I had considered this person a mentor and of high integrity. When I sold insurance, he was my general agent. He would have me speak at his insurance agency and I’d end up doing joint work, splitting commissions with his agents.
This was an early lift to my business. This general agent would meet with me each month, gave me generous payout percentages, and even marketed dinners where we would both speak and generate business, helping launch my speaking career.
Plus, he paid me what he said he would when he said he would.
I got to know his wonderful wife and his kids. We did annual trips together, for years, so I felt very confident referring other people in the business to become life insurance agents with his agency.
It is interesting, even now as I write this, I want to justify away and use excuses to deflect any of my responsibility. I want to point out it was an endorsement of him as an insurance agent, not a fund manager, but the reality is, I had referred a dozen people to him who lost money investing in his real estate.
I was one of them. I invested money with him and so did some of my family.
I was even supposed to be a 45 percent owner in a 45,000 sq. ft 3-story building with him.
That should have been a huge red flag.
I didn’t see it.
I was so caught up in the design of the building and what it could mean to my business.
There was an amphitheater for events.
I had arcade games in our break room and bamboo floors, and glass walls…this was a thing of beauty.
And my ego loved telling people this was my office.
I felt important.
It was part of my narrative of success, blinding me from reality.
This person I was going to partner with told me that he would use his credit for the construction loan and once long-term financing was secured, he would set up an LLC where I would own 45 percent.
This building was impressive.
Winning architectural awards locally and nationally.
People that met me in this building were often impressed.
One individual, after our meeting, asked me to speak at his event.
Now, some might call this man an exaggerator; I think liar is much more appropriate.
He introduced me at his event as owning all the skyscrapers in Utah. WTF?
I don’t think 3 stories counts as a skyscraper and again, I never even had ownership on paper, and this was the only building I was involved with.
After being introduced, I walked on stage and said “I’m not sure whom he is talking about, but I’d like to meet or become that person someday”.
So yes, this building created folklore or an exaggerated reputation for me at a young age, officing there from 2006 until 2009.
When hosting events or having clients visit the office, people would ask about the building. Sometimes I would introduce them to the owner. He was taking investment money in the building. He told me it was to do improvements to the second floor as it wasn’t finished like floors one and three. But he took more money than was required to start two other commercial building projects in other cities, without disclosing it.
As the economy turned in 2008, things got worse with his fund. People were requesting redemptions on their investments and his real estate was losing value simultaneously.
Instead of telling the truth, he kept taking on new investors’ money to pay interest in his real estate fund, making it a Ponzi scheme.
Taking new investor money to pay interest is illegal.
But his identity came from a fund he started and the interest he paid to people. These people thanked him, adored him even, for the difference this interest provided in their lives. What started as what he thought to be a “small lie”, said to buy him time, became a Ponzi scheme.
2008 was a tough, brutal economy, especially for real estate. For him to face his investors and tell the truth would have been hard for sure, but not as hard as going to jail. Not as hard as losing all those relationships and losing even more money in the process.
It is a combination of ignorance and arrogance that would lead to someone taking investors’ money when things are imploding. This ignorance comes from not assessing reality and the arrogance comes from thinking somehow they could outsmart everyone else and with enough time, could get to the other side and be fine. “The ends justify the means” type of thinking. They don’t.
In 2008, I found myself in a similar cash flow predicament. I made the mistake of being over leveraged in real estate as well but handled it very differently. I had a lot of residential real estate at the time – single-family, duplex, and fourplexes. I had borrowed money from people for some of the down payments. And when the market turned, I did one of the hardest things in my career, I let them know that the changing economy was having a major impact on me.
First, my real estate was losing value, these losses put some of my partners in bankruptcy, leaving me with a portfolio that was struggling and creating negative cash flow.
Losing partners and hemorrhaging cash required more of my time. I was often the money, and my partners were the management.
Now I was both.
This required my time and lots of it.
Due to this additional responsibility, my business suffered.
After 10 straight years of growth, I had my first down year.
A down year, with much higher expenses.
The rent for this new building.
The mortgages and personal loans on over 100 investment properties.
So, I started making calls.
I let those that had lent me money know I was likely to be late. I let them know I was going to put my head down and work, and that I wasn’t going to proactively reach out to them, but they could call anytime. I knew that every moment would count and that I had to focus to stay afloat.
Almost all of the people I called understood and were supportive. Almost.
I let them know if they wanted money today, they would have to take a deeply discounted amount, but if they would give me time, I would pay them back in full as things turned around.
Now I had people in my corner, instead of the lingering worries of not being in communication.
As the economy got worse, and the person who owned the 45,000 sq. ft building declared bankruptcy, I ended up getting sued.
This person suing me had invested 350,000 dollars in the 45,000 sq. ft building in exchange for a monthly return, but the interest payments stopped.
Initially, the investor went after the person he invested with (the owner of the building). I wasn’t in those meetings and I didn’t get paid, but the person taking the money was bankrupt. So, the attention turned to me when the attorney advised his client to sue me.
This attorney tried to get others that had invested through my introduction to sue as well but couldn’t convince them to do so. But the attorney hoped to win with his first client, then go back to the others for a class action lawsuit.
When I was served papers, I immediately called my attorney to let him know I wanted to call the plaintiff directly. Most people are afraid to be in direct communication, but I think that is often another mistake.
So I called.
The plaintiff was surprised to hear from me and quickly deferred to his attorney.
The call was just long enough that I got the feeling this suit was more of his attorney’s idea than his. I also became suspicious his attorney was working on contingency.
The lawsuit was asking for 650,000 dollars in damages, even though he only invested 350,000. There would be no settlement, so off to the courtroom with a judge and jury.
My attorney and I had a history together.
This wasn’t the first time I was sued.
It was actually the third.
The first lawsuit was from someone I had only met briefly. They were a client of one of my partners that died in a plane crash. I met with most of my partner’s clients over a four-month span after their death and hosted an event for them as well. This particular person met someone at that event, invested with them, lost money, and sued lots of people, including me. It was dismissed in summary judgment.
The second time I was sued, it was my fault. Yeah, I hate to admit it.
I wanted to sell a ton of my first book Killing Sacred Cows before it was even released. In the process of pre-selling, I had someone offer to buy a huge bulk of books. I felt indebted to them. So, when they asked for some introductions to a real estate deal, I gave them one, without vetting the deal.
This client that invested lost money and when he did, I let him know that the person he lost money with, bought a bunch of books from me, and even though it wasn’t a direct form of compensation, I wouldn’t have made the introduction otherwise.
Later that week I got served.
I immediately called my attorney and conceded to most things in the letter, which he had never seen before. That is the strange thing about our legal process. People deny everything rather than take responsibility. Because responsibility leads to liability, but I had actually done something wrong here.
So we got on a call with my client’s attorneys and reached an agreement and payback plan. I only got something worth thousands of dollars in return for costing him hundreds of thousands and we both paid the price.
Once I paid this person back, I had dinner with him and we went over the lessons and the whole story.
It was healing and so helpful.
I asked for forgiveness.
I learned a lasting lesson.
An expensive and very painful lesson for sure, but one I won’t forget. And in that tough moment, my attorney could see I am imperfect no doubt, but willing to learn and restore integrity to the best of my ability, putting my money where my actions and mouth were.
When this lawsuit for the building came in, it was filled with misinformation, assumptions, and plenty to deny. My attorney knew I wasn’t compensated, he had experienced my referring nature firsthand. He had also seen me take responsibility for the book deal. Regardless, this was going to be another expensive lesson. 50k for the three days in court and that didn’t count preparation before and a few pieces after.
Most people don’t do things unless there is money exchanged, but my attorney had more referrals from me than any other client and never paid me a dime.
I like connecting people.
I’ve always felt that it wasn’t about tracking each transaction but showing up as a value creator so I could live a more prosperous life. Even if there wasn’t Financial Capital built, there was Relationship Capital, and to me, that is the most valuable capital in the world.
Going to court changed my life. I had never been to court or even inside a courthouse. I was nervous. This seemed intimidating, unknown, and scary.
But thankfully, my CEO/business partner was there by my side.
As I started to stress and worry, he put everything into perspective.
He reminded me what my value and vision were, the impact I would still make, and that this was a footnote in my story… not my whole story.
My wife had my back as well, showing up for the trial. She was instrumental in the jury selection process. Her intuition is a gift and was spot on.
She pointed out to my attorney that something seemed off with one of the potential jurors, and my attorney started to question him. That particular juror said that all defendants are guilty and he had been a plaintiff in over a dozen lawsuits with his business. We had already used two of our strikes with other people, this was a great one to use our last strike on.
Our strategy was to keep the more educated people, like attorneys, and the other side wanted to strike people with any level of experience or degrees, keeping students and younger jurors instead.
What a process.
The opening arguments from my attorney were spot-on and brilliant. He said that the plaintiff’s council would try to draw lines and conclusions from things that were not connected, he called out their exact strategy.
I had to restrain myself from the opening arguments from the plaintiff’s council. They were accusatory and inaccurate, but my attorney had warned me and told me to remain quiet, patient, and calm.
Through these three days, we ended up in the judge’s chambers twice, due to lack of evidence and him questioning the plaintiff’s counsel. The judge was giving a warning and asking for evidence. Their side kept saying it would happen when I came to the stand.
So, it came down to my time on the stand.
The first session was excruciating.
Reading through emails and verifying them.
It was slow, tedious, and frustrating.
But by the second session, it went from frustrating to liberating.
At the first recess, my attorney gave me permission to let it go, to speak freely as possible with any open-ended questions.
I could read the body language of the jury.
They got it.
There was an interaction with those jury members that I had felt as a speaker on stage before. They were following me, understanding me, and I lost any of the initial fear.
After two and a half days, it was time for the jury to make their decision. I wasn’t sure how long it would take, so I went a few blocks up the street to my gym.
On my walk there, I saw a disfigured and disabled homeless woman, missing both of her legs. She smiled at me. It really reached and impacted me at that moment. Her smile added value and her circumstance added perspective.
So I gave her some money and then a flood of gratitude enveloped my whole body. It was a tingling and warmth on a cold day.
Even though this woman had difficult circumstances, her smile was so loving.
I could choose to be happy no matter what the decision of the jury.
I have a great life.
I love my wife and kids.
I am close to my parents, in-laws, and siblings.
I have great friends.
It started to really appreciate all that I have, regardless of this trial. Regardless of the impact on my net worth, it didn’t have to impact my self-worth, my gratitude or love. Actually, it could help me see it more clearly. I felt a sense of peace knowing my purpose and knowing no matter the outcome, I had new insights to share and lessons that could help others in difficult situations
Before I made it to the gym, I got a call from my attorney, “It’s time”.
Wow, that was quick.
I ran back to the courthouse for the decision.
The judge called for the jury.
I was sitting and my palms started to sweat.
I started to shake my legs out of nervousness.
As the head juror stood up and the judge began to ask him the first of six questions.
My heart started intensely pounding.
I could hear my heartbeat, even more than I could hear the judge.
It was as if the judge was underwater or muted.
Then I heard the head juror say “Not Guilty”.
A huge release, sigh and breath.
Five more questions and five more times…
Not guilty .
It was a rush of adrenaline, excitement, and release each time.
I hugged my attorney.
But then I thought of the plaintiff and his losses.
He lost money. I did too and could feel for him.
It wasn’t a time to celebrate, but a time to walk over and shake his hand.
I let him know I was so sorry that he lost money.
Then I gave him a copy of a book that I loved and felt he would enjoy.
A peace offering.
He thanked me and then said something surprising… “Well, I had to try”.
I thought to myself, did you? Really?
I look over at his attorney, with his head buried in his hands.
He lost and didn’t get paid because it was on contingency.
I held back from reacting to the “I had to try” statement knowing it was more his attorney’s philosophy than his.
Even though I was found not guilty, I had made a mistake. One that I won’t forget.
I realized the building owner operated differently when faced with a difficult circumstance. I saw firsthand how someone I admired could be susceptible to scarcity. People operate differently when things are difficult or when they are in preservation mode.
What happens when someone’s back is against the wall?
What are the priorities then?
What happens when there is a real consequence to keeping or honoring their word?
We really get to know someone’s character and resilience when things aren’t going according to plan. Because the building owner had been trustworthy in the past, I didn’t look for the signs during hard times. They were there, I just chose not to see them.
Another mistake I made was getting caught up in something that wasn’t aligned with my Investor DNA, my purpose, and letting my ego guide the way (wanting to own and show off the building).
Commercial real estate is not my expertise. For me, it was a massive distraction, a costly one at that. I got distracted because I thought “more” was the goal.
More real estate.
Again, experience is hard to replace and a very, very effective way to learn.
Maybe not efficient, but effective.
Efficient would be learning it from a book or course, but sometimes those lessons don’t go as deep.
There are several lessons the painful teacher of experience showed me:
Communicate early and often.
Hard easy versus easy hard. Do the hard things up front to live an easier life along the way. Delivering bad news isn’t easy, asking for forgiveness isn’t easy, doing something of high impact and value isn’t always easy, but doing the hard things up front creates an easier life long term.
Mistakes don’t make you less lovable, they make you human.
Running or hiding from mistakes allows them power over you and prevents being present, being fulfilled, and robs joy. Mistakes unaddressed become blinders of value and destroyers of vision. Mistakes that go unaddressed, doom us to make the mistake again, or limit who we are in the name of avoidance.
When we take on more than we can handle, mistakes are inevitable.
So yes, I’ve made mistakes, but the biggest mistake, the biggest mistake would be to run or to hide. To limit my vision or value, or allow a mistake to define or derail me. It took time for me to forgive myself, but I chose to learn rather than run.
Live, love, learn, repeat.
So remember, you are not your mistakes if you own them and learn from them.
Do you know someone that might benefit from these insights, musings, and stories? Please share.