Never Be A Busboy

In September 2017, I took a trip down to Fayetteville, North Carolina. I went down with a small team of investors to perform due diligence at a 200 unit apartment complex. After the first day of touring the property, we found ourselves at a bar/restaurant trying to get a feel for the locals. It was during dinner that I learned the concept of "Never Be A Busboy". 

Allow me to paint the scene

While waiting for our table, we played a few games of cornhole with some intimidating military men. After a few games, the hostess called our names. We head inside to order up some good southern-style dinner. Somewhere between sitting down and ordering food, the conversation turned philosophical.

I sat in the bottom left corner of the booth. To my right sat an engineer that used to work for Boeing. He has since transitioned to underwriting real estate deals full time. In front of me was a commercial broker who fit the “work hard, play hard” role to a tee. And sitting diagonally from me was the lead investor & general partner on the deal.

The lead investor on the deal is Matt Faircloth, a micro-celebrity in the world of Real Estate. He’s been on the BiggerPockets Podcast twice. He has a YouTube Channel with ~10,000+ subscribers. He owns and operates a healthy real estate business based out of Trenton, NJ.

Imposter syndrome was at an all time peak. I couldn’t help but wonder how I got a seat at this table. The only explanation I could think of, was the fact that I followed through. I needed to scratch the itch of curiosity, so I probed.

I opened by asking Matt, “how many people reach out to you per week? Whether it’s for advice, coffee, deal proposals, etc.?”

My question flattered him, I could tell. His answer didn’t surprise me. “I’m not sure how many people are actually reaching out to me. I have hurdles in place to weed out the people that aren’t serious. At least 10 people per week are getting through to me”.

“Hurdles? What do you mean?”, I asked.

“Well, do you remember when you filled out the “contact us form” on my website? My autoresponder sent you an email that same day, saying I’ll get back to you in a bit. But we let a few days go by before reaching out again. The second time we reach out, we send a survey to get a better idea of what it is you really want. This is where a lot of people drop off. Most people want free advice. Which, at this point, is a waste of my time. I can only focus on deal generating activity. Finally, for the people that fill out the survey in a way that aligns with my company’s goals, we send a calendar invite to schedule a 15 minute phone call.”

Lesson: Persistence is key

“It’s not that I am smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.”
-Albert Einstein

In this case, a little persistence went a long way. However, I didn’t think I was doing anything special by following up to the requests of the guy I wanted to work with. The short sightedness of the people that don’t actually follow up boggles my mind. Why did they reach out in the first place?

So I pressed. “Well, I’m sure plenty of people follow through. But I’m the only one sitting at this table, so what got me to this point?”

He replied with, “You told me you wanted to learn the ins and outs of large multi-family deals. So I took a flier on you by inviting you down here. Judging by today, it turns out you’re a valuable asset to the team. You may not have as much experience as the rest of us, but that hasn’t stopped you from figuring out how to get things done. You have good ideas and at the end of the day….

“You’re not a busboy!”

...interjected the power broker.

“Ok, thanks for the compliment, I think? Please elaborate...”

The broker continued, “I have this saying, it’s kind of stupid, but it’s: Never be a busboy. Busboys come to the table for one reason only: to take things away. You can be anyone else in the restaurant. A waiter, a hostess, the chef, the owner: these people bring things to the table. Never be a busboy: their only job is to take things away. If you don’t bring something to the table, you shouldn’t eat.”

Lesson: 51/49

This weird idea of never being a busboy gels well with my drive to stay 51/49. I strive to provide more value than I extract.

I walked away from that dinner a little bit taller. We were only halfway through the trip and my imposter syndrome was all but cured. I had a lot to learn from these guys, but I knew I could provide value as well. As long as I brought something to the table, I earned my seat.

Sunny Shakhawala

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