As president of California Builder Services, Scott Ford oversees operations and growth. He navigates business efficiencies and growth models for the firm as it expands.Scott works closely with staff personnel who coordinate DRE filings, providing training and support and ensuring CBS’ customer service is second to none in the industry. He also oversees client Reserve Studies.
Scott is keenly sensitive to compliance with legal requirements and oversees a team handling full caseloads that ranges from small parcel maps to large master-planned communities throughout California. Scott created CBS’ “Phasing Predictor” software which analyzes a development size and HOA assessment cost and will calculate the optimum number of marketing phases so developers save the most money during their sales cycle.
Scott works closely with staff personnel who coordinate DRE filings, providing training and support and ensuring CRE’s customer service is second to none in the industry. In addition, he maintains a strong foundation of title knowledge and has worked extensively on title projects such as mapping and lot line adjustments.
In 2015, Scott was awarded the Reserve Specialist designation by the Community Association Institute. He is personally involved in physical site inspections as well as the financial analysis for HOAs. Additionally, Scott participates in the Fresno & Madera, Central Coast, and North State Building Association Chapters. He is also a member of the California Building Industry Association’s State Department of Real Estate Committee.
Scott specialized in real estate finance when he earned his M.B.A. degree at California State University, Fresno. His final thesis was creating software that calculated reserve funding and long-term maintenance costs into a return on investment calculator for rental and investment property.
Where did the idea for California Builder Services come from?
My business partner and I were working for a title company where we were referring out to different consultants. But after a while, we got tired of the corporate lifestyle; there were too many consultants to get the best end result for our clients. So, we created a “one-stop shop” internally, a place where those consultants can now talk to each other. This allows for better collaboration and smoother transitions through the course of a project.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day-to-day is typically bouncing into different meetings. My goal is to give a different perspective for my colleagues to work with. We have multiple departments at California Builder Services, so I am essentially the bridge between them. For example, a consultant might ask a budgeting question to a department not necessarily dealing with budgets, so I’ll step in to either answer it or direct them to the correct department. I also oversee the administration of the company. When the company was smaller, this was an easy task, but now I have to prioritize. For example, I only pay bills on Thursdays – I have a folder for bills that I review and pay only on that day, which has allowed me to prioritize and streamline that process.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I always want to create a conversation that tries not to say “no.” When building an HOA, you need to balance fees and building expenses for things like a pool or clubhouse. Every client wants really nice amenities for little costs. Other HOA budget providers would simply say a project can’t or shouldn’t be done. At California Builder Services we give options, not roadblocks. We troubleshoot strategy and provide options. Sometimes we have to offer even bad options, rather than preemptively shooting down any ideas. We put everything on the table in hopes that we can bring one of the ideas to life. I will meet with each department at once to minimize the steps in the process, with my goal of not pushing one idea and simply acknowledging the benefits of each option. Once someone understands you are helping them, they are more willing to listen and collaborate with you.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Ten years ago, there was a lot of chest-pounding with contractors and they each did their own thing. Fast forward to today, there’s been a shift for development companies to coordinate with one another. Homebuilders didn’t work together, but now they do. This has spurred a lot of housing creativity in the past decade and gets us away from the cookie-cutter model. Now there are all these different players involved which will make these communities nicer.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Being very transparent with my employees. This might not seem to spur productivity on the surface, but let me explain. I grant my colleagues personal access my calendar, and this allows them to have employees meet with me and see every other meeting I already have. So, they are more selective with my time seeing how busy I already am at a given time. It makes them think, “Do I really need to meet with Scott? or “Can I cut this hour-long meeting to 15 minutes?” They are more sensitive with my time as a result, that way I don’t get bombarded with more trivial meeting discussions and can focus on more significant issues or big-picture items.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Getting a mentor would be a big one, someone to guide you who’s already been through what you’re about to go through. Also recognizing that not everything is your fault. It’s your responsibility as the leader, but may not be your fault. Not everything is on your shoulders. Realizing that other people’s decisions are not always based on what you did. Accepting that someone else’s decision-making is out of your control is huge, often a person’s mind is made up and all those inconsequential “mistakes” you made either went unnoticed or weren’t the factors that swayed them. They were almost destined to make their decision no matter what you did. People will make decisions despite your guidance to choose the option you want them to go with.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The customer isn’t always right, but their perception of you and your service is always right. For example, in my line of work people want to create big beautiful communities with a $50 a month HOA fee, but math doesn’t add up there. Everyone wants to live in a gated community, but nobody wants to pay for it! The client might be wrong, but how they feel about us is never wrong. If they think we aren’t working enough, then we aren’t. We have to show them that we are doing the most. Focusing hard that their perception lines up with what we are doing is essential.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
For me, I really lean hard on mentors. We started the company and I was in the midst of getting my bachelor’s degree at night school. When that was done, I still had an overwhelming “lost” feeling, and I thought to myself that maybe I just needed a master’s and that would fix it. So, then I got my MBA, but I was still lost. I actually ended up Googling “training for entrepreneurs” and networks popped up, including the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO), which I am now still a part of. I’m confident that 99 percent of my success is from this. There is a payment for attending, but it’s well worth the expense because it connects me with other entrepreneurs and allows us to brainstorm ideas alongside each other.
It is essentially a support group. It opened up a whole new world for me to delve into new ideas and strategies. There’s a persona that the average entrepreneur knows everything, but that’s not true, there’s no training for this stuff. It’s the knowledge that is collected bit by bit that makes an entrepreneur successful.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I like to say that cupcakes are worth $100k. When we are eyeing a potential client, if we call them their receptionist is pretty quick to shut it down instinctively. And that’s just the way we operated for a while. But there was one time I was driving to do an inspection and realized I was very close to the office of a company we really wanted to have as a client. I drove past a sweets shop and that gave me the idea to quickly stop in, put biz cards inside the cupcake box and leave with the intent of calling them in a week or so. It’s not everyday someone does this, and occasionally they will even reach out to us over email with a thank-you message. It’s a bargaining chip of sorts since it’s not so easy for them to hang up on us when we call because we are “those guys that dropped off the cupcakes on Tuesday.”
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have had a lot of heartache stemming from my underestimation of the people factor. Some people just don’t get along. I used to do all the interviewing of potential new hires. Once officially hired, these people might not get along with our current employees because I didn’t get my colleagues’ input. Now we do a panel interview and I am the last part of it. The first part is a conversation with the current employee they’d actually be working with on a day-to-day basis. By getting the current employee’s buy-in, it lowers the probability of personality clashes weeks or months later.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
People don’t consider the replacement and maintenance costs during a building inspection. A building inspector for investment properties would be a sweet occupation and desperately needed for many investors. Normal inspections take into consideration the big picture stuff, like if it passes a routine check, not when individual things will need to be replaced. I see a lot of new investors overlook these maintenance and replacements items which affect the projects ROI.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Back in April, we bought bean bags and boards to play cornhole—some people call the game “baggo.” The whole set cost a bit less than a hundred dollars, but employees started staying late to hang out with each other after work. They started getting to know each other and as a result started working better together. When we had our Fourth of July company party, every employee showed up with their spouses and kids there too. It was an entire event with a taco truck, ice cream truck, and bouncy house for the kids (those three things costing more than a hundred dollars obviously!), but cornhole really seemed to bring everyone together. We expected everyone to be gone by 5 pm but many were staying till past 7 o’clock still tossing bags. Tens of thousands of dollars can be thrown at team bonding without success, so seeing a simple game like cornhole achieve the same end was definitely welcomed.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We use QuickBase, a cloud service. It allows us to create projects, and assign tasks to different people. It essentially automates the process, everything from who’s files are moving through the fastest to reminders for when items are due.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Entrepreneurship Rollercoaster by Darren Hardy is a spectacular read. I read it about five years ago, and it was the first book I read that actually made me feel what I was going through was completely normal as an entrepreneur. I realized how my stress and processes were problematic, but that it was normal to have an array of challenges—from losing clients to choosing bad hires. There are always ups and downs, but accepting that fact and aiming for appropriate solutions really helped my growth as an entrepreneur.
What is your favorite quote?
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.” —Les Brown
- The customer isn’t always right, but their perception of you and your service is always right.
- Recognize that not everything is your fault—not everything is on your shoulders.
- It’s the knowledge that is collected bit by bit that makes an entrepreneur successful.
- Be that guy that dropped off cupcakes on Tuesday (that is, make yourself memorable with prospects).
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.