Meet 3 Entrepreneurs Who Went From Outcasts to Real Estate Power Players

10/05/2017 06:46 pm ET

Nearly everyone said, “It can’t be done.”  They were wrong.

Big Block Realty’s transformation from humble beginnings becoming a disruptor in the real estate industry was definitely a challenge that felt a lot like swimming up-stream. 

For co-founders of San Diego, California-based Big Block Realty, Sam Khorramian, Oliver Graf, and Spencer Lugash, they chose to change a few minds.  

From a 400 sq. ft. room to over 1 billion in closed transactions in 2016, Big Block celebrated becoming the #1 independent real estate broker in San Diego.  They also broke onto the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America list at #26 overall and #1 for private real estate brokerages on the list.

To understand how the company shifted gears and turned real estate on its head, we have to look back.  Big Block was founded in 2012 with a focus on creating an independent real estate brokerage built "by agents, for agents".  College buddies, Graf and Khorramian, had a reputation for innovation and pushing the boundaries, when they partnered with Lugash, a real estate attorney who shared their vision and brought balance to the dynamic trio, the company began to grow. 

Almost immediately, and with little funds, Graf and Khorramian started learning from the best in the business.  They headed to Las Vegas to attend their first seminar with a small cooler for food, enough funds for a cheap motel, and enough enthusiasm take care of the rest. 

"I remember eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and going through fast food places ordering off the dollar menu." shares Graf. They left armed with more knowledge, more focus, and more passion for their vision then they had when they arrived. He adds, "It's crazy looking back now and seeing how far we've come". By 2014 they had grown to just over 100 agents.  Their next big move came in 2015 when they relocated from a small office to over 5000 sq. ft of space the heart of Mission Valley, a popular central hub of San Diego county.  

Despite their growing success, Big Block Realty was not being received by the “industry” well due to their bold business model and casual leadership style. They never let the naysayers slow them down. 

Khorramian and Graf took their vision a step further and visited the corporate offices of Zappos to learn as much as possible about a corporate culture model they respected.  There, they began studying the art of creating a vibrant, out of the box real estate brokerage culture they knew would, eventually, win.   

By mid 2015 Big Block Realty was up to 300 agents and opened their second office location in East Lake, a prominent community in south San Diego County.   It was in 2016 that Big Block Realty began to experience explosive growth and, finally, the recognition in the real estate space they worked tirelessly for.  

So what was the pivotal moment for these rogue real estate outcasts turned power players?  Choosing to remain different and sticking to their commitment to always do what is in the best interest of their real estate agents.   

Change was inevitable with their rapid growth, but staying the course with their vision and not caving into the norms of an old, stuffy real estate brokerage model was always the obvious path for them.  To survive and thrive in real estate, they actually had to stick to the plan: non-conformity.

The Art of Creating Opportunity

The real estate market crash of 2008 has taken many for a ride that they have yet to recover from.   But that crash also provided a niche fast-growing opportunity for entrepreneurs who were ready to break the mold.  

Unlike traditional real estate brokerages, Big Block adopted a 100% commission model combined with an agent concierge approach complete with training and support for agents that would help them grow their real estate business and make more money.

Today that model is thriving and Big Block is expected to grow to over 1000 agents this year.  Interest in becoming a part of a corporate culture that is focused on the agent as the client, not the buyer or seller, is gaining popularity.  For realtors, this is a dream come true model.

What Swimming Up Stream Teaches Us

Let’s look at some of the leadership decisions that have made the difference between success and failure.

1. They share their vision clearly: Effective communication is the cornerstone of success for this executive team.  Every step of the way, through the leanest of times and every celebratory moment, communicating with staff, agents, and each other is a key element to their successful rise in real estate. 

2. They broke the mold...unapologetically: these savvy and bold entrepreneurs stuck to their vision of building a place to be, work, and succeed as agents themselves focused on authenticity. 

3. They are available to staff with the intention of listening: empowering employees, and even agents, to think outside the box, championing internet marketing and social media to help agents grow their business in new ways, and listening to their ideas has created an environment where creativity and teamwork thrives.

4. Their motto is all about love: their philosophy is that when you lead with love, they will love what they do and where they work with 100% commitment.

5. They never stop learning: Sam Khorramian says it best,“We are where we are because of the books, seminars, mentorship, and mastermind programs we immerse ourselves in.  We strongly encourage our team to do the same. 

Strategy and Celebrating The Wins

Their choice to be different, remain open to listening to staff, pulling pranks and playing foosball or shuffleboard, and popping champagne to celebrate milestones they achieve is paying off. The company just signed a lease on their fourth location in Carlsbad, CA and is welcoming new agents at a record pace.

They project expansion into neighboring states over the next three years. The future looks bright for a real estate brokerage started by two college buddies and a real estate attorney who believed in their vision of wanting to give agents what they could not find for themselves: a brokerage to call home.  

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