There are a lot of industries that take a lot of energy and hard work to be successful in. Entertainment, real estate, and publishing are all pretty high on that list, but today’s Storytime Tuesdays subject has been successful in all three.
Ryan Serhant is best known as the host of Bravo TV’s Million Dollar Listing New York and Sell It Like Serhant, but is also a published author, prolific blogger, and, of course, self-made real estate mogul.
He is an excellent example of a business owner who pulled himself up by the bootstraps and built his business around his passions and strengths.
A Foundation of Hard Work
Ryan Serhant grew up with an interest in theater and acting. Raised in Massachusetts, Ryan and his younger brother were taught to value education and hard work from a very young age.
One summer, their father, Vice President of State Street Advisors Jack Serhant, encouraged Ryan and his brother to start their own business to earn cash, paying them $1.50 an hour to collect wood, which they in turn sold to neighboring families as firewood.
The Serhant family also made sure that their children were well-educated, sending Ryan to the prestigious Pingree School and nurturing his interest in theater and the arts by sending him to summer camp at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp. This interest in the arts and entertainment led him to pursue a degree English Literature and Theater from Hamilton University.
Welcome to New York
When he graduated from Hamilton, like many other young actors just starting out, Ryan moved to New York. He started out taking small roles on soap operas and commercial hand-modeling jobs.
Ryan needed to support himself while looking for work as an actor, and decided to get his real estate license in order to make some money between auditions.
“Being broke is an awful position to be in, especially in New York and I had to find a way to make money,” he says on his website, “I could have been the clichéd actor-waiter. But who wants to miss an audition because of a shift at TGI Friday’s? Instead, I got my real estate license so I could work whenever I wanted and my schedule would be my own.”
A Rocky Start
Starting out as a real estate broker in New York wasn’t easy, especially when doing do against the backdrop of a crashed market and the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. In his first year in real estate, Ryan found leads by approaching people on the street, striking up conversations and hoping to find leads. In his first year, he only made $9,000.
Eventually he found his first lead on a major property, which was a rollercoaster. Closing this first major listing took literally hundreds of calls and meetings, including a near-failed trip to Paris, before finally closing over a year later for $8.5 million.
“We ride this awful emotional rollercoaster, he told HousingWire, “Honestly, when I first started, I quit every other day.”
As part of the team at Nest Seekers International, Ryan was able to quickly learn and understand what it takes to be successful in high-end real estate. That first success gave him a taste for the level of effort and hard work required in the real estate business, and he quickly rose through the ranks at NestSeekers to become executive vice president and managing director of the firm in just four years.
Never satisfied, Ryan realized the next logical step was to launch his own team. In 2012, Ryan launched the Serhant Team, a division of Nest Seekers specializing in high-end listings for condos and new development in major cities on both coasts.
Building a Media Career
In 2010, Ryan auditioned for Million Dollar Listing New York and was cast as one of three realtors to lead the show. His acting experience likely gave him a leg up, and he quickly became a breakout success. His sales tactics, flair for improvisation, and quick thinking set him apart as a lead on the show.
After 7 years on Million Dollar Listing New York and successfully launching The Serhant Team, Ryan partnered with Bravo to produce and launch his own spinoff show, Sell It Like Serhant. The show focuses on Ryan coaching underperforming salespeople, giving them tactics and coaching to improve their performance. He encourages his proteges to think on their feet, often sending them to improv theater classes.
Alongside the launch of Sell It Like Serhant, Ryan established Serhant Media Group to manage his cross-platform presence and produce content for social media, vlogs, and manage Ryan’s many television appearances and speaking engagements.
In 2018, he sat down for a fireside chat with Gary Vaynerchuck at the Agent 2021 conference, where the two entrepreneurs discussed their approaches to success.
His Philosophy For Success
When he was first starting out, Ryan was regularly discouraged, but refused to give up. He built a schedule for himself each day, giving himself a “finder, keeper, doer” framework for his agenda. The “finder” hours of the day was devoted to finding new business, the “keeper” hours was for follow-up and researching investment opportunities, and the “doer” hours are for the actual pavement-pounding and hard work. In the beginning, those hours were for distributing mailers, striking up conversations, and visiting listings.
“Any entrepreneur and any salesperson needs to run their own day-to-day business like they are their own Fortune 500 company,” he said. “You have to have actual discipline, actual structure to your day. That’s the only way you can manage goals.”
Those early days of collecting firewood with his brother aren’t forgotten, and he believes in investing time and energy into his team. He refers to The Serhant Team as “The People I Trust With My Life And Yours,” and works closely with both his brokerage team and the Serhant Media Group team as a tight-knit family all devoted to success.
He believes in lifting and inspiring each individual of the team to promote an outlook of overall success.
Publishing A Best-Seller
Never short on ambition, Ryan set out to publish a book on his sales philosophy, titled Sell It Like Serhant: How To Sell More, Earn More, And Become The Ultimate Sales Machine. The book debuted in September 2018, ten years to the week after Ryan’s first day in the real estate business (and the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy). It was met with critical acclaim, and quickly rose through the ranks on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times best-seller lists.
Ryan was no stranger to writing and publishing, between his successful blog and The Serhant Team Report newsletter, but the book gave him a unique opportunity to dive deep into his philosophy in long-form text that can provide genuine value to any reader.
His approach to sales isn’t unique to real estate, and anyone in a sales-focused industry can glean tips for success from the text.
“Eventually after years of hard work, I discovered a secret that gave me a huge advantage: I had the most balls in the air. I was never hyper-focused on one ball. I didn’t put all my energy into one sale or one client,” he says when talking about the main focus of the book, “I didn’t live or die by one deal. I never closed a sale and wondered, “what now?” because the next deal was already happening.”
A Flair for the Dramatic
Whether it was his childhood interest in theater, his ongoing appreciation for television, or his improv-focused sales philosophy, Ryan and, in turn, the Serhant Team, never fail to go above and beyond for a deal.
Whether it means hiring a full marching band to appear at a listing, throwing a Back to the Future themed open house for a listing with 80s-dated decor, or experimenting with AR goggles for a walk-through, Ryan does whatever it takes to get the sale—and, in turn, get the interest of Million Dollar Listing fans.
It comes back to his interest in improv, and his insistence that improv comedy classes are the key to making a good salesperson. In improv comedy, one of the core tenets is to never say no to a scenario, but to always say “yes, and…” to build upon the scene.
This mirrors Ryan’s professional motto of “Expansion. Always, in all ways,” showing that no matter what you’re doing, there’s always a way to do it bigger and better.
Building A Bright Future
While building up his empire, Ryan never lost sight of what’s important. In 2014, he shut down Times Square to propose to Emilia Bechrakis, and the two married in 2016 in Corfu, Greece. In February of 2019, the pair welcomed their daughter Zena.
“It sounds so cliche, but I didn’t know that—everyone says this—but I didn’t know it was possible to love someone so much,” he told Entertainment Tonight, “Now I have a family, and hopefully we’ll have more, I have to build this thing, and it just makes me work harder, which I never really thought was possible.”
Making the world a better place starts with his daughter, and extends to children and people in need all over the world. Ryan and his team have set up The Serhant Charity and Project Sunshine, which supports children in medical need to provide educational and recreational programs while in the hospital.
The Ryan Serhant story shows entrepreneurs the importance of persistence and balance. Throughout his life and career, Ryan sought out opportunities not only to build his business from a financial perspective, but to seek out opportunities to pursue his passions in various industries.
His story is a perfect example of how entrepreneurs have to continually work at improving themselves, and in turn can work toward improving their business, community, and world.
When considering your next steps as an entrepreneur telling your own business growth story, keep in mind the ideas behind Ryan Serhant’s success: never lose signt of your passions, don’t be afraid to improvise, and always keep more than one ball in the air.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.