The ONE Thing


Gary Keller is co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Keller Williams (KW). KW is the world’s largest real estate franchise by agent count. KW also ranks number one in units sold as well as total sales volume in the United States. 

When I decided to learn more about real estate back in 2016, Gary’s name popped up everywhere I looked. Naturally, I had to buy his best-selling book, The One Thing, co-authored by Jay Papasan.

This book is about exactly what is sounds like: identifying the lead domino (the one thing), and whacking away at it until it falls.

The central theme of the book stems from a simple question. What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else is either easier or unnecessary?

For emphasis, I’ll write the question again with strategically placed ellipses (read it slowly this time): what’s the one thing I can do... such that by doing it... everything is either easier or unnecessary?

In The ONE Thing, Gary & Jay argue not everything matters equally, and success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most. Yet that is exactly how most play it on a daily basis.

We spin our wheels as we create full page to-do lists. Sometimes we add things to our to-do list after we’ve completed them just to get the satisfaction of crossing it out. Everybody does that… not just me, right? 

Many of us take pride in our ability to do more. That needs to stop. We need to flip the script. We’d be better served by focusing on contributing less input and generating more output.

I am no different. After closing my restaurant business in late 2017, I spent most of 2018 filling my day with minutiae. I made daily to-do lists longer than I could ever accomplish. I kept myself busy, but it didn’t always result in what I’d consider “successful” outcomes.

The ONE Thing says, Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.

The best way to efficiently yield desirable results is by identifying the lead domino. 

However, it’s REALLY difficult to identify the lead domino when you’re trying to achieve a new goal. How can you possibly know which action is going to yield disproportionate results? 

I have a few ideas:

  1. Find a mentor who has already accomplished what you want and follow their playbook.
  2. Find the historical data, analyze it, look for trends, come up with your own game plan.
  3. Get started. Make a bunch of mistakes. When things click, do more of it. When things don’t click, do less of it. When you’re gaining traction, reflect on what got you there.

1 & 2 are more difficult than it sounds. 

3 is time consuming and costly. But it’s also satisfying as hell when it works.

Once you finally identify The ONE Thing, you have to practically abandon everything else.

If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.

If you’re achievement oriented, it will feel wasteful to focus most of your time towards one input. It will seem too simple. The results will likely take longer than you expect. But if you can grind it out, doing The ONE Thing will pay off!

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In the rest of this article, I want to share my favorite example that embodies The ONE Thing principle. 

Then I want to share what I recently discovered to be The ONE Thing for my real estate business.  

Ryan Flaherty is the Senior Director of Performance at Nike. Before that position, Ryan was the Founder & President of his own company, called Prolific Athletes, LLC. 

Ryan’s roster of clients include big names like Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota, & Jameis Winston. 

These elite-level athletes come to Ryan because he is an expert at developing speed. 

Ryan developed an algorithm called “Force Number” that is based on the hex (or trap) bar deadlift and body weight to predict speed such as the forty-yard dash.

Quick Definition:

-Hex Bar Deadlift (AKA Trap Bar Deadlift): A barstock welded into a hexagonal or diamond shape, sized to allow a person to stand in the middle.

Ryan’s obsession with speed started at a young age. He played all sorts of sports, but was painfully slow. As he developed his own speed over time, he had an epiphany. 

One of the things that I think is funny to me ... if you can imagine that every sport played was in the swimming pool, one of the first things most kids would do would be to learn how to swim. Every single sport on ground requires running, and yet, we don’t teach kids how to run.

This realization lead Ryan to start working with the USA track team. This is where he dug into the data and began to experiment. 

So, I took Olympic A-standard sprinters, and I tested them on a force plate treadmill, and what I quickly realized was that it wasn’t about how much force they were creating or how great their technique was… 

I realized…  More than anything, it’s how much force you can create over what your body mass is.

...  for people to be fast ... they have an insane amount of strength over what their body mass is.

… it’s about teaching them how to improve that strength-to-weight ratio without increasing any lean muscle mass.

Ryan took a different approach than most research scientists. They would analyze the tape of a sprinter’s 100-meter-dash to diagnose and assess issues. Ryan spent most of his time trying to figure out how to improve their speed. 

Diagnoses mean nothing without a performance improvement plan.

… I spent the next five years … in the weight room correlating the data between every exercise – so, I tested the same athletes in the weight room with squat, power clean, hand clean, front squat, leg press, leg extension, cardio – everything you can think of ... and measured their one-rep max in those exercises and their body mass and compared that to the force plate treadmill study, and it didn’t correlate until I actually got to the hex bar deadlift.

Ryan’s ONE Thing became getting his athletes to be able to lift more in the hex bar deadlift, without gaining any lean muscle mass. 

Quick Definitions:

- Concentric: Flexed or Contracted
- Eccentric: Stretched or Expanded

Think of a bench press: the way up is concentric for the chest, the way down is eccentric for the chest.

... what you’re ultimately trying to do is with the amount of cross-section muscle fiber that your body currently has, you’re trying to stress your nervous system to recruit the largest motor units possible. To do that, you have to lift heavy. What most people do when they exercise and lift weights is stress their body eccentrically, isometric concentrically, and they’re adding lean muscle mass. They’re recruiting motor units, but they’re also adding muscle mass at the same rate.

But, what we’re trying to do – and, the cool part about the hex bar deadlift is at the very top, when you push away from the ground and you’re in a standing position ... I actually am going to coach you guys to let go of the bar so that there’s no eccentric movement in the exercise. That way, you don’t tear sarcomere or add lean muscle mass. So, you’re stressing the nervous system to get stronger and recruit large motor units, but you’re not actually tearing muscle fiber down and adding more muscle mass.

During the 2015 NFL Draft, Ryan had the opportunity to train two Quarterbacks: Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Marcus weighed in at 207lbs and had to get to 225lbs. Jameis weighed in at 260lbs and needed to drop to 230lbs. 

Aside from the difference in nutrition, Ryan asked Marcus to do both the concentric (up) and eccentric (down) motions of the hex bar deadlift, while he asked Jameis to drop the bar after standing it up.

It goes without saying, there are numerous factors to getting faster. However, Ryan believes the hex bar deadlift is the lead domino

It’s the one thing his athletes can do… such that by doing it... everything else is either easier or unnecessary.

Ryan goes on to say two major byproducts of increasing an athlete’s hex bar deadlift are stride length and stride frequency.

Think of stride length like wheel size and stride frequency like revolutions per minute -or- RPM. 

To give you an example, Usain Bolt takes 42 steps to run a 100-meter dash. The next fastest guy in the world takes 44! 

I wonder how much weight Bolt can deadlift on a hex bar...

My ONE Thing

Now let’s make an abrupt U-Turn and head back towards the world of real estate investing.

When I started getting serious about transitioning into real estate, all the books I read and podcasts I listened to gave similar advice to beginning real estate investors. It went like this...

  1. Analyze one deal per day. 
  2. Drive around high transaction markets and send direct mail to properties that have visible signs of deferred maintenance. 
  3. Make offers even if the price at which you’re willing to buy is embarrassingly low. 

I did all three of these things for a really long time. Although I acquired a lot of knowledge, I had nothing to show for it. I didn’t close a single deal on my own with this process.

There was ONE strategy I implemented on the side that did provide disproportionate results: Networking.

As an Introvert (INTJ), I would have bet big money on Networking being the last thing to contribute to my success. 

I’m paralyzed by the idea of stepping into a conference hall and trying to make small talk with dozens of people in the span of a few hours. 

Isn’t that the quintessential image that comes to mind when thinking about “Networking”? 

“...So how about this weather, ey?” Facepalm

If I wanted to succeed, I needed to take a different approach. So I did what came naturally. 

Here’s the model is used to network with the people I’m partnered with today.

  1. Meet / Find Online 
  2. Add Value 
  3. Meet In Person 
  4. Add Value 
  5. Judge Their Integrity 
  6. Work With or Move On.

I missed the boat on online dating, so this is my goofy ass attempt at riding the Tinder wave.

Til this very day, everytime I tell Dia “I have a meeting with a new friend”, she asks me the same two questions, “Where did you meet them and when?” 

My answer is invariably, “Instagram / Reddit / BiggerPockets and …. Last week, BYEEEEEEEEEEE!”

It sounds weird as hell. My (real) friends can’t believe I meet random people from the internet in real life and actually end up doing real estate deals with them. I kind of can’t believe it either. 

But it works!

Let’s take a quick look at my resume. 

  1. Transaction Volume


*as of this writing (Jan 12, 2020)

I’m currently involved in 22 deals as either a limited partner (silent) investor, a general partner, a managing partner, lender, affiliate, or advisor. 

  1. Returns

The closed deals have a higher annualized and weighted return because there’s usually a “bonus” associated with exiting an investment. 

Also, my weighted return for deals exited is higher than my annualized return for deals exited because historically my larger investments perform better than the smaller ones. #LFG!

Even though I’ve entered 37 deals, I’ve only partnered alongside 10 other investors. Of the 10, there’s only 1 I wouldn’t work with again. So I’m shooting 90%. That’s really freaking hard to do.

To me, this is good progress. Especially considering I spent a ton of time in my first few years spinning my wheels. Remember, I analyzed countless deals and drove around sketchy neighborhoods with nothing to show for it.

If you’re still not over the fact that I meet random people from the internet in real life… Let me explain how it works. 

The benefit is that it works both ways. Yes, for the most part, I am seeking out people online.

But the longer I contribute to the online community of real estate investors, there are more and more people seeking me out.

It’s basically the virtuous cycle version of YOU. You know, minus the stalking, kidnapping, and killing.

#Beck>Love

Here’s how I Network in a few simple steps.

  1. Identify someone who is doing what I want to do at the highest level.
    • Read their books, listen to their podcasts, attend their meetups, follow their social accounts.
  2. Get on their radar
    • Leave a comment, write them an email, send them a gift!*
    • Important: show them how you used their advice to improve your life.
  3. Go on a “date”
    • Invite them to coffee, breakfast, or lunch with a value proposition they can’t refuse.**
      • I’ve flown to Kansas City, with my dad, to talk to someone I thought was worth meeting. He wasn’t… but that’s okay!
  4. Follow up by taking action on the advice they gave you in person.***
  5. Find a way to work together.
    • Bring them a deal and give them equity just for coming along for the ride - OR - finance their deal and take less equity than the math works out to.****

It’s really that simple. I’ve used this formula a handful of times and now have more opportunities than I can say yes to.

*I once sent a pack of EXPO markers to an investor who has a YouTube channel I really like. In one of his videos, he was writing on his white-board and his markers weren’t showing well. He threw like 3 markers away during the span of that video alone. He really appreciated the gesture. It cost me $5 and 10 minutes to find his office address.

**Most of the time, paying for someone’s $20 meal or $5 coffee isn’t enough. Offer to pay for their time as well. $100 per hour is a good place to start. Most of them will be flattered and won’t even take your money. But they’ll know you’re serious. If they do take your money, go in prepared!

***Most people ask for advice and never take action. These people are called ASKHOLES. Don’t be an askhole. I hate askholes. I am personally offended by someone who doesn’t take my advice. Just don’t ask me for advice. mmKay?

****I routinely finance 100% of the money required to take down a deal and collect less than 50% of the profit. I stack the deck in their favor. I take on more risk to get into their circle.

Why Am I So Thirsty?

Here are the credentials of people I work with:

  1. One guy owns / controls 750 Units. 3 Apartment Buildings at ~200 units each and the other 150 doors are scattered across a dozen or so other properties.
  2. One guy owns / controls $800 Million in Class A Multifamily. His Private Equity Firm employs less than 10 full-time employees. That’s $80 Million per person...  
  3. One guy has done dozens of add-a-level flips that had a net profit north of $100,000.
  4. One guy is the co-founder of a realty team in a major US city that did ~$100M in transactions in 2019.

The people I work with are beasts. I’m just a little squirrel in this world tryna get a nut.

Finally, I’m still in the process of licking my wounds from my massive failure in the restaurant industry. I don’t want to get ahead of myself in real estate like I did in food service. 

I think a lesson I learned from my massive failure in the restaurant industry applies here well: Don’t go at it alone. It’s better for me to ride the coat-tails of juggernauts in the industry, than try to bust through concrete walls on my own. 

I’m just not there yet.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Plus, I’m just starting out. My ONE Thing only became apparent to me a few days before writing this piece. I’m trying to enjoy this part of the process while it lasts. 

Sunny Shakhawala

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