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Op/Ed

As an Asian American angel investor, I’m biased toward diversity, adversity

(EDITORIAL) In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, Max Diez offers his thoughts on how diversity can create a stronger business to invest in.

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growth hacker vs. digital marketer

Maximillian “Max” Diez is the CEO of Twenty Five Ventures, a consultancy that helps PropTech and FinTech startups scale their businesses. He leverages his 20-plus years in the real estate industry as an executive, thought leader, and a broker to advise and invest in seed and series stage companies innovating the real estate technology space. May was AAPI Heritage Month, and in honor of this, Max has these thoughts to offer for investors and business owners:

“I’m not Filipino, I am American.” I vividly remember declaring this to my parents when I was about eight years old. My parents emigrated to America from the Philippines in the early 1970s, and while they were very proud of their culture, the messages around me—from TV, my classmates, and the community I lived in—were clear: To be American is to assimilate.

So I attempted to do just that.

In some ways, I succeeded. My friends and family, especially those from the Philippines, called me “whitewashed,” someone who was sacrificing their culture and history to fit in.

Meanwhile, the students at my all-boy, overwhelmingly White high school in the Bay Area called me “chink” and “gook.” At the time, I laughed it off. Those terms didn’t apply to me. Those were slurs for Chinese and Vietnamese people.

What I didn’t realize is that the ignorance about non-Euro-centric cultures was so pervasive it didn’t matter they mistook my ethnicity for another. They didn’t see me as anything other than Asian; they saw me as not White.

In 1993, when I was 16, I was hired by the San Francisco Giants, a Major League Baseball team, as a batboy. My job included assisting the visiting teams, retrieving bats after a fair play, and even picking up food for players after the game. At the time, I was the only Asian American in the clubhouse and, as far as I knew, the only Asian batboy in the league. The players would remind me of that often.

When people would see me in uniform in the San Francisco Bay Area, even with its high Asian American population, they seemed surprised. They’d constantly ask me how I got the role, how I was able to beat out other kids who coveted it, etc. I was eager to have the job (despite not being a baseball superfan), and I needed the money. So I shrugged off the racial overtures—again.

That was nearly 30 years ago. And although our society is awakening to the prejudices and bigotry minorities face every day, ignorance and hate continue to proliferate. The Black Lives Matter organization works to bring awareness about injustices and violence that Black Americans face. The Stop Asian Hate movement sprang up as a result of Asians being blamed for COVID-19, being targeted for violence, and Asian American women being fetishized and gunned down.

Things are happening in the world that I struggle at times to figure out, and I am exploring my biases—as an Asian American in a predominantly European-centric society, as an angel investor in a society with massive income disparity, and as a man in a male-dominated world.

How do my experiences and biases impact me and my business? How do they affect the companies I choose to invest in? What I’ve learned as I’ve taken a deep dive into those biases is that as much as I have tried to rid myself of them, my culture, my upbringing, our society, and media and pop culture ensure that they persist.

But maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Is bias always bad?

It’s a provocative question. Are racism and bigotry bad? Unequivocally, yes. But there can be benefits to bias. Defined as “prejudices in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another,” biases can be beneficial.

For example, I’m certain that I landed a position at a major investment firm despite finishing only one year of college, simply because they assumed I was great at math and a hard worker (Asian stereotype). I’m not great at math, but I was great at that job. Nonetheless, I’m not advocating that type of unexamined bias. I’m referring to the biases, the shortcuts, I use when I’m looking at a business to invest in.

Of the 110 investment opportunities that I explored over the last 16 months, 87% of the companies were run by men, and only 25% (one in four) were headed by a minority—by that, I mean racial, ethnic, gender, or LGBT minorities.

I have worked hard and overcome adversity in my life. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have managed to carve out a successful career for myself. I’m now, as an angel investor, in a position to lift others up, and I’m not afraid to say that I leverage my biases to help me decide which companies I want to invest in.

When I meet with a founder or a founding team, I look for adversity by way of diversity. I want to know what adversity the founder or team has faced. What challenges have they overcome?

Ultimately, when you invest in a company, you’re investing in people, and I don’t believe that investing in someone who’s faced little to no hardship is wise. Startup life is notoriously challenging, exhausting, and emotionally taxing. If you’ve never faced significant adversity, you won’t last long as a business owner. Entrepreneurship requires talent, yes, but also perseverance and dogged determination, and those qualities are forged by the type of adversity that women, LGBT people, and people of color face all the time.

That’s why I gravitate toward minority-founded companies when I invest.

I have nothing against White men. They comprise a large portion of our population and have accomplished amazing things. Hardly anyone could argue in good faith, though, that being White and a man in a society dominated and defined by White men is as difficult as being a minority can be.

My proclivity for diversity isn’t just personal preference. It makes good business sense. According to analyst firm McKinsey & Company, diversity drives success: “Companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits.”

One of the wonderful things about being an angel investor is getting to decide where I will invest my company’s money. While I have backed many businesses owned by non-minorities, I’m biased toward those who have overcome great adversity—people who’ve suffered injustice and oppression and who weren’t afforded the same opportunities as others.

I choose to invest in the fighters who want to change the world, for they are made of grit, and grit gets things done.

This editorial was first published here June 01, 2021.

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Op/Ed

Don’t just set and forget your succession plan – update it regularly!

(EDITORIAL) You may think that once you have a succession plan in place, you’re set for life, however, it’s recommended to continually update them!

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Older man looking out of window representing a need for a succession plan.

We’ve written before about how the everlasting success of the business will need to outlive you, and this is best conjured up in a succession plan. This is especially true for small business owners and entrepreneurs that have built an empire for themselves but aren’t sure what the future will hold beyond their passing. This is the exact reason that succession plans shouldn’t be set and forgotten, but instead consistently updated.

What are some of the obvious reasons that you may need to update your succession plan?

  1. Health Issues
  2. Marriage or Remarriage
  3. Changes in health in executors or guardians
  4. Changes in the law
  5. Changes in Residence

Now, for the not-so-obvious reason: It should be updated when any personal circumstances changes, which most likely happen often. This is why a will is like your home, an investment that needs to be properly maintained, and if it is, it will last a very long time.

Examples include changes in economic or parental status, as well as designations or fiduciaries. Elders could be aging, siblings may be having their own life changes, as well as if any dependents are born with or develop special needs.

“Every state has different laws regarding the administration of a will,” he said.?“For instance, states vary regarding the required residence of an executor, inheritance tax laws, and whether a child can be disinherited by omission.”

The recommended procedure is to review wills and powers of attorney at least every five years.

Lastly, when should a will update to a trust?

  1. When you have some significant assets (more than $500,000) in your own name.
  2. If you have special needs beneficiaries.
  3. If you have properties in multiple jurisdictions (multiple states or even counties).
  4. If you have beneficiaries you want to control distributions to (e.g., distribute at ages 25/30/35).
  5. If you have kids from a previous relationship you want taken care of.
  6. If you may want asset protection (special trust needed).
  7. If you are a big dog (over $22M if married), to save taxes.

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Op/Ed

Tips to identify & minimize employee’s ‘invisible’ tasks in the workplace

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Two women in the office discussing invisible tasks.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Op/Ed

Technology gurus thrive on marketing you bullshit, here’s what really works

(EDITORIAL) Technology gurus have fun tools to sell you and tricks to teach you, but I can tell you firsthand that it’s mostly bullshit.

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woman holding phone representing technology

I am known as a technologist. An avowed geek. An unapologetic adopter of shiny new objects. My passion is finding out how technology – specifically the internet, can make my job better, faster, and more profitable. It is also figuring out how the consumer intersects with the internet and how I can leverage this to create more business.

In years past, I bet heavily on internet lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and video email marketing. I researched the best platforms and practices, sought the counsel of the foremost experts and hired the best talent.

I had some great wins and surprising losses this year. I’ll get into that in a bit… but I realized that the real estate industry often markets tech on the internet as a replacement for human connection, as a convenience for the agent, and as a crutch for a basic lack of knowledge and expertise. In the real estate industry, technology is marketed as a shortcut to profits and that is complete bullshit.

Fair warning- this post is likely to get you riled up and deny that any of it applies to you. That’s cool. It probably doesn’t, so move along. I am not trying to derail your successful train. But this category of business tools creates stress for a lot of agents who feel left behind or “less than.”

About those gurus on stage at your favorite conferences

Listen to the gurus on stage and the vendors hawking their wares. According to them, the internet can provide a never-ending source of people who want to buy and sell (leads). It can eliminate the need to chase signatures or show homes. It can sell homes without the need to open it to strangers or tell you a home’s value instantly and automatically.

Wow. Get clients without dealing with real-time rejection. Show and sell homes with no physical effort. Find values with no expertise or local knowledge. Makes you wonder what human Realtors are going to do. Flip burgers, maybe?

Internet-based tools are an amazing enhancement to traditional skills and techniques, but it is often promoted as the miracle cure and wholesale replacement of skills and knowledge. I call this bullshit – but our industry is buying it.

The enticement of internet lead generation

Let’s start with internet lead generation. The surface promise is very enticing. Write a check and get a never-ending stream of people interested in real estate who have given up their contact information. No physical effort. No skill is required. No face-to-face rejection. Who wouldn’t sign up for that program?

But here is the problem. It takes a lot of money to do internet lead generation effectively. It takes a lot of resources to follow up and it generally takes time to create a sale. When you factor in all of these resources, internet lead generation is far sexier on paper than in practice.

Now, this does not mean lead generation isn’t a viable way to run a business. But it is best done in a team setting with proper resources to handle these leads effectively. In a team setting, internet lead generation is less likely to divert attention away from relationship building. And, for a single agent, it is a very dangerous place to “bet the farm”.

So I can pay more but get the same results?

The number of portals and agents competing for attention increases every month, so the resources required to stay level will also increase. This means it continually takes more money to get the same result… and this is where I call bullshit. The average agent is only seeing the tiny fraction of people making a profit from internet lead generation and they have no clue how costly internet lead generation actually is.

And that is another problem. How many agents use internet lead generation as a replacement for the much less “sexier” work of face-to-face prospecting? My guess is quite a few. I’ll confess. I tried replacing my traditional prospecting with a lead generation site. It was bullshit.

Another bullshit problem: social media

Here’s another technology coming between the consumer and the agent. Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing- loosely categorized as social media. When used as an easy, thoughtless, broadcast machine (as most agents do) the agent is following the idea that being seen- frequently- is the way to make the phones ring.

Agents have been doing this sort of “look at me!” advertising with postcards and print advertising for years. However, print costs lots of money and most will give some thought and attention before doing each piece. Social media is essentially free and nearly effortless, allowing agents to completely alienate their audience with their avalanche of tone-deaf posts and emails.

Now, at least this stuff is nearly free and the agent has resources left over for traditional relationship building. But, how much damage is done to potential real-life relationships with poor and uninformed social media tactics? The bullshit part is that free and easy should not mean tacky, thoughtless, and loud.

E-sigs aren’t the next coming of Christ

Here’s another thing. I thought electronic contracts and e-signatures were the best technology tool since sliced bread. And, used properly, it still is. Contracts can be signed at the consumer’s convenience and that can be a huge benefit for busy lives. All too often, though, e-signatures serve the agent or brokerage more than the client. There are situations where the client is best served with an in-depth explanation of the documents, but they are given an e-signature package instead.

This was one of my hardest realizations – I was completely guilty of choosing convenience over great representation. I told myself it was for the convenience of the client, but it really made my job a lot easier. This is not cool, it is bullshit.

I love technology, but…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still the technology fan girl you know and love. But with each passing day, I am convinced that a lasting and enduring business is made with an authentic connection to the people in my community. Technology simply gives me the opportunity to make more of those connections.

I meet and interact with hundreds of people on local Facebook groups and these interactions have led to wonderful real-life meetings and lasting relationships. It is an amazing and efficient layer to my traditional community building and prospecting. But it is a layer. Nattering on Facebook all day long does NOT create enough engagement to create a business.

So, what were my wins?

I used technology to publish my internal checklists to my clients, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to our transactions.

I went deep on an unreasonable number of CRM systems and I am getting close to having a system that enhances both the creation of business as well as the transaction.

I went even deeper into the concept of the paperless office. There are a lot of benefits to a paperless office, but for the consumer, it means anyone on my team can answer any question, anytime, anywhere.

And my losses?

What were my losses? The biggest loss was my investment in internet lead generation, and that was a real surprise. I invested heavily in the platform, in the tools, and in the human resources necessary to make a profit.

I learned what it takes to make this business strategy work, but I also learned that I would rather use my resources to build a local community.

Another “loss” was the lesson learned on e-signatures. I have retooled my process to make sure that certain critical points in the process- the purchase contract, escrow instructions, and going over disclosures, are no longer a simple e-signature packet.

Moving forward – join me?

As I enter the next year, I am focused on a few principles. Belly to belly rules. Technology done right is invisible. Build a community to build long-term trust. Make a difference.

Wanna join me?

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