I’m writing this blog on our 15th anniversary of business.
How did it all start?
I’ve always considered myself an entrepreneur. I’ve never actually had a “real job” with a salary. After numerous big ideas, false starts, and failures, I found myself at 30 years old, still struggling to find a path in the business world. Estella (my wife) had earned top marks in law school and three years earlier taken a job with a top law firm in Chicago, which is what brought us here.
Now we were ready to get started on our adult life – get out of student debt, start a family – so Estella wisely began pushing me to find one of those “real jobs.” Unfortunately, at 30 years of age with no resume and no connections in Chicago, finding that job was really difficult, especially since my heart was not in working for someone else. The more I looked, the less I liked. I knew I could start my own business and do really well if I could just find the right vehicle.
On a lark, I answered a classified ad in the Chicago Tribune (yes, the world still used newspapers then), which said something like “commercial real estate brokerage – build your own business.” Although I had no idea what that meant at the time, I got an interview, figured out what it was, and decided this made more sense to me than anything else I had previously tried. I immediately saw the potential and how I could begin approaching the markets and business. I came home excited, and you can imagine Estella’s reaction when I tried to explain it to her. She asked how much it paid, and I said, “all commission.” She asked me a lot more about it, then asked the question that pushed me out on the limb: “Can you do this?” When I answered yes, she supported my choice and never looked back.
I started my career at a large, national, commercial real estate brokerage company. I thought at a place like that I could get all the training and assistance needed to build my own business. I quickly learned how naive I was and that my assumption proved very wrong. I shifted all my energy to creating my own methodology and systems because I had to make this work. Going into this, I felt this was my self-imposed last shot at being an entrepreneur. In retrospect, being forced to develop all my own proprietary and original approach to starting this venture ended up making all the difference.
It took a full year to finish my plans, implement them, build a client base, list properties, and then close them. But by the end of my second year in business, I was making significantly more money than Estella was as an attorney. At that same point in time, our first child had just been born, and I was getting to spend more time with him than Estella. When she started asking herself, “Is this career how I really want to spend my life,” I started thinking “If I can do this well in brokerage, I bet Estella would knock it out of the park.” I slowly started introducing the idea to her. She had just been given a 50% raise and told she would make partner in the coming year, so you can imagine her first reactions, the mildest of which was “I’m not a salesperson!” Although I have many flaws, I have never been accused of lacking persistence; so after relentless appeals to her logic, Estella started warming to the idea of at least exploring what this could mean for her and us. She began understanding some of the systems and methodology I used that led to my quick success and began considering how much further those concepts might evolve. Long story short, she took the leap by leaving her law career, crawling out on a limb with me, and becoming a commercial real estate broker herself.
For the first few months, all Estella focused on was figuring out brokerage from start to finish. She interviewed me, analyzed, diagrammed, and studied commercial real estate brokerage from both an agent and company perspective. She then created and implemented more advanced versions of my systems – in other words, she pushed an evolutionary advance. When Estella launched as a broker, she was able to achieve in one year the same level of success that had taken me two years by using those next-generation methods. I also began incorporating these newly evolved methods. Soon our sellers experienced higher prices for their properties, and our buyers hit their return goals more quickly by making better informed and smarter investments. More business came in the door than we anticipated. To keep pace with our clients’ needs, we hired assistants and taught them the same concepts. We soon realized that having a team of like-minded, focused people created even more growth.
Our assistants were now the first ones to pick up the phone when a client called. One day our senior assistant came to us and said they didn’t know how to answer the phones, meaning should they ask the client if they wanted Estella, Lee or both of us? We didn’t want to confuse our clients nor spend their valuable time trying to explain that we were now a team, so in her typical “fix it” fashion, she said, “Just start answering the phone by saying, ‘Kiser Group, how can I help you?’ I guess this was unofficially the start of what we are today.
For the next several years, we talked with the managers of our company about adapting changes to the Chicago office systems. We thought our success could be replicated, all the company’s clients would benefit, and all the brokers in the office would be more successful, as well. We began to realize that the company was too institutionalized in its own methodology, systems, and philosophy to change. We also became aware that the people making the decisions weren’t looking through entrepreneurial lenses of a broker but the opera glasses of manager with very little real-world experience in the front line of the business. We realized it would be impossible for us to incorporate our visions there fully. For us to achieve for ourselves and our clients all that we envisioned, the next step became obvious.
Kiser Group opens its doors on January 28, 2005
Estella and I incorporated Kiser Group and started our business with just the two of us and one assistant. Although our marketing materials, templates, systems and website were ready to go, our new office space wasn’t finished yet. A generous client allowed us to rent a garden apartment for three months while the contractors finished our office buildout. Within two weeks, two other assistants who worked for us at the previous company also left and joined us. The five of us sat in a one-room studio apartment, and Kiser Group officially began.
We started Kiser Group to better serve our clients by better controlling how we practiced brokerage. We did not initially intend to grow a company; however, as we implemented our methodology and the number of client success stories grew and spread, several other entrepreneurial people, discovered us and joined as brokers. Although for the first five years we never actively recruited, we were fortunate to have capable, driven people join us as brokers and embrace our systems and methodology. By 2008 we had already grown to be the dominant company in the mid-market multifamily industry in Chicago.
Fast forward through several years – including an anomaly economic crisis and all the ups and downs of people and culture that inevitably occur in a startup – Kiser Group is the best-known brand in Chicagoland multifamily brokerage with a reputation for the best and most reliable consulting, underwriting, marketing, and promotion services in the industry. Because of the results we deliver to our clients, Kiser Group maintains the commanding market share and is recognized throughout Chicagoland as the industry leader in our niche. But what’s next for Kiser Group?
We’ve only just begun
Change is constant. You are either getting better or worse – you never stay the same. The past 15 years have been great but were simply a path to getting to this specific time in January 2020: an inflection point in our company’s history where we will change dramatically for even better client service, broker support, and company growth.
During the past 18 months, we have been reexamining everything we do at Kiser Group, from hiring practices, onboarding, training, staffing, systems, technology, research subscriptions, marketing, and packaging to how we make decisions and who is involved. The results of this study have been eye-opening for us and have also enabled us to chart a course for our future. As a company, we are on the cusp another evolutionary advance (similar to what I experienced when Estella first joined me after leaving her law practice).
In the coming months, we will change many of our systems and technologies, enabling us to better and further serve our clients. We will further equip our brokers with resources and management structures to help them grow their businesses better and achieve new levels of success. Our standing commitment is to train and support our brokers so that Kiser Group clients always experience the highest possible service and professional standards. Still, we are building new and better ways to support our brokers so that they have cutting-edge techniques at their disposal.
We recently announced a very bold and ambitious goal to our brokers: Kiser Group’s annual sales volume and market share will increase three-fold by the end of 2023. We take this commitment to our clients and our brokers very seriously. All the changes I described above will effectuate this. Still, we also recently updated our broker compensation structure, including a path to equity in Kiser Group, so that we will all experience this growth together.
Today marks our 15th anniversary. I am so proud of our past and what we have achieved for our clients; however, we have indeed only just begun. I have not been this excited about our future since January 28, 2005, when we first officially opened Kiser Group’s doors. Thank you to all of our clients, brokers, and staff for 15 wonderful years of success – you helped us establish the foundation from which Kiser Group will grow again.