Ryan Serhant on Life and Success in Sales

1 Apr 2019

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New York, New York For this month’s edition of The Nelson Report, I had the pleasure of interviewing my good friend Ryan Serhant in front of the entire Avison Young New York office. We discussed his childhood, how he made the move from acting to real estate and his daily habits and mantras that motivate him to be successful both in the real estate business and in life.

Ryan is a residential real estate broker, bestselling author, producer, and star of Bravo’s two-time Emmy Nominated reality television series, Million Dollar Listing New York, and its spin-off Sell It Like Serhant. Ryan is also the leading member of The Serhant Team—a 60+ person group that has consistently ranked as the #1 sales team in New York and closes a billion dollars in sales per year on average.

In his book, Sell it Like Serhant, Ryan describes himself as a kid with zero confidence, nicknamed "Cryin-Ryan", who stayed at home eating Jell-O while watching Nickelodeon. This got a great laugh from the crowd.

"Yeah, I was just trying to find myself for a while there. But, yes, I was the least popular kid in school and I did theater so I wouldn't get beat up.” Ryan said. “I just learned how to memorize lines, and I learned how to be other people so I didn't have to be myself. That was my whole MO kind of through college actually.”

I asked Ryan about how he moved from theater to the real estate market in New York. He explained that he grew up in a “super conservative, very strict household.” His parents weren’t exactly in line with his decision to move to New York to become an actor after college.

“All my dad told me was, that I had to work harder than my roommates…He's like, ‘You've got to wake up before they do. Go to bed after they do, otherwise you need to come home because we can't bear this thought of you living in New York City, trying to be an actor.’”

Ryan went to lots of auditions and his most prominent role as an actor was playing Dr. Evan Walsh IV, a biochemist prodigy, on “As the World Turns”. The gig lasted for five months before his character was killed off.

“Acting kind of taught me that there are a lot of things that are out of my control but if I can figure out how to make them my control then I can be more successful. And then getting into real estate was just that I was living in Koreatown, I became a rental agent so I could pay bills. That was literally the only reason.”

In September 2008 with his first real estate job, Ryan said he became “addicted” to the idea that he could make more money by working harder.

“I was barely even from New York,” he said. “I just knew like the thirties, right, and then like 42nd street, anything below that was terrifying, anything above that was super old. And so, just there in the middle, but I knew that if, as a commissioned agent, if I just worked my ass of I could make like an extra $20 or an extra $30 here, help this guy in the office and I do an open house and they pay me $100…I do that, if I put an extra $100 in my pocket every day for a year that's an extra $30,000, right?”

He started off with the goal of making $25,000 in a year which, he explained, roughly comes down to making $70 a day.

“I'm like if I can make an extra $1,000 a day what does that come into? If I could do this, if I could do this, and I don't have to care about anybody else, any other clients I'll just take total control of the situations and help all these people out in a lot of different ways to make an incremental little difference in income which will pay divides at the end. And that's how I built my entire career.” Ryan said.

I asked Ryan about his work ethic, managing his day, and the "Ready, Set, Go" concept he talks about in his book.

“’Ready, Set, Go’ is what I say every day before I leave my apartment,” He explained. “It's something my dad used to say to use when we were little kids, and I talk about it a lot in the book, about how every day is kind of a race, you just don't know what type of race. It could be a sprint, and you have those days where it's like, ‘Oh my god my whole day was crazy.’ Then you have other days where it feels like, ‘Wait that morning was today?’ Right? That's a marathon, then you have other days where you feel like you got punched in the face a thousand times, that's where you had like hurdles and there's a lot of different races we can run, and sometimes it's a mix of all of them.”

Ryan attributes his intense work ethic to not being from New York City. He moved here with no connections and explains that he had to get comfortable with not being in control.

“When I started, my first day in this business was September 15, 2008. Which is the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy,” he explains. “I would work with a client for six months trying to help them find [property to purchase] in the city and then they would get fired. They would lose their job and now all of a sudden they can't buy something but that's six months of work for me I don't get paid for. That sucks.”

He decided to do everything he could to control his success and income on his own. He plans all of his daily activities the night before.

“It's like little things like touching base with everyone you're going to meet tomorrow. Like little brainstorms if I have an open spot in my calendar tomorrow at 1 o'clock tonight, I'm going to figure out what I'm doing in that time, not tomorrow at 1 o'clock, where I'm like ‘oh I have a break in my calendar.’ Then it's a wasted hour.”>

“Life is so special we were so lucky to be here and it could disappear in an instant. To take advantage of that time that we have on earth especially in New York City is a gift for me. The fact that I get to wake up every day in New York, I live in SoHo. I get to wear suits…we're so fortunate to be doing that. I want to work my ass off to make sure that I don't leave anything on the table.”


Parts of this interview were also featured on Ryan’s Vlog