Costa Bajjali is a real estate broker and developer in the Houston, Texas area. He is the President and co-founder of IDM Partners, as well as IDM Realty Group, LLC. He has a broad business background.
Costa is originally from Jerusalem. His family moved to Jordan when he was an infant during the 1967 War, which was a war between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. He attended a private British school in Jordan and was able to learn English as a second language. His education was a huge priority for his parents, so they decided to move to the U.S. He was in high school when his family moved to Houston area in 1981 and has been in the Houston area ever since.
He attended the University of Houston for two years and as the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” He found himself in the position of needing to help support his family financially. He was very entrepreneurial and at 19, decided to take a break from college and opened a small restaurant. He was able to secure his own loan from a bank, that happened to be near the restaurant. After a short time in the business, he realized how challenging the restaurant business can be. He was given an opportunity for a paid internship with Shell Oil. With the goal of finishing college, he sold his sandwich shop in less than two weeks. With the sales proceeds, he was able to pay off the bank loan and return to school to complete his undergraduate degree in Business. As he still believes, the most challenging things in life, end up being the biggest lessons.
Costa has a broad background, he started his career as a programmer, went on to be a Project Manager and a Consultant. He worked with several Fortune 500 companies, including Shell Oil, Bechtel Engineering, Stewart Title, Keane Consulting, Compaq, and Dell Computers. He traveled extensively and was spending extended time away from his family. This is what really inspired him to go into business for himself, so he could be more in control of his schedule and have more time with his family, during the important years, when his kids were very young. He had always had an interest in Real Estate and Development and realized that his background in Project Manager made the transition into that field very easy. As President and co-founder of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners for over 10 years, he used his project development background to manage $350 million in development projects throughout Texas and the United States. Now with IDM Partners and IDM Realty Group, he continues his work in real estate development with a focus on business consulting.
Where did the idea for IDM Partners come from?
The idea of IDM Partners and IDM Realty came to me when it became obvious that I was missing out on time with my family. I wanted to start a consulting and brokerage business and create a situation that would allow me to be productive working from home. I really wanted to have the chance to enjoy the limited time we have with our kids, while they were still at home and in need of parental involvement. The creation of IDM Partners and IDM Realty afforded me the opportunity to work from home and for my wife and I to be actively involved with our kids during the really important years of development.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I would think that I start my day like most people do by checking my calendar for the day, reviewing my to do list and browsing quickly through my emails from the previous day, to make sure I did not miss any replies or action items. To stay productive, I try to be proactive in completing tasks and minimize the number of hours spent in reactive mode. Having said that, I do work well when deadlines are approaching, so I guess having a good balance between proactive and reactive is healthy.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In my business, I spend a lot of time researching areas, driving, and exploring different parts of the city. I pay attention to what developments are occurring and where. I typically see potential need, based on what is in the area and what developments are coming in. For instance, if there is a single-family development in the works, then obviously there will also be some commercial development needed, in the near future. In older, more established communities, there may be a need for an Independent or an Assisted Living Facility, based on the changing needs of the demographics. As people age, they tend to want to stay in the same community near their friends and family, so a lot of the older community have a real need for local elderly care facilities, such as Independent Living, Assisted living, and/or Nursing Care Facilities. I was involved in the construction of an Assisted Living and Memory Care Facility, based on the needs I identified, in a particular neighborhood, during my commute between my home and office.
What’s one trend that excites you?
COVID has taught us all that people can be productive and effective working from home. I think that time in the office is also important, but it is exciting that some companies are realizing that some sort of a hybrid model, with some of their staff working from home could be the new normal.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am a night owl and tend to stay up late. When it is quiet at night and everyone else is in bed, I like to start thinking about my next day. I will go into my home office and plan my next day and put some action items together and go from there. I like to take advantage of the quiet time in the evening to prepare for the next day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust your own instincts when it comes to people. When you make decisions on who to work with, who to partner with, don’t try to make something work if your instincts tell you otherwise. Life is too short to be working in an environment that is not the right fit or with someone that you don’t enjoy working with.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Hard physical work can be fun! The sense of accomplishment you feel when you get a chore or project completed is very rewarding. I enjoy doing things myself and have learned about so many random things, even though I can afford to hire someone to do the work. I am very mechanical and love to work on our cars, I can fix everything from plumbing to electrical items in the house…there is really nothing that I won’t try! This way, I also know the job will be done right!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Always take the time to step away from everyday routine work to think strategically. I don’t do it as often as I should, but a lot of times when I fly or take long trips, I use some of that time to do some business planning and think strategically.
I also think everyone should solicit long-term business or strategic ideas from their employees. You may be surprised by some of the good ideas they have if you take the time to ask them.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It really comes down to networking and being friendly and helpful to everyone you meet. You never know where the next deal is going to come from. Treat everybody as if they might be your next potential client or customer.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Sometimes the best time to hire employees is when you don’t really need help. I have taken chances and hired people because they had a good head on their shoulders and not necessarily because of their knowledge of the job and they turned out to be great employees. It is worth investing the time to find employees who are a good fit, based on their experience and personality. I have had to learn to be more careful about not being pushed into a corner and having to hire just to fill a position or a need.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think it would be a great idea, and it would save lives, if someone could find a way to retrofit older vehicles with crash avoidance technology or at minimum, crash warning. This life saving technology is available now and is becoming a standard on every car, including entry level cars. It would be great to see an after market retrofit available for old cars!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A few years back, we rented a beach house for my son’s 13th birthday. While we were on the beach, some of the kids were playing around, chasing seagulls. I enjoyed watching them, and I made a bet with one of my son’s friends. I told him I would pay him $100 if he was able to catch a seagull. For a 13-year-old, that was a lot of money. It was interesting the amount of hard work that he put into it in trying to figure out how to catch the seagull. He actually caught one by attaching bread on a fishing line and pulling the string to make the birds come closer and then threw a beach towel on it. My son thought I was joking and did not think I would really pay his friend like I had promised, but I said, “Yes, I am.” I made a promise and he worked very hard to succeed on the challenge. When someone works hard, you have to reward them for it. I wanted to teach my son and his friend that hard work pays off, and we should always keep our word, even to a 13-year-old.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
In general, Email is key, but I also use the Notes feature in my iPhone to keep a running list of tasks that I need to accomplish. Specific to my work, the information that is now readily available from aerial maps and all the digital layers that could be added, such as floodplain, pipelines, easements, utilities, etc., are by far the biggest time savers. Tasks that used to require days and possibly weeks of work to complete can now be completed in hours instead of days.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch. Because I used to drive quite a bit from Houston to Austin, one of my previous bosses gave me an audio version of the book. I really loved it. Jack Welch reads it himself and his engagement in the subjects discussed makes it very interesting, so I really recommend the audio version.
What is your favorite quote?
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
• You have to enjoy your job. If you have to watch the clock to go home, this is not the right job for you. Never stay in a job that you do not like.
• Set aside time to think strategically.
• Surround yourself with people that are better than you are.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.