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Starting a Business From Scratch


Featured in this Episode

Connect with Craig on LinkedIn

Go To Hall American REalty's Site

Give Craig a Call at 210-540-9585

Read the Transcript of the Episode

Curt Sheldon:                    Welcome to Episode Five of the Eagles Transition Podcast. Today I'll be talking with Craig Hall. Craig is a retired Air Force maintenance officer who retired about six years ago. Craig took about six months to figure out where he wanted to land in his transition and now is the owner of Hall American Realty in San Antonio, Texas. Craig has built a very successful business from scratch. He has some great insight on taking the leap and starting a job when the initial paycheck is zero. He also has good ideas about how to learn the things you need to know to become a business owner.

Curt Sheldon:                    But before I talk with Craig, I'd like to make a special offer for our podcast listeners. If you go to www.CLSheldon.com/Eagles ... That's www.CLSheldon.com/Eagles ... you can get a financial checklist to help with your transition from active duty to the civilian world. It is designed for you, and you can get it for free. Now on to the show.

Curt Sheldon:                    Craig, welcome to the show.

Craig Hall:                            Thanks, Curt. Glad to be here.

Curt Sheldon:                    I'm happy to have you on board today or on the show today. You have done something that none of my previous guests have done, in that has been to go into business for yourself. I'm really excited to talk to you about that today. Why don't you start out by telling us what you are currently doing?

Craig Hall:                            I'm currently the broker and owner of I guess you would call it in this business a boutique real estate company. But I think we're pretty robust in the context of the quality agents that we have. It's called Hall American Realty here in San Antonio, Texas. I'm looking for and I recruit high-quality agents. I'm not looking to be the 800-pound gorilla in this market. I want people who want to do something substantial in their lives through real estate.

Curt Sheldon:                    Okay, so I'm gonna hit the elephant in the room right to start with and that is the fact that you, and actually I as well, are in a sales job, and 0-6s don't go into sales. How did that come to be?

Craig Hall:                            Well, I've told this story many times, Curt. You've probably heard tidbits and pieces of this in conversations after ETAP. But sales is not altogether different than leadership. When that really came together was after a year of being in real estate, which is sales. I was struggling with a strong desire not to ever be viewed as that slimy salesperson. It was holding me back from being who I am and what I'd learned to become through my 28 years in the Air Force.

Craig Hall:                            As you and many other people that are listening have great mentors in their life, multiple, I was talking to a good friend of mine who we served together, a fellow retired 06. I shared with him that feeling that I had. He asked me one very simple question, one that you'll recognize and everybody that's listening. He said, "Craig, define leadership." It just rolled off my tongue, because it's what I've learned to become is, "Leadership is the art influencing people to accomplish an objective." He said, "Craig, why does not apply to real estate?" Then I went, "Wow." That was quite an epiphany, but it was very, very simple yet powerful.

Craig Hall:                            What that taught me is that everything that we do and everything that we are as a result of our service to this great country is applicable to anything that we do. Anything that we do is sales, because our job in any field is to influence people to accomplish an objective.

Curt Sheldon:                    Okay. I believe if you're in business, you're in for yourself especially, you own a business, you're in sales. There's no doubt about that. But if you're in business, I think you're in sales. For those who think they're never gonna touch it, I can very distinctly remember a contractor working for one of the major defense contractors, basically working as an action officer, saying that every year in his performance report they asked him what he did to bring in new business. He was basically, like I said, an action officer or a staff officer on the air staff. He was still asked about sales. I think when it gets right down to it, everybody's in sales including kids who are trying to talk parents and they're giving them things and we all are in sales.

Craig Hall:                            That's right. Yep.

Curt Sheldon:                    That's, I think, probably a taboo that a lot of us bring with us coming from the military but that we need to set aside. Speaking of coming from the military, why don't you tell us a little bit about your career in the Air Force?

Craig Hall:                            I was an aircraft maintenance officer and did a whole bunch of field assignments and staff and depot and school. Like a lot of you, I was fortunate enough to be one of very, very few 06s that I know that never had a Pentagon assignment. Part of that was because I was never on the track to be a G.O., and so it didn't bother me. I just know that that lifestyle up there didn't suit me. The work was fine, but that lifestyle didn't suit me.

Craig Hall:                            I worked many different weapon systems. About half way through my career, I transitioned into fighters with Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnston and then did some tech training. Then the pinnacle of my career was two tours at Tyndall Air Force Base. I was the Deputy Maintenance Group Commander there. Then I went to Air War College, got promoted, and then was very, very fortunate enough ... the timing worked out perfectly ... that I was able to go back and command the same group that I was the deputy for. Then timing was fortunate that I was able to extend for a third year in group command.

Craig Hall:                            As you know, command in any capacity is the greatest honor. But I actually enjoyed group command more than squadron command, because I really did have an opportunity to have a great impact tactically but as much strategically on a large number of people. There were almost 1,500 airmen to include civilians and contractors in my group. Then my last assignment was after that pinnacle headquarters at AETC Headquarters here in Randolph. That's where my wife and I fell in with love San Antonio, kind of unexpectedly. Now we are Texans.

Curt Sheldon:                    You're right. That's pretty fortunate to get, one, to be the deputy and the commander of the same organization and then to get that third year of command. I have to say I'm just a little bit jealous. You ended up there in San Antonio. Since I've heard you speak before, I know you didn't hang up your shingle as a realtor the next day. Talk to us a little bit about the process for you from hanging up your uniform one last time to ending up being a business owner and a broker.

Craig Hall:                            Yeah, so, you've heard me say this. This is all part of my God story because sitting here today, and I just had a really great recruiting session at the local real estate school today, and I tell this story as well. But never, ever, ever, ever did I imagine myself from the time that I went on terminal to sitting here today that I would be in real estate period, much less the owner of a company.

Craig Hall:                            I fully expected, in large part because I used to view myself as very much risk-averse, as one of many, many retirees who would do something in the same field that they were in. Didn't really want to necessarily, but it was my comfort zone. Here in San Antonio with all the aviation companies both military and civil aviation, there was no doubt in my military mind that I was gonna get hired for something that I enjoyed somewhat and with reasonable pay.

Craig Hall:                            But after six months of working to find a full-time job which was a full-time job, I found myself sitting at home one day with my wife who was a practicing nurse at the time, but she was off. We were watching HGTV, House Hunters believe it or not. But I said to her, "You know, Baby, this is the first time in my adult life that I feel bad about myself. Nobody wants me." For 28 years of my own career and prior to that with my family ... I've lived a very charmed life ... I knew where I was gonna go. I had a job. I knew how much I was gonna get paid. I knew what to wear. Now nobody wanted me.

Craig Hall:                            I kind of took the proverbial bull by the horns, although reluctantly, and tried something way, way, way out of my comfort zone and so I did. I remember vividly from day one I knew that I could be okay at this business. I knew that I would enjoy it, but I had no idea how successful, and, as I mentioned, never ever anticipated for years that I was gonna open my own company. I'm very, very thankful that I did because now more than anytime I'm having more fun because I have the privilege of serving my own clients a lot less than I used to. But more than anything is mentoring great people who want to do something substantial in their lives and their families' lives through real estate. Everything that I learned in 28 years on active duty, mentoring, integrity, excellence, work ethnic is what I'm able to pay it forward in real estate.

Curt Sheldon:                    You mentioned something there that I want to circle back to. I think you said you were risk-averse or you addressed the risk of opening a business. Now that you've done it, obviously, everything once you've done it, it doesn't seem quite as risky. But can you address, one, what the real risk was for you? Two, how you got past that?

Craig Hall:                            Well, when I say risk-averse, it was kind of the fear of the unknown. Because I grew up in a Navy family, it was a good life, I didn't have to make any decisions. There's a lot of comfort in not making any decisions and then my own 28-year career. After my bubble was burst after being in the military for 50 years, what I came to find out is the real world is scary. I wanted to land softly in something that wasn't very scary. I've heard you say this many times in your presentation at ETAP. I give you full credit for me talking about it as well because it's so very true. That is although I've felt like I was kind of risk-averse, on this side of retirement in our country right now and our economy ... Although it's good today, it could change tomorrow, and certainly five years ago it wasn't as good as it is today ... there's tremendous risk in depending on someone else for your pay.

Craig Hall:                            I've heard you as an entrepreneur talk about the ratio of the people that you depend on for your money. What I've found, and this is a detail that perhaps I may not have even told you. But about a year after I got into real estate, I fell prey to the comfort zone. That I got a call from a large defense contractor with whom I had applied for a job the previous summer. Long story short, they ended up offering me a job that paid me way more than I expected. Because I wasn't fully confident in my abilities as an entrepreneur, I took the easy money.

Craig Hall:                            In February of the first year after I retired, although I was doing well in real estate and I loved it, I took the easy money. Guess what happened in November? Exactly what you talk about, Curt. We had a really great nine months, and I fully expected it to be several more years. I got that phone on Monday from my boss and HR. "Thank you, Craig. As of 10:15 ... This was ten o'clock in the morning on a Monday ... at the end of this phone call, we no longer need your services," completely out of the blue. Talk about risk-averse, and this is the point that you make.

Craig Hall:                            Fortunately, I was never gonna starve because of my retirement, but I was shocked. Never saw it coming, and there was no indication. It wasn't like I stuck my head in the sand. But that is very, very risky in this economy, even today, that in an at-will hiring and in at-will firing professional climate, that can happen to anybody. Now, here I am even as a sole practitioner and now as the owner of company with 30 agents, that'll never happen. It's much, much lower risk to depend on yourself to generate all the income that you want.

Curt Sheldon:                    I was actually gonna ask you question a little more about your company. You kind of hit it there. You said you had 30 agents, because I think it's quite remarkable. How long have you been retired now?

Craig Hall:                            Well, I've been retired for six years, six and a half years. This month is the six-year anniversary of having my license. In real estate here in Texas anyway, you can't even get your broker's license until you have been practicing for four years and you meet all sorts of production requirements, revenue, or commission requirements and education requirements. Our company is less than two years old.

Curt Sheldon:                    That's really remarkable. As someone who has tried to or is trying just to build a business from scratch or started a business from scratch, that's really remarkable, 30 agents.

Craig Hall:                            Well, Curt, I appreciate your saying that. I still shake my head often as well, but I'm very, very thankful for where we're at.

Curt Sheldon:                    Now since we're talking about running a business and starting a business, I'm not gonna ask you too much about the interview processes or those type of things. But as far as starting your business, what kind of steps did you have to go through there in Texas as far as did you form an LLC? What registration and licensing type things did you have to work through?

Craig Hall:                            Well, I hope that most other industries have a much better how-to construct than real estate. Because what I found is I was a man on a mountain. You would think that in real estate with there being so many real estate companies that I could reach out to the local board or the Texas Association of Real Estate and say, "Hey, I'm Craig Hall. I want to open my own company. Can you give me a how-to?" There was nothing like that, Curt.

Craig Hall:                            I was dependent completely on myself and the internet. Google was my friend. More than anything though is I reached out to colleagues now, other broker-owners of companies here and said, "Hey, what do I do? What do I do next?" That was really they only way, and I'm still learning actually, because I subsequently opened up a property management company to be a full-service brokerage. I just learned that I was supposed to register that through the Texas Real Estate Commission when I opened it a year ago, and I didn't. I just took care of that.

Craig Hall:                            But part of the mentoring that I got was because they didn't tell me that I should create an LLC. I could have just created the name of the company and done a DBA, a doing business as, and you just have to register that with all the counties in which you do business. But fortunately my mentor, who I give a lot of credit for the success of our business, was the one that guided me every step of the way. That was one of the first things that he said was, "Yes. You want to protect yourself, your assets, and your agents by creating an LLC." That was the first thing. But then I had to make sure that it was all registered with all the other companies. But that was really the first thing from a business perspective was to create my own LLC.

Curt Sheldon:                    Okay, now you mentioned in there some colleagues and mentoring. Obviously, you have built a network in the industry. I would think that would be very important to success. If someone's doing something like you did where you're making a major career change going into ... You were really in business for yourself from the start as I understand the real estate business as a contractor. How did you get connected into that community and start networking and getting colleagues and mentors?

Craig Hall:                            Well, like you, Curt, and I've heard your story many times, and it's spot on just in the financial services industry. You know what you don't know and you're learning based. You're not too proud to reach out to people who you know have succeeded in your industry. You have specific questions, but in particular, if you don't even know the questions to ask, you just reach out to those that you trust and say, "Help." Fortunately, I had several great resources, primarily Tony Forchione, my mentor and great, great friend now, who has opened and closed and sold probably 12 or 13 real estate brokerages in 35 years. You can imagine the extraordinary wealth of knowledge he is. He gave me 75 or 80% of the advice that I needed.

Craig Hall:                            But I then reached out to some of his other proteges here, two guys in particular, who have started their own boutique brokerages about the same size but have done so differently on their own. I reached out to them and then adapted their answers to my questions to fit my vision for our company. Yeah, networking is critical, but I believe strongly that you can't be too proud. You got to just acknowledge to yourself that you don't know what you're doing, but you're smart. You've got integrity. You've got a strong work ethic, and so you find resources that can help you know what you need to do. Then you just drive it to where you want it go.

Curt Sheldon:                    Now and I think you and I both heard these questions or questions along the same line as far as reaching out to somebody that maybe you don't know at all. Saying, "Hey, will you help me?" Maybe you've met them at least. A lot of us have a hard time getting over that hurdle. How did you? Was it just a swallow hard, and I'm gonna do this? Or how did you go about doing that?

Craig Hall:                            Well, I didn't do that nearly as much as you did. I admire you for doing that. Now there are many, many people that I have met but didn't really get to know very, very well. But one guy in particular, he taught a class that I went to, and I just got a really good vibe from him. I knew that we weren't exactly the same. He had a different vision for his company, but there was a lot of nuggets that I could learn from him. Shortly after this class, I called him probably 15 or 20 times over a three or four-month period as I was working toward starting my own company. To a certain extent it was a cold call, but he at least knew who I was.

Craig Hall:                            I don't know about you, Curt, but in training ... Not so much Air Force Training, but in real estate because I love it and I know what I don't know, but I do want to learn. I was kind of that string, but in classes I would also ask a bunch of questions. This one guy that comes to mind, he did remember me as soon as I said my name because I asked him a bunch of questions and in some cases surprised him and stumped him. He did remember me, but we weren't friends. He didn't have to share his knowledge with me, but he did freely.

Curt Sheldon:                    Yeah, I think and to my experience ... and I expect it's been the same with you ... most people, even though to a certain extent you're in competition with them, are willing to spend some time helping you out. I don't know that I've ever had anybody tell me no. I don't know what your experience has been there.

Craig Hall:                            That is my experience with smaller companies. The larger companies, the franchises, I'm not gonna give them the excuse that they're just too busy for me. But they, in my experience in real estate, they send out this aura that they're too busy running their company to spend any more time, certainly no mentoring time. They might answer my question over the phone, but no mentoring time.

Curt Sheldon:                    Okay. I'm gonna switch gears a little bit here. As those who have listened to the podcast before know, I'm a money guy. I deal with money most of the time. Talk to me just a little bit about any issues, surprises either good or bad with the money. I know what your paycheck was on day one as a real estate agent at that time. It was the same as mine my first day as a financial planner, and it wasn't much of one. If you could, just if there were any money lessons or issues that you might want to address.

Craig Hall:                            Well, as an entrepreneur, the first thing you've got to get used to and I'm still not used to even though I'm way beyond scraping for my paychecks in the context of making a bunch of money. I'm still not comfortable with the variable nature from month to month. There's any number of ways to do it, and I'm sure you would have some thoughts of to put away x percentage for the lean times that you can then draw on. We do that, and my wife manages our money. But it's still really weird for me, because I've lived 50 plus years of knowing exactly how much.

Craig Hall:                            But beyond that, as an entrepreneur, you've got to know how much money is going out and how much money is coming in and what you are reinvesting as necessary in your business. Now that's one thing about real estate that's fundamentally different than any other entrepreneur. The upfront starting costs and money that you put back into your business is altogether different in a really, really good way than being a restaurant owner where you've got capital investments and you've got to put money into maintaining equipment and so forth. In that sense, it's really, really easy. But at the same time, you can't consider it all profit, because before you know it you'll be spending all your money and not investing in your future.

Craig Hall:                            Part of that, Curt, is that if you want to build yourself to a point of financial independence, you need to understand how to maximize the tax benefits associated with being an entrepreneur. As you know and teach, SEPs for entrepreneurs. If you have employees, you've got to understand the tax implications of that, paying social security taxes and FICA taxes for your employees. Now in real estate, we're all 1099 by design, and I'm never gonna have an employee so there's not gonna be any W2 stuff, again by design. But the money side of being an entrepreneur can be very, very complicated. Before you know it, you can find yourself broke.

Curt Sheldon:                    Okay. As you made the transition, did you find any resources particularly useful either books or classes that you might want to recommend to folks listening?

Craig Hall:                            The ins and outs, the mechanics of ... Well, when you think about it, the greatest resource that I had were two people. One, Tony, my mentor, like I said, opened up many, many real estate companies and his CPA. His CPA is now my CPA. He's the one that advised me initially on what business model to start for tax purposes. Then from a long-term perspective, to have a great financial advisor like you to build a plan. I never had a financial advisor until I started making some serious money in real estate. Again, I knew what I didn't know.

Craig Hall:                            I didn't know about a SEP until I hired or I went to Mark Hogan who is a man from my church and a West Point grad, and so there was already a kinship and a trust factor. He'd been doing financial planning for 30 years at that point. He's the one that said, "Okay, Craig. You've got all these assets, fortunately, from the TSP, from the military, and then other savings." But we built a plan, a very detailed plan, what you do. You are an extraordinarily valuable resource for people to make good use of their money today, to maximize their tax write-offs for tomorrow and to build their financial freedom.

Curt Sheldon:                    Yeah, and I think I've found that, too. I know I thought this until I tried to do crown molding was that I could read a book about anything and figure it. I also figured out that that wasn't true when I tried to register my company with the state regulators. I had to basically bring in a law firm to do it for me. I was just banging my head against the wall. If you make it to 0-6, you're no dummy. But that doesn't mean it's worth your time to do everything yourself. Bringing in some outside help, I think, can always be a pretty good idea.

Curt Sheldon:                    Speaking of being a sharp 0-6, I always like to pause here and say that I know 0-6s like to pontificate. I'm just gonna give you an open mike here for the amount of time that you'd like pertaining to anything that I haven't asked you about that you'd like to bring up.

Craig Hall:                            Well, the one message that I share with transitioning veterans often and part of it is the ETAP. You've heard me say this, but also in smaller venues. In large part because of my own personal journey of considering myself risk-averse, trying to find the comfort zone of my former field just in a civilian capacity and not finding it. Now being on this side and, one, having so much fun. It's so fulfilling, and not that it's about money, but making really good money while having the flexibility that you would want in your second career is to get outside your box. To consider entrepreneurship in something that you're passionate about. Not real estate if you could care less about that. But if you're into guitars and you think that you've got something of value to offer and open up a little guitar shop.

Craig Hall:                            Or if insurance is your passion or stock market investing, that is something. If you have the financial wherewithal, for you retiring 0-6s, you're never gonna starve. Try something different. It is so invigorating for me doing something completely different than I ever expected while still using the skills that the Air Force taught you. Curt, I'll even say for you fighter pilots out there, you can even do real estate. Although you think you can do everything because you're fighter pilot, but, no. I'm just teasing you.

Curt Sheldon:                    Yeah, and I think that is true. Yeah.

Craig Hall:                            Yeah. Try something different. Open your aperture. But if all you want to do is feed your family, that's good, too. There's nothing wrong with that. But you are willing just for a second to try something new and exciting, I don't think you would regret it.

Curt Sheldon:                    Okay. I always like to ask. Is it okay if listeners reach out to you on LinkedIn and connect and any other ways for them to get in touch with you?

Craig Hall:                            I would be honored to share my experience in greater detail about real estate in particular or just entrepreneurship in general. Yeah, if you want to post, whatever, my contact info, phone number is 210-540-9585. Our website is, our company is Hall American, kind of a play on words. It's H-A-L-L A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N-S-A.com, so for San Antonio. But that's our website, but give me a call, and I'd be happy to help you make your transition.

Curt Sheldon:                    Okay, and I'll put a link to your website in the show notes for this show. Then I guess we'll wrap it up with the last question that I ask everybody. That's go back to six, seven years ago or so, about six months to a year before your retirement. What do you wish that you'd known then that you know now?

Craig Hall:                            Well, my transition was more abrupt that I expected. I would say probably there's really nothing that comes to mind that's very, very strong. Because this was all part of a growth journey and just taking advantage of the resources that you have, like you, and reaching out to people to help your transition. Sorry about that.

Curt Sheldon:                    That's okay, Craig, not to worry. I'd like to thank you for taking the time to talk to me today and get the word out. Business owners, I always say I have a jerk for a boss, so business owners kind of have jerks for a boss, because we always got something that we think we need to be doing. I do know your time is valuable and I appreciate it. Again, I'd like to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Craig Hall:                            You bet. Thank you, Curt.

Speaker 1:                           It's not easy balancing the demands of active duty and searching for your second career. That's why we put together a retirement financial checklist tailored for senior military officers. With it, you'll organize your financial affairs and avoid mistakes when you retire. The best part is it's free. You can get it at CLSheldon.com/Eagles.

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