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How do you go from flipping burgers and making pizza to becoming a real estate tycoon? Ari Rastegar, who is often called the “Oracle of Austin,” has the recipe.
“Being hungrier than s–t and getting kicked in the teeth every day,” he told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.” “I mean, I don’t know if that’s the politically correct answer, but that’s what it is. As you said, my dad was an Iranian immigrant. My mother is German … I had to go to two community colleges before I even got into Texas A&M and I was an English major, graduated top of my class, couldn’t afford to go to law school after delivering pizzas through Texas A&M.”
Yes, there’s lots of nourishment and food metaphors in there, but the Austin, Texas, native and noted biohacker came from essentially nothing. He manned the grill at Johnny Rockets, worked at Domino’s and Double Dave’s pizza and took any opportunity to move to the next level, which included law school at St. Mary’s University.
The entrepreneur has made mistakes. According to him, plenty of them.
In his new book “The Gift of Failure: Turn My Missteps Into Your Epic Success,” the real estate guru and documentary producer gets candid about his snafus and how they set him on the right path.
For example, Ari, who had started a global entertainment group, described recovering from a succession of events that could have sunk him in 2011. The first was a party in Dallas, which was hosting the Super Bowl. He had Diplo, Diddy and the Black Eyed Peas ready to perform and massive corporate sponsors lined up.
“Then the biggest ice storm in the history of Dallas, Texas, hit … People didn’t show up,” he said.
He thought he would recover with an event for NBA All-Star weekend that was going to take place at the Playboy Mansion.
“Forty-eight hours before the event, Legionnaires’ disease breaks out at the Playboy Mansion … I went to sleep in Dallas a multimillionaire and woke up broke … What it taught me was I need to plan for the unexpected.”
It also taught him to be introspective and self-assess, in an almost “unreasonable” way.
“But I look to say, ‘What could I have done better?’ … Which is painful and sucks, quite frankly, because you have to look at your whole self and a lot of times what you see in the mirror, you don’t like.”
Of course, there’s plenty to like and a lot to celebrate. The man launched his firm with $3,000 of borrowed cash.
“And in the past six years, seven years since I started, we went from $3,000, let’s say, give or take, to we have over a billion in production and hundreds of millions of dollars on the balance sheet,” he said.
Those kind of figures don’t just appear out of missteps. He has a lot of practical wisdom to drop.
“Be nice to your waiter. And I’ll tell you, it’s actually a good philosophy for life … You can judge a human being by how they treat what appear to be the underlings. And I don’t mean that in a point of superiority.”
Ari preaches the merits of being resourceful and utilizing the multitude of online sources to continue learning.
“You don’t know how often I watch free videos on YouTube. I’m talking about for Excel spreadsheet modeling. If I’m in the middle of a model and I’m looking at something and one of my really smart analysts shows me something, I don’t entirely get it. I get on YouTube, I want to watch that thing. I can do it or watch a free class. MIT has free classes on YouTube. Watch the damn thing. So does Yale. So does Harvard.”
But becoming a parent has been the most humbling lesson for the father of three.
“Everything. Everything. Everything used to be about Ari’s time. Ari getting rich … When Victoria, our first, was born, I literally sobbed my eyes out, thinking, ‘I can’t even take care of myself. Like, what am I going to do?’ … OK, maybe the kid is starting to figure out that he’s not supposed to be an arrogant f–k and, you know, actually do things to serve.”
And he might be ready to serve a beatdown to his television set which has a seemingly unending stream of shows about his real estate pet peeve: flipping homes.
“If I hear one more fix and flip thing, either I’m going to have to go buy the network and shut it down, or I’m just going to break the TV. I’m not a violent person, but if I was, I would probably break the TV.”
He called the practice “gambling.”
“So just because you won at roulette in Vegas doesn’t make you an expert statistician that cracked the code.”
It’s safe to say, we’ve cracked Ari’s code: Work hard, even if it’s flipping burgers, be a good example to your kids, be nice to your server and don’t ask him for advice on flipping houses.