Interview with Jonathan Keyser
Jonathan Keyser | You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win
When Jonathan Keyser entered the cut-throat world of commercial real estate brokerage, he became the worst version of himself and hated himself because of it.
Then one day, he decided he’d had enough. He realized he was sacrificing his values in pursuit of success, and that he needed to stop. He abandoned his ruthless ways and reinvented himself as a selfless leader, which skyrocketed his brokerage firm to eight figures.
Jonathan now believes that anyone, in any industry, can experience resounding success through selfless service—which is what this episode is all about.
In our conversation, we discuss real estate strategies, company culture, and the most important principles from his new book, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win.
If you want to learn a selfless service approach to business that will revolutionize your business AND life, don’t miss this episode with Jonathan Keyser!
Featured on This Episode: Jonathan Keyser
✅ What he does: Jonathan Keyser is a best-selling author, blogger, columnist, and the founder of Keyser, one of the largest and fastest-growing occupier services commercial real estate brokerage firms. Jonathan has made it his mission to teach others on how to be successful through selfless reinvention.
💬 Words of wisdom: What if you could show other people that you truly can create extraordinary success just by helping other people succeed.
Key Takeaways with Jonathan Keyser
- How to win in life AND business by helping other people succeed.
- Why serving others in a meaningful way is rarely taught in business.
- How to not get taken advantage of as a selfless leader.
- Why selflessness is actually an act of self-interest that can lead to extraordinary success for your business.
- Stop talking about yourself and learn to listen!
- Why most commercial real estate tenants don’t realize how much buying power they truly have.
- How commercial real estate tenants can maximize negotiating leverage and get the best possible deal.
- Where is the real estate market headed and what can the vacancy rates and bottlenecks in supply chains tell us?
- Why everyone should invest in a coach/mentor
Jonathan Keyser Clip | Negotiating Your Way Out of Commercial Real Estate Leases
You don’t have to be ruthless to win!
“Instead of trying to figure out what you can get from other people, which was my sole focus before; how much can I get? How fast can I get it? Who cares what bodies I leave strewn behind me? Now, it was: how many people can I help? Ask for nothing in return, and over time, it comes back. So I thought if this is even possible, if one person in the world has done this, I wonder if this can be done in my business. I made the decision to reinvent myself.” – Jonathan Keyser
How Selflessness is an act of self-interest
“What if your whole focus was just on them, and you came from a place of pure service? I guarantee you, the opportunities that come out of those relationships are going to be 10x what otherwise would have been. I’m saying success comes from selflessness. I believe that selflessness is actually the most selfish way to operate. Let me say that again, I believe that selflessness is self-interested, right? And so, when you come from that place, wherever you go, it’s amazing what you unlock versus having these sort of artificial conversations that don’t really go anywhere, don’t go deep, don’t actually provide any value.” – Jonathan Keyser
Tactical strategies and being an tennant advocate
“One of my favorite tools to use as a tenant advocate, as a tenant broker, is what I call the unfixable flaw. The worst possible thing I could do is call your existing owner and have him or her think that you want, for example, additional space. You’re already in the building. You already have terms left on the lease. You’re basically a captive tenant at that point and you are going to get screwed. You have to create competitive market leverage, right? You have to create a narrative where you can maximize your buying power. And the only way that you can do that is to come up with some things about the current building that are less than ideal, things that the owner can’t fix.” – Jonathan Keyser
Jonathan Keyser Tweetables“There is this basic premise across every culture that says the more you give, the more you get.”- Jonathan Keyser Click To Tweet “What if you shift your focus from ‘what am I trying to get out of this’, to ‘how much can I truly and selflessly help the person across the table form me?’”- Jonathan Keyser Click To Tweet
- Jonathan Keyser Website
- Follow Jonathan Keyser on Facebook｜ Twitter｜Instagram｜LinkedIn
- Keyser, LLC
- You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win: The Art of Badass Selfless Service by Jonathan Keyser
- Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant
- Kastle Systems
- 17 Lies That Are Holding You Back and the Truth That Will Set You Free
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Read the Full Transcript with Jonathan Keyser
Justin Donald: Jonathan, I’m so excited to have you on the show today. It’s been a long time coming, and we probably should have recorded our pre-show just hanging out because we’re laughing hysterically, giving each other some small little fun jabs, and then, I mean, it’s a conversation I’m positive would crack some people up.
Jonathan Keyser: Now, we got to be all official.
Justin Donald: I know. I know. We got to be careful. Got to be careful what you say these days, right?
Jonathan Keyser: Really do, really do.
Justin Donald: Well, I’m thrilled to have you on the show. And as you can tell, I’ve got a new studio because you and I, we do a regular call, a biweekly call. We’ll get into that here. So, you know what my old studio used to look like, and now I’ve got this new studio, this new set up. You’re one of my first people, then I’m back live with, the first person I’ve got my background herewith.
Jonathan Keyser: I like it.
Justin Donald: Thank you. Thank you. I’m excited to learn more about you. And I say that in jest because I actually know a lot about you, but I know I’ll learn more in the process. I’m really excited for my audience to learn more about you because the more I learn, the more impressed I am, the more intrigued I am. You’ve got it all. You’ve got the full package. You’ve got a sense of humor. You have success in everything that really you’ve done from a family standpoint to relationships to business success. I mean, what a great person to be able to share the highs and lows because you’re running at a high level. And I’m just really impressed with who you are and so glad to have you on the show. So welcome.
Jonathan Keyser: Thank you. Thank you for the kind words.
Justin Donald: Yeah. And by the way, now that I gave you those kind words, we should probably hear all the times that you fumbled along the way, too. I mean, we got to get into that, but before we go there, though, Jonathan, let’s talk about, I’d love for people to learn your story. You’ve got a cool story, and it’s unique and it’s full of success. It’s like highs, lows, reinvention, even higher highs. Let’s hear about it. Give us your story.
Jonathan Keyser: It’s almost like the bipolar experience by Jonathan Keyser, right? Well, I have a pretty unusual background. I was actually raised by Christian missionary parents in Papua New Guinea, of all places. Prior to that, I have a long legacy of Christian mission experience. My grandfather translated the Bible into Apache, started two churches. I’m based out of Arizona. That’s actually how my family got to Arizona. And when I was a kid, my parents were asked to go to Papua New Guinea. So, I was there until I was 11, and when I came back, I had this rude awakening. My parents had taught me to love, serve, give, help. That has just been pounded into my head since I was a little child.
And then, when we got back to the States, I realized in this sort of moment of awareness that we were poor and I had no sense of rich or poor overseas because everyone, all of us were poor. And if anything, we had everything we needed. And now, all of a sudden, I realized that all these kids have things that I don’t have, and my mom’s cutting my hair, and I’m living in a van down by the creek. And so, I decided at a young age, Justin, that I wanted to be rich and I didn’t know what that meant. I just knew that having money gave me the stuff that all these other kids had.
And so, I went to UCLA, got straight A’s. My goal was to be an attorney. The only reason I even had that idea was my dad had told me I was a good arguer. And so, he suggested I be an attorney, but my favorite professor talked me out of it at the end of my junior year and said I’d be miserable doing it and he suggested that I do something more entrepreneurial. I don’t even know what entrepreneurial meant, so.
Justin Donald: I’m glad he had your back because…
Jonathan Keyser: I mean, think about it, I’d be miserable.
Justin Donald: I couldn’t agree more.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah. Yeah, it was a good piece of advice. I got to be sure.
Justin Donald: Totally. And I got to chime in here because at one point, I think I did know that your parents were missionaries in Papua New Guinea, but I don’t know if I ever shared with you that my wife’s parents did a mission trip in Papua New Guinea.
Jonathan Keyser: In Papua New Guinea?
Justin Donald: Yeah, yeah.
Jonathan Keyser: Most people don’t even know where Papua New Guinea is, much less have been there.
Justin Donald: Oh, yeah. And it is a crazy world. It’s very tribal. It can be very dangerous because you don’t have laws like you have here. You have kind of like ruling groups that make decisions based on the emotion, an emotional state they’re in at that time. It’s quite fascinating.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah. Fortunately, for us, the prior missionaries had been very gracious and kind and had never been abusive. So, we were warmly received. I always felt safe. There were a couple of times when warring tribes would march by the house that we kind of ducked for cover, but for the most part, people were very gracious and kind. In fact, I still have friends that I communicate with, that I grew up with there that are still dear friends of mine, like my buddy Able. Man, he’s the guy, I used to call him Sop..
So, yeah, it was an amazing time, but as I was getting done with UCLA, and a buddy of mine said to me, he said, “Hey, Jonathan, you want your own private jet someday?” And of course, me focused on being successful, I said yes. And he said, “You should look at commercial real estate.” So, I kind of stumbled into commercial real estate brokerage because I was directionless after my professor talked me out of it. And as I got in, I realized really quickly, wow, one, this is well suited for my personality, but two, this is a cutthroat, take no prisoners, ruthless environment, like everybody scratching and clawing and fighting their way to the top. So, like, hey, if that’s what it takes to be successful, that’s what I’m going to do because I don’t want to be poor like my parents. They obviously had it all wrong with this love and serve nonsense.
So, I became the ruthless shark. I became the guy. And I’m kind of an overachiever, as you know, Justin. So, for me, I became more ruthless than most and I had some success, but truthfully, I was miserable. Deep down inside, I was a very unhappy guy. I was misaligned, as you can imagine, with my core values, how I was raised, but I felt trapped. I didn’t know a different way. I didn’t realize that you could actually do business the right way and be successful.
And then, 18, 19 years ago, I went to this conference, and the speaker changed my life. And he got up and he was talking in a pretty nondescript topic. I think it was like networking was the title. And he started talking about a different way of doing business that I’d never heard of, a way of succeeding by helping others succeed, a way of paying it forward in the business community and reaping the rewards over the long haul. And it was fascinating to me. And I went up to him afterward and I said, first of all, super skeptical right up, like this guy is so full of crap, there’s no way that he’s actually doing this. This is a shtick.
So, I went up to him afterward. I go, “Come on. Tell me the truth. Is that really what you do? Or is that just something you say to sound good to audiences like us?” And he goes, “That’s really what I do.” And I said, “Well, how does it actually work?” And he said, “Well, right now, Jonathan, think of it as like you’re hunting, and I’m describing farming. So, like here in my backyard, here in Scottsdale, Arizona, I have this lemon tree, and it’s a monster, but when it was a baby, I had to nurture it. I had a little fence around it because my dogs kept trying to pull it out of the ground. It gave me no fruit. I had to put fertilizer in the ground. At the time, I thought it was dead, but I nurtured it, took care of it. And now, today, it gives off more lemons than you could imagine.”
And he said, “That’s really what it is, is you’re investing in people. You’re investing in relationships.” And instead of trying to figure out what you can get from other people, which was my sole focus before, how much can I get? How fast can I get it? Who cares what bodies I leave strewn behind me? Now, it was how many people can you help? Ask for nothing in return, and over time, it comes back. So, I was fascinated. I did some soul searching and I thought, man, if this is even possible, if one person in the world has done this, and this can even be done, I wonder if this can be done in my business. I wonder if it can be done in Arizona. So, long story short, I made the decision to reinvent myself through my old business plan away.
Here I was, National Rookie of the Year for Grubb and Ellis. Everybody thought I was on a fast track. And now, all of a sudden, I look like I hit my head. People thought I’d had an accident or something. And I’m out in the community asking everybody that will meet with me, what can I do to help you? How can I be of service to you? And one of the things that I asked that speaker, Justin, when he and I were talking afterward, as I said, “If this is really true, how come I’ve never heard of it? And why is nobody else doing it?” That seems like a logical question for something like this. And he said, “Because it takes too long.”
So, he described how most people are looking for that instant gratification quick hit instead of playing the long game. And so, I said, “Well, how long is too long?” And he said, “It will take you about five years to reinvent yourself.” And just like he predicted, that’s what occurred. And everybody lost faith in me. I mean, my partners at my old firm, they isolated me kind of in a corner. They’re like, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not bringing in revenue. And so, it’s cute and all, but it’s not working.” I stayed the course, and my wife was like, “Hey, Jonathan, you’re a hard worker. You’re not an idiot. Like, I really, I love your heart. And this is like such a cool idea, but have you seen our bank account? Did you realize how low it’s gotten?” And I’m like, “Trust me, I’m up to something, like this. I can feel it.”
And after four and a half years, just like he predicted, I started to get these referrals, Justin, where all the people I’ve helped, helped the kids, helped their wives, helped their family, helped them get business, helped them get better connected, whatever it was they needed, I just help. And people started being like, “Hey, I don’t know what’s wrong with that guy, but dude, if you need anything, call that Jonathan Keyser guy because he’ll just help you. He’ll ask for nothing.” People started sending business my way.
So, kind of overnight, I went from this sort of laughing stock in the company to top producer, and now, I had a new problem, which is when you’ve been doing business differently, and now, you start having success doing it, it doesn’t make you actually the most popular when everybody’s been ridiculing you along the way. And so, I had another epiphany where I was frustrated with the limitations I was bumping into at a traditional firm and I was trying to create a culture that was so different from a traditional culture that I had an epiphany where I realized that what I needed to do was start a company that could teach other people how to do this and live this and breathe this and demonstrate that you truly could create extraordinary success just by helping other people. So, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, Justin. I never thought of myself as someone who could start a real estate firm, but I felt called to do this.
And so, in 2012, I made the decision I was going to do it. My partners at my old firm kind of chuckled and said, “Good luck.” And I launched in January 2013 with 15 core operating principles that I’d created from this list of what would be like if I could just create the perfect Utopian commercial real estate firm that gets rid of all the problems that I’ve experienced. And it’s just this happy, peaceful, loving, caring, service-oriented place, what would that look like? So, we created the firm on 15 core operating principles and we launched. And I still remember to this day, I remember when I was about to go live with my new website, we hadn’t gone live. The world didn’t know it was coming. I was hovering over the sand, saying approved to my web designer. And I thought, I better read this one more time.
So, I literally took two hours, read through every word of the website. And my first thought was our competitors are going to laugh their asses off when they read this. They’re going to have a heyday with this. It is just filled with love and serve and all these things. Screw it. That’s what we’re about. That’s what we’re doing. And it has just been an extraordinary run. I thought that 20% of people would resonate with what we were doing and 80% would kind of go, those guys are weird. It’s actually more like the opposite, where 80% of people, and now, I’ve even put it closer to 90% with the way that the world’s moved. Like people get that there are problems in business, there are problems in commercial real estate, that these cutthroat environments don’t need to happen.
And for us, it was like, “Hey, let’s show that not only can you do it, but that you have success doing it, that you could actually create success.” And so, we’ve had extraordinary success. We’re an Inc. 5000 company. USA Today named us the industry disruptor. I wrote a book about the whole experience, hit number 1 in the Wall Street Journal list. And we just continue to grow. We were just named one of the top 50 most trusted companies in America, and it’s all around this culture of selfless service.
So, now, what we do is continue to serve the– one of the things that I always never understood about commercial real estate was that these traditional firms, they represent both landlords and tenants, both sellers and buyers. I’m like, how does this even work? Like pick a side, be an advocate, not just a middleman. So, we decided we were going to be advocates. We only represent the tenant or the user or the occupier of space. And we’ve just had extraordinary success and are grateful doing it.
And now, we’re launching the Keyser Institute to train and power and ultimately, certify the next generation of selfless leaders, rolling out workshops. And because of the book’s success, now I’m being asked to keynote across the country. And it’s just been this extraordinary run from this idea of what if, just as a possibility, I could show other people that even in arguably one of the most cutthroat, predatorial, ruthless industries in the world, you truly can create extraordinary success just by helping other people succeed?
Justin Donald: Yeah, that’s awesome. What a great run-down. There’s so much I want to dig into on this. One thing I’ve got to say, the Keyser Institute, I mean, it has a nice ring to it, it sounds very fancy and really smart.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah, I’m not sure, honestly, Justin, if you could get in, but…
Justin Donald: Thank you. Thank you.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah, you’re welcome.
Justin Donald: You’ve inspired me.
Jonathan Keyser: I’d make an exception for you.
Justin Donald: You’ve inspired me to create the Donald Institute.
Jonathan Keyser: That might already exist.
Justin Donald: It doesn’t. I feel like flow, the way the Keyser Institute flows. I mean, it sounds just a lot more like, I don’t know, like a brand, like a corporate, high-level, premier, prestigious brand. That’s cool. I think I’ll stick with Lifestyle Investor, but I like that you reinvented yourself. It took time. You are willing to do that. There’s a lot of rebranding that’s come along the way, but what’s cool is for the five years that maybe you weren’t getting the results, and your wife’s like, “Hey, have you checked our bank account?” And you’re like, “I’m aware every day of my life of our bank account. I don’t need you to remind me.” I get that, I’ve been there. You have been able to get ahead so much further through just this new way of serving people. And by the way, for anyone that hears this and is like Jonathan, listening to the speaker talking about networking, and any time you hear a talk on networking, you can just think, well, this could be on virtually any topic whatsoever.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah, it’s pretty broad.
Justin Donald: It’s a very nice catchall title.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah.
Justin Donald: But if you’re skeptical like Jonathan was, I can tell you firsthand, just interacting with him on a regular basis in the way that he shows up for people in his life, the way he’s shown up for me, this is how he operates. And it’s cool to see that culturally, we’ve shifted to a place where we want this. Like, this is good. This is cool. I had a friend I was talking to today. It was actually one of my friends who’s in our Mastermind. It’s his sister, and his sister is applying for the Mastermind. And she said that we had our children start a new school, and this new school is great because we’ve got a daughter that’s really smart. And at this school, it’s really cool to be really smart. And then, she’s also really artsy and theatrical, and it’s really cool to be that. And so, I like that as a culture. We’re moving to a place where it’s cool to help and give and serve, and it’s great that you are on the cutting edge of that in your evolution as a business owner.
Jonathan Keyser: Well, yeah, I resonate with all the stuff you just said. For me, what’s so non-revolutionary about all this is that this is not some new concept, right? If you go back in time and go across all philosophy, all religions, all geographies, there is this basic premise across every culture that is something to the effect of the more you give, the more you get. The more you help, the more you receive. The more you help others achieve, the more you achieve. And if you really think about it rationally, this is not a new concept even within our culture. We all know how to serve. We all know the value of loving other people. We do it where it matters the most. We do with our families. We do with our homes. We do with our very tight circle of friends and in social circles, yet somehow, there’s this disconnect where we think, okay, I know it works. I know it feels good, I know it’s beneficial. So, I’m going to do where it matters the most, but then, to support all of this, I have to go out into the world, be a business person, put on my ruthless suit, go to war, look out for number 1. Then I come home, I take that ruthless coat off. I go in and I’d be fun and squishy and soft and loving.
And it’s like all I’m saying is if this philosophy 1 is one of the greatest truths of all time, I can’t take credit for it. I didn’t come up with it. I was given it. I am simply living it as best I can and try to teach other people that it’s possible, but if it works where it matters the most, it should be able to work in business. So then the fundamental question that obviously follows is why? Why is it not matriculated into business in a meaningful way? Even today, it’s mostly lip service. Even today, it’s people that are disguising ruthless behavior behind words that suggest they’re not. Why is it not practiced at a core level? And I believe it’s because, number 1, there’s not enough examples of people actually doing it. And then there’s not enough people out there telling the world, “Here’s how I’ve done it. Here’s how you can do it, too.”
So, for me, the only reason I wrote the book because, as you know well, having written a best-selling book, writing a book is an extraordinarily painful and tedious and another version of a bipolar experience, ups and downs, and highs and lows, but the only reason I wrote it is because I wanted to provide people with my journey and my experience and take all the things I’ve learned over the last 19 years, reinventing myself and then creating a successful culture around this idea of selfless service and put it into a book where anybody could pull it off the shelf and say, “What’s this You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win by Jonathan Keyser all about?” Open it and actually be able to put it into practice for themselves.
And so, for me, look, I’m in commercial real estate brokerage. There’s not one person that wouldn’t agree that that is a cutthroat industry. That is not something I have to sell people on. So then the fundamental question is, okay, so if I have demonstrated imperfectly, of course, but have demonstrated that you can actually do this selfless thing, not just so you go broke like Mother Teresa and just get all your benefits from all the feeling good, but actually create monetary financial success by loving and serving other people, if I can do that in commercial real estate brokerage, of all places, you can certainly do it in your industry. You can do it in your job. You can do it in your environment.
So, for me, that’s the motivating force is, Justin, imagine a world, just imagine for me. Close your eyes. Close your eyes for me right now. Imagine a world where people selflessly help each other regardless of personal gain, understanding that it’s in their own personal best interest to do so. Imagine if people actually unlocked the good and the value that they could do for other people instead of withholding. And we all know what withholding looks like because we do it all the time. So, that’s the world that I dream about, that’s the world I’m working towards, and that’s the world that I’m trying to show other people in the world. Hey, if this crazy guy that went through this crazy reinvention experience in a ruthless industry and is now kicking butt and taking names, if that person can do it, so can you, and let me help you do it.
Justin Donald: Well, it’s great because I think for you, even though you can show up as a ruthless guy and as an overbearing guy, and for those of you that don’t know Jonathan or haven’t seen him, he’s a big guy, I mean, your guy would not want to ever get into a physical fistfight with. So, when I think about you just in stature, the way that you can intimidate people, I could see how Jonathan Keyser as a football player, what that would look like, or as an athlete, so I get that, I can see the passion showing up. I can see that you can play that role, but knowing you, you’re a big teddy bear, and that suits you better. You’re much better as a lover than as an intimidator, so.
Jonathan Keyser: Can I comment on that?
Justin Donald: Yeah.
Jonathan Keyser: I think that’s an interesting point that I haven’t talked much about as I’ve done all these endless podcasts as you’ve done, but this is what I’m excited to do because it’s you. I do think that I’m well suited for this message because I think part of what– you can’t have a conversation with me, you can’t experience me, you can’t even be listening to this podcast and think, that guy is some soft spoken, little timid person over in the corner. You know I have the big, kind of overbearing, loud talking personality, but behind it is just love and intention and service. And I think part of the problem with service is it over time has been associated with weakness, over time, it’s been associated with being soft, or over time, it’s been associated with being trampled.
One of my “I am” statements is I am unbelievable. No one can bully me. That’s a place I come from, right? It’s a state of being that I create within myself. And people always say, like, “Well, people get taken advantage of if they’re the service people.” And I’m like, “Well, that could be true.” Adam Grant talked about that in the book, Give and Take, about how selfless people are both the least successful people on the planet and the most successful people on the planet. And you saw it for why, and why was the people that are intentional about their service, those are the ones that have success, and the ones that can’t say no, those are the ones that are just pulled by every needy person out there.
So, for me, it’s like I’m not saying that, look, selfless service by its very definition has to be a choice. And so, all I’m saying to the world is don’t go. I’ve had people say to me all the time, “Hey, you’re that selfless guy. I need you to help me with this.” And I’d say, “Thank you for the opportunity.” And no, selflessness does not mean you’re obligatorily required to do what everybody else wants you to do. What it does mean is that, for anybody listening, what if you didn’t have to change anything in your experience in life or business other than one thing, no matter what you end up doing, no matter who you end up talking to, no matter what meeting you’re in, you shift your focus from what am I trying to get out of this meeting to how much can I push across the table and truly selflessly help that person across the table?
Now, to do so, you have to have a few skills. You have to, number 1, be able to be quiet enough and present enough to actually listen. And you have to be a good question asker because if you can’t ask good questions, you’re not going to be able to find and identify those ways, and then you have to be good to follow through because you identify ways to help people and you don’t end up doing it. You’re not helping them, but my experience has been, is that everybody’s sitting around waiting for the other person to go first. I notice this at networking events, right? Everybody has their, I’m Jonathan Keyser, I represent companies and I help people with office space. Do you need help running office space? Then they’re not listening, they’re waiting for the other person.
So, what if, as an experience with everybody that you come into contact with, rather than trying to pitch them, sell them, impress them, what if your whole focus was just on them, and you came from a place of pure service? I guarantee you, the opportunities that come out of those relationships are going to be 10x what the otherwise would have been. So, for me, this is a very rational thing, like this is not just some squishy, “Hey, do the right thing because it feels good.” I’m not saying that. I’m saying success comes from selflessness. I believe that selflessness is actually the most selfish way to operate. Let me say that again, I believe that selflessness is self-interested, right?
And so, when you come from that place, wherever you go, it’s amazing what you unlock versus having these sort of artificial conversations that don’t really go anywhere, don’t go deep, don’t actually provide any value. You feel like you checked the box and you had an amazing lunch. You didn’t really do much. And you do that over and over and over again. To me, that’s insanity. What if you just spent your time thinking every single person that I’m in touch, I’m going to really focus on, I’m going to really try to push love and service to, and I’m going to figure out a minimum of three ways to help that person. You do that, you are going to unlock relationships like you’ve never unlocked before.
Justin Donald: Well, people are going to recognize that right away because it is such a different approach. One of the things that I moved to years and years and years ago is that I just became the question asker. Instead of talking about myself, I actually tried to not talk about myself and ask as many questions as I could ask before they got tired of talking about themselves and wanted to know about me, but my goal was to exhaust them of all the things that maybe they would want to share so that they felt heard, felt loved. And at the end of the day, there are a lot of conversations where maybe we ran out of time, and I never got to share what I did. And I was totally cool with that.
So, part of that is my curiosity and fascination with people, and I just want to get to know them, but part of it is recognizing that if I can get people talking about them, that’s where they’re most comfortable, people generally like talking about themselves. And I think it’s easy to build rapport in that scenario. And the more I get to know someone, I feel like the better rapport I can actually have. So, I love that strategy. I think it’s fantastic.
And by the way, you’re this way, all these things that you’re describing, this is you, this is how you show up. You don’t check the box of business Jonathan Keyser when I go into the office or whatever. And then, all of a sudden, family man Jonathan is different. You really show up this way in all categories of your life. And I’ve had some fun, firsthand experience with, for whatever reason, we tend to go to the really fun places around the world, like Cabo and Vegas. And I mean, hey, we’ve picked some really good spots, and you’re exactly that. You’re never a pushover. You’re loud, you’re fun, but you’re always asking other people about them, asking how you can help serve them.
One of my first conversations with you was exactly that. And so, John Ruhlin originally introduced us and he’s like, “You guys are going to hit it off. You’re going to absolutely love each other.” And we did, conversation one, I remember where I was. I was actually leaving my bank that I bank at, having a conversation with you. And I’m like, “Man, I really like this guy.” And so, that’s really kind of what was the start of everything because you asked questions and asked how you could serve me before anything else.
Jonathan Keyser: I completely agree. And I don’t want the listeners to miss the gold nuggets in what you just shared about being with people. My goal in a first meeting is to try intentionally not to talk about myself at all. I consider the first meeting a success if I literally only asked questions, identified multiple ways to help the person, and got out of the meeting before I actually had to talk about myself. From someone that’s in a sales-type environment, that’s highly unusual. And for a lot of people, it’s almost a little unsettling because they’re like, wait a minute, this person actually doesn’t. So, they’ll say, here’s my favorite one, by the way. This is a tip. This is a high-end tip. This is the senior exam tip, not the freshman year entry course. Every time…
Justin Donald: Is this the Keyser Institute mastery tip?
Jonathan Keyser: Oh, that is such well stated. Yes, this is the Keyser Institute mastery tip, one of the many, just to be clear. And that is when somebody says, “Okay, well, I’m talking about me too much. Like, tell me about you.” My instantaneous response, and I’ve done this three times in a row, and it literally works every time, is I’ll say, “Oh, absolutely. Happy to tell you about myself, but can I ask you one more question?” I ask a question, it opens up a whole new sequence of conversation.
And again, like you said about, I’m not doing this to game the system, I’m not doing this because I’m trying to manipulate. So, that’s part of the challenge with this conversation is you’re going to have some, I call them smart rats, like really smart people that are just looking for angles and go, “Oh, I get this guy’s thing. He’s just manipulating the reciprocity principle. And I know how this works.” I believe that the reason, Justin, why it took me four and a half years is because that was me at first. It was me going, this is a better mousetrap. I’m going to game the system and I know how to do it better than you. And it wasn’t until I realized how full of crap I was, and that here I was actually more inauthentic than everyone else because at least before, I wasn’t pretending to not be ruthless. Now, I was just like, sure, my actions were helping people, but behind it all, I was keeping track. I was upset if they didn’t do something in return.
And so, when I made that shift to I’m just going to fall in love with loving, observing people, ask for nothing in return, let the chips fall where they may, that’s when the success took off. And so, for me, there’s an authenticity principle that’s just mandatory for this to truly work because, like you said, you can kind of keep up. You can fake it for a while, right? I faked it for a while, but even that, I would say most people could tell. Most people can tell if you’re sincerely interested in them or if you’re just playing a manipulation game. So, while this is simple, well, the concept is not rocket science and it’s been around forever.
The requirement for it to truly work, I believe, and this is just my personal opinion, living it or doing my best to live it, is that you have to be coming from a place where you truly do want to help people. And when you do what you find is that when people feel that, it’s something they’re desperate for, it’s something that they don’t normally experience, and it creates all those things that you said, but it requires intentionality, right? It requires you being willing to not talk about yourself. It requires you being willing to be quiet enough, and I check your phone every 30 seconds and making that person feel loved, heard, and understood. So, I just think what you said is brilliant. And if that was the one takeaway they took away from this conversation, it would materially change the course of their business life in a positive way.
Justin Donald: Oh, no kidding. I mean, I get really frustrated when I’m in a conversation with someone. This is like a telltale, yeah, I mean, this is the sign where I just know they’re not into me is when they’re looking around past me to see who else is around that they want to make sure they can connect with. And so, I work really hard to not look away. And sometimes, that’s tough when you’re in a conversation, they lock the eye contact and not shift it, but I will tell you, as you get to know people, and for me, I love getting to know people because then I feel like I want to help them. The better I know them, the more I want to help them, the more I want to engage with them, but…
Jonathan Keyser: Like, fall in love with them in a non-romantic sense, like you just fall in love with their humanity.
Justin Donald: Totally. And there is a great joy in being able to help someone and to watch what it does and to see the feedback that comes from it. So, I think that’s cool. I love what you embody. I’d love also, though, to get to some tactical stuff because you’ve got all kinds of strategies and you are an expert in commercial real estate, and specifically, I’ve heard all kinds of cool strategies from you for getting out of leases, for example, if you are a tenant and maybe have an oppressive commercial lease and commercial group that you are bound to, and I’d love if you could share some of your tips and strategies because you’ve helped a lot of people, you’ve helped friends of mine when they’re in really tough situations.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah, I’d be happy, too. I mean, for me, what I love about what I do is no matter if I’m helping somebody on the commercial real estate side or if I’m teaching people how to create a culture of selfless service, both of them are material things that people need help on. I mean, if you just think about it from a rational standpoint, real estate, sure, we’re undergoing this whole work from home, and that’s a whole different topic, but real estate in general, for most business owners and for most companies, is the second or third largest expense. It’s the least flexible because you can lay off people, but you aren’t laying off a seven-year lease or a building that you own. And over half of corporate bankruptcies involve breaking some kind of lease.
So, for us, helping companies strategically figure out how to navigate that stuff is key. A couple of fundamental points that most tenants, number 1, don’t realize how much negotiating leverage they have. They don’t because the deck stacked against them, right? The traditional landlord and developer and real estate community and other brokers, they primarily serve landlords and developers. And so, the landlords control the whole supply chain, and as a result, the people that these tenants think are helping them are actually conflicted and are in the pockets of these landlords and developers because they work for these traditional firms.
And so, first of all, tenants, just by the very nature of who they are in that conflicted world, don’t have an advocate. If you look at a normal supply and demand paradigm or a supply and demand marketplace, the demand in a normalized market carries with it a high degree of the buying power and the control, but because the deck stacked against tenants, they don’t. So, part of it is educating tenants as to the fact that they represent, like without them, there is no commercial real estate investment. And if they’re not leveraging that buying power significantly, then they’re missing opportunities, but we also have a lot of, like you said, tactical tools where traditional landlords, developers, agents, brokers, etc., use these against tenants.
One of my favorite tools to use as a tenant advocate, as a tenant broker, is what I call the unfixable flaw. So, the unfixable flaw is something where let’s say that you’re a tenant in a building, you have three years left on your lease and you call me, or I get introduced to you because we’re a referral-only company. And they say, “Hey, Jonathan, I’m in 20,000 square feet. I need 10,000 more square feet. I have three years left. Can you call the owner and see if they have more space and get us a good deal?” And my first reaction every time would be absolutely not. The worst possible thing I could do is call your existing owner and have him or her think that you want that additional space. You’re already in the building. You already have term left on the lease. You’re basically a captive tenant at that point and you are going to get screwed.
So, you have to create competitive market leverage, right? You have to create a narrative where you can maximize your buying power. And the only way that you can do that is to come up with some things about the current building that are less than ideal, things that the owner can’t fix. It can’t be something like, well, the parking lot needs to be resurfaced. Well, she could just resurface the parking lot pretty quickly. So, that doesn’t help you. Things like location, things like type of building, things like percentage of parking compared to the square footage of the building, etc., things that are not easily fixed or impossible to fix that then in a negotiation, first, we introduce competition to the mix. So, what I would do in this example situation is I would say, “Okay, well, we’re not going to call your landlord at all. We’re going to go out and we’re going to tour 10,000 square feet or maybe even 30,000 square feet saying you’re looking at a relocation to get the competitive buildings around you competing for your tenancy.”
And the brokerage community is a very small world that gets them all talking. Next thing you know, the current landlord gets a call from their broker going, “Hey, did you know that X, Y, Z tenant is out touring, that they need more space and they’re out touring.” So, it starts the tone, right? And then, when the landlord inevitably calls us back, we start talking not about, oh, well, you have space now. Yeah, that might work. We start talking about the unfixable flaws. Yeah, I know, but here’s the challenge is a lot of our people are coming from this other area and this building is located here. And then they’re like there’s something they can’t fix.
And so, the only way these landlords can make up for it is to give you a better economic deal, right. And so, that’s just one. There are dozens where that came from, but everything is about how do you take the tenant or the occupier and put them in the driver’s seat of the negotiation, empower them through the right strategies to maximize their negotiating leverage, make sure they have an advocate that doesn’t have this quiet, subtle leak because they’re a conflicted broker, letting the landlord know what their real intentions are and then help them use that negotiating leverage to get the best possible deal, the best possible building, the best possible structure, etc.
Justin Donald: That’s amazing. I love hearing that. And lease negotiations for me have been a definite large component of some of the success that I’ve had as well. And I know that there are people that are struggling to even make their rent payment based on maybe economic situations, change in the tide, the economic tide, so to say. And I know you have strategies for that, too. And I think that is just so good for entrepreneurs to know there’s a resource out there that can help them. So, I’m excited about that.
Jonathan Keyser: Yeah, most tenants feel stuck. If they have term left on their lease, and it’s not working out for them, and they’re experiencing financial pain, they feel stuck. They don’t know what to do and they feel trapped. And so, that’s part of what, I can’t tell you how many first meetings we’ve had with people, Justin, where people go, “Man, I wish I’d known you two years ago. Man, I wish I’d known you back in this time,” because they don’t really have advocacy. There’s always a solution. There are always opportunities. There are always outs. You may not love every single solution, but there are always solutions so where we spend a lot of our time is really guiding, counseling, helping tenants put strategies together so that they’re not part of the 50% plus statistic that has to do some sort of bankruptcy event or reorganization event to get out of these obligatory real estate obligations.
Justin Donald: Yeah, that’s a high percentage. So, I really hope people are paying attention because, I mean, over half the people out there get into these really tough situations. And Jonathan and his firm can really help out with that. And I’ve seen him in action. So, I know they’re good. Something you and I talk a lot about is trends for real estate. And there are some things we agree on, some things that we probably have a difference of opinions on, as do most people in any type of conversation, debate, whatever, but I’m really curious where you see the real estate markets headed based on your expertise and the exposure that you have to real estate in general. You see things that most people don’t see. So, I’d love to hear it.
Jonathan Keyser: Sure. Well, first of all, there’s no right answer is the short thing. And it really varies based upon geography. It’s a very different story in New York City or San Francisco or Chicago versus, say, Arizona or Texas, but if you look at the data, we’re a very data-driven firm, there are just some critical points that I think are important to note. Number 1, looking at the office sector just as an example because it’s the one undergoing the most dramatic change with this hybrid workforce and work-from-home movement. Vacancy rates are already almost at all-time highs. The amount of sublease space that has hit the market is almost 200 million square feet in-office since the pandemic began.
And that’s not anywhere even near representative of what’s coming because as one of the largest independent firms of our kind in the country, we’re working with many, many companies, and a lot of them haven’t even figured out what they’re going to do yet. So, there’s a lot more of this coming, and most companies are downsizing and doing some sort of mixed hybrid. And most of the downsizing is somewhere between 30% and 40%. So, that’s a huge amount of space that’s being pulled off the market while continued construction continues.
We mentioned work from home. That’s not going anywhere. Costs are rising, so the costs both on construction, the costs on materials, the costs on labor, all of that is rising. And then you have stimulus being pulled back. So, there’s a lot of different factors. And then you look at the supply chain bottlenecks driving up costs. You look at how challenging it is for people to get a good workforce. The office usage numbers, we just pulled this data from Kastle Systems. We just pulled it for last month. It’s still hovering below 40% utilization on the office sector, which is significant.
And if you look at the last three downturns in historical performance and vacancy rates and rents, there’s a high degree of correlation between spiking availabilities and vacancy rates and rates falling, right? And there’s typically a lag. There’s typically a lag by about a year and a half. And so, we’re just starting to get to that point. And that doesn’t even take into account the effect of all the stimulus dollars that have really pushed back a lot of the pain that otherwise would have materialized closer.
So, some of the reasons why people haven’t seen a material fall in rents is commercial real estate property owners are not hurting today as valuations haven’t fallen significantly. And part of why valuations have not fallen significantly is because with what’s happening in the stock market and the uncertainty in the world, there’s a lot of people that are nervous about where to put their capital. They don’t know you, unfortunately. And so, they’re looking for a safe harbor, and a real estate opportunity with a cash-flowing tenet in place looks very desirable. So, that’s helping to prop up, but if you look at it, a lot of the fundamental factors are the same as the last three downturns and recessions where there’s a lot of pain coming down the road. And again, you’ve got this lag effect.
So, I think in general, it’s a story of have and have nots. If you look at the places like Texas, if you look at the places like Idaho, if you look at the places like Arizona, those places are on a boom because there are so many organizations that are looking at moving here, so many people moving here, and you’ve had this continued artificially low-interest rate environment and so much Fed propping up the economy, but at some point, inflationary pressure becomes real. There’s a really good article in The Economist this morning. At some point, inflationary pressure becomes very real. And because of the tight rope that the Fed is navigating right now, just taking the short-term play over the long-term play, at some point, this starts to reconcile. So, it’ll be interesting to see.
I think a lot of people predict the complete demise of office space. I’m not one of them. I truly believe that and I see it firsthand because we represent so many office tenants, that there’s a lot of companies that are either mandating or I call it kind of quietly mandating where they don’t actually make the mandate, but they only give the promotions and such to folks that come back in the office. So, there’s this trend, and I think just as much as over the last year, it’s been cool to work from home and it’s kind of been the hip thing to do. You’re seeing that already start to change a little bit where the people that are at home are getting a little bit left behind organizationally and they’re not culturally integrated.
So, I do think that there’s going to be, we’re predicting from a wholesale standpoint, we’re predicting an overall rental decline of about 25% from the highs prior to the pandemic once this all shakes out, but that’ll be market by market. Some of the more protected markets will be less than that, but in my humble opinion, there’s no question that the pain is coming. And you’re already seeing landlords who, I mean, they have these debt covenants on these properties where their performance looked like this. And they said, “Hey, we’re going to be able to get $40 square foot rents and we’re going to get those to increase a buck a year.”
And now, that’s not the market, and they’re not able to get that because of subway space and all the competition and increased vacancy. So, they’re still clinging desperately to those rates, but they’re offering way above market concessions on both free rents, on tenant improvement dollars that tenants are then using to buy down their effective rents, which overall is still a decrease in the rental rate, but they’re able to not violate their loan covenants and keep their rates high, but eventually, just like every other downturn in the past, that will have to give and that’s where I think you’re going to see a lot of pain, a lot of buying opportunities. And if you’re a tenant, it’ll be a great opportunity to get a good deal.
Justin Donald: Man, you are a wealth of knowledge, Jonathan. I appreciate that. Just so much golden nuggets here, I hope that people grasp on to and I hope those that are in a place of need can reach out. One last question before we wrap things up. And I know we’re coming to the end of our time, but I wanted to bring this up because we had a conversation, a really great heart-to-heart conversation when we were in Cabo. And one of the things I walked away from was you and your intentionality for having a coach, and not just any coach, hiring the best, most expensive top tier coach in your industry and that you have coached with this guy since he gave you a shot because he’s amazing. And if you don’t, then you would lose the best coach, and he’d fill up in a heartbeat, and there’s a waitlist. So, I’d love to hear a little bit of that story, and then we can wrap up and we can share where people can find you.
Jonathan Keyser: Sure. And I don’t think it always has to be the best of the best of the best. I think at the end of the day, everyone needs someone who could give them authentic, real feedback, but it takes two to tango, and you have to be coachable. You have to be the kind of person that if you’re willing to stand in the discomfort of somebody telling you where you suck, you either have to be willing or attempt to be willing to listen and to take it to heart because otherwise, you never change, you’re wasting your money, and what’s the point? And they’re wasting their time and words.
So, for me, one of the things that I’ve always known is, I was raised with all kinds of amazing love and service, and the stuff that really matters I was given, the prioritization of family. My grandfather just died at 96 yesterday and he was just a beacon of love and service. And I’m so grateful to have had the legacy of all that came before me, but one of the one things my parents didn’t know because they were missionaries, is success principles, and how to build something, how to be successful in the business world.
And so, for me, I knew, I realized at an early age that I was going to have to really educate myself on the things that I didn’t grow up learning, that whole rich dad, poor dad thing. I grew up with poor parents that didn’t know the fundamentals of business success. And so, I started out with books and tapes and Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins and all those things as I was getting into the business, however many years ago that was, and have always sought out mentors, have always sought out people.
So, the story about Steve Hardison is, and I’ll try to make it really fast because I know we’re out of time, but I read a book written by one of his students called the 17 Lies That Are Holding You Back. And I read that book, and when I opened it up, I couldn’t put it down. And I went, “Oh, my gosh, this guy knows something that I’m missing,” not only what he was writing about, but I could tell that there was a knowingness that he had that I desperately wanted, tracked him down, convinced him to agree, literally had to talk him into it to coach me. He coached me. And then he goes, “I can’t help you anymore. You need the master.”
And the master was Steve Hardison, and he was the best I’d ever heard of. I read about him in Steve Chandler’s books and I was very intimidated. And that first time, I went and sat down with him, I was in right for like three months after that. I’d never had somebody get so quickly inside my head. And I literally felt like naked and exposed in a room. And at first, I was like, I never want to see that guy again. That was the most horrible experience of my life. I literally couldn’t shake that feeling of somebody getting past all my facade and all my B.S., but what I realized over time is it was all that stuff, that layering, that protection mechanism that was keeping me from the greatness that was possible.
And so, I decided to embrace the pain, stroke a massive check, and go sit down and be willing to have somebody that if you don’t do one thing that you committed to, he’ll fire you on the spot and keep your money, but it turned out to be the most extraordinary experience of my life where there’s a gentleness and a love and an appreciation for how Steve worked with me. And he helped me through some of the most difficult things in my life. He helped me reinvent myself from being a selfless prick to being someone who actually wants to love people. He helped me through a very difficult scenario when my wife decided to leave, and I took custody of the kids and I decided I was going to have to figure out a life without my now ex-wife, helped me figure out what I needed to do to be brave enough to go start my own firm and roll the dice and say I’m going to do something mission-driven.
And so, for me, if you don’t have somebody that, one, is capable of getting through your B.S., helping you see where you need help and then helping you realize how to get there, that’s a really extraordinary skill, especially for someone like me who is pretty good at talking my way around people. I couldn’t do that with him. It was always like there’s no way. He could pin me down in a moment sometimes of love, sometimes with literally picking me up and pushing me back in the chair so he would get my attention, but what I started to call it was my drug of choice, Justin, is that ridiculously uncomfortable feeling that comes when you realize for a moment something that you couldn’t see before a blind spot, an area where you were being a moron or an idiot that you didn’t know and you were blind to it. And so, because you were blind to it, you couldn’t even see it, you couldn’t do anything about it.
I think the greatest thing about having a coach or coaches, for me, everybody is my coach, I try to ask everyone around me, what can I do better and listen, including the people that work with us at Keyser, but it’s that coachability and that willingness of people to tell you the truth, to stand in the gap. Without that, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have the life that I’ve created. And I wouldn’t have the underlying joy that comes with knowing that you’re up to doing something big in the world that matters and is meaningful.
So, yeah, for me, it doesn’t have to be some expensive coach, but it needs to be someone that could call you out on your own B.S., tell you the truth. And you have to be the person that’s willing to embrace that, lean into that, embrace the discomfort, go “God, that’s ugly to see. Man, I can’t believe I’m that person. Okay, I’m going to change.” And that’s the only way you improve because otherwise, you keep making the same old mistakes over and over and over again. You blame everybody else for it. For me, it’s like I only got one life on this planet. We only go around this horn once and like, I just want to be the best me I could be. I want to be the best dad I could be. I want to be the best leader I could be. I want to be the best husband I could be. And all of those things really play into this idea of, if I’m not willing to allow people to tell me where I’m not those things, I’m never going to grow, I’m never going to change, I’m never going to evolve, and my life’s going to basically never improve.
Justin Donald: That’s powerful. And like you, I am very intentional about who I’m spending time with, where I’m spending time, that I have the right people in my life that can help grow me and help shift my mindset. And so, I, like you, wrote a very big check for my last coach, and it was a game-changer for me because I have been able to accomplish things in a world that I knew nothing about and just I had the ability to navigate it and I had the ability to look through a different lens that was so powerful. Thanks for sharing that, Jonathan. And where can our listeners and those watching us, where can they find out more about you?
Jonathan Keyser: Go to Keyser.com, that’s K-E-Y-S-E-R, www.Keyser.com. The name of the book is You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win, but we also have a website for that. It’s RuthlessBook.com. And for any of your listeners that would like just kind of a fresh set of eyes on their real estate situation and think, am I in a situation where maybe I could get unstuck or maybe I’m trying to figure out what my strategy should look like, happy to do a free analysis for you. We’ve got amazing team members that do that stuff for your people, no charge.
And then, also, if you’re sitting here, listening, thinking, how do I reinvent myself as a selfless leader? First thing I say is read the book, but we also have workshops available and various tools and resources to help you down that path because ultimately, my vision is I want to change the world and I want to prove definitively that you truly don’t have to be ruthless to win and I want to help empower the next generation of selfless leaders reinvent themselves to again, realize the vision of what if we had a world where people selflessly helped each other as the normal course of business, regardless of personal gain, understanding that it’s in their own personal best interest to do so. So, that’s what I’m passionate about.
And I just want to say thank you for your time. I mean, there are many kind things as you’ve said to me, I could turn all those around. I mean, you’ve been such a friend, such a selfless giver on your part, and you’re also just lighthearted and fun to be around. I just appreciate you as an individual and as a friend. I look at a lot of people as mentors and I consider you as one of those mentors in my life. And I look forward to being friends with you for many years to come and doing a lot of different things together.
Justin Donald: Well, thanks, Jonathan. Feelings are obviously mutual, and I’m just so excited we could share this story, our story, your story with so many other people, especially as this podcast continues to grow every single week. So, I want to close with kind of just an idea statement that I give every week, and that is this. What’s the one step you can take today towards financial freedom and living a life that you truly desire? Even a small step works, so just move forward, take some form of action. Thanks. And we’ll see you next week.