Ep #539 – MFRS – From Pro Rugby Player to Multifamily Entrepreneur

John Van Der Giessen started as a professional athlete and toured the world as a professional rugby player. In this episode we cover the pitfalls of tying your identity to your vocation and how important momentum is to your success.

  • Life after retiring from the spotlight
  • Being a resource for people
  • Your vocation is not your identity
  • Getting clear about what you want
  • Team building
  • Momentum
  • Work harder on yourself than on your business
  • Redefining your success metrics

To find out more about our guest:

Full Transcript Below:

Rod: Welcome back to Multifamily Rock Stars. So this is where we interview people that are freaking crushing it in this business. We show you guys the inside scoop on how multifamily investors are creating massive success in their businesses and in their lives. And as always I’ve got my co-host, the director of our massive action team for the warrior group, Mark Nagy on the call. Mark, what’s happening buddy? What are you excited about lately?

Mark: Hey Rod, a lot actually. But I said this last week, but I just continue to get so much good feedback from these episodes that people are just really inspired by the stories. And so, just really excited to keep this going and, you know, keep meeting great new people that are crushing it in this business like you said.

Rod: Love it. Yeah, so we’ve got a friend and a dynamic individual on the show today. His name is John Van Der Giessen and John is from Idaho. And he is actually, he’s got a unique background in that. He was a professional rugby player. I mean, he represented the US in 2007 and 2011 in the Rugby World Cups. You know, and he was a captain and, you know, just an incredible athletic career. And then, now he’s in real estate and in multifamily real estate. He’s a warrior in our mentorship program and he and his partners have acquired 326 doors over $56 million with the assets. And so, we’re going to have a lot of fun today and he’s got a newer baby. So, you know, life is awesome. Welcome to the show brother.

John: It’s a pleasure to be here Rod. I’m looking forward to adding value to the listeners however I can.

Rod: Love it. Love it. So, you know, tell a little bit more, you know, expand a little bit on what that, you know, the bio that I just mentioned and maybe talk about how you got into real estate? And, you know, just a little more of your story if you would.

John: Sure. I’d love to and before I get going Rod, I just want to say thank you very much. It’s sort of surreal for me to be on this being interviewed by you because, you know, early doors in your podcast, I think in 2016 or thereabouts, I was listening and, you know, the people that you’re interviewing, and the caliber of what they’re doing, and all of these things that they’ve accomplished, it seemed, you know, light years from where I was at the time. And to be here on your podcast and I still have a long way to go with my own ride for sure but it’s fantastic and a credit to you for the ecosystem that you’ve built. I’ve made some fantastic friends and business partners because of the warrior group, so thank you.

Rod: Oh, no. It’s really cool to hear that buddy and I love to, you know, be a fly on the wall for this and you know, very, very exciting.

John: And so, a little bit more about me Rod, like you said, Idaho kid. Went to University of Idaho. Still had something left in the tank but needed to, you know, have an activity and my friend said, You should play rugby John. And I said, What’s that? And so, I went out for a Tuesday training. The Thursday training played that weekend and 10 years later, I ended up retiring from professional athletics representing the US team as you said and also in the English Premiership and French Top 14. So, it was just an incredible ride and we don’t even have enough time to scratch that surface but I looked around and started in the entrepreneurial space, and I got a crash course MBA. It was unbelievable taking something from an idea to actually profitable. And then, you know, I looked around and I wanted more control with my time Rod. And, you know, I had my girls. And, you know, I just said, Gosh, there’s something out there and I had been around real estate for a long time. My parents had been in real estate. My aunt is a, you know, almost 80 year old, $62 million producer in the Washington, D.C. area. A great mentor of mine owns a real estate brokerage. And, you know, it’s just kind of always been in my blood in a curiosity and so, you know, I took that step and, you know, started listening and absorbing content, and listening to podcasts, reading books, etc. And then, it finally just clicked where I had this moment where I said, I gotta get going. I have to take action. And, you know, with my background with teams and, you know, coaches, etc. It was just a no-brainer for me to kind of start interviewing people and reaching out to people that might be a coach. And that’s thankfully I stumbled upon the warrior group and what you guys have been up to and I’ve been a part of it ever since.

Rod: Tell me this John, what do you– have you made any mental changes that you feel may have contributed to your success or did you bring anything from the competitive athletics that you think may have contributed to your success?

John: Those are great questions and absolutely, yes. So, what I find funny after retiring from professional athletics is that while I was an athlete, it was supposed to be all about you not selfishly but you– it was on you. It was your personal responsibility to train yourself to be the best that you could be so that you could help your team out and your team in the civilian world if you will, that’s your family. That’s your company. That’s a lot of different things. And so, I don’t see a lot of people investing in themselves to try to get them to be a level 10 of whoever they are as much as I see that in athletics and it translates completely into business which is funny. I just don’t see it that much but the folks that do double down on themselves so that they can be the best they can be, then they can help more people, and do more things, and accomplish more. It’s really amazing. So, I translated that very easily. But, you know, a lot of people don’t talk about this Rod but the transition from athletics is actually really, really tough because that’s your identity. That’s who you think you are. And as soon as I recognized that I wasn’t John, the rugby player. John the athlete was something that I did. It wasn’t who I was. When I made that transition Rod, I finally figured out that there was a lot more in life and there’s a lot more happiness, joy, abundance. There’s a lot of great things out there and there’s a lot of people out there that want to help you. And I could, whether that be in multifamily real estate, you know, in business, and in athletics. I can trace back all the way to my beginnings where there were people out there that didn’t have to open a door for me but they did. And so, that’s something that I’ve always tried to do with my life too is, you know, be an open door for people, be a resource. I’m not giving handouts but I’m certainly giving hand ups.

Rod: I love it. Love it. What an awesome phrase. “I’m not giving handouts. I’m giving hand ups.” I love that. Yeah, you know, it’s very interesting that you broached a subject that I have never talked about on the show before and that is making your vehicle, your identity, and in the athletics as it were and maybe that may– well, even vehicle is the wrong phrase. Making your vocation, your– what it is that you do. Be it business or athletics, your identity and that’s a very, very dangerous thing to do and really, the fact that you came to that realization. I know Tony Robbins of course, you know, you guys all know I followed him around the planet for 20 years and he talks about that extensively that not to allow that to happen because it’s very, very dangerous if you have a setback. You know, like when I lost $50 million, a little bit of that came into play where, you know, I’m a failure. I failed and it’s like it was me but it was just, you know, it wasn’t. It was the vehicle. And so, I’m really glad you brought that up John. That’s never come up before. So well, go ahead Mark. I don’t want to monopolize.

Mark: Yeah. Let’s dive a little bit deeper. I mean, John, what are some important questions that you think everybody should ask themselves?

John: Well, number one, what do you want? I find that a lot of people are out there and they just don’t have a clear picture about what they want. They have a very clear picture about what they don’t want. Right? But then, when you actually stop and say, Okay, that’s cool. That you don’t want this and this and this but where do you want? With absolute clarity, can you tell me what your 2021 is going to look like? Your five year, your 10 year of your life. How are you writing your life? I did something this last week where I got a countdown calendar on my phone. And it’s, you know, a simple app but I put in my 100th birthday and then it started clicking down as soon as I handed that, entered that data, and it was wild to me. The feeling that I got saying, Oh, wow! I’ve only got 22,000 days left. So, you know, got to get after it, right? You’ve got to wake up with that understanding that today is your only opportunity for success and that’s something that I think about every day.

Rod: I’m so glad you told me that because I was gonna actually get a countdown calendar and put it on the wall, and have it in front of me to remind me, and actually, I bought one. I couldn’t get it to work and I didn’t even think about a freaking app. Thank you for that tip. You know, I thought about getting a big jar with marbles in it and pulling one out every day or every week and watching those marbles go down and like, Ah sh*t, that’s gonna– that jar, you know, it’s gonna be too– yeah anyway, I’m so glad you said that brother. Now, and I want to circle back to something you just said because it’s so freaking important. Again, you ask somebody what they want to tell you what they don’t want. But guys, what you focus on is what you get. So, if you’re focused on what you don’t want, what do you think it’s bigger, right? Love it, man. Love it. Love it. Go ahead Mark.

Mark: No, you’re absolutely right. John, tell us about a stressful situation that you’ve had in your business, maybe the most stressful situation that you’ve ever faced.

John: Oh, man. Well, I think, you know, in my, you know, humble beginnings in multifamily real estate, I would say that, you know, sometimes things don’t go as planned. In fact, they really never do, right? And I can tell you things like, you know, the capital rates as an example. You know, for whatever reason it doesn’t go exactly as planned but it’s amazing to me how we don’t live in a lack of resources. We just live in a lack of resourcefulness sometimes in our minds if that makes sense. So, you know, I’ve had some incredibly stressful periods where, you know, you just don’t know if you’re going to be able to get all the capital that you need in order to close a deal and that’s not a fun position to be in. But nonetheless, you know, every day is a new opportunity and who else can you talk to? What else could I do? What stone can I overturn? And that sort of mentality, you know, amazingly gets you through, you know, and you learn from it and move forward. Apply what, you know, apply what you’ve learned to your next move, your next deal, your next capital raise, etc. And you just keep growing. So, that’s really what it is. Turn that stress into an opportunity for growth.

Rod: And massive action. You know, that sort of stress, you know, stress is the achiever’s word for fear. And if you want to mitigate fear, you mitigate it through massive freaking action. So, love it. You know, let’s talk for a minute because you brought up a raising equity and there’s no question that I know what role you play in your team. Let’s talk about team for a minute. Talk about, you know, the components of and the roles that are in the team that you’ve put together for these first deals or two, and I don’t know if it’s a long-term team but talk about how your first deals came together. The role you played and the role maybe others in that team played.

John: Yeah. So, I’ve been very fortunate because, you know, I put myself out there and I’ve just been willing to say “Yes.” And that’s something that, you know, I can trace back where, you know, as an example, I got a random email from somebody that said, John, will you come play for me in the French Alps in a Men’s Club? And I sent back 20 different questions and he replied, Flying to Geneva. I’ll collect you there. I still said “yes” and I was willing to put myself out there in a comfortable position and it 10x my life because of that. Same thing with multifamily real estate, you know, you just never know who you’re gonna meet and if they give you an opportunity where you look through the door and you’re like you know this, why not let’s say “yes”? Let’s go and so I’ve jumped through a few of those doors with people. You know, and other warriors which has been unbelievably fantastic. And, you know, I’ve taken trips with warriors, you know, and my coach through the warrior group has been phenomenal too, and I’ve been able to do a couple of deals with him, and that’s been a lot of fun. So, you know, it is evaluating how you can bring value to a team.

Rod: Sorry to interrupt. What value do you feel you brought to the team? I guess that’s where I wanted to go with this.

John: Oh, excuse me. Yeah. So, capital raising, absolutely a bit of due diligence too. You know, asset management, getting on calls, talking about what we need to do strategically. If you try to get me in front of an excel spreadsheet Rod, it’s my kryptonite and you don’t want me there, and that’s okay, and that’s really okay because going back to previous statement, I got really clear about what I’m good at and what I’m not. And there are some fantastic people out there that will compliment you incredibly on a team.

Rod: Yeah. You and I are very much alike in that regard. I mean, I can read a spreadsheet, I just don’t love it. And why would, you know, you do what something you don’t love. You hire, align, or partner for where you’re weak which is what you’ve done. So, you’ve brought the capital raising which I knew obviously because you’re extremely outgoing and personable and, you know, and have–

John: And I love that Rod, and I love to talk to people, I love to bring value, I love continually cultivating relationships with people for the long term because that’s where the gold’s at. You know, I always say the fortunes and the follow-up. You can’t expect to be getting deals from brokers and I have, you know, in Boise which is one of the top three markets in the country. I have broker friends that I sit down with regularly and they pick up the phone and they call me. Well, that happens because we’ve been doing this for a long time and people do business with who they know, like, and trust, and are consistent in their relationship building. So, I mean, that’s a massive thing. You know, people that are out there in positions like me they need to focus on that and look hard as to, you know, how can I expand my skill sets and, you know, following up with brokers, making sure that you’re being consistent in that space. It’s so important.

Rod: Love it. Yeah, so you played a role in that too. Okay, good. So, I know a topic that you love to talk about like I do, John is momentum. Elaborate on that topic for us.

John: Sure. I’ll take you on a quick story. So Rod, you know, humbly speaking when I was a professional athlete, you know, I could walk around town in the towns I lived in Europe and people would stop and take pictures with me, ask for autographs, I had an agent. You know, I was on TV playing on Western Europe television, you know, on any given weekend. And then, those spotlights go off and all of a sudden, you know, I’m not sure where I’m going in life and I just let it compound and compound. And then all of a sudden, you know, I took my foot off the gas long enough to where I lost that momentum and I can tell you folks that it is really, really hard to regain that momentum. It’s not impossible by any means and, you know, there’s more stories than we can count of successes because people were willing to do the work to regain momentum or get momentum for the first time but it’s certainly, absolutely vital that you, you know, take that first step and really look into leaning into getting more momentum because it starts to pick up, you know, day after day, week after week, month after month, and you have absolute transformations.

Rod: Yeah. No, I mean, listen. Of course, that resonates with me because I lost everything in 2008 and I had to build it back. And I remember starting this podcast when they were, you know, I got excited we had a thousand downloads and we just broke 10 million. So it’s like, you know, and that momentum is, you know, it’s like you roll that snowball uphill for a while and ultimately it’ll start rolling downhill. So–

Mark: Love it. Well, I know you mentioned you’ve done some deals with, you know, one of your coaches, but tell us about some of the coaches that you’ve had, you know, over time and really how they’ve helped you get into this.

John: Yeah. I’ll be really transparent. So after rugby, I didn’t understand, you know, I mentioned that identity piece. I fell into a pretty big depression for a while and I had a relationship that ended, and I had my six-month-old girl at the time, and that was a really, really tough position. And I didn’t know how, you know, the next month’s rent was going to be. All sorts of things. Just feeling that scarcity, and uncertainty, and pain, emotionally bankrupt, and financially bankrupt is what I say. And I or I don’t know how it happened but I came across, you know, Tony Robbins coaching program and I got on a call, and I literally had no money in order to pay for that. And as Rod knows and a few other warriors, you know, Tony Robbins coaching’s not cheap by any means but I just knew that I had to do something. And so, I just pulled the trigger on getting that coaching. And, you know, Erica, shout out to her. She completely transformed or at least helped me transform myself as a better way to put it, right? And got me on a different path and a trajectory, and I just carry that momentum day in day out. But you have to start somewhere and you have to be willing to invest in yourself. You know, you guys have heard Jim Rohn’s statement, “Work harder on yourself that you do your business.” I can’t tell you how important that is right there. So, Tony Robbins coaching, locally here I have a coach and I’ve been coaching, you know, with Rod and the warrior group, and Steve Breton. He’s been unbelievable as well as a resource. And really, even folks that I don’t actively coach with, you jump into masterminds on the warrior group with [18:46] and Paul Chi, and a lot of people that are amazingly open to just jumping on a call with you and listening to where you’re at, giving you a couple of ideas on what you could tweak and improve upon. You know, how you can collaborate. Lots of really cool stuff out there.

Rod: Yeah. You know, isn’t it interesting? Those of you listening, to hear that this guy John was destitute financially, and you hear him talk, and you hear the incredible intelligence, the credible passion, the energy, and it just goes to tell you, you know, that even with someone like John, you know, if you don’t have your focus right, you don’t have your mindset right, it can bring, you know, truly extraordinary people to their knees. And, you know, I know Erica helped you with that as, you know, the coaches that I’ve had through their program helped me with that and with, you know, myself. You know, going through things that came up for me as well and it’s just really interesting to hear that, you know, when someone of your caliber struggles like that and it’s so impressive that they helped you identify with your, how you were identifying and the importance of that. So anyway, that’s really fascinating to hear about you John. I did not know that about you and, you know, just as fascinating to me. So, let’s get back to multifamily. I mean, you know, guys listen. If you have an opportunity to see Tony speak, just freaking go do it. If you can afford his coaching, just go do it. And frankly, you should be, you know, you should be seeking out coaches for every of your business. I’ve had, you know, coaches and mentors for my speaking ability, for my marketing ability, for certainly for real estate, and so, it’s just a critical component of success. You had them in rugby obviously. You know, you knew the value of coaches and your rugby experience. So, you know, let’s talk about multifamily for a minute. What do you feel like it takes to become a full-time multifamily investor? You know, what do you think of the components? The people that are listening that want to get into this business, you know, what might you say to them to answer that question?

John: I would say that, you know, Rod, not having success is tough but also getting success is tough, so you might as well just pick getting success, right? And so, that’s going to take a long period of time so you’re going to have to be consistent and persistent like I keep pounding on and you’re going to have to get very clear about where you want to go. I don’t really focus on, Hey, I want to have a thousand doors in the next two years or something like that. My metrics are I want to do really great deals with really great people. That’s it. And so, I lead with that compass and it’s amazing, what I’m focusing on and what I find. I find really great people and really great deals to put together teams and I’ve really enjoyed that piece. So, for somebody that’s starting out and wanting to be full-time, you know, you’re going to have to create a strategy. That’s a huge thing. You just can’t start jumping on the loop net and looking all across the country. Start in your back door and be a student. And if your backdoor, for whatever reason, doesn’t have a great opportunity which believe me, I live in one of the most competitive multifamily markets in the country and things don’t pencil out frankly. But that doesn’t mean I don’t stop looking. I don’t tell myself a story where there’s not a deal. There’s going to be a deal here, Rod. It just hasn’t happened yet. Time hasn’t caught up to the deal I’m buying.

Rod: Love it. And no, you’re absolutely right. And, you know, we had a broker speak to the warriors from Boise. I don’t know if you were on that call.

John: I was.

Rod: Yeah. So, you know, we know how hot that market is, how tough that market is. But, you know, inevitably you’re gonna get a deal there. Hell, the Sarasota market here is insane and we ultimately got a deal here as well. And so–

John: So, on that note Rod, let’s just say that, you know, you don’t have a great market, maybe you live incredibly rurally or something like that, but what do you have? What resources do you have at your disposal and how can you connect to other people that are looking for what you have as a skill set? And really, start to network and it might be uncomfortable for some personality types that are on this call listening, and that’s okay but you’ve got to put that out of your way because that’s just a small barrier to your next phone call, because literally one phone call can completely transform your life.

Rod: Yeah. One networking call, no question. And guys, you know, if you’re not interested in the warrior program, go out and network on your own. Get into these real estate investor clubs. Do what you got to do to meet as many people as you can in this business. Now, if you are interested in the warrior program, text the word “crush” to “72345” if you’d like to apply for it. Again, that’s “crush” to “72345”. And, you know, you can see if we’re a fit. We’ll see if you’re a fit. And, you know, do you feel like it’s benefited you John?

John: Immensely! Like I said, like I’ve created a shift in myself, in my business, in my financial outcome. You know, better harnessing OPM, Other People’s Money, Rod. And, you know, cash flow is an incredibly powerful thing and those friendships, just lots of different things. So, if somebody wants to reach out to me, I am very accessible Rod. And if they want to talk specifically about the warrior program, coaching, etc.? Let me know. I’m an open book and I’d be happy to talk more with them.

Rod: That’s very kind of you. That’s very kind of you, buddy. I appreciate that. Well, listen. You know, let me ask you. You’ve become such a driven person. Again, I was just kind of floored by the fact that you struggled the way you did and I get it. I totally get it. It’s like someone that, you know, goes to the moon and what do they do– You know, and it comes back home to earth it’s like, what do you do next? You know, and with your athletic, you know, accomplishments and so I get it. But, where do you think that drive comes from, buddy? Do you have any quotes that you live by? Any, you know, what’s, you know, maybe we’re talking about the “why” as it were but, you know, answer that any way you like.

John: Sure. I think, you know, you gotta look back to how you grew up in some ways, and some people had tough upbringings that have really kind of brought them to another level, and some people had specific events that have taken place in their life. You know, looking back on my childhood in rural Idaho, I didn’t have any kids, you know, out of the country around me but I did have a retired green beret that was in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. And so, that was who I rolled around with and he was still an amazing human being. And his, you know, green beret mentality certainly rubbed off on me and I just– Rod, I’ve said this to you previously. You know, whether it be in multifamily or in rugby, in athletics, I was never the fastest, I was never the strongest, I didn’t have the highest rugby IQ. You know, I didn’t have anything that really set me apart from anybody other than I was willing to go places mentally that other people weren’t. And so, you’ve got to be able to buckle down and push through barriers.

Rod: Yeah.

John: Don’t run away from them. And that’s, that would be something that I would say is a major contributor.

Rod: Love it. Well, listen. Great to see you my friend. Hopefully, you know, we’re waiting for the world to open up so we can have our warrior only events and get together, you know, besides doing it all virtually now but we’re doing small ones of course but nothing like we were last year. So, really excited to hopefully do that third quarter this year. But, anyway, it’s great to see you brother. My love to you and yours, and Mark, good to see you as well.

Mark: Yeah. Thanks for having me on John.

John: Fantastic! That’s a lot of fun Mark. Appreciate it. Good to meet you and Rod, thanks as always.

Rod: You got it. Take care, buddy.