Not every entrepreneur is an extrovert. Even in an industry that requires an outgoing personality, you can be a successful entrepreneur and still be a bit shy. That description fits Shlomi Bagdadi, founder of Tri State Commercial Realty. Shlomi was born in Damascus, Syria, relocated to America, then moved to Israel, and then settled in America once again. After a few years working in wholesale linens and e-commerce electronics, he launched his real estate firm from scratch and turned it into a fast-growing company with a focus on finding its clients high-quality tenants for commercial properties. Though Shlomi is a natural salesman with lots of solid business advice to offer, he has shied away from public interviews. In fact, this is his first full-length interview.
I was inspired by Shlomi’s personal story and the down-to-earth basic rules of business that he applies to his work. His success is built upon business principles that seem so simple and effective, you will find yourself wondering why you haven’t implemented them yet yourself (hint: start gathering as much data as possible).
Shlomi began working in the industry as a broker focused on commercial leasing in New York. From the beginning, he told his boss he intended to leave to start his own company, and eventually that’s what he did. Slowly but surely, Shlomi opened several branches of Tri State Commercial, strategically partnering with leaders in his company to spearhead different branches that focus on different sections of the tri-state area.
Regardless of the specifics of your industry, you are sure to find something here that you can use to improve your business. It has already happened for me.
A few days after my conversation with Shlomi, I found myself trying to negotiate a frustrating situation. Things were tense. I left the room before reaching a resolution, simply because I had another commitment scheduled. Once I removed myself from the tense atmosphere, I calmed down, and only 30 minutes later, I had a more positive outlook on the situation.
Often, when I ask entrepreneurs how they deal with stressful situations, they respond that they remove themselves from the situation (spoiler: Shlomi gave the same answer). In my case, although I didn’t choose to leave the room in an effort to deal with the stress, the effect was the same. I experienced firsthand that removing yourself from a tense situation allows you to reflect, so that when you return, you can handle it correctly.
I had heard this advice before, but now it struck home. It also struck me that hearing similar advice from different entrepreneurs is important in itself—perhaps even more important than hearing something novel and different. Sometimes we skim over advice that seems obvious, but that’s a mistake. Simple-sounding advice works…if we implement it. Food for thought.
“I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. I am one of four children; I have an older sister and two younger brothers. We grew up comfortably, as my father was a general practitioner. When I was growing up, conditions for Jews were relatively okay. But back when my father was growing up, things were a lot more dangerous. Jews were not allowed in many areas of the city, and even receiving an education was forbidden.
“My family lived in a nice apartment in the Jewish Quarter. I grew up religious and went to a school called Ben Maimon that was named after the Rambam. We learned Hebrew and Tanach, but not Gemara. Rabbis knew Gemara, but the average teenager wasn’t taught Gemara at that time. As I got older, more and more Jews were leaving Syria as the situation became less favorable for Jews. People were officially allowed to leave, but they had to leave collateral so the government could be sure they would return. Collateral usually meant leaving their children behind. When I was 14 years old, the prime minister of Israel, Yitzchak Shamir, entered into discussions with Syria, and as part of these negotiations, Jews were allowed to leave for good—with their children.
“Of course, Syria wouldn’t let Jews go to Israel, so we made our way to America, settling in Brooklyn. When we arrived, my father attempted to get his medical license transferred so he would be able to practice in America, but he was told that he would have to start from scratch. Fortunately, in Israel, he was permitted to transfer his license, so we moved there after less than a year in America.
“I was always thinking about ways to earn money, even as a teenager. When I was still in Syria, I sold fireworks for Purim. And in Israel, every summer, instead of going to camp, I would make sure to have some sort of job. One cool thing I did was sell keychains with people’s photos on them. It fit well with my hobby of photo and video editing. For a teenager, it was a great side business.
“I arrived in Israel when I was 15 years old, in 1993. We settled in Holon, near Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, my siblings and I attended secular schools. After high school, I served in the IDF’s intelligence unit for three years. My work involved investigating terrorism, and my knowledge of Arabic came in handy. I speak fluent Arabic, Hebrew and English, and I’m working on my Yiddish. After the army, I was recruited by the Shabak (the Shin Bet—Israeli Security Agency), but I turned them down. I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
“I attended Hamichlala Leminhal (College of Management), where I got a degree in economics and finance. I saw a job opening in Bank Leumi and decided to apply, even though I was grossly underqualified. Shockingly, I got the position.
“I was the assistant for a high-ranking board member in the Tel Aviv headquarters. My job was to go from branch to branch implementing a new CRM system. I went to 170 different branches and was involved in training the managers and implementing the new process. I worked there for a couple of years.
“Sadly, while I was working, my mother became sick and passed away in 2001. She was very young, and her passing hit me really hard. I felt I needed a change of scenery, and I decided to move to New York in 2002. I also felt it might help me find a shidduch.
“Within a year of moving to New York, I met my wife; we got married in 2003. We had our first son in 2005, and like my parents, today we have three boys and a girl, baruch Hashem. I joined my wife’s family business in wholesale linens. I had an affinity for numbers, so I was put in charge of managing the books.
“I was interested in real estate because I felt that of all the industries out there, real estate was the most stable. I started to look for properties to buy and saw some for sale on eBay—yes, eBay. I saw a few properties in Schenectady, New York, that were on sale for less than $100,000 in total. I partnered with my cousin, and we entered into contract, but eventually the seller got cold feet and it all fell through. I still have those contracts.
“I used to listen to business books while I took the train to work every day. I remember listening to Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, as well as books by several real estate experts. Later, when I started my own company, I was able to apply what I had learned from them.
“I worked in the linen business for a year until my brothers and I decided to open an e-commerce electronics business together. (They had come to America before me.) When I was in Israel, I helped a hi-tech company get started, so I had some experience handling the small details involved in opening a business: incorporating the business, setting up merchant accounts, getting proper equipment, setting up a network, etc.
“We started the company in 2006 and called it Wisetronics. From 2006 to 2009, we did well, making a lot of money by selling camera accessories. But in 2009, two things happened that made us go under. The first was that the attorney general put into place new rules limiting a seller’s profit on accessories. Additionally, we ventured into professional audio equipment, which turned into a disaster for several reasons. We were no longer making money, we went into debt, and we closed the business.
“During those three years when we were doing well, my brothers and I bought several properties in Brooklyn. When we began struggling with the electronics business and ran out of money, my brothers understandably wanted to sell the properties, but I didn’t want to sell. They agreed to allow me to buy them out and let me pay them back over several years.
“I was interested in commercial real estate, and I hired a company to lease out one of my commercial buildings. At that time, although I was leaning towards going into real estate, I was debating between that and wholesale. A few friends of mine invited me to go with them to the Tosher Rebbe, and I asked him which way to go: real estate or wholesale? He gave me a brachah that whatever I chose, I would be matzliach. I felt that was a green light for me to pursue real estate. This also took place in 2009.
“When I started my career in real estate, I was 33 years old and deeply in debt. Aside from being in debt to my brothers, I owed money to my vendors from the electronics business. My properties barely paid for themselves—I certainly wasn’t making anything off them. I had a few kids at the time, and it wasn’t easy. But I knew what I wanted to do, and I pursued it. I got a job as a real estate broker, focusing on commercial leasing.
“Baruch Hashem, I was pretty successful off the bat. I am an honest person by nature, and I like to say things as they are. These qualities served me particularly well in this industry. When I went to work for this real estate company, I told the owner that I wanted to (eventually) start my own business, but that didn’t bother him. In fact, he was happy about it, because he said it showed that I was driven. It might seem like a bad idea to tell a prospective boss that you don’t plan to stay long term, but I was honest with him, and that’s how I am with my clients too.
“This business has a stigma. People often feel that a broker has a vested interest in leasing a specific space to a specific tenant. I think that people could sense the honesty in my voice and behavior, and clients quickly started referring me to other people. I hardly made any cold calls.
“Honesty certainly contributed to my success, but it was constant communication that helped me succeed on a practical level. I always returned a phone call or replied to a text quickly. Another thing I did is that whenever I met anyone who was remotely interested in my line of work, I took down their information and added them to my email list. That list led to lots of business. Sometimes, a person can receive dozens of emails before responding to one that interests them. I closed over 100 deals in my first two years in the business.
“Though I was very fortunate to do so well, it wasn’t easy and I sacrificed a lot. I had many days that began at 8 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. I picked up every call and took down every person’s information.
“I’m a big fan of technology, and I like to understand how things work. Whenever I get a new phone, I will spend two hours going through its features and settings. It’s the same with a car—I will read the manual (whenever there is one) from cover to cover to understand all the features. In general, I’m always looking for ways to streamline things, and I bring that approach to my work, too.
“For example, I helped build a website for the real estate company so they could track their deals more easily. I also got someone to hang all the brokers’ signs for lease or sale. In our business, almost every broker hangs their own signs, but that’s a waste of time. It’s far better for brokers to spend their time focusing on the other parts of the business.
“Another thing I accomplished was that I managed to sign tenants to exclusive listings. In the commercial leasing space, it was rare to sign an exclusive. Many brokers would kill themselves to find a tenant for their client, only to have the client either find their own tenant in the meantime or reveal that they had only been using a broker to test the market. I managed to make it so that listing with us was a privilege, and clients willingly signed exclusive deals with us.
“After three years with the company, 40% of the company’s listings were my own. I wanted to expand the business to Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, so I approached my boss. I told him respectfully that I wanted to partner with him in expanding to North Brooklyn. He told me, ‘Partners are for tango.’ At that point, I was out. He was friendly about it, and in fact, he made a whole feast for me when I left. It was really nice. I didn’t touch the South Brooklyn market until three or four years after I started my own company.
To read more, click here: https://www.amimagazine.org/2023/04/26/shlomi-bagdadi/