Building and launching a business requires sacrifice, something that isn’t easy to do unless you’re passionate about the work. That’s something Eric Weber experienced first hand when he worked with Drew Millard to launch 33 Realty—a full service, one-stop-shop real estate firm.
“When you’re young and starting a business you’ve got an idea of what it’s going to take but you don’t know the reality. You’ve got to pivot and be flexible,” said Weber.
Weber gave RE Journals a look inside what it took to start the business, including how the company hooked its big break client and what he learned through experience.
Weber met Millard at University of Illinois, where they both met their wives as well. Weber got a degree in accounting and Millard got his in engineering. After college, they tried real estate on the side and started renovating houses. They did deals for their friends and helped broker transactions in residential real estate.
At the time Weber had a job doing auditing at a large bankruptcy consulting firm. But, he knew from the start that the job just didn’t match up with his personality. In 2009, Millard left engineering and started working on what would become 33 Realty from his kitchen table. Weber wasn’t ready to let go of his full-time job but he helped Millard develop the business after hours.
At first they were just helping tenants look for apartments. Since it was a small company that meant doing everything—maintenance calls, managing properties and even collecting rent occasionally. But slowly they cultivated more business and realized they had a real opportunity to be a full service business. In 2012, Weber joined Millard full time and built out the business plan for their vision.
The idea was to create a company where clients had one point of contact for a variety of services including property management, leasing, construction, investment, lender services and everything in between. There wasn’t anyone else providing that and they knew being able to do anything for the client would give them a competitive edge.
The business graduated from Millard’s kitchen table to a basement office of a real estate developer that had gone under. They had a water cooler, a coffee pot and the kind of energy that only comes when you’re determined to succeed.
At first they weren’t getting too many clients who needed a full service approach, but that changed when Weber got a call from an old contact at his accounting job. They were connected to a client who was looking to invest $10 million in real estate—a huge amount of money compared to their previous clients. This client would give them the chance to prove their business model and Weber promised that they were capable and prepared to handle an investment of that size.
He presented a calm face to the client, but underneath he was hustling. They had never done a deal this big and hadn’t secured a general contractor license yet. But it all came through and the client turned into a long-term relationship.
“That first deal was our big break. It really gave us the confidence and credibility we needed. We worked a lot of long hours and had to figure out so many things along the way,” said Weber.
Years later Weber learned that the client knew exactly what they were getting into––they had private investigators do a background check. The reason they signed on with Millard and Weber was because they were looking for someone with spirit, someone who would bend over backwards to get the deal done.
“They needed people who were going to pour their heart and soul into the work. You know, meat and potatoes real estate. They wanted to make sure their investment performed and since it was our first real break everything was on the line for us,” said Weber.
Looking back, Weber sees his ignorance as a blessing because it shielded him from self-doubt. But the biggest lesson he’s learned in building a business is that hiring the right people is key. Without supportive partners such a Millard and Susan Beyler, who signed on later, it would have been a lot harder. Disagreement is natural between partners but when the company’s needs are put over individual goals, Weber said, decisions are easier to make.
“It takes a degree of nerve and drive to be an entrepreneur and it gives you blinders. So far as partners we’ve weathered the ups and downs and are closer than ever. In our work the product is in our people and you have to see where they’re coming from to make it work.” Weber said.