Judging yourself against the top achievers in any craft or field is unproductive. Instead, aim for small improvements over your own performance.
It’s always been Solly Assa’s goal to cultivate a legacy that is not only synonymous with luxury and style, but also has quality and customization. CEO, investor, developer, entrepreneur, and visionary–all of these titles fit, but none fully capture the impact of his innovative leadership.
Driven by transformation, Solly Assa built his career on a series of unique distinctions. Through Assa Properties (founded in 2000), Solly has worked across the industry to cover the full spectrum of residential, retail, hotel, and commercial development. Assa Properties now operates over 3 million square feet of real estate across the United States and Mexico.
Unlike his competition, Solly Assa tends to hold properties long-term while they accrue maximum value. As such, he is dedicated to building strong, long-term relationships with clients to facilitate sustained business growth. This commitment served him well as he guided Assa Properties safely through the chaos of the 2008 recession.
Solly Assa’s unconventional approach to real estate development is driven by his ability to identify underutilized assets in upscale markets. The defining features of those efforts are his Cassa Hotel & Residences properties; Cassa NYC and Cassa Times Square in Manhattan, and the upcoming Cassa Puerto Vallarta along the Pacific Coast in Mexico.
A natural creator, Solly Assa prides himself on having developed a robust, imaginative portfolio that encompasses all areas of development. As such, his properties provide full-scale services for guests, residents, and the larger community. These include impressive amenities such as child care and pet sitting, as well as on-site dining experiences including Bar Gonzo, an homage to the iconic Hunter S. Thompson, and Butter, the upscale eatery run by former Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli.
Solly Assa’s approach to real estate development encompasses more than just luxury mixed-use buildings. He has made a unique mark on the industry by providing those living in his flagship Cassa Hotel & Residences the opportunity to alter floor plans, design duplexes and triplexes, and create customized, ideal living spaces with an unparalleled degree of flexibility. Unsurprisingly, this has been well received by the market.
Solly Assa plans to continue building the Assa Properties legacy with additional real estate endeavors in the U.S. and internationally through both joint ventures and solo Assa Properties pursuits.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I began on this journey in 2000, when I started my own firm, Assa Properties, which now holds over 3 million square feet of properties throughout the United States and Mexico. In 2003, I started Cassa Hotels & Residences. The name Cassa is an amalgamation of Casa, Spanish for home, and Assa, my family name. The goal with Cassa was to offer luxury properties which stood apart from conventional developments by offering amenities that are elegant and eclectic, but also tailored to the client’s needs and preferences.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start off every day with the same routine. I believe a consistency in my consistent morning ritual leads to stability, emotional resilience, and equanimity in how I respond to life’s events on a day-to-day basis. After breakfast, I typically spend some time journaling in a loose, stream-of-consciousness manner, which helps unclutter my mind and engages me creatively. After journaling, I spend some time meditating before I get started with my errands for the day. As a rule of thumb, I like to tackle first the tasks which are of the highest value to me, so that by lunch-time I will have completed most of my important tasks for the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Imagination is a really important part of the process. I treat brainstorming and conceptualization with respect, making sure that I give my mind time to wander after taking in informative content. For me, innovation and direction arise naturally as a result of giving my mind the space to imagine, and form associations.
What’s one trend that excites you?
All things green. Renewed interest in atriums, courtyards, and functional green spaces has opened up a whole new realm of creative design that I haven’t fully examined before. Combined with an increased interest in smart, customizable design for residential and mixed-use complexes, there is so much to explore.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I would say that many people fail to maximize their productivity by trying to focus on too much at once, which has the tendency to overwhelm. When I am working, I maximize productivity by working in an environment which is virtually free of distraction. I tackle important tasks in short but focused bursts, taking periodic unstructured breaks. Intentional periods of effort followed by unstructured time ensure that I am operating at an optimal balance of creativity and productivity. Isolating this time from distractions allows me to focus on completing the task at hand with my full cognitive function, rather than splitting it with thoughts of a future item I am not ready to address yet.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t focus so much on being the best, but on improving yourself against your own benchmarks. Judging yourself against the top achievers in any craft or field is unproductive. Instead, aim for small improvements over your own performance. There is always room for growth and change. Find a small innovation, track your progress, and adjust as you see results. Ultimately, having a consistent focus on improving yourself will allow you to outstrip competitors who are looking to reach some arbitrary achievement.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Hard work doesn’t mean effective work. Even in the land of opportunity, so many of us grind away at jobs which don’t really work for us. If more of us dared to spend time with and get to know ourselves, the world would be a much more diverse and engaging place to live. What is it that works for you? It might not be anything like what you expect, but that doesn’t mean pursuing it is a bad idea. Personally, I prefer pursuits that serve me and the life I want to live.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Make sure you set aside time to unplug. Your professional life will require that you be connected most of the time, but it is essential to offset this time by deliberately putting space between the outside world (e.g., your smartphone, the internet) and you and engaging in focused or leisurely activities. As an entrepreneur, you need this time to rebuild your capacity for creativity. Beyond that, being present in the moment allows you to identify trends and make associations with other important aspects of the creative process you might not access if you stay isolated behind a screen. Making time for leisure is actually highly productive, and should be prioritized as such.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It’s essential to manage your time effectively. Prioritizing the tasks that you have to do, distributing the tasks that others have to do, and nixing the tasks that aren’t worth doing sounds simple enough, but it’s a struggle every entrepreneur wrestles with. If you can’t do these things in an organized and streamlined manner, you’re ultimately just wasting time. Wasting time is counter-productive to growth. And growth, after all, is just a byproduct of doing everything else right.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Every leader faces issues or mistakes that they need to overcome. In 2009, after the financial crisis hit, Assa Properties had its fair share of challenges during this cloudy time for the real estate industry. However, by confronting these challenges head-on, Assa Properties found a way to work through the struggles we faced while learning from the issues at hand, allowing us to be smarter when addressing future obstacles for our company.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Algorithmic dating apps are all the rage these days, so why not apply that to real estate? The person who can create an algorithm that matches people looking for residential/commercial real estate with the right property/space is going to be a very rich individual. Not only that, this service will streamline the work of real estate agents, title companies, mortgage professionals, real estate lawyers, and all of the other professionals in the real estate space.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Noise canceling headphones. Sometimes, you just need time to decompress and think. Music (especially classical) helps me to do just that. I lock my door, turn my phone OFF (not silent), and allow myself 15-20 minutes to think through the task at hand. It’s the kind of exploratory exercise that can really transform my efficiency and strategic execution. The noise canceling is especially helpful, as even while I’m traveling or in a noisy area, I can focus on my thoughts and think through the issue at hand.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use f.lux. It’s a free piece of software for your computer that automatically warms up your display in order to strain your eyes less. This helps screen time be less disruptive to my internal circadian rhythm and helps me falls asleep without issue. As someone who spends a lot of the day looking at a screen, I didn’t realize the true toll until I started using this software. Now it’s on all of my computers. I still try to take regular breaks and minimize the time I’m exposed to blue light, but this definitely goes a long way toward minimizing the negative impacts.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. A harrowing, true story of a man who survived the Nazi death camps, he makes a case for “tragic optimism,” or positivity in the face of unrelenting horror. As an entrepreneur, you need to stay optimistic and persistent. If you’re not, you will surely be crushed by the weight of uncertainty, the failures that come along the way, and the sheer bulk of responsibility.
What is your favorite quote?
“Paralyze resistance with persistence” – Woody Hayes
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.