, building the business and it really wasn’t fair to anybody, uh, because my time was just getting spread way too then. So it was just that time that I was like, listen, I either have to forget everything else and stick with accounting, or I have to like, Just forget accounting and do my thing full time.

And my wife was like, you spent too much time to, you know, quit your, what your, your vision is your path. Um, do that quit your day job. And let’s, let’s keep moving.

J: I love that. And I love the fact that that’s an answer, that a lot of people probably don’t like, everybody’s looking for that, that magic bullet, but the answer really is you got to work hard.

And you’ve got to focus. If you want to make your dreams come true, work hard and focus. And so it’s a hard message for a lot of people to hear. And certainly I know plenty of people that have started a business while working a full-time job, it’s certainly possible. Uh, it just means you have to work harder.

Justin: Yeah.

J: So, so let’s go back to 2016. Uh, open letter marketing is born. What is your vision for the business? What’s the business model? How does it work? Who are your customers? What’s your product? What’s the business model.

Justin: Yeah, so I started with a very unique product. So anything that I offered on the website, I would have to try and test it and make sure it works properly.

Not only that I want it to be more strategic than anybody else. On the market. So at the time yellow letters was the craze and that’s all, anybody knew about marketing and direct mail. So I focused on the direct mail aspect, but I would not offer yellow letters. I wanted to do nothing that my competition was doing.

I wanted to be on the front end, creating something new that people haven’t seen because when it’s new a new product and nobody else is using it, you stand out from your competition and that’s how you create better responses and callbacks from the sellers. And whatnot. So that was my path. My, when I got into it, I felt that the product was superior.

I could price it a little bit higher than others because it was a superior product. So the goal, the vision was if I got to do a hundred thousand mailers a month, I would be. Very, I would be super happy. That was like the goal when I started from there on it grew far beyond that. And we can get into that later, but that was kind of the goal is that the prices were going to be a little bit higher.

It was going to be a superior product. Nobody else was going to offer that. But then about. Six to 12 months later, I found that that wouldn’t work. So I had to, I had to change things up a little bit more on the price point. So it was definitely that first year was a big learning process because anytime you’re offering something new, To an industry.

It takes a lot of education to your customers on why your product is better, why it works differently. So there is a lot of education that I really had to push out the first year so that people even understood why they wanted to use my products. So I didn’t realize that going into it, but it’s been kind of a great learning process going through that.

J: So let me follow up on that. So you made a mistake. Hopefully. I mean, if you don’t make mistakes in business, you don’t learn. We all met. We all make thousands of mistakes. And I actually appreciate you coming on and basically say, this is what I did. And this is, this is where I messed up and I had to go back.

So let’s, let’s dig into that. So let’s say you had to do it over again. Let’s say we have somebody out there listening right now. That’s getting ready to launch a service or a product and they’re thinking, okay, my service is going to be better than the competition. It’s going to be different than the competition.

Therefore, I can charge higher. So they say I’m going to add 20%, 30% or 40%. Clearly, that’s not always the case. What is your recommendation or what did you do? What would you suggest for somebody that needs to figure out what the right price point is? Is this an art is a science as a combination. If you had to do it all over again and go back to the beginning, what would you have done on day one to get the price point?


Justin: Yeah, honestly, I don’t think I would have done anything differently and I don’t think I would’ve been able to do anything differently. And here’s why, so every industry is going to be different, right? People, depending on what industry you’re in customers may pay a premium for certain things, because it’s a better product or they’re willing to spend more because they want that product and it’s different than anything else.

Like Apple. Um, I overpay, I think for like computers and phones and stuff like that, because I just love the Apple product. Yes. I can still get a PC for much cheaper, but I prefer Apple. So when I was going through it, uh, my price point was higher because when I had an order quantities, they’d be a much lower quantity.

So I’m paying higher price on cost. So I’d have to sell it for a little bit more. Now over that kind of long-term what I found is that I was still getting a lot of customers through the door, but what I found is that I wasn’t getting the large volume customers that I really wanted to get, because as you start to increase volume, your costs can significantly decrease.

So over the first year that things were still running really well. And month over month, we were still increasing, but we weren’t increasing at the rate that I really wanted to at the end of the first year, I think I pushed that a hundred thousand. Uh, goal out of, kind of the window, because we were exceeding that.

So I wanted to kind of push it even further. And as I started to increase, what I found is that when I started to bring the costs down, the customers that I was getting were much more seasoned, doing much more quantities. Those are the real people that I wanted because they understood marketing and they got what you would need to do because a lot of people getting into marketing, they’re scared.

They have to spend money before they make any money. So that whole learning process, uh, what I found is when my price point was high, it was smaller quantities, people that were newer. Um, they might get scared off and really not understand kind of how the marketing process works. So it was kind of a little bit more battle and a lot more customer service on the front end.

Yeah, you

J: went the, you went the difficult way here. Uh, so there’s a couple of ways to make money. And one is you, you offer a differentiated product that’s better than the competition and you can charge more and you can stand out and you don’t really have as much competition because you’re offering something different.

The other way to go is you offer a, what we refer to as a commodity product, a product that other people are offering and getting a lot of places. Uh, but you do it better and cheaper. And that’s the Walmart model. And as Walmart has proven, if you can do it successfully, you can win big, but it’s hard to do successfully.

So, so let’s dig in a little bit more there. How did you bring your costs down? How are you able to offer a product that was less expensive than your competitor? Or did you not, did you just have lower margins than maybe what your competitors had?

Justin: Yeah. So as we started to increase costs, I started going back to vendors and negotiate pricing and was able to get the pricing down quite low.

And actually, especially for like the little, like a little thing, like envelopes, I mean, I’ll tell you, we went through months and months through different vendors to figure out pricing, to really negotiate excellent product. I got, I know more about mail and envelopes than I ever thought I would ever know.

Oh, but really that was the important part because the construction of the envelope, how it was created, we really got our costs down just for envelopes under 50% of what we were originally paying. So that significantly reduced our, our costs going in to all the new products that we’re creating. But I also wanted to make sure that my pricing was in line and you, and generally under most of my competitors, because if I got to that price point, then I knew that there is, I could attract a lot more people.

And even though, like you were saying a lot, a lot of people get into kind of the commodity side. I didn’t really believe in what other people were offering. And I will never put anything or offer anything that I don’t fully believe in on my, my website to other people, because I feel like that’s phony and I need to stand 100% behind everything that we do and know how it works, why it works because.

Also customer service is important to me and providing strategy, not just order takers on the phone, we want to, we want people to understand strategy and how we, our vision is when we kind of deployed this direct mail and for people to learn. Um, so all of our customer service people know exactly how I market and my own investment business and can provide that strategic approach for, um, new customers, existing customers.

Carol: Excellent. So I’m loving this, Justin. So I think so many important things happen in that first year, right? You’re talking about building this company from scratch negotiating with vendors, to be able to continue offering a superior product at lower prices. You’re talking about excellent customer service, assisting people with their strategies, all in doing all of these.

Things, you said you blew that 100,000 per month number out of the water. So I suspect this wasn’t just a one man show. Right? I’m thinking there had to be some type of other help that came in along the way. So can you talk to us about how you made that happen?

Justin: Yes. So I was doing it in the beginning. All myself.

I was doing the production. I was talking to customers. I was doing all of that for probably the first couple of months, all while running my real estate investment business. And, um, things again started to kind of not break down, but my, my time was spread very thin. And the first hire that I made was pretty much like.

Talk on the phone with customers do production when you don’t have any customers to talk to and do all the things just basically supporting me. And that first hire, I was nervous. Cause I was like, how am I going to pay, you know, pay them and all that stuff. Because when, when you’re, you know, a beginner.

Starting business. There’s never a point in time that you’re like, Oh, I have plenty of money to hire more people. Right. You’re getting into it. And you’re like, Oh my God, hopefully this works because if it, if it does, it’s going to go great. And I’ll be able to spread out my time and really focus on the things that is going to bring money into the company.

So that first hire, it’s funny. I was working out of my basement and everybody that I brought in to interview, I was like, Go around to the back of my house, go on the back deck of that basement door. And I was like, man, this ad, nobody’s going to be calling into this head, but we got a bunch of people come through.

And actually, um, my first hire was a woman that she lived in the same town as me. She was excellent. She was able to do a lot, pretty much everything. She could go a mile wide and do a lot of different things. She picked up everything very quickly and the ability to hire that person. It was absolutely instrumental to the business because it allowed me again, like you said, Jay, to focus on specific aspects of the business that would grow the business instead of working on and ended at the same time, because that never works out well for anybody when they’re starting to grow a company.

So the first hire was somebody that could do everything and then once. She kind of ran out of running room, then it was the next hire to hire specifically for production. And then she stayed in front office and she was dealing with customers, files, all that stuff from, from customers. Awesome.

Carol: Justin, will you tell us a little bit more, um, any tips you might have about making that first hire, finding that person, figuring out the right type of pay structure, just overall.

What are the types of things you need to be doing when you’re considering a first hire in any business?

Justin: Yeah. Well, I would say the first thing is the, one of the biggest things that I learned is don’t wait to hire, especially if the company is growing, because you’re only doing yourself an injustice. The biggest thing for me was that if I brought somebody in, I would have to know exactly how I wanted them to carry out the process.

So understanding procedures for me, that’s a really important thing. Before I hire somebody, I have to understand how to do it, and I have to. Create clear procedures on how to do that. So it’s, they can replicate exactly how you want to do things. So that was kind of the first part is learning all that stuff.

The second part is who exactly did I want for this position? They’d have to do like everything. So how do you even screen out for that? What do you really do? And over the years when hiring, what I find works the best is again, pay structure. I look into find out like on indeed. I looked to see what other people are paying on an hourly basis.

That’s kind of how it was starting out. And then just creating a job description and creating a job description. Now for me is much different than it was then prior before it would just kind of list out what they needed to do. Now it’s much more like, you know, it’s a start up environment. It’s very exciting.

It’s very positive. Here are our core values. This is what you have to meet. Um, this is what the requirements are. These are the expectations. So everything’s laid out. And what I want people to gain from the, the job ad is that it’s a fun place to work. We take things very seriously, but it’s a very happy environment.

And that is my biggest goal for the company. Is. That I want everybody to be very happy working there and loving what they do. So, so that’s kind of that aspect.

J: And I love the fact that you make a point to talk about and sell the company culture too often. We think. Yeah. If I’m, if I get the pay structure, right.

And I get the job description, right. We’ll get good people. And, but it’s so important. And we had, we had, uh, Nathan Brooks on the show about a month ago, and this was, this was something he pointed out. As well that having the right fit for a company culture is more important, or at least as important as having a good job description fit somebody that can do the job perfectly, but doesn’t fit in the culture is just as bad as somebody that can’t do the job.

Justin: It’s so true. And when people come in for an interview, I talk about culture a lot, and I say, listen, I can have 10 people here that can do the job. But it’s really the attitude and you know, how you present yourself and if you’re going to fit in with the culture, that’s what I’m really looking for. You know, the job is the job.

If you’re, I want somebody to be excited and passionate about what they do, because what I found is if people are more passionate about what they’re doing, the product and the end result of what you get from them versus somebody that’s just looking at it as a job is completely different. Is absolutely completely different.

So actually over the last year we went through and just made sure that everybody, we had the right people in the right seats for everything, even including myself to really understand are these people here that enjoy what they’re doing, have the right attitude and are going to help us grow to the next level.

That’s great.

J: Okay, so here we are. I’m going to jump ahead a little bit. I want to talk about like the past four year timeframe, but here we are. It’s four years after you started the business. We just got done talking about in 2016, you hired your first employee. Here we are in 2020, and you’re sitting in an RV in San Diego, traveling the country with your family.

Presumably you haven’t shut down the business. The business is self-sufficient running. Maybe not without you, but without you physically there at least talk to us about the past four years and at let’s start at the high level, what were some of the things you did to get from like hiring that first employee to extracting yourself from the business for long enough to be able to take a cross country trip?

Justin: Yeah. Well, first off it was getting much better than I originally was at hiring people, hiring the right people. Was very, was a very big learning experience for me. I had a lot of people in the business that just were not the right fit. So that was, that was a struggle for the first two and a half to three years.

And once I kind of wrap my hands around. Uh, learning much more about kind of the hiring process, how I have to do everything and just going back to the hiring process. One big thing that I do that a lot of people don’t do is I will narrow all the candidates down to about three top candidates. And then I’ll bring them in for a couple hours to do a test run.

And I’ll bring them in to do that test run for about two hours. And it’s usually a task that it’s about two hours to do. And the goal for that is not only to learn of, I’m a big believer and I want to learn how people think and how they get through a task. And I tell them, you don’t have to have the right answer at the end, but I want to understand the path that you went to get to where you are.

Because I like learning how people think really. And not only that is, I want them to interview us and find out is this an environment that I can see myself in? Because just as much as I’m interviewing them, they should be interviewing us on, do they want to be here? Do they, can they find themselves here?

Do they like who they’re working with? Do they enjoy it? And that’s really important for me going back to the culture then. So that’s a big piece that I do for everyone. I always have them come in for that, that kind of trial run period. But just going back to your question now, I’m forgetting your question because I went off on a tangent.

J: Sorry, I’ll repeat the question, but I just, before I repeat the question, I have to highlight that that is probably one of the best hiring tips I’ve heard in a long time, right? Bring them in for a test run for a couple hours. There’s no risk to either side. They get to see what the company’s like. You get to see how they really work.

And at the end of the day, you get to make for all you’re risking is two hours. I don’t know if you’re paying them or not, doesn’t matter, but all your risk is a couple hours. Yeah. And at the end of the day, you make a much better hire. So I love that. Getting back to the question. So, uh, I had asked what did, what have you done in the last four years to, to, to kind of put your business on autopilot?

So number one was, was hiring is so important.

Justin: What’s number two. Yeah. So, so hiring was really big and then understanding the flow of the hierarchy or. How my team was built out and who they would report to because originally everybody was reporting up to me and then I was just dealing with a lot of kind of manager type stuff.

And I still wasn’t able to work on the business because I’d have a lot of human resources to deal with. So now we’ve kind of broken out the company. So we have, I have an operations manager that pretty much everybody kind of rolls up to and she’s managing all of our employees. There are two people that kind of roll up to me, working on it and sales and marketing that I work with.

So I can pretty much do everything remotely and we have weekly check-ins. So I needed to make sure that that structure works well before. I could even think about doing a trip, like what we’re doing now and making sure that. My, my managers and myself, we’re meeting weekly, having weekly check-ins we use scrum so more in the software kind of industry.

You have something that’s called scrum and you have different check-ins throughout the week on what you’re going to do that week. If you’re on target to complete it by the end of the week, and then any misses, or if you fulfilled everything at the end of the week. So we still do that a lot, and that’s been great to understand kind of what everybody’s working on.

What tasks that they’re doing, what I’m responsible for, what they’re responsible for, and also a responsibility track. Everyone needs to understand what they’re responsible for and what the expectations are. And before I left for this trip, we actually rolled out everybody got all new job descriptions, including their responsibilities and their expectations, because at that point in time, that’s when we kind of did it.

Are different flow chart of how everybody who their manager was. Um, and I wanted to make sure everybody had clear expectations because everybody should be held to a high standard and everybody should be at the same level as everyone else, including myself. And when I talk about. You know, my employees, I’m including myself in that because we are a team.

I am not the boss. I’m just another team member. I have my own responsibilities that everybody depends on me for just like they have their responsibilities that everybody else depends on them for.

Carol: Awesome. And I’m loving so much that you’re talking about creating this team environment, where everybody is held accountable to what their expectations are and what a crucial role that that whole understanding had to do with you.

Being able to put this business on autopilot. So you could take this trip across the country. I’m curious when you and all of your team members were. Defining what your expectations, roles, and responsibilities were. How did that process work? What did that look like? Did you have, for example, well, first of all, how many people do you have working with you now?

How many people are in

Justin: your County? 2014. Wow.

Carol: That’s a huge, that’s a huge group. Right? So how did those 14 people go about. Figuring out what the roles and responsibilities were. Were you just saying here, here’s a list of what I want you to be doing, or how did that all work? Did everybody have input? If someone else is looking for a way to make this happen in their company, what does that process look like?

Justin: Yeah. So when we started to do this again, I asked everybody jot down what it is you do on a weekly basis and kind of, I, and I reviewed that because as you start to grow, you’ll, you’ll find that there are these, when people are working in a process and you have one person that passes information on to another person, the line of which they pass information, kind of gets a little bit confusing.

Some people are like, Oh, I think they handle that. So I don’t do this part. And a lot of things can get lost in translation. So what I did, as I asked everybody to provide myself and my operations manager, what you do on a kind of a weekly basis and we reviewed everything and then we just kind of fine tuned and make sure that everybody was doing what they were supposed to be doing.

And. They were doing something that maybe, you know, somebody else, because as the company grows, everybody gets into like more of a silo of what they can do. Like they’re an expert on one thing, but starting off the one person was an expert on everything. So now finally tuning that. That was kind of the process that we went through to make sure that people weren’t doing roles that other people should be doing in their job description.

So we were just kind of reviewing and just refining that. And then, uh, meeting with everybody, everybody had a meeting one-on-one so we could go through everything with them, making sure they understood it. If they had any questions, if they think that they, things should be changed. So we wanted their input as well.

Carol: I love this. And so once you all determined that together through this. Process. You mentioned something earlier that I personally am not familiar with and maybe a lot of other people are, but I am not. So I suspect there’s maybe one or two others who would get some value out of this. You mentioned scrum as a way to keep the work organized.

It sounds like. So you can check in remotely. Can you talk more about that? The value of it, how it works and how it’s impacted your business?

Justin: Absolutely. So scrum is basically a way it’s like a to-do list, a weekly to do list. So at the beginning of the week, you put all the tasks that you want to accomplish for that, that week.

And we have two big things. So we highlight the two big things that we have to get done. If nothing else gets done that week, the two big things have to get done. So we outlined the two big things, as well as all the other tasks. And we assign points to them and the point system kind of relates to how many hours it will take them to complete.

So in Monday, we basically at 10 o’clock, we sit down and we review everybody’s scrum and they just go through their big two things and their review, all the tasks that they want to get done very quickly. And then if they need assistance with that, they will tell somebody else, Hey, Justin, I need an hour of your time.

Um, I’ll put it on your calendar. So everybody understands, um, who they need help to, um, to complete a task. And what they’re going to accomplish by the end of the week, Wednesday is a very quick standup, 15 minutes. How’s everything going? Are you going to have any misses for the end of the week? Um, and then Friday is a review.

Uh, did you complete everything? What did you miss? What’s going to be pushed on to next week. Um, and that’s kind of, that’s kind of how it is. So for me, it’s a very easy way to just go into our scrum because it’s all on a spreadsheet of like what people are working on, what I needed, what I’m reading.  for what I have to do, uh, and people can see what I’m doing because a lot of times I’m like, Hey, are you working on this today?

And they’re like, yeah, you asked me to do that like earlier. Oh, I forgot. Sorry. So now this is a great way just to kind of look at that.

J: I love that. And, uh, w we could probably do an entire episode on, on scrum and agile development models. And, and, but long story short, it’s a great way to ensure the team is communicating well, everybody knows what everybody else is working on.

It helps you be. Customer focused because you’re rolling out new products and features and stuff on a consistent basis, as opposed to I’m gonna have a new product every six or 12 months. So, yeah, I, I, I love that you guys are doing that. And a lot of times we think about scrum and agile is for big companies, but implementing in smaller companies is great as well.

So maybe we’ll do a whole episode on that at some point. So let’s talk about. You telling your team that, okay, we’re working great together. Everything’s going well, everybody has their role. Everybody knows what they’re doing, you’re in charge, but then you have to have a discussion at some point that, okay, I’m taking off.

And whether that be I’m, I’m taking Tuesday off or I’m taking September and October off, you’re leaving. And so your team needs to be able to work without you. For some period of time, maybe, maybe you’re leaving for, I’m taking 20, 21 off. How does that conversation come about? Who is in charge? What is your role when you’re not physically there and how are big issues taken care of?

Justin: Yeah, that was actually, I was pretty nervous about that conversation with everyone, because I didn’t know how they were going to take it. And I have a, and I have a business coach that I actually mentioned that too, because I wanted to make sure that. They understood where I was coming from because a lot of people don’t get perspective or don’t understand how much time this, you know, the business took to grow and what my goal is, uh, for my family and how important that is.

So, you know, I talked to my business coach about how do I really tell people and what if they don’t take it right? What if they get like upset and mad? So after talking to them, we have, we have monthly meetings every single month. Uh, at the beginning of the month, we have meetings with the whole team. And I kind of, I announced it at that team meeting.

And instead of just saying, and actually going back, honestly, I think COVID really helped out with me kind of saying this because when COVID hit, everybody had to work remotely with the exception of the people that were doing production. So everybody had to work remotely. So we learn to adapt. To zoom and working online and, and all of that.

And it ran actually very well. So I think that gave us the opportunity to see, okay, even though people are remote, you know, everything can still get done. So when I, when I met with everyone at that team meeting, I not only told them that kind of, we were going to take a three month trip across country, but I also let them into a little bit about like how the company like.

Why I started a company, what the goal was, was from my family, the struggles that we had to go through, how long this has been kind of on our kind of our goal list. And I told him it’s been 10 years of this was our vision. This was our hope and dream that we could one day get to there. And I, and I kind of flipped it and I said, listen, you don’t.

Think of this as me kind of like leaving. I am, I would not be able to do this or even think about it. If it wasn’t for you guys, everybody here is so good at what they do and knows what they need to get done that I don’t have to, I’m not breathing down anybody’s neck. That’s not my style, but you guys know exactly what you’re doing that.

And that’s great. That gives everybody the opportunity to kind of, um, trust what you’re doing and know that you can do this. So that’s kind of how I flipped it. And I said, I want to be able to do this. If it wasn’t for you guys, everybody here knows what they need to do. And I 100% trust you to keep the business moving along.

And obviously everything that I’m responsible for, I’m going to be doing from the road. So I can’t let you down by just dropping everything. I still have my responsibilities that I will be getting done just like everybody else will. So instead of me just being in-person meetings, we’re going to be doing zoom meetings and everybody was actually very responsive to that.

And. Really excited for me to go because now they know that I trust them fully in what they’re doing. And I think that really encouraged them to do, to try even harder and do better and make sure they don’t let the team down.

Carol: That is so cool. Adjusted in seriously, I’m sitting here just beaming from ear to ear, thinking through this and thinking about the fact that you were able to tell your team that you and your wife had this vision 10 years ago, about how you wanted to create.

A better life for your family. Right? And now you’ve worked so hard to be able to get all these wonderful people on board that are working so hard to continue growing the company so that you are able to do that. I, I really just want to know more. I want to know more about your trip, right? I think this is really cool.

So where did you start out? You’re in San Diego. Now tell us more about your trip and how this has been such a wonderful experience for your family.

Justin: Yeah. So we, um, we started off the middle of timber. So we went the Northern route. We went to Niagara falls, we went to Custer state park. We went to Yellowstone glacier.

We went to Olympic and Washington and started coming down kind of the coast of Oregon and California. So we’re, we’ve been in California for probably about. Three to four weeks, um, just hitting various spots, then we’re going to go over to Arizona, to Utah. And then we really haven’t figured out our way back yet after kind of New Mexico.

But I guess we’ll figure that out as we kind of go along. But, but honestly this trip has been kind of. Do one of the most amazing trips ever, not only far from like a personal perspective and just being closer to my family and seeing new, getting new experiences with them and, you know, getting exciting and that feeling with your family, it’s, it’s pretty profound.

But also for our professional standpoint, learning has been learning to work remotely has its challenges, but learning that stuff out. And making sure that we’re continuously growing and how we grow and creating these teams remotely has definitely, I think, improved my ability to, you know, create clear expectations and procedures and be a good team member myself while I’m still traveling.

J: That’s great. So I know Carol would talk all about the trip and the family all day. I care about the business. Um, so I’m going to go back to the business part of this. So you’ve now been gone for

Justin: how long. Uh, about two, two months, a little under two months. Yeah.

J: You’ve been gone for two months. What has come up that you didn’t expect would have been the biggest challenges?

Uh, what would you do differently or what will you do differently next time? Tell us, tell us what you’ve learned from, from this experience.

Justin: Yeah. I would say that a couple of things that were a little bit challenging and really so far, like making sure that you have, again, I have to go back to the people cause I can’t.

Tell you how important people are in the business. Um, but making sure that I had the right person, so my operations manager she’s in the office every day. She is pretty much the manager for everyone and making sure that she has the skills and kind of basically the same way of thinking that I do, uh, to run the day-to-day operations.

And we have had some, you know, a couple like human resources, things that popped up, nothing huge, but she kind of just lets me know what’s going on. She. Told me how she handled it and making sure that, um, that’s kind of in line with what I would be doing. Yeah. So a couple of things like that have come up, nothing really big has come up since in the, in the two months.

I mean, nothing major at all that I’m like, ah, crap. It would have been differently if I was there. If there are any issues, I’m generally on the phone and the early mornings. Cause that actually works out really well for the time change. But most of my focus right now is on software. So we’re shifting our business from kind of, you know, a direct mail marketing company.

We still do other marketing aspects, but we’re, we’ve been in the last year pushing and shifting over to software more because that was. The vision for where I saw the company moving to is being more of a software type company with a fulfillment type, uh, fulfillment, um, operation within, within the company.

J: So, so I want to talk more about that. Can you be more specific? I don’t know if it’s, if you’ve

Justin: announced it or what now yet.

J: Yeah. What is, what is, what is like, so what is the transition from the company? Is this a transition or is this a second product line or, um, but what, what, what, how does this fit into what

Justin: you were doing?

Uh, about a year, probably about a year and a half ago, I started seeing, especially investors. So my whole, uh, you know, core customer is real estate investors. And I saw there was a lot of software coming out for those investors. Um, what I also noticed is a lot of investors still don’t know how to market, even if they’re spending tens or hundreds of thousand dollars a month on marketing, they’re not doing it as a, as a.

Efficiently as they, they could be doing it. And again, um, I’m somebody that is very much, um, on efficiency. I love efficiency and I will make sure, you know, everything that I do the time, my time is spent efficiently. My process is efficient, all of that. So figuring out how to market properly. There were certain things that I did within my business and I had to use Excel and I had to use all these different things.

And when I showed a lot of investors, they’re like, can you do that for me? And I was like, no, it takes too long for me to do it. So basically what I said is like, I know there’s a need for this. And again, There’s no nothing else out there like this. So I started to develop a, um, lead and marketing management system where basically people could feed their leads into the software and the software would tell them what is the highest quality of leads.

They have in the database. So they could really focus on those ones instead of focusing just on their whole list, you know, at the S at the same time. So now they can spend their money more efficiently on their really good quality leads, reduce their marketing spend, but also increase. Uh, the deal rate because they’re focused on the right people.

So, and not only that they could execute marketing right from the system so they could use to open letter marketing, direct mail. Um, so that was kind of the vision of what I wanted to create for a software. And we launched that about, uh, in July. Um, so this July, we just launched that product and the future goal for that is to continue to build that out.

But also to improve it and to have, um, uh, different opportunities for people to learn. So if there is new investors, they could learn how to kind of negotiate with sellers. So I wanted, I was looking for an all encompassing way for people to manage their leads, to execute marketing. To learn different strategies in it.

So they’re in the platform all the time. And eventually I’m looking to have all of my customers go over to that product because the future of this company, I want it to be more on the software side, but also to have a backend operations. Side as well.

Carol: This is great. And I think this is a really cool transition into something that I’ve actually been curious about for a lot of this discussion, which is just your product testing.

So whether it’s this new product offering that you’ve just launched and you’re going to continue to improve, or whether Justin you’d rather talk about kind of along the way, what you’ve learned along the way, you know, you’ve talked a lot about, you’ve always been able to. Offer superior products at better prices.

Can you talk to us more about your businesses, your company’s strategy around testing new products and seeing how they work?

Justin: Good question. The software. So I I’m, I was completely new to software, so I didn’t really know how to create it. And so for me, it’s all about research. I just spent a lot of time figuring out.

How software companies are developed and how they’re created and make sure that I work with a good developer. Um, but once we started at once, we had a proof of concept. Um, I opened a round of beta testing and we have had about 20 investors in that I had to make sure that they were, um, very experienced investors.

They spent over $10,000 on marketing a month because I wanted people that really. Knew what they were doing in their own business and seeing if they could adapt it into the software and adapt it pretty easily. Um, my goal is to make sure that the user experience was very good and it had all the features that people were looking for.

So we did a really big round of beta testing to figure out. How it works, what recommendations people had. And after going through that, we made those adjustments and then we launched, um, we launched it, we did a very short launch. So we launched the product for one week only. And it was only one week. And you could get, I think it was, uh, it was 75% off for your first six months.

And we wanted to get, uh, the goal was to get 50 people in the door for that one week. And they would kind of be the second, uh, beta test group. Um, but they were now paying customers and they were in there. So we launched that for one week. We got about 75 people, which was awesome. And we cut it off because we didn’t want any more people than that, but we got 75 people on that platform.

Again, beta testing and we let them know, listen, This is out. This is working, uh, properly. Everything’s great, but we’re also looking for feedback from you and hence the reason you’re getting a superior discount and coming on. So, um, so since we launched, we’ve been learning a lot of different things and implementing different asks.

Specs, um, and features for, for everyone.

Carol: Awesome. And it sounds like this type of this type of testing, it can apply to any business, right? Because it’s like you’re doing the best you can to get the best possible solution out there really quickly get as many real users into the process and get them into the nitty gritty.

And. Only having it open for a short amount of time and encouraging those users, those people not only encouraging them setting the expectation that their feedback is act is absolutely critical to make this a successful product. Right?

Justin: Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of people appreciated the fact that there they have a sense.

Say and what we’re kind of building. So people love that. So we got tons of feedback just on even, you know, small stuff and they’re like, Oh, I can show you, I can create a video and show you exactly what I’m thinking. And, and that was amazing because again, I want to make sure that everybody can use this product and market more efficiently.

That’s really, I want people to make more money and I want to get, get them there. So if I can make things much easier for them and create a great tool, then that’s the goal. So I always love feedback from people positive, negative, anything. And I tell them all the time, please let us know because we’re building this for everyone and we want to just improve this tool.

So it just becomes really good.

J: That’s great. Okay. So we are getting close to the part of the show where we call for more, but before we do that, um, I think I’d be remiss. I have a real estate marketing expert here on the show. I know a large percentage of our listeners are real estate investors. So even though this isn’t directly tied into the business, part of the show, I have to ask you for all of our real estate investors out there, who right now are struggling to find deals.

And I know there are a lot out there, cause I know I’m in the same boat. In addition to obviously working with you and your company, what are some things you would recommend that investors be doing right now? Thinking about right now, focusing on right now in order to be more successful with their marketing and their acquisitions.

Justin: Yeah. So I would say for me, it’s all about, uh, direct to seller marketing. Um, a lot of investors, you know, still want to leverage other people to get deals. And I, while I still do that and I still get deals, I picked one up from a real estate agent the other day, a wholesale deal, but I always like to be in control of my deal flow.

So that’s why I’ve always gone to direct, to seller marketing. So I would definitely advocate whether or not they use us or they start their marketing on their own. Great, but create a really good list. And again, we can, I mean, there’s so much we can go into on this, but we won’t go down the path as much, but I spend a lot of my time on curating a list.

It could take me two months. To narrow down a good list and getting all the data from the different sources, because I use the MLS, I use list source. I use, you know, tax assessment information. I talk to the treasury department, I pull this from them. So there’s a lot of different things that I do to pull in information, but that’s okay for me because the time that it takes me to pull on the front end just creates a much more profitable list on the backend for me.

So I’m much more willing to spend my time upfront because I know it’s going to be, it’s going to make me much more, bringing a lot more revenue on the backend to do that. And then it’s really about just creating a marketing strategy, understanding that it takes time to build momentum in your marketing strategists.

There’s so many people that I see that stopped right before they were probably going to get a deal. And, and that’s like a killer for me to see that. So understand that it takes momentum, being consistent is probably the most important thing that you can do, uh, whatever you do, and just keep pushing along with the marketing.

J: I love that. And just two amazing tips right there. First, everybody always thinks it’s all about having the perfect letter or having the perfect. Stamp or color or writing in a certain handwriting and all that, but really at the end of the day, your letter, your actual collateral is only as good as the, the list that you’re hitting and the people that you’re targeting.

And so I just, I love that tip on focus more time on the, on the list and you’ll be more successful. And then the other thing that we talk about all the time in real estate, which is just. Like you said, be consistent to many people. Like they will mail two or three or four times and they’ll give up where it might take that fifth or sixth or seventh mailing to start getting leads to actually start appearing.

And, and don’t give up too quickly because it does happen and it’s not quick and it’s not. Easy. I mean, it’s not difficult, but it’s not quick and consistent action will we’ll get results. So I, I absolutely love that. And so I, I thank you on behalf of all the real estate investors out there that, uh, that are looking to get better at their acquisitions right now.

Okay. So we’re at that point in the show that we call the four more, and this is where we ask you the same forecast questions that we ask all of our guests. And then we let you tell us more about where our listeners can connect with you and learn more about you and your business. Sound good.

Justin: Great.

Sounds good.

J: Excellent. Okay. I will take the first question. What was your very first or your very worst job? I’ll let you decide which one and what lessons have you taken from it from that job that, that you’re still applying today?

Justin: I would say so. I’ll do both my first and worst job was at a pet shop. So I was in kind of, they sold fish and all accessories for fish.

I was in the backroom. I remember creating boxes or putting boxes together. And it was so boring. I actually fell asleep. I actually, and that’s crazy for me to fall asleep on the job because I always took jobs very seriously, but yeah, I just fell asleep and the boss came over and he’s like, what are you doing?

And I was like, Oh, I’m so sorry. But. I would say that was probably the last first and last job that I took, just because I needed a job. I didn’t, I found that I enjoy learning and that did that job did not give me an opportunity to learn. And it was just really boring. So I would say my first and worst job,

Carol: do you have an aquarium at your house now or where you’re like forever

Justin: scarred forever.

Carol: Is that good? Justin? What is the best piece of advice that you have for small business owners or new entrepreneurs that you haven’t yet mentioned today?

Justin: I would say two things, one starting out focus, just making sure you have a really good focus on exactly what you want to do. Even when I started, I was doing the real estate investing business and open letter marketing, and it was very difficult to get both of them off the ground or are continuing to go in the right direction when I was focusing on two things.

And then when I started shifting my focus to the marketing company, it just went. Much better than it ever went. So I would say one is focus. And then for growing companies, I would say don’t be afraid to spend money. Uh, on people on resources, um, because at the end of the day, as a growing company, you will always be battling an upward trend and always needing something additional to help your business grow.

And if you don’t make that investment, you’re going to spend it very cool.

J: Okay. So question number three, give us a book. I know you probably do a lot of reading. I follow you on Facebook. So I’ve seen that you do a lot of reading, pick a book that you think maybe we’re not familiar with or is not as popular as some of the other books that we hear recommended all the time.

What do you,

Justin: yeah, so I’m sure you’ve heard other people say traction, that one I loved because that helped the company. Tremendously on getting on the right track with the right people, but also Dan Kennedy books. So my world is marketing, right. Even as a real estate investor, I’m really a marketer. So I love kind of all books, Dan Kennedy, that really helps to understand how to market well, how to market properly.

So I like those.

Carol: Excellent. Thank you. Okay. So the fourth and final question, which of course is always one of my favorite. What is something that you have splurged on along the way, whether it’s your family, life, your work life, whatever, wherever, however, whenever that was totally an entirely worth it.

Justin: So, if you asked me this about two to three months ago, I’d probably, we say, you know, a car that I, that I bought, but now I would say this trip, this experience, um, being able to do this and travel around the country with my family and see all the different experiences it’s been, nothing else comes close to this.

This has been absolutely amazing.

Carol: Love it.

J: Love it. Awesome. Okay. So that was the four part of the four more now for the more part of the form, where, where can our listeners find out more about you find out more about open letter marketing and potentially

Justin: connect with you. Yep. They can go to open letter marketing.com.

They can check us out over there. They can always shoot me an [email protected]

J: Fantastic, Justin, this was great. We’ve wanted to have you on for a long time. I’m glad we finally got a chance to sync up. Thank you so much. And I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip. How much longer are you going to

Justin: do?

We’re out until December 15th. So. That’s

J: awesome. So almost four

Carol: months.

Justin: Yeah, that’s great. Well,

J: best of luck with the business. I look forward to having you back on in the next year or two, and hearing about the new products and services you’re offering and, and talking about how those are going.

Justin: Awesome.

Thank you both so much. I really appreciate it. It was fun.

Carol: Thank you, Justin. Enjoy sunny San Diego.

Justin: Thank you. I will.

Carol: Jay seriously, is Justin just truly living the dream or what? I just absolutely love that he has spent a decade working on his business, hiring the right people to continue to grow open letter marketing so that now he and his team.

Family are traveling around the country in an RV. They’ve I know you didn’t want to dig into this on the show, but of course I did. They have seven and nine year nine-year-old kiddos. They homeschool them. They have a virtual tutor. They are truly doing what matters most. And I’m so happy for them

J: and I’m going to correct you on one thing there.

Yeah. He’s been working hard for 10 years. This business has only four years old. He started this business in 2016. So basically in the last four years he was able to take this business and put it on autopilot. So anybody out there that’s thinking, Hey, can I do the same thing? And how long is it going to take?

Well, yeah, you can do the same thing and it doesn’t take that long. If you put in place the right people, the right systems and the right processes from the beginning. Anyway. This was a fun episode. I think we’re done here. Are we done here?

Justin: Let’s wrap it up, baby.

J: Excellent. Thank you everybody for tuning in, have an amazing week and we will see you next week on the BiggerPockets business podcast.

She’s Carol

Carol: now focus and start down the path of living your dream today. Have a super awesome, fantastic, wonderful week. Beautiful people. Thanks everybody for being here. See you soon. .

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