Life Portals: Moments and Mentors – ZEYDRA.COM

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by Jesse Sung Founder ZEYDRA

“Time is valuable, so is good company” —

When you look back at all your past decisions, every single person in your life has played some variable role in the mapping of those choices. The pivotal ones send us through the equivalent of what are life portals.

The decision to move to a new city, a new job or venture and new relationships all can be such transports in time that open up new layers of your future reality. But it all comes back to the people around you, we all are living, breathing payloads of energy and information. The plots of influence can range from dismally subtle to absolutely integral, but regardless of weigh ins, it is interesting when you start putting faces behind those forces. One dot at a time, we do our best to compound these connections in a productive direction towards our overall well being.

The “Who” is often the preceding to the “What” when it comes to influences. A catalytic exercise I highly recommend is taking pen to paper and scribing down every person and or memorable event that you believe added tracks to the course opening “portals”. You likely won’t recall every single detail so just stick to the most memorable ones, you can always edit them at any time.

Digging into memory banks isn’t always easy or pleasant, especially if you have had traumatic events in the past, but those are just as salient and I encourage we ante up the courage to factor them in when scoping our decision making behaviors. All of these time capsules culminate to the dose of your present day reality. Typically you’ll end up having two columns of names, some under thank yous and others under f*ck yous, hopefully having a lot less of the latter.

Regardless of being a droplet of matter in the Universe’s infinite science fair, I believe faith and serendipity are not mutually exclusive of choice and free will. There are patterns and there are results, being selective with what and who you spend time with should be empirical principles to live by. As the old saying goes, people are a product of their environments, so choose wisely.

We all have our origin tales and paths thereafter. Mine in a shell casing could begin with an only child of two immigrant housekeepers living in Berkeley California. I blindly spent my late teens and early 20s discarding my business degree from San Jose State and banking on the entrepreneurial route. The next few years were cluttered with unsuccessful ventures in club promotions, day-trading, screen printing, music producing, refurbishing Air Jordans on Ebay, to “running” for early marijuana dispensaries pre-dating Oaksterdam. Still I undoubtedly found myself treading water on my 27th birthday and a very hollow social graph to boot.

San Francisco

Life Portals

In 2009, a few turning point occurrences led me professionally into full time careers in the magical city of San Francisco. This move alone was one of my key life portals.

Fresh off the Financial Crisis, I drank the kool aid of the contrarian verses of John Paulson and Nassim Taleb and was actually fascinated by the fortunes made and wiped by the collapse of the economy. Going against sensibility, I decided to jump into two industries that had the biggest open wounds.

I hit the books and became both a FINRA licensed investment advisor and CA real estate broker, working New York hours in the mornings while running my own brokerage boutique at 580 California Street in the afternoons. This leap of faith behavior could be attributed back to my mental risk threshold conditioning during the lost era of my early 20s from the early exposure to day trading on margin well beyond my financial means to arbitraging marijuana markets across county lines. But we’ll save that for another post.

So the timing was way-off beat as markets and investors were still suffering from the economic shock and trauma, but office space was dirt cheap and I was incredibly naive. With all the macro uncertainties in flow, I leveraged both industry licenses in opening dialogues with special asset divisions of numerous commercial and regional banks. For many of the ad-hoc VPs, this was the very first time they had to oversee the disposition of hundreds of millions of dollars in delinquent collateral. They wanted all the dry powder they could find and I happened to work with foreign investors looking to posit cash (some capital flight) in anything other than stocks or the box spring.

With overall demand for real estate still at nadir levels, I was able to access these pipelines of distressed assets with little competition. Houses and commercial buildings or their debt were selling for well below construction costs and I realized that people who lost their homes still had to put roofs over their heads, rentals would survive. This would prove to be my hidden goldmine in cultivating a private investor client book over the coming years which alone changed my life forever.

But if you were to ask me what was the true ignition behind San Francisco? I would have to whisper that a woman made me do it. Yes, I had an unyielding crush on a female best friend at the time, that was the culprit. This friend had landed a property management job at the world’s largest commercial real estate firm CBRE in San Francisco. We were just two East Bay bridge & tunnel kids. When she relocated, I had to chase after her, suggestively it was her actions and influence that persuaded me to enter the portal of “white-collar” world…and the rest is history.

I’m going to save you from the cringe details but no, I did not end up getting the girl. However that decision alone opened up a whole new realm of perspective, knowledge, friendships and opportunities for me. Aside from swapping durags, Girbaud shuttle jeans for windsor ties and dockers, my goal posts had shifted indefinitely for the decade to come.

Los Angeles

Another life portal moment came later down the road, the decision to both invest and move to Los Angeles. There was a culmination of pent up factors leading up to an SF exit plan, but the last kick in the ass came after sequential but independent discussions with two individuals in San Francisco. One was with a real estate mentor I met through the Urban Land Institute, Tomas Schoenberg. He is the senior vice president of acquisitions for a large family-office (The Swig Company) which owns over 9 million square feet of commercial real estate between San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. The other conversation was with the founder of Soylent (the meal replacement drink) Rob Rhinehart.

The first conversation was held at some newly opened tapas restaurant in downtown Berkeley CA, where Tomas informed me that they were putting over 300,000 square feet of class B SF office buildings in disposition. This was in 2014, not quite the “peak” of the San Francisco real estate boom but approaching it.

In my mind, any office building in downtown SF would be categorized as a “trophy” asset, you don’t sell those things typically unless you were forced to. This private company did not have to, but they were going to and I had to understand the reasoning for that.

“Culver City and Pasadena” were the two answers I got. I knew LA, but I was still a young tunnel visioned Bay Area kid, so I rebutted with a partial buzz coming on with “what the hell is a Culver City?”.

He grabbed me by each shoulder blade and summarized the fact that several tech giants had recently made moves into the region just south east of Venice Beach and Santa Monica.

This area in West LA would come to be known as Silicon Beach, home to SnapChat, Tinder, RiotGames, and Google, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Salesforce (LA annexes) amongst dozens of other tech companies. The main takeaways from the conversation was “At this point, there’s much more upside potential outside of the Bay Area.” He was talking about equity appreciation and rental rates. This really stuck with me. “What the hell is a Culver City?”. One of several LA buildings they acquired was recently sold for about a $19 million or 92% profit (appreciation) in less than 6 years, pretty astounding for a property of that price range and definitely a better return vs re-investing back into San Francisco.

During this same period of time, I was actively helping an existing warehouse tenant in finding larger space to accommodate their growing operation. The little known startup at the time was Soylent, a fresh Y Combinator graduate. Rob had taken some interim industrial space from a warehouse of ours in downtown Oakland CA. So technically, our building was Soylent’s very first “headquarters”.

For their expansion, we were targeting Dog Patch, Potrero Hill neighborhoods of San Francisco. Soylent had just successfully raised an additional $1.5M from Andreesen Horowitz and needed new space fast. After touring several industrial buildings and submitting LOIs, I received a call one day from Rob to have lunch with him and John Coogan one of Soylent’s other co-founders.

“We’re moving Soylent to LA.” I don’t know why but I remember hearing those words and immediately envisioning Tomas’s face back inside the restaurant in Berkeley.

San Francisco was crowned the most expensive in America during this time and it’s hockey stick of economic prosperity off the back of Silicon Valley seemed unstoppable, so why would two independent, rather accomplished, non-correlated business entities tell me the same thing? Los Angeles was in the cross hairs.

For brevity sake, basically Rob had justified the move based off several factors but the one that stuck to me was in explaining that although the company could now afford 15,000 square feet in SF, it was the difficulty of employees managing to afford living close to work that was the issue. I remember thinking “Wow, so a company can pay the office rent, but their employees can’t pay their own rents. Maybe this was the tip of the iceberg.”

7 unit apartment complex in El Cerrito CA

Over the years since transporting to San Francisco, I managed to take ownership of a 7 unit apartment complex in El Cerrito CA and sweat equity amongst several other rental properties. But surmounting deferred maintenance costs were putting a strain on my monthly runway in maintaining operating expense for the real estate business. I was also under considerable pressure trying to fund raise for a startup project I was bootstrapping called HippGrid (aggregating SMB purchasing power via central business district densities).

Fast forward a bit, I did the homework and decided to sell the real estate I owned in the Bay Area and redeploy the capital, first into two condos via short sales in none other than Fox Hills, Culver City CA. If you are wondering, there have been zero regrets in stepping through that life portal.

In thinking back, I realize just how many of the clients and friendships made in San Francisco served as informal mentorships to me to a certain degree, all of which had some positive contribution in my path of discovery towards expanding real estate investments into other cities and even technology ventures, the most prized being a first taste of a startup exit (Hackbright Academy) and eventually a profound early investment into Ethereum.

The following is what I call my personal Portal Provenance Plot, a timeline (starting with junior college years) of people-to-events in my life that has led to each portal while pursuing happiness and prosperity. The names were pooled out of the very memory bank exercise I described above.

Without undermining any of the past, present friends or family which I may have left out, these are just the attributions without question that have influenced my decision making before or after watershed moments.

I have been fortunate to experience an almost linear progression in my health, financial and overall well being, however as the diagram below suggests, those achievements didn’t come without uncertainty, setbacks and periods of severe depression. There were also several forks in the roads that could have landed me in really muddy waters especially during my early and mid 20s.

From Left-to-Right the PPP can be read as a timeline from earliest to most recent connections and events.

•Circles = Individuals
•Ovals = Life events; change of city, starting a venture
•Diamond = Portal moments (Key decision; high net positive output)

• Density = Magnitude of positive effect

•White = Assisted-introductions
•Blue = Positive influence
•Red = Negative influence
•Purple = Both positive/negative

*Theoretically the less Red, Purple the better (higher chance of net positive)

Background Bar (Shaded)
Height of bar = Personal financial wealth
• Red = Depression
• Blue= Euphoria
• None = Stability

There really isn’t an exact playbook for success as “success” itself is very subjectively defined outside of generalities, someone pursuing to be an owner of a successful restaurant vs someone looking to become an income generating social media brand. But we all are chasing upward social mobility that is written in the fabric of a capitalistic world.

But mentorship from the informal to formal sense of the role; all provide some windfall of new information and wisdom to help you better navigate new terrains, avoiding pitfalls and unleashing dormant curiosity and capabilities from within. The right people provide the right information that eventually provide the right opportunity; the wrong people typically will result in the opposite directions. Yes, hard lessons can be beneficial to some degree but typically as the old saying goes, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”. Mistakes (wrong people) are okay, but don’t reintroduce. the same deadweight or worse into your life.

At the root of it all, a short poignant set of questions to ask yourself would be:
Are you experiencing real progress towards your general goals, well being and happiness? If the answers are perpetually no in all categories, then you should be reassessing your surroundings and making real adjustments. This is never easy or comfortable to distance yourself from particular people or places but it maybe necessary if you want the change you are truly looking for. Mentorships work and that is the reason why I decided to start the ZEYDRA project.

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