021: The Blueprint to Scaling a High Growth Business with Don Wenner

The Blueprint to Scaling a High Growth Business with Don Wenner

Today, I’m talking to Don Wenner, who is a master of scaling high growth, high profit entrepreneurial companies.

Don is the Founder & CEO of DLP Real Estate Capital, a leader in the residential real estate sectors of investment management, lending, asset management, property management, construction, home building, and brokerage.

Using the Elite Execution System, Don led the DLP Real Estate Capital family of companies to over $1 billion in assets under management and over $100 million in annual revenues in less than 10 years. He has been teaching this system to a select group of private clients who have revolutionized their businesses and shares the complete blueprint to his success in his upcoming book, Building an Elite Organization

In this conversation, Don and I are talking about the major benefits to buying a community bank, the core values at the heart of Don’s companies, and the proven business methodology Don used to achieve 60% year-over-year growth for the past 13 years!

Key Takeaways

  • Why Don decided to commit the time and energy into buying a community bank. 
  • Why Warren Buffett’s investment philosophy is actually far more antithetical to capitalism than it may seem.
  • The difference between getting lucky and having great processes in place – and how Don has positioned his business to experience massive growth, year after year, despite never making a list of the Top 100 fastest growing companies.
  • The core values at the heart of Don’s companies – and how they’ve empowered himself and his employees to do their best work on their terms. 
  • What Don is doing to invest ethically in communities without depleting much-needed housing stock.


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Connect with Justin Donald


Justin Donald:: Alright, Don, I'm so glad to have you here on the podcast. This is perfect because we've talked about it for quite some time, and I'm really excited because when we first got a chance to know one another, I just feel like there's so many similarities in our story, in how we grew up, the paths that we took, the decisions that we made. And I'm just thrilled to have you on. So, welcome. 


Don Wenner:: Thank you, Justin. Super, super excited to be here. Can't wait that again. 


Justin Donald:: Well, we know a lot of the same people, which is fine. We were just talking off air about another one of our mutual friends, Hans Box, who is in an earlier episode here. And Hans is just an awesome guy, super smart. I know he is one of your earlier investors with your company, which is cool. And he's one of the guys that really introduced me to you right out of the gate. So, that's pretty neat. So, I'm curious, you have a lot going on. I know you're juggling a ton. I know you've got a huge business, and we can get into this. I know you just wrote a book, we you can get into that. I know you've got a podcast. I mean, you are juggling. And then there's all the other things that you do. You've got charities that you support, and the list goes on and on. And I'd love to really dive into each of these or as many of these as we can get into, but I thought it would be fun to really just get started and maybe hear a little bit about what is new and exciting and what you're passionate about right now today. 


Don Wenner:: I love it. That's a great question. Yeah, so every every day, I was fortunate and blessed that no two days are alike, and well, that's not true. I mean, there's a lot of things like in terms of how and I know you're big on this as well, how I set my routines and my schedule and all of that's very similar but what kind of work fills up those hours at work varies so much, but exciting things is I'm hopeful today. I guess the biggest thing that's on my mind other than being on this podcast here is I'm hopeful today, knock on wood, I'm signing what's called a definitive merger agreement to buy a bank. So, that's been a big move, as we call it, for the past year we've been working on. And hopefully, today, we'll have ink to paper and be fully executed to acquire actually a public bank that will be taking private. So, we're pretty, pretty excited about that. 


Justin Donald:: That is so cool. I'm thrilled and excited for you in this endeavor. And I knew about this from before because when your team came to Austin, we had a chance to kind of talk about it and dig in. One of my friends who is going to be on a future episode here in a few weeks, also owns his own bank. And I've been looking into it as well. And I'm excited because this is, I don't know what's going on here, but I have this eerie, what do you call it, attraction to get people on the podcast or just talk to people literally the day they're about to ink a deal. So, this is like literally in the last week, maybe the last eight days, I've had three people ink massive deals during or like right inside the time frame that we've talked. So, it's kind of funny. 


Don Wenner:: That's awesome. 


Justin Donald:: What made you want to buy a bank? I mean, I love it from an investment standpoint. It sounds brilliant. I mean, we all know that banks do very well in good times and in bad times. But what made you (A) want to do it and (B) be willing to commit the time to do it, because it took my friend four years, a little over four years to get it done? 


Don Wenner:: Yeah, that's a great question. So, I'm assuming your friend probably did it in overbank, it would be my guess, if it took him four years, but no matter which way, it's a long process. So, we've been already probably identified the decision to buy a bank probably two years ago. It took me a year and a half to identify the right opportunity. And then, we've been working on it now for six months to get to this point of a signed agreement, and then to get to the point of final regulatory approvals, probably another six months from today. So, it is a long process, but to explain why we are doing a bank above and beyond simply, it's one of the best foundational investments. I think they're out there and it's pretty cool. The other real reason is, we probably have to explain just a little bit about what we do, which is, so my parent company that we own is called DLP Real Estate Capital or DLP Capital for sure. And we're a family of businesses or divisions to the organization, all centered around investing in real estate. 


And so, we run private discretionary investment funds that invest in real estate, real estate as an owner, equity investment mainly in rental communities, workforce housing, rental communities where we consider ourselves an impact investor focused on workforce housing communities that are affordable for the local workforce. And so, we run and have done a number of funds focused on that. And then we run funds focused on lending capital to other real estate investors who predominantly are also investing in workforce housing, either improving, preserving, or creating new workforce housing. So, we lend to guys who are flipping homes, guys who are building single family portfolios, multifamily portfolios, or building new single family homes or multifamily properties. 


So, in a lot of ways, we manage capital in kind of a private banking-type manner, and then we lend money out to real estate investors, very similar to how I'd say banks used to lend to real estate investors, as many have kind of had to leave that industry. And it's moved a lot more to private lending over the last decade, but we do a lot of these same services where at the end of the day, my world here at DLP and we have a family of other business that support this from property management to construction management to a real estate brokerage to a title company, to a marketing agency, et cetera, but rather than a day, we're serving two sets of clients. We're serving high net worth hardworking investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners. 


And then we're supporting and providing capital and resources and education to successful real estate operators. And those two groups, what they both have very much in common is they both need the services of a good community bank. So, we're able to serve as those two groups really nicely through a bank balance sheet, through a bank platform. So, it just fits really, really well with what we're doing, and couldn't be more excited about it. 


Justin Donald:: No kidding. I mean, it's a total one-two punch, there's no doubt about that. I mean, it makes complete and total logical sense if you're willing to jump through all the hoops that you have to jump through. There's so much more regulation when you have a bank than there is to have like a private fund, as you've had for years. And so, I'm curious if you're willing to share any of those nuances or what makes it more tricky or sticky. 


Don Wenner:: Yeah, so it starts exactly like you said with regulations. So, it's highly regulated by-- we deal with the Federal Reserve and the OCC are kind of the two regulatory authorities that we will be dealing with. And, yeah, it's interesting how these regulators look at things different than you or I look at things, right? They look at, well, if you're growing a business fast, that's a scary thing, that's not a good thing. They're very conservative and slow and methodical, and they want banks who are slow and methodical and we're certainly, and if we get into our book and our approach, we're very methodical, but we're certainly not slow. We move and grow pretty quickly in whatever we put our energy and effort into. 


So, dealing with that balance of giving the regulators the confidence that we're not going to grow too fast and not be able to handle it and is interesting, and how they think about your growth plan and what they want to see and what they don't want to see and so forth, it's really interesting. So, what I learned also is that, and one of the reasons why there's been so few community banks that have started in so many years is the banking industry has moved in the direction where they basically promote banks buying other banks. And that's pretty much what they prefer is those who are known to banking, can continue to invest in banking, and those who are not known to the banking regulators, they don't want to know anybody new, in short. 


So, I've had to go out there and bring in and surround myself with people who are known to banking. So, I've already hired my CEO of the bank who's run and been CEO of a couple of large banks. And I've already hired a CFO who's been the CFO for much larger bank. And one of my largest investors is going to be a minority partner to me in owning the bank, and he's owned four banks over his career. He's much older than I am. He's 82 years old, but he's known to the banking regulators. And I brought in great legal counsel and consultants and so forth who have gone through the process. And so, I've had to go through and take those steps. 


And then there's certainly significantly more cost to how you go about compliance. And for us, one of the more complicated factors is we have to make sure to keep this separation between all of our existing businesses and the bank, and any transactions that the two do together are going to be highly scrutinized. And you have to be willing and knowing that kind of going into and accept kind of those additional costs and work as a sacrifice to accept that you're going to then have access to the lowest cost of capital there is and access to the overnight Fed and all the great benefits of owning a bank. There's unfortunately cost associated with those benefits that you have to kind of go into, eyes wide open, which I believe after a couple of years of a lot of research, a lot of time, a lot of effort we're doing so, but it's exciting. And our investors have been very excited and can't get here soon enough, but we know we have quite a bit of work to do yet. 


Justin Donald:: No kidding. Well, you said something that made me think about a book that I read last year. One of my private clients in my Lions Network said, "Hey, Justin, you've got to read the book, The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition. 


Don Wenner:: I've read it.


Justin Donald:: Yes. And so, I mean, what a great book by Jonathan Tepper. And here's the deal. It talks all about how it seems like capitalism is a thing, and monopolies are bad, but it's what you said about the banks, the banks are gobbling up, the big banks by the small banks, and then they control everything. And there's tons, like you think there's competition, but there's no competition. There's so little that you can do. 


Don Wenner:: And I know you're a fan, and you've been quoted and referred to and talked about Warren Buffett, I know one of your other guests in the podcast, I'm drawing a blank on the gentleman's name, but Keller Williams. 


Justin Donald:: David Osborn. 


Don Wenner:: Yeah, David talked about the Warren Buffett rules. And Warren Buffett, as much as he's promoted as the king of capitalism, the greatest capitalist, he's the opposite of what people think about capitalism, that he only invests in industries and in companies where there's very little competition, where regulations or something is creating. Often regulations are creating this monopoly or oligopoly or duopoly where there's one or two or only a few companies in that industry, and there's this big moat that's protecting anybody else from being able to get into that business, and that's what the regulators are doing in banking. So, you hit it exactly on the head that being a business that's tough to get into and they really aren't letting anybody new into is a great time to get into the industry, especially since so few, almost every bank has been purchased by bigger banks. So, the number of competition is getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and that's likely to continue. 


Justin Donald:: Yeah, it's interesting to think about what that's going to look like. And by the way, there's going to be huge opportunities as you capitalize this bank and the low hanging fruit is, hey, why don't I just sell it and cash in? But it's such an integral component to what you can do with lines of credit and funding different deals. I mean, some stuff that you want to do, you want the regulation; other stuff, you don't want the regulation. So, it really just is a nice addition to that war chest that you've developed, I think it's so cool. When I think about DLP and the job that you've done building this company, it's interesting because I don't know that anyone says, well, DLP is a household name, but in the communities that I run in, it really is. And a lot of people don't know the success, Don, that you've had building and scaling this company. And I love the market that you're in, I love that you have investment dollars that are focused on actually owning real estate, specifically multifamily, but also single family homes. 


And then you also have a lending arm that focuses on that loan origination side that you can help people that are wanting to flip or improve or whatever, that maybe they can't get a Standard Bank loan, or they have to jump through two main hoops, or they can't get it inside of the time frame that they want it. And you guys are so good to your clients. And I'm going to say your clients as your borrowers, not necessarily your investors, although they're your clients, too, but your borrowers keep coming back for more and more, but I'd love to have you talk about DLP and what it stands for and what you've built it into, because this is a billion-dollar company and that's unbelievable, and you have built this, and you're what, 34? 


Don Wenner:: A little, 36. 


Justin Donald:: 36. Well, anyway, anyone who is in their 30s that has built and scaled a company to over a billion dollars is doing some things right. So, I'd love to hear more about that. 


Don Wenner:: Yeah, thank you for the kind words. And yeah, I'll give you the little backstory to how it kind of came to be where we are today, and tell you a little bit about how I think about what we do today and what we're going to do it in the future. So, I have, as you said on the onset, a similar background to yourself. And so, I grew up in a town called Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. You may know Lehigh University or Bethlehem Steel are kind of the most common reasons people might know where Bethlehem is, an hour north of Philadelphia. I grew up to a set of parents who had me at 16 years old. My mom ran a home daycare, and my father was a prison guard, and so, very limited means. And I actually moved out of my house in high school and went out on my own and put myself through school. I actually thought from eighth grade on, I thought I was going to become a financial advisor. I thought, hey, I was really great at math, and I was really entrepreneurial, and that was the perfect job for me. 


And that's what I thought I was going to do and went to Drexel for finance and worked with some cool companies, getting some different experience like Merrill Lynch, BlackRock, and McGladrey & Pullen and things like that, but it was still said I was going to be an independent financial advisor. And I'd wait tables on the weekends, and a gentleman convinced me to come work for him. Basically, he kept coming into the restaurant. His name was Nathan Robinson, and Nathan did a couple of things, but what he hired me to do was come work in his ADT security business, and my job was knocking on doors. And that's what I did all day, every day. I didn't know that's what my job was when I took the job, but he told me is that I make $2,000 a week if I came to work for him selling alarm systems. And at 19, that sounded pretty good. 


So, it turns out my first paycheck was $5,280 for two weeks. That was one of my worst paychecks. I was selling a lot of alarm systems, which really just means I was knocking on a lot of doors, and I thought I was doing awesome. I was saving a ton of money, I was making a ton of money for a 19-year-old. And one day, I was sitting on a Friday at Nathan's kitchen counter as he was writing me out kind of my commission check for that week or those two weeks. And I saw a couple $15,000, one was $17,000 checks on his table. And I said, well, what are those for? He said, well, those are from the real estate sales from yesterday that I had. He was also a real estate agent at Keller Williams real estate. I said, "Whoa, tell me more." And so, he quickly decided that if I could sell alarm systems, I would do great selling real estate. So, kind of on a spur of the moment, I said, "Alright, I'm going to get my real estate license." I didn't sleep for a couple of weeks, got my real estate license over and online, and got into real estate. My marketing message from day one was, your home sold, guaranteed, or I'll buy it. That happened to be October 2006 was when I got licensed, which happened to be the peak of the real estate market. So, that was a good marketing message to have when the market was slowing down. 


So, I started helping a lot of home sellers sell their home, take away the risk, and that also led to me stepping in and just buying their homes. So, I was flipping homes, I was helping people sell their homes. I built a construction company to handle the construction work of all the homes we were flipping. So, that was all growing really, really fast. Bottom of the market comes along, 2011, and we say, hey, this is a great time to build a portfolio. Prices are at their bottom or at least close to it. Nobody knew for sure, but pricing was great. Right? Let's buy as much as we can. So, that's when we started bringing in investor capital, launching private investment funds, building a portfolio, scattered single family homes and multifamily buildings. And we bought two different commercial assets. We bought some land. We did a lot of things. 


And fast forward, by 2014, we had 600 or 700 properties we owned, and we had a hundred team members or employees. And we were growing really fast, and things were starting to become more significant in terms of size. More money was starting to come in and we said, "Alright, what do we want to do now when we grow up? And how do we take this business to the next level?" Guys like BlackRock and American Homes 4 Rent and Invitation Homes, they've scaled these single family platforms, but it's hard to do, and nobody had done it at that point. We're like, man, this is a tough business, a scattered asset business. How can we scale more efficiently? And we landed on two ways to grow the organization. One was to focus on rental communities, mainly garden-style multifamily communities as an owner and an operator. I couldn't articulate the price well back then, but really, we had been focused. Everything we were doing was around workforce housing, and we were trying to figure out how to scale off that focus and that knowledge base.


 So, one was to go after instead of buying a house at a time, buying a two hundred unit apartment community. And then, the other way was we said we could take our knowledge and our relationships and our capital and lend money to other guys, doing similar things to us. And at the time in 2014, there were very few private lenders out there, it's very hard to get access to capital. And we had a lot of relationships and a lot of knowledge. So, we started a private lending business and really, those have been our platforms over these last six, seven years now. We've grown our real estate portfolio to about 12,000 rental homes and we’ve sold a lot but today about 12,000 homes, and then we're lending actively across most. And we own in 22 states. And we're lending close to 35 states, I think more than 34 states today, to guys flipping homes, building single family portfolios, multifamily portfolios, and building new homes all across the country. And at the center of all that, from my nonprofit kind of side, I have a foundation called the DLP Positive Returns Foundation, and we set out to make an impact on two big crisis in America. And they are the crisis of affordable housing, it's getting worse by the day, the lack of affordable housing for most Americans. More than half of Americans spend more than 50% of their income, their gross income on their housing expenses. 


And the other big crisis that's out there is the jobs crisis. In fact, we're not losing jobs, in my opinion, to Mexico, we're losing jobs to technology. And the only way, stat that I always come back to is there's somewhere around three million cashiers in America, three million people whose job is to be a cashier. And we all can see at any stores we go to, you're needing less and less cashiers, it's getting more and more automated. So, how do those people get repurposed? What do they do? And I think the only real solution is entrepreneurship, small businesses. That's the only way you can create jobs. And so, we're really focused on that from our foundation standpoint, but really, that's what we do in our for-profit business while we invest to make an impact in creating and preserving and improving workforce housing communities, keeping them affordable for the local workforce. 


And then through our focus of what we do in terms of supporting entrepreneurs and our lending business, and then we invest equity with them and we help them scale their business. And that's what my book called Building an Elite Organization is all about, is implementing a disciplined approach to scaling a high growth, high profit business. So, we help a lot of entrepreneurs who are investing in growing a real estate business, scale that business profitably in a disciplined manner, and in turn, create jobs, and create jobs through their businesses, create jobs through the construction that they're doing, and the job creation that comes down the chain through that business. And it's really, really, really exciting. And sum all that up, I mean, we're 410-person company today, we have 1.25 billion in assets, we're doing a few hundred million a year in revenue, and we've grown every year for the past 15 years now by 60 percent or more every year. And that's what's really exciting to say, yeah, we're a good sized company. It's weird to hear somebody say a billion-dollar company now today, but what's more exciting is we look and say, "Alright, what we're doing today and the way we're executing for our company, the numbers start becoming really significant, and the amount of impact we can have becomes even more significant over the years ahead." So it's a really, really exciting times for sure. 


Justin Donald:: That's so awesome. I mean, there's so many different directions. I want to go with this because, number one, I've got a lot of experience in the single family home space and multifamily as well, but especially in single family homes, because I started a company with some friends, I was a capital partner on that. We scaled that. And so, you're talking about like your portfolio. We worked with, like Blackstone was one of our clients, one of our original clients, the largest institutional owner of single family homes. Same thing with American Homes 4 Rent, and all these big groups that own 10,000-plus homes. There's a big group here, Main Street Renewal out of Austin. It's also a big player that's one of our top clients. And so, we know this space really well. I specifically know the space really well. So, I love what you're doing. I love the model, but there's a difference here that I'd love to have you talk about, and that's that we would be the outsourced help to some of these large institutional companies. You in-house it, right? So, that's a different way to do the business. And I'd love to have you speak on that. And then afterwards, I want to ask you about that 60% growth, because I'm sure our listeners are dying to know how that's possible. 


Don Wenner:: Yeah. So, in terms of in-housing of our services, so part of our decision always to internalize, and I kind of covered a lot of it quick. We've always kind of taken this approach of kind of internalizing the functions of executing on our investments. And the beginning, I'd say a lot of the reason for was kind of in part out of necessity, we weren't in Boston, we weren't in Philadelphia, we weren't in a large market, we were in small markets in and around Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, the Poconos, and the suburbs of New Jersey and such, and finding good vendors or resources, and almost any regard was challenging. So, a lot of cases, usually what happens in construction, it was, hey, we're trying to find good vendors to count on and just couldn't find enough good vendors. 


You could keep up with us that we felt we had no other choice. And it's kind of the way I like to think about things like when things on any side of our business is public facing to our client. I'm a huge advocate that we need to do that in-house. We need 100% control of it. If it's going to affect the experience with our client, I want 100% control of it. As an example, one of the reasons why we do all of our own loan servicing on our lending business is because I don't want to originate alone. 


And then if somebody else service it now, my borrowers having to deal with somebody who doesn't know them or care about them, or they're one of tens and thousands of loans of these large loan servicing companies, it's just not going to work. And I want somebody in house who's working with them, extending the relationship all the way through that loan, but the back side of the organization, kind of the back office of a business that the client never sees or touches them, generally we prefer to outsource those functions if we can find good vendors, good partners that we can count on to do those services, and just we found a number of points in our growth that we've just had to do that ourselves, but we certainly have some cases where we've been very successful. In our larger markets, it's a little bit easier to do, but we were doing single family was in such the industry and groups like yours weren't around that we could count on that built that infrastructure, that scale the platform that we could really outsource those types of services to. If we would have found that ability probably back then, we may have grown even more in the scattered single family space because the value is just tremendous. 


Justin Donald:: Yeah, there's no doubt. I mean, that's what we saw, it's like the big niche market is no one was doing it. Single family home rentals weren't even an asset class at the time, something that became an asset class within the last 10 years, 11 years. And so, we saw this as a huge opportunity. These companies, they were good at acquisition, but they weren't good at in-housing anything. So, short term, maybe, like you could have gotten more homes, you could have done focused more on acquisition, but long term, it's probably better that you in-house it on many different levels, but like for our company, IFM Restoration, they're a big player in that institutional space because most of those companies do not want to in-house, and when they have, it's been disastrous. And so, they actually find that managing as big of portfolios that they have, and we're talking with some of these groups, 20,000 to 50,000, to 82,000 is the largest single family home portfolio, and that's owned by Blackstone. And so, that's just tough to manage all that. So, they really have to outsource but to a lot of different vendors. And so, that was huge for our company. 


And we were able to scale incredibly fast because no one was doing it. In the apartment space, it was really easy to have, like, one onsite person that could service all these units, but when you have home scattered all across a city, that's tough, and then you're in multiple cities, you don't have any locations next to each other. And then you've got stuff in the city, in the suburbs, you've got stuff in multiple cities and major markets all across the US. So, it was huge for us to figure out how to be able to do that scale, and we were able to build a proprietary software on top of it. That is one of the main reasons why we were able to get our series A funding by S3 Ventures, the largest Texas VC group. So, pretty cool. 


I want to dig in, though, a little bit more here, because, Don, you talked about 60% growth year over year for 15 years, and this is unheard of. I don't know anyone else who's ever done this. And it's really interesting because anyone who knows systems, or wants to scale and wants to have it, a lot more of a process, more programmable, you kind of hear Gino Wickman and Traction and EOS. And I know that this is common vernacular inside of the world of business, but I just want to give a major shout-out to you and what you've built in your book, because I don't know that any other business is doing what you're doing. So, I'd love to have you talk about how you've had this growth. 


Don Wenner:: Yeah. Thank you. So, one of the best ways to look at fast growing companies only, consistent way to kind of compare and gauge that I've seen is the Inc. 5000 list, and they measure every year, 5000 fastest growing companies, and they measure that growth over a three-year period of time. So, our average three-year growth, if you choose any three-year period for the past 15 years, will be between 300% to 500%. So, we'll never be top 100 fastest growing companies, but we stay on that list every year. We've been on the list since we've been large enough to be on the list. This will be our ninth straight year, and that means it's measuring over the last 12 years of our growth. For the last year, we were the fourth fastest growing company in America that's made the Inc. 5000 list five or more times ever. And we're on the list eight straight years. So, it's the consistency that's not common. Fast growth is common, but consistency year over year, it's very hard. And like most companies, over long periods of time, our company has changed a lot, we've grown geographically, we've grown into new business lines, we've changed our focus, gone through multiple cycles, etc., but kept that same discipline. And you mentioned Gino Wickman. I consider Gino a friend, and his system EOS, Traction was definitely a big part. I've always been, as I know you are as well, a huge, avid reader. And I mainly listen to books today, but I listen to three or four books every week. And I'm a huge Jim Collins fan and John Maxwell and all these great thought leaders, but Gino came along, and I'm a big Verne Harnish fan and such, but Gino is the first guy to really come along that really kind of dialed it into a system that I think the average frontline kind of director in a company could really understand, and it could make sense and be plug and play. And that was powerful for us. And we implemented it, EOS, nine, ten years ago into our business. And when I first listened to the book, I was so inspired by it. I mean, I went and became an implementer through his online kind of base camp program and did the self-implementation in our company. And it was full steam. And then what we realized is at our pace of growth and the diversity of being in multiple businesses all growing at the same time and such, there was just a number of things that weren't included in the system. There wasn't enough focus on marketing and sales. There wasn't enough kind of thinking through the strategy of multiple business lines. And then it just was missing some of the actual tools we needed to put the ideas fully into action and make them work at the pace we were growing at. So, all of a sudden what happened was we were running part of EOS's system and then we implemented concepts from 4 Disciplines of Execution, which I'm a big fan of, from Sean Covey, and concepts from Verne Harnish, and concepts from John Maxwell, and many other great leaders, and built many custom tools and a lot of testing. And we had all these different business lines, we were used as guinea pigs and kind of testing what works and how you drive accountability, how you drive consistency, how you build discipline through the organization, how you get results again and again, and have developed. It quickly became we were running our own system. And so, a number of years ago, we started referring to our system as the Elite Execution System (EES). And that's what I wrote a book on recently called Building an Elite Organization. And we've been running this system across our businesses now for many years, but we've also been helping the real estate borrowers or operators that we lend to and invest equity with. We actually help them implement the Elite Execution System into their businesses as well. And we do a few live events every year, we do full mastermind workshop events, and we're helping them implement some of the discipline around growing their business, discipline around hiring and developing leadership, retaining the best people, discipline around communication and running meetings, and discipline around a clear acceleration strategy, sales and marketing working together. Just dealing with all the complexities and challenges of growing a business fast and profitable. And that's a big important note, because in the world of real estate, especially over the last decade, a lot of the the big cover stories out there are companies like Zillow or Opendoor or Offerpad or these tech-based companies that are growing fast but certainly aren't growing profitable. And I don't have the advantage. I didn't have venture money where I could burn and not need to make money. And needing to grow a business that's both  scaling consistently and profitable is much, much harder than when you can do it without profit as a criteria. And I think for those of us who listen to podcasts, like your great podcast here, or read lots of books, you listen to one book, and they tell you all you need to be successful is the right management practices. In other books, it's all about leadership. In another, it's all about having great checklists. In another one, it's all about execution. In another one, it's all about content marketing. And you listen to this one book, and you try to go focus on implementing that in your business and you might improve that area, but it doesn't generate good, consistent growth as profitable. Well, we think about it, every organization has four quadrants: Strategy, people, operations, and acceleration. And acceleration again is sales and marketing. All four of those quadrants have to grow together, a part of one plan in order for you to have consistent growth day in and day out. And in general, we find entrepreneurs and discipline are two words that are often thought of as opposites, and certainly in the world of real estate entrepreneurs, that's the case. And putting a disciplined thought, disciplined action, disciplined people in place is a hard thing to do, but it's a significant transitional point to go from being a successful entrepreneur running a million-dollar or a 3-million-dollar-a-year business to being able to grow a 50-million-dollar or 100-million-dollar business, it takes that level of discipline. And that's what we've been perfecting and working on this past decade. And we're really excited about helping other great entrepreneurs build that discipline and build that structure and scale their business hopefully, even faster, more successful than we've been able to scale DLP. 


Justin Donald:: It's awesome. And it's so true. Like some companies do get lucky and they scale, but at a certain point, luck is going to run out, and it has to be a lot more process driven. And you're so right that like you can't have one of the legs uneven with the other, like they each need to grow. Otherwise, your business is going to get a little funky. Iif you try and grow sales too much, and you don't have the funnels and the protocol to be able to handle it, it's going to really mess with you. I mean, this happened to us. It was basically like when we started working with some of these institutional players at IFM Restoration, it was like they turned on a fire hose, and we were trying to drink out of it, and we're just flying backwards. I mean, it was crazy, and we couldn't handle it. And we're like, we'll figure it out. We'll figure it out. And it was nuts. It was nuts for the longest time. And growth is like that where you have to be able to make some quick decisions on the fly, but when you really can scale, it's by building in that time to proactively make decisions, not reactively make decisions. When all you're doing is reacting, it's really hard to have a plan and have a process to be able to do it. So, I get that your strategy and your structure works. And at the end of the day, having any strategy in any structure is better than none, but if you can find one that is proven, like yours, that's incredible. I think it's really fun. The last time we connected, you and I were both, like, frantically trying to get this book done, and we're juggling all these things. And it's like I need to do another review of the book and make sure that the print copy looks like what other copy looks like. And it's so funny, like you put a book out, I can't tell you how many times I read through this thing, and how many people I had proofread it, there's always mistake. It's the craziest thing. I don't know if you experience that, too, but it's just nuts, but it is to have a book in the world and to get the feedback that people give of this change my life, this change my business, this whole mindset shift is revolutionary to me. And I know you're getting this, and you may get it on a personal level. I know you're getting it on the entrepreneurial or business level, just as I'm getting it very often on a personal level and periodically on the business level, but most people are kind of internalizing it. What's that like? Can you share what it's like kind of having your ideas in the world? I mean, because to me, it's kind of like you're a little naked, you shared all this stuff. All these people come up and they know stuff about you and it's like, wait, how would you know that? Oh, yeah, I put it in the book. Tell me about that. 


Don Wenner:: It is. It's pretty cool. So, my book, Building an Elite Organization, it's not formally out yet. Actually, the official launch date is April 6, but we did a soft launch, I guess you'd say, where we printed somewhere around 10,000 books, and we distributed them at a big event we did a couple of months ago. And we've been providing them out to candidates that we're interviewing to come in the company, we've distributed them out to our employees, to our clients at Christmas time, et cetera. So, they've been out there, and there's thousands of them out now. And yeah, it's been really, really interesting. 


The first craziest part, I think, of the book process that struck me is, I was at the event I did, which was in November, a few months back, the first day of this event, somebody comes up to me actually, a young girl, high school girl who's a daughter of one of my investors. And she says she's our number one fan, and she follows us intently and she's interned with us and she's just a super passionate, young entrepreneur, and she was the first, interestingly enough, she says she's my number one fan, and her sister works for me and so forth, and she came up to me. First chance she got, she's one of the first round of people ever getting the book, and she comes up to me to sign the book. And I had never thought about what I was going to write inside the book, like I'd never once thought about. And it was like a surreal moment, like I'm signing a book. So, that was pretty cool. 


You know of course, it's going to happen, but now all these people got the book and like, wait a second, people are actually reading it and actually paying attention and taking notes. So, I was interviewing a gentleman today who was coming in for a called director level seat, never spoken to this gentleman for. I had an interview with a couple of people in my company. And he was reciting feedback from the book and had read the entire book already. And my book, it's pretty heavy, it's 280 pages. It's a book for leaders, executives, owners of companies. It's a blueprint. It's a heavy, dense blueprint to scaling a high growth business, it's not a light read. And this gentleman had read the whole book already and had a bunch of questions and had things highlighted and was talking about how impactful was. And he already gave it to his uncle, who owns a company. And his uncle wants to meet, it was just like-- and that's just an example just from a couple of hours ago. And it's just such a cool moment, such a cool thing to hear that kind of feedback. 


I had the pleasure of having Jim Collins. He was my first go-to to get to write the foreword. Unfortunately, he didn't, but fortunately, our mutual friend Hal Elrod wrote the foreword for the book, which is pretty cool, who I'm a huge fan of, and we've been running the Miracle Morning here in our company. I'm running it personally for many years, but anyway, Jim Collins did not write my forward, but he wrote me a handwritten note back and said, he read the whole book and how powerful it was. And that was such a cool moment because I'm a huge Jim Collins nerd, and I just think he's the thought leader. Getting feedback from guys like Gino Wickman was super cool, who kind of invented this space, you could say, and first to kind of systematize and said. So, it's been a really cool, surreal experience for sure, but meant a lot of fun. 


Justin Donald:: That's awesome. That's so cool. And I love that Hal was able to write that for you. And it was really funny because when I was meeting with your team, they were talking about how they do these miracle mornings. And I was like, so are you talking about like the Miracle Morning, like the book? And they're like, yeah. And I said, Oh, well, I'm best friends with Hal Elrod, the author. Would you guys want to have him, join you for one of your miracle mornings? It was just so funny how just everything plays out in the connections that you have and when people enter each other's lives and how interconnected we all are. I just think it is so cool, just how it all works. 


So, one of the things that I love about what you do in your culture is you're a very dreams and goals oriented, not just on the business side of things, which that's very good, that's your EES framework, but you do it on the personal side with the employees and even with some of the vendors and subcontractors, anyone that you would consider team and family. Can you speak on that? 


Don Wenner:: Yeah, I'd love to. You hit it earlier. You said having a system to fall or having a strategy or a plan, you know, anything, is a step forward for most people, and saying that, small percentage, I don't know the exact stat on it, but only a small percentage of Americans have clear goals, and even tinier percentage have them written down. And it's like just doing that basic process of writing down goals, the difference it's going to make in your lives is tremendous. And it's just amazing to me that how few have never really done that, have ever really set personal goals, have ever really thought through it for a way. 


So, I'm a member of an organization that you're a member of, I believe now as well, Tiger 21, and I've been a member a long time. And just a few months ago, I was asked, the guy who runs my chapter, which is in Palm Beach, Florida, he said, "Don, can you come present on something at the next meeting?" And he said, can you talk, come present a little bit on, like goal setting and such? I know you're really good at that. Can you come present on it?" I said, "Sure." So, I came in, I'd be honest, I was a little like, I don't know these guys. I mean, these are guys worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They're generally older, like, are they really going to get value out of this? Like, I don't know. So, I came in and I'd sent the materials over to George, who runs my share before, and he was so impressed by it, he included a bunch of the head people from Tiger 21, who then joined in the meeting, and I got such rave reviews. I've helped many Tiger 21 members now help implement this in their company. And they had never done this before and just thought it was such a big deal. 


And what it is, so we have a core value here in our company called Living Fully. And when people first join us, they think it's just marketing materials, or it just sounds good to recruit people but are shocked that it's really what we do. And down to every quarter in our organization, similar to US, we run our rocks and we require every person to have three professional and three personal rocks. And we hold them accountable to their personal rocks, just like the professional rocks. And that's mind blowing to people. And we go through twice a year. And at minimum, we have everybody do it once a year. Most people go through it twice a year. We go through a process of life assessment and we built kind of a tool, we go through, and we assess our lives, and we call the Eight F's of Life which are faith, family, friends, finance, fitness, freedom, fulfillment, and fun. And so, we have a number of kind of grading questions to grade yourself in each of those eight areas your life, and then based on those answers and how you rate yourself, it gives you a score of we call Your Wheel of Life, and it shows you kind of how you're performing in each of those eight areas. And what I think is, real success and real fulfillment comes from being successful in all areas of your life at the same time. And often, fulfillment and success is more about how you feel about your life than anything else. 


And so, when you can feel that you're making progress in all areas of your life at the same time, that's really, really empowering. And I think a lot of people who are doing great in different areas of life, they're not kind of setting goals enough and recognizing enough, where they're not getting the joy of improving, because they're not really paying attention to it, they're not conscious to it. And then, certainly, the other side is people are falling off in certain areas of life, and they're moving so fast and running so hard, they're not even realizing it. And I had a situation maybe five years ago now, where I had one of my really hard working, dedicated, great employees who had a heart attack. And that employee was working really, really hard, and I don't know for sure, it turned out he had some other issues as well, but I felt like that heart attack may have been caused because he was working so hard for me. And I was like, man, I never want to be in a situation where somebody dies on my clock because they're so dedicated to DLP, they're working so hard, they're not taking care of themselves, so not taking care of their fitness, or I don't want to be the cause of team members having a divorce or not having the right relationship with their children. So, we drive this focus of living fully throughout our whole organization, going through this life assessment process. 


And after they assess their life, we go through this unique process of setting goals around each of those eight areas of your life. And we first walk them through a process of setting any goals, just letting your mind go and think big, think open, forget about any limitations. And then once they do that, then we help them lay out, we call the Living Fully dashboard, which is to take your top 10 or 12 goals. And generally, it's one or two goals around each of those eight areas of your life for the next year, and make them smart, make them specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely, and then track your progress all year. And just that little effort of setting a goal around each of those areas of your life and making progress each month is just incredibly powerful, new, and different. Most people have never done it before. 


And then, we do every year, we have a living fully day, we take a whole day and we step out. Now, we have outside experts who come in. We're doing things like Miracle Morning. We do a lot of things at our organization such as we pay for everybody in the company who wants to read and learn, we pay for Audible accounts, they can download as many books as they want. We do a driven for greatness meeting every other week where we actually choose a book that we read as a company, and a different frontline team member leads that discussion, gets people thinking about personal development and engaging with other motivated, driven people, changing and framing their thinking. We pay for Beachbody on Demand for those who want to work out. We buy people Fitbits. We do a lot of things just pushing this culture of improvement and fulfillment and living fully, and we try to lead that. I try to lead that for my seat and the rest of our senior leaders. 


And I'm a head coach both of my kids' sports, and I'm definitely a better father than I am a CEO. And I don't know if I'm a better husband, my wife will have to say that, but I work really hard at it. I'm a leader in my church as much as I'm a leader in my work and so forth. And when people see that and see it's real within an organization, the impact we can have now with 400-plus employees and then their families and our extended families, it's a really, really cool thing. And now we've started bringing in our clients and investors to be a part of a lot of this as well, and it's been really, really cool. So, yeah, it's a big part of what's important to me and and what drives our culture at DLP. 


Justin Donald: That's awesome. And it's so interesting because you've got an incredible life. You're a family man, you coach your kids' sports, you're a husband, I mean, you're wearing so many hats, you're running all these companies, and you have all these investors. You have so many people that are kind of in your pipeline, in your ecosystem. And you don't have to do any of this, like financially, you don't have to do a thing, but I love that at the foundation of everything is your faith, it's one of the first things that you mentioned. I know that ties in with the charity that you do. I'd love for you to even talk about that, because I think the charity work you're doing yourself, not just the money, but the time that your employees are all spending doing it is incredible. And I would imagine that's got to be one of the drivers, one of the things that gives you purpose because you don't have to work, you've got a killer life, you could go travel the world and you still travel the world, but you don't have to do all this, and you are. So I'd love to hear why. 


Don Wenner: Yeah, thank you, Justin. So, I'll start with kind of the foundation, the philanthropic side. So, as an organization, we have a giving policy. There's three parts to it. One is we give 1% of our time. So, we provide all team members the ability to take off, which works out to be three days to give to-- we organize things as a company, but they can go and work in whatever they're passionate about, but we encourage them to give their time. We give one-quarter percent of our revenue to our foundation and we give a quarter percent of all of our capital we raise to our foundation. And so, as we're growing, that's becoming very significant dollars. And so, our foundation is focused around two main crises I mentioned a little bit before, the affordable housing crisis and the jobs crisis, and we're working to make an impact in those areas in a number of ways. And it's also one of the reasons I actually wrote the book, and I wrote the book for three main purposes. 


One was for our own employees and our own leaders to fully be able to understand the system in a clear, concise way. Second was to provide it to entrepreneurs and business owners, especially those that we work with, and we lend capital to invest with, but for all entrepreneurs. And the third was to provide it and help make an impact for the nonprofit organizations we work with who need the help in growing their company, which they often don't think of it as a company, even more so than for-profit businesses. And we wanted to make sure that any organizations that we partner with and we work with, that we're really making an impact above and beyond, just giving money. So, we've been helping a number of ministries that we work with implement Elite Execution System into their business. And so, while we're providing them with capital and our time and so forth, we're also helping them scale the impact they make in their organization. 


And then, one of the other thing that's been interesting for me, and the biggest thing that drives me is we've been working on this foundation and realizing all this great impact we can have in our foundation and from our nonprofit side, and we're going to be at a point here in a very short time, we're giving millions a year to the foundation, which is great, and that's a lot of money, but when I look at the other side and say, well, in our for-profit business, we're doing hundreds and hundreds of millions a year. And sooner, we'll be doing billions and billions a year in revenue. And you look at and say, wow, the impact we can make in our for-profit business is significantly greater than the impact we're ever going to make on the nonprofit side. And so, we've been really taking a lot of time being thoughtful in our organization, realizing how do we make the biggest impact in our for-profit business? And we've really embraced the concept of impact investing and really focusing on making sure every dollar we invest, that we're making an impact on those two crises of jobs and housing in our businesses, and you don't have to anymore like you used to be, hey, you invest your money to make a profit, and then you give your money away to the causes they are passionate. Yes, that's still there, but you can invest your money into a company and an opportunity that can impact the causes you're passionate for, and do a much bigger impact because they're generating a positive return, which means the money can keep being used again and again and again. So, we're really focused on a lot of multifamily operators. 


As an example, the business model for sophisticated, smart institutional multifamily operators has been, hey, you buy apartment community, put $30,000 dollars into the apartment, and jack up rents 500 bucks. And that makes great sense from a financial standpoint, but then all of a sudden you take this apartment that was affordable, it was $900 a month or $1,000 a month, and you just took it out of the affordability pool. And yes, you can make a nice profit doing that, but we're big believers that we want to preserve this affordability pool. There's a shrinking amount of affordability, and we're focused on is owning rental communities where our rents or the cost of housing for our resident is less than 30% of their income. That's the amount that the average working, whether we're talking a nurse or a police officer or a frontline worker can really afford and still be able to take care of their kids and put a little money away and so forth. When 50% of their income is going to cover their rent or their housing expenses, they just simply can't. 


So, we're focusing on investing in these communities. Certainly, we're generating great profits and anybody who invests for those will tell you and look at where our profits are, and well, you can do that while being focused on making a tremendous impact, not just through keeping safe, affordable housing, but also through the social impact we can do. And that's some of the cool tie-ins like with our bank. We want to start setting up accounts for all of our residents, one of our cool things with the bank and putting away a little bit of our rent every month for them that they get to use later for education or job advancement or things like that. And we're doing onsite career training and education and health awareness at our communities. 


And so, a lot of things that we can make a real difference from a social standpoint and an environmental standpoint, as well as a lot of impacts we can make with the size and scope. And we have 30,000 people living in our properties today. That's going to be a couple of hundred thousand people in the very near future. Thinking the amount of people we can impact, one of the coolest things we did through our foundation as we now have a Bible in every one of our apartments, and that was a cool initiative to say, hey, when somebody is really hurting and really needs the Lord, they're not going to go out and get a Bible at that time, it's having it there that when they're going through something really tough, and a lot of people are going through some really tough times this past year, that it's there when they need it. And little things like that, you start looking at scale and say, man, the impact we can make through little decisions like that, it's pretty cool. 


Justin Donald: Yeah, that is just outstanding. And it's one of the reasons why I'm such a big fan of your company from the work that you're doing, even from like the investor standpoint, there are so many places that someone can invest their money, but when you can invest it in an organization that's doing so much good, it just feels right. So, thank you for your leadership and paving the way and all these initiatives that are not commonplace and quite frankly, could cost you money, but you're doing it because that's what's in people's best interest. I think that's incredible. Where can our listeners learn more about you? 


Don Wenner: Yeah. So, you can go to DLPCapital.com, or you can go to DLPElite.com, either basically get you to the same place, but the Elite brand is our brand for our book and podcast and so forth, then DLP Capital is our main kind of parent business, but you can go to either location and learn a little bit more about us. We have a link on DLPElite.com to a bunch of free resources as well, to a lot of the tools and trainings and actual kind of execution pieces to our Elite Execution System, so whether you read the book or not, could be some great tools to help you scale your business, including our life assessment and goal setting tool that I was talking about earlier. You can download there for free. So, yeah, DLPElite.com, DLPCapital.com. 

Justin Donald: That's fantastic. Well, thank you so much. And I mean, all of this that you're sharing is the reason why I'm such a huge supporter and fan, why our mastermind, there's so many members that are active investors. So, thank you for all that you do. And to all of our listeners, I want to challenge you again to take some form of action today. Just take one step in the direction of financial freedom and living a life by design, not a life by default. And so, I challenge you to make your move, even if it's a small move, those small moves add up and over time, it will be a big move. So, thanks for listening, and we'll see you next week.

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