Hire great not cheap. Experienced people are not cheap but they are worth their weight in gold. In the early days we employed people based predominantly on how much they cost but we failed to take into account how much time we spent managing people.
I had the pleasure to interview Mark Armstrong. Mark is a property entrepreneur who has more than 20 years experience in the real estate industry. Prior to RateMyAgent, Mark built a reputation in the property industry giving clients advice that was in their best interest not his. The approach won him loyal clients and grew his business. Realizing the lack of scalability in the business model Mark co-founded RateMyAgent in 2014. Mark lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Libby and four children.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved the real estate industry. I purchased my first investment property when I was 19 years old, ran a building development company in my 20’s and then started a property advisory company in my 30’s. I Co-Founded RateMyAgent in my early 40’s as I wanted to grow a business that was truly scalable across the world.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I had never worked in the tech environment and really had no idea what I was getting myself into. My first impression and mistake was thinking that a tech business was about building a website that looked good. I thought the design was the most important aspect of developing a website. While design and UX is important I quickly discovered that making sure the site worked was the first step. My business partner Ed really opened my eyes to the fact that a great business is built on the backend system. Getting the database structure right and making sure the backend architecture is built in a way that can enable growth and scale.
The most valuable lesson I learnt in the early days was not to get too hung up on the code base. It is wrong and not scalable; learn from it, throw it out and rebuild it. This psychology was hard to work through. The fact that we had spent so much time and money building something only to realise we had to rebuild it.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success? Never giving up! Making mistakes is the best education money can buy. It can be confronting and expensive but looking back they are the foundation of my success.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
Surround yourself with people who have the skills you don’t have
You don’t know what you don’t know so it’s important to work with people who have different experiences. It took me sometime to understand how important a people and culture manager is. I was of the opinion that everyone can just look after themselves — they are adults after all! But having someone that keeps everyone informed, motivated and addressing potential issues before they blow up is a vital component of a successful business.
Learn to let go and don’t be afraid of mistakes
I learned that I cannot control everything and letting people follow their own path, similar to the one I followed, is empowering for a team. Our development team is encouraged to try new things and if they don’t work, they learn from them and move on.
Hire great not cheap
Experienced people are not cheap but they are worth their weight in gold. In the early days we employed people based predominantly on how much they cost but we failed to take into account how much time we spent managing people.
It is about the journey not the destination
Too many people are focused on the destination but if you focus too far into the future you can often miss what is right in front of your face. Our business started as an online property game but as we started to collect data we realised there was a much better option to explore and RateMyAgent was born. If we were too focused on the destination we would have missed this great opportunity.
It is also important to enjoy what you are doing and enjoy coming to work everyday. Find a job you love and you won’t work a day for the rest of your life!
Hire and retain the right people.
You cannot change people, if they are not right for the business you need to act quickly. The old saying a champion team is better than a team of champions rings true in every business. We had employed some great people in the past but although they were brilliant they were not a great cultural fit. We learned we needed to identify and act on this quickly.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think we have to put what we do into perspective. We are not saving lives and working should be fun. While it is not always easy to do, it is important to enjoy the journey and not focus on the destination. When you focus on the journey you tend to discover many new opportunities along the way and the destination can change as the business evolves.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My father had a huge influence on me and he helped me put everything into perspective. There were countless times during my professional career when he made me stop and think about what I was doing. When you stop you have time to think through things more clearly. I once ran a building and development company and one day my father said I don’t think you are getting anywhere with this company and when I stopped and thought about it I knew he was right. I reassessed what I was doing and changed course.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally I want to see my 4 children to reach their full potential in whatever it is they choose to do. I want them to be able to pursue a career based on what they are passionate about. Unfortunately so many of us have to pursue career paths based on financial needs and I want to ensure I play the same role my father played for me as I discovered what I was passionate about.
While I love what I currently do I have many other interests that I would like to explore for both personal and professional reasons. These include writing a book, starting a surfboard company that combines tech and surfing and exploring our ancient past.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I’ve always wanted to build a business that stands the test of time and creates opportunity for those around me. I came to understand that there are a lot of great people who have better skilled than me at their jobs and it’s my job to identify these people and then get out of their way. If I can create opportunity for people to grow then this is a win, win, win. It is a win for the individual as they get the opportunity to grow. It is a win for the business because the best and most passionate people are driving its growth and it’s a win for me because the business is better placed to stand the test of time.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I look at my children and can see how the education system can be uninspiring as every child is viewed as the same and education is designed for the masses. However technology has broken that cycle in many parts of society including the way we work, the way we communicate and the way we entertain ourselves.
I think technology can be used to in effect decentralize the education system and allow kids to pursue topics of interest earlier in their lives. While all children need to learn basic skills such as language and maths, I think there is an opportunity to deliver that education in an individualized way. Not sure how that can work but I do believe the answer lies in technology.