Podcast

Episode #181 – Breaking Into The Short-Term Rental Market With Sief Khafagi, Part 1

The real estate industry is archaic compared to the tech industry. That’s why former tech employees can cause massive disruptions in real estate.

In fact, that’s exactly what today’s guest, former Facebook employee turned short-term rental investor, Sief Khafagi, did.

In this episode, Sief shares big tech secrets about hiring, leadership, and scaling with you, so you can apply them to your real estate investing business.

Want to run your investing business like a giant tech company with massive scale? Listen now.

Show highlights include:

  • The best piece of software which lets you scale to more than 40 short-term rentals in your portfolio ([3:44])
  • How being a terrible student sets you up for massive successful as a real estate investor ([4:42])
  • The “Natural Curiosity” factor which school tries to beat out of you (and why it gives real estate investors an unfair advantage) ([6:16])
  • How to create your next value-added activity in your business by answering one simple question ([7:47])
  • Why storytelling alone can boost your close rate to almost 100% ([9:12])
  • Facebook’s “Speed” secret for attracting high-quality talent in droves (and how to use this to build your real estate investing team) ([11:09])
  • If you want to connect with Sief and see how his software can grow your short-term rental portfolio, visit his website here: https://techvestor.com/

To get the latest updates directly from Dan and discuss business with other real estate investors, join the REI marketing nerds Facebook group here: https://adwordsnerds.com/group

Need help with your online marketing? Jump on a FREE strategy session with our team. We’ll dive deep into your market and help you build a custom strategy for finding motivated seller leads online. Schedule for free here: https://adwordsnerds.com/strategy

Read Full Transcript

You're listening to the REI marketing nerds podcast, the leading resource for real estate investors who want to dominate their market online. Dan Barrett is the founder of AdWords nerds, a high tech digital agency focusing exclusively on helping real estate investors. Like you get more leads and deals online, outsmart your competition and live a freer, more awesome life. And now your host Dan Barrett.

(00:40): All right. Hello and welcome to this week's episode of the REI marketing nerds podcast. There's always, this is Daniel Barrett here from AdWords nerds.com. That name again is Edwards nerds.com. And if you need more help finding leads and deals online for your real estate investing business, you know where to go. It's AdWords nerds.com. Okay. This week I'm talking to SI CAFO from tech investor.com. Now, if you are not familiar with SI SEF was an early employee at Facebook, he helped get over a thousand hires. They built a huge engineering organization and then jumped from tech into short term rentals. So they are doing really incredible things at tech fester. And if you are at all interested in short term rentals and where they fit into the real estate investing landscape, this is going to be a fascinating interview for you, but even if short term rentals are not really your thing, what I want you to listen for in this interview is how se views real estate investing differently.

(01:41): He comes from a tech background. He's young, he's got a different set of lenses, a different set of assumptions. And he said some really intriguing things in this interview that really made me think about real estate in a different way. And I gotta be honest, that doesn't happen a whole lot. So if you are at all interesting in, in tech, in online marketing, in short term rentals in real estate investing and where it's going, I think you're gonna get a lot out of this interview. So without any further ado, let's jump into my interview with SEF Kafa from tech investor.com. All right. I am here with SEF. Kafa from tech investor.com. SEF. How are you, man? What's going on? I'm good, Dan. Thanks for having me. There's So many things into your story that I'm very excited to dig into, uh, because they touch on basically most of the things that I'm interested in, but for people that aren't familiar either with you or tech investor, give us like the kind of basic bit of background or context on who you are and what you did.

(02:42): Yeah. Uh, grew up first generation American, did everything wrong in school, growing up and ended up going to, you know, community college to my very traditional thinking parents. And, uh, ended up going to a state school, got recruited into big tech, uh, Facebook specifically at the time. And so it was early Facebook. The, uh, the team that I joined had, uh, 85 engineers that we, that were on the team and I joined on the talent side and, uh, over the next five years, we'd grow it to, uh, over 1100, uh, across the world. Well, state while Facebook was experiencing rapid growth. And I'm sure still is dabbled in real estate over the, over the time, uh, specifically got really interested with short term rentals because I was working remotely, moving around all the time from San Francisco, Los Angeles and, uh, my current business partner.

(03:29): And I was like, well, let's buy some short term rentals and have fun with it. And so she was at apple and, you know, we're both in tech, just working the Noma lifestyle and, uh, we got into it and we realized everything with the short term rental industry was archaic even more than the traditional real estate cause everything sucked. And we come from this privileged tech background where you walk into a Facebook campus and you're like, wow, this is cool. right. Right. And you're like, that's what you're used to. So, uh, we built our own software that allows us to source short term rentals at super speed and super scale. And, uh, little did we know that that software would help us today run and operate a portfolio over 40 short term rentals. And, you know, today we run and operate a fund, uh, with, uh, hundreds of, uh, investors itself, um, that we help passively earn cashflow from that asset class. And, uh, our investors get to use it if they ever want. So it's kind of nice to have utility in your investments. Um, and we, as far as we're aware, we're one of, one of the few short term rental funds out there that are trying to do it at this scale.

(04:25): Wow. So, okay. And there's like a million things I wanna dig into in that story. I wanna go all the way back to the beginning. So you said you did everything wrong in school. So clearly this is not because you're not a smart, dedicated ambition person. Right. Why do you think you had trouble in school or like what in your head? Like, what's the story there? And there's maybe the reason I'm digging into this, right? Is like, I think a lot of people have trouble in this sort of traditional academic setting. And they think that that says something about what their capacity are, right. Or what, what, what their potential is. So what do you think it was with you in terms of having difficulty early

(05:08): On? You know, I think for me it's easy. It's easier to reflect back today than it was obviously back then. Right. I didn't know why. Um, but in my opinion, I think it was because I was way too logical for, I think the traditional academic structure. Right. I didn't understand why certain things had to happen a certain type of way. And what I would learn over the next five, 10 years from that timeline is because I was inherently someone who liked to create from scratch. And those are great skills to being an entrepreneur and someone who is building things and leading a team and building infrastructure and process from scratch. That's. I think one of the reasons why I thrived at Facebook at the time is cuz there was no infrastructure to begin with, right? Like 85 people to scale to 1100, everything you had to know was broken or you're gonna break it at some point right. Um, if it Wasn't broken now, it would be broken soon.

(05:59): It was gonna happen and had an incredible mentor at Facebook, several great leaders that, you know, I looked up to and learned. So I think I was definitely privileged there, but early on, I mean, even when I was in high school, I was creating and starting business after business and you know, like most entrepreneurs, most of them failed the ones that did do well. I took that and learned and did the next thing. And I think it was that natural curiosity, which I think in traditional academic settings is not encouraged. Right. Um, and I think that's a big deal. I actually think, I remember when I was in San Francisco, I was already working at Facebook at the time at the privilege of, uh, visiting Stanford's campus and, you know, never had the grades never getting to San. So I was never a Shocker did still

(06:37): Don't worry, maybe but uh, you know, I, uh, I walked into a classroom and I was listening to a lecture. And the difference between the style of that lecture versus the lecture that I was in at state school, I went to San Diego state, which nothing against the school itself. Great fun time was they encouraged curiosity. And there was so much less structure at Stanford than there was at these state schools. And so I, I learned that for me, I ne I, I couldn't be constrained with how something was to do. I, I was kind of intended to go build and go figure it out and break it. And I liked doing these things even early on. I actually wanted to go on computer science and my dad being a traditional, you know, immigrant dad was like, Hey, you have to go to be a trade doctor, lawyer, et cetera. And I was like tinkering with computers back in the day and putting them together and doing those things. Um, and he would go on to help me later, but he was like, Hey, I'm gonna pay for school or help you pay for school. You gotta go do business or this or that. Right. So, you know, I think everything happens for a reason, but I think down deep down, right? Like my sister in comparison's super book smart. And, uh, for her, she excels incredibly in a structured environment for where I did not.

(07:46): I think you are, I think you're hitting on something right. Where it's like that, that sort of sense that natural inclination to ask, why does it have to be that way? That's where entrepreneurial ideas and like value added activities come from. But it also drives if you're like, Hey, my job is to manage this classroom full of 30 kids who will hate my guts and to get you to score X on a S a T or whatever. That's a nightmare question to ask . Right. Yep. I think that's such an interesting sort of take on it. Okay. So you are in community college and you get recruited into tech and specifically you end up at Facebook. Right. So I am curious, like, you know, you'd had this sort of background of, of struggling in school. Like you said, you sort of had this sort of, you know, tinkering with computers. I'm curious why you think you got pulled into tech and what they saw in you, because you would later go on to build a massive team and you went through this process of having to find and source and hire people. Right. So from this perspective now in time where you've hired so many people, why do you think they hired you? Like, what did they see in you that they thought would be a good fit for that environment?

(09:03): Yeah. So I think like, you know, one of the biggest things that I accomplished when I was in state school, so, uh, I got recruited shortly after graduating the university itself. But while I was there, I noticed that I had done 27 interviews for different companies, internships and whatnot. And I had landed every single one. At least I got an offer from every single one really right at the time. And so, and everyone around me was like, how, why? Right. Like you're re I can't take every offer. Right. So you can only take one offer at a time. Right. Right. And so for me, I realized for whatever reason, I had a knack for interviewing storytelling, crafting my, my, my elevator pitch, as you may, in terms of winning these offers. And so, while I was in school, I actually started teaching and coaching comp size students going back to my, you know, engineering team, green days that I didn't have that much experience with.

(09:54): And you know, what they struggled with a lot was actually like the soft skills side of the interview. Wasn't the technical side for the most part. Right. And I would help them get jobs and predominantly at some of these places, like, like big tech and, uh, my first stint, right after college actually wasn't Facebook. It was a small recruiting, uh, company here in Los Angeles. And, you know, the owner of the company, small like 14 person team owner of the company, huge asshole, one of the smartest people I've ever met. Right. And he knew his, you know, he took me under his wing, but I couldn't last four months there because of how structured everything was. But he was a wealth of knowledge that I took all of that in. Right. And, you know, I was in this space and I got a LinkedIn message fund fact at a random day and said, Hey, we're looking to hire, actually, this is at Amazon for a senior sourcing specialist or something along those lines.

(10:45): And so I got into the game of interviewing for Amazon. And while I was interviewing for Amazon, my mentor at the time was like, Hey, if you're gonna interview for Amazon, let me tell you how the game is played. And so interview with other companies, right. Stack them against each other and see how you did. So I getting offers from Amazon, uh, Google, Facebook, and a couple other smaller stocks. Cause I was, I was like, great, let's see who, who, you know, who it would be. And, uh, I think it was honestly the luck thing, but what made Facebook, I think really interested in me and what I was really interested in them was the speed at what they moved. Right. It was like call offer within probably four days, including a flight out to San Francisco to go interview, do in person. And to be quite honest, I geed with the people at Facebook by far, they were the most normal, easily like fit into a team structure that I've ever seen.

(11:32): So they had their experience very much put together. And the thing that they kind of noted as why they were interested is like clearly, you know, how to win the interview. And so for me, that's a great skill set. So I could help future candidates understand the really difficult Facebook interview in the future. Right. Because oftentimes you get really great candidates, but they don't interview well. And it's because they don't necessarily know how to interview. In fact, I would go on to write a lot of content online specifically on places like Quora, about beating the tech interview for other people. Um, and so that's kind of how the career kind of started it slowly take Off from there. Cool. So I'm, that's a perfect transition because I am very curious about the hiring process and how people who are good at hiring think about that. Right. Because just like you said, you know, I run an agency, obviously like I'm hiring technical people a lot of the time and technical people don't always interview super well. Right. Mm-hmm . And sometimes the people that interview the best don't, they don't necessarily perform the best at the job, but they are really good at interviewing. Right. Like, and I, I would almost put myself in that category. I probably interviewed, like if I was going for a purely technical role, I would probably interview above my actual skill. Right. Because whatever, I can make eye contact and make a joke or whatever. Right. So when you were in the process, you were, you were at Facebook, you were building a team, right. You were hiring primarily engineers.

(13:01): Yep. Production engineers, which would've been our second largest org behind software. So when, when you were going through that process, how did you think about the problem of figuring out who to hire? Was it purely, just look, you gotta pass the technical bar and if you pass that, that's great. Are you looking for personality? How do you think through that problem? So, you know, I think the first thing is trying to understand what the team is looking for, right? The team you're look you're hiring for. And so we had a great relationship with our internal stakeholders, right? At Facebook, the edge managers and directors and VPs that we worked really closely with. One thing that I noticed that I did very well, and we would develop this into a program much later is I prepped them on a technical level while most recruiters weren't technical. So, you know, giving myself some credit here is understanding where they're coming from and the things that they need to understand for examples, like how to pass a systems design interview, right? And which coding language are you gonna use here? And what kind of impression it's going to make that level of insight that I was able to offer candidates I think was really helpful.

(14:05): But to be quite honest, I think a lot of it too is, you know, people are, so again, going back to the whole structured approach, when, you know, in school interviews can be so structured, big tech interviews are often never structured. And I think this is something that was a myth for a long time. They're structured in a sense that we know what we're trying to get out of a candidate, but there's the way of getting there is never the same for every single person. And I think that's what stumps a lot of people is. There's no right. There's no one right answer. And because there's no one right answer, how do you coach and teach and guide this individual, right? Who is coming from a technical, analytical perspective, which usually is very mathematical and logic and where one plus one equals two or else it breaks right.

(14:50): Then how do you guide this person that, you know, one plus one may not equal to cuz we didn't wanna hire the ones that were one plus one equals two, in fact, many people in tech and you know, whether they'll talk about it or admit, or not a lot of new engineers, younger engineers, right outta college engineers are the ones you hired for that. Understand that one plus one equals two. You have to go through that type of experience to understand. And I'm sure you can relate to this. Right. But you also need the engineers that understand that one plus one, what if it equal three? What happens? Right?
You need, you need people to be able to think outside the box so that the team itself can innovate beyond the process that you give them. Right. Because in tech, you know, it's like, oh, it's like this in online marketing. I can barely imagine someplace like Facebook, but it's like, if you're doing the same thing three years from now that you're doing this year, that's not a good sign. Right. It's like you should be advancing. So like in that kind of scenario where you're hiring an engineer, how do you look for, for example, that sort of combination of technical acumen and creativity. Right. Which is kind of like what you have, which is maybe what people saw in you. How do you systematically look for that? Or do you not look for it systematically because that falls into the

(16:03): Track. Yeah. I mean, I, I think, you know, I think any typical recruiter or talent company would be lying if they said there's a systematic way to screen for it in upfront. Right. I think you look for the hard skills first, right? I think you have to look for the hard skills, the in depth industry experience first, and then you vet out the shit that isn't right. Um, and I also think you recognize sometimes that the quirks, right. I remember one of my, a very specific scenario at Facebook. I had a candidate interviewing onsite, passed the bar with incredibly flying colors technically, and I get a message from our VP at the time that says, Hey, the interview is ended. And I'm like, it's 20 minutes too early. it's Usually not good.

(16:47): And I was like, what happened? Right. Cause I'm like, I'm seeing this feedback roll. I'm like, wow. He is just above and beyond the bar. Right. And I didn't coach him enough on the soft skill side to help him understand what he was coming into. And so from that moment forward, right. That, that story sticks with me so much because you could be, if you're, if you're an asshole or if you don't have the soft skill side or the creativity side to understand that there's other ways to do something, you'll always be capped at where you're going. In fact, that's a huge strategy for what, uh, you know, we built our team at tech ster with, right. It was me specifically with Sabrina. Who's my co-founder going out and recruiting specific industry level talent to build the kind of team that we have today that complimented one another with pros and cons and ebbs and flows.

(17:32): And you know, I think another big thing in the talent space is as you get more senior, you start to see people who are better suited for teamwork and people who are better suited for work themselves. And I think those are two very different types of people. Yet companies need both of them to thrive. And yet we always are talking about teamwork, teamwork, teamwork, teamwork on a media perspective on a media circus. So I'm like, that's bullshit. You need both people. You need the people who can be autonomous and just succeed in maybe they're assholes, but you need to have leaders who can manage them, right. And manage their success and manage the work that they're working on. Just as equally as you need the people who are gonna be incredibly efficient while working in a team and can bring out the camaraderie across people now are, are both of them gonna grow equally? I don't think so. Right. But you need both in a team environment. Yeah. So how do you, so this is a, we're gonna veer into Dan has a personal question territory rather podcast question. So one of the things that I think I struggle with and the struggle may be a wrong word, but I don't know how to think about is this idea of hiring for team composition rather than hiring an individual purely on the whatever. Right. Because what I've noticed is that in the hiring process, I am drawn to people who remind me of myself in some, right. Of Course this is great.

(18:51): But the reason I run my own company is cuz I'm a terrible employee. You know what I mean? Like no one yep. Would keep me as an employee. Right. I'm I'm whatever. Right. So clearly you need to hire for the team as a whole. And so, um, but I, I kind of go back and forth and I'm like, okay, just like you said, am I hiring people who are really great team players? Am I trying to hire different types of people or will different types of people simply rub each other the wrong way and not be able to gel? Is there like a framework for how you think about that question? Obviously, a very different question with a thousand employees than it is with 10. But if an investor, for example, is listening to this and they're building their team, they're adding acquisitions, people and admin people or whatever. How would you advise them to think about the team as a whole, rather than just hiring individual people? Or would you tell 'em not to worry about

(19:41): It? Yeah. I mean, that's a great question and this is actually gonna expose myself here for a second. Right? This is something I struggled with inherently, right? When I was at Facebook for, for two primary reasons, I was the highest performing individual contributor on my team before I got promoted to leadership. Uh, and then two, I was incredibly young. I was 23, 24, right. Managing I super young. Right. Managing people who, you know, were more who weren't necessarily welcomed to the idea of a 23 year, 24 year old leader. Right. Because it's not something that they were used to. They weren't bad. People just, they haven't done it before and I hadn't done it before. Right. Right. And so, uh, one thing I struggled with very early is exactly what you said is I was like, why couldn't people do the work the way I did it. Right. I was a high performer. Therefore my bar was here by nature because that's all I knew. Um, and it took me a while to really adopt this is where the mentorship and the leadership, uh, Facebook really came in great leaders there, Kelly, Josh, if they ever listened to this, you know, they're, they know who they are. Right. Um, and you know, I think I learned that the smaller the team is the smaller your company is.

(20:48): And even speaking from today's experience as a leader today, uh, bad eggs will have larger impacts on your team. The smaller your team is. So while you do have the balance for the expertise that you need, it's incredibly important to think about the culture that you have, because one bad egg can destroy several smaller eggs in a HartBeat. Yeah. Now it doesn't go the other way. And I think as a leader, we sacrifice a lot. We sacrifice maybe not hiring the best talent for the best fit. And sometimes we sacrifice hiring and vice versa the best fit instead of the best talent. And so it's a complicated framework that I don't think there's a great answer. In fact, I think companies evolve, right? I think when you look at, you know, our company today, when we first started, it was all about incredible short-term rental specific industry, niche people.

(21:38): That was very cuz we were very young and having people make mistakes was not something we could stomach. Right. And I imagine as we continue to grow as a leader, we all put systems in process and infrastructure in place. Why? Because if someone decides to leave, which inevitably someone will it's part of life, right? How do you replace that person? You have to have those things, process infrastructure place. So you go from this specialist kind of direction to generalist, or maybe you start generalists in your company cuz that's what you, you thought you needed. And you're like, you know what, no, I need a specialist. And both of those comes with pros and cons and you know, and Dan to kinda give you a very non-answer, there is no framework. I don't think there, I don't think there is a clean framework, the higher in scale efficiently and effectively because it's fungible.

(22:27): It has to be fungible. In fact, what your company needs today may be different three months from now, three years from now. And you may need to make tough decisions. Right. Also like what are your goals as an entrepreneur? Right? So the smaller the company, right? The more that the founders and, and leaders and CEOs, personal goals impact your company. Yeah. Right? So it's like, do you want more time? Do you want more money? Do you want, you're looking for better margin. Are you looking for things you don't wanna be involved in day to day? All those things come outta price in terms of hiring talent, both financially culture effectiveness, efficacy, all those things come outta cost. Everything's a trade off. Hey guys, hope you enjoyed part one of this episode. It's just too good to limit to one show. Join us next week to hear the rest.

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