Frank recalls the story of Owen Meany, a character in a book he read as a young man that somewhat imperfectly explains how hidden talents emerge when you least suspect them. In this episode, we talk about the importance of practice and repetition to master any skill professionally or personally.
In this episode:
- Past behaviors are an accurate predictor of future performance
- Skills translate across industries and from company to company
- Go where a company values (and pays) for your specific skillsets
- Your performance certainly won’t speak for itself (you need to be a marketer)
- Get results, but do it in your unique way
- You can’t expect to catch much fish with only one hook in the water
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
“The 10,000-Hour Rule”
We’re going to talk about something that’s pretty cool. It’s a book by John Irving called A Prayer for Owen Meany. Nickel, who is referenced a lot on here, my best friend from childhood bought me this book in 1999 or 2000. He’s like, “You got to read this book. It’s incredible.” It’s written by John Irving and John Irving’s written a bunch of great books. He wrote The Cider House Rules, which became a popular movie. It’s the same author.
Is that the John Candy movie, Cider House Rules?
Tobey Maguire, the kid that became Spider-Man was in that, and Charlize Theron. I’m almost positive. A Prayer for Owen Meany, it’s this little kid. If this was being recorded in the ‘80s, we would have called him a midget. In nowadays parlance, he’s a little person or a dwarf. He’s about 100 pounds and he’s about 5–foot tall, fully grown. He is smaller than everybody else. That’s relevant in this story for a lot of different reasons. Nickel sends me this book. I bring it with me to Europe. This book shows up at my house through the power of most likely Amazon in the early 2000s. I’m a broke kid. I’m 24, 25. I ended up getting invited to go to Europe. One of my friends had miles and flew me over there. Long story short, I packed this book with me. I think it was my first trip to Europe without my parents. I brought this book. I was there for fifteen days and had a great time. This book is imprinted in my brain of being from that era.
I’ll tell a funny story. I’m so broke back at this point in my life. I had a bathing suit but I didn’t have one I would wear out so I would wear gym shorts. I remember being on a beach in France with A Prayer for Owen Meany, gym shorts like boxers. I’m so excited because it turns out I’m on a topless beach. This is normal in France. I see this beautiful girl who’s age-appropriate for me. There’s a perfect spot right next to me. She’s walking towards me and ends up going in a slightly different direction where I can’t see her. Instead, I get this girl’s grandmother who sits down next to me, takes off all of her clothes, and lathers herself up with nothing other than olive oil. It was terrible.
Did you offer to help?When you find yourself in difficult positions, you’re going to call on skills that you didn’t even realize you had. Click To Tweet
No. I buried my head in A Prayer for Owen Meany and pretended that I wasn’t on a beach. I’m pretty sure I got a suntan on my back. I got burned.
I’m picturing the lady from There’s Something About Mary who’s always in the sun. Is it something like that?
It was close to that. Most French people are incredibly lean. This was the exception to the rule. This is where we’ll cut this story. Suffice to say, if the beauty was next to me, maybe I’d never finished A Prayer for Owen Meany and my life takes a completely different trajectory, but as fate would have it, I got through the book. March 11th of 2020 is when President Trump spoke in the White House and started talking about COVID. I happened to be in San Diego, California. I helped run the mastermind group, the Collective Genius. We show up on the 12th and it’s like, “What in the hell happened?” I had done a presentation six months earlier about what you do when you enter into a recession. I dusted it off really quick. I did it that morning and we started talking about it. I referenced the book, A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Everybody in the audience has looked at me glassy-eyed. I don’t think anyone had read it. They didn’t know what I was talking about. What I told Ian in preparation for this is I remember reading this book and they talked about the shot. What the shot was the two stars of the story. Owen Meany is one of them and he’s the small person. His best friend did this silly shot. It was an alley-hoop in an empty gym where they would time it. John would pick Owen up. He’d get the basketball and he would dunk it. In my memory, they did this for half of the book. When there was an extra day or they had an extra hour, they would go practice the shot. If you’re a guy going to throw a football or a baseball with one of your buddies or shooting hoops, it’s a time to catch up and have some comradery. What they always came back to in the book is the shot. It was silly. At some point, they would have a janitor time shot that needed to be done under three seconds. You never knew why, but it happened over and over.
When I referenced back in March of 2020 when COVID was starting to happen is you’re going to call on skills that you didn’t even realize you had or that you knew you had. You’re going to have to rely upon all of them because we’re entering into something that is incredibly different and difficult to get through. We fast forward to the end of the book. This is during the era of Vietnam. Owen Meany is with John and there’s a gaggle of Vietnamese kids. Someone who is against the Vietnam War decides to try and kill Owen Meany, John, and the kids. What ultimately happens is he throws a hand grenade and it lands. Owen says, “We’ve got four seconds.”
They don’t speak. John picks up the grenade, picks up Owen, and pushes him through a window. Because he was so small, he could get through. He ultimately dies but he saves the life of tons of kids because he was prepared for this inane moment. In real life, you’re probably not going to do something like the shot. In my life, what I’ve noticed is when I work hard and I have a vision or a goal in front of me, I never know how it’s going to manifest. In many instances, that skill comes back to benefit me. In this book, in my head, how it lives, and in reality, how it works in the book is this kid saves a ton of people’s lives by having this one skill that he’d worked on perfecting for almost a decade.
As you were telling me the story, it reminds me of one of my favorite ‘80s movies, The Karate Kid, where you’re subjected to twenty minutes in that movie of watching Daniel–san on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor and waxing the car. You don’t know where the hell it’s going until Mr. Miyagi comes out and tries to kick and punch him 100 times and he does all of the practices. You got thousands and thousands of reps, and you never know when they’re going to be valuable, when you’re going to apply what you practice. The whole concept to me is fascinating. Every big moment in my career or my life that I can think of where I performed in a way that I looked at it and thought, “It’s pretty good.” You’re impressed by yourself a little bit when something happened.
In no case was it ever random or luck that I performed well, I could always look back at all of the reps that I had built, the mental reps or the physical reps, when I was in that moment where he had 3 or 4 seconds to get through the window and save all the people. They didn’t talk. They didn’t think. It was a reflex because they had practiced it hundreds and hundreds of times for fun that they did it and they did it well. That’s what happens. When you close a big deal, when you have a sale that goes well, when you convince your manager of something, when you execute on a project that you’re working on with a team, it’s rare that you look back and think, “Where did that come from?” If you think about it, you had the reps involved.
I read this book and I’ve read it twice. Ian read the 21st Century equivalent of CliffsNotes. This was fascinating to me. The day before Owen Meany died, they were in Arizona and there was a basketball hoop. Johnny asked Owen, “Do you want to do the shot? Go practice.” Owen goes, “We’ve done it 1,000 times. We don’t need to do it. Let’s go do something else.” I thought that was a throwaway thing the first time I read it, but when I read it again, the skill is going to be called upon. He doesn’t know it’s going to be tomorrow but it’s called upon the next day. He put in so much work, he didn’t need to cram. It was second nature. That’s what I think the author was trying to say. It’s what you said about the Karate Kid and business. All of those things lead into you being ready for it. Speaking of you’re ready for it, one of my favorite actors, comedians, and late–night guys, there are lots of choices but I’ve always been an NBC guy. I love Letterman when he was on NBC. My dad loved Johnny Carson. I’m a Jimmy Fallon guy. Unless you live under a rock, you know who Jimmy Fallon is.
Jimmy Fallon was on Saturday Night Live for years. He ended up hosting the show that David Letterman made famous, which was the Late Night with Letterman, then Fallon. That was the show that was on at 12:30 to 1:30 in the morning. It was popular for college kids. It’s a television program that has an opening monologue. It has a band. It has guests. You would think that it’s the AAA equivalent of pitching for the New York Yankees. It’s as close as you can possibly get. Jimmy Fallon ultimately ends up as the host of The Tonight Show.
I remember reading an article that he was four shows in. He goes, “I can’t believe it. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’m four shows in and I’ve used every single skill I’ve ever accumulated to get to this far.” I thought it was incredible. He had the job that could prep him for it. Even though he was as prepared as he possibly could be, when he got to that next level, it stretched his skills but he did incredibly well because he put in all that work and had all the skills. He knew how to do everything, but it still wasn’t easy.
Even before Saturday Night Live, where he’s doing a lot of that, he had worked on improv. He had worked on standup. He grinded his way up there in front of audiences of seven that were all jeering him at some point. When you’re in the middle of that, you think, “What am I doing?” There had to have been so many moments where Jimmy was like, “I’m going to have to go get a job at some point because this sucks. No one’s turning out to watch me. What am I doing here?” There are a lot of times in my life where I’ve thought, “What am I doing? What am I selling? What is this product? I could care less about this. What is this all going to mean for me in my career?”
What I didn’t understand when I was younger in my career was how transferable all those skills were when I changed context. I didn’t quite understand it. I think there’s a lot of parallels in the A Prayer for Owen Meany book to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and his 10,000–hour rule, whether it’s The Beatles playing thousands of late-night venues, thousands of hours of play together as a band before they got their big chance on Ed Sullivan. They were relaxed on Ed Sullivan even though at that point, it was the most-watched event ever on television. To them, it was doing more of what they’ve done. It was a reflex.
The moment wasn’t too big for them because they put in all the work.
Wayne Gretzky playing hockey ten hours a day from the time he was four years old on a chopped-up lake in the backyard. When he gets on smooth surface, he’s incredible. Barry Sanders talks about how he learned his running style from playing flag football. He played flag football for years before he played tackle. He learned how to keep people away from touching him at all. He proved to be good at that once they were allowed to reach out and grab them.
What I always struggled with the 10,000-hour rule, because I read it when I was younger, was applying it to business and understanding what are the things that I’m doing in business that I’m accumulating hours on. How and when do I pivot and use those things to do things that will make me a lot more money, but also do things that I enjoy, and when am I going to be able to link those skills to different things? A big part of what we’re going to talk about is going to be looking back at the bigger moments in our career and trying to find some parallel path that we were on years before that we hadn’t even noticed we were on.Timing, perseverance and 10 years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success. Click To Tweet
There’s a saying that I love and it’s, “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look an overnight success.” In the examples that you talked about with The Beatles, Gretzky, Barry Sanders, and the 10,000–hour rule, Malcolm Gladwell also focuses on Bill Gates. Bill Gates happened to be in one part of the state or the country that had a computer that he could practice on. It’s almost the same as Mark Zuckerberg being a little kid, being in his family’s garage, and working on coding. Tiger Woods. The new Tiger Documentary that came out. He was chipping golf balls in his garage for years starting at the age of three.
Someday, you get to link all those skills together. When you’re wearing the red shirt on Sunday, everybody gets behind you but the red shirt on Sunday never happens unless you do all of that work behind it. It’s the reason The Beatles did incredible when they were on Ed Sullivan. It’s the reason Tiger rarely ever loses on Sunday. He’s done the work and has this mental belief that nobody can beat him because nobody’s worked harder.
The first time that I can think about in my career was right after college I had a commission sales job. My job was to drum up new business. I had a book. It was called the Harris Directory. It listed every industrial company within 100 of my zip codes, A through Z straight up. It was a telephone book. The directory would tell you how many employees worked there, what their average revenue was, so you could go through. There’s much better software for this. I had an encyclopedia book. It was updated once a year. It would say, plant manager, maintenance manager, would list certain things. At the time you call, they had already left. They’d quit. You had good information when you paid for this. I would call people. I proved to be pretty decent at it. When I think about how I get ready for it, I never had a sales job before that job at GE. Unlike you, I didn’t spend a significant amount of time working in a restaurant, which I would consider a sales job. My internships were all engineering. They were very operational-focused.
What I did have is I was in a fraternity in college. In a fraternity, you are pushed out of your comfort zone all the time. A big part of a fraternity is partying, and I did my share of that. When I looked back at that fraternity, you have what’s called rush functions where you have to go convince kids to come join your house versus another house. You’re there. People are walking in. It’s a big networking function. You walk over. You shake hands of people. You try to convince them of why your group of guys is better than the next. Even bigger than that is if you want to be considered one of the better fraternities on campus, you have to make sororities feel comfortable when they come over to your house for a party. You’d have what’s called a two-way or a four-way. A two-way is just the fraternity and sorority and a four-way is two fraternities and two sororities. If you’re hosting, what would happen is a big group would all show up at once. The sorority would have their pledges all drive over at the same time.
One second, it’s a bunch of dudes standing around with a punch bowl of some fruity concoction we came up with, a bunch of Busch Lights, and a DJ playing some music. There’s a bunch of dudes. In the next minute, there are 60 girls in your basement looking around of what to do. That moment when all the girls walk in, which are all pretty girls dressed up, looking good, most of the guys in the fraternity are pretty shy. There are a lot of them that are not great at walking over and shaking hands. I wasn’t either at first but it was awkward. If you didn’t walk over, it sends a signal of you’re not a welcoming group of guys. You’re dorky. I would always force myself to greet them, walk over and say, “Hi, can I get you something? Can I take your coats? What can I do?” Over time, you get better at it. “That is a cool bracelet. I love what you did with your hair.” You try to make them feel comfortable with finding something in common.
Tim McHenry was incredible at this. He was our social for four years. At the time, we would go over together because we’re nervous. Tim would be like, “Follow me.” He’d go over and start chatting. I tell this story because when I started cold calling, it’s the same. You try to find something in common that you have. You make a nice little compliment. How do you build rapport? In a fraternity, there were the girls that would be not too into talking to you. They’d walk over to the punch bowl and you’d get dissed. The boys would make fun of you. You had to get over that crap. You had to get over the fact that’s going to happen. It was the same with cold calling. Nine out of ten people that hung up on me. They were rude and said no, and didn’t pick up. You learned how to not take it as personal, but it was a skill that I saw transferred to sales for me. It helped me find success quickly.
When I was a kid and I was working at the Outback, I was sixteen years old. There weren’t girls. There were beautiful women that worked there. I was a busboy. We were all on the same team. I was busing tables and they were doing all this stuff. I had no nerves to talk to these people that if they were in my high school math class, I would have been petrified of. What I learned there was they’re normal people who want to be communicated to. That was a skill that I learned that I took back to high school that helped communicating with girls in my age. I looked at it. It was a breakthrough thing but it’s funny. There’s always an area where you do something and you start to do it well. You sit back and reflect a little bit. You’re like, “This is the exact same skill. Why am I nervous or scared to do it here when I’m not scared to do it in this context?”
Your first job was construction but you ultimately decided, “I think I could be good in sales.” Do you think you had that confidence because of your time waiting tables or because of selling? Where did you have the confidence to say, “I can get into sales?” You had construction shops. That was your degree.
My full name is Frank Bernard Cava. My first name Frank comes from my granddad who was an electrician and a policeman. I got that skillset from him. My dad followed in that line of work. When I was a little kid, my dad moved us to Florida and he worked for Bernard, my mom’s dad. Bernard, the legend about him is that he was this incredible salesman. He was always charming. He was a salesman. My mom would always reinforce that to me. There was plenty of reinforcement that I was a lot like my dad in my dad’s family, but my mom would always bring up like, “You have a lot in common with your other granddad. He was always an incredible salesman. I see how people light up when you say hi to them and when you engage with them. You’re a great salesperson.” It started way before high school when I was at the Outback or even in the construction. I learned that I was fearless. I learned that I was someone who enjoyed selling. I believed that if I was selling you M&Ms, it was good for you to buy M&M’s for me because it was good for my basketball team or my baseball team, or if I was out holding the banner up so we could do a carwash.
These are the things that we used to do in the ‘80s when I was a kid. I got runoff from the local grocery store because the manager’s like, “Sir, you don’t have a permit and you’re out.“ “You’re calling me sir. I’m nine. My mom’s in there somewhere shopping so I need to go find her.” I got kicked off. The next time we went back, I was like, “I’m going to sell M&M’s again.” I don’t know what it was but I’ll tell you this, the big two things that I knew about sales is I knew I could do it. I found myself in positions that I don’t think I deserve to be in because I could sell. Back when I was a kid, they had travel basketball teams and I made it. I was the worst kid on the team and I wasn’t even close, but I was positive. I was there because we needed to raise money. I would go out and knock door to door, and I made the team.
Another thing that happened with me when I was a kid. There was a middle school sales contest. I won it in 7th and 8th grade. In 7th grade, you got to go into this thing called the money machine. All this money kicked up. I didn’t know how the thing worked. I pulled some money out of the sky and I only got $100 but I didn’t understand it. The next year I’m like, “I want to do that money machine again and I want to win.” I figured out how the money machine works. I have $250, which when I was in 8th grade was like $1 million. I remember how it made me feel. I knew I was good at it. I knew that it made me feel like a success because I was able to do well in it.Think about what skills you have, not what others have that you don’t. Click To Tweet
It’s incredible too how your confidence can get built up when other people tell you you’re good at something. I’m sure you got compliments from customers, or your manager at Outback would talk to you about those things, or winning those competitions. My fraternity brothers voted me in to be rush chairman a couple of times, which means you’re the head of recruiting. I knew I was good at it. I knew when we were having a big party, people would be like, “Mathews, get downstairs, the girls are getting here.” There were 4 or 5 of us that had to be down there when it started. We were the guys that got it started, that got the conversation going. People didn’t like it if we’re upstairs. They needed us downstairs. You start to feel a different level of confidence like, “I’m good at this persuasive thing. I’m good at starting a party, get energy going.” You think, “I could make a career out of that. I could go apply those skills.” It helps to hear other people see it in you and not just yourself.
You also get a track record in it. You recognized like, “I’m good at this.” For me, I had no idea selling candy bars for basketball or winning the 7th and 8th-grade sales contest for our middle school was going to help me anywhere. I’d win few contests. I won the blooming onions and cheese fries at the Outback. When I saw a company come across and said, “We hire people to build houses. If you’re good at building houses, we’re going to let you sell.” I knew if I could get to sales, I was going to do incredible because I always win sales contests. I was a lot more humble. I was also a lot less of able to articulate what I’m articulating now.
I had a belief. I knew that if I could figure out how to get into sales, I was going to do well. They were going to train me. With my inherent ability and with the time that I’d put in, I knew that I was going to figure it out. What happens is you don’t know where this stuff starts. When you’re in elementary school or middle school, you never know where it’s going to go. Zuckerberg didn’t know because he liked to take apart Ataris and put them back together that he was going to build Facebook. He got passionate about it. It just happened when time lined up, he had the skills to connect the dots.
I think this show is a great example of it. Over a decade, you and I have had hundreds and hundreds of conversations about business, whether it was something I was facing, something you were facing. A lot of the time, it isn’t even that. I listened to a podcast and tell you, you got to listen to it. Let’s not talk about it until you’ve listened. We get together and we chat. You see a movie. We bring up sports games and say, “Isn’t that fascinating the way the captain did this?” We’ve done this so many times that when it came down to start making shows, we have more ideas for episodes than we have time to record them.
We got a couple of hundred ideas that we want to do, we just don’t have the time. We only have a few hours a week. We practiced. By doing an actual show, by getting out and doing it, recording it, getting on the microphones, editing it, putting it out on a platform, we have no idea what we’re doing. Something tells me, in five years, we’re going to look back at 2020 and 2021 and say, “We were building some other reflex for something else we’re doing that may be is a different tangent than whatever this show is.” Who knows? It may be and it may not be. What I do know is we’re putting in a lot of hours practicing something that could go somewhere, could not go somewhere, and we won’t know for another few years.
When Ian and I were talking about the show and I brought the Owen Meany thing, we’re talking about, what do we name it? What do we do? Where are we going? What are the takeaways? This is going to sound goofy. It’s not something we rehearsed or practiced but it’s what my mindset is. You and your life is a windup toy. You get to wind yourself up and point yourself in a certain direction. We’re humans. We were not windup toys. We get to adjust, adapt, and move.
If you put yourself into a situation or an environment that’s agreeable for you, you continue to move along, and you continue to accrue skills, you never know where that’s going to go. If you’re like, “I’m 23 years old. I’m starting a new job. I want to be rich someday. What do I do?” Be incredible in what you do, learn as much as you can, talk to people. Have receptors that are open, so you’re listening and hearing. If there’s someone who’s 30 years older than you that takes an interest in you and wants to mentor you or give you advice, listen.
These are things that start to happen that give you an ability to understand where you’re at, process, and then produce. As you do that enough times, opportunities start to come up, and then you get the stack wins. When I was working at Outback, I started off as a busboy, I moved to waiter. When I went to the University of Florida, I got demoted to dishwasher. I got back to busboy, waiter. I became a headwaiter, and then I became a bartender. Each one of those jobs built on the other job. Having an understanding of what the busboy has to do as a bartender made me a better bartender. That’s a simple example in a restaurant. Having the exposure of five different positions made me best when I finally got to the job of a bartender. I made more money. I got better shifts. All this little stuff started happening.
What I started to realize is I had these middle school successes with sales. I’ve had these successes in the restaurant world as a high school and a college kid. When I went to the business world, I was the lowest person on the totem pole for a period of time. I also knew that I’d already done this twice in other aspects of my life. If I do the same things over and over again, I start new, I listen, and I grow. It helps. This is the most incredible part. When you get into an interview to get promoted, you tell those stories. You tell the story of this is how I did it as a middle school. This is how I did it as a waiter and a bartender. This is how I’ve done it so far at this company. Success leaves clues. Whenever you watch anything on stocks, they always say, “Past indicators are not an indication of future success,” but interviews with behavioral interviewing, that’s exactly what you’re talking about.
Another big takeaway from your book is seemingly unassociated paths can be linked by one skill. You brought up an interview. I’ll talk about my interview with the CEO of NVR. When I went there, the way they were set up, they had the home building operation, which you were a part of. It’s difficult to sell a home. It wasn’t in ‘05. A monkey could have done it. For the most part, it’s normally hard to sell a home because you’re competing with a lot. The company also had a finance department, a mortgage company. The loan officers were linked to sales reps, but the loan officers were handed business. They weren’t salespeople. They had to keep it. They did not screw up. There was even money tied to the customer not leaving.
The problem the CEO saw was he had a group of salespeople who didn’t appreciate the business the way that they should because they didn’t have to earn it. They weren’t fighting for it. It was a title company. It has terrible customer service. It didn’t capture a lot. It didn’t have it good margins. I’d been with GE for six years. I had managed people that were cold calling. I had taught people how to prospect, how to sell. I was stunned. I remember looking at him and saying, “How can you not appreciate how hard it is to get a customer?” I told him the story about the hardest customer I ever had to get, how many times the guy said no to me. It took me 2.5 years. I had to give him 50 references and he still didn’t trust me until I finally closed him. I’ve told this story. I had been promoted. I was a manager and I still kept pursuing this guy. I still kept after him. I closed him as a manager, and gave the credit to one of my salespeople. I said, “When you’ve done something like that, you never take any customer for granted no matter how it got to you.”
Let’s be real. Sales reps at Ryan Homes don’t even do that. The marketing’s done for them. Largely the NVR machine is funneling people to your model most of the time. Truly going out, finding a deal, and hunting, that wasn’t anywhere in NVR at all. It resonated with him. When I came in to start leading people who were entitled, it bothered me. The most entitled people went first. I started seeking people who were entitled and firing them as quickly as I could because they made me sick. It made me sick that you could take a customer for granted. Partly it was because I knew how damn hard it was to go get one that I was polar opposite of an entitled salesperson. I was wrecking shot from day one because they irritated me.
One of the first things that Ian and I bonded over is I had one of these entitled loan officers in my division. We had a Monday sales meeting that started at 9:00. She rolls in at 9:40. She comes rolling in with a bag of food that was still hot with grease. It wasn’t Subway. It was Wawa. There was something in there that was the grease. You could still smell it. You could tell it was still making grease marks on the paper bag. She was already 40 minutes late. I was like, “Stay in your car for five more minutes and eat the damn food then come up without it.” She was entitled. She didn’t think about it. It was incredible. This is the funniest part. This woman was buying a house where if we let her go, we were going to have a speck, which means I have a house with no buyer because she was going to lose her job.
Not only was she an employee, she was a customer of Frank’s. She was buying a house.
There’s nothing funnier in it for her but for us as managers, what we looked at is every time I go to a corporate, I get killed because my capture rate sucks. One of the reasons my capture rate sucks is this woman who’s taking my business for granted and showing up late with her food. I’m like, “Ian, I’ll take a speck. Let’s get me somebody new if you’ve got a better person.” What’s funny about this story is we do it. We do what we need to do. We get the new person in place. Three months goes by and Ian goes, “Frankie, I got to tell you. One of our mentors would have me do that, but he wouldn’t have a speck.”
He would have me wait two months until we closed the house. It was the same with you in starting Cava Companies. You had learned every aspect of real estate in working at NVR, sales, construction, everything. When you got there, all of it applied.
The other thing that we didn‘t talk about but I thought about this since we started is I had a non-compete. I couldn’t do what I did at NVR but I had all of these skills. What I did is I got to sit down and say, “It’s 2009. The real estate market sucks. I don’t have as much money as NVR. I don’t want to replicate what NVR is and I’m legally not allowed to. Why wouldn’t I pick a shoot, an area, or a focus that I’m good at that my skillset gives me unique talents in, but keeps me insulated from my non-compete, and it’s better for me?“ Ultimately, this is the first time I ever had to lay all my chips on the table and say, “Here are all the avenues in which I can pursue.” I can do this because I built a twelve-year career at that point. I’ve stacked chips.
A big reason why I came to NVR was the stock option equity. The reason why I knew stock options well is because of my experience at GE. Stock options, if you don’t know, it’s a way of giving executive equity. You can’t cash them any time. They have timing restraints. GE thought about stock options a lot different than NVR. NVR only gave it to the top executives. They got them every so years. At GE, every year, the top 10% were given stock options. You’ve got less. As an entry-level employee, I got stock options one year because I was considered the best of my class. I got them every year. I had good mentors that explained to me to hold those to fruition. Hold those all ten years and they will be worth a lot more. When I got to NVR, I always had that in my mind of when they do come due. If you’re given stock options, some of them you could start to sell in three years. It’s like giving yourself a bonus. It’s nice.
You could also hold it. I found out one time from our CEO that 80% of his executives sold within a week of the first date hitting. None of them held them for the extra seven years. They would sell it as soon as it came out. He would always be like, “What was wrong with these idiots? Why are they doing that? The only way to make money is to not let those get taxed and let them ride all the way to the ten years.” I watched and that’s how he did it. That’s how my boss, the president, did it. The richest people in the company held. The reason I knew that is it’s publicly traded. It’s a reportable event every time they would sell. You would look at like, “When did they get them?“ I‘d be like, “Nine and a half years ago, they did.”
They held it all the way until the end. I did as well. The same options that were given to me as another executive. By the time they hit my bank account, mine would be worth 5, 6 times as much because I didn’t sell and buy a car or whatever they were doing with that money. They felt the need to use it. I would sit and wait. It’s boring but I learned that skill at a different company. At NVR, people weren’t teaching executives that scale or even how stock options worked. I remember telling you that and you saying, “I can hold these for ten years?” No one had explained it to you.
The options that I ended up getting were always underwater. I never cashed them out. I left NVR before I got any that were valuable. The people I learned from were cashing them out the second that they were available. There’s a fabulous line in Gulliver’s Travels, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” If you’ve ever read Gulliver’s Travels, this person travels all around. In one place. He’s a giant. The next place, he’s a midget. In some places, people are blind. You never know. It takes me to a different thing.
As we are unique human beings, sometimes we have self-consciousness around our unique skills. Sometimes it’s the fear of missing out or the grass is always greener. I remember when I was learning my business, I had already quit my job but I was learning how to get better. There’s a guy out of Arizona. His name is John Burley. I respect John Burley. He taught me a lot. I bought his courses and listened to his tapes. I went out to Arizona and I met him. When my kid was born, he sent me a note. He’s a great guy. He taught me a ton.
I remember sitting there. I was listening to DVDs. He was in real estate but he used to do insurance sales. I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I had the same skills he had on insurance sales.” I remember thinking that for a while. I realized that’s a dumb thing to wish. I don’t need insurance sales. I’ve got a different skillset than him. It so happens that I was trained by the best home builder in the class. I’ve got things that he doesn’t have. As a kid raised the way that I was, I wasn’t thinking about my unique skills. I was thinking about my deficits. What I started to realize was because I’m unique because I have a different way of looking at these things, because of my education, it makes me better or it gives me some distinguishing skills and characteristics. The first time I ever saw that in a career was you when you had transitioned from GE to NVR.
Different can be good for you. I would highly recommend to most people, at some point in their life to pivot to a different industry where they’re experienced somewhere else, can apply somewhere else to see how it works. Owen Meany, your boy, he’s a dwarf. He’s different. He’s the only person that could have fit through the window. He’s the only person that could have been thrown. He was unique. He’s the hero in the story because of it. At NVR, they did an annual meeting, although home builders had their big annual meetings. These were huge events. This is when everyone got their awards. It was a big part of the culture. In the years before I was at the company, how many times did you see someone from the mortgage company have one of those annual meetings?Being unique is awesome, but you have to have gotten the fundamentals taken care of. Click To Tweet
Zero. That’s not true. There was a training event that scared the crap on all of us but that was our only exposure ever to mortgage.
The mortgage company was not allowed to talk at these meetings. They didn’t have any credibility. They weren’t given the same cache. What I first started, I was going to all the presidents that I worked with and say, “If you want us to be a big part of your business, show your people that we’re important. Put me up there on stage with you. Let me go there. Let me present. Trust that I will not embarrass you. I will do a good job.” When you talk about transferable skills at GE, on a regular basis, there’s so much bureaucracy, so many senior executives, officers and everything. They were always coming to town, big town visit. An email would go out like marketing like, “Tony Robbins is coming to town. We’re looking for customers to take them to and they’re going to present.“ They want to see our heads of business present.
On a regular basis, if you were one of the top 10% present, you would get pulled into these meetings. Not only did you have to get called into a meeting, you’d have to whip together a PowerPoint in a little quick deck and explain what’s going on in your market, what your challenges are, and where you need help from that senior executive. I got qualified in short notice, whipping together a good presentation, making my point, and asking for something. When I was at NVR and I convinced these presidents to let me come speak at an annual meeting, I was ready. I’ve done this so many times to go make an impression on the sales force, which was my customer that I would get up there. I would be funny. I would crack jokes. I would pick on the presidents that brought me up there to have a little bit of fun. I would make my point. I would ask for it. I stood out in a company.
NVR didn’t have many people that were any good at presenting. Almost all of them were terrible. They would read from the slides. There was no humor in any of these meetings. What came out of that is one president would tell another one, “You should have Ian in your meetings. He’s hilarious. He brought it up.” That sent a message to everyone in the other side of the business that mortgage is on par with who we are. “That Ian guy must be important because he’s up there cracking on Rainer Altmann or Tom Buescher who report to the CEO and they’re taking it. He must be friends with them. We should respect that guy. If he asks us for something, we should be careful.”
The first year you presented at one of these meetings, I was in the audience as a normal worker. The second-year that you presented at the meeting, I had been promoted to a vice president’s role. The second-year you made fun of me. It was funny because I knew you were a year younger than me. You came in from the outside. Kenny used to call you GQ because you dressed better than everybody else at NVR. It was hysterical because what Ian did is, he assumed a position of power. Not until I got to know him that I understand like, “Nobody told him to do this, but because he had incredible platform skills, he assumed and acted as if.” For all of us, we’re like, “This Ian guy, he’s up there. He summers with Rainer.” That is what I was thinking. He did it because he had a different skillset that gave him an ability to act in a way that was so foreign from the rest of us.
The presidents loved it because they knew their meeting was boring. They knew that they weren’t that great at it. It was a drag. They kept giving me more. The first one was like, “We can give you five minutes, GQ. Get up there and do something.” Next meeting, I see the agenda. It’s like 30 minutes, state of the economy, Ian Mathews. I’m like, “State of the economy? That’s pretty heavy stuff.” The year before was like talk about your stats. It evolved into something more where they wanted me to come there because it livened up their meetings. That’s how I added value to these high-level guys, is I made their meeting fun.
What you did is you came in from the outside with a different skillset and you found a way to be unique. You added incredible value. If you sucked at your job but you were great at presentations, it wouldn’t have mattered. You did a great job. You talk about it in a way that was unique and fun. You started to get the spotlight. What happened is there was inertia. Things started to change for you. The stodgy people up top, the world is recognizing this. There was this groundswell of support for you from all the regions in the area people and the presidents of the home builder. Eventually, that made its way up the chain to the CEO. You did a good job at your core job, but you did this other ancillary stuff too. That is how you build momentum. It’s how you build a career. It’s how you end up being invaluable and not someone who is expendable or replaceable. Those are the things.
You can do this from inside an organization, or you can take your skills and move somewhere, or you could do it the way that I did it with my career. This is an example too. It’s exactly the opposite of Ian’s. On the mortgage side, they hired people who were completely experienced. On the home building side, they hired people that were inexperienced. I was less than 30 days out of college. I show up on my first job. This hardened old plumber wants to give me a hard time. He asked me a question. He thinks he’s going to stump me because he stumps everybody because they hired English majors. They asked me a simple question. I was like, “This is the answer. Try here.” He looks at me and goes, “You know how to read blueprints?” I’m like, “Yes. You got any other questions?” I would have said asshole but back then I was nicer. That ended it. It wasn’t the same level of power that Ian had with these presentations but it gave me inertia.
Out of all of your peers that were hired within twelve months, you graduated faster off in the technical program. You made an impression on the more experienced guys because, “This guy has it.” There were some people that were nervous to be around you because you had that competency, but you were unique. I think that’s what we’re trying to say here is the more unique you can be when you come into a situation, the better. You don’t want to blend in. Blend in is terrible advice if you want to make money. Blend in gets a 2.5% raise every year. That’s what blend in gets you.
You can’t be a unicorn that they don’t know what to do with you. You need to be able to be good at the core competencies of the job. If you can stand out, you’re unique, or you have a unique voice, skillset, or perspective, it can make you stand out in an incredible way.
Doing my job and running my business well, it might have gotten some kudos from me, from the presidents to the CEO when I wasn’t in the room. By me doing all the extra stuff, becoming friends with them, being liked, and helping them, they raved about me to the CEO. When promotion opportunities came up, it was always me that got them out of all the regionals and that’s because I was marketing myself. I was marketing myself to people that I knew would spread word of mouth for me. Just like a business, you want a referral as the best way to get a new customer. It’s the same way to make a name for yourself.
You are unique because of the platform skills. I remember being a GM. I was in Charlottesville or Culpepper. I drove the Fairfax. We had a meeting with you. What was unique to me is you were in the room. We’d had those meetings 100 times and mortgage was never there. You’re also unique because you’re like, “We suck and we suck for these reasons. I know we’re somebody who you don’t have high hopes for or have any expectations of. Frankly, that’s lazy thinking.” The platform skills are the shiny object but the talk track of, “I know we sucked and we’re going to be better. That’s why I’m here,” that’s what gets you in the room and that’s what perpetuates the message. I want to reiterate this point. Being unique is awesome but you got to have the chops to be unique. You got the core fundamentals need to be taken care of. You can’t just be an eccentric. If you have a bit of eccentricity but you’re taking care of all your core competencies, that is when there’s a miracle grow on your career.
The last thing that we’re going to talk about on this story is a lot of times people think good fortune happens, luck just happens. We’ve both said this many times. We are very fortunate. We’ve had a lot of good opportunities come our way, but what most people miss is all of the hooks that we’ve put into the water that have not gotten bites. When you do put a hook in and it gets a big bite, it’s exciting. It’s easy to say, “That’s luck.” You don’t see all the hooks you put out there. I’ll tell a quick story. I know you have one too. I started writing. I was talking to David. I’m like, “I’m going to start writing about our journey because we have some fun stories.” I wrote a story about Shaq because we bid on Shaq in a charity auction and spend $10,000 to get an hour with him at his house.
It’s a unique story. It’s an interesting story. It’s one that catches your attention. It did well on LinkedIn. It got a lot of attention. It got thousands of views. A couple of days after I wrote it, David gets a call from one of the more high-level engineers that was at his previous company. This guy works at Microsoft to make around $300,000 a year, probably way too high-powered to come into a little startup like ours that is doing well. He’s asking them all of these questions and he’s getting more and more excited. David’s like, “Where is this coming from?” David out of the blue brings up the Shaq story. He says, “I know. I read about that on LinkedIn.” David was like, “Oh my God.” All those little hooks you’re putting out there. Some days when I’m writing, I’m like, “Does anyone even read in this stuff?”
It’s the same with our show, we put videos out. Sometimes seven people engage with it, sometimes 90 people like it. It’s never the one I expect that does well. You don’t know which one signs up for a podcast or which one leads to something. That doesn’t happen because I only posted one story all year. I post every single day. Some of them do good things for me. Some of them get lost in the archives. Good luck doesn’t happen because you put one hook in the water. You have to put thousands of hooks in the water and a few are going to get bites.
Ian and I did a deal together. If you’re a loyal reader, you’ll know that we’ve talked about this. I want to back up. I had a degree in construction management. I distinguished myself. I go to work for a home builder. I learned home-building, estimating, sales, management, and land acquisition. I learned all these things. I branch out on my own and I had to learn banking. I had to learn finance. I had to learn all this other stuff. I’d been in business about eight years, and this deal comes across the way blanks. It’s a chance for me to buy 30 houses for $3 million. At the time, it was the biggest deal we’d ever done. We did the deal. When I was at NVR, I remember they had a PR department. They had a firm that they work with that did all the PR.
I had seen this and I didn’t manage it, but I was like, “This is a story that has a big allure.” I paid a local marketing company for their advice to help me get in touch with someone from the local business paper. I didn’t pay to be in the paper, but I paid for the advice and I paid for how to strategically do it. I ended up talking to him. He wrote a story about it and then ended up in the business paper. Fast forward about five months, I get a phone call out of the blue.
You also shared it on LinkedIn and it got a ton of engagement, thousands of views. I remember that. That was a great post that you shared on that.
On the 30–unit deal, I didn’t do that. I was ignorant to that. You hadn’t started the LinkedIn side. I didn’t post that one. It was just in the paper. I get a call from this person out of the blue and they’re like, “I know you bought this 30–unit portfolio. We’ve got somewhere between 50 and 150 houses we’re willing to sell. Call us.” That turned into the 75–unit portfolio that we bought. I’d already done the playbook on the 30, but I didn’t do the social media side. This time, I post the social media because Ian was like, “Frankie, put that out there.” I ended up posting on my birthday in 2020 and it ends up getting thousands of views. That has brought me even more deals. I’m looking at 150–unit portfolio.
The point is all of these different skills, everything from the home building, to the fix and flip, to the selling, to the renting, but also a skill that I hadn’t even thought about like PR to a skill like, “Frankie, I’m posting on LinkedIn and Quora. You should put this on LinkedIn and Quora and look what it did.” These are little things that you pick up along the way, and because I had talked to Ian who was good with LinkedIn and I wasn’t, I posted it there too. All of this stuff starts to metastasize and grow. The famous book about Warren Buffett is called The Snowball. It starts to snowball. For me, it started with going to work with my granddad and my dad in construction, and selling candy bars in front of a grocery store.
That portfolio did well. You and I are not working on that if I’m not telling you that I’ve been raising money on other real estate deals. You build that connection. You have to share things. I think the example there that’s beautiful is you shared with the world that you did a great 30–unit deal. You have to tell people. I’ve been guilty of this. I don’t want to sound like a bragger. I don’t want to sound like some egocentric arrogant guy talking about all the good stuff I’m doing. If you don’t, how do they get to know to contact you? If you hadn’t had done that, there is no 75–unit deal. You and I are not talking about working on it together. Our investors didn’t get a 30% return. It was not a selfish thing for you to do that. A lot of people, including myself and my friends, made great money because you were willing to put yourself out there. Put as many hooks as you can in the water and you’re going to get some fish no matter what.
Let’s wrap this up, Frankie. I love that you brought this book into my world. I’m not going to read it because you’ve told me so much of it but it’s a fascinating story. The more things you try, the better chances you have of getting lucky. Look for ways to apply your skills to something more profitable. Frank talks about the pivot. Change your context to something more profitable when you’ve got the skills. It’s a volume game. Life is a volume game. No matter what it is, if you put in the work, if you put in the 10,000 hours, your skills will transfer. If you do the work of marketing, telling people what you can do, something is going to hit for you.
I’ll wrap it with this. Ian and I are sports junkies. Wayne Gretzky talks about, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Even at his peak, Michael Jordan went into the gym and shot hundreds of foul shots every day. You got to do the core fundamental stuff. You got to keep building on the skill. You got to keep honing it but you also need to pull your head up from time to time. Michael Jordan made a lot of money playing basketball, but he made even more money working with Nike.
The point is he had a core skill and he was the best in the world at it but he also stopped enough time to look and say, “I could become a marketing icon if I do this properly.” I’m never going to be sponsored by Nike most likely. The thing that’s important is hone your skills. Find a place where your skills are valuable and continue to take chances. If you’re in Corporate America, you got to be a little bit careful with the chances. You take your chances. You take your shot. You keep doing things you’re looking around. If you do that, you never know when that skills are going to come back to help you, benefit you, and make you stand out or be unique.
Frankie, who knows all of that time spent watching The Cosby Show may come back to help us in this show at some point.
I don’t know what’s The Cosby Show but I do know about Seinfeld. Seinfeld has definitely helped.
It’s great chatting with you.
It’s always a good time, Ian.
It’s always a pleasure.