In this week's recap, Seychelle Van Poole and fellow Empire Builders Vija Williams, Sarah Reynolds, and Wendy Papasan share their Empire Building stories.
In this 2 part series we will be interviewing all 4 of our empire builders. This is a long recap, but there is so much amazing wisdom and experience to be shared!
Let’s start with Sarah Reynolds!
Sarah first met Seychelle when she used her for a referral in Texas. They decided to meet at a Starbucks in Virginia not long after — that was 12 years ago. What sparked their friendship was the mother/daughter real estate team they both had in common. Seychelle expresses how Sarah has always picked something and stuck with it, and how it’s led to her massive success. Seychelle then proceeded to ask the following questions:
How did you get into real estate?
Sarah was right out of college with a business degree and knew she wanted to go into the business. Sarah’s mother had just joined Keller William in 1999, and had just started to understand team building. She grew quickly with an assistant’s help which took her to about 30 sales. Then she had to have major back surgery. She was the only agent — just her and her assistant. As we all know, showing homes can be very physical.
When Sarah was about to graduate, her mother called her and said “I really would love for you to get your license and come help me.” Knowing family is her core, she got her license, yet thought it would be temporary. Sarah’s intent was to work for a short period of time in real estate then go back to retail. She had worked the customer service desk and handled customer issues with ease, and thought real estate would lead into a management role. She thought that was her path. Sarah started off in real estate as her mother’s buyer agent in 2006. Two years after that she sat down with her mom and said “Ok, I’m ready to go.”
Sarah expands on this decision by explaining that being in business with family can make it hard to separate personal and business. At the age of 22, her mom was her hero. When you start to work with someone that closely you see their strengths and weaknesses. A dynamic shift happened at this point. The shift from the mother-daughter relationship to a business partnership.
When Sarah sat down with her mom to tell her she would be leaving real estate after 2 years, Sarah couldn’t believe the next thing her mother said. She said, “You know I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and I really think YOU are better suited to build a team.”
Sarah’s mother then told her to learn and focus on listings. In her early 20’s, Sarah couldn’t imagine selling and representing a client’s largest asset. Sarah’s mother had all the faith in Sarah to be a better boss and grow an empire, and Sarah’s desire for success went into overdrive knowing she had someone who truly believed in her.
Sarah’s mother was truly a visionary who helped her create a future. Sarah’s mother told Seychelle last year, “I love having Sarah as my boss.”
What was your first move or hire for you? What did it do for your business?
Sarah walked us though her first move to grow the business. Her first hire was an Inside Sales Agent, with the purpose to buy back her time and spend more time attending listing appointments and closings. She is still with Sarah today. The next hire was Sasha, as a buyer’s agent. Sasha is now the director of growth for Sarah’s team. It was during this initial period of growth that Sarah became addicted to team building and development.
Sasha’s story helped her discover a vision for the future. Sasha followed her everywhere and learned everything since Sarah didn’t have any formal training lined up. Skip to a year later and Sasha was on her way onto her first vacation. She sends Sarah a text saying that if it weren’t for Sarah, she wouldn’t be going on this vacation and able to pay for it herself. Sarah says this text changed her life, and made her want to continue to change other people’s lives. She loves helping others achieve a great life with great income.
Sarah was very happy to report that her average net income per agent is $172,000. Sarah says, “It’s not about Sarah Reynolds having a big life. It’s never been about Sarah Reynolds having a big business. It’s about what can I do, and what can my empire can do to create big lives for those around me.”
The real estate industry has the potential to deliver a huge impact on peoples’ lives. Most realtors get into the business to help others and give others the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
Expand on how you built your personal family as your empire has grown.
Sarah married in 2009, the same year she starting taking over her mother’s team. They then grew their family by having three kids. This meant three maternity absences while growing her organization. Sarah was able to take time completely off because of her amazing team. Each year Sarah had a child, her empire achieved their largest growth.
Sarah has always said, “the strongest men can handle the strongest women.” Sarah’s husband George is a true life partner and business partner. Sarah says that George has been an amazing partner by taking care of this kids while she travels so she can continue to grow her business. This gave Sarah the ability to share her vision.
Next, we pivot to an amazingly passionate leader, Vija Williams.
Vija what is your background and how did you get into real estate?
Vija was a typical real estate agent in her 30s. She sold a lot of real estate, and sometimes worked too hard along with volunteering for her kids’ school twice a week. Vija claims she was in the cycle of, “You sell X amount of homes, make X amount of income, you buy a home, then you go to Disney world.” Then something happened when Vija turned 39 or 40. An internal drive and desire to have a bigger life became more apparent.
In 2009, the market was in a downturn and she was about to give birth to her 3rd child. Vija already had 2 boys. When Vija gave birth to her baby girl, she came as a premature 4 pound newborn. She was also on verge of losing her home. Vija stated this was the time she had to make some serious changes and life decisions. She recalled meeting with her husband in an absolutely broken state.
Vija expanded on this state, saying her interesting relationship with money, was the problem. She always spent too much money because she made a lot of money. When the downturn happened, real estate stopped. Since Vija and her husband were both in real estate, this was a bad spot to be in. This was also her most pivotal moment because she had 2 ways to go: Curl up in fetal position or put on her battle armor and fight. Vija told her husband she was going to suit up and fight. At this moment, Vija changed brokers and moved to Keller Williams.
Vija recalls her first year at Keller Williams being about survival. She had been at a local regional branch that didn’t have any national conventions or exposure. Keller Williams was a very different mountain to climb. She used her brother-in-law’s frequent flyer miles and shared a room with her team leader at the Red Roof Inn just to attend her first national convention with Keller Williams. Vija says she will never forget sitting next to a bunch of people she didn’t know and watching guest speakers talk about their big businesses. Vija remembers grabbing the person next to her and saying “Did they just say 700 homes?! Did I just hear them say that?!” Vija says this was something she had never been exposed to and she couldn’t believe what they were saying. She said, “My mind just exploded!”
Vija was burnt out from selling homes and was not getting joy from it. Vija says her move to Keller Williams was her on the path of seeking something she did not yet know. Vija has always been a fierce advocate of staying attached to the process but not the outcome. Looking back now, Vija says she was truly attached to a “self involvement process” she was going through and gave up understanding where the outcome was leading.
Very early on this journey a little before she started her team, a guy named Ben Kinney bought her market center. Vija was in a little brokerage and she was about to be kicked out by the landlords. Ben Kinney came into the office one day to introduce himself and let them know that he now owned their office. Vija went on with her life. One day, Ben offered to coach Vija. Vija said,“Yeah. That would be great. I want to do more. I want to be like those people on stage.”
What did your business look like then?
Vija admits she never knew her number. Vija could tell you how much she made at her former brokerage but she never tracked her numbers. The only person who told Vija her volume for the first time was someone who worked at Keller Williams. In Vija’s first year at KW, she did $9.6 million. Then she put a team together the following year and did $25 million after one year of Ben’s coaching.
Vija talked about how hard it would be to track down Ben and schedule a coaching session. She would call/text along with calling and texting Ben’s assistant. She would drive 90 minute there and 90 minutes back just for a session. Vija did this once or twice a month for years. At some point Ben said, “You know you can just call me? I need to see how you interact and what you say to your people. Then I need you to break it down for me when we’re behind closed doors.” Through this apprentice relationship, Vija went from $25 million to $37 million to $48 million to $70 million. It was about a 700% increase in 4 years.
As Vija was making these achievements, she started getting national attention. Vija says that her ego loved it but she was miserable. At a certain point when Vija would go on stage and talk about how great everything was, she felt as if her growth stopped. Vija was great at generating revenue and income but expense management was not her jam.
Speak to us about your journey of embracing failure as an empire builder.
Vija was on an ego journey. She received a lot of external validation and attention which she thrived on. Vija then went through an internal growth period and decided she was no longer wanted to just “look good and be right.” She wanted to focus on, “what is best for me and my life and the people around me.” She spoke about a massive failure of her team falling apart at a very prestigious real estate conference. This was a very pivotal moment because the result would either be career suicide or the best thing she’s ever going to do for her career.
It turned out to be the best thing she ever did. Vija has no skeletons in her closet and feels freed up to talk about it. Vija’s intentions were to motivate people to be the best person they can be. She felt led to start speaking about the failures we all experience. She didn’t want to be part of the masses who just go up paint a rosy picture all the time. It is important to share failures.
Vija believes this started her next major move. This was a journey Vija never saw coming. As she continued to be coached by Ben Kinney, Ben became a major figure in Vija’s life and a good friend. Vija looked up one day and Ben had 6 brokerages, one of the largest national teams in the country, and a tech company. Vija recalls going up for a coaching session and suddenly they had almost the whole 2nd floor of the office building. Vija fully understood how big his empire had grown. When you’re with someone everyday, you don’t see the change. But if 3 or 6 months go by and then you see them, it can blow you away.
Vija climbed to great heights. At Vija’s peak she reached $1.7 million in revenue — only 2% of women-owned businesses reach $1 million in revenue. Vija was truly honored and considered it a blessing, but she was miserable. Vija realized she wanted to go higher, and do this, she had to climb back down the mountain and walk over to a new mountain to figure where she wanted to go in the next 10 years.
Vija went from a team of 7 people to 1350 agents overnight. It was a shock to the system. Ben Kinney knew Vija so well when he hired her, it made her worried. At the end of the day Vija knew that Ben knew who she was and how she will show up through the good, bad, and the ugly. She now runs Ben Kinney Companies’ brokerage division and involved in leadership behind mortgage, title, and escrow.
Sarah affirmed it takes “grit, a lot of problem solving, and a lot of guts.” Vija was put in a position — for the first time in her life — where she leads the people who lead the agents. Truly a leadership role. This was only a year and a half ago and Vija exclaims she is extremely happy and having fun again now — 180 degrees from where she came.
Next, we’ll dive into Seychelle’s interview!
Seychelle swore up and down that she would never get into real estate. Seychelle’s parents had their own business and she grew up in a business environment. She started at the Apparel Mart making her first steps to work in her family retail business. While Seychelle was in high school she started merchandising and helping her parents when she could. Then when Seychelle was a senior in high school, her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Healthcare did not provide for pre-existing conditions so Seychelle’s mother went to work for a large corporation for the health insurance. She said the whole family was really depressed about this.
What happened next?
Seychelle’s parents suggested when she go to college that she stay local, at least until her junior year. She decided to live at home and commute to college. Every day Seychelle drove from Plano to Denton for college, downtown Dallas to work, then back home to Plano. She was ready to be a junior very quickly to get away. To get there, she figured out how to become a junior in a year. She accomplished this challenge, then in her senior year of college, started cold calling all of the CEOs of the companies she wanted to work for.
After college, Seychelle worked for DW Worldwide. She had aspirations of going straight to the top. When Seychelle moved to New York, she vowed to never return to Dallas. Seychelle’s mother, Barbara Van Poole, got into real estate business in 2001, actually securing her license on September 11th.
Then Seychelle’s dad came to visit in New York — and it was a wake up call. Seychelle realized that her parents had no one to take care of them while her mother takes care of her father. Seychelle looked ahead 20 years and realized her own salary would barely be enough to support her family and not nearly enough to help her parents as well. She then looked at how many hours she would be spending at work — 70 or more hours a week. Seychelle asked herself, “Do I really want to work to live? Or do I want to live to work?”
Tell us how you moved forward to build your perfect life.
Seychelle knew she had to build security for her family. Even at the age of 21, this was extremely clear. “Parkinson’s has given us a lot of gifts,” Seychelle says. The biggest lesson she learned from her dad was that you cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control the attitude you keep and the actions you take.
Once Seychelle knew she was going to move back to Texas, she starting taking real estate classes from New York. Seychelle’s mom had been in real estate 3 years before she made her way back to Texas. Seychelle joined her as one of her buyer’s agents.
At the age of 21, Seychelle attended her first Happy Hour. She felt like she was 21 trying to look 30. At this networking event, Seychelle met Jeff. Jeff was 73 years young who dressed like a true Texan — cowboy hat and all. Seychelle asked what he did in real estate Jeff just simply said “I’m kind of in real estate but I own rental properties.” Jeff proceeded to tell Seychelle that he had about 100 properties and they all cash flow about $1,000 a month, which piqued her interest in what a life in real estate could look like.
Tell us a bit about your husband Nick.
Seychelle went on to marry Nick, her college sweetheart, who she had know since they were 15. When they were got married, they immediately started planning for the future. They registered at any place that would allow them to return their gifts for cash. Seychelle made a spreadsheet, wrote all the thank you notes but returned all the gifts. This is how they bought their first rental property. They closed on their first rental for $155,00 with 5% down. They bought the property 13 years ago and only owe $50,000 on it. The home is now worth $325,000. During their time of ownership, they have had the same tenants the whole time. Zero turn over!
Fast forward 13 years later to now, tell us about your Empire now.
Something Seychelle feels that she does very well is her ability to listen to someone else’s experience, learn from it, and directly apply it into a growth opportunity for her.
The lesson Seychelle learned about the rental property game is that things can be synergistic. Seychelle tells us there are 3 key components that have to be present for it to work. The right people, the right opportunity, and the right time in the market. If you sacrifice any of those 3, you will always fail.
In regards to her role as a lead, Seychelle says her goal is to see her people “live to be happier, healthier and wealthier.”
Finally, we have Wendy Papasan!
How did the decision to become net worth millionaires come to you and Jay?
Wendy explained that this was truly through the spark of who she knew. Wendy’s husband, Jay was at Keller Williams and was required to take a class on how to read a profit and loss statement run by Mo Anderson. Jay ended up being only one to showed up. Although Mo could have chosen to reschedule the class, she instead sat down with Jay for a one-on-one. She showed him how to read a P&L along with how to track his net worth, which he took home and applied. This was a big wake up call for them both.
How did you feel when Jay came home with this plan?
Wendy did not believe this was something that was possible. She was raised to understand money is bad, money is evil, and you have to cheat to get it. Wendy and her husband did not own a home and had just moved to Austin. After sitting down and looking at their numbers they realized their net worth was about $2,200. They immediately bought their first home, which is now, 3 years later, a rental property. They then set huge goals to become net worth millionaires in 10 years, have $75,000 in passive income, and 10 rental properties.
What were your next steps?
It wasn’t until three years late that they really started investing in real estate. They bought another home. Jay was writing The Millionaire Real Estate Investor. At this point, they had not made a single investment though. They decided to go in with a few partners to flip a home in Austin. Wendy shares with us that it was “wildly” unsuccessful and only netted each partner about $500.
You had a 10 year goal, how long did it take you to hit it?
The same 10 year goal was accomplished in 6 years. Wendy constantly put back into investing to watch her net worth grow. Wendy recalled their mindset of, “What can we put away for today to create opportunity for tomorrow?”
Wendy’s definition of wealthy is “Do you have enough passive income to fund your perfect life?” Then go a step further and ask, “are you working towards that on a day basis?” More importantly, she implores us to consider how are you taking that wealth and giving back to the community. Wendy’s passion now is helping people build wealth in real estate. Wendy and Jay hold a potluck at her home every month to discuss wealth building. They call it the “Hot Millionaire Club”. Everyone shares their net worth and and sets their goals. Then they keep each other accountable. The #1 habit Wendy kept was tracking their numbers all the time.
Empire building is a lot of decisions that lead to small incremental gains over time. Then, all of the sudden, it all takes off. Very few companies automatically take off — it is doable in a decade though. It’s not about revenue and income, it’s about taking that revenue to buy assets. Understanding your relationship with money is the first step. If you do not know, seek a mentor to help you understand is where to begin your journey.
What is the 1 thing you would like our viewers to hear from your story?
Wendy closed out by highlighting that your habits are who you will be. Tracking your net worth, spending less than what you make, and saving the rest to put toward assets are the first few habits to start with. This leads you to action — purchasing investment properties, assets, and building businesses.
Although each journey has been different, all of these Empire Builders have become leaders in building wealth and business. To hear more from these talented Empire Builders, download the Empire Building podcast today through your podcast app or by visiting https://go.kw.com/empire-building.