Mike Kalis – CEO of Marketplace Homes

Ask, “Why?” I think it annoys everyone to no end, but if something doesn’t make sense to me in a meeting, I can’t stop myself from asking why until we uncover a solution that makes sense.

Mike Kalis is the CEO of Marketplace Homes. He and Marketplace Homes have been featured in more than 50 different media outlets, including Fox Business, The Detroit News, Chicago’s Daily Herald, and Builder magazine.

Mike is a sought-out speaker among home builders, and he has been recognized by Crain’s Detroit Business as one of the top 20 in their 20s.

Under Mike’s leadership, Marketplace Homes has been named Real Estate Company of the Year by the American Business Awards, one of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s 50 Companies to Watch, and Inc.’s 189th fastest-growing company in the U.S.

Where did the idea for Marketplace Homes come from?

In 2007, the market was completely upside down, and people couldn’t get out of their old homes. We discovered that if you can provide a great solution for someone’s old property, he’s more likely to build a new home with you.

At one of the most difficult times for new builders, Marketplace Homes was born as a place for people to get a great solution for their old home and purchase a new construction home.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I usually wake up at about 6 a.m. and help with my sons (a newborn and a 2-year-old). Then, I get in the car and make the 35-minute drive to work.

Amber schedules nearly my entire day. I operate nearly entirely from that schedule and just sort of go from meeting to meeting. Those usually end around 5 p.m. Then, I’ll spend a couple hours answering emails and hopefully be able to leave around 7 p.m. so I can get home at 8 p.m. to say goodnight to my sons.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I don’t think it’s necessarily me who brings ideas to life. We have a team of creative people who come up with really awesome ideas. We bring in incredible people who are really smart and can run with ideas. They can take the vision and the outline and execute from that.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

We’re at a crossroads of technology and people. It’s exciting to me that we can use technology to enable people to be incredibly successful.

In real estate, in particular, we can use video and mobile technologies to allow people to get into a home anywhere in the U.S. It routes a call from someone’s phone back to our office, allowing our staff to give incredible tours and get people really excited about the home.

When you take technology and blend it with people, you can get incredible results.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I could give you 10 that aren’t making me more productive. For me, the hardest thing is finding time to think. I go through my days with a billion meetings. I’m usually exhausted by the end of the day, so taking time to reflect is vital.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I worked at The Rock Shoppe in Plymouth, Mich., where I loaded rocks onto the backs of trucks for a summer. I did that for 60 hours a week, Monday through Saturday night. I made $10 an hour, so that was pretty good. I made about $15,000 one summer doing that, then I put it all in WorldCom and lost it in 60 days when there was fraud within the company.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would find people who have the same interests. One of the biggest bumps we hit was when we realized we had a lot of people who weren’t passionate about building what we were trying to build.

As we grew quickly, we just took people and put them in positions. But maybe they weren’t excited about real estate. Maybe they didn’t like technology. Maybe they were on our property team, but they didn’t like doing service calls.

I would go back and really make sure the people we brought on board actually loved what we do.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Ask, “Why?” I think it annoys everyone to no end, but if something doesn’t make sense to me in a meeting, I can’t stop myself from asking why until we uncover a solution that makes sense.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

What really helped us take off is simple: We just threw it all out there.

We poured every dollar we made back into the company. We hired more people. We put money into marketing. We had a mission to grow and be the largest broker of new construction homes.

We’re not concerned with profits; we’re concerned with growth. I think that’s what has allowed us to get to the size and the platform we claim now.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The first version of Zip Tours, which we called ITours, was this idea that we were going to take cameras and put them into the builder’s model. This was going to allow us to show those models remotely. It was basically the first iteration of what we’re doing now.

We put about $70,000 into outside technology. We had people on our team dedicated to growing this. We got a builder to agree to do it, so we installed a bunch of stuff in the mount. Then, it flat-out didn’t work.

The technology was supposed to trip an automated lock. Everything was in place, and that stupid lock just wouldn’t unlock. Then, it started to go downhill because it didn’t get fixed quickly enough.

As a result, instead of providing this infrastructure, we decided to leverage people’s mobile devices. We came back with a new service that’s our current version of Zip Tours, which is a simple app that uses smartphone cameras.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Something everyone can do is get into the rental game. For people who are looking for passive income, buying a home — that’s less than $100,000 with a 4 percent locked-in interest rate — and renting it out is a smart move. Then, they can put that money into an IRA or 401(k), allowing it to grow.

Many people are getting a 10 percent bond on their return. Then, if they put 10 percent down on the property and home values went up 7 percent within three years, they would double their money. I don’t think there’s a better passive investment than that.

As far as new ideas are concerned, education needs to be radically revamped. The costs and the rewards are out of control. I propose a four-year internship-based business degree called Marketplace University that requires students to travel the world. Every three months, each student would work as an intern at a different company in a different area while taking online classes. The company would pay the student’s tuition and get free labor. The students, on the other hand, would come out with 16 experiences with different companies and countries by age 22, allowing them to better know the world, business, what they like, and what they don’t. Most importantly, they would have no debt.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

It was $69, five times over. We did a promotion for our sales team in which we bought a lobster for the five salespeople who hit a particular sales number. This is probably the best reaction we’ve ever gotten from a gift. There were even Facebook posts of everyone’s kids playing with the live lobsters.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use Salesforce as a back-end CRM. Most people are familiar with it, making it a great tool that’s easy to introduce to new team members.

What book do you recommend our community should read?

Linchpin” by Seth Godin is one of my favorite business books. It talks about people becoming artists. I really believe that if you just do what everyone asks you to do from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you’re replaceable. At one point, this type of employee was valuable, but now, new ideas and their execution are more important.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Justine Musk is the ex-wife of Elon Musk. Her blog, , posts about the personal life of someone who desires to be successful (and what it takes to be successful) are extremely interesting. She doesn’t write with a condescending tone toward her ex-husband. It’s more like an admiration of someone who’s willing to dedicate his entire life to trying to change something.

A. Alfred Taubman wrote a book called “Threshold Resistance,” which I just read. It discusses how you get people across the threshold and how to get them to do that easily. In his world, that meant getting people into a store. In real estate, we’re trying to discover how to make it simpler for someone to get into a home.

Taubman found that if you get someone into the store, she’ll likely buy something. If you don’t get her into the store, she will not — guaranteed. Basically, Taubman offers lessons on how to make your business inviting and convenient in order to close sales (or, in my case, get more people to see homes).


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