Have you ever had a terrible landlord? On this episode, we’ll hear from Forbes 30 Under 30 Winner and CEO and Founder of WhoseYourLandlord, talk about how he got to where he is today as a first-generation immigrant to building his company based on the core value of creating an equitable experience for both renters and landlords. Ofo is one of BET’s #30Under30, a Black Enterprise: Modern Man, and his work has been featured in TechCrunch, Newsweek, MSNBC, Ebony, and more. He is also an actor and model who’s walked in NYFW (3x), been featured on the Today Show (7x), and worked with Nike, ESPN (2x), and Alfani. Ofo is a Big in the Big Brothers Big Sisters entrepreneurial program and has spoken on tech – entrepreneurship – and leadership at prestigious institutions such as The White House, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Wharton, Temple, etc. He lives by the motto, “No steps backward; just forward progress.” Tune in today to hear how business and social impact can go hand-in-hand!
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Leading Within An Organization: A Story Of Entrepreneurship With Ofo Ezeugwu
Ofo Ezeugwu is the Founder and CEO of Whose Your Landlord, and is a 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 lister for his work and social impact. His company, WYL, is a venture and Google-backed platform that turns the meaningful feedback residents give on their living experiences into actionable insights to help home providers better understand and engage their living communities. He graduated from Temple University, where he was a VP of the Student Body, and also the youngest alumni convocation speaker in the school’s history. He was additionally named to the Forbes Next 1000 list, recognized as a Young Professional of the Year by the African American Chamber of Commerce, is one of BET’s 30 Under 30, and is a Black enterprise modern man.
His work has been featured in TechCrunch, Newsweek, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Clarity, New York Post, and more. He’s also a professional actor and model who played the lead role in the short film that premiered at the Lincoln Center in New York City. He walked in NYFW, was featured in the TODAY Show, and worked with Nike, ESPN, Starbucks, Facebook, Alfani, and more. Ofo sits on the board of several nonprofits and is a board of trustee member at a local college.
He’s actively plugged into the community and speaks with local grade schools on leadership, college planning, entrepreneurship, and life skills. He’s a big in the Big Brothers Big Sister’s entrepreneurial program, and he’s given lectures on tech, entrepreneurship, and leadership at prestigious locations and universities such as the White House during the Obama administration, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Warden, Temple, Villanova, and more. Ofo lives by the mantra, “No steps backward, just forward progress.” Let’s know what Ofo has to say about social entrepreneurship.
Ofo, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Thanks for having me, Santor. This is a great opportunity. I love the work you’re doing. I’m so excited to talk to you.
I created this show to help first-time and emerging leaders that don’t always get training or coaching. I’m bringing in folks like you that are trying to make the world a better place and have done amazing things at such a young age.
Thank you so much. It’s always great to talk about these things. Everybody these days is trying to figure out what it means to be a leader or what it means to achieve in their life. If I can be part of that conversation and help people figure that out, I’m always game.
Tell us a little about your story, about growing up and how you fell into where you are now.
I always say my story starts with my parents’ story. My dad was born in Nigeria, and my mom was born in Barbados. During the early days of my dad’s life, he was born during the Biafran war, so he spent a lot of time on the run. At eighteen years old, he became the first ever person in his family to come to the US. My mom moved to the US at around eleven-ish years old. My grandmother had moved from Barbados two years prior and left her daughters back in Barbados to earn enough money being a housekeeper. She was based in Brooklyn, East Flatbush, but then would commute to North New Jersey to clean people’s homes. She saved up enough money and brought my mom and aunts with her.
That’s the starting point. From there, they meet at school, and the rest is history. For me, I’ve got to watch and grow with their careers. I started out in a one-bedroom apartment in Paterson, New Jersey, which is where I was born, to moving from Patterson to Clifton, New Jersey, to Buffalo, New York, to a townhouse in Baltimore, Maryland, to then owning in the suburbs thereafter. I’ve got to grow with them. They’re in the medical field. I’m more on the business side of things in real estate.
The stories aligned because there’s nothing more entrepreneurial than being an immigrant. You arrive on foreign soil with your bags or whatever you can hold and got to figure it out and make it work. Growing up, I’ve always been involved, like active black belter Taekwondo and played high school basketball. I started my own little makeshift football league. We were tackling with no pad. It probably wasn’t smart, but it was a lot of fun.
I’m a mover and shaker. I always had my bike nearby. I felt like I was riding a motorcycle as I would ride around the neighborhood. I’ve always been moving and shaking. When I got to high school, it was my first ever introduction to technology in terms of it being a career in my tech class. I started studying Entrepreneurship and Management Information Systems in college at Temple University. Temple was an amazing opportunity for me because college is a space where you can learn. You’re not judged. You have four years to figure something out, whatever the thing is.
I got into acting and modeling in college. I spent half my weeks in New York at times doing auditions. I started my first company called Untapped. It was a brand development firm. I worked with local artists and businesses in Philadelphia and helped them get their brands in front of the right people. I then had the idea for Whose Your Landlord. In my senior year at college, I served as the VP of the Student Body. Students were complaining about a lot of different issues that were justifiable, but housing was top of the list because as Temple’s footprint was wider, it changed the fabric of the North Philadelphia community.
Not only were community members trying to adjust in real-time and being affected, but also student residents. It was more lucrative for a landlord to rent to four students. You can rent out 4 rooms versus 1 single-family, especially when the guarantor is usually their parents. You knew you were getting paid. That was great. That’s good for business. If there are infestation issues, black mold, or harassment happening between male landlords and female residents, that’s not positive. I was seeing those things happen. I thought there should be a better way and more transparency, at the very least. I started a beta version of the site back then, but I built the business to kick off in 2015 and have been building it ever since.
It sounds to me like it’s almost like a Yelp for renters.
We get that a lot. No shade to Yelp. Yelp has done its own thing. We think of ourselves as being a little bit deeper in terms of how people think about Yelp. We’re not looking to create a platform where residents go and shout about their landlords all day because there are a lot of good and decent ones. We’re looking at asking the right questions to the residents to better understand their experience. What if we were able to operationalize some of those insights so that our home provider is better at retaining their residents because their residents are happy?
We work with both sides of the coin to create a more human-centric housing landscape. That’s what gets me going every day because that’s not easy, but I’ve always learned if you can park yourself in the middle of two moving parts and figure that out, that’s a $1 billion company that provides tremendous impact and value. That’s what you look to do every single day.
For a lot of landlords, it could be their first time, so they don’t know. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with BiggerPockets. I’m sure you probably are. You have a lot of people who are going into that. Utilizing your service is probably helpful for new landlords too.
Consider if you inherit property, you’ve never managed it before. You never were on the hook for it. Sometimes you don’t ask for the problems that come with it. We’re certainly aware. We provide a lot of content, even lease agreements that are a little bit more resident friendly and down the middle and not as draconian as other things we’ve seen. We want to help those new landlords as well.
You’ve done so much amazing things at an early age. What are your thoughts on Imposter syndrome? Does that ever creep in as you’re scaling your company or doing all this black belt in Taekwondo and all these other things? What are your thoughts there?
It manifests in different ways. My girlfriend is a Nike trainer and actress. She has been on a bunch of shows and stuff. She talks about Imposter syndrome all the time. From the way I conceptualize it, it’s over nerves before doing something you’ve done a million times or thinking, even with the credentials you have, “Why would this brand want to work with me? Why would that person be interested in working with me? Why would that person or brand be interested in me at all?”
That’s how I usually visualize it. It can manifest in different ways. Part of what I’m coming to terms with is some of my reality in growing the company to where it is now, that being Whose Your Landlord, has been, “We don’t have that many resources, so you have to work with what you got.” You can get pretty far with that. Maybe this is me patting myself on the back too aggressively, but I think about it a lot of times, like those first several years of LeBron James’ career with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They got to the final several times, but he never won. The thing is, you had him picking up the team and running fast. It might have turned into Damon Jones getting a great contract because he was hitting threes in the corner all day long. It might have turned into other folks getting lucrative deals, but when they would go to those other places, they didn’t play the same because LeBron was helping them look even better than they were. What I’m getting at is Imposter syndrome can sometimes look like, even if you’re the LeBron James in the situation, you almost don’t understand how much value you’re bringing to the people around you.
You’re putting up with marginal conviction from another person, marginal passion, or marginal effort. You’re almost like, “At least they’re helping me. I need help.” As you grow, you realize, “I need Dwayne Wade. I need Anthony Davis. I need other people approaching this like me from a human level, a talent level, and a driven level if we’re about to win some championships.” That also can be Imposter syndrome. Maybe I didn’t identify like that when I was going through that process, but now we’re hiring. I meet amazing human beings every day, and they want to work with and for me. I’m like, “I deserve that.” That’s my thoughts on it.
I love that. It’s leveling up too. It’s those goals but understanding that you’re worth it to level up. I love that analogy. We’re in this pandemic. What type of adversity did you have to overcome during the pandemic? How did you overcome it?
We’ve been growing through the pandemic. Also, I think of a couple of things. One is from a product perspective. We started working with a team on our engineering. We had someone in-house and then started outsourcing it when that didn’t fully work out. The outsourcing didn’t go as well as we wanted it to. You consider it as lighting money on fire. It is what it is. In that, we learned a lot because we were still growing our team at the time too. It’s balancing a lot of crossover personalities and personalities of folks who had partially been here as we were growing and then new energy as well. I had a couple of friends and families that worked with the company, and I had to let go of them. Those were not easy conversations or things to arrive at.
What I’ve learned about myself is I’m not afraid of the decision. The pandemic taught me that because all of a sudden, I’d be sitting at my computer. Like now, I have eight meetings on the docket. What would end up happening is your real work starts happening at night later than everyone else. The talking part is during the day. The more and more I was talking, the more and more I was in the business, and the more and more I got better at it. You get sharper at making the right decisions at the right time. The pandemic has taught me we’re all human. We all have good days, bad days, and lukewarm days. At the end of the day, we got to have that internal beat, that drum that keeps us going.You get sharper at making the right decisions at the right time. Click To Tweet
For me, I always want to work with people who are willing to learn and who are excited about life. I’ve learned more than ever in the last few years why that’s so important because we don’t know how much time you have on this planet. If you’re going to do anything, you do it with your full potential and energy because it represents you. I’ve been taught that by my parents. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. When I see the response I get from other humans that acknowledge how hard I work, they want to work with me. That comes from putting that out into the world.
It’s focusing on what your purpose is and passion going all in. It sounds like it’s getting contagious throughout the pandemic.
That’s awesome. I love that.
There’s constructive criticism and learning. You have to be open to all of it. We’re adults at this point. I’m not saying something to you for no reason because I care. I want to see you do well. Your parents don’t push you to get an A because they think the shape of the letter is great. They push you to get an A because they want the best for you within reason.
Here’s the next question I have for you. What’s it like being a Millennial leader nowadays?
Hard. That’s the first word that comes to mind. With Gen X and Baby Boomers, I think folks that are older than me would argue it’s even harder for them. I can understand that. I grew up in a stage where half my life, social media didn’t exist and now half of it has, which I didn’t even feel harder or worse for Gen Z. I say that respectfully. If we graduate from high school during our parents’ time, they might run into 4 to 7-ish of those high school members in life if they leave the community in which they went to high school. If they stayed, that’s a little bit different.
I still know now what most of my high school peers, not just friends, are doing with their lives because I see it every day on social media. We say comparison is the thief of joy. All we do all day long is compare ourselves to other people because we can see them. We didn’t use to be able to see them. If I am running somebody outside, I assume that’s a stranger. I don’t think twice if he has a better car or girl than me. I don’t know that guy. It doesn’t affect my life, but if I see a college friend, a high school friend, or a peer that I’ve interfaced with a lot in my career, and they seem to be doing better than me, all of a sudden, I feel bad.
What I’m getting at is Millennials are a tough crowd, as well as Gen Z, because there are two things that happen. One is this adoption of this energy of apathy where like, “I’m too cool for school. Nothing matters to me. Nothing fazes me. I’m all good. I don’t want to care because I don’t want to get hurt,” yet everything that happens hurts. It jerks you. When you’re in that space, there’s a lot of lack of self-awareness. If I have accolades, I over-embellish them. I, at some point, start sipping the Kool-Aid and believing it myself. I then go out and meet somebody that’s bringing it. That’s such a constant in the Millennial world where there are so many folks that think they’re further than they are.
There are so many folks that think that they should command a certain level of respect. Those things are true-ish. There is something special about building with people for a while, cutting your chops, and falling on your face a few times. You need that. That makes you stronger, tougher, and better. Where I think there’s always been a little bit of a struggle sometimes is that just because I’m 29 and you might be too, or maybe a little bit older, maybe younger, doesn’t mean that you deserve the position I’m in, and vice versa.
I’m going to honor and respect you and assume you’ve done everything it takes to be where you are. I simply want that back. If we can meet at that baseline when I’m talking to you, you’re talking to me, I’m listening to it from a lens of understanding, building up, and creation, not from a lens of, “I’m deeply insecure. Maybe I have a lot of Imposter syndrome. Instead of addressing that insecurity, I’m going to present it as ego.” That’s the hardest part about navigating.
You’re a Founder and CEO of an up-and-coming and already there tech company. Would you say years of experience matters, whereas maybe we had to deal with that us coming up? Would you say that your attitude, learning, and things like that and the right attitude? What are your thoughts there? Do you think that’s changed a little bit for our generation?
In terms of the years of experience you need?
If you’re hiring a software designer, are you concerned about years of experience where they’ve worked? Those are important things. Will you take someone fresh out with a great attitude that can be ridiculously effective from day one?
Time and place is the right answer to that. In the beginning, it was more so the latter. Somebody’s willing to hustle. Somebody’s pretty smart that they want to build something cool. You hire them because they’re willing to work with you. Usually, the person with ten years in the game is like, “Who’s this kid? What are you going to do?” I understand it. I’m at a different point in my career where I can garner the person that has 10, 15, or 20 years of experience and maybe wants a career change or believes in what we’re building. We had to work to get there. Experience matters. I came out of school and pretty much jumped right into this.
With that, I’m bringing back sports for a second. When the player gets drafted at 17 or 18 out of high school, you can’t do that anymore. I remember starting to realize I was getting older than athletes, like 22 or 24, and you’re like, “He’s eighteen and is getting paid that? That’s crazy.” Not to put this in a dark spot, but sometimes you’d hear about someone’s life, and this eighteen-year-old is talking and sound so mature because they’re like, “I was four when I lost my mom to cancer. When I was nine, I was on the street.” I don’t want that experience. That’s a very hard experience. If I’m not willing to trade my space for yours, how do I deserve that $20 million contract at 18 years old?
What I simply mean by that is we don’t know what people go through to get to where they’re at. If you’re not willing to go through what they’ve been through, it’s disrespectful to assume like, “I wish I had that life.” As I think about the future and where things sit for me, I always am conscientious of respecting human beings where you meet them and wanting to understand more about their story. I’m a little bit off the start of your question. As I think about understanding them and where they are and their story, I figure out how we fit together in our stories to collectively move us forward. I find that to be one of the funnest parts of building a company and building with people.If you're not willing to go through what they've been through, it's disrespectful to assume. Click To Tweet
It’s empathy and understanding their experience and where they’re coming from. That ties back to what you were saying earlier. They may have all these promotions you have seen on social media or a nice car. We don’t show that side of ourselves, even as leaders on social media like, “It took this much effort to get here. Success doesn’t happen overnight.”
I don’t know whose fault that is. I can’t blame the person living in the space. I know in social media that I’m pretty active, but also investors, board members, and potential investors follow me. There’s always an inherent like, “Oh.” It’s different now. We’re a little bit laxer as a society than initial LinkedIn days, when it was cookie-cutter. Nobody wanted their employer to follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Social media has changed the game quite a bit. Remind me of your question because I want to make sure I hit this one directly on it.
Originally, it was more about what’s it like being a Millennial leader nowadays and if you are willing to hire people based on attitude. I don’t know if you remember when a recession happened, probably right before you got out of school. You need five years of work experience for an entry-level job. That’s where I was going with that.
In startups, we move too fast. Nowadays, you can show me your portfolio if you’re a designer, and I can see your approach. If you’re an engineer, you can code in the language we’re building on, the frameworks, and how you strategically think through things. There are other means to figure out somebody can bring value. It’s not all going to be tied to the school that they went to or their longevity in the industry. I know there’s something to be said for being an expert at something. What I appreciate about previous generations is that they wouldn’t even necessarily label themselves that way. Oftentimes they didn’t know and think they were experts because there was such a deference to other people who’d done it before them or other people who were their bosses that they didn’t realize after ten years and anything, you’re pretty good at it, or you get it.
I love working people who almost forget that they’re that good from the standpoint that they arrive in a humble space and do not talk about payment. I want to pay them the most money I possibly can, but from the other side of it, I don’t want to work with the person who labels themselves an expert at 22. They could be if they have the 10,000 hours and started it at 12 years old or whatever. That’s not what most of our circumstance is. If that’s not the case, I don’t want you pitching me fresh out of college that you’re an expert at end-user acquisition. It could be. I’ve met people who do it every single day.
Moving in a little bit different direction but relevant, what would you say Gen Z’s greatest strength is? What’s your advice would you give to employers who are hiring them?
Gen Z’s greatest strength is starting to figure out how to decipher through so much information. Our brains haven’t changed much in about 60,000 years. We still process at the same speed as our ancestor’s ancestors. We’re inundated with so much information all day long, every minute, every second. Now I have things blinking on different screens, and I’m here talking to you. That’s not how it was supposed to be. Gen Z’s been super special in that. They’re able to synthesize things. That said, the other side to that story is Gen Z can be holistically pretty sensitive. I don’t want that to be taken out of context, but I simply mean there’s a time and place for everything. When an athlete says something, read their whole transcript. Don’t read the one quote clickbait.
We won’t do that for this show.
I love Gen Z’s energy. They want to make a change. They want the world to be diverse. I would sit on the board, and the head of the board was telling me about her son. She’s a White woman. She was saying her son’s a young White man, and he went to school out in Chicago. When he came back, she connected. She was like, “I can get you an internship wherever you want. Pick a spot.” He is looking through all these different company sites, and he comes back to his mom and says, “I don’t want any of those. All the companies you referred to me have White teams.”
She was like, “You know you’re White, right?” He was like, “Yes, and that’s why I want to work with other-looking people.” It’s diversity. She was like, “I learned something from him that day. They think of things differently. I love that.” I don’t put this on Gen Z. I put it on Millennials and Gen Z. I want us to be more proactive in terms of if we see something, say something, or if we see something, do something, less talking about it and more activity. That’s fun to me. You create beautiful relationships with people if you focus on how to achieve things in a meaningful way. It’s things like that.
I love that. That’s great insight and true. Moving on to your brilliant business model, what advice would you give to startups? I teach social entrepreneurship. There are so many great stories like your own right of trying to make an impact. Even in nonprofits, you don’t need to not make any money. You could still do good in the world and make money. What advice would you give to those folks who are reading that are trying to start a business similar to yours?
You don’t have to make money out of the gates. It’s helpful if you can learn how to because that way, you can sustain your business without outside investment, grants, and things like that. What I will say is even if you opt to start a company that doesn’t make money in the beginning, you should always be thinking about how you plan to at some point in the journey. There needs to be a strategy. I can operate in the red and sell a product at a deficit because my goal is to saturate the market. Once I do, I can slowly upsell and jack the prices up. I’ve already owned the market.
If you’re saying to your team, “We’re going to operate at a loss for a long time,” and have no strategy, they’re going to be like, “Why? Shouldn’t we sell for more than what it costs us to create it?” If you say to them, “I have a strategy here. I want to saturate the New York City market, make sure everybody’s using our product, and then incrementally increase the product’s cost by 2% every year. By year three and a half, we’ll not only have broken even, but we’ll be highly profitable there on out,” that’s a strategy. That’s what I’d say to a young entrepreneur starting now. You should always have a thought. It’s not always going to be perfect.
Our business model now is not what I thought it would be several years ago, but always have a thought as to how you foresee yourself making revenue, generating income as a business, and growing. The second thing I’d say, and this has been true since the beginning, is to hire great humans. There’s the proverbial like, “Could you be trapped in an elevator with them for 30 minutes?” I hope. I brought on someone before. I couldn’t be next to them in an airport for 30 minutes. I made those mistakes. It matters. Hire great humans. Work and build with great humans. Never relax on that standard. You’ll see yourself you’ll grow so much and be able to build great businesses and businesses even beyond the one you initially started.You'll grow so much, and you'll be able to build great businesses and businesses beyond the one you initially started if you hire, work, and build with great humans. Never relax on that standard. Click To Tweet
I know that as an entrepreneur myself. I started my company several years ago. There’s a lot of the stuff you don’t learn, like how you interview someone. There are laws in different states. What are your tips for just the basic stuff of running a business as well, like hiring and in general?
You’ll never learn enough in high school or college to do it. You got to get out there and do it. I didn’t know what an operating agreement was. I didn’t know it was the lifeblood initially of a company, bylaws, and articles of incorporation. None of that stuff was taught. It’s almost presumed you’re in it already, and you’re just going. The foundational pieces are missing like, “How to structure a cap table? How to issue equity to your team? What’s a restricted covenants agreement? What’s a safe versus a convertible note versus a priced round? What are the preferred shares versus common?” There are so many nuances to the foundational pieces of a business that it is hard. Your job is not to know everything but to realize not to be too hard on yourself in this process.
You’re going to constantly be learning. Looking back, the smart thing is if you can’t afford a lawyer in the beginning, our approach was pretty cool because what we ended up doing was working with them to be an advisor and giving them a little bit of equity, but then that meant that many of the rudimentary things we need to run the business they could help us with for free. They were getting equity. They had to believe in us. Otherwise, it was worth nothing. Even if you don’t have that benefit or blessing, find a way to cobble up enough coins every six months to sit down with a startup lawyer and say, “Can we go through what I’ve done thus far?”
Spend an hour or two with them and go through things. They can identify things you’ll need in the next stage of your business or things you can retroactively implement so your business is still strong. If I didn’t have that agreement with our initial counsel, that’s what I would do now. Save up every six months, meet with a lawyer, meet with an accountant, make sure you can meet with those professionals at least twice a year to make sure you’re on the right track, and let them pour into you the knowledge and insights. You don’t have to know everything like a CEO. You’re the chief of education for yourself first and foremost, and then you educate everybody else. That’s what I would say in terms of how you approach it.
That’s such great advice. It’s always good to have those upfront rather than after you make a mistake.
I’ve done that too.
These are things that we learn as we go. What are your thoughts on this Great Resignation that we’re dealing with as a country and globally? What advice would you give to employers and employees?
If I had to answer that, maybe I’d be a billionaire already. That’s a cool question because I love it. I think of it from both sides. I saw a tweet or meme on Twitter. It was someone saying like, “I missed the morning commute and everything that came with it.” Under it was the morning commute, and it was a ton of traffic on the highway. There’s a lot of truth to that. In the last few years, good or bad, we’ve been more in touch with ourselves than ever before. Folks have made the determination, “Gas prices are $5 a gallon these days.” There’s a legitimate war happening. Some of us have experienced loss. I lost my aunt to COVID at the top of COVID.
Sorry to hear that.
I appreciate that. When those things happen, you’re forced to be a little bit more still about what life means to you and how you see it changing, growing, and how you see yourself progressing. Folks have determined, “I didn’t like that job. I didn’t like having to be someone I wasn’t every day at the workplace.” I know firsthand. It’s my company. I can talk however I want, but when it wasn’t, when I was at other companies, how I would speak was different than how I picked up the phone and talked to one of my boys. Some people are tired of that. They prefer remote, so they can be on when they’re on Zoom and be off when they’re not.
I get that vantage point. For employers, too, I am an employer. There’s something different about people being in the same room. I’m a whiteboard guy. I got one on my left-hand side right here and another one that rolls around. I’m whiteboarded out. For me, that’s how my brain works. I need to ideate with my pencil or marker. I need other people to poke holes at it and give me their feedback. When you’re doing it all through the computer, it’s difficult. It’s different. I get why employers want their employees to return. In accounting, they call it a sunk cost. Employers don’t want their commercial leases to be sunk cost. They’re like, “If I’m paying all this money, somebody should be working here.”
I get it. It’s always going to be this way in the sense that employers got to figure it out. That’s the reality. You got to keep up with society and the numbers. They’re humans. The masses are the ones that make everything move. Historically, it’s been very much leaders or folks in positions of power or banging their fists, “This is how it has to go,” and people used to listen. There’s too much information out there these days. Unless everything you’re saying is airtight, I could go on Google now and debunk everything you said from another set of sources. Employers have to be adaptable and stand firm sometimes when it’s like, “I can’t make that concession for you because no one else is getting it.”
Do you think listening to your employees is a good way rather than saying, “Everyone, come back into the office by this day?” We all have different lives and people with families. Some people may want to go back into the office. Not everyone was made to work remotely, for sure. Listening right to your employees and trying to find a middle ground would probably be the best.
That is always the truth. I always say that people could have different perspectives, but somewhere in the middle is the truth. I like talking. My team would tell you that, but I listen a lot. My job is to first listen to people, hear their insight and perspectives, see what makes them laugh, and see what makes them cry, and hopefully, tears of joy. You got to listen, and from there, you can make the right decisions you have to make.
Here’s the last question to wrap this up. What advice would you give to someone who’s graduating college now and maybe transitioning into a leadership role within the next few years? What advice would you give to that person?
I was going to initially say play the long game, but my perspective’s going to be play the game that brings you the most joy. In a conversation with a friend, what I’ve realized about myself is that, conventionally speaking, I had this idea a decade ago. In a seed round in a startup, you’re talking about maybe your second year and running the company in your third year. Some people are privileged and fortunate to get it in their first year, whatever the case is. It’s not common to have a seed around be raised in your seventh year in business. That’s uncommon in tech. What I was saying to my friend is I liken this to the political scene. I forgot who had mentioned this. It was the president of China in the ’70s or ’80s. This whole premise was like, “We have a 100-year game plan. We can work with these different countries for whatever on all these different things but realize we’re thinking 100 years out. Even if we don’t do something now, we’re still planning on doing it.”
Not to get into a political space at all, but the way I appreciate lands from the standpoint of, “That’s the game I’m playing here. I believe in humanity. I believe in humans being treated well with dignity and respect. I believe in human beings having the right to make their own decisions. I believe in them having the ability to have fun. If you want to be sad for a day and watch a lifetime of movies, do it. Do your thing.” I don’t have that power over you because I don’t care to. If you are leaving me alone, I’m good, and vice versa. If you and I want to hang out, we’re good.
When I think about my company, it’s a conduit through which I get it through the real estate industry and provide a framework to help human beings be treated better. That’s Whose Your Landlord. If I were not doing Whose Your Landlord, I’d be doing another business with the same throughline. It’s not about, “Can I raise capital in 2 or 3 years, exit, and make everybody say, ‘Ofo, you’re great and very smart?'”
It’s like, “I don’t care about any of that. What I care about is affecting change and making a lot of money doing it so I can provide myself and my family the financial freedom that we deserve from how hard we work. In that process, I’m going to keep on building.” An L here or there is not going to knock me off my path because my path is way beyond this moment. When I think of more people who showed up in their life that way, “I’m going to do what makes me genuinely happy. I’m going to bang my head against the wall for sometimes 50 years, 4 years, or 8 years, but I’m going to figure it out eventually,” what’s special about that is you don’t know when your time is going to expire. Should it happen at a time you weren’t ready for, and the world wasn’t ready for? You can rest happily because you did what you wanted to do every single day you were on this planet. That’s what I’d encourage everybody to think about as they move forward in their lives.
I love that so much. Thank you, Ofo, for all the inspiration. I look forward to seeing your business continue and make that impact for all the folks out there.
Thank you. I appreciate it, Santor. This has been a great opportunity and a great conversation.