Today we're joined by Neal Bawa, founder and CEO of Grocapitus Investments, a real estate investment company that sources, negotiates, and acquires commercial properties across the United States. Today we discuss Neal's secrets to building a team of virtual assistants including where to look, factors to look at for hiring, and managing a team in a virtual environment. We also discuss why Neal started Grocapitus in the first place and the challenges he has faced along the way.
Grocapitus Investments buys and builds multifamily, industrial, self-storage, and student housing projects with an average size of about 200 units per property. Grocapitus invests in 9 states with about 500 active investors in 47 states.
Why Real Estate?
Neal is a data science expert, a computer science graduate. He never intended to get into real estate. He was exposed to the industry through a former employer, and began to realize that real estate was a great investment. However, some people close to Neal were looking to dissuade him from entering. Neal decided to prove these individuals wrong, so he purchased 10 single family homes in the first year to prove this can be successful.
When the time came to switch to real estate full-time, Neal felt challenged to figure out the best cities, neighborhoods, and markets in the United States.
"This really came about because of a challenge that I took upon myself, an obsession about figuring out the best cities and markets in the United States. That obsession led me to real estate, not any kind of plan."
"Doing new things is how you bring value to your life."
Many people believe their day jobs are secure, and the entrepreneurship or real estate investment is a huge risk. Neal believes the opposite is true. The day job is the risk - the entrepreneurship and real estate investment is what will lead you to security and freedom.
Traditional day jobs have changed a ton over the last several decades. In the 60's, 70's, and 80's, it wasn't uncommon for individuals to stay 35 years at a large company before retiring. Now, individuals stay at a job for about 17 months. Job security is dropping every year. The world has changed. The Master's degree is the new Bachelor's degree. You need more education for less job security.
"By the time you're done with four years of a job, it's time to go away. For the rest of your life, for better or for worse, you need to control your own destiny... We haven't even hit that technological peak where a humongous portion of U.S. jobs are outsourced."
Neal has a deep-rooted belief that the ideal organizational structure has a remote component and a localized component - a hybrid model. Neal has 8 people in the United States and 16 people in other countries. Those 8 people are in different cities and states. This model isn't about saving money on payroll. It's about boosting your growth.
In the beginning, this model was painful to setup. First, there's a cultural clash. Individuals in the Philippines or India act differently in the workplace than those in the U.S. Second, the overall quality of people working as virtual assistants is low. It's difficult to find the 1/100 or 1/200 candidates that really work and fit with your company.
Neal uses Upwork.com, as it providers filters for quality and provides data on performance. Neal's filter system brings the talent pool from about 200,000 people to about 2,000 people, for example. Example filters: length of time working on Upwork, number of different employers through Upwork, and feedback over 96% positive. After these filters are applied, Neal reads the individual written reviews.
For management, Neal uses the Chrome Plugin 'Loom'. Loom records the screen, video, and audio. Neal talk about the process for just a couple of minutes. Neal doesn't write manuals with screenshots. He records visual manuals because it takes significantly less time. Osana, Neal's project management system, has the ability to receive emails and use the subject line as a task description. Neal sends the URL of the recording to the individual and to Osana, and Osana automatically adds the information to the project management system.
"We keep [the videos] fairly short, because if you tie too many tasks in, then you have too many updates. It's better to keep [the videos] to about two minutes. Let's say you have a major task with five sections. Record five different videos. That way, if one section changes, you're not messing with the other videos."
"We gave too much credence to what was going to happen in the future, and not enough to what was happening on the ground."
Neal invested in an apartment building in Chicago, and immediately ran into vacancy issues. He needed 90% occupancy, and the property was only getting about 10% of the lead flow necessary to support 90% occupancy. This low lead flow was going to quickly lead to high vacancy. The previous operator had no sort of tenant screening so they were able to keep occupancy higher. The next day, Neal hired two outsourced teams to list and market the building very aggressively.
He was enamored by future plans nearby such as a library to be built, investment from the Obama family intended to improve the area, and a golf course that Tiger Woods was planning to build nearby. These developments were delayed at least four years due to lawsuits and other holdups, and Neal had a major struggle dealing with investors and lenders during this time.
To prevent this going forward, Neal has instituted more transparency with monthly updates, evictions, challenges the property is facing, and current updates on unique circumstances and events. If there are any extreme events happening to or around the property, Neal relays this information to his investors with no filter.
Learn more about Neal and his work: https://www.grocapitus.com/