“Do you know how many people didn’t think that we’d be where we are today?” said Compass Founder and CEO Robert Reffkin at a recent all-agent meeting in Washington, D.C.
“Just go to Google News, and type in Compass, and you will see five years of people saying you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna go bankrupt, investors are gonna walk, and agents are gonna leave.”
“Five years of negativity, but guess how much time I spent thinking about it,” Reffkin added as he held up the number zero.
Reffkin, along with COO Maelle Gavet, director of finance Sam Lynch and NYC-based Compass agent Leonard Steinberg, all shared the secret to Compass’s explosive growth over the past five years, which has included a $2.2 billion valuation in December 2017, a $450 million dollar investment from SoftBank Vision Fund and a hiring spree that has included talent from Spotify and Eventbrite.
The Compass CEO boiled down the company’s success down to eight tenets that every entrepreneur should follow:
1. Dream big
“As entrepreneurs, we refuse to think small,” he said. “Your ambition is the cap to your potential.”
2. Move fast
“How many of you remember the swimmer who came in second place to Micheal Phelps?” Reffkin asked the audience. The CEO noted that moving slowly will kill deals and opportunities and give your competitors the chance to surpass you.
3. Learn from reality
Reffkin shared his teenage goal of being the best deejay in San Francisco. He wasn’t able to gain the worldwide notoriety he sought, but he was able to become the go-to guy for all the high school parties in his area. Why? Because he listened to what partygoers wanted.
“It [playing what they wanted] was the difference between being invited back or not,” he said. The secret to Compass’s success is very similar.”
“Compass is the first company in the history of real estate to really listen to agents and to build for them,” Reffkin added. “Good leaders must be good learners, and my definition to be a good learner, you must be a good listener.”
4. Be solutions-driven
“No is the killer of dreams. No is the killer of great ideas. It’s the end of a conversation,” Reffkin said of creating a company that harnesses positive energy. “As an entrepreneur, you have to believe that challenges are what make opportunities possible. You have to believe in solutions.”
5. Obsess about opportunity
Reffkin pointed to Beyonce, Steph Curry and Jeff Bezos as examples of leaders who are never satisfied with good enough. “To build something great you have to care more than it makes sense to care,” he noted. “The very act of caring can be a competitive advantage.”
6. Collaborate without ego
“Nobody succeeds alone, so you have to be the kind of person people want to work with,” he said.
7. Maximize your strengths
During his time at Goldman Sachs, Reffkin said he often compared himself to his colleagues and tried everything to “fit in.” That he said, reflects how the world often teaches all of us to focus on our weaknesses and flaws.
But, when he started Compass, Reffkin said he started to celebrate his strengths and truly embrace his weaknesses — a decision that has aided his success. “In order for you to be your best self, you have to be your most authentic self,” he explained.
8. Bounce back with passion
Reffkin told the story of how he started Compass with the goal of transforming how rentals were done in New York City, a goal that faltered in the early months of the company. Reffkin then decided to refocus on sales, a move that drew criticism and requests for him to step down and caused a third of his staff to quit.
“The true test of an entrepreneur is not how you’re doing when things are going great, anyone can be amazing when they’re on the top,” he said as he explained Compass’s ascension. “It’s how energetically, how passionately and positively they bounce back from the bottom.”