Usually we profile success stories of people who go from day jobs to freedom, kicking off the pathway to wealth through real estate. However, some take it a step further, using real estate as the vehicle to bring them closer to their real dreams.
Recently, a big developer buddy of mine — he’s the real deal, too, with $2 billion in acquisitions, and his firm recently sold a waterfront property for 9 figures after buying it for $50 million and change — sent me an email about a network he was on and a panel he was speaking on.
I clicked on it and saw the founder had a series of kickass projects, including a real network with a base on local TV, Roku and Apple TV, a conference this month on The Future of CRE Tech, the Dealmaker Speaker Series, an event series not unlike what I used to do at Bisnow, and other events as well.
The founder? Steve Nson, a young, NYC-based serial entrepreneur who — you guessed it — had a deep a background in real estate. In fact, it was the core real estate strategies he used to build it in the first place.
Here’s his bio, in a nutshell:
- He managed $7 billion of multifamily assets in New York City, including Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Manhattan’s largest apartment complex.
- He has 14 years in the business.
- He’s had stints at Wells Fargo, US Bank, and Stonehenge, a real estate investment company where he managed $2B of luxury properties in NYC.
Long story short, I thought his story was compelling — including how he pooled money for his first deal. What really appealed to me was showing the different side of the lovely, but somewhat cliche: “I quit my job to go into real estate.”
But what about the step beyond that? I thought, “What happens when you attain the freedom and tools from real estate to then live out your real dream?”
So I reached out to Steve, and we sat down and talked about real estate background and how it helped him launch what he wants to be the “Netflix of entrepreneurship.”
BP: What’s your background in real estate and how did it get you to this point?
Well, I’ve been in real estate for probably 14 years. My first job in real estate was as an intern in the commercial lending in US Bank, and they worked with developers in Minnesota.
One of the jobs was to look at financial statements of high net worth individuals, with $50 million, $100 million. I was shocked because I thought the only people with money in Minnesota were athletes, and the internship opened my eyes to a world of possibilities.
What I discovered there was the concept of leverage. Prior to real estate, I thought to be rich, you had to be an athlete or in music. I basically realized that if you start with $1M — for that million, you can buy five properties. So I said, I don’t want to be the person lending money, but the one getting five properties generating the income.
BP: So how did you make the jump?
In our minds, we were going to buy properties. I was a sophomore in college. My friends and I didn’t have enough money to buy properties, but we could list properties. So we started a website to help students find housing. We could get a cut from the landlords, and the students would get a small fee as well. With the revenues from the website, we would fund our real estate investments.
The venture lasted three months because all four co-founders were doing the same thing (sales and marketing), but we learned valuable lessons from the experience. One of which is to have complimentary skills on the team to leverage — that’s that keyword again — your talent and resources.
Later, I re-did the business with a friend and we grew to thousands of units. We made it to local business competitions, so I moved to New York to get my Masters in Real Estate from NYU.
BP: What happened next?
I went to NYU, worked for a couple big firms. Worked in asset management and leasing, but still had that itch to get into real estate investing, still had that itch to own. I have a strong background in asset management and leasing, but needed a partner with a strong asset management and finance background. I thought together we could be a deadly team. I had a lot of classmates at the same level, but they weren’t entrepreneurial; they wanted to be in the corporate world.
So how could I find an investment partner? Why isn’t there a platform to find an investment partner? I knew about BiggerPockets.com, and the value is on the educational side. I’m more direct, so I wanted a platform where you can match your goals and capabilities and you can connect if you want to move. That’s how I came up with concept for AnySizeDeals.com. Allows you to find properties but also find partners. The real value is you find something else you can do deals with. That’s the mission — to help you find deals, partner up.
I took the plunge, went full-time on it. I needed to get traction, so I went out to events. Reached out to people with Meetups in New York to partner, but no one would collaborate with me. So I decided to launch my own Meetup group, so I started my first in Harlem — I called it the Harlem Meetup — so I did it at Red Rooster, a place in Harlem.
I did that every month, then I started the matchmaking network, you could be looking for a title guy, a lawyer or investor. So I was doing the virtual and physical component of it.
Then I did a conference call called the DealMaker Summit. I had investors from all over the country come to the event. Going into this, I was doing two Meetups a month in 2015. Now, I don’t want to do as many, but instead, I want to be more targeted so I can scale.
BP: How did the speaker series come about?
I did the first Dealmaker Speaker Series event with real estate legend Don Peebles. (Writer’s note: Per Forbes, Peebles, the largest African American developer in the United States, is closing in on a billion-dollar net worth.)
We didn’t have a studio, so we went to Pranna in New York and taped there. Got a few people on there, got a friend that hooked that up. I needed to spread the word. I found out about the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, where if you live in Manhattan, you can access to studio space for virtually nothing. Long story short, I created a show, which now airs on the Manhattan Network, a local station in New York, so I invited Don to be on my TV show.
So from there, I wanted to do more events, quarterly and more strategically. So on January 10, we have the second Dealmaker Speaker Series event, targeting real estate technology.
The reason I have this event in January is because it’s the start of the New Year — lots of activity, new deals almost every single day. Whether its residential or commercial, it’s important for people to know where it’s headed and how it can help you make more money.
BP: What led to the formation of the network?
I started with the one TV show. Since it’s public access, you can’t really monetize it. What I really cared about was tracking who was watching a show. So that led to a new idea. I love TV, I love entrepreneurship, so I said, why not launch a network? It can be anything from wealth building to finance to real estate. So I came up with DMZ Stream, a network a source for all things tech, startup, and entrepreneurship.
The whole idea is to teach and educate people about entrepreneurship, whether it’s behind scenes at events or conferences, we have different verticals, different shows. Our latest talent is January Barnes — she has two shows on the network, one covering entrepreneurs and BTS content and another covering celebrities and events like the Hamptons Film Festival.
The grand vision is to be the Netflix of entrepreneurship. We’re bringing on more shows — including a real estate show — to cover investing, and a wealth show to cover finance. Eventually, we want to have shows and movies catering to business-minded people. You’ll be able to watch movies similar to The Wolf of Wall Street, as well as shows like the HBO hit Silicon Valley. If you understand business and entrepreneurship, there’s lots of drama and excitement.
BP: How did your real estate factor into your “power moves”?
Leverage. The concept of leverage is essential in understanding how to make money in real estate but also in life. You can leverage resources, people’s time, relationships, etc. in a mutually beneficial that helps you grow and prosper. I was born in LA, but grew up in Cameroon. I was always inspired by entrepreneurship, but also the amount of poverty that was around and thought, “How can this be addressed?”
Like I mentioned, when I worked at US Bank, I learned about leverage. People don’t use the concept of leverage, and people aren’t taught about it. And leverage is what would really help you scale and become successful, not just in real estate but in life, period. In life, the most successful people understand the concept of leverage, not just in money but in relationships when it comes to win-win situations. To me, people who have issues succeeding are people who don’t see opportunities right away. But you have to be open.
BP: Whether it’s real estate, entrepreneurship, or just plain ol’ business, what do you look for in a deal?
I make quick decisions, I am looking to see if there is a mutually beneficial outcome. Either I make money or I grow my brand — preferably both. I have to respect and trust the person I am doing a deal with. Some people recommend you focus just on the money, but it has never worked for me. There needs to be some trust and a mutually beneficial relationship for the deal to work the way I want it.
BP: What’s the number one thing you would tell people on the fence as to whether they should “take the leap” — whether it’s a business venture or the first property acquisition?
Take the jump and have faith. You don’t need to know the next 10 steps, you just need to know the next move in front of you. Have a grand plan, but get busy doing the little things everyday because they add up.
Something that is overlooked in entrepreneurship is discipline; the most important you can do to accomplish your goals is to have daily routines that help you get closer to your goal. Somedays, you will be inspired, but some days you won’t — and on those days, your discipline and routine will come in handy.
Would you watch the “Netflix of entrepreneurship”? What do you think of Steve’s latest projects?
Let me know with a comment!