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Getting Educated About Your Industry Inside And Out with Than Merrill

In this episode, we're talking to Than Merrill. He is the Founder and CEO of FortuneBuilders and CT Homes. He's been one of the most successful real estate investors in the nation, not because of the deals that he does, although that's a part of it, but also him sharing that knowledge with others. He's been able to share that knowledge with a lot of people on all parts of the United States and beyond and create success stories along the way.

He is an Ivy League boy. He came from Yale University and he is a former NFL football player. We love that here at WealthFit. How do people make that transition? You may not identify with being a professional athlete but you may identify with maybe being in corporate for a while, maybe doing one business and then having to reinvent, having to transform yourself, and finding a new path.

In this episode, we talk about playing in the NFL. We talk about being on reality TV. We get little nuggets of wisdom there. We also talked about Mexicali, where the burrito maker in the assembly line at one point was making more money than Than Merrill. There are a lot of lessons in that. We also talk about why a crash doesn't matter. Whether you believe a crash is coming or don't believe it, it doesn't matter. Than breaks that down and tells you exactly how and why this is important and you can make money in any market.

There are great pearls of wisdom here. Be sure to check it out...

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Dustin
I am super excited. I am here with Than Merrill. He is one of the Cofounders of FortuneBuilders. He also serves on the Board for WealthFit. We're in for a special treat. Than, welcome. 
Than
Anytime I have the opportunity to converse with you and with people around the country, I love it. I'm excited.
Dustin
I want us to go back to April 22nd, 2011, Madison Square Garden. Michael Vick was the number one pick of the NFL draft. It's the seventh round, with 23rd pick. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers called your name.
Than
It was exciting because I was one of those players that I didn't know if I was going to get drafted or not. It was a lifelong dream to play in the NFL and be drafted into the NFL. I was drafted by Tony Dungy who was one of the most amazing men you'll ever meet in your entire life and an amazing leader. He was the first African-American coach to ever win a Super Bowl. I was in my apartment with my roommate and a couple of other guys. Actually, the guy who lives across the hall was the pick right after me. We’re good friends. It was a party in a lonesome apartment building in New Haven, Connecticut. It was a great feeling and a memorable moment of my life for sure.
Dustin
What lessons did you learn playing in the NFL that might be applicable to our audience?
Than
The NFL was an amazing experience. I learned so much just from the coaches, the caliber of people that you're around and there are so many lessons in that business. If you loosely follow the NFL or ever watched one of the series on HBO, an inside look at an NFL team, they have all these different shows. It's a business and you can apply a lot of the lessons that you learned from playing to what I do now. One of the first lessons was it doesn't matter if you're a first rounder or a seventh rounder, you're always on the bubble. You have to show up every single day and produce and that's very relevant to what you do in a business. In a business, nobody cares about what you did last year or the year before or even for the past ten years. It's what are you doing this year? How can you grow the business? How can you deliver returns to investors? What can you do over the course of next week, the next month, the next year? I learned that lesson very quickly in the NFL that it doesn't matter what you did last week or last year. What matters is what you do now and in this game.
Dustin
Do you think it's harder as an entrepreneur because in the NFL you get an off-season and as an entrepreneur, I guess you don't get an off-season unless you take a vacation or you have other people run the business? What do you think about that?
Than
I always felt a lot more pressure in the NFL than I do in my day to day business. That's just the feeling I get. A business is definitely a 24/7/365 gig. That's the trade-off. If you work at a company or a corporation, not everybody, but a lot of times you do have some weekends off where you can decompress and not think about the business. As a business owner, you're always on call. It doesn't matter if it's Thanksgiving or Christmas. There's always something that can be done. There's a fire that might have to be put out. That's the trade-off between working in an organization versus running an organization. There are definitely pros and cons to both.
Dustin
I want to touch a little bit more on football, all this talk of CTE. You play defense, you’re more than a lot of other positions at risk of CTE. Any regrets or any concerns that you have?
Than
I don't have that many personal concerns. I definitely have a concern for the game. I think it's a real issue. I don't think it'll ever be solved in football. I think CTE is something that players and the organizations have become aware of. I don't regret it, I still play to this day. I still would choose to let my kids play at a certain age. I don't think kids under the age of ten or even up to the age of thirteen needed to be in full pads. You can learn a lot about the game by playing flag and there are ways to reduce the problem, but you'll never eliminate it. If they may be cut back on me of the tackling and life hitting in practice, they can do a lot for the game.
If I were an organization or the NFL, I don't know how much influence they have over the high school level. If they could cut back on how often people are going live in high school, it would go a long way for players later on in their career because it's not just in the pro level, it happens in college, it happens in youth football. There are a lot of things you can do to improve it, but that's always going to be a risk of the game. 
Dustin
You went to Yale, an amazing Ivy League education and you were an athlete. Did you have some decisions about other schools in your athletic career that went through your head before you made the decision or was it school first and you go get the best education and football will be a byproduct and whatever happens, happens?
Than
My mother and my father were a big influence and in my life and it was always getting into the best school that you can, that you feel has a good balance between academics and athletics. That was always ingrained in my head. That was the reason I wanted to eventually attend Yale and I enjoyed my career there.
Dustin
You're out of the NFL and you are looking to reinvent yourself. What did you turn to?
Than
First and foremost, I started a Mexican restaurant. That was my very first business investment. It was a great learning experience. I don't regret it at all. In fact, I laugh about it more than anything, but it was a good idea because at Yale campus, there wasn't a Chipotle anywhere to be found and Chipotle was just going through this growth period. I thought I enjoyed eating Chipotle in Chicago. I thought it would be great to have something similar to Chipotle in New Haven. We started a Mexican grill and the problem is I didn't have any education. I thought a good idea was all it took to be successful in business.
I learned very quickly that if you're not educated in the industry and the sector that you're going into, you're going to have a tough time. I feel like that's the number one key to success is that you know your industry inside and out. You spend the time to learn from other people who are successful in that industry. You go to as many classes as you can and then you enter the industry. I did it the opposite. I entered the industry and then try to figure out along the way and learned some very valuable and very difficult lessons. I also think every successful entrepreneur has those failures or small mistakes they make along the way that lead them to a path of success eventually down the road.
Dustin
When did you have the realization that you’ve got to shut this down? Were you looking at the bank statements every month and you continue losing money or you just weren't passionate? What was that trigger point? 
Than
It was definitely a lack of passion and a lack of finances. We would have some weeks we'd make money. We definitely have a lot of weeks we’re losing money and I realized just how many hours I was trading for the type of return that I was getting. Also when I did a calculation, I was actually the lowest paid person in the entire company. I had people working on the line serving burritos that were making more than me as a business owner. That was obviously a big motivator. The other motivator was I just wasn't excited day-to-day about working with guacamole in the back of a restaurant and it just didn't get me fired up. I love learning and I love new things and I love challenges and it definitely had a lot of challenges, but it was as very repetitive business once you're working in the business and that didn't excite me.
Dustin
After Mexicali, what happens next?
Than
What we did is a longtime friend, Paul Esajian and I and another longtime friend who I went to Yale with, Konrad Sopielnikow, we started looking at real estate. I started going to some real estate classes, just getting my feet wet as to how the industry work and operate. I was still working full-time. We started buying some properties on the side. We weren't sure if it was going to be a full-time business. We weren't sure of the economic viability of it. Very quickly after the first couple of transactions, we realized we had a passion for it and it was financially very rewarding. I realized I could do it with two close friends of mine.
I put the restaurant up for sale and it took a while, but we ended up selling the restaurant. During the first part of my real estate career, I was working in the restaurant throughout the week and then on the weekends and at night, I would be looking at properties, I'd be doing due diligence. I'd be getting my feet wet in that industry and sector and I just realized I loved it. I loved it and there was a tremendous amount of potential and it's proven to be the best decision I ever made.
Dustin
That's interesting because you actually own the Mexican restaurant but you're not making money. I think a lot of people can identify because maybe they're not an entrepreneur, but they have a job and so you were hustling to reinvent and find real estates. I think that’s fascinating. I’ve got to ask you this. Usually, there's a ringleader when there are partners. Were you the guy that was like, “We’ve got to get into real estate?” Do you believe you were that person or was it one of the others?
Than
I think Paul had an equal level of passion. We both challenged each other to read books and go to classes, “I'm going to this class, you go to this class, I'm reading this book, you read this book.” He was working as a bartender, so it's not like he had a high trajectory of a long-term career path. The timing worked out well. We were the same age, obviously. We had a long history knowing each other since seventh grade. I think we had an equal level of passion to begin with and that was good.
Dustin
Talk to me about your first deal. Everyone remembers their first deal. Tell me about that first deal where it became a reality.
Than
The first property we ever bought was at an auction. It was a property that had a bad foundation. It needed over $50,000 in work, and was in a really rough area. In Connecticut, which is where this property was located in New Haven, at auction, you have about 30 days or a little over 30 days before you actually have to close on the sale. In most states, that’s very different. You have to close much quicker at an auction. I had enough for a down payment but I didn't have enough to close on the property. We had 30 days to figure out where we're going to get the rest of the money. Paul and I called every family member known to man, we utilized some credit card financing for part of the purchase and part of the rehab as we went and we just hustle to put some of the finances together to be able to do that transaction.
It took us about six months to complete the deal. At the end of six months, we made just over $27,000, which may seem a decent amount of money on a transaction. When you've traded six months of your time and there are two of you, we realized very quickly, “We better put some systems in place. We better do this more efficiently next time. If we want to make a go of this, we're going to have a better business than we have on our first deal.” That's what we did. We started looking at different ways to cut back on the number of hours that we would spend on each and every transaction, systemize the business and it just started to grow from there and blossom. That same transaction now would be a couple of hours of management of other people, but I wouldn't have to necessarily be as involved as I was over fourteen years ago on that very first deal. 
Dustin
You're putting the systems in place. You guys are doing deals and you're flipping deals. This gets notoriety, for those that you don't know, Than and Paul are on A&E’s Flip This House. You're on TV and they're following you around. How did you go from being a real estate investor to now a TV star?
Than
A&E was looking for another cast. They had a very popular show called Flip This House. It was the very first flipping show. There are obviously a lot of reality shows now. It was the very first one and the first cast was out of South Carolina and they were looking for another cast. Since the show is so popular, they were looking for another cast that was doing a lot of transaction so that they could film three or four projects at once and save money. The production company is always looking to get more bang for their bucks. They started calling around different organizations, different hard money lenders and a few individuals and a few people that were working at some of the different hard money lenders.
Small organizations that we were borrowing from at the time recommended us. They ended up calling us out of the blue, had a conversation. They came up literally the next day to film because they were out in New York City and I just did a little film run and did a background check. They took a look at our different projects and wanted to make sure because we had a lot and still do have a lot of projects going on at once. To them, that was very attractive because they could film multiple episodes at once and save a lot of money that way and put out a lot more shows. That's how it fell into place and we shot on that show for many years and quite a few episodes and it was fun.
Dustin
I remember seeing some of those episodes and I thought as a marketer, the product placement of FortuneBuilders on pots and shirts and wherever else you guys could squeeze it in. Did you start FortuneBuilders before the show? Was it after the show? Was it a hedge where you're like, “We've got all this publicity, let's do something?” 
Than
We had an educational company before the show. At that time, I was getting invited to speak around the country at different real estate organizations and different conferences. We started our real estate educational organization about a year before the show came along. The show is nice. It didn't bring us a lot of extra real estate transactions or deals, those were all still facilitated through the MLS, direct mail marketing and other forms of marketing that we're using. It did bring some notoriety to our educational events that we were doing. It definitely helped in that capacity.
Dustin
You get an exposure, people are learning more about you. I'm curious, you're married now, you mentioned your wife. Did you guys meet because she saw you on the show?
Than
I was tracking her down. We met online and she was living in Florida at the time and we just hit it off from the very beginning. When we first met I didn't know much about her. She definitely didn't know anything about me and it just went from there.
Dustin
Talk to us a little bit about the growth and the evolution of FortuneBuilders. You're out speaking at events. Now if people flip on the radio, they're likely to hear an ad or turn on a TV, they're likely to hear an ad or an invitation to come to an event, but it wasn't always the way. Talk to me a little bit about that.
Than
I've always loved education. My father was a teacher. He was a professor at Fresno State before he passed away and my mother was a dance teacher. Education has always been a big influence in my life and both of my parents were educators in their own regard and their own different ways. I've always been a learner. I loved learning, probably one of my biggest passions and I've always loved teaching and just sharing with other entrepreneurs what we do. When I first started getting the opportunity to just speak at some different conference, I didn't know if anything would come of those opportunities. I found it to be a calling for me. I love investing. I spend a good half of my day working on real estate investments and the other half of my day I spend helping educate students throughout the country through our educational business.
In fact, I'm going out to teach a class in Phoenix, Arizona. I just loved doing it. I love being around motivated people who have a goal, who have a dream and want to get there. There are a lot of people in life who say they want to do amazing things and say they want to grow and say they want to make more money, but they don't do anything about it. When you're around people who are motivated, I think it's inspiring. You also learn a lot because I learned as much from being a teacher and we're interacting with thousands of investors around the country as I do from just teaching the classes that I teach. It's definitely a win-win situation.
Dustin
You've got the real estate business that is doing a lot of deals at any given time. You've got a rather large organization. How do you split your time and still have the family life and do the things that you love to do, running two rather large and other entities as well as operations?
Than
Time is always a challenge. I have two kids that are younger now and I know many have kids at different stages of their life. It's a challenge between your career, your career goals, the amount of time that you can spend with your wife, with your family or with your spouse, and it's a balance. I just try to spend a certain amount of time with our investing efforts. I spend a certain amount of time with our educational accompany and then I try to spend time in the early mornings and the evenings with the family, probably like everybody else. It's not much different and you just try to be as intelligent as you can with how you use your time.
Dustin
I want to go back to a real estate a little bit. You work with a lot of real estate investors. You train them, you get them up to speed and the results have been amazing. What do you think is the number one thing that stops people from doing their first deal or being successful in real estate overall?
Than
A couple of things. Number one, education. People underestimate the amount of education that is required and just the number of hours of consistent growth, learning any industry and real estate's no different. It's not like to become a doctor, you have years that you commit and then you go to medical school, so you have a long career path. Real estate is not that lengthy, but some people have an expectation that maybe a one-day class or a couple of podcasts is all you need. That's not realistic. Over the course of 12 to 24 months, if you dedicate yourself to your real estate education, it'll give you the foundation that’s required to be successful. If you want to be more successful, you'd spend more time educating yourself in the industry. 
What I've noticed is that the most successful students that we have just have been to more of our classes and have studied more. Education helps you overcome a lack of confidence. Mindset is extremely important. The limiting beliefs that people put on themselves can be very detrimental. What education does is a specific education within the industry helps you overcome a lot of that fear and a lot of those mental barriers. I always say it's education first, then just working on personal development. Sometimes people think it's personal development and, “I just need to work on myself first.” If you don't know anything about real estate, it doesn't matter how much you work on yourself. You’ve got to learn about the industry. Then at the same time, start to recognize some of your strengths and weaknesses within your mindset, within that little voice that talks to you and tells you that you can't do things and overcoming some of those things.
It's education, mindset, and then I would say systems. People often take a very technical approach to their business. They become their business. They end up working in the business. They end up becoming the person who does the marketing, the acquisitions and the construction management. They raise the money, they end up finding the buyers and they become their business. Having a systems-driven business is very important. Taking an approach like McDonald's has taken to the hamburger business. Take that to any industry that you're in, whether it's real estate or any other sector out there.
Dustin
That's a big distinction, especially for me. That's the reason why I'm on the team, part of the crew is I was wrapped up with what I was doing and building prior to the identity of it. Ego was very much a part of it. I had to be the guy to do it and I didn't have the vision or the foresight to say, “I ought to be the McDonald's operator and be on the beach should I care to be.” I always thought I get a sense of fulfillment doing the work, but I never had that distinction of putting those systems in place so that I had the option to walk away or to do what I want to do. That's a big distinction having the systems.
Than
That's the difference between having a business that works and having a business that's successful. Doing the work yourself within a business can definitely be a career path and it can be fruitful. You can make it work for many years and people can earn a living if you want to have something that gives you the time to enjoy other areas of your life. I wouldn't go so far as to say living on the beach, very few people live on the beach and operate a business, but the distinction is important. Do you have the time to travel? Do you have the free time to do what you want? Do you have the ability to make your own schedule? A lot of times if you're trapped within your business, you don't. The financial rewards are much tougher versus building a systems-dependent business because that's where you can grow and scale.
Dustin
Depending on who you listen to, some experts say another crash is coming or at least a downturn is coming in the marketplace, some say in real estate. What do you say to the doomsdayers or maybe the people that are listening to them and getting that negative information in their head? Maybe it's not negative, but maybe it is a realistic thing, what do you say about that conversation?
Than
It depends on who you're listening to because there's always a segment of the educational market that sells doomsday. What happens is they'll try to predict a crash and then if that doesn't happen in 2018, they'll write a book in why it's going to crash in 2020 and eventually. That's never been something that I've had a big fanfare for, but the real estate market in 2008 was a real thing. It was one of the biggest crashes, if not the biggest crash in the real estate market of all time. I don't have a crystal ball. I wish I did. Nobody does. Nobody knows exactly where the market's going to go, but what I do know is the market is still strong.
I believe it's going too slow. I think that will inevitably happen. I don't think it's going to crash. I think the economics of where we sit now is very different from 2007 going into 2008. Real estate markets follow the accessibility to capital. They follow the lending market. If you're out there borrowing in 2006, 2007, just about anybody could buy a home and that's not what lending regulation should look like. I feel like we have very adequate lending regulations. I wouldn't say it's difficult, but it's rigorous to get a loan to buy a single-family home and so the policies and procedures we have in place right now definitely make this market much healthier. People have a lot more equity in their home now than they did in 2007. In 2007, people were pulling equity out of their home, leveraging their property so there was no equity.
What happens is when the market turned just countless people lost their homes who had followed that desire to pull the equity out. Now, that looks very different. The fundamentals are much stronger and the economy right now is very healthy in most aspects, because of that we're going to continue to see good things. The other thing is as a real estate investor, the more you study the industry, there are opportunities in every market. There are not two sides of the coin. There are three, the edge and either side. Whether the market's going up down or whether the market's flat, if you study the market, there's always going to be opportunities. I feel good about it, no matter where it goes, but that's just my sentiment is that it's going too slow, but it will still be a very viable industry for people.
Dustin
I want to get inside your head. Obviously, you're a big fan of real estate. Besides real estate, what other kinds of vehicles are you leveraging personally for your entities or businesses to grow your wealth? 
Than
Primarily real estate, I've always believed that diversity is not the best way to grow wealth. I think specializing in an asset class, within an industry is the surest way to create financial prosperity, security, and financial freedom. I still believe that because if you just diversify, oftentimes other people will be managing your money. They'll be taking a share of the profits or proceeds or management fee. This is just me, I've always wanted to have the majority of my income in an asset class that I know inside and out. You can still be diversified within the real estate asset class. I have investments in commercial real estate and hospitality and apartment buildings and single-family homes. We have some development projects, but we also have a lot of income producing.
I'm pretty diversified within the real estate asset class itself. I'm also diversified across different markets, but I still have the majority of my personal worth in real estate, both on the lending and equity side. I have some investments in stocks and equities and bonds and some of those different types of investments. That's not my forte, that's not my expertise. I just do it to have a little bit of diversification, but that's a smaller amount of my personal net worth and the majority of it is in real estate.
Dustin
Do you have any investments that you're like, “I want to do that one day, maybe I want to build my education up and I'd like to invest in oil and gas or whatever?” Anything out there for you?
Than
I hate to disappoint you right now. I don't have some asset class or something that I just have a strong desire to get into because I've always believed you invest in things that are familiar to you that you study on a daily basis. I feel like if I were to chase cryptocurrency, I don't have a knowledge of that area. That is not my expertise. Most people who chase trends end up losing. Specialize in one or two asset classes, have a few good potential advisors or people you could invest with that you can trust in different asset classes, but specialize in something. If anything, the smartest thing that you can do is learn how to defer taxes through different vehicles that are out there within the asset class that you're investing in. A Roth IRA can be invested in real estate. That's a very powerful vehicle that can be applied to an asset class that makes investing so much more profitable over the life of your career. For me, that's my personal choice.
Dustin
What is the most worthwhile investment you've made?
Than
I always say the best investment I've ever made is my own education, spending the time weekly and daily to get educated. The more you spend investing in your own knowledge, the better it's going to pay off.
Dustin
What's the investment you'd rather not talk about?
Than
We've had real estate deals over the years that have kicked us in the pants and the good thing about that, if you're investing in the stock market, if you're investing in real estate, you're going to have winners and losers. If you pay attention and analyze when you make a mistake, what happened and you debrief on the transaction and look at, “Where did I waste time? Where did I make mistakes? Where was I too trusting?” You can fix that problem. I think some of the greatest learning lessons I've had, have been from the mistakes that I've made on real estate transactions. That helps you develop a better-refined system or process or due diligence process so that you don't make that same mistake.
Dustin
How do you personally vet deals?
Than
Real estate deals have a multistep process. First, we gather property information. Either we're talking to a broker or we're talking directly with the seller from some of our direct response marketing. We gather some information, ten, fifteen minutes. Some basic details about the property, about the seller situation and try to assess the potential. Is this a lead that the seller is looking for retail or is this a lead where there's the ability to add value in some way? Then we do a desktop appraisal on the property. From our desk, we try to appraise the highest and best use of the property and what the value is going to be. Then if it passes that test, we’ll actually go analyze and appraise a property in the field.
Ultimately, if you're looking at apartment buildings or single-family homes, it’s going to be a little different process. Essentially the process is if we're looking at a residential property, we're going to try to determine the value, we're going to try to determine the construction costs. Is this property something that's better to hold or is this something that we're going to flip? We take it through that series of steps and then once we go to contract is when we do the rest of our due diligence. We try to find out 60% of the information before we go to contract and then afterward we do the other 40% where we're looking at the school system. We're looking at the property more in detail and just making sure that it checks all the boxes before we ended up closing on it.
Dustin
What about business? You've made some investments in businesses. What is your process or methodologies? Do you follow the same methodology here?
Than
With businesses, you're investing in people first. You've got to look at the people who are running the business. What is their educational background? What is their work ethic look like? What do the personal financials look like of the company? What decisions have they made along the way? What team have they built? What's the product they’re selling? What have they done within the organization? Is there a culture? Are there leaders underneath the CEO or the founder? You're investing in that management team. You look at all of those factors. It's a lot more involved than I would say a single real estate transaction. A single real estate transaction is much quicker. A business is a much more complicated set of due diligence facts that you're going to analyze.
Dustin
Than, do you have kids? Tell me about the kids.
Than
I have a five-year-old boy, Tyce, and an almost two-year-old daughter named Sky. They’re the greatest joy on Earth and it's just amazing to see them go through those learning experiences every day and watch them grow. It's amazing. 
Dustin
I’ve got to ask the million-dollar question, but I'm personally interested because I'm starting to have this awareness as they get older. Are you training your kids yet to be WealthFit or is it still early?
Than
My son who's five, he talks. My daughter is still learning her words, but my son who's five, I definitely have spent a lot of time with and kids soak everything up. It's amazing. I'm sure I could learn a lot from a lot of people who have children who are older than mine. I try to play games with him and teach him about business and try to do things where the learning is entrepreneurial. We were making breakfast, I said, “You're going to open a restaurant.” I was trying to teach him a little bit about business as he was selling pancakes to one of my wife's friends and just little things to teach him that entrepreneurial spirit and make it fun and keep it exciting.
Dustin
I'm personally curious about this. I want to leave copies of books out, Rich Dad Poor Dad because that was one that was impactful for me. Are you going to try to lead them as much as possible but still let them make that decision or are you going to be a little more proactive and send them to an entrepreneurial boot camp and send them to all these things and be a little more in your face? How are you thinking about that? 
Than
I really don't know yet. I'd say probably half and half. Half encouragement to help them find their own way, but also hopefully give them some experiences that help them formulate those thoughts. If there was a particular class and I could figure out a way to convince my son or daughter to go, I think those experiences are good. I think probably a balance between those two things that you just mentioned.
Dustin
When I was young younger, I was more of a gunslinger. Now that I've got these two boys, my mindset has changed a bit and so I'm curious as to your path. Have you changed your investment strategy since getting married and since having kids? How so?
Than
I have a little bit. I’m a little more conservative. I still take strategic risks on certain things that I believe in or will pay off. You definitely think a little bit differently when you have a family and you have kids. You can take more risks when you're younger. That can be very beneficial to a lot of people at that stage of your life or if they are single, it doesn't have to be younger than you can with a family, but it hasn't changed that much. It hasn't like night and day all of a sudden I'm extremely conservative, but I probably slant towards not taking as many risks.
Dustin
We're talking money here and I'm always curious to ask this question. What is your guilty pleasure splurge?
Than
I love football. I love the NFL. I love college football. I've been to the Super Bowl three times. I love that. I've decided to wrangle up friends and co-workers to always go with me. I'd say that's probably the guilty splurge because it's not really a good investment, Super Bowl tickets, they're gone the day after the game. That's an experience you'll never forget.
Dustin
Take me through best Super Bowl you've been to.
Than
We went to the New England Patriots versus the Seattle Seahawks in Phoenix. Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson from the Seahawks in the last minute of the game and it was amazing.
Dustin
You're incredibly smart. You're street smart. You went to Yale so you've got the educational smarts. I’ve got to think you have an end game, an exit plan when you're done. I know you enjoy education. I’ve got to imagine that there's some transition for you where you're maybe less active in a business and maybe just more passive. What's that look like?
Than
I'd love to say I have this grand plan, but I don’t. I just like what I'm doing. I liked the people that I'm working with. Eventually some of the different companies we have, maybe certain team members within the organization could play a bigger role and I think there are some opportunities there. I don't have a game plan or an exit date or something like that. One thing I would like to do is I'd like to coach football at some point in my life. I've been saying that for a while. My wife, “You said that five years ago and you still haven't done anything.” She's right, I haven't, but I do have a desire to coach football at some point. I don't know what that looks like and maybe I should take my wife's advice and do something about it. That desire is definitely there.
Dustin
From the outside, I believe you're in a position to retire, be done and never show up at work again, although I suspect you would not be as fulfilled because you love the game. What keeps you going on a day-to-day when you could technically check out?
Than
I don't think I'd ever be satisfied doing nothing or retired. Most people wouldn't be. If you're reading this and you're at that stage, keeping your mind going and having a challenge. I'm a very competitive person so I always like to learn, I always like to grow. I'm addicted to learning like that is an addiction and as long as I'm learning every day and growing and enjoying what we do, I'll continue doing it. I get antsy, even when I go on vacation. I feel like if I'm not being somewhat productive during the day doing something or learning something, it starts to bother me. I don't know if I ever will retire, but it'll definitely take more time for sure.
Dustin
Thanks for sharing that because I feel the same way. I thought something was wrong with me, like on vacation I feel like I just got to make a bed or reading the books just to be off. Thanks for sharing that. I want to get into your success routines and mindsets. I want to challenge people to maybe get off the couch or get into the game because coming from seminar land myself in that side of the business, we've seen people that perpetually learn, but then they don't go and execute. I know it's not an acquisition of more knowledge, it's more of mindset shifts. I want to get into a little bit about that. I've discovered that fear and self-doubt often stop people from achieving their goals. What do you personally do to overcome those feelings and what would you tell somebody in that situation?
Than
Everyone has self-doubts, I've had self-doubts and a lot of times I've found that my doubt comes just from lack of knowledge. For me, investing in different businesses and whenever I have self-doubt it's generally because I don't know something or I feel inadequate when it comes to my knowledge level of that particular area of business. I've found that by educating myself that gives me a little bit of confidence and as help. Becoming more aware of how your mind works, how your brain works. You become more aware of the stories that you tell yourself and the negative self-talk. I read a book called Mindset by Carol Dweck. A really good book that was very eye-opening for me about the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. I realized that I had a growth mindset in many areas of my life, but I also had a fixed mindset in other areas. It just puts a label on things that I feel like our common sense but not often discussed or talked about and it had a lot of scientific research behind that simple concept, growth mindset, fixed mindset, and those things have helped. Becoming more aware and personal development for a lot of people is critical to their long-term success.
Dustin
I've been privy to a few management meetings and incredibly smart people in the room and most of the room had one opinion and yet you had another opinion, which isn't a big thing but you voiced yourself there. I felt the tension, but it wasn't like people weren't going to rip their heads off. It was more like you stood your ground. They weren't backing down. How do you maintain your composure? How do you stay in that room with everyone at the table is a smart person? Do you doubt yourself there? How do you maintain that composure to argue your point when the numbers are stacked against you?
Than
I don't know if I'd be the best person to ask that. When I believe in something, I feel like a high level of confidence in the industry and the knowledge that I have within, not only the real estate industry but also the educational industry. If there's something that I believe in, I won't back down. I have the ability sometimes to look around corners and be able to see things that could be issues or problems in the future. Believe me, I'm wrong all the time too. I like to say, “You'd have to ask my coworkers,” that I will admit quickly when I am wrong. In an unknown area, if we're trying to make a decision, I will definitely use logic, sometimes force, maybe not in a good way, but just conviction in the decisions that I make.
Dustin
I've talked to enough people at FortuneBuilders that you have this ability to cut through whatever's being said and just ask a really, I don't want to say pointed question, but a question that really cuts through the clutter and gets to the heart of the matter. Do you know that you have that ability?
Than
I don't know if I know that. There's a lot of opinions and I like to try to get facts. People are very emotional. I'm emotional. Everyone's very emotional. Oftentimes emotions will get the best. This person said this or this customer said this, and what I’m always trying to analyze and they'll make it global to all people within the company. They'll make it global to every customer's thinking and that for me, it's like, “How many? Is that an isolated incident that somebody is thinking or is that a real verifiable problem?” What I've found is that oftentimes one person's opinion, they try to make the opinion of everyone, and you've got to get to the facts. Sometimes it is true. Many customers within your organization, if you're listening or 10% or thing is this 1%? Is this 5%? Is this 10%? People make a lot of global generalizations in business that aren't necessarily always facts. Nothing is black and white, there are always different shades of everything. You have to try to get to the source. I don't know if that was a good way of defining it.
Dustin
I've learned a lot from it, to not maybe take everything at face value. I'm very empathetic and I often take it at face value. I trust what that person is saying, my job is really to get down to the facts and that’s why I think that's a big thing.
Than
Keep asking more questions. It's always important and sometimes it's a real issue or something that needs to be solved or something that needs to be improved. It depends on what it is you're talking about, but that's trying to get to the facts as quickly as you can.
Dustin
Do you have any special secretive routines, maybe some Yale brotherhood stuff or NFL secrets or hacks that you implement on a daily or monthly basis
Than
I’ve got a couple. I don't know if they're groundbreaking, but one thing I do every morning is I organize my calendar. I try to put what I feel like are the most productive, most important areas of the company that you're going to work on first and try to attack those in order. I spent the good five minutes at the beginning of every day, ten minutes of every day just organizing my execution items and try to eliminate anything that is not important. I think as an entrepreneur we get excited about a lot of things.
People that are listening to this, no doubt if you're listening to a podcast, it's about, wealth, finance, it’s about personal development. Everything that is related to these different podcasts. You have an entrepreneurial spirit and I think that can be an awesome thing, but it can also be the detriment. People can chase shiny objects or go down rabbit holes or start studying things that really aren't going to help you or the organization. I think saying no and having a process of what you attacked during the day is very important. Making sure you're being very strategic with your time is critical. 
Dustin
You're incredibly successful. I know you read a lot of books. I'm curious to know who you look up to. Who are your mentors? Who are you learning from? 
Than
My mother was my very first mentor. She ran her own company. It was a small business and my mother and I, like every son and mom, had a tremendous respect. We've had days where we argue like cats and dogs, but what I always respected about her was her work ethic. I would see it day in and day out and I would see her on the phone with customers. I would see her teaching classes at the dance studio. I would see her doing the books. I would see her just doing the work and I always respected that about her. I think that would be my first mentor. My wife is probably, it's weird to call your wife a mentor, but she's given me a lot of perspective on how to be more emotionally intelligent as opposed to just brute force. Just be more aware of the people around you and what they're saying, what their body language is, and then how to communicate at a higher level. She's helped me a lot.
Dustin
You’re incredibly successful. You've got multiple businesses. A lot of people reporting to you, working with you. With so many demands on your time, how do you prioritize what to do or what meetings to take?
Than
It’s always a challenge. I think it's even a challenge for me certain weeks ago, why did I start studying that? Why did I go down that rabbit hole? Why did I take that meeting? I think for me, organizing my calendar early on in the day really helps tremendously because it puts your most important task first. Not your easiest task, but your most important task. There was a great book, The ONE Thing written by Gary Keller who talks about putting one task and time blocking for that task, the better part of your morning and then working on other things. I've tried to apply some of the different strategies within that book to just my daily schedule. I'm not an entrepreneur 24/7. I do a lot of entrepreneurial work throughout the day, but I also do technical work and just things that I feel are going to be highly productive.
Learning how to say no as an entrepreneur is probably one of the skillsets that is extremely important to develop because you can waste a lot of time looking at a lot of different things that never go anywhere as opposed to specializing in one. I tell our students in real estate, don't try to do self-storage, industrial, mobile homes, land development, single family, pick one to focus on. Master that, scale that, grow that, and then get into the second area and sometimes our entrepreneurial spirit and being an opportunity seeker, myself included, can distract you. 
Dustin
We just take a look at your resume, Yale, NFL football player, extremely athletic, successful in business. You look like Superman. I’ve got to ask Superman. Do you experience overwhelm?
Than
Definitely, I think how you frame overwhelm is important because it's easy to get overwhelmed. I don't remember who I learned this from, but somebody said if you look at the amount of stuff that you have to do as a blessing and that a lot of people maybe look for advice from you or are looking to you for certain types of decisions that should be a compliment. Oftentimes it can be negative in your own head. I deal with it every day, being overwhelmed and just trying to be as strategic and as good a person as I can be and continually learn and grow and continue to develop the leadership and the team that works with me so that I don't have to be as overwhelmed weekly or monthly or on an annual basis.
Dustin
I actually asked some of the team members at FortuneBuilders to submit some of these questions and I've worked them in here and there's one that I have to ask and I think it's telling. It comes to my attention, because of this question, that you don't fly first class. You're in a world where CEOs have rather large businesses are getting these incredible perks: first class at the jet, crazy bonuses and whatnot. I just have to ask you, you could ride first class and it's not killing the business. Why don't you?
Than
It's not a good investment. To have a few extra inches of legroom and somewhat adequate, better meal than what you can buy in coach. I've tried to not waste money in my career and I feel like two hours splurging on yourself is just not a good investment.
Dustin
You've made it. You've put in the hours. This is something that one could say you've earned this.
Than
I guess you're right, but I still have a hard time wanting to do it.
Dustin
Looking back, what would you say your biggest defining moment is? Maybe a moment where you chose to embark on something that would change the trajectory of your life?
Than
I'd say there are a couple defining moments. First one was when I picked up one of the first real estate books that I ever read and that just sparked an interest and a passion that has led me into this career path. The other is the day I met my wife. That definitely changed my perspective and the direction of my personal life. Looking back, we have two kids. It's just interesting to think about how your life could be different. If I happened to be on a website clicking through a few pictures and found her and what if I had been doing something different that day. Just a chance encounter and your entire life is different. I'd say those are probably the two defining moments.
Dustin
Than, I really appreciate you being on the show, making time for the WealthFit nation to chime in and give some wisdom here. If you're inspired by Than, where can folks find what you're up to, FortuneBuilders, the next event, where can they make that happen? 
Than
Our main website is FortuneBuilders.com. That is our main corporate website. We have a couple of different companies, that's one of them. If you want to find me personally, just go to Facebook, @ThanMerrill. On Instagram, I think it's @ThanMerrill.
Dustin
Than, thanks again for being on the show. I really appreciate it and I'm really looking forward to continuing the journey with you.
Than
Thank you, Dustin. It's a pleasure to be with you.
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