Ralph Giannella is a real estate developer and entrepreneur. He has a diverse entrepreneurial background including, real estate development, energy technology, banking and wine & spirits.
Born the son of Italian immigrants, Ralph started his work and entrepreneurial life at the early age of 12 years old. He worked after school and weekends at the family’s Italian bakery and delicatessen located in the “Italian section” of Paterson, New Jersey. “We didn’t have much when I was a kid.” says Giannella. “I have 4 brothers and a sister. We all worked at the bakery. We lived in a little 2 bedroom house where mom and dad had their bedroom, my sister had hers and we 5 boys slept in the finished attic. Dad came to America when he was 13. He never went to high school, he went to work. He told us what life was like growing up poor in San Marco, a little fishing village in southern Italy and taught us kids how blessed we are to be here in America. He also taught us a good work ethic.” When in his 20’s Ralph was licensed as a real estate broker and appraiser. Having the desire to “get out of Jersey” for many years, Ralph finally moved to San Diego in 1993. He didn’t know anyone in the area at the time, had only $2,000 in his pocket, no college education, but he had ambition and a dream.
When he first arrived in San Diego he started a real estate appraisal business and eventually became lead appraiser for Freddie Mac in San Diego. In 1995 he convinced a couple of hard money lenders to lend him the money needed to start buying low end houses in the lower economic neighborhoods of San Diego to renovate and resell. He was flipping houses years before anyone even called them “house flips”. Over the next few years he bought, renovated and sold over 200 hundred houses. As his business grew he then moved on doing the same business model in the high-end beach community of La Jolla. He started buying old houses there, tearing them down, and building new $3 or $4 million houses and selling them. He then progressed into buying old apartment buildings and renovating them. He would do a full modernization on it and then re-rent the apartments at higher rents and sell the entire apartment building. In some instances, he would convert them to condominiums and sell them individually to first time home buyers.
Still today after all these years, he focuses on the complete modernization of older buildings built in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s and giving them new life, bringing them into 2020 and beyond. He currently focuses on acquisitions in the higher-end areas of San Diego and Los Angeles, particularly in the beach areas where there is a great demand for newly modernized high quality apartments.
In the early days of the internet, he and his partners were pioneers of internet banking when they founded Bank of Internet. Bank of Internet was the world’s first internet bank. Bank of Internet was launched back in 2000 and had an IPO and went public in 2005. Today, the bank has been re-branded Axos Bank and trades on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap of over $1 billion.
Ralph also founded, along with a partner, an energy efficiency company called Energy Performance International Inc., that has proprietary technology that reduces the energy consumption of commercial air conditioning and reduces carbon emissions.
He was co-founder of Magnifico Giornata collection of flavored sparkling wines and led the brand to U.S. expansion from coast to coast. Magnifico was later exited to a private investor group.
He has always found time to give back. Giannella was honored with a prestigious Papal Blessing from His Holiness Pope Francis for his work with the Vatican in Rome, Italy on the Pietà Legacy Mission. He is active with St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Wounded Warrior Project and has been acknowledged by Smile Train International for sponsoring cleft lip surgery for 283 children in developing nations.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
When I was a real estate appraiser, I would get hired to go appraise a house in the lower economic areas of San Diego and I started wondering, could I buy it for X, remodel it for Y, and sell it for Z and make a profit? I have always been a dreamer and had high ambitions and goals. That is how I got started in the re-development of real estate.
There is a certain good feeling and a sense of accomplishment that I get from taking something that is 50 or 100 years old and needs a new life, and making it new again and then renting or selling it to a young family or a young couple who is going to start their new life in it. Still today, when I drive by apartment buildings that I renovated 15 – 20 years ago, I am proud of those buildings, especially when it still looks like the nicest building on the block.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am an early riser. I get busy with emails early. I am always looking for new real estate deals and for buildings that we can buy. I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to brokers and arranging additional sources of capital. I am also on the road driving to check out properties. A lot of time is spent walking properties figuring out how best to add value once we buy it and making remodeling decisions.
I also take time every morning to work out. I have been in the martial arts since I was a kid. I like training in Muay Thai and weight training at the gym. I like to meditate and read but don’t as much as I probably should. I work a lot. I have 3 incredible children that are all in college right now, two in Colorado and one in New Orleans, and they fill my life. I am very blessed.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In the business world, I find old buildings that need a new life. I am creative in what can be done to it, from an economic and design standpoint. How can I make it appealing and attractive while still making a profit ?
I am always reading and looking in my field for ideas and to see what is working for other people who are doing something similar. If I could find someone who is successful at a particular thing, I can learn from them. It can save you a lot of time and help avoid mistakes.
What’s one trend that excites you?
When I was young, they told us the American dream was to finish high school, get a job, save up a down payment, and buy a house. I think today in 2020 the American dream has changed for many young people. Today it is to get your college degree, get a job, lease a really cool car, rent a great apartment, and travel the world, because you can live your life off your telephone and your laptop. There is a trend with the younger generations to rent high quality and higher priced apartments. A lot of young people rent from me that could easily buy their first house or condo if they wanted to, but they are not ready to put roots in the ground because they don’t know where they will go to next, or they want the flexibility to move from place to place.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Probably my willingness to learn, to recognize I may not have the best idea and that I am probably not the smartest guy in the room. I have a willingness to listen to other people and even if I don’t agree, I still think through things from their perspective, and I am willing to change. My willingness to learn from other people and pivot when necessary really helps me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
My advice to young Ralph would be to go to college and get a degree. I know what doors didn’t open for me because I didn’t have an education, how I struggled, and how embarrassed I was going into meetings when everyone else was talking about the degrees they had and the Universities they attended. I can’t emphasize enough how important going to college and getting a degree would have been to me and perhaps how much of an easier journey as a businessman and entrepreneur, I may have had.
When I was a kid my dad used to say, “Ralphie, a boy does what he wants to do. A man does what he has to do.” I have always remembered that, and I have taught that to my sons. I have always been willing to do what I had to do.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
When I decided to move to San Diego to do something different, break out of blue-collar New Jersey, and make a better life for myself, everyone back home thought I was crazy. They all thought I would not make it. It takes a certain kind of person to pick up and leave your home, your family, your friends and move 3,000 miles away, especially when you don’t know anyone where you are going and don’t have a job lined up or have any money really. It is not for everyone. If you are not that kind of person, it is easy to judge someone who is and who would take such a risk.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am constantly reevaluating the business and what I am doing. When I read Donald Trump’s first book many years ago in the 1980s, The Art of the Deal, one thing that stuck with me was when he said, as an entrepreneur you always have to ask yourself: “What am I pretending not to see?” I always ask myself that because you can easily get caught up in what you’re doing, the excitement of it. There is a risk if you pretend not to see some of the negatives, some of the things happening around you or if you engage in wishful thinking.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Hard work and my willingness to sacrifice other aspects of my life, such as social activities, fun, or hobbies. Also, I have always had a laser beam focus on the task at hand, as opposed to trying to do too many things at once and take Massive Action !!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When the market crashed back in 2008, it crashed on me, as it did many others. Obviously, I couldn’t have prevented the crash but I survived and overcame the difficulty by having faith, working hard, believing in myself and continuing to press on. Although, it did take many years to recover and it sure wasn’t fun.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m not afraid to give away my current business model. I buy old real estate and turn it into new. We have this convergence of old real estate that needs a new life and old owners that own that real estate who are getting old enough that they are ready to sell their properties.
Remember, many years ago, the best areas were built first. That means the oldest real estate is often in the best locations: Buy for X, Remodel for Y, Sell for Z, make a profit.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently took my daughter Chiara out for dinner before she left to go to Colorado for college. She is an amazing girl. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She has such an incredible life ahead of her.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use several of the real estate databases every day, such as the MLS listings and the other data sources.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The book that impacted me the most many years ago was The Master Key to Riches by Napoleon Hill. It was the first time the idea was ever presented to me that you could actually create your life your own way, that you didn’t have to just take what life gave to you.
What is your favorite quote?
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. Dr. Wayne Dyer.
● Success comes from hard work and determination and faith.
● Always be willing to help other people on their journey
● Ralph’s dad always used to tell him, “A boy does what he wants to do. A man does what he has to do.”
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.