Basement To Big Time Transcript
Season 1 Episode 22

This is a written Transcription for the episode: From The Basement To The Big Time

Two Brothers Creative's Omaha Podcast Studio with Jeff Koterba

Full Written Transcript of The Episode

Matt Tompkins: An overnight success 15 years in the making. I love this line because it captures the moment where the dream meets the reality. Hello and welcome back to the Omaha podcast, where Omaha’s most successful entrepreneurs help you grow your business. Now we all have a dream. We all start out with a dream, and a dream is important. That’s what fuels your passion.

But how do you go from having a dream to accomplishing your dream? Okay, I admit that sounded really vague. Sounded like it could be a instagram post with a cat or something. Hashtag mondaymotivation. Let’s make it more specific.

Let’s make it more real. How do you go from being a company that is literally just you working in your own basement on a card table that you found stuffed in the corner of the laundry room that your Aunt Rita just happened to leave by mistake a couple Christmases ago? How do you take this company from your basement with no windows and Aunt Rita’s card table desk to being a company that is worth millions and has over 300 people working for it? Fortunately, we have somebody who can answer that very specific question because they did it.

Our guest today on the podcast is Van DB. He returns to the show and we’re going to keep it simple. Van is going to give us the practical methods, the techniques that you can implement for your company today.

Matt Tompkins: Today. I’m excited to hit on some. This is something every business owner, every entrepreneur aspires for dreams of. Is the business just taking off and scaling? And you hear that term and some of these buzzwords like scaling and growth and KPIs and you know, they it can get overwhelming. And, you know, we buy all these books and we listen to these people who have been there, done that. It still can feel very overwhelming.

And so hopefully today what I’d like is you do a great job of, you know, the KISS methodology of just keep it simple, stupid, so important, which, you know, knowing me and how slow, you know, how slow I am and absorbing information. But let’s simplify this for for business owners here in Omaha who want to see that type of growth. So the first thing I want to ask you about is how do you get started? What is the first step? Because you and I both started literally in our basements with both of our companies.

We did. And tell me like, what was the what was the beginning stages of of DB Realty? What did that look like back then and how did you get that ball rolling?

Van Deeb: So, you know, it started out in 1983. So 2023 will be my 40th year in real estate. Congratulations. Thank you. And in 1983, I started working for another company and I worked for another company for ten years, which I really encourage entrepreneurs just like you.

Did you work for another company and learn as much as you possibly can before you start your own. I know so many entrepreneur entrepreneurs that just want to start out. They want to, you know, they they want to bypass being in the ditch. They just want to go straight to owning their own business.

Matt Tompkins: It’s like the social media, you know, 15 seconds of fame approach where No, no, no, no, no. I just got to put it out there. As long as, you know, I think it’s good I’m going to be a millionaire tomorrow. And people think that with social media, I’ll create my TikTok dance challenge, and tomorrow I’ll be signing endorsements for McDonald’s. Yeah, exactly. And then it doesn’t happen. And there’s this real, real cold, rude awakening when it doesn’t happen and you don’t know what to do.

Van Deeb: Yeah, well, you know, if you’re going to grow a company, you’ve got to have people that believe in you and trust you and want to emulate you. Well, if you haven’t been there and done that, why would somebody do that? So I started out selling real estate. I didn’t know anything about it. I was a sponge. A sponge, a sponge. I had a car that wouldn’t go more than 40 miles an hour. I had no money. I waited tables to feed myself. And so. Did you have a.

Matt Tompkins: Daughter at this time, too? Right.

Van Deeb: I had a daughter maybe six years later. Okay.

Matt Tompkins: So it was still pretty, pretty early on, right?

Van Deeb: Mean still pretty early on. And I’m learning the ropes and, you know, I just wanted to be a sponge. I tried to learn as much as I can. So when I did open up my own company out of my basement in 1993, the risk factor was minimal because I’ve already been there and done that. I’ve watched brokers, I’ve watched real estate business owners. But one thing I went in my company, a mission is I wanted deep realty, which they are continuing that at Nebraska Realty today.

I wanted that company to be known for one major, major component, and that was this company knows how to treat people. And I want to tell you, the majority of the real estate companies out there, if the broker owner said jump, the real estate agent would say how high? It was quite the opposite of the model that I built. My model was built on, and it was very unique. And I know it may be common sense to you, Matt, but it wasn’t to people in my industry. In my industry. Here’s the broker, here’s the agent, here’s the client. Well, the broker is trying to really impress the client. They’re doing everything they can to attract the client, and they’re telling the agent, This is what you have to do.

Van Deeb: This is our policy. At 113 in the afternoon, you’re you’re allowed to go to the bathroom. I mean, it was that kind of dictatorship. And I’m like, Dude, real estate agents keep your lights on. They’re your boss. It’s quite the opposite. So when I built my company, if an agent said Jump, I said, How high? So people knew in my actually our motto that was on the door.

A company built by agents for agents. So all of the little things which you’ve talked about a lot in our, you know, years of friendship, that it’s the little things that mean the most. And I agree with you, Matt. And so I did the little things that the other companies did not do to make the agent feel like it’s their company. And all I am is support staff. So I had to prove that I had a cubicle the same size as theirs. I could barely get my. On it. You know, I was not the big cheese. I may have owned it, but I’m an equal person and that’s what I wanted to portray. I’m there to help you.

Matt Tompkins: And showing them that you’re willing to do the same exact work that they’re doing and you’ve done it before. And so there’s a level of respect there. I think, you know, when I look back at your comment you just made there, and I look back at when we started out with my brother and I starting with the TV show editing out of my basement, the two of us crammed in a makeshift bedroom office, editing all hours of the night. And and we had we would have to sneak into our dad’s church.

He was a pastor of a church in Bellevue. We would sneak into their basement banquet hall at like 9:00 at night on Saturdays because nobody was up there. And we would use that for our well set up and film, like guerilla filming all these comedy bits and then go home and edit and put it together. And it was that way for the first three, four years. And, and you know, I look back on it now and it’s, it’s, it’s amazing that we pulled it off. It’s a.

Van Deeb: Great show.

Matt Tompkins: I loved watching it but yeah like that was where we cut our teeth and cut our teeth there. We started with one camera, four lights. That was back when we were still using bulbs that blew fuses and everything. And I look around now at what we have today, and even the last season of that show, we had 23 people volunteering to just be a part of that show, writing and acting and stuff.

Van Deeb: And people say, people still say today that you guys made a Heisman Trophy winner. Funny.

Matt Tompkins: We did. Yeah, we did. Two of them, actually. Yeah, we had Johnny Rodgers. Yeah, right. So so getting started, you know is but that time you put in people kind of they don’t acknowledge that they see rags to riches. They think, okay, he was I didn’t know he was a millionaire yesterday. Now he is. Oh, it must have he must have been the Mega millions winner. And the reality is there, you know, for us to have this the success we’ve had over the last couple of years and the same thing with your company, when you started it in 93, you had a decade, 15 years of building up to that moment to where you had built these relationships and trust. And, you know, you’ve been there, done that. So that that’s a way, I think, to recommend to people to eliminate some of the risk financially is, you know, start building up clients on the side.

That’s what we did was build up enough clients to where now we’re making as much as we’re making with the full time job, we can step back from that and then keep building. It doesn’t have to be overnight, and it usually isn’t overnight. No.

Van Deeb: You know, it’s kind of a funny cliche that I hear is, you know, I was an overnight success. It only took 15 years, you know, because it’s the truth. There’s no such thing to me as an overnight success. Yeah, there’s a lot of work that goes involved in it, but you have to be willing to do the work. It’s the four letter word, w-o-r-k. And you know, with that, to me, if you’re a hard worker, you’re on a level playing field, you know, with the best of the best. We competed with a Warren Buffett owned company.

And one of the coolest things that I’ll ever remember is when groups of real estate professionals from this Warren Buffett owned company would migrate to my company. And it just was a real excitement because they had a lot more to offer technology wise, luxury offices. But what we had to offer, we’d had the culture, right? Yeah. The least attractive offices of any real estate company, the least attractive people made fun of me because our desks, they called government issued. They were the old metal desk that nobody wanted, so I got them for free. But people came there. It was a real testimony of we’re treated like we matter. And our culture, our culture is all about what’s important to the real estate professional.

Matt Tompkins: It’s a good exercise for any business owner to go to all their clients and ask them, Why me? Why choose me? Or you’ve made this point to me in past conversations of if you lose a client asking why, why, why, why?

Van Deeb: What did I do wrong? What did I do wrong? You’re very important to me. Why aren’t you doing business with me? You know.

Matt Tompkins: And I look at that. I did that after, like the first year of doing the two brothers, just, you know, full time. And it was amazing to me. It was kind of eye opening. They said, Yeah, we get it. You have the cameras and the gear and I’m sure it’s expensive and it’s nice and none of that. I mean, yeah, we assume you’re going to have that. That’s just part of it. So that’s kind of like your desks. It’s like it was more about what we appreciate is your experience and you. It’s more about the people.

Like you said, you’re buying the person, not the product. And I think we look at like, okay, we got to have everything has got to be shiny. It’s got to cost this much. And we’re comparing and this, you know, fear of missing out, you know, life that we’re all pushing towards with social media. And, you know, in reality, it’s it’s how do they make you feel? How are you treating people and culture? So what did you do early on to create that great ineffective company.

In culture when you were starting from scratch, how did you how did you like kind of build the first initial few people to run with it? How did you get them to run? How did you decide what your culture was going to be?

Van Deeb: You know, the blueprint was people first. The blueprint was if we treat the agents like they’re our customer, we’re going to hit a home run. So I’m going to give just a couple of quick examples of what separated our culture with our competition and our culture. So, for instance, when you sell a house, usually the real estate agents waiting 30, 45 days, 60 days, or if it’s a new home, you might wait six months to get your commission. You’re on straight commission. You’re not getting a paycheck until it closes.

And so they may wait that long for closing. And then the company would send the check through all this process and protocol and the agent would get paid about 5 to 10 days later. That was not fair to me. I didn’t I didn’t like that. So this is one thing that we did different. If somebody had a closing at 12:00 on Friday, they got paid at 1:00. And we did that because we can every broker can if they wanted to, but they chose not to. The word got out, man, you close a deal. You close a deal and you’re working at DB Realty, you’re going to get paid immediately.

Well, and the co broker, the other person that brought the buyer or had the seller, they’re getting paid quicker, too. So our whole blueprint was what can we do to make sure that the people that work within the firm have the attitude of I get to go to work, not I have to go to work. So my goal was to have all of our 350 people say, I get to go to work today and it was up to us, the leadership to make that happen.

Matt Tompkins: And I’ve used this terminology for social media. When people are trying to grow their brand through social media of creating superfans and one superfan is equal to about 100 or 200 just casual fans, they will promote it for you. And so you you know, I’ve always been a big believer in pay people. Well, even even for me, there’s a lot of times where it was tough.

Like even today, I don’t take a big salary. I’m just covering my living basic mortgage and that stuff for now because I want to make sure the people that are working here are taking care of it and are happy and then, you know, rewarding people with, you know, praise and and, you know, constructive advice and and also financially, you know, all the different ways you can incentivize people. That to me builds such a great kind of repertoire with people that then if you get in a situation like we got in with with COVID, where everything’s shut down, money is dried up.

And the I think companies that were ran well, the employees said, we’re part of this. We get it. You know, it’s not anything you did. We can ride this out together. And there were companies that survived and then there were other ones that that didn’t that fell apart.

Van Deeb: I think the key the key is value added. We’re always thinking about ways to add value to our customer experience. We need to think of ways to add value to the people we work with. And I’m a big fan of action. You know, don’t tell me, show me. Don’t tell me you love me. Show me you love me so I can’t right now. Van, the camera. We can talk about that later.

Matt Tompkins: Okay.

Van Deeb: So like, for instance, I want to give you an example. When I built another, I started another company two years after I sold DB Realty. But this one is designed to keep super, super small, very small. And the agents I have now, of course, I get the check, the broker gets their commission check. What can I do to show value? I cut the check the second it comes in and I take it to their home. I drive it to their house and I leave it on their front door or I let them know I’m coming. That’s value added.

Matt Tompkins: Little things too, like along those lines. And I can’t take credit for this because my wife is really she’s hardcore into crafting, so she makes stationery and cards. But I’ve done that with you and other clients where just putting together a thank you card way cool, which, you know, it’s a homemade thing and you don’t throw it away. You write a nice, you know, sincere message in there.

And, you know, we had a project, I think, when we were working on something for you where it was there was just unforeseen circumstances that delayed it and you did a lot of value added and it’s like, you know what? Like and I was clear about it from the beginning, this is what’s going on. But, you know, when you when you have that that culture it between your your employees and yourself and with your your clients, your customers there’s a lot of leeway. And they will they will ride it out with you because again, it’s about believing in you. What are some of the things like that? People when your business starts growing, you’re starting to become a decent sized company.

You know, you’ve got 50 agents and maybe then 100 agents. At what point did you hit a inflection point before things got really big? Up to the point when you when. You sold DB Realty? We had 350 agents. So what was it like? Was it 150, 200 agents or employees to where you’re like, okay, this turned into a whole new level of Super Mario Kart. I got to, like, really, you know, I got to get my practice time in.

Van Deeb: Yeah, actually, this may sound a little strange, but I liked the company better when there was ten people. Really? I just. Yeah, it got the smaller. It got really big. And I’m. I was very grateful, but I liked the family style business when it was smaller, like I have right now with Big Omaha Realty, just a really small company. It’s very manageable and we’re having a really good time. But you know, it’s people and you know, I had such great humans that ran DB Realty. I was not the reason. Db Realty was successful. Db Realty was successful because of guys like Andy Alloway, Christy Barrett, Christy Lisi.

Matt Tompkins: And he’s taken.

Van Deeb: The he’s taken the.

Matt Tompkins: Lead.

Van Deeb: With. Yeah, he’s got one of the largest companies in the whole state now. Incredible. Yeah. And it’s the same staff that I had.

Matt Tompkins: But you know, we’ve got personal friends that work there, you know, shout out to Angela Starks who works there. Good friends with Wendy. And they’re just like the best people there. The people give a.

Van Deeb: Shout out to Angela Starks, too. She’s a great gal.

Matt Tompkins: Yeah, she’s she’s fantastic. But she’s the kind of person you’re around and you just feel better after being.

Van Deeb: And they promote that. That’s the culture and.

Matt Tompkins: That’s what it’s. But that’s what you want to create.

Van Deeb: But, but, but there’s a real estate company in Omaha and I people know me that I don’t have a filter, but I’ll be very careful today. You don’t. And but there’s a real estate company in Omaha that has been around since 1857. I won’t tell you the name, but they continually have the same amount of agents. They should have 3000 agents. They just should. They’ve been around for 200 years, but they always have around 400 agents. You know why? Because they treat people poorly.

Their culture, not good turnaround. If you go in there to one of their offices and the first thing you see is a frown on a receptionist, you know that the culture is something wrong. So it’s it’s a choice. Either the leadership is going to implement a great work environment. You treat everybody like they matter or it’s going to be the opposite. And we believe that you treat people like they matter. Now. It’s not just people that worked at DB Realty. It was every agent out there and they admired that. They admired that we’re giving them the same respect that we do or that we did our own agents.

Matt Tompkins: I’m curious too, with with when things started scaling on the size and just pure volume of that many people to manage and the revenue and all that. Um, how important was it to have systems like we’ve talked a lot with some of our clients about and we’re in the process of this, of creating processes and procedures so that the quality doesn’t suffer. And it’s, you know, you follow these steps and you can do execute this sale of this home just as good as Agent C, d E so that you can increase that volume. Because otherwise I’ve noticed it’s hard when it’s when it’s all in the owner’s head and nobody else knows what we’re supposed to do or how we get to that, the expectations or standards of quality, you know, putting it down in writing, did you have a metamorphosis with that from where you started at home to.

Van Deeb: Yeah. So we managed by committee. I mean, I would come in to, you know, committee meetings with our staff and I would have these ideas of what we should be doing da da da. And somebody, maybe one of the admin people will say, Hey, what if we did it this way and that way? And I’d say, That’s a better way. Let’s do it your way. I think you’ve got to listen to the people that have that are interested in growing the company and always be willing to change. I would go into a situation which this is the way we’re going to do it, where this is it and I’ll leave there doing it completely different.

Matt Tompkins: And you mentioned that a few times now it sounds like it’s a recurring theme of having the right people, having the right team, especially your leadership team. It starts there. That’s your foundation, your leadership team and your core values. Knowing what are your company’s core values. If you scale off of those, off of that and you don’t have those two things figured out or in place, it’s you’ve got a house of cards that could collapse at any moment. Yeah, I’m sorry, what we like the last as we wrap up here, what are the last few big lessons learned or pieces of advice you can give to our our entrepreneur listening right now who hasn’t again, just at the beginning ways they could maybe accelerate the process if they want missteps to avoid pitfalls like what’s your kind of top three takeaways?

Van Deeb: One of the things I would say is if you know, you want to get in a certain industry and you want to own your own business, go work in that industry. Don’t own it. Go work there for a couple of years. Make sure that’s what you want to do because it can be very costly if you just jump into an industry and you have no experience in it. You just think that’s what you want to do. Go work in the industry, make sure that’s what you want to do. Because working in that industry, like when I worked for another real estate company, I’m constantly thinking of things that I want to do different when I own my own.

And it makes you think, Gosh, if they did this, they’d be a better company. Well, I’m going to save all that for when I open mine up. So one is don’t jump right into it. Take your time. It’s not a race. Go work right. Go work for another firm before you start your own.

Number two is use the 24 hour rule. Words are like swords. When you’re starting out, it can be very frustrating and you can get upset. You can be confused if you have a challenge. Instead of responding to that challenge immediately, give yourself a 24 hours. Andy Alloway, my general manager, now the owner of Nebraska Realty, he taught me that and that it’s really hard, it’s really hard.

Matt Tompkins: It does. Therapists recommend that for relationships and marriages, like don’t talk about it for 24.

Van Deeb: Hours if you wait and Andy used to teach me that, wait 24 hours and I want to taste it. It’s amazing. You wait 24 hours the next day. The response may be no response.

Matt Tompkins: It’s like, what were we mad about?

Van Deeb: Unbelievable. But it’s hard to do because I want to respond immediately. So that’s one thing that I would tell them. And number three is be resourceful. When I first got in real estate, I knew I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be number one. So what did I do? I called up I called up the number one agent when I was in Texas, and I called up the number one agent in Texas. She didn’t know me from Adam. Hi, my name is Van DB. I’ve been admiring your success for a long time.

Can I buy you lunch? And I went to have lunch with her. She didn’t know me from Adam, but I used my resources just like you do when you have a question, you call up. People took her to lunch and I left there after that lunch. So high of emotion and excitement that I couldn’t talk because I would have stuttered the whole time I was so high because I left there going. And if we had cell phones back then, I probably would have called everybody, Hey, I just had lunch with Mary Harker and she’s this.

And I left there feeling she’s no different than me. She just worked hard, disciplined, drive, desire and determination to be the best I have that I can do it, too. And the biggest turn on is three years later I was above her for for volume and sales. But it did something to me. It did something to me knowing I’m with the number one agent and she eats like I do. She uses a fork, she talks like I do. What’s different? Drive, desire, determination and discipline. And I and we all have the ability to to really bring those four characteristics. Yeah, it.

Matt Tompkins: Works the same way with health, physical health, trying to lose weight where if you stick to it on a diet and you’re good for 2 or 3 months, you see great results. And then we just throw in the towel and we go back to old unhealthy habits and it all comes back and then some.

Van Deeb: And I want to invite your audience. I want to invite your audience to to look at Facebook and look at Matt Tompkins with his shirt off. The guy is preaching the word. He looks darn good.

Matt Tompkins: But people ask me that all the time. Just yesterday. So what are you doing? What is the secret? Are you how often discipline weights? I’m like, I lift weights once or twice a week. It’s nothing, but it’s discipline. With the nutrition, it’s discipline. There are no cheap meals and.

Van Deeb: You don’t put poison in your body. That’s a big part of it. I try.

Matt Tompkins: Not to. I mean, every now and then, you know, it’s Friday night. We’re out for kicks, you know. You want some some rat poison. No, I’m kidding. But. But yeah, but it’s the same. It’s. It’s a minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month process. You have to fully commit and stick with it.

Van Deeb: And being successful is not results. Yeah. Being successful is not an 8 to 5. It’s 24 over seven. And you got to constantly be thinking of ways to better yourself.

Matt Tompkins: Again, you can find out more about Van DB at Van You can hire him for your speak to your employees get them motivated get them inspired excited. He talks about so many great other inspirational stories he hasn’t even shared here with us.

There are a lot more and I think it’s you’re a great resource for companies to bring in and talk to people about, hey, I’ve been there, here’s how I did it. Here’s what I learned from my failures. Oftentimes more so than the successes, even the things you took away. So you can also listen to his podcast, check out his radio show, The Journey, and you got a newsletter you can sign. I mean, you’re just like a one stop, like I feel.

Van Deeb: Well, you’ve helped me with some of that over over the years. You’ve been a.

Matt Tompkins: Big I think I’m subscribed to everything. So every, every, you know, every I have.

Van Deeb: At least one subscriber. Yeah, but no, I just. Want to reach people. If you have something to say that’s going to benefit others and help people get there quicker. What are we waiting for? We’re supposed to help other people accomplish their goals and dreams, too.

Matt Tompkins: My new favorite line is we’re doing this. Love it. We’re doing this. I love that. You know, maybe doing different things, but we’re still doing this together. That motivates me. Van, thank you so much for coming on again. Appreciate it.

Van Deeb: I’m honored to be on your show.

Matt Tompkins: We’ll talk to you soon and I’ll hit you up when we’re ready to sell the house. You know, once this market gets not once. I can actually afford to buy a new house to move into.

Van Deeb: Okay. I’m going to wait outside, So when you’re ready, just come out and get me, okay?

Matt Tompkins: I will. I’ll be there. Thanks for joining us here today on the podcast. You can find out more about Van DB and his success story in the show notes. Also in the show notes. One clicky Click Linky link away from additional resources and support from us.

We love helping business owners like yourself for free. I know it’s not a good business model. It’s probably a dumb business model, but you know, we do it because we truly love helping you, just as others have helped us. So if you need help with anything from SEO to social media, YouTube channel, anything, if you just have a general question or you need to be connected with the Nebraska Business Development Center or any of the guests we’ve had on the podcast, please reach out and contact me directly today.

Again in the show notes everything you need. Everything’s in the show notes. You can’t go wrong. Always visit the show notes. That’s what I always tell everybody.

Matt Tompkins: Is the Omaha podcast. Where? Omaha.

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