As a child, real estate professional Anthony Lolli lived with his parents in a one-bedroom shack in Brooklyn. When he was six years of age, he begged his mother to buy him an $18 watch from Saks, and was shocked when she told him that they couldn’t afford it. It was then that he decided that he would make his family rich one day. As soon as he was old enough, Lolli began working towards that dream, first as a bike messenger, then by selling glasses, installing alarms and, when he saw his father’s friend join the real estate industry and immediately begin making money, as a real estate agent for the biggest firm in Brooklyn. He quickly became one of the company’s top performers.
In 1998, at the age of 21, Lolli opened his own company, Rapid Realty, and recruited three of his closest friends to work as Rapid’s first agents. By 2003, the company had 15 agents and Lolli’s success enabled his parents to retire. In honor of his father’s many years as a teacher, Lolli turned the second floor of his office into Express Real Estate School, which has produced tens of thousands of graduates.
Beginning in August of 2009, Lolli began franchising Rapid Realty and, over the next 16 months, set up more than 40 offices through New York. Today, Rapid Realty is one of the largest real estate companies in New York, and has set up shop in Boston and San Diego, with more cities on the way. As the CEO of the company, Lolli has dedicated himself to motivating each and every agent in the company to be the best they can be and promoting a companywide atmosphere of positivity and friendly competition.
In 2013, Lolli became the first real estate professional to win Golden Bridge’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Anthony is a frequent guest on Fox Business, and his unique insights have been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Crain’s New York, and numerous real estate publications, including The Real Deal, where he was called “the ultimate entrepreneur and the poster child for franchising.”
After my dad retired from teaching in the New York public school system, he became a street entertainer. He had an Ecuadorian macaw (actually, at one point he had ten of them) that he had trained to do tricks and say a few phrases in English and Spanish. He’d go into restaurants, or go to big events and festivals in the city, or just walk around in tourist-friendly neighborhoods, and people would pay to get their picture taken with the bird standing on their arm or perched on their head. When I was old enough, he’d take me along with him to help out. I’d hand out fact sheets about the bird, or he’d let me handle the money. Those nights out in the city with my dad were hard work — I’d come home exhausted with aching feet — but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
What role did your parents play in shaping who you are today?
Working with my dad, or even just watching him work, taught me some of the most important lessons I ever learned about running a business, about the importance of hard work, and about the power of salesmanship. Just imagine trying to talk your way into a fancy restaurant with a giant bird on your shoulder for the express purpose of trying to talk the patrons into paying to get their picture taken. It’s almost unbelievable, but that’s how charming my father was. Both of my parents gave me so much love and support. Even though we didn’t have much money, our home was always filled with warmth and laughter. But they also taught me that life doesn’t just hand you everything you want. You have to make things happen for yourself. They instilled in me the work ethic that gave me the chance to become the person I am today. My mother is still my biggest supporter. To this day, she never misses a big Rapid Realty event.
From a business perspective, who were your biggest influences when you were first starting out? Did you have anyone you would call a mentor?
In terms of salesmanship, my biggest influence by far was my father. But in terms of real estate, I can’t say that I had one specific mentor. I like to say that I had a hundred mentors, because I always kept my eyes and ears open wherever I went when I was starting out and absorbed everything I could from the people around me. Whether it was another real estate agent, a landlord, a contractor, a mortgage broker, you name it. I tried to pick up any tidbit I could. And I had to, because real estate can be a cutthroat business. When I was first starting out, none of the other agents I worked with wanted to take me under their wing. They saw it as empowering someone who could later steal a commission from them. One of the big things I wanted to change when I started Rapid Realty was that “every man for himself” mentality. I wanted Rapid to be the kind of company that encouraged mentorship and training among agents, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to accomplish that.
How was Rapid Realty able to survive the bursting of the real estate bubble and emerge as a strong, thriving company?
From the very start, Rapid Realty was designed to focus on rentals, rather than sales. Back in 1998, when I first started the company, people thought we were nuts. But when the bubble burst and sales plummeted, the demand for rentals went through the roof. Suddenly, everyone was looking for help finding an apartment to rent, and Rapid Realty was one of the only companies out there with real experience and know-how in that area. So while a lot of these firms that had previously only done sales were now scrambling to create rental divisions, we were already right in the thick of things. The fact that we specialized in a part of the real estate industry that actually thrives in a tough economy enabled us to start franchising and expanding at a time when a lot of other firms were shutting down their offices. Rentals are still the core of our business today, but now that the market is in a state of recovery, as slow as that recovery might sometimes feel, we’re getting more and more into sales, as well.
When you began franchising Rapid Realty, how did your day-to-day responsibilities change?
Becoming a franchisor is a change between being in your business to being on your business. I went from being in the trenches to needing to have an aerial perspective on the whole company. You have to become a master of so many different things: marketing and technology, finance and legal matters, on top of having to know your business and your industry inside and out. It’s like getting a degree in business, marketing, and economics all at once. And when you grow at a phenomenal rate, the way Rapid Realty has, it can feel like going from being a single guy to adopting sixty kids all at once.
In addition to your extensive charity work, you’ve worked diligently to hire veterans and minorities at Rapid Realty. What made you decide to focus on doing so?
When my father was 17, he lied about his age so he could join the Navy during World War II. It made him incredibly proud to serve his country like that, but I know his experiences in the military stuck with him the rest of his life. The men and women who serve in the military make an incredible sacrifice, and in the process they develop a wide range of skills, including discipline and leadership. The fact that any of our nation’s veterans should have difficulty finding work when they come home is just crazy to me.
As for minorities, my mother immigrated to the US from Ecuador with $40 to her name. The story and struggle of minorities and immigrants in this country is my family’s story, too. I know what it’s like to be turned down for a job because you don’t look the right way, or sound the right way, or talk the right way. I wanted Rapid Realty to be a place that embraced those differences, instead of being a place that was frightened by them, and I’m very proud to say that’s exactly what we’ve become.
Was there one particular moment when you realized that you had “made it” and had truly achieved the success you’d desired?
No. Of course I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved so far. Sometimes it still feels a little unreal. But when you reach the top, you realize there is no top. There’s always room to grow. There are still goals I aspire to achieve, and people I aspire to emulate. I don’t think we’re going to rest until Rapid Realty is a household name, like Hertz or Home Depot. Right now, that feels like the ultimate goal. It feels like if I could achieve that, I’d be satisfied. But when we reach that point… I guess we’ll see.
How have you changed since the early days of Rapid Realty? Has your management style evolved as the company has expanded, or has your approach remained the same?
In some ways it’s still the same. Working in rentals, you have to hustle day in and day out. You can’t be satisfied with one deal, you have to get right back out there and try to get another. It’s a much higher volume business than working in sales. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of determination. In the early days of Rapid Realty, I was out there doing deals, generating leads, building an inventory, in addition to everything I was doing to train our agents, oversee the office, and be a leader to the team. Now I oversee a whole array of offices, and I’m working with franchisees all over the city, and even in other parts of the country. It’s like being a leader for other leaders. I’m out there everyday generating franchising leads and paving the way for even greater growth, but I’m still doing it with that same energy and determination. The daily hustle is the same; it’s just the scope that’s changed.
What does it feel like the first time you slide into the driver’s seat of your own Rolls Royce?
The humble answer is that it’s really still just something that gets you from Point A to Point B, but it does it in style. But the truth is, it has 12 cylinders, but you drive it slow because you want everyone to see you. It’s a marketing tool. I might be the only guy in Brooklyn driving around in a big, white Rolls Royce, so people remember it when they see it. I can’t tell you how many agents and franchisees we have at Rapid Realty who told me their first brush with the Rapid brand was seeing my car go by. How does it feel the first time you slide into the driver’s seat of something like that? It feels amazing.
What’s the best restaurant in New York City?
Wow, that’s a tough one! In a city like New York, it might be impossible to say which restaurant is the best, but my favorite spot these days is Fogo de Chao. It’s a churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse. It’s the kind of place where once you sit down, they keep bringing you plate after plate of sizzling, perfectly-cooked meat until you tell them to stop. If you love steak like I do, there’s nothing better. The food is terrific, and so is the environment. A lot of times when I go, I end up running into other CEOs, so it’s a great spot for networking. It might sound crazy, but when you’re running a growing company, any meal where you’re not networking can kind of feel like empty calories.
If you had to offer one piece of advice to someone starting out in the real estate industry, what would it be?
Take a month, or even two or three, to shadow someone you respect. Even better, shadow multiple people who specialize in different parts of the business. Because real estate is a commission-based industry, it’s easy for people to get so caught up in chasing after those deals that they forget to learn. Take the time to watch other people and learn what they have to teach you. In order to survive in real estate, you need to be driven and you need to be confident, but don’t let your ego or your ambition get in the way of acquiring knowledge.