Today, March 5, 2005,17 years ago, I opened JustMyMortgage.com. Of course, I didn’t just get the keys and open the door. A lot of thought and planning went into it, a lot. It was my 3rd company so the mistakes that I made in the prior 2 companies taught me some lessons about what I needed to do to be successful, not just in running the company, but the lead up into starting.
A couple of things I’ll share about how I got there and how I, along with a great team led to a successful run for a start-up mortgage company.
Everyone knows what killed the mortgage industry in 2008. That same thing took me out too. No reason to deal with that. I did a post on the industry and its failures with the crash in 2008. I don’t have anything new to add, necessarily. I guess I could say, the company was debt-free so I didn’t have to figure out how to wind down relationships with creditors, specifically people I would have owed money to.
So, how did I get there? It’s kind of an interesting backdrop, maybe.
About 12ish years before, I went to work for a regional savings bank, Pacific Southwest Bank with the initial assign, or early assignment to help plan for the growth of the mortgage business, Pacific American Mortgage Company, PAMCO for short. Thanks, Bobby Hashaway Sr. !
It was my first exposure to the mortgage industry. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some very knowledgeable, longtime veterans of the mortgage industry, professionals who were not selfish with their knowledge. To say I learned a ton would be an incredible understatement. Let’s just say, when I left, after five years, there was no aspect of the industry I hadn’t touched.
Fast forward to, hmmm 2002ish. After I had been in and out of the convenience store business and had ‘separated’ from Bank of America, I was trying to figure out what I was gonna do. Jobs seemed to be hard af to find and land.
By this point in my career, I had a great resume, and it wasn’t appreciated. It had entrepreneur stuff, corporate leadership stuff and it just wasn’t the right fit, or I wasn’t the right fit for a bunch of jobs. Frustration and a little depression set in.
The lady I was dating at the time suggested I get my mortgage license and become a loan officer. She kept telling me I would be good at it. What scared the shit outta me was 1) it was commission only, and 2) it was gonna be consumer sales. She was an industry veteran and had worked with loan officers before. You would think I would have figured out this was an okay path since I had worked planning the growth of a mortgage company, but I just couldn’t see it, not at the time. The biggest reason I couldn’t see it was probably the comfort of having somebody else writing my paycheck.
She finally convinced me to get the license and originate mortgage loans. Getting the education requirements completed and passing the test was pretty easy. Finding the right company fit, hmmm, different story.
What I needed in a company, wasn’t necessarily handholding or training, I just needed some guardrails on navigating getting loans closed. My personality was good enough to sell, in other words, I’m not shy. It was nuances that I needed help with, something that was harder to find than I thought it would be or should be.
I teamed up with a gospel radio host who was also a real estate agent, and we did credit repair seminars and first-time homebuyer seminars all over DFW. It was a baptism of sorts into the origination business. He would identify homebuyers and my job was to get them ready and approved for a loan. Together we got a lotta people in houses who didn’t know they could buy a house. The partnership lasted about 6 months.
I started calling on homebuilders and trying to convince the salespeople in the community sales office to let me do the loans for the hard-to-do prospects that came into their offices. I wasn’t the only loan officer pursuing this business and it wasn’t easy. The huge difference in breaking through was customer service.
What one salesperson told me, Marcos Castillo with Mercedes Homes was, I would always call when I said I would call, I was always available and when I couldn’t do a deal, I would just say I couldn’t do a deal, without a lotta bullshit. That was how I became an alternative lender for Mercedes Homes, and then subsequently with other homebuilders like Kimball Hill Homes and First Texas Homes.
While establishing these relationships, I moved from mortgage company to mortgage company. Every time I would get in a groove, some bullshit would come up. Got called an arrogant nigga by a branch manager, then some fathom takeaways appeared in my commission checks.
My tolerance for bullshit is low, really low. After a ‘surprise’ in one of my checks, I said fuck it. I started the process of getting my broker’s license and planning the start of JustMyMortgage.com.
After I got the license, it took about 6 months to put a plan together. I was living at an apartment complex in the Lakewood section of Dallas, and I would sit by the pool and write out pieces of my plan every day. It was comprehensive: what products I should offer; should I broaden my niche: where my office should be; what equipment I would need; who should my service providers be (credit reports, loan processing software): how would I get employees and who; who would my lenders be, and how can I increase the loan production. I tried to think through everything. I put the budget together last. I was making enough money and I knew I could make the business work, but I didn’t want to be just writing checks with no accountability.
A couple of things I had learned from my prior companies that proved beneficial with this new venture were just how fast running a small company can be and how critical it was to be nibble.
Idk if you watch sports but one of the things you hear people say about young basketball stars and young, star quarterbacks is, ‘once the game slows down, they’re going to be good.’
With my first two companies, things were fast. I could barely catch my breath. It was constant motion. Different problems every day. It was fire drill after fire drill. When I was supposed to be sleeping, my mind was racing about what happened during the day and was gonna manage the next day. I had good plans for both companies, I just wasn’t ready for the pace.
With JustMyMortgage, my focus on planning wasn’t primarily financial but more operational, strategic. What a huge difference that made. The game had slowed down. If I couldn’t see what was gonna happen next, I didn’t have to freak out because I knew the end game.
I was originating about $1 million in loans a month. I wasn’t worried about sustaining the volume because I didn’t think I would lose the builder business. The relationships were tied to me and not the companies I had worked for.
Once I felt comfortable with the plan, I went into execution mode. Incorporating the company. Coming up with a name. Getting the URL, which I still own btw. Finding office space, buying printers, leasing a copy machine, buying furniture. I used some people whose names I won’t share because I haven’t spoken with them about this post, but you know who you are, so thanks!
I had identified who I was gonna ask to work for me so all that was left to do was set the date and get-ta moving!
The first day, I’m not nervous cause I was gonna do the same thing I had been doing for the last year, just for myself. I brought about $1 million in loans with me; I wasn’t worried about making money or having an income. I knew how to originate loans and I had a little cushion, so I wasn’t worried about not eating.
Well, things never go as planned. LOL. The first day, my new employee was a no-show, no call. I didn’t freak out; I was more worried than anything. I hoped that nothing tragic had happened. After the first week, I started to freak out. I needed to scramble because if I was gonna be spending my time processing loans, getting them closed, I wasn’t going to be able to replenish my pipeline with new loans. My plan, that I had written, called for my loan officers, that I was gonna eventually hire, be salespeople and not processors, and I was immediately in violation of my plan.
My girlfriend gave me some advice and referred an employee to me. Huh, that didn’t work out, the employee did work out. After a month, we hadn’t closed a loan, but I was writing payroll checks. That’s a going outta business plan, so that I fixed, immediately.
My preferred employee called, and I was able to bring them on board and we were off to the races.
I was able to successfully recruit loan officers and processing staff. Idk how many loan officers passed through, maybe 50ish? At the height of JMM, we had 23 total staff, really, really great people. We closed 200-250 loans. JustMyMortgage didn’t have the largest revenue of any company that I owned to that point. The gasoline company had the highest annual revenue, but JustMyMortgage had the highest margin. We had a really good run.
There are a few things that you need to be a successful entrepreneur.
1. Your commitment to success. If you’re not in it to win it, not sure why you would start. Your commitment includes your money, your time, your heart, and your soul. Your expectation of yourself should be to eat, drink and sleep around your commitment to the success of your business.
2. A support system is important. That can come in many different ways, a spouse or significant other, a friend, a mentor, or a business partner. There will be some difficult times and there will be some WTFDIDN (what the fuck do I do now) situations where support will be important. You don’t necessarily need your support system to give you advice. Sometimes, you just need to talk out loud for somebody to hear you or for you to hear yourself.
3. I hesitate to put money on this list because some will use that as a crouch. Let me couch it this way. Don’t let the lack of money prevent your ideas from being developed. I once asked a college professor about having ideas but no money. He told me good ideas will attract money. That’s a bit optimistic. Probably a better way to put it is, if you have a good idea, you can find the money to pull it off. It might be hard af to find but that’s where your commitment to what you’re trying to do comes in.
4. Become an expert at what you’re wanting to do. Learn it, know it, be able to communicate it, effectively. Look, you can pursue and do and learn at the same time. Just never assume you know it all because that will stop you from learning.
5. Size Matters. Uh, not really….just seeing if you’re paying attention. Size doesn’t matter. What matters is for you to start. You can start a business as a side hustle. How and if it grows will depend on your vision, your commitment, and your plan.
6. Have a plan. A plan to start. A plan of how you will grow. A plan to measure (and celebrate) your successes. Be sure to have some milestones so you can know if you’re on track.
7. You want to start a business and you’re not sure what you should do or can do, keep in mind that your business doesn’t have to be unique, necessarily. You can have a “me too” business. What do I mean by “me too?” Copy an existing business model. You can do the same thing as someone else and serve a different market, improve service, or add a product that is unique to the market you’re targeting. Many companies adopt a “me too” strategy and tweak the model (or not) just enough to be incredibly successful.
Some examples: FedEx Office and The UPS Store. How about Maybelline and L’Oreal (before they merged)? Uh, pick some airlines or any oil company. Oh, bring it home? How about a BBQ joint or catfish restaurant? You don’t need to create a Facebook or Twitter to be successful.
8. Don’t underestimate the time it may take you to develop your business. It may take years. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. I love the poem, “Don’t Quit” by Edgar Guest. Here’s a verse you should embrace:
"Life is queer with its twists and turns, As every one of us sometimes learns, And many a failure turns about, When he might have won if he'd stuck it out, Don't give up though the pace seems slow, You might succeed with another blow."
9. Listen to your customers. Look, the customer is not always right. Idk where that shit came from. That’s nonsense BUT you better listen to them. I don’t care if you have 1000 customers or just one, you’re getting paid by your customer. If you listen, carefully, they will tell you lots of stuff like what your competitors are doing or not doing, give you feedback on the quality of your product or service, tell you what your other customers are saying, and, hopefully not, but they will tell you why they’re leaving you. If you don’t hear from your customers, ask for feedback.
10. This goes against several of the points I’ve made but it’s no less important. Figure out a way to squeeze in some relaxation. You know how you relax before your start a business. Make a note of that. If you’re all in with your business, you’re going to need an outlet, a break. You’re going to need to recharge. If you don’t take that time, you’re going to burn out or you’re going to miss an opportunity to look at adjustments you might need to make. If you ignore yourself, you won’t hear your supporters or your body or your mind telling you, you need a break. Make a physical sign before your start to remind you to recharge yourself.
Here’s my message to you, if you’re even remotely considering starting a business. Do it. You can do it.
One of my really good friends told me when I was planning the restaurant, my first company, “You’re smarter than you think you are. Don’t doubt yourself.” That’s my message to you, “You’re smarter than you think you are. Don’t doubt yourself.” Start, keep learning, and do it!