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How Robert Reffkin went from being a C-average student to the founder of Compass – TechCrunch


In April, actual property tech firm Compass solid forward with its preliminary public providing and is now valued at a number of billions of {dollars}.

At that time, TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm caught up with founder and CEO Robert Reffkin to chat about his firm’s debut in the market’s suddenly choppy waters for tech and tech-enabled debuts.

This week, I caught up with Reffkin on a complete different subject: his path to entrepreneurship as a little one raised by a disowned single mom whose father had died homeless. Reffkin is so obsessed with inspiring others from nontraditional backgrounds to pursue their desires that he wrote a book about it.

In our dialogue, Reffkin shared what he believes are the secrets and techniques to his success (trace: one of them entails tons of listening) and his recommendation for his younger entrepreneurs, particularly these from non-privileged backgrounds.

This interview has been edited for brevity and readability.

TC: As the mom of a teen who’s already making an attempt to begin his personal enterprise, I’m intrigued by your DJing as a teenager. What lastly bought you motivated to care about college and the way did you handle to graduate in such a quick quantity of time?

Reffkin: Well, I feel your son would possibly simply be on the proper observe! Please give him a phrase of encouragement from me, from one entrepreneur to one other.

My mother says that a lot of different mother and father thought she was loopy for letting me launch my DJ enterprise. But beginning a profitable DJ enterprise in highschool helped me find out about myself and my ardour for entrepreneurship — and it in the end helped me get into Columbia, forming the core of each my private assertion and the relationships I constructed with a number of members of the admissions group.

I imagine the first step is all the time to dream huge. For me, my huge desires for my faculty future began on a journey to New York City. I toured Columbia and fell in love with it, however I knew it was going to be laborious for me to get in. In reality, my highschool steerage counselor mentioned, “Don’t even apply. It wouldn’t be worth your time and money on the application fee.” In that second, my need to go to Columbia went from robust to absolute, as a result of all of the sudden it felt prefer it was about one thing bigger than myself — not simply the place I went to college, however about a broader wrestle for alternative for individuals like me. So I poured myself into my SAT prep to present that despite the fact that I had a C common, I had what it took to sustain at a high college. And fortunately, it paid off. 

In highschool and faculty, I used to be a C-student partially as a result of I didn’t see how finding out calculus or Western Civilization associated to my life or my desires. I knew that excelling at school wasn’t going to be the manner I used to be going to distinguish myself in the world. At the similar time, I used to be energized by my entrepreneurial efforts and my summer season internships. I moved as rapidly as I may to get by means of college and have my actual life start, as a result of the actual world made a lot extra sense to me.

TC: How do you suppose being raised by a single mom with out privilege helped form you as a man, and entrepreneur? How would you say being a particular person of coloration impacted your path?

Reffkin: Growing up, it was simply me and my mother. She’s an Israeli immigrant, disowned by her mother and father as a result of I used to be Black. My father deserted us and died, homeless, after I was younger. What formed me most as an entrepreneur was studying from my mom. She embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and taught me one of the most necessary rules: each time you get knocked down, you’ve bought to bounce again with ardour. I noticed her face unhealthy relationships, chapter and the stream of day by day rejections that comes from being an agent. And she all the time bounced again. So when the world informed me I couldn’t do one thing or that I used to be destined to fail, I used to be prepared for them. Thanks to my mother, I already knew how to bounce again.

Robert and Ruth Reffkin

Image Credits: CEO Robert Reffkin & mom, Ruth / Compass

Being Black and Jewish, I’ve felt out of place my whole life. In most courses in highschool and faculty, I used to be the solely Black particular person. In virtually each assembly early in my profession, I used to be the solely Black particular person. When I used to be elevating capital for Compass, I virtually by no means noticed somebody Black on the different aspect of the desk. But I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been fortunate to get terrific recommendation alongside the manner from so many Black mentors, from the late Vernon Jordan, to Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, to Bayo Ogunlesi, who’s lead director for Goldman Sachs. There’s a actually robust neighborhood of individuals who’ve all supported one another.

TC: You’ve had some spectacular mentors over the years. How did these relationships develop? How have they been worthwhile apart from the apparent? 

Reffkin: Growing up, I used to be hungry for recommendation. Coming from a single-parent house, I appeared for steerage and knowledge on how to create a higher life wherever I may discover it. My mother related me to a number of nonprofits after I was in highschool that helped open my eyes to how a lot alternative and help there was on the market in the world. 

The most necessary lesson I’ve discovered in my life is that suggestions is a reward. Even when it’s laborious to hear, suggestions is a reward. My relationships with many of my mentors deepened as a result of I began asking them for actually powerful, candid suggestions — the kind of issues they thought different individuals wouldn’t inform me. And then, I’d truly take their recommendation, apply it in my life and allow them to know the way it had helped me. That did two issues: First, it led to extra trustworthy and sensible recommendation that helped me get higher sooner. Second, it made the individuals who had given me recommendation really feel way more invested in my success and the success of what I used to be engaged on.

The different factor my mentors gave me was the sense that despite the fact that the world was telling me I couldn’t achieve success, I could possibly be. Meeting somebody like Vernon Jordan who suggested presidents and CEOs alike, had a profound affect on me. He was a father determine to me. I met him after I was 23 years outdated, and at the moment, it wasn’t clear to me that you may achieve success in the enterprise world as a Black man. I simply hadn’t seen it earlier than. When I began at Lazard, Vernon Jordan was the solely different Black funding banker there. He was not simply a senior companion, he was a legend, broadly recognized for serving on extra Fortune 500 boards than anybody in historical past. He took a robust curiosity in me, and together with his help and recommendation, he made me really feel like I belonged and helped me see a path the place I could possibly be as profitable as I wished to be. 

I based a nonprofit in my twenties known as America Needs You that has supplied mentorship, profession growth and faculty help to 1000’s of college students. I wrote my new e book, “No One Succeeds Alone,” as a manner to pay it ahead by making the classes I’ve been lucky sufficient to be taught from so many exceptional individuals out there to everybody — and it’s why I’m donating all of my proceeds to nonprofits that assist younger individuals notice their desires.

TC: What recommendation would you give to younger, aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly these from non-privileged backgrounds?

Reffkin: Here’s the recommendation I’d give to somebody from an underrepresented group who simply graduated faculty and is of their first job:

1) Don’t let anybody get in the manner of your dream. Not society, not your colleagues, not even your self. Whenever anybody tells you to decelerate, velocity up.

2) Spend the subsequent 10 years studying as a lot as you’ll be able to from the smartest individuals you’ll be able to. Find mentors in your job and out of doors that offers you the trustworthy suggestions that others gained’t. Feedback is a reward. It’ll be laborious for you to hear, but it surely’s truly even tougher for them to give it to you. So you could have to ask for it immediately and let individuals know you can take it.

3) Learn how to flip negativity into optimistic power that fuels you. There will all the time be skeptics, doubters and haters telling you you can’t do one thing or that you simply don’t belong. 

TC: What’s subsequent after Compass?

Reffkin: I imagine that to be really profitable, you’ll be able to’t have a Plan B. As a CEO, you’ve got to be all-in, and that’s what I’m for Compass: 100% devoted to our 23,000 brokers and staff. One of my mentors informed me about the “shower test” as soon as — that in the event you’re not excited sufficient about your job to give it some thought in the bathe, you’re in all probability not in the proper job. And I’ll let you know: I’m so obsessed with the firm we’re constructing that I’m nonetheless enthusiastic about Compass in the bathe. At Compass, we’ve achieved a lot in the previous eight years, however we’re really simply getting began. 



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