Johnny Hanna of Homie: “Balance is a choice”

Balance is a choice. Protecting family time is an important boundary that leaders need to choose. As CEO, I can be involved in countless conversations each day. But I have to be judicious about where to spend my time. You can choose to say “no” to new projects. In many large cities in the US, […]

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Balance is a choice. Protecting family time is an important boundary that leaders need to choose. As CEO, I can be involved in countless conversations each day. But I have to be judicious about where to spend my time. You can choose to say “no” to new projects.

In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable” We are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Johnny Hanna.

Johnny Hanna is the co-founder and CEO of Homie, a tech-enabled real estate company headquartered just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Since the company’s launch, Homie became the number one listing brokerage office in Utah, raised millions of dollars in funding, and launched in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada, with additional markets to come.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thanks so much for the opportunity! I believe we’re all creators. We all long to build something important and meaningful. Over time I’ve learned that building things is just part of who I am.

In college, I joined a couple of friends in starting a real estate software company to help renters complete routine tasks such as paying their rent online. We saw an opportunity to build a better experience for renters, and it just grew from there. Entrata, formerly Property Solutions, was the result of that idea.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most amazing thing is being able to take something from just an idea from the early stage through the growth stage and to early maturity. It all began with talking about possibilities with ambitious friends that wanted to make an impact on the world. From those early conversations, we were eventually able to start a company from scratch and grow it to over $100M in revenue.

I learned so much during that initial run, but I’m especially grateful that I get to do something similar with Homie. Creating something of value from nothing is such a satisfying experience. Finding a product-market fit and building a team that’s passionate about the mission is key to finding success. You have to get those basics right to survive in business. But the way businesses really get to the next level is by prioritizing culture. Everything changed in my career when I finally understood the importance of intentionally developing a company culture.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Anchoring company strategy to a culture changed the path of my professional career. I know this sounds like an oversimplification, but we don’t do enough in corporate environments to really understand human behavior. I believe that if we put energy into creating an atmosphere for people to thrive, it pays off exponentially.

This definitely wasn’t on my mind when I began my career. Sure, I thought culture was a nice thing to have, but I was too busy running in different directions — building a tool, finding the product-market fit, and learning how to sell to our core customers. At my first company, our culture just sort of happened. Every company has a culture, but without an intentional strategy it can get away from you fast.

Over time, I realized the importance of having a defined hiring strategy. At first, we just focused on hiring the smartest people we could find. This created problems that we hadn’t anticipated. I began to spend a lot of energy on learning how to improve our company culture. Some people at my previous company thought I might have taken my eye off the ball. Sure, culture is nice they would imply, but we have “more immediate problems.” Trying to course correct a company culture can be painful, and without real leadership, it’s nearly impossible.

By the time I started Homie, I understood more deeply how essential a good company culture is. I was excited to have the opportunity to build a team from the ground up again. My team and I were deliberate about defining values. We wanted to make sure they weren’t just words on the wall that no one ever talked about. So we incorporated them into our hiring process and every meeting.

In the hiring process, we want to understand our candidate’s “why.” Focusing on culture helps us have deeper conversations to understand where we’re headed.

Our values govern our interactions with each other and cause us to value humility and intent. It’s easy to say we don’t want “smart jerks” at our company, but that requires making tough decisions at times. I’ve had to let some friends go, even though I hadn’t always personally seen the problematic behavior in question. Letting someone continue to violate trust is a recipe for a terrible culture. It’s just not worth it, even if they are a high performer. Of course, we’re not living our values perfectly, but we’re deliberate. Culture is something you strive to achieve over time.

This entire process caused me to reflect on my definition of success. To me, key indicators of success used to be money and winning. Over time, I’ve learned that solid company culture goes way beyond those things, and can drive those results over time. With this change in mind, we began to see each other as humans and celebrate our differences. We became more accepting of each others’ weaknesses. This type of culture helps us see each other more completely and communicate more effectively.

It takes a lot of energy from the executive level to instill and then foster a great culture, but this is what separates great companies from the rest.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I give a lot of credit to the author Ann Rhoades for introducing me to culture in a way that really changed me. She wrote a book called “Built on Values.” I was at a tradeshow and just happened to drop in on her class to charge my phone as I waited for the next presentation. She had been the Chief People Officer at Southwest and had a completely new outlook on the importance of company culture. She backed it up with data. Her presentation really drew me in. After her presentation I introduced myself to her and I eventually hired her to help give us direction on taking an unplanned culture and shift it to a more purpose-driven one.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

One business thought leader that had a strong impression on me is Jerry Colonna, a Buddhist CEO coach that champions human concepts in the business world. This Wired article is a great introduction to his way of thinking. His book, Reboot, is an exploration of many concepts that challenge prevailing business thinking, such as vulnerability and embracing your feelings. His explanation of the Buddhist warrior stance, which leaves the combatant with an open heart but a strong back. This concept blew my mind, and I’ve been trying to implement it ever since I first heard of it. People spend so much energy trying to protect themselves, especially in the business world. I’ve learned that true power comes when we fight to bring in more humanity. We need to truly care about our colleagues and actively avoid some of the common drama that derails productivity. We can work on ourselves…together.

There is an increasing lack of empathy in our culture. How can we change that? I believe we first must allow for mistakes from others, but especially from ourselves. Many business leaders think the way I used to — that mental health is a nice side project, but isn’t a core concept in the business. I truly believe that mental fitness is foundational to everything.

At Homie, we introduced a mental fitness program last year during the pandemic. We rolled out a weekly training program to encourage employees to self-reflect more and learn some mental health skills. Not everyone is going to take to it immediately, but rolling out training for our company has had a big impact in the way we communicate. We’re getting better in areas that people refer to as “soft skills.” That’s the grease that allows for a company to be nimble and move as one.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Peace requires increased skill, not a change in circumstances.” This is something that Jodi Hildebrandt, a clinical counselor whose Connexions program has had a big impact on me.

Prior to making an effort to learn mental fitness skills, I often felt out of control in my life. I think that’s a common feeling for many of us. Life comes at us fast. Attempting to balance a demanding job with family and other responsibilities can be overwhelming. As I’ve put energy into setting boundaries, coping with things out of my control, and identifying why I’m reacting a certain way, I have felt more peace and contentment with where I am at the moment. I’ve been able to just do my best. What we do is not who we are. Separating my long-term identity from my job as CEO has been crucial to handling the constant ups and downs inherent with the position.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

You’re right, it’s a very complicated problem without a simple solution. The current real estate environment is presenting several challenges for people to be able to afford homes.

The current market is the result of many factors combining at the same time. Some of them include record low interest rates and millenials who are now in the market to buy a home. Add in an unprecedented lack of supply and an economy that is recovering from the COVID-19 shut-down and the result is an ultra-competitive environment for a limited number of homes. After working from home for so long, home has become even more central to people, so a lot of buyers are feeling increased stress right now.

Unfortunately, these factors affect minority populations disproportionately, and in many cities this trend is only getting worse. Take, for example, Las Vegas. The Black homeownership gap is wider there than it was before the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which was intended to end discrimination in housing. At Homie, we feel a responsibility to address this inequality in a meaningful way.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?

Our mission is a bold one: to make homeownership more affordable and accessible for all. We’re fighting a lot of forces that are out of our control, but education about the issue is an important first step. Last year we convened a coalition of city officials, community and business leaders, and even a professional athlete to find solutions to the Black homeownership gap in Las Vegas. This effort, called “Make Homes Possible,” has the goal to help 25,000 Black families buy their first home within the next 10 years. We’ve had an amazing response to our launch, with extensive local media coverage and the involvement of former Las Vegas Raiders star wide-receiver Nelson Agholor. This video gives a good overview of the program. We are launching similar initiatives in every market we operate in and eventually every city in the United States.

It’s a huge issue, and we recognize that no one company or group is going to solve it. But working together with the community, we’re doing our best to raise awareness and promote resources like down-payment assistance funds and housing coaching to help as many Black families as possible buy their own home.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

Building successful companies and achieving some level of success can be gratifying, but if I’m being honest, the most impactful experiences I’ve had were when people reached out to me for help in private moments. As a result of being pretty vulnerable publicly about mental fitness, I regularly have members of the local business community reach out for guidance, support, counsel, and advice. I don’t have all the answers, but knowing they aren’t the only one experiencing mental health challenges can be so powerful.

In your opinion, what should other home builders do to further address these problems?

Many of the issues we’re trying to solve revolve around the way homes are sold, not necessarily the way they’re built. There is an entire system built to keep commissions high and fees hidden. These dynamics unfortunately work to drive home prices up even more.

Paying the common 6% when selling a home has become accepted, and homeowners lose a large amount of equity each time they sell. We believe that real estate agents play a valuable role in the process — in fact, we are agents! We just think sellers should be able to pay a fair price for selling their home without giving away a huge cut. 73% of sellers use the first traditional agent they meet with. Many people just accept that is the only way to sell a house. We’re working to educate buyers and sellers that they have choices.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

The Department of Justice sued the National Association of Realtors last year over their anti-competitive rules. The NAR immediately settled with the DOJ to avoid further legal action. The outcome is a good step forward, but we believe that it doesn’t go far enough to end some of the unfair practices common in the real estate industry.

There are a lot of rules that are enforced by the Association that don’t necessarily benefit the buyer or seller. Some of the rules seem to be in place simply to keep commissions and fees high and to limit competition. We believe that there is a lack of transparency that helps keep the status quo from changing.

There are some specific rules that limit consumer choice. We’ve talked to lawmakers and are trying to raise more awareness about these issues, but the industry has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. It’s a tough industry to disrupt and evolve, but we’re up to the challenge.

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws which you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

We believe that competitive market dynamics should dictate pay for agents. The traditional 6% commission (typically 3% on the buy-side and 3% on the sell-side) is tied to the price of the home, even if it doesn’t take more time and effort to sell a more expensive home. This practice causes home prices to increase in order to account for the “built in” commissions. Since most American’s net worth comes from real estate, it hinders our ability to save for the long term since every time we sell we give away a large chunk of equity.

One thing we’d like to see eventually is the decoupling of commissions. That basically means that both sides of the transaction (seller and buyer) should be able to hire and pay their own agents. The current system allows for a lack of transparency and hurts competition. Since the buyer agent isn’t paid by the buyer, the buyer has no incentive to negotiate with them for a more reasonable commission rate or fee. The buyer agent knows they’ll get paid a percentage of the home price by the seller (usually 3%), but they can advertise that their services are free to the buyer. Fortunately, The Department of Justice recently took action to stop this behavior. This convoluted process only causes home prices to stay high.

Transparency in the real estate industry is a real problem. Rules created by powerful industry players are then enforced by local trade groups. I believe that rules that don’t benefit consumers should be done away with.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone had taught me that loneliness is a choice. There’s a common saying in business that “it’s lonely at the top.” It’s only lonely at the top if you choose to not be vulnerable with others and don’t trust your partners and employees.

Balance is a choice. Protecting family time is an important boundary that leaders need to choose. As CEO, I can be involved in countless conversations each day. But I have to be judicious about where to spend my time. You can choose to say “no” to new projects.

Titles and positions are temporary. Don’t get attached to your title. I wish I would have understood earlier that I am not my job. I’m still trying not to define myself that way.

It’s common among business executives to fake optimism and excitement and be selling all the time. Some CEOs try so hard to broadcast to their boards that they have everything handled that they don’t give them a chance to guide and support them. By masking issues and putting up a facade, they miss out on a huge opportunity to tap into valuable resources. We can easily let our fears of inadequacy stifle opportunities to grow and solve problems.

I define failure differently than many. I don’t believe in labeling unexpected or disappointing outcomes as “failures” if you battled and did your best. You may not hit your objective, but it’s the struggle that matters. Not being engaged is the problem.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to help business leaders learn to focus on mental fitness and bringing humanity back to the workplace.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I know it’s not a very exciting answer, but family is all that matters. That open time — I want to spend time with who matters.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. You can find me at

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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