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An Interview with Erika Benson, founder of Gokce Capital

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Erika Benson founder of Gokce Capital

Gokce Capital offers high quality properties at reasonable prices by sidestepping brokers and middlemen. We recently interviewed Gokce Capital founder Erika Benson.

Please describe your journey as an entrepreneur so far.

Just as a quick introduction, our company is Gokce Capital LLC, a real estate firm that specializes in rural vacant land. The company was started in 2018 by my partner, Abi, and I when we realized that land investing could be a lucrative business. Since I had previously worked in real estate finance and Abi works in finance and software development, it was also a business that nicely complemented our existing skill sets. So, we set aside some of our savings, combined our skill sets and, from there, we grew!

One of our first big breakthroughs came when we started making YouTube videos on each of our properties. These videos generated a lot of interest and really helped us grow our sales arm by marketing to out-of-state buyers.

Our second breakthrough came when we introduced our suite of promotions, which now include our:

  1. Free Land Giveaway
  2. Free Vacation Giveaway
  3. Free Swag Giveaway

Most recently, we also introduced the Gokce Investor Series on our YouTube channel and free 15-minute consultation calls for fellow land investors.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while growing your business?

The biggest challenge was building the sales arm of our company. Rural vacant land can sit for a long time, unless you have an established buyer’s list and know how to reach out-of-state buyers. As I mentioned above, one of the biggest tools we discovered to help us with sales was our YouTube channel, which we have found to be a very useful medium for land sales. YouTube works very well for our industry because we can pack a lot of information in one video and show images of our properties. It also helps us build a long-term buyers list.

Tell us more about how you came up with Gokce Capital?

We talked a bit about this in our first video for our Gokce Investor Series. With our combined backgrounds in finance and real estate, we knew real estate investing was a natural fit for us, but we were having trouble finding the right niche. Then, one night, we were watching a Netflix show called, “World’s Most Extraordinary Homes,” which featured a bunker house that was built on rural land the builder had purchased on Craigslist. We were so surprised that land could be acquired this way that we looked up rural land investing and ultimately went down a rabbit-hole that led to Gokce Capital.

How does Gokce Capital solve the problems of property sellers?

Gokce Capital focuses on buying rural vacant land from those who no longer have a use for it. We buy land with cash and pay all closing costs. What we provide is a quick path to disposing of property that is no longer a benefit to its current owner.

We remove the headache of the traditional real estate process by sidestepping brokers and middlemen. By purchasing with cash, we also provide much-needed liquidity to a market that is under-capitalized. Most banks will not provide mortgages for smaller parcels of rural vacant land, which leaves only cash buyers. This can make it very difficult for owners of vacant land to find a buyer when they need to sell. By providing liquidity to the market, we give landowners a way out of unwanted land.

How does Gokce Capital solve the problems of property buyers?

For our buyers, we are a source of affordable land. Because we purchase land at a discount to market and we restrict our overhead, we can pass on our savings to our buyers. We keep our prices low enough to be affordable without a mortgage, making it easy to purchase a new vacation spot or campground. Most of the time, we also take on the role of the bank ourselves and offer seller financing for those who want to spread out their payments over a few years.

How do you assess the fair market price of a property?

This can be very hard to do with rural vacant land because there is often a deficit of sales comparables given that many markets do not have a high sales volume. To work around the lack of comps, we developed a proprietary algorithm that looks at a few data points to determine our offer prices. Our data points include assessed value, county-level market values, recent comps, historical comps, macro and micro economic trends, annual property taxes and local real estate market conditions.

Any tips to our readers to save money so they can invest in real estate?

Avoid using a broker when purchasing real estate to the greatest extent possible. Also keep in mind that most real estate on the market is over-priced. Sellers are often willing to negotiate the price down if you can work with them directly.

You can also check out our Gokce Investor Series on our YouTube channel to learn about how we invest in vacant land.

In the ongoing global economic situation, where do you see the property market going?

We believe that the market for rural vacant land will not be greatly affected by the current downturn, especially when properties are priced with a discount. Many buyers will be actively looking for deals in a downturn, and the unique nature of this economic slowdown may also mean that more people will look for properties far from major population centers.

Any suggestions you would like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Don’t ignore social media. These days, social media is one of the best ways to build a strong base of interested purchasers. We use social media to market our parcels, but we also use it to run promotions that help spread the word about what we do.

Also, block out time for your family and don’t look at emails when you are on vacation. Focus on what is in front of you and don’t let yourself be distracted.

Life isn’t only about work, it’s also about family, health, friends and community. Don’t forget to keep yourself healthy and maintain a strong community and family. Take the time to focus on other aspects of life.

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Interview

An Interview with Nicky Moffat, previously the highest ranked woman in The British Army

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nicky moffat interview with times of startups

In this exclusive interview with Nicky Moffat, via The Female Motivational Speakers Agency, discover the secrets to strong leadership and high-performance teamwork. Nicky was the highest-ranking woman in the British army until 2012, when she pursued her passion for workplace performance and became one of the UK’s foremost corporate consultants.

Nicky’s knowledge and extensive experience of leadership, teamwork and inclusion is proven in this insightful interview, where she reflects on the biggest life lesson she learned in the military. Do not miss this exclusive Q&A with Nicky Moffat, a pioneer of corporate excellence.

What is the most important quality of a leader?

“One of the important qualities in a leader is emotional intelligence, the ability to recognise that people process things in different ways and therefore, find ways to bring those people on board. There’s always going to be some people that have the same thinking and motivations that I might have as a leader, but just because the others don’t it doesn’t mean they’re not great employees!

“It just means that I’ve got to find another way to reach them, to give them time to process the change and then to encourage them to come on board with the journey. And of course, sometimes people who take longer to process change are busy reflecting and thinking about change in a way that might be different to me. They can come up with points, ideas, things that can actually make change go better because they have a different perspective.

“When we talk about diversity, it’s not just about Black, White, gay, straight, male, female and so on. It’s about people who lead differently, react differently or think differently.”

During periods of stress, how do you find the motivation to persevere?

“I think one of the things that brings on stress is a loss of control.

“What happens to me – and maybe this is one of the reasons why a career in the army was perfect for me – when I’m under stress, the adrenaline kicks in in a positive way. So I want to engage with it, whatever that thing is that’s stressing me, I want to make a plan. I try to be logical and to think through how to turn a bad situation, into a better situation.

“What I’m effectively doing is I’m trying to gain some semblance of control. And in terms of ownership, I’m trying to own the solution to the problem that I’m experiencing. But I thrive on responsibility, I think I do my best work when I’m under pressure and some element of stress. Sometimes I’ll inspire that by working late to a deadline rather than perhaps starting things earlier!

“And again, it’s important to know yourself, because if by doing that I’m stressing somebody else who process things differently, then I need to be aware of that. That’s a key part of emotional intelligence.”

What advice can you give businesses on how to build high performing teams?

“Building a high performing team starts with the leader. I often refer to something called Mission Command, it’s from the Prussian Chief of Staff many, many years ago.

“I can simplify it into three key areas: firstly, it’s about clarity of direction. A leader must have a clear vision and give direction on what needs to be done by the organisation. People must properly understand what’s being asked of them and why. 

“Secondly, you need to have an environment of mutual trust, where I trust my teams to go and deliver what I’ve set out. They also must trust that they can come to me if there’s, for example, a lack of clarity or insufficient resource. 

“And the third thing is true and full empowerment. So, building a high performing team, if I use Mission Command, is about clarity of direction in an environment and culture of mutual trust, where people are genuinely empowered.

“The other thing about a high performing team is that diversity within the team can add real value. I don’t just mean diversity as in Black, White, gay, straight, male, female. I mean diversity of experience, perspective, insight, culture and capability.” 

The military appears incredibly masculine, did you feel a pressure to fit in and conform to that environment?

“Back in 1985, it was very much a case of wanting to fit in, wanting to prove yourself. You wanted to prove your credibility. You don’t want to let your colleagues down.

“But I certainly found having done that and then having established myself and grown in confidence and knowledge and credibility and so on, I was able to be more myself. I mean, what the military does in training is it sort of breaks you down – and I don’t mean that in a really negative way, it breaks you down so you can contribute as part of an effective team.

“Once you’ve done that and you’ve proved yourself, then the military encourages people to bring their personalities to the fore.”

What was the biggest life lesson you learnt in the military?

“I think in terms of life lessons, again, this was something that came to me over time, and I actually think it’s about self-care. What military people tend to be, not just because it’s ingrained in us and in our training, is very mission focussed mission, hugely focussed on developing our teams and the individuals within it. So we expend a huge amount of our energy on other people.

“And I think it took me some time to realise later on in my career, when I was a Colonel, that I was pushing myself too hard. I remember a particular job when I was working in the Ministry of Defence, I was really focussed on helping to create ministerial endorsed and funded policies that would support our troops on operations.

“And, of course, that’s a really important task. But I put so much energy and effort into that, that I would go home at the weekend exhausted and tired.

“So the biggest life lesson is that if you’re going to be a good leader or deliver your best in any role, then you’ve got to be match fit. And I was most match fit when I made sure I got the balance right between the energy and effort that I was expending on my work and [making time for] rest, recuperation, decompression and some time out.”

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Interview

An Interview with David Malcolm, San Diego Real Estate Magnate

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David Malcolm San Diego Real Estate Professional and Philanthropist

Real estate, often seen as a sound investment, has been a hotter topic than usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to record lows to support the economy. As a result, real estate prices have skyrocketed, though the industry is not without its challenges, especially for landlords.

According to a study commissioned by the Southern California Rental Housing Association (SCRHA), San Diego County landlords have lost close to $2.4 billion in unpaid rent since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. To better understand the real estate market as a whole, we recently spoke to David Malcolm, a San Diego real estate expert with over 40 years of experience. Malcolm earned his real estate broker’s license in 1974, held exclusive rights to Rally’s Hamburger stores in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties from 1989 to 1997, and holds the highest professional commercial real estate designation, CCIM – Certified Commercial Investment Member. He currently serves as the President of Cal West Apartments, a trusted provider of quality rental housing in San Diego and South Riverside counties.

You earned your real estate license at a very young age. Looking back, what first inspired you to pursue this particular industry?

President Nixon decided that you should be considered an adult once you became 18 (versus 21) and be allowed to vote. California followed the President’s lead and lowered most requirements (including a real estate license) to 18 years old. One week after my 18th birthday, I was reading the newspaper and saw an advertisement about an upcoming test to get your real estate license. I decided to take the test in April of 1972 and was fortunate enough to pass. Once I had my license, I decided I should try to put it to good use. I immediately fell in love with real estate and the challenges and opportunities it presents. It seems fate (reading a newspaper) led me to real estate versus me pursuing the real estate industry.

What was your biggest ‘ah-ha’ moment as a real estate professional?

When I was 18, I bought my first home with a loan from my grandfather (who charged me 10% interest). After fixing the house up, I sold it and made $5,500. This was an incredible amount of money to me, and I decided right then that this was the business I wanted as a career. I hope I never lose the excitement I experienced in my first transaction and never become too big or important not to savor making $5,500.

What has been the most important part of your professional journey?

Education! You will never have a greater opportunity than your preparation will allow you to make of it! Getting my Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation was the most important tool in my toolbox.

How has real estate evolved, for better or worse, in San Diego and the surrounding area?

San Diego is one of the best markets in the United States to invest in due to its geographical location. While many cities keep spreading out (think Phoenix or many cities in Texas), San Diego has to consider the Mexico–United States border to the south, the ocean to the west, Camp Pendleton to the north, and mountains to the east. These factors have helped push valuations up faster than most areas in the United States. However, my fear is California is losing the rule of law and property rights; it’s these two cherished items that have made America great, yet they are more endangered now than at any time in my life.

What risks is the real estate industry facing? How do you, as President of Cal West Apartments, and your team, plan to face those challenges?

Once again, the most significant risk for all firms, not just in San Diego County but all of California, is the erosion of property rights and the rule of law. I have a contract with every tenant that the State of California wants to ignore. The state wants to tell my contracted tenants that they don’t need to pay me, and I can’t evict them for non-payment. Funny that the state didn’t say I can now stop paying the government my property taxes, license fees, water bills, etc. The government wants their money but doesn’t care about me getting my money to pay the government, banker, maintenance, landscaping, management, water, gas and electric, insurance, etc. We have stepped up with the real estate industry to help fight the erosion of these important rights that made America the greatest country on earth.

What would you do with unlimited resources?

I would certainly buy more real estate in states that protect the rule of law and property rights. Is it any wonder that the fastest-growing states are states that protect these rights? Resources flow to where the investor can be assured a fair return on investment. Do you want to invest in an apartment building with rent control or an apartment building that doesn’t have rent control? A sixth grader knows the answer to this question, but most of our elected officials can’t figure this out.

How has your profession of choice helped you make a difference in the world?

My profession has allowed me to make more money than I ever dreamed of having. My wife and I are big believers in giving a portion of our success to those who need a hand up vs. a handout. For over 30 years, we have worked hard to move the homeless back into a productive society with dignity. This means tough love at times (something our elected officials refuse to acknowledge). A drug addict or an alcoholic needs tough love, and you can change their lives in a dignified manner if you are willing to do the right thing.

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Interview

An interview with London based Asset Management & Investment expert Fahim Imam-Sadeque

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Fahim Imam-Sadeque interview

Fahim Imam-Sadeque is a business development professional with proven experience in the asset management industry. He has a Bachelor of Science in Actuarial Science from the City University of London and is a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries. Fahim’s top skills include asset management, hedge funds, investment management, sales, and consultant & client relationship management.

Fahim, Thank you for talking with us. Tell me about your best and worst days at work.

Generally, the best days are when I interact with my clients instead of dealing with administrative matters. When working with my clients as prospective investors, I am helping them solve their problems. My goal is always to be a trusted adviser to my clients because they’ll come to me when they need the products I’m selling. I try not to actively sell them; it’s always a consultative sales process. My best days are when I’m helping my clients, and as a result, they come back to me and talk about my available solutions.

Then my worst days would be when nothing seems to be going right, and nothing we are working on is achieving what we wanted to achieve. I’m sure everybody has days like that, but all I can do is just keep going and trust in my process, and trust that I’ve got a tried and tested process that will work, even when I’ve had a rotten day and I think I’ve done everything wrong. If I keep going, I will, in all likelihood, be successful again.

Who do you enjoy the most working with?

The clients I’ve enjoyed working with the most are those I built up a deep rapport with. I understand where they’re coming from, so it’s not a salesman-purchaser relationship. Instead, it’s very much a trusted adviser relationship, whereby they know that I’m selling a product that can maybe help them solve issues they face. Or they come to me because they can have an intelligent and meaningful discussion about the issues they face.

What was your biggest “aha” moment?

My “aha” moment was when I was being interviewed by my mentor Alberto Francioni back in 2004, and I’d never interviewed for a salesman position before. I thought sales was a dirty word. He explained to me that what I was describing to him in terms of my character set— I was a technical individual, but I wanted to work and talk with clients and not invest money —he said, “Well, then you have the skill set of a salesperson. Everything you described tells me that you are potentially a salesperson of technical products, and I can help train you to be that.”

Suddenly, it all made sense because I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t making progress in my existing job. I had all these skill sets, character traits, and qualifications, but I didn’t know how to put them together to find the sure-fitting role. But then he helped guide me and, in that way, I was very lucky to cross paths with him.

What has been the most important part of your professional journey?

The most fruitful part of my professional journey has been constantly trying to learn what my mentor Alberto Francioni taught me over the subsequent years. He just brought things out of me and would advise me on things after that.

After I stopped working with him later on in my career, I always heard his voice in my head. So when I see an issue, something I want to work on, I just ask, “What would Alberto tell me to do? What would his advice be?” He taught me everything about dealing with clients, managing their issues, assisting them, and moving things forward in the sales process.

The beauty of what he taught me is it’s not a static set of rules. The approach he gave me is very flexible, and it depends on each client. So it’s not one set of rules for every client; each has its own requirements. You are applying a set of principles and seeing how they fit that situation. Things won’t ever be exactly the same, but there will be things that you’ve tried in the past that may have worked in one situation and other things that may have worked in another. You can bring these principles to bear, and usually, you will find success. Not necessarily immediately, but you will make progress over time.

What are the risks associated with the alternative investment industry?

One of the risks of our industry is that the investors I deal with, the strategies they’re dealing with can be very complex. One has to be careful that one gets paid to take that complexity risk as an allocator. Also, illiquidity is another risk that people need to ensure they get paid to take on. The current geopolitical and economic environment that we face is quite unstable. So investors are very concerned when it comes to allocation decisions, potentially locking up money for 7 to 10 years. That means they have to do a lot of due diligence before investing tens or maybe hundreds of millions of dollars into a particular strategy.

What would you do with unlimited resources?

I would definitely retire for a few years, but then I’d probably get bored because I’m still relatively young, in my early 50s. My wife would want me to use my brain and not be in the house all the time. I’d probably go back to work again because I’m doing what I like. I genuinely enjoy my work. But before going back, I would take my wife around the world a couple of times and see all the places we’re planning to see because you never know when you’d get the chance to do that again.

When was the last time you totally lost yourself in doing something?

The last time I completely lost myself was when I was with my family in Antigua in the summer. That was just a great holiday. I remember sitting on the beach, and one of my sons was paddle boarding in front of me, my wife was next to me, and my other son was next to me. That was great.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I spend time with my family. I watch sports with my younger son. My older son is 20 now, and he’s into all sorts of things I have no understanding of. However, if I’m going to find a level with him outside of “How’s your university course going?” we have to have something to talk about so I make an effort to take an interest in what he’s interested in. I’d just like to stay on top of what my kids are up to and spend time with my family.

How do you feel you make a difference in the world?

Well, I hope I have made a difference. I don’t know if I have. I believe in something bigger than us. I’m a person of faith, so I just try to live my life every day as well as I can, and if that makes a difference, that’s great. I’ll always keep trying, but we don’t need to make a difference in life, in my opinion. You just need to try and live a good life and do the best you can every day. That’s all that matters.

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