Johnny Wolff Better Than Air BNB



Johnny is the CEO and Founder of HomeRoom. The first coliving company in Kansas City. Since its inception in 2018 the company has grown rapidly into 3 other markets. Johnny talks about the brick he faced in his personal life, and in starting a and running a startup. He shares some of the whispers that helped him get through tough times and what you should do if you want to pursue your dreams.

Episode Transcription:

Intro plays

Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari  Schonbrun. And I’m your host I have with me today. Johnny Wolf. Johnny is an interesting guy. He is the CEO and founder of homeroom, which provides affordable housing and a great roommate experience. The company’s expanded to include the Dallas metro area and Austin in a little over two and a half years. Johnny wolf graduated from California Polytechnic State University in 2007. And after working in financial services for several large startups, he decided to follow his dream. He learned the real estate business and started homeroom a co living company, the first in Kansas City. Homeroom provides a great roommate experience for professionals and anyone else wanting to live in a community. Johnny led home from idea stage to over a million dollars in revenue with revenue growth of 25% in November of 2020. He created the first single family home coliving investment product for private investors in the United States. Launching the homeroom co living app on iOS and Android. He successfully helped the company pivot from a standard inventory sourcing strategy. In other words, renting homes to an innovative and capital efficient approach helping investors buy homes. This new approach increased growth by 600%. He also established corporate partnerships with the Kansas City Royals, price point protection partners and better capital. In his spare time, Johnny volunteers with Big Brothers and sisters, and he loves spending time with his nephews. Please help me welcome Johnny Wolf.

Johnny: Thanks. So happy to be here,

man. Thank you for joining us. 

Ari: That’s great. How are you, Johnny?

Johnny: I’m doing well. I’m doing really well. Today. We’re having a fun April, we we just had the first homeroom baby born our VP of Operations had a child on Friday. So came to our team meeting and his name Zeke. And so that, that’s probably the highlight of my week so far. Wow. That’s,

Ari: that’s awesome. That’s awesome. So I’m gonna tell you reading your bio, I see you develop some corporate partnerships, including one with the Kansas City Royals, like how did that come about? What’s that all about?

Johnny: What’s funny, our mutual connection Kelly, she reached out to them. And she if you know, Kelly is a monster scan a team member. And she’s the one of most tenacious people I’ve ever met. And she just kept reaching out to them. And eventually, they set up a call and we got a partnership with them to house they do a an intern program that lasts for nine months during the baseball season. And so we house them for 2020. So very, it was very, very exciting for us.

Ari: Wow, that’s great. That’s great. Well, as you know, the name of the podcast is whispers in bricks. Now the whispers are those voices telling you what is the right thing to do. And they represent the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things we go through in life. Now on the surface, you seem to have had a pretty good life in a career. However, we all know life is not a straight line. There are many ups and downs and many bumps in the road. Now let me ask you this. At what point did you decide to leave the financial world and follow your dream? Like what was the impetus to make that move?

Johnny: Yeah, so I was I live I was living in like in the center of San Francisco and 2015 working at a bank and like one of the had a really nice view. And it seemed like a good career path that I was on. But I was pretty bored at the time. And the real estate values in San Francisco are astoundingly high and I wasn’t going to be able to settle down and set up the life I wanted. So I’m in 2015 I just decided I’m gonna move to Austin, Texas, I’m gonna invest in real estate. And that’s going to be what I’m going to do in my that’s what I focus on. And so I did, I packed up and took me about 45 days to make the decision did some I checked in the market and it seemed like a great place to invest. And so that’s kind of what spurred my change there.

Ari: Wow. Now let me ask you this, like what is the difference between like homeroom and Airbnb?

Johnny: Yeah, so Airbnb and homeroom. There’s some similarities to start off with. Both are marketplaces in which an investor with a property can put their property on the platform and it becomes a listing for a tenant or guest. Airbnb is short term rentals. And so typically people are staying from day two of 30 days. That’s the short term rental space and it can take a variety of form factors. single room, a full location. Homeroom is specifically targeting creating co living spaces. So that means that the whole house is involved in this model. And that involves multiple roommates in different bedrooms. And typically our folks stay a bit over a year. So it’s a much longer term. But there’s a lot of similarities for the investors, the benefits are more revenue. And, you know, it’s kind of an innovative model. So usually, when you get on, on things that are innovative, you can make more return. So that’s why a lot of people like olivine, as well as the Airbnb approach.

Ari: Wow, wow. Okay, I had, I had no idea. Alright, maybe we’ll talk later about what kind of investments you’re looking for. But in the meantime. So tell me this, what my audience wants to know, basically is like, what is what is some of the struggles or failures, if you’ve had any that, like some of the bricks that you got hit with either personal or professional, throughout your career?

Johnny: Sure. A few, a few main ones. So in 2010, I tore my ACL playing basketball, which was silly. And that’s not really a career break. But the recovery ended up causing other systemic issues with my feet and legs. So I kind of made it. So I was always like a pretty athletic soccer player, and dude, and that was my thing. And I basically had to retire. You know, I’m like, kind of my mid mid 20s. And so that’s sort of, I think, when that’s sort of part of your identity, and unbalances, you, including your career, so that was, that was one of the bigger challenges. And then in 2012, I started to have some more systemic pain in other joints of my body. Right. So that was something that that I actually consider. At some point, at one point, I started to consider like, Can I continue to do desk jobs? Or do I need to become like a park ranger. And so I did a you know, a number of different things that kind of balanced out my life again, and allowed me to continue on with my career. And, you know, it’s kind of led me here early in homeroom though we had a ton of bricks ahead of us. We thought we knew what we were doing at the beginning. And the the initial model we tried didn’t work at all. So we had to downsize the team to essentially me and Kelly, you know, after about six months, and me and her just soldier through for about another six months before we were able to add anyone else. So, you know, sometimes the best thing you can have is just like one or two very tenacious people. When when you’re when you’re not, we don’t have any money. You don’t have any anything else.

Ari: So yeah, I hear you. I hear it’s funny. You talk about your ACL, I tore my ACL, I was used to be a hoops, a big hoops player, I’ll play basketball. And I tore my meniscus twice. And then when I went out, I was about 40. When I was playing, I tore my ACL and I went, like, my basketball career is over, you know, just you kid. I says, Look, I got to work for a living, I can’t be sidelined, where I can’t walk. Just you know, it wasn’t worth it anymore. So, but that’s when I took up golf. I don’t know if you play but it’s for me, it was pretty good replacement. Although my wife got me a for my 40th birthday. She got me a five golf lessons. And she did not realize what was going to happen because I was, you know, put hook line and sinker my friend. You know, I was all in and you know, and golf is a lot of time takes a lot of time. And she was like, What did I create here? Yeah.

Basketball, maybe an hour, but golf.

Ari: Yeah. Wow. Wow. So so how is business today

Johnny: good. We’re up 300% This year, which we’re really excited about. We’ve received angel investments. And we’re in the process of getting additional angel investor funding, which is very cool. It’s when a professional person that you have no connection to says, Hey, your business is something that I’d like to put money in. It’s very exciting. So the team is super excited. We’re looking to expand to our fourth market. So we’re we’re in the I would say, when I look at where we were a year ago, which was or you know, 14 months ago, which is like, we don’t have anyone except for like me, Kelly and accountant Natalie Ellika. Say we have six full time team members. It’s a pretty amazing turnaround for us.

Ari:  That’s great. So with my next question, basically, you’ve kind of answered part of it. And that was you know, did you ever fall so low? That, you know, you ever get to the point where you went like, you know what? I quit? I’m giving up on my dream. I can’t do this. It’s not gonna work. I’m buried. You know what, I’m just, I’m out. You know, I mean, Jim, it sounds like you might have reached that kind of a point. And if you did, all right, how did you get out of it? In other words, what how did you break that horrible, horrible cycle? I know I’ve been there. Okay, so I know for me, you know, my audience knows my story. But how did you? How did you get through that?

Johnny: Yeah. We had an ops manager. So at the time, it was, this was our Tober of 2019. We had Kelly, myself, Natalie, who’s still Kelly, now they’re still with us, an ops manager who, and so the ops manager was a core part of what we were doing. He was you only me and him were the only full time employees at the time, he got a DUI. And essentially, and his job was to drive around and he got put in jail. And we couldn’t hear we didn’t hear from him for five days. Oh, my God, then, I guess essentially goes to the company, like he just disappeared. And so it was just me, and, you know, a lot of properties and 100 roommates, and we were down about $12,000 at the time, so we saved money, because we didn’t have anyone else. So that I guess. So yeah, there was definitely during that phase, there was a lot of times where I was like, I wish I’d never started this company, I think I’m probably gonna have to declare personal bankruptcy. You know, I talked with my girlfriend about it pretty regularly. Like, I think there’s a decent chance that I’ll have to declare bankruptcy out of this, I’d started the company out of my own retirement savings. I was like, I was just gonna be wiped completely out. And so that was, that was tough. I mean, you started, it’s very depressing to even think about, like, just going back to zero. And I’m not 22 anymore. You know. So it’s just, the thought was just pretty nauseating. You know, the way we pulled out of it is I mean, thank God for Kelly and Natalie, who were they were contractors, but they’re still there, they’re still with us today. They’re just two people that never give up. Right. And I, I have a little bit of that ethos in me as well. But I think they have it more. And so we transition the model, which made the business go from being not a really good business to a much, much better business. And so that was sort of some creativity that I had, and some transitions I made, so that that helped a lot. And then we had the we were able to convince a few people to invest money in the company and buy a few houses with us. And so that, that basically turned the corner for the company, it’s like, we now have a model that if we do have more, it’s actually going to be better, we’re not gonna lose more money as much as so. I don’t know, a lot of tough days where you just keep working and you don’t feel like it, I guess is how we turn it around.

Ari: Right? Right. You know, I tell my kids all the time, you know, you know, life is not like I said, it’s not a straight line, whatever, you’re gonna hit bumps in the road, and, you know, you you’re gonna wake up some mornings and say, you know, I’m not doing this anymore. But you know what you have to, okay, you have to tell yourself, no, I know where I am. And I and, and I’m not gonna let this thing beat me, I have to get up, I have things to do. And if I want to break free, I got to do them. And, you know, I tried to instill that into my kids. I think I worked. I think it worked pretty well. I’ve got I’ve got five kids. And yeah. So you know, you know, I’ve got my daughter’s a doctor. The other one is a special a teacher, my son’s a social worker. My other son is going to be an actuary. And then I have a 17 year old who’s in high school, who’s driving me up a wall. But that’s that’s their job. Okay.

Teenagers are succeeding at their job. Yeah, they’re

definitely succeeding at their job. Yeah, without a doubt without a dad. No, but I hear you, I hear. Can I ask you a personal question? Did you ever turn to God? Talk to God, turn to God. Or

Johnny: it was just just you in an indirect way, I guess I would say, you know, my, my family is pretty faith based Christians. And so my dad is that’s very important to him and my mom as well. And so, I definitely, you know, asked them to pray for me. Okay. Yeah. So, you know, like, kind of like, a

direct indirect interest. I

get it. That’s the message over for me. Yeah.

Ari: Okay. Okay. No, because I find, believe it or not, you know, there’s the old saying, there are no atheists in foxholes. Okay. And I find in all the people that I’ve been interviewing, alright, I always find that, you know, when they’ve gotten to that point, you know, most of them will sit, you know, will tell me, you know, I just looked up to God and I said, you know, I need help here. You know, some of them said, you know, like you You know, I didn’t, but I sent my messenger. You know, I sent my mom and dad and I said, do me a favor, you know, you know, pray for me, you know. So? Yeah, so in some way, shape or form. Let me ask you this, if you had to do it all over again, what would be the one thing you would change? If anything?

Johnny: I think I would have taken the day off basketball, if I had the choice. You know?

Ari: Like, do you think do you think do you think you would have? If you had to do it all over again? Do you think you would have said, you know, not even think about going into the financial world and just start this thing first? Or, you know, would it be something like that? I don’t know. I’m grasping?

Johnny: Yeah. I don’t know, I think I would still have gone down the path. That and the banking role that I had inspired me to be like, This is not the career for me anymore. And so I guess I’m grateful for every step. And I’m not just trying to be avoid the question. There’s probably some strategic decisions, I would have done a little differently in terms of like, who I hired and when, you know, maybe I wouldn’t have hired that office manager I would have. So I think those were the team building aspects and like, hiring a little bit slower, in some cases, or things that I probably would have done differently.

Ari: Hi, there enough. Fair enough. Now, last but not least, do you have any anything that you would, that you would care to share with my audience words of wisdom advice, you know, they’re my audience is, you know, there are people in my audience that are just like you. Alright, and that’s why I started this program, because there are a lot of people out there who think they’re the only ones going through what they’re going through. And I know that there are, you know, hundreds of 1000s, if not millions of people that are going through the same thing. And they it’s they like to hear that, hey, there’s somebody out there, I’m going through that thing, how did he do it? Let me hear what he’s done. You know, and it’s great. It’s been wonderful. So what any words of wisdom?

Johnny: Yeah, I think the one thing I think that held me through when, when it was really, when I was really bleak, was I had done, I think, a decent amount of research on how difficult it was to start a company before I started it, and so I understood like, you know, there’s definitely quotes out there that people talk about, it’s like, you know, chewing on glass, and it’s like, very difficult, very, very difficult, especially a startup where you’re, you have big ambitions and a short amount of time. And I kind of knew that. So in the back of my mind, I didn’t want to start a company and I came from, you know, my dad had started a company in the Silicon Valley. And so I had observed that, and I didn’t make the move until I felt like it was I, I knew was the right thing that I had no matter what I was gonna keep going until, like, I absolutely cut it right until, like, I dropped dead or, you know, I ran completely out of money, and, and people and everything. So I think that was, you know, I think understanding, I think sometimes people enter things, and they don’t understand how hard it’s going to be, and they still persevere, and that’s awesome. But I think, understanding how hard what you’ve decided to do will be and looking at the truth of that. And then what and then making sure you’re you’re you’re committed to that level of challenge. When you’re really not feeling like doing it, and you’ve already understand it was gonna feel that bad, then it’s easier to do it that day. I think. Does that make sense? Yeah,

Ari: no, absolutely. Absolutely. You need the tenacity, you need the, you know, you got to, you know, they say, you know, what does the California Bus you know, these used to see those things in New York, you know, people that I’m dating myself right now, because that was in the 70s and the 60s. Anyway. So now if people want to get in touch with you learn more about what you do. You know, what would be the best way for them to do that? How do they get ahold of you? Or your or how do they get a hold of the business? Sure.

Johnny: You can email me directly at Johnny at live Anytime happy to respond. I do check my email and get back to everyone. And live homeroom calm is our website. What we offer is, you know, real estate investing with comb through Colombian, and so typically, the returns are quite a bit better. And, you know, we built it so it’s easy for investors, they don’t have to do much pretty passive. And then if you’re looking to, you know, be a roommate, you can always talk to us, too. We, we have, we’ve had 400 roommates in our history, and that’s, that’s what we do is match people up and make sure they’re good fits and enjoy the journey of living with other people.

Ari: Wow, do you ever have It just dawned on me you ever have a situation where you had like a bad roommate? I mean, it must have happened. I can’t imagine that it didn’t.

Johnny: Yeah, we’ve definitely had a few people leave. We’ve never had to call the police or evict anyone. So, you know, that’s a victory. But you know, we have a we have a psychologist that will mediate if needed. And that’s, that’s only happened twice though. So it’s honestly most people there have they get along pretty well with other people. We don’t have that many issues.

Ari: Wow. That’s great. Johnny, thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience, you know, giving the people the motivation they need to persevere, and all their struggles in life. Good luck to you going forward. You been listening to whispers in bricks and I’m your host Gary Sherman. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.