865: Success Through Service with Commercial Real Estate Expert Jonathan Keyser

December 20, 2019

Commercial real estate’s cutthroat sales culture made Jonathan Keyser ruthless. Sure, he was successful, but he wasn’t happy. Years ago, he decided to take a different approach to sales – one committed to helping others succeed. That selfless approach to business helped Keyser Real Estate become the largest commercial advisory firm in Arizona. On today’s show, Jonathan explains how selfless service exponentially increased his success and how it can do the same for you. Listen and learn how to drastically increase production without compromising your values.

Jonathan Keyser

Listen to today’s show and learn:

  • Jonathan’s brief bio [1:58]
  • The greatest business principle of all time [9:09]
  • Ruthless practices in commercial real estate [12:02]
  • Services commercial brokers offer [17:11]
  • How commercial firms track sales volume [19:30]
  • How to win clients for life as a commercial broker [24:52]
  • Jonathan’s thoughts on residential agents shifting to commercial [27:40]
  • How to increase your production [35:06]
  • Jonathan’s advice for new agents [38:46]
  • The values that drive Keyser’s real estate professionals [42:15]
  • Jonathan’s favorite books [45:43]
  • How to break through your goals.
  • Plus so much more.

Jonathan Keyser 

Jonathan Keyser is the founder and thought leader behind Keyser. By using the Selfless Service Model, in just six years Keyser became the largest tenant rep commercial real estate firm in Arizona, and one of the most rapidly growing in the country. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Jonathan is an author, columnist, nationally renowned speaker, and is currently working towards the launch of the Keyser Institute to train companies and the next generation of selfless leaders.

With more than 20 years of experience in the Commercial Real Estate Industry, Jonathan represents thousands of companies both domestically and internationally across a broad range of industries. He is particularly good at identifying creative strategies to align real estate with business requirements, designing and implementing unique solutions to complex real estate challenges, and solving Landlord/Tenant conflicts where negotiations have deteriorated in the face of rising hostilities.

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Read the Full Interview

Aaron Amuchastegui: Hello, Real Estate Rockstar Radio. This is Aaron Amuchastegui, today’s host of the Real Estate Rockstar Podcast. I’m so excited today to be interviewing Jonathan Keyser. He’s the founder and thought leader behind Keyser, the largest occupier services commercial real estate brokerage firm in Arizona.

I’m going to give him a chance to tell us what that really means, what is the largest occupier services for commercial, but I’m more excited, Jonathan, I just finished watching some of your videos where you talk about your theme of how you got into real estate, and one of your big tag lines, “You don’t have to be ruthless to win.”

This may be a little bit different than some of our Rockstar Radio podcasts, as we get to focus on commercial and some other reinvention type scenarios. Without further ado, Jonathan, why don’t you just take a few minutes and introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what your business is.

Jonathan Keyser: Thank you. Thanks for having me on. I had a very unusual upbringing compared to most people that are going to be listening. I was raised as a Christian missionary kid in Papua New Guinea. From a very early age, my parents were all about serving and helping other people, and that’s what they taught me. The problem was, when we came back from overseas, I had this stark realization that we were very poor compared to the people around us, so at an early age, I decided I don’t want to be poor, I want to be rich, I want to make money.

I got into commercial real estate because a buddy of mine said, “You want your own private jet someday?” I said, “Why, yes, I would.” He said, “This would be perfect for you,” so, I stumbled into real estate, I think like a lot of people, probably, on this call. They didn’t wake up when they were eight years old and said, “I’m going to be in real estate,” it just happens. As I got into commercial real estate brokerage, I realized really quickly, “Wow, this is a ruthless cutthroat industry.” Everybody was scratching, clawing, and fighting, and a lot of you listening can really understand that.

In the residential world, I understand it’s like that, but if you can imagine, in traditional commercial real estate firms, it’s significantly worse. I became ruthless because I thought that’s what it took, and I didn’t want to be poor like my parents. I figured that my parents teaching me to love and serve and help other people had it all mixed up and had it the wrong way. I became ruthless, but I was miserable. I was misaligned with my core values, but I felt trapped.

I didn’t know that there was any other way to do it, and everybody that I saw that was around me that was really the top producers, the Real Estate Rockstars around me were ruthless. Then one day, 15 years ago, I go to this summit, this conference in Miami, Florida, and this guy gets up, and he starts talking about creating success by helping other people succeed. I was looking at him from the back of the room, trying to figure out if this guy was completely and utterly full of shit, or if this guy was the real deal.

Afterwards, I went up to him and I said, “Hey, is that really true? Do you really do this, or is this just something you say as a nice schtick to sound good in front of a group?” He said, “No, I really do it.” I said, “Well, how does it work?” He likened it to hunting versus farming. What he said is, “Today, Jonathan, you’re focused on hunting. You’re focused on going out and getting your kill, and then coming back, cleaning it, cooking it, eating it, then you have to go out and do it all over again. What I’m describing is the methodology where you invest in relationships, you invest in people,” and he likened it to growing a tree.

Like here in Arizona, I have a big citrus tree in my backyard. When it was little, the thing I thought was dead half the time, it gave me no fruit, it was super delicate. I had to pound those little stakes in the ground to give it all the nutrients it needed, and water it. It didn’t give me anything for years, but after a number of years, today, the thing is almost a nuisance, it gives me so many lemons, I can’t give them away fast enough. In fact, we throw a bunch of them away.

It’s this idea of investing in relationships that lead to successful futures. It’s playing the long game. I was blown away. Thinking I had him on the second question, I said, “Okay, if this really works, then how come I’ve never heard of it?” He said, “Because it takes too long.” I said, “Well, how long is too long?” He said, “It’ll take you about five years.” I said, “Okay.” I said, “Basically, I go broke for five years, and then on the other side of that, I’ll have success if I follow your methodology?”

He said, “Yes.” I was so miserable being ruthless and being misaligned with my values, and the idea that there might be a better way, so I reinvented myself around me. Just like he said, it took me five years in the process. Everybody thought I was crazy, thought I’d lost my mind. I was national rookie of the year for Grubb & Ellis, then now, I’m out in the community looking like I’m doing community service for free all the time helping people. Over time, I started really developing these relationships that were very, very valuable.

Then after about five years, just like he predicted, I started to have success, people started to refer business to me. That led to me going from laughing stock in the company, I just took off, and I went to top producer. Now, I had a different problem, which was, I was feeling that the culture I was trying to create was inconsistent with the culture of the organization I was building.

In 2012, I had an epiphany moment where I realized that what I was up to was bigger than me, and if I could teach people how to do what I’d done, and if I could figure out how to shorten that time frame so people didn’t have to endure five years of pain and suffering to actually get to the other side, that we could actually do something really special and we could transform the commercial real estate brokerage industry.

I left my firm in 2012 and launched Keyser in 2013 with the express focus of transforming both the commercial real estate world, as well as business in general through this idea of succeeding by helping others succeed and proving that even in arguably one of the most ruthless cutthroat industries in the world, commercial real estate brokerage, you truly can create extraordinary success by helping others succeed.

Today, like you mentioned, today, we’re the largest occupier services, which is basically for you residential people out there, it’s like the buyer, tenant brokerage firms, so we only represent the corporate user of space, and we work all around the globe helping organizations, everything from health care companies to retail organizations looking to scale to office, industrial, health care.

What our focus is, is providing a different level of service than what they’re used to receiving, and really delivering value, but at the core, it’s about thinking about people as family, loving and serving them, and over the long-term, you can create success. I decided, “Hey, how do I help teach the world this?” So I wrote the book, that’s where You Don’t Have to be Ruthless to Win, it’s this idea of success through selfless service. The subtitle is The Art of Badass Selfless Service.

Sometimes, I think selfless service can carry almost like a squishy or religious tone, so I wanted to make sure that people were clear on what we’re talking about here. I’ve been very honored that it hit number one on The Wall Street Journal. Now I’m going around the country doing TV interviews and speaking on stages and doing great podcasts like this one. My mission is, I want to change the world. I want to prove that you can create success through service, and teach others how to do the same thing.

Aaron: I love how you just defined that, too. For all the listeners out there, we’ll put some links on our website so you can get a copy of Jon’s book. Being able to say that being kind isn’t being weak, what you just said there at the end, you don’t have to be ruthless to win, by helping people. Sometimes, there’s almost like a weak connotation to that, and you’re saying that’s not it at all?

Jonathan: No. Not only is it not it, I believe that selfless service is actually the greatest business principle of all time. If you look back across history, every great philosopher, every great religious leader, every great anyone that really was enlightened said the same basic thing, which is, give and you shall receive, help others and you could get back for yourself.

I think, in today’s culture, we have this dichotomy where people live it in their personal lives, they know how to love, everybody knows how to love, you do it with your families, you do it with your inner social circles, you do it in your churches and whatnot, then you get into business, you put on your tough suit, you feel like you got to go fight for number one and make it happen, or else. I think it’s a shame. I think that there’s a better way.

If you look at a lot of the people in commercial real estate brokerage, they’re miserable. They’re looking over their shoulder all the time. They’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed and burdened, and they’re feeling like they have to scratch and claw and fight. My whole philosophy is that’s not necessary. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. There’s plenty of people out there proving that ruthless works, but I’m saying there’s a lot of negative that comes along with that.

When I give these keynotes, I talk a lot about culture, and I talk a lot about how the people of the future are not going to accept the business practices of the past and this command, control style is dead. I was speaking at this event last night and it was all around culture and I had all these board members there and they were all talking about how within their organizations, they are not hiring board members, executives, service providers that do not share the same mindset.

To me, this idea of selfless service, it isn’t a cute thing. It’s not like something squishy that’s like, “Oh, that’s nice. Jonathan’s saying some nice things. Yes, I should do better.” This isn’t about doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. We already know that, and you either do it or you don’t. What I’m saying is, selfless service is the most self-interested strategy, and so I wrote the book, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win, to teach people how to do it because I think the big gap is people don’t know how. I think they get it conceptually, but they don’t really know how to do it.

In this book, I teach everything that I’ve learned over the last 20 years and how to create a culture of selfless service, where you actually win, where you actually succeed, where you actually dominate. That’s the point.

Aaron: I think a lot of our listeners are residential real estate agents and we’ve got a handful of commercial people on here, but let’s educate our listener for a little bit. When you talk about commercial brokerages are ruthless, what’s an example of something that is very short-sighted, it’s not playing the long game, it’s a short-sighted ruthless thing that you used to see in a commercial brokerage?

Jonathan: Great question. Rather than throwing anybody else in the bus, how about I throw my old self under the bus?

Aaron: Yes, let’s do that.

Jonathan: I remember very clearly, back in the day, what I would do to develop business is I’d walk buildings. I’d try to connect with companies that were in those buildings and convince them to help me help them renew their lease, relocate, whatever the case may be. I remember one time walking into a building and– let’s change the name– and I met Jane. Jane was a CFO for a fast growing technology company and she was outgrowing her space. She was the perfect profile client for me because she needed more space, she needed it fast, and so, I said, “Yes, I’d love to help you with your space needs.”

What did I do? In thinking about what she really needed and what would be ideal for her, it’d be to have low-cost space, short-term lease, lots of flexibility, but that would mean that I would make a lot less commission. What did I do? I only showed her the most expensive properties around and told her those are the only ones that were available, and then, once she picked one that she liked, then I talked her into a 10-year lease, so I could get a double commission.

Those kinds of things are prominent everywhere. You asked me earlier about what it means to be a tenant occupier services firm. I think it’s insane that it’s still legal that companies, the big brokerage firms, can represent both sides of transactions. In the world of demanding more and more transparency, this idea of conflict of interest is real and it’s coming.

For me, I also have seen so much conflict, where because so many of these firms get the majority of their revenue from representing the landlord or developer or real estate investor side, that’s who they cater to and these tenants that are really making up the revenue for these buildings, they get the short end of the stick and they get crappy leases, terrible lease terms, high rates, and they really get used as fodder for creating wealth on the real estate side.

What we’re trying to do is bring transparency, authenticity, and bringing a real spirit of service to the industry, which has been lacking up into this point. I got one more example, if you wanted, of how I was ruthless inside. I remember a buddy of mine that worked in the cube next to me and he had gotten a listing on a building, so I took him out for drinks because I wanted to, “get to know him,” but the reality was is I wanted to pick his brain on what are all the problems with his listing as if we were friends.

Then the next day, I took those problems and I walked to the building and I talked to all the tenants in the building and I told them all the problems of the building and tried to get them to hire me to move them out of the building. That was just commonplace.

I remember having to go into conference rooms and then once I realized conference rooms were being listened to, then I would start taking all my important phone calls in the car because everybody’s trying to overhear what the young guys are working on, so they could call them or say, “Oh, no, that’s already a client. We already have a relationship or something.”

It’s just this really cutthroat, ruthless, take-no-prisoners industry. My message is, you don’t actually have to do all that. You can actually create success by just loving and serving other people.

Aaron: Yes, I think those examples are really good ones because you couldn’t do the same thing in residential real estate. There’s so much information out there when somebody’s saying, they tell their agent, “Here’s the six houses I want you to show me.” It would be a lot tougher to say, “Oh, instead of $150,000 house, you need a $300,000 house.”

Jonathan: Totally.

Aaron: Let’s unpack that commercial stuff a little bit more. What are the ways that somebody makes money in commercial real estate? Because you’re not talking about buying and selling properties, you’re talking about representation, but commercial agents, they’d still do listings as buyers agents and sellers agents, like residential, but what are the other ways or what are the differences?

Jonathan: It’s really not that dissimilar. If you’re an agent out there, you can help somebody build a home. Find the site and get a commission for that, whether it’s getting the land fee and then bringing in a developer or someone to build it. Whether it’s buying an existing home, whether it’s selling an existing home, whether it’s leasing a home, so it’s really not that different. For us, as a firm, and we do this all over the world, where we work with mid market to large companies, helping them create a real estate strategy around their leases.

A lot of times, especially, it’s weird to me that residential and commercial both carry the same moniker real estate after it because they are so very different, and we have a lot of great residential real estate agents that want to take care of their– They help an executive find a home, and then that executive has a company and they need help with their real estate, so we get a lot of referrals from residential brokers, but the way that we make money is very simple. We help companies lease space. That includes renewing leases, extending leases, downsizing leases.

We help them negotiate out of leases, we help them with dispositions of properties that they own, that they want to either sell or do some sort of sale-leaseback, we do a lot of that kind of stuff. Monetizing assets when it’s time. We help them build and help project manage, so we also have a project management division that oversees everything from architecture to construction, all the way through both on ground up and tenant improvements. We’re a full-service firm working for the corporate user or companies that occupy space, but that space isn’t their primary business.

They’re occupiers. Whether they lease, whether they own, less material as what’s the function within it they’re using it for their own company that’s not a real estate investment firm.

Aaron: That makes a lot of sense. We want to jump into the nitty-gritty. A lot of these questions, we usually ask for a residential real estate we’ll say, “How many houses have you sold? What’s your volume?” Instead, for your commission structure, what’s a recent deal you did? What was the commission on that? What’s your gross commissions at this year? What’s the profit margin like in commercial real estate? How many clients have you been working with in the last year, that sort of stuff.

Jonathan: We’re a corporate services firm, which is another way of saying, we help companies more than just one-off transactions. We help companies with hundreds of leases all around the world, manage them, do all the things with them. We’re a corporate services firm that only represents occupiers.

For us, the volume is a little bit different than in residential, in the sense that it’s because there’s such a disparity between a company that needs 5,000 square feet of office space on a three-year lease because they’re a fast growing company, to a million square foot campus development that we take four years to help somebody oversee, we track it based upon how many commissionable events we have and what the totality of those are, because there’s such a divergence on what the size are. You look at our retail practice, we help franchisees and franchisors rollout hundreds and thousands of facilities across the country.

Now, a lot of these may be tiny. They may be 1,000 square feet or 2,000 square feet, and so the commission’s $7,000 or something like that, versus a million-dollar, $2 million commission on the other side. For us, we also track it by headcount as well. We’re the largest corporate services tenant-only firm based out of Arizona. We have 55 people today, which is really, really big for what we do.

Most tenant firms in respective markets, even some of the bigger markets than Arizona, are significantly smaller. We’re part of a global network of tenant-only firms called Exis Global, and we’re by far the largest one in that. We have a lot of volume. We have thousands of clients. The other thing about our business is, and this is similar to residential, but our client relationships are long-term, because if the leases tend to be between 3 and 10 years for our clients, if they’re a one-off user, we may not have something to do for them for three, four, five, six years.

We have thousands of clients, but a percentage of those, call it 20% if you assume the average lease span is five years, about 20% of those roll every year, so it’s for us scale, because we’re looking to become a billion-dollar company. My mission is I want to save 5,000 commercial real estate brokers across the globe. That’s a big vision. There’s 5,000 brokers out there that are miserable in their current environments, that wish there was a better way, and there’s no one with the culture like we’ve created where it’s safe, where no one steals your leads, where we all collaborate together, and we all work as a team.

What we’re doing as we scale and grow nationally and globally, is looking for those individuals that are miserable in their current environment and wish there was an organization they could align with. Does that answer your question? Is that helpful?

Aaron: Yes, that is helpful. A couple of little additions to that. You talked about, well, it could be a 1,000 square foot unit. If you find a client and they’re signing up for a commercial space, they’re going to pay 4,000 a month and it’s a three-year lease, what commission are you getting on?

Jonathan: Sorry, I didn’t answer that part. Typically, the way that we’re paid is– and it varies per market. Real estate rules are very, very clear. There’s no price-fixing. Every market is a little bit different, but across the board, usually, there are some norms, and those norms tend to be some percentage of the overall lease. If it’s a sale, it’s just like residential, so percentage, sometimes it’s two, three, it depends on the size.

If it gets really, really, really big, it might be a point or less, but on a traditional, just commercial real estate office lease for an example, let’s say you have a 10,000 square foot office lease, there’s often a fee somewhere between 3% and 5% to the tenant broker side of the value of that lease arrangement. Once you get past five years, those commissions usually split in half. Again, usually is not even an appropriate term, often split in half. Through a 10-year lease term, we’ve seen a lot of times where it’ll be, say 5% for the first five years, and then 2.5% for the second five years.

Aaron: That makes a lot of sense. It’s like everything’s negotiable, and you find different stuff–

Jonathan: Everything’s negotiable, but it’s not like residential where– Usually with commercial, it’s fixed into the listing agreement. A lot of times in residential would be like, well, if you don’t have a broker agent, you save money. In our business, if you don’t have a tenant broker, typically the person on the other side is getting a double commission.

Aaron: Yes, they’re going to get that no matter what. That’s a good example of like when you talk somebody into a ten-year instead of a two-year, you’re going to get five times the commission on that, because it’s going to be that total amount, so 10 years worth of payments.

Jonathan: Can I respond to that real quick?

Aaron: Yes.

Jonathan: Because I think that’s a really important point. Anybody that’s listening would be like, why the heck would I ever do that? Why would I take 20% of the commission I could’ve made if I had done the ruthless thing you did before? Here’s why, because at some point during that 10-year lease, Jane said, “Wait a minute, what did I get myself into?”

Then somebody sends her a flyer for a property that’s way less than what I presented, and guess what? Jane’s no longer a client of mine, so I burned that bridge and she’s done some big deals now. It’s all about investing in the people. It’s about the long-term relationship. That’s why I said it’s the long game because it’s not this idea of, money today at all costs.

It’s this idea of creating an environment where people trust you, and for people to trust you, you have to do right by them. When we talk, it’s amazing, we get referred into companies all the time and I’ll go listen to them and I’ll say, “No, no, no. I do not think you should go buy a huge building and grow into it.” They’ll be looking at me, they’re like, “But you make a lot of money if we do that.”

I say, “I know, but that’s the worst possible thing you could do. You need to do this and I hope you can make it flexible with your short term.” Next thing you know, they’re a client for life. Not only that, they go to all their friends and they say, “Oh my gosh, you’re not going to believe what the Jonathan Keyser– He talked me out of doing something that now that I see it would be the worst thing for me.”

I think you create a competitive advantage over time by really taking care of people. Back when I was ruthless, I tried to convince everybody I wasn’t full of shit, and nobody believed me. Now, all I do is try to help people, and people say I’m a nice guy. It’s like by doing the right thing, you actually win. That’s the whole point of my message, is if you’re playing the long game and you want true extraordinary long-term success, the very best way to do that is by taking care, extraordinary care of the people around you, then those people become your empowered advocates or ambassadors in the marketplace.

Aaron: That 10-year example of Jane is so perfect, because now you’re saying, hey, if every two years you’re getting her to lease somewhere new, there’s that perfect fit, you’re still going to get that 10 years’ worth of commission.

Jonathan: You’ve got it.

Aaron: That’s the difference, right? Instead of getting paid big on day one, you’re like, “No, I want to get paid forever. I want to have the client be forever,” so every couple of years, we’ll do it that way. It’s a great way to calculate that cash. If somebody is listening and right now they’re a residential agent and they’re thinking about getting into commercial, or they have a friend that wants to get an office space, what advice would you give them for how to test that out, how to see if they actually like commercial real estate, if that might be something, or how would they go about changing career patterns from residential to commercial?

Jonathan: My one-word answer would be, don’t, because it is not for the faint of heart. Most people can’t– not only can’t make it, not like they’re not capable, but it’s such a long sales cycle. For people to really succeed, they have to start young when their expenses are low or they have to have a lot of money put away to really be able to weather the time it takes. You have to have a steel, steel nerve because it’s wild rides. It’s very high highs and very low lows.

The successful brokers that we’ve seen are able to maintain this sort of steady as she goes, whirl the world, and you lose a huge deal, you gain a huge deal. That would be my first thing. Number two is, it’s such a different kind of thing that– I have had residential people that I’ve given the opportunity to convert and not one of them has lasted. We’re a really great environment to do that in, but it’s just because of the timeframe, because of how much more competitive it is. It’s not necessarily that it is more competitive, but it’s competitive at the highest levels.

If you really want to compete at the best levels and get the real significant business, it is extraordinarily competitive. I would say if you have a high, high tolerance for pain, if you are willing to endure a minimum of two to three years of making almost no money, and you really want to play long-term, then it might be worth looking into, but for most people, it’s easier to get into residential, you can make money faster in residential.

It takes us 10 years to train a really good broker. It’s not until you hit like 15 or 20 years that you really have seniority to know how to navigate a lot of the more complicated projects out there. Again, it’s easy to look at commercial real estate brokers and say, “Oh my gosh, those guys make a bunch of money. I want to get into that.” Think twice before jumping into the shark tank.

Aaron: Why would somebody jump in? Why did you jump in? You jumped in because commercial brokerages were where the most money could be made?

Jonathan: Yes. Well, I didn’t come from residential. I went straight from school into it, and so I just stumbled into it. I stumbled into it because I was told that I should do it. Honestly, if I knew what I knew now, I probably would have done something different. It’s not something that you leave at the office.

You’re with it all the time. I personally love the business. I think it’s amazing, but I’m a unique individual and most people don’t agree. What I’m trying to do in the world is show people that there’s a better way. The people here at Keyser, they love the business. They love being a part of it. It’s awesome, but we’re this tiny little microcosm within an industry that, for the most part, tends to be filled with ruthless people.

Now, there’s a lot of money to be made, so, if you want to make a lot of money, and you’re willing to wait a long time to do it, and you’re willing to work harder than you’ve ever worked, and you’re willing to be more vulnerable than you ever had to be because you have to really work on all the problems with your personality, problems with your work ethic, problems with your behavioral patterns with the people, you have to become really good to succeed.

Aaron: I think I know what you’re going to say as the answer to my next question. If were going to tell a real estate, a residential agent, commercial agent, maybe a mortgage broker, what is one thing they could instantly do to increase their production?

Jonathan: Total?

Aaron: Yes. What would you do?

Jonathan: It’s a great question. It’s a very simple answer for me. It’s, with every single person you interface with, instead of trying to sell them, try to figure out three things you can do to help them. To do that means you need to be very present, you need to listen, you need to ask probing questions, and try to find three ways that you could be of service to every single person you touch, asking for nothing in return.

I don’t mean three ways like, “Hey, let me help you sell your house.” That’s self-serving. I’m saying three ways that are not connected to something that’s in it for you to serve everyone around you. Then don’t expect quid pro quo back. Just understand that this is a long game of serving people around you, and over time, those people appreciate it and reciprocate back to you.

Aaron: I think that’s great. Anyone around you try to find three ways to help them and see what comes back later. Jonathan, what apps on your phone do you like? Is there an app on your phone that you use that helps you manage your life or that you really like?

Jonathan: Let’s see. Is there one? No. I use a lot of apps. My most recent one that I really like on my hand. Oh, look, I still got the sticker. My daughter put this sticker on my hand this morning. I forgot it was even there. My wedding ring is now the Oura ring.

Aaron: Oh, cool.

Jonathan: It tracks my sleep. It tracks my activity. It tracks my heart rate, and my breathing, and all those kinds of things. It’s been cool to put data on something as important as sleep. I’ve been realizing that my sleep patterns have a certain habitual pattern that’s less than ideal, so I’m working on correcting that. I live in the Oura app right now and see everything. Last night, if I pull it up, last night I had a great night’s sleep. My REM sleep was significant.

Let’s see. I was awake for one hour and six minutes, that includes my going to sleep time and my waking up time where I don’t quite jump out of bed. I was in REM sleep for an hour and 46 minutes. I had light sleep for 3 hours and 38 minutes, and I was in deep sleep for 1 hour and 10 minutes. That’s about the right amount. The app wants me to sleep a little bit longer than 6 hours and 34 minutes, but, for the most part, if you can see all the– they’re all blues, which blue is good. You don’t want it to be red. If any of those are red, that means you’re missing out.

I’ve also realized because I do a lot of activities at night, I’ll have a glass of wine or something, I never knew this before, but the reason why drinking at night is bad for sleep is because your heart rate doesn’t adjust down as fast. If your heart rate is not adjusting down as fast, you’re not getting as restful sleep, and you’re not going into deep sleep. I never even knew that. Little things like that to try to navigate the health is fun.

Aaron: I love the technology that we can use to track stuff like that. You start to notice that if you drink more water during the day, your resting heart rate goes down than if you did in the– I don’t have the ring. My Garmin watch does a lot of the same stuff.

Jonathan: Does it?

Aaron: Yes. It’s super cool to be able to say like, “Oh, I ate this today, and I ended up sleeping better,” or “I did this, and you can really have some–” As entrepreneurs, or people in business, something that you can measure really helps you make decisions. You might go, “Oh, people say drink more water,” but then you actually get to see something that results like, “Oh, I slept better and my heart rate was lower.” That’s great.

Jonathan: It’s amazing. Then you feel better the next day, and you do better, right?

Aaron: Yes. If you were going to give someone, a rookie agent, somebody just coming into commercial real estate or residential, the first year at it, is there something other than the helping people that you would give them as advice to really crush their first year?

Jonathan: Yes. One, you got to think big. A lot of people come in and they feel like they got to play it a really low level because they don’t have the credibility to do more. I just fundamentally disagree with that. I think where you set your sights are where you’re going to play to. When I started Keyser, I said we’re going to be a billion-dollar company that saves lives and now I said it saves 5,000 brokers from misery.

That’s a big hairy audacious goal when you’re a startup that hasn’t even gotten their first office space. I think it’s thinking big and then thinking who are those people that if I connect with would be able to impact me significantly, and then thinking how do I serve them. I think the biggest thing though, is people, I think, don’t understand the amount of work that the top producers put in. At the end of the day, it’s hard, hard work and it’s non-stop.

If you really want to succeed, it’s just a function of how much you’re willing to put in, how much time you’re willing to put in, then with that time, how do you make sure you’re as efficient, as effective as possible? For me, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win doesn’t mean, it’s not the four-hour workweek. No offense to Tim Ferriss, but it’s not that. This is about working hard.

Serving people takes a lot of work. You have to really be willing to listen and care, and then you have to follow up and do those things. Working really, really hard and not giving up, most people in commercial real estate quit between 12 and 18 months into the business. I always say, “That’s such a waste,” because that’s usually when people start getting the traction, then after a couple of years, they start making money, so it’s darkest just before the dawn kind of concept. You have to have that stick-to-itiveness.

I remember when I started in the business, the guy that I worked for, he said, he goes, “Because I made a commitment that I was going to make it in this business, regardless, even if I had to work Wendy’s at night just to pay the bills, I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to give up.”

I think it takes that level of tenacity and stick-to-itiveness to really make it because, like I said, it’s very, very discouraging you put a lot of time into things and then that don’t materialize. Especially when you’re younger, that’s hard to take because it starts to feel like, “Man, what did I do? This is impossible,” but that’s part of the game.

Aaron: Yes, I love that. I think everybody that’s been accessible that we’ve interviewed different times, the darkness before the dawn is that big turning point. When I went to start my own company, I’d gone and gone and gone, and all of a sudden, there wasn’t any savings left, we couldn’t do it. It was like, “If it doesn’t work this week, I got to go apply for a job somewhere else now.” That keep going and being ready and also working hard, I think that’s great advice for anybody new at anything. Whether it’s real estate or any other business.

When you first get started in something, you need to outwork people. You need to get there first. You need to leave last and you need to make that happen. You talked early about that conference you went to and hearing this new concept and going for it. Was that the big turning point? Did anything happened before that or after that that really was like, “I’m doing this. This is my shift.” What was that?

Jonathan: Yes, my big epiphany was in 2012, which I mentioned briefly, but I was at the point where I was really, really frustrated. I was doing very well financially. I was making over a million dollars a year, but I was consistently frustrated, feeling like I was not able to really scale what I was doing because of the environment I was in, because of the construct of the firm that I was working at at the time. I felt like this really needed a life of its own. I went to Sedona, for those who are familiar with Sedona, Arizona, it’s a special place.

It’s supposedly at the core vortex. I don’t know if I’m a vortex guy or not, but it worked for me, so I guess. I just had this epiphany, where I realized that what I was up to was bigger than me, and that I’d stumbled across something that actually truly had the opportunity to change the world, to actually transform commercial real estate brokerage and business in general as we know it. From that moment, that decision that I was going to do that, I’ve never wavered. That was the big turning point for me.

The first big turning point was deciding I was going to shift from ruthless to selfless. That was a long process, by the way. That wasn’t an overnight process. I teach people how to do it in my book, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win, but then shifting to, “Okay, now I’m going to build a company around these principles.”

I wrote down 15 core operating principles in that epiphany in Sedona, where they were just rough ideas of all the things that I wished were true about commercial real estate, and then we turned those into the principles that we use to govern this firm. They’re things like, we never punish mistakes, we’re a family, we protect and serve each other, we’re a 100% coachable and we’re 100% present. We have a very principle-based company here, and I think that’s part of it, too.

Aaron: Yes. Knowing where your values are really helped you in all your decisions. I had got some good advice ones that said when you’re coming up with your company values, you want to be able to hire or fire based on those values, like being able to go, “Hey, were you following this value when that was happening?” A couple quicker questions. Are you an audiobook guy or a regular book guy?

Jonathan: I love audiobook.

Aaron: Yes, me too.

Jonathan: Actually, interesting point is I talk fast, obviously, for anybody listening on this podcast. When I did the Audible, I did my own Audible for You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win. It’s available on Audible and it’s in my voice, but it was crazy how slow they made me go. If anyone is listening to it at norm, it’s maddening. For a guy like me, it’s like, “You have to listen to it at 2X.” I usually listen to most books at between 1.75 and 2X because my brain processes things so fast.

Aaron: Right. That’s just a way to get more done. That recording your own audiobook, that is a bunch of effort for– My wife’s book. She did the recording for that and went down for a few days.

Jonathan: It’s not easy.

Aaron: It is no joke. Yes.

Jonathan: It seems like it’d be so simple, but it’s the opposite of that.

Aaron: Yes, it’s not just reading, but holding the same posture and getting knocked up. Favorite books? What are your top three favorite books?

Jonathan: Think and Grow Rich. That’s amazing book. Conscious Capitalism, my good friend John Mackey with Whole Foods who’s been a mentor to me through the conscious capitalism movement. Never Eat Alone, another good friend of mine, Keith Ferrazzi talks about building relationships and investing in people. One of the books that really changed– Again, I’m a book fiend, so I love a lot of books, but one of the books that really changed my life was The Story of You by Steve Chandler. Steve Chandler was my first coach. It’s an extraordinary book.

It talks about a lot of things. It’s no longer in print, so people may have a hard time finding it, but there’s also a really– Anything by Steve Chandler is amazing. Reinventing Yourself is an amazing book too by Steve Chandler. It’s this whole idea of mindset and not being a victim in creating– Again, a lot of those principles, success principles, I’ve put in my book, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win.

Aaron: That’s so good. That’s so good. In one of the things that we have everybody come on the show, they have a free gift that we’ll put on your own web page on our site. What is the free gift that listeners are going to get?

Jonathan: We’ve also created the Keyser Institute to train, empower and certify the next generation of selfless leader. What we found is that as people read the book and the demand for the book has grown, since it hit number one on Wall Street Journal, people read it and they loved it and they have all the to-dos and they want more help. They say, “Okay, I really want someone to help me with that.” We have what we call a Reinvention Roadmap. On the website, you can go and download the free Reinvention Roadmap. That outlines three levels of reinvention.

Self, like Gandhi says, you got to be the change you want to see in the world, company culture and then external stakeholders. That’s a free offer that you can download from the website for listening to this podcast.

Aaron: Awesome. We’ll get that on the link for you. For all the listeners that want to find you, they want to hear more from Jonathan Keyser, what is the best way for them to follow along with what you’re doing, get more info, download the book, all that stuff?

Jonathan: Sure. Ruthlessbook.com. You could also connect with us on Instagram, you can connect with us on Facebook, on LinkedIn. Our company is keyser.com, K-E-Y-S-E-R.com. For people that are interested in the institute, you can get it through keyser.com or through ruthlessbook.com. Often, I’m asked to speak. For the right events, I’m also happy to speak to people and you can get to us through either of those sites, whether it’s ruthlessbook.com. We also have JonathanKeyser.com or just keyser.com, K-E-Y-S-E-R.

Aaron: If people want to find you, they’ll be able to find you. We’ll put a bunch of those links on here.

Jonathan: Track me down.

Aaron: Yes. Jonathan, it was really fun to get to talk to you today and get to hear more about a new perspective on real estate, getting to go into commercial and leases and representing occupants and how that business works. I especially liked you being able say, you got into commercial real estate because you want to be rich.

You grew up in service, then you got into that because you wanted to be rich because it was also hard to be in service and not be able to buy the things that you want and live that life. Then you figured out a way to bring those both together and go, “Hey, you can be successful and be nice. It doesn’t mean you’re weak.” Now you’ve built this whole system on it, the Ruthless to Win and the institute. I can’t wait to go see more of what you’ve got and thanks for coming on today.

Jonathan: Thanks for having me. I appreciate your interest in reading the book, because I think you’ll find it a very easy read. It kind of sucks you in, I’m told.

Aaron: Very good. I cannot wait. Thanks again.


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