Kevin Kauffman is not your typical real estate agent and he’s certainly not your typical industry tycoon. He’s been in the game only ten years but has amassed the success, wisdom, and business savvy of someone who’s been in it much longer. In an industry “full of dinosaurs,” as he put it, he’s managed to stay relevant and keep an insatiable fervor to get better….and better…and somehow better still. His accomplishments suggested he was a man with a great deal of tenacity, and with that tenacity I expected to encounter some degree of ruthlessness from him. You know, just a little bit of that kind of villain unfettered capitalism seems so often to present us with. But I got no such thing. When I sat down to talk with Kevin about himself and his career, I was met with an honest, incredibly hard-working businessman who worked toward every goal he set without fear of failure and without ego. He follows his gut, knows the value of education and mentorship, and is a believer in abundance for all. I came away from our conversation energized and inspired, and I have a hunch he has that effect on a lot of people.
Kevin had a successful career in finance before making a move to real estate, where he became an agent with Keller Williams Realty, and eventually a company owner and investor. Kevin’s story had me enthralled from the outset, and it certainly didn’t hurt that he told it with honesty, wit, and well-timed, unapologetic expletives. He’s accomplished some pretty substantial things not only as an agent, but now as an entrepreneur and educator. When he talks about it though, he does so without a trace of conceit. A self-proclaimed highly aggressive and social person, he is blunt, in the most disarming and funny of ways, and speaks plainly of his work without doting much on the accolades that have come with it. Curious about this, I asked him what it felt like to win all the awards he had over his relatively short career, including Rookie of the Year his first year in the industry. He told me, frankly, that it didn’t feel like much and chuckled as he described a glass trophy he won being used as a door stop in his office. Until he’s number one in the world, he explained, awards don't matter. His most influential mentor, Gary Keller, taught him to “think bigger,” and he’s not only living by that, he appears to be well on his way to achieving that lofty goal—Kevin has nintey agents working under his team around the country and is in the process of expansion. He views his “company within a company,” Group 46:10, “as a platform for other real estate agents to succeed in and with.” He explained his philosophy to me— “I’m here to help [agents] maximize their potential in the real estate sales world, and I do that mostly through education, and providing tools, technology, and support.”
I wanted to know about how this all started and this is where it got interesting. Kevin did two unorthodox things when he started his career back in 2007—he entered the industry on the precipice of the worst housing market crash in U.S. history, and he started in short sales. Let’s talk short sales first—the notoriously dreaded and laborious kind of sales that most agents avoid. While everyone else was running away from this work, Kevin “ran right into it.” Why, I asked? Well why not, he explained. Having quit his job to pursue real estate, he needed a paycheck, and he was willing to do what no one else was at the time. This was pragmatism at its best. One thing was very clear—Kevin was not afraid to do the work, menial or daunting, and he certainly wasn’t afraid to swim upstream. He closed ninety percent of his short sales when the industry average was less than thirty. He not only made a living doing these short sales, he made a name for himself, and things very quickly took off. He went into business with his now partner, Fred, and launched Group 46:10; they gave classes on short sales and got more referrals than they knew what to do with; and they grew. He was as charismatic and concise an educator as he was an agent, it turned out, and the business he built with Fred kept expanding.
Fearlessness is one of the driving forces of an entrepreneurial spirit I suppose, but I’m not well acquainted with it myself. I guess that’s why so much of what Kevin said in our interview surprised and inspired me. When I asked Kevin why he left the safety of finance to enter the real estate world in one of the biggest downturns the market had ever seen, his answer said so much about him. He told me that he made the decision without any consideration of the timing—the downturn didn’t scare him, and frankly it didn’t matter. He told me, “it was on my heart. I had to do it…It just so happened that the market was crashing.” Kevin was a junior college dropout, but got lucky in all of his jobs, he told me, securing competitive pay without a degree. Call it “dumb luck” he says. I have a feeling it was a bit more than that. Eventually though, he learned who he was, and came to realize that he “couldn’t live in the constraints of a big company.” In search of a new career path, he went back to school and took it seriously. All he knew was that he wanted to work for himself. He kept his full-time finance job while going to school full-time, and eventually met Professor Tracy Goodner, a real estate investor, who taught Kevin how to accrue substantial wealth in the real estate industry. Kevin recalls having his mind blown during that lecture and he remembers thinking, “this is what I’m looking for.” He made a decision on the spot to learn everything he could from this man and signed up for every class he taught for the next two years. Then in 2007, a few months before his wedding, he quit his job and got his real estate license.
Kevin didn’t wait until things settled down in the housing market, or until after he had made the adjustment to married life, or until he had gotten his feet wet in the industry to quit his job and make his move. He dove in, with what appeared to me to be a great deal of courage…or stupidity, one could presumably argue. I wondered as Kevin told me that he was a “run and jump, then look kind of guy,” and that he was “totally comfortable having [his] ass on the line.” It was clearly not stupidity, but I don’t think Kevin would call it courageous or deserving of any special credit either. It was “in [his] DNA” to take risks like that; it’s who he is, he told me. I am envious of this quality in people. And in Kevin, I especially admire it. He went on to explain to me that he always felt like he could rebuild, so risk-taking never felt ominous or inherently dangerous. I recalled Kevin’s mind-blown moment from earlier in the interview as I let his words swim around in my brain for a moment. I suddenly felt like I had heard something for the first time. As a person who reacts viscerally to the statistical chaos of gambling and likes a guaranteed return, even if it’s menial, this was my mind-blowing moment. Call it business savvy, call it confidence, call it spiritual. Call it whatever you want, it requires a resolve of character that deserves respect, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a bit of blind faith in there too. I don’t know if it’s the religious kind necessarily, but it’s a faith that, whether by one’s own fortitude and resolve or the guiding hand of the universe, things will be okay in the end. To be so certain of one’s own capacity to rebuild, even in the face of absolute loss, is powerful.
And Kevin knows what it’s like to have to rebuild. Five years into his career, after incredible success, everything changed. Suddenly the short sales that he built his career on didn’t matter anymore. The market shifted from distressed to traditional, and through a whirlwind of events, fueled not only by this but also by dissension in his company ranks and poor leadership that Kevin takes the blame for, his business started to fall apart. In 2012, his company saw the best year they had ever had financially, but everyone quit. Kevin literally had to start over; he had to rebuild, and he “had to re-learn how to do real estate.” It was no longer the same game—short sales were now a mere fifteen percent of the market. He had sold 750 houses in his first four years in real estate, a figure most don’t reach in an entire career, but now “nobody cared,” he told me. He and Fred, had to restructure sales and dramatically cut expenses. “The reality was, it was a big lesson. Really we just put our heads down and we worked.” They learned fast, worked diligently, and came out on top. And frustrating though it was, Kevin told me it didn’t affect his willingness to take risks and it didn’t shake him.
In addition to operating his ever growing business, Kevin continues to teach. He’s even begun privately coaching agents. He limits himself to five clients at a time, so that he can still devote the majority of his energy to his company, but he “really enjoy[s] it.” I imagine Kevin’s experiences and success afford him a unique lens through which to teach, but his passion for teaching and the way in which he does it are a bit rare in the industry as well, it seems. It’s commonplace in real estate, he told me, for agents to hold on to their ‘secrets’ closely. Kevin baulked at this—“I like to share the truth,” he says, “and the reality is I’m a firm believer in abundance. I think there’s more than enough for all of us. And I think that if I help you…it’s going to come back to me,” which he points out “helps make everything better.” He’s passionate about teaching, in large part because there’s so much bad information out there. But it’s also evident that he has been on the receiving end of great education, and he’s paying that forward. Kevin credits so much of his success to his mentors, namely Gary Keller, with whom he is still close and from whom he learned to appreciate the boredom of mastery. It’s one of the most important things he learned from Gary—“you have to make peace with the boredom of the repetition of doing the things that produce the results, until you can connect it to the excitement of the outcome.”
Kevin Kauffman’s adherence to diligence, his relentless drive for mastery, and his passion for people and education show at every level of his business and his success. I not only thoroughly enjoyed talking to him, I learned something.
Photo by Jaime Valdovino
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