What’s the inspiration behind Temple I? How’d you land on this property?
It’s funny, actually. Back in 2016, shortly after doing my first deal, I had some old friends from Denmark visiting. I wanted to show them a good time, so I said let’s take a road trip to Philly.
When I got there, I somehow ended up on a detour around Temple University. And it was like a time lapse of gentrification—you could literally see the neighborhood transforming. It looked like a mix of 2005 Bed Stuy and 2018 Williamsburg. Land was going for as little as $5,000.
Every time I went there, there was a new building up. Plus, I loved the modular architecture of Philly’s new construction. Anyway, fast forward a year later, my dad came to visit and I told him about it. We looked at some vacant lots and we decided to pull the trigger on a corner lot.
Tell us about your foray into real estate—what drew you to this field and how did you get your start?
About two weeks after I moved to New York, I ended up co-hosting a boxing show on SiriusXM. Somehow, I was making money winning writing competitions at the time. The runner-up, Randy Gordon, is a broadcast legend and the former commissioner of the New York State Athletic Commission—which governs wrestling, boxing, MMA and so on. He was also the host, which is how he put me on.
Long story short, I started seeing that people of influence and wealth were making money in real estate. I wasn’t talking to my family at the time and I refused to reach out to ask for help financially. I wanted to be set up financially so that they would come ask me for help instead; and I figured real estate was the way.
You know how they say you become your environment? I was 30 with no money. So I reached out to TheStreet and offered to write real estate articles for free, to gain access to people and build my network. At first, I knew nothing so I’d just do Q&As and transcribe the conversations. However, little by little, the jargon became colloquial and next thing I knew, I was in.
What was the first property you ever invested in and how did you choose it?
My first deal was an FHA-financed triplex in Journal Square, Jersey City. Which is also where I’m developing now. Once I decided I wanted to get in the game, I just tried to figure out how to go about doing it. At first, I was looking at condos in Atlanta. They were $100,000 and I figured that was an attainable goal. I went to an event and told one of the speakers—a prominent developer—about my interest in investing in real estate.
Once I said condo, he scrunched his nose. “Why? You’re too exposed to vacancy”. He meant that one tenant could leave and you’re stuck having to pay the mortgage yourself. He encouraged me to go for multiple units. Once I realized you could buy properties with up to four apartments with just 3.5% down, it was a wrap from there. I saved up towards that.
As far as the actual property, I was looking all over Brooklyn. Duplexes priced at $750K. Meanwhile, in Jersey City, you could get three apartments in one property for the same price. And Journal Square was closer to Manhattan than some of those filthy, overpriced deep-in-Brooklyn houses. It just seemed like common sense. Turns out I was right, Journal Square had a development boom and the property went up to $1.2M in value. Things just started to happen from there.
Your family is stacked with impressive athletic talent. What lessons have you learned growing up surrounded by professional athletes?
Well, none greater than the Stunna Man (which is me). I just went in a different direction because I wasn’t really ‘bout that athletic life. So that’s a question better posed for Martin [Braithwaite]. Let’s ask him. In all seriousness, I first lived in the U.S. in Kansas City, living with a super close family friend who’s a bonafide NFL legend.
That just taught me work ethic on a totally different level. We don’t really have that level of tenacity in Denmark. Even Martin went over to train there during holiday seasons while his teammates would go binge-drinking. He’d throw up from training sessions. True story. So it’s just a level of tenacity and grit you see that you can’t help but be inspired by.
You co-founded NYCE Companies with your nephew, FC Barcelona soccer player Martin Braithwaite. What's it like working with family?
It’s incredible. I really couldn’t be happier. It’s stuff we’ve talked about since we were kids, eventually doing this. When Martin got his first contract, he, my dad, and my dad’s two brothers were looking at an apartment building in Berlin. I remember being super jealous. So I asked him, “When I get out of business school, can I invest in a deal with you guys?” He said, “Yes, of course!”
So that’s really just what we ended up doing. Philosophically, Martin and myself are more bold. My dad is a prudent, outstanding (but conservative) businessman. He’s also old school. He’s a master at money management and building wealth over time. But he’s also from a small town of 70,000 people. People don’t really think as big there.
Martin and I, we’re the only two people from there that have gone to where we are now. Danish people don’t like to leave home. We’re both bold and totally fearless—literally. We think big, but we are also very grounded. With my dad in there too, it makes for a good mix. Plus, he’s a genius when it comes to utilization of square footage. One of the best alive. He started the retail component of a kitchen/bath franchise, which has grown to 13 countries. He and Martin are both my idols. Those two have probably been the most instrumental and supportive, of all people that I’ve been around in my lifetime. It’s an absolute honor and privilege to work with them.
Tell us more about the mission driving your real estate development company, NYCE.
Our mission is to help 100,000 people become first-time investors and, eventually, millionaires by 2030. Although it sounds super bold, it's not really. It would only be 0.5% of the total millionaire population, most of which are made from real estate.
It’s crazy—and not to sound like a new age guru or anything—but people don’t know how much power they really have over their own circumstances. There are just so many misconceptions about life, particularly about money. For example, that you have to be born into it, that you have to be smart, that you have to know the right people, be lucky, etc.
For instance, right now, median black wealth is on pace to drop to $0 by 2053. That’s insane. The reality is that most of the consumer money is spent in minority communities, but little wealth remains.
While there are residual systemic remnants in the U.S. on a macro level, nothing stops the individual from a micro standpoint. It’s no different than basketball. Tall players, statistically, have a better chance at succeeding but that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for a point guard.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced throughout your career in real estate?
I don’t really look at things through the lens of failures or setbacks, just growth triggers. Every growth experience usually comes right after some sort of setback. So, I don’t harp too much on individual happenings. Like Ray Dalio says, it’s "just another one of those".
If I had to choose, it would probably be when I was first learning the ins and outs of being a landlord and not to rent to friends. I was in Denmark, my mother had just passed away, and I had an empty unit that I didn’t feel like renting out because I was caught up with other stuff. I had two friends that said “We’ll take care of it, don’t worry about it!” I’m sure they meant well but what they really wanted was a friendly hookup. Unfortunately, real estate doesn’t work that way. A hook-up means negative cash flow.
So what ended up happening was that the landlord-tenant relationship was conflated by, and with, the personal one. Rent was late, they didn’t treat the furniture well, requests were frivolous. Overall, it wasn’t a healthy dynamic. It ended up impacting that relationship, which I’ve since learned is very common. However, that comes with the territory. For those situations you live, learn and move on.
More recently, probably to not take things personally. People are human beings and sometimes business decisions are made that don’t factor in emotion. For instance, we had two construction loans lined up plus a credit line. Once Covid-19 hit, they went away. So we had to bankroll construction from savings.
You can’t complain, you just gotta roll with the punches.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself during your real estate journey?
Yes. But I think that happens in any journey where you’re committed to growth. And that is there is no shortcut or way to get around the fact that if you want to change your current circumstances, it comes with a lot of sacrifice, pain, heartbreak and heartache. That just is what it is. It’s like when you’re working out, doing those last few pushups. They friggin’ hurt way more than the first. But that’s where the gains are made.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
The reason I went with the Reg CF was because it offered me an opportunity to start building towards creating 100,000 millionaires of color by offering direct access to what we’ve built in the past few years. I’ve only seen real estate used once for Reg CF on a meaningful level—it’s typically a vehicle for founders to raise money right before raising seed rounds. We’d done that successfully on another platform, in a pandemic no less.
When Republic acquired Compound, which had a similar model of micro-investment in real estate, it just seemed like a perfect, symbiotic fit. For one, Republic champions diversity-led companies and actively tries to address that. Secondly, our TEMPLE I project seemed like a natural extension in terms of the offerings already listed on Republic Real Estate. Plus, the UI/UX is sick.
How do you handle setbacks?
Don’t take them personally, embrace full accountability and just accept them as growth triggers. Or like a vaccine. Once exposed to it, you know how to handle it and become immune. “Just another one of those.”
What's your kryptonite?
Hmm, I can be a little too nice, which is what a lot of people say. I don’t hold grudges, but I think that can be a strength also. Maybe that I’m also introverted? So I don’t go out and enjoy life as much as I should. Also, I can be very tough and blunt but I’m never, ever malicious.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Yes, I’m a vicious prankster. That’s my vice. Martin and I are horrible and we prank family all the time. His dad in particular is a gullible simpleton. Then, I play it on IG. It’s hilarious.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I like to read a lot. I’m just addicted to growth. So, I want to make sure I’m better each day, somehow. Some trackable item, something I learned, a new insight. I love boxing, the application of boxing, although there hasn’t been sparring options in the pandemic. Physical combat is a truth serum, so you find out who you really are. You also learn to think clearly while in danger. Oh, and I love to ride my eScooter throughout the city.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Audit your circle rigorously and immerse yourself in the environment you’re in now. Network more confidently. People always overestimate others and underestimate themselves. Also, I started posting videos on Instagram during the pandemic and my following went from friends to 53K+ people. Which has helped so much. So maybe tell my 2015 self to do that then. But then again, things come when they’re ready.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Be a blessing to people—it pays back tenfold. Oh, and another important one from my dad. He said, “you don’t get rich from the big money coming in, but the small money going out".