Being in real estate comes with natural ebbs and flows, as with many industries. But for anyone who was around in 2008, life was really, really good—until it wasn’t. In 2008, I was running one of the top teams in the country. Part of that was understanding the growing role of the internet and how it could generate warm leads. We had top real estate portals in Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; Bellingham, Washington; and Seattle. And then the housing market crashed.
Forced to close all but one location and downsize to our leanest possible team, we circled the wagons. It wasn’t an easy time to be a leader, but it forced me to innovate—innovate or fold. This wasn’t my first pivot, but it was my biggest, borne out of economic hardship but resulting in something greater than we could have imagined at the time: the largest cloud-based brokerage firm in the world with more than 77,000 agents.
As all struggles do, this experience taught me some hard truths. The truth about what it takes to keep an organization not only alive, but growing; and the four truths of a pivot, which I share with you now.
Truth: Your team won’t always understand.
We learned that relying on brick-and-mortar offices put us at risk. We needed to build a defensible real estate model that didn’t bear the weight of physical overhead costs. eXp Realty evolved into a fully cloud-based model in order to provide security in times of economic uncertainty. But your team won’t always understand or see the big picture. Innovation can feel unstable until it’s proved. This is where your existing relationship of trust comes into play.
Truth: Good is the enemy of great.
Would we have turned to a cloud-based model if 2008 turned out differently? Sure, maybe. Some of the best innovations happen because we’re forced to put everything on the table and make grueling decisions about what no longer fits. Sometimes it’s starting over completely. The benefit of starting or reinventing a business during an economic downturn is that your model is built on survival, not prosperity. The same isn’t always true for businesses built during stable times. As legendary business author Jim Collins says, “good is the enemy of great.” Train yourself to see the opportunity in times of chaos and uncertainty.
Truth: Hope isn’t a strategy.
Many organizations squeaked their way through the recession by adapting their business models just enough to survive. Some resorted to bankruptcy. Some merged. Some got lucky. But their businesses never capitalized on the opportunity to reinvent, to build defensive walls against the next inevitable obstacle. Hope isn’t a strategy. Hope is like playing the lottery when the odds are millions to one. You can choose to sit with the pain and frustration of seeing your hard work washed away or you can face it head-on and embrace the challenge of reinvention.
Truth: Pivots take immense energy.
If you get good at pivots, you understand the decision matrix that goes with them. I have the understanding of what it takes to make another pivot. But they take a lot of energy. Pivoting a large organization is a massive undertaking. You’re changing the paradigm the company was built on. Naturally, the larger the company, the harder it is to reinvent. As a leader, you’re back in startup mode. You’re probably working 10 to 16 hours per day, seven days a week to ensure the reinvention holds and you’ve considered all the things that could go wrong. This isn’t to deter you from considering a reinvention, but to help you understand what it takes to go through with it.
Pivoting is akin to innovation. Are you making a big innovation within your company or industry? Or are you making small iterative changes? They can both have an impact, but one can change the whole trajectory of your organization. What are the big risks you want to take? How do you set yourself up for success? The power of the pivot is big innovation followed by big action.
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Life typically presents only a few opportunities for a full pivot—and it’s not usually for good reason. It’s a buzzer-beater when your organization and everyone who depends on it is on the line. For us, the ability to go cloud-based was the perfect storm of a declining housing market and most homes having high-speed internet.
Now, collaboration technology makes our model accessible to nearly any industry. With virtual workplaces like Virbela (a subsidiary of eXp World Holdings) and Meta, Zoom and Google Meet, Trello and Asana, your teams simply don’t need to be together to scale the organization. From a young age, I saw the role of technology. I dined on Popular Mechanics and Apple Bite magazines. Part of a proactive pivot strategy is recognizing the opportunities and also being willing to take the shot.