This entrepreneur shows how real estate can be a positive force in urban communities

Here's the story of how entrepreneur Bo Menkiti got into the real estate business to improve his neighborhood

Bo Menkiti is the CEO and founder of The Menkiti Group and Keller Williams Capital Properties. He first arrived in Washington, D.C., as a corporate strategist after graduating from Harvard. He got into real estate almost by accident.

The beginnings

He bought his first house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in the nation’s capital in 2001. The majority of homes in his neighborhood were vacant except for his and that of his neighbor’s, Mrs. Beck. Menkiti would help Mrs. Beck around the house until he found her passed away in her home after a business trip.

“It was one of those moments that sets a perspective in your life,” he said. “Here I was — I thought I was changing the world, and I wasn’t present for the person that was just on the other side of my little row house wall.”

This experience got Menkiti thinking about what he could do for his community, especially the vacant homes that were scattered across his neighborhood. He decided to get his real estate license because he thought it would help teach him how to fix up houses. After he passed the test for his license, Menkiti didn’t think about it until he was forced to use his paid time off — six weeks’ worth.

6 deals in 6 weeks

At the start of his forced vacation, Menkiti decided to take advantage of his real estate license and started searching for an agency he could work with. He sold six houses in those six weeks under Coldwell Banker, which piqued his interest in real estate. The main draw being that he could use the extra income to fix up the vacant homes in his neighborhood.

Menkiti’s transition into a full-time real estate agent happened fairly quickly. His last client of those six weeks offered to work as his assistant. He became a consultant for his previous job to focus more on real estate in 2004.

Building a team

Menkiti started out his team with five or six people. Even though he was successful, he wanted to do more. So he partnered with fellow real estate broker Brandon Green and others to create Keller Williams Capital Properties.

They formed the first Keller Williams office in D.C. They were impressed with KW’s commitment to training and education. Within three years, they grew to become the top agency in D.C.

The Menkiti Team is now made up of 1,000 agents and eight offices in the D.C. area and closed over $2.4 billion in sales last year.

Menkiti and his friend Anthony Ackil also cofounded Streetlight Ventures to boost retail in these neighborhoods. Streetlight Ventures is a commercial brokerage that also supports the tenants by getting them the exposure they deserve. They also work with developers across the country.

Hyperfocus and opportunity zones

Menkiti contributes much of his success to four “staples”: social spherehyperlocal market, seminars/education, and new home sales.

The agency remains hyperlocal to help Menkiti’s original neighborhood Columbia Heights. They help improve the neighborhood by filling in storefronts instead of just houses. Menkiti said they eventually became a “go-to” partner in the neighborhood for developers. The agency now uses this method to revitalize other neighborhoods in D.C. as well as Maryland and Massachusetts, where Menkiti is originally from.

The changes in tax and capital gains laws fueled Menkiti’s mission to revitalize neighborhoods, especially when opportunity zones funding came into play. The new opportunity zones created by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the time period for private capital loans to a 10-year investment.

“We wanted to spend resources on things that made the community better that might not have had a short-term return,” Menkiti said in our interview. “Investing in the schools and the cultural fabric in the community, facilities that may not actually yield the short term, quick hit, but that make the neighborhood a better place to live, that improve the quality of life for the people that are there, and that long-term actually create financial benefit.”

Keys to success: the 3 P’s

Passion: Menkiti said you have to care about something and be passionate about what you’re doing to be successful. “People say ‘I’m going to go into business to make money.’ You can’t do that,” Menkiti said. “You gotta be passionate about what you’re doing.”

Persistence: In business, you are most likely going to be knocked down, according to Menkiti. You need the perseverance to get back up and commit to your passion.

“The only thing you know going into [business ownership] is that you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna lose, you’re gonna get beat up,” he said.

Persistence helps you through the “ups and downs.”

People: “Success is not an individual exercise. This is a team sport,” Menkiti said. In order to be a successful business owner, you need to invest in people by supporting your team, building partnerships, finding financial resources and more.

Find out more about The Menkiti Group here

Chris Haddon is an entrepreneur based in Washington, D.C., a partner at Hard Money Bankers and a co-founder of REI360.net.