By Barbara Pronin
If greatness can be powered by drive alone, Realty ONE Group is destined for greatness; such is the passion and unswerving conviction of its founder and CEO, Kuba Jewgieniew, and his inspired executive team. Founded in Nevada just a short nine years ago, the company is now a national franchisor, named by Inc. 500 as one of the fastest-growing firms in the nation for the past five years with sales volume soaring from $102 million in its first year of operation to more than $7 billion in 2013. The company ranked 7th in RISMedia’s 2014 Power Broker Survey and has justifiable expectations of quick and continued growth. “We strive to be the Tesla of the real estate industry,” says the company’s soft-spoken, 38-year-old founder. In this exclusive interview, Jewgieniew and the Realty ONE Group executive team discuss their vision and business strategy, and the value of a great company culture.
Barbara Pronin: Kuba, two years before your 40th birthday, you’ve already reached some enviable milestones. Why don’t we start by taking a look at your career path and how you came to launch Realty ONE Group.
Kuba Jewgieniew: I grew up in Orange County, Calif., with Polish immigrant parents who taught me a lot about work ethic. As a result, I had my first job when I was 14 and I’ve been working ever since. When I graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in economics, I went to work as a stockbroker in La Jolla. I enjoyed that, but I also discovered that I really liked computers, and I felt the timing was right. So I moved back to Orange County to start my own business building and selling websites. I did well with that, and when I was 25, I moved to Las Vegas, where real estate was becoming a hot topic. I bought my first few properties there as an amateur investor and then got my real estate license so I could have better access to information. The market was pretty hot, so I dove in, built a website and was able to do $30 million in sales my first year. But I was working by myself, with no team and no assistants, and that meant a lot of sleepless nights. Fortunately, I had made good commissions, and I was able to use those funds as seed money. In 2005, I started my own brokerage, Realty ONE Group.
BP: How did you devise a business strategy and get it going at the start?
KJ: I spent a lot of time researching the competition, looking at traditional business models and figuring out how I could tweak them to do things more effectively both for the brokerage and for the agent. I worked day and night, and finally hired a couple of experienced managers who caught my enthusiasm and believed in the system I proposed. We worked tirelessly and the company became profitable within the first six months. Before the end of the first year, 250 agents joined us. Then I decided to expand our operations into Arizona and California.
Rick Hudson (Executive Vice President, Realty ONE Group Affiliates): At present, we have nearly 5,000 agents in 21 company-owned stores and more than 30 franchises in seven states, with five more in development. We fully expect this kind of growth to continue as the word gets out and more and more independents begin to understand our unique business model.
BP: How would you describe your current positioning in the marketplace, and what sets your brand apart from the competition?
KJ: I believe we succeed because we do things differently—and better. For one thing, we live in an “on-demand” world, where consumers are information seekers. With what modern technology offers, they are more intelligently vetting agents to represent them. Our agents stand out in performance every time.
Jan O’Brien: (Vice President, Business Coaching): This year, for example, we launched ONE University, designed as a success system to win. I can tell you that our agents are trained to be industry experts who are positioned to best serve our clients and local communities. We also have a means of matching agents with clients to create that “Wow!” experience for each and every client. The short answer is, we want happy people—both agents and customers—and we are constantly coming up with new and different ways to ensure we achieve this goal.
RH: We have ranked among the top three in marketshare within our first three years of operation in every market we have entered. We excel in both sales volume and number of transactions, and we try to exceed even our own expectations every year.
BP: What has been your approach to growth, and has that approach changed with the market rebounding?
Matt Emerson (Chief Operations Officer): We have always had an aggressive approach to growth. Three years ago, we had 50 full-time employees. Now we have 150 on payroll in preparation for the next wave. We look at this year as a time for building, planning and marshalling resources. We moved our headquarters from Las Vegas to Irvine in Southern California, and we’ve already assembled a phenomenal team. We are fully confident that we’ll be leaping forward and accelerating our growth in 2014 and beyond.
BP: How would you describe current market conditions?
KJ: Each market is different, of course, but in general, inventory is increasing, lenders are lending, rates are reasonable and the run-up in prices has slowed. Also, investors are pulling back, leaving more opportunity for the average family and the first-time buyer. In addition, jobs and savings are up, which is boosting consumer confidence. I would say we are getting back to a fairly normal market state, and we are cautiously looking up.
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