I had the pleasure of interviewing Albert Marinas, an entrepreneur launching PadBlock, a blockchain-based platform to guide home buyers through the residential real estate process and connect them to vetted vendors such as mortgage brokers and closing companies along the way. An immigrant who made his way to New Jersey from Cuba via Miami, Albert comes to the real estate sector after more than a decade in the international logistics industry and a stint in the US Marines, where he served four years before his honorable discharge as E4/Corporal.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
A little more than two years ago, I bought a home and the experience was less than smooth. Many of the properties I found on popular apps had long since been sold, despite them being listed as “available.” The home-search process overall was surprisingly analog, actually — I printed, signed, and scanned countless documents — and I encountered many professionals who never replied to my calls, text, or e-mails.
Following the closing, much as any analyst would do after a project, I did a postmortem of the experience. Having spent the past 12 years in logistics, this was natural to me. I began my retracing the steps of my transaction, from the moment I began looking online, to the interactions with several professionals, all the surprises I received, and unexpected expenses. I ended up with a handful of yellow sticky notes. After jotting down the three top challenges, I set to draw it on a whiteboard. Next was looking for a solution to each by using technology. Visualizing the process drawn on the board, and placing myself both as a home buyer and a licensed professional lead to the breakthrough. Soon I came up with a basic structure to vertically integrate the home-buying process, vet professionals, and use up-to-date data. Then, I sought to add value at every stage, not only to the home buyer but also to the professionals engaged in the transaction. The result was PadBlock: a B2B and B2C digital ecosystem for real estate, where users can buy, sell, rent, and get connected with the right professionals along the way.
Don’t go at it alone: Many small businesses can survive and even thrive as solopreneurs. If the business you are working on demands doing something out of your wheelhouse, another set of hands, and outside perspective to offset competition and be a real player in the market, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It’s better to have 2 percent of a giant than 100 percent of a dream written on a napkin.
Don’t be shy to ask for help: The instinct is to go at it alone, research and do it all. That’s nuts. In today’s environment, where industries, technologies, and markets collide, you don’t know what you don’t know. Ask for help often and ask for help from everyone. Whenever I have a question, I run it by junior professionals, long-term professionals, entrepreneurs, and a relative or two. Not one has the definitive answer, but they all contribute to the answer.
Don’t expect support: You may dream of bringing your family and friends into your business, where it will be like Thanksgiving, and everyone is wearing khakis and typing on laptops, laughing and collaborating. Sorry to crush that dream. Most of my relatives don’t know what I am doing, and most of my friends wish me luck like you would to someone going on a backpacking trip to Europe with $200 in their pocket. You must recognize you are starting a business, and a business requires a group of folks tied together by a common dream and who are fully aware of the risk and efforts it will take to get there.
Looking at this list, entrepreneurship sounds like an awful journey. Well, it is. The education system, your parents, and the job market are not designed to encourage or promote entrepreneurship. My MBA program had an entrepreneur degree, and my classmates often asked, “who will hire someone that wants to take a job to learn it, then go on his own to duplicate it?” That said, if the idea is burning inside your chest and you are obsessed over it; put it on paper. If it makes sense, and there is a way to monetize it, don’t listen to them. Go for it.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
The entire PadBlock project is very exciting because there is nothing similar in the market to provide us with an example. We’ve developed every section from scratch by using our experience as home buyers and licensed real estate professionals to offer guidance on the home buying journey supported by two pillars: education and choice. Conversely, we have streamlined the home buying transaction for real estate professionals: real estate agents, mortgage professionals, title, home inspectors, and attorneys. We feel strongly about educating our users about every step of the home buying process: what to expect from the professionals, and what is expected of the user/homebuyer.
What I am absolutely most excited about is the chance to encourage as many young people as possible to buy a home from their smartphone. Not only for the convenience but also because of the long-term benefits it will bring to their financial planning.
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 about that?
I lean on college friends, family, the PadBlock team, and former colleagues; but Steve Williams is my go-to guy. We attended Florida International University and joined the same fraternity Phi Gamma Delta (also known as Fiji); however, there’s a ten-year gap between us. I had already graduated and was active in the fraternity chapter as part of the Graduate Board of Advisors when he joined. We didn’t spend much time together.
Years later as I embarked on my entrepreneurial path, I noticed he was also starting his own business, a line of health-oriented immune booster and mental replenishment energy bars called Tranzlabs. I reached out to him with my project and challenges and ever since we speak at least once a month.
I am reading a wonderful book, Platform Revolution, which, so far, anyway, at the moment that’s 100 percent relevant to PadBlock. The book explores the rise, management, and growth of platform businesses by focusing on creating and capturing value produced by network effect. On page 99, I ran into a concept I’ve never heard: social currency. Of course I looked it up online! I couldn’t figure out how it would apply to my platform. I reached Steve on Facebook Messenger and we jumped on a call two hours later. We spoke at some length about the concept, how it could possibly be applied to PadBlock, and to his own business. It was great!
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
I first heard about blockchain in mid-2017. I watched a couple of videos and didn’t quite get it nor did I see any application other than for cryptocurrency. Later that year, I saw a video on smart contracts, and a light went off in my head. I was deep into the development of PadBlock and I saw how it applied perfectly to real estate.
Smart contracts are ideal for real estate transaction and improve the speed of transactions. Also, they add much more transparency in the transaction; this translate into much improved accountability.
Blockchain allows for the organization of a group of transaction/steps into a single step. It validates information. The technology saves time that would be spent on validation in the analog world and reduce processing time since multiple payments can be cleared at once. Blockchain also utilizes decentralized databases, in which different users can participate and the system prevents unauthorized users to make changes.
This being said, blockchain technology is very new and will evolve over time. We have the opportunity to grow with it and will know it inside out in about two to five years’ time. It will be part of PadBlock’s DNA.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
Blockchain and crypto doesn’t worry me in general, thought I am concerned about the lack of SEC regulation on crypto. That uncertainty is why we aren’t considering crypto at this time. That said, there is plenty of chatter about these issues being solved over the short to medium term.
As we continue to develop PadBlock and consider blockchain technology, the vulnerability that comes with experimenting with cutting-edge technology is something we will have to keep in mind. A lack of talent skilled in this new technology and a lack of sufficient blockchain-based companies to create the environment to develop talent is another issue. Certainly it’s an issue when looking to hire a team member or a firm, but it’s also an issue for the industry, as it hinders maturity.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
We inspire to make home buying for the young generation as easy and accessible as possible. Here is what I visualize: A young, newlywed couple in their late 20s buys a small house in the suburbs, a 30-minute train ride or drive from their office. A few years later, children arrive but first, a dog. Eventually the kids are off to college, and they take the home equity built over the past 20 years or so to pay for their college education. As they near retirement age, they sell the home where so many memories were created — -but now nearly empty — and use the remaining equity to buy a condo just for the two of them. This is the goodness I want to facilitate to the world. This happens every day. I want to multiply this scenario by a thousand by making it easier.
We’ve already reached out to Habitat for Humanity to participate in a volunteer event in early 2019 we will be assigned to revitalize certain areas of Newark where we are based.
As you know, there are not a lot of people of color in the tech sector. Can you share 3 things that you would advise to other men and women of color in the tech space to thrive?
Just do it! Persist and find a way to make it happen. Keep knocking on doors. Reach out to minorities and non-minorities alike when pitching your startup or asking for a job in the industry. Also, know where you stand. Know that as a person of color that you’re going to have to work twice as hard in order to be noticed and to get recognition. Don’t just deal with the challenges — own them.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more men and women of color into the blockchain industry?
What’s needed is awareness and familiarity. When I first heard about blockchain I was curious about how it works but at the same time, it seemed “too techy” for me. What I needed was a “bridge,” someone who is tech enough to understand blockchain but who can explain the technology to a layman like myself. In search for this person I spent some time on Shapr, where I met Rick, who eventually joined our team as co-founder.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“You must set targets that are ten times what you think you want and then do ten times what you think it will take to accomplish those targets. Massive thoughts must be followed by massive actions.” Grant Cardone, real estate mogul and author of several books, also argues that one must use a “ten-times” rule when doing everything in life, particularly a business. He suggests one should aim ten times higher, and plan to work ten times as hard than originally planned. Further, massive action is the best strategy to attain one’s goals. Operating at normal — a word he despises — will only create average — another word he despises — results.
The moment I realized the scribbles on the whiteboard in my basement office were a real business, I became anxious. No one in my family is top management, or even really in business, for that matter. I had no one to reach out for advice. So I did what we all do: I went to Google and typed “best startup mentors.” Within seconds, I had multiple tabs opened on my computer and settled for three, among them Grant Cardone. His advice is impartial, direct, and he knows the real estate business. I also count Gary Vaynerchukand Eric Thomas as my online mentors. I owe them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 would create crowdfunding for a non-profit to retrofit abandoned factories, warehouses and empty land-fields into no-cost housing for the homeless. Newark, where PadBlock is based, and nearby Jersey City, have blocks upon blocks of factories that closed their doors during the late 20th century. Volunteers could help underprivileged folks with their resume, grooming and interview attire. Pro-bono attorneys could help them settle pending legal issues. Car service drivers could give free rides to job interviews. It would be a community effort, much in the same way families rally to help each other.
How can our readers follow you on social media?