This story was originally posted in Forbes on September 27, 2017.
Meet Andy Williams.
He's a Marine Corps veteran who owns a sizable chunk of the real estate rental market in the same Texas town where he once picked up cans on the side of the road to make money.
His path to prosperity has been hard-fought and incremental: he has launched multiple successful companies, closed over $250,000,000 of real estate finance transactions, personally invested in over 100 real estate deals, and is currently hosting a TV show for HGTV, Flip or Flop Fort Worth.
In short, Andy Williams is winning in the real estate business.
But Andy’s real mission is focused on using real estate for something much bigger: turning a generation of military veterans into real estate entrepreneurs.
Andy is the Founder of Recon Realty, a real estate platform that, in addition to making a tidy profit, is focused on using real estate to turn transitioning veterans into entrepreneurs. Transitioning veterans may start as landscapers, appraisers, inspectors, or brokers. But, eventually, Andy wants his fellow veterans to own as much of America’s real estate as possible. “Patriots need to start buying up America,” he said.
As more and more young Americans are happy renting—rather than owning homes—there is an opportunity for veterans to own multiple homes. “As a country, we’re shifting to a landlord nation,” Andy told me. “Veterans need to participate in this shift.”
Three moments shaped Andy’s success and vision.
Moment #1: “Why should I work hard for someone else who doesn’t value me?”
Andy grew up poor. He had a college scholarship to play football, but joined the Marines instead, where he served from 2000-2004 as a FAST (Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team) member. After transitioning out of the military, Williams found himself in the same situation as many transitioning veterans, especially from the enlisted ranks: four years older and four years behind his peers in the civilian workplace.
Initially, he took a job as a private investigator in Dallas. He performed well and asked for a raise, but he was denied the raise because his tenure at the small firm was too short. Then it hit him, “Why should I work hard for someone else that doesn’t value me and puts a timeline on how much I should get paid?" Andy recalls.
To get cash, Andy relied on his military skills and went to work in Iraq as a contractor for Blackwater. The money was good, but the work was dangerous. Andy worked as part of a diplomatic protection team, scouting routes for moving diplomats and providing personal protection.
“Working for Blackwater I learned that I’d either go home in a box or go home with just the cash I’d been paid,” Andy thought. "Neither appealed to me. I wanted to build real wealth.”
Looking to make a change, at the tender age of 22, while still at Blackwater, Andy Williams bought his first investment property.
Moment #2: “Look for problem: solve it. Look for target: hit it”
While working for Blackwater, Andy began to build a real estate portfolio. "Real estate was my safe haven from the war," Andy recalls.
Andy focused on identifying problems. Large firms were swooping into major real estate markets like Dallas and buying properties after the real estate bubble. Andy couldn’t compete there, so he created a strategy focused on rural markets. His strategy was simple: Andy targeted areas near large infrastructure projects, like highways. He bought houses below replacement costs and held them for several years until the new highway brought in new jobs and economic growth. Then he watched the rents go up.
“Look for a problem: solve it. Look for a target: hit it.” Andy said describing his opportunistic approach.
But it wasn’t all success. Andy lost money on his first two deals due to unreliable contractors. Andy learned that in order to succeed in this business he needed to know the business from front to back. He got smart. He focused on one property at a time, and racked-up 8 houses his first year.