Welcome to another edition of Solo2CEO. Our guest for today is a man of many hats - the CEO of JBuilders, co-founder of JCC of Marine Park, and JCON Business Conferences, a social entrepreneur, and a singer. He is with us today to share a glimpse of his life as a successful businessman. Let’s welcome Josh Rubenstein.
Hi, Josh. Tell me what you do.
I have a retail construction company. I build for others and I also do real estate development within the context of construction. I am part of the JCC of Marine Park JCon for Jewish Conferences. JCon hosts events for businessmen by inviting a panel of diverse business veterans and mentors to educate, answer queries, and assist people who are interested in putting up businesses. It is all about giving people good information.
What's the overall mission of JCon?
JCon is a non-profit social service organization whose mission is to make people self-sufficient. We focus on helping people succeed. JCon’s course offerings have helped thousands of people either get a job or succeed in their business. Our conferences provide valuable panels, mentors, and networking to help them succeed.
Tell me about your construction company J Builders.
I started J Builders as a construction company in 2003. We build homes, commercial spaces, and development work such as medical buildings, condominium projects, or anything related to construction. My main focus was construction, but I also had a concrete company and a stone company.
J Builders can acquire property, build a project, and then sell it off or sell part of it off. J Builders could purchase it, rent it out, and refinance it. It depends on the area's market condition, and what the opportunity is.
How many employees do you have at J Builders?
We have a small office staff, mainly about three or four managers, and about 35 people on site.
How many projects are you working on at a given time?
To have focus, we work between five to eight projects at a time. I hire more subs for more extensive projects. This enables my people to do something else and let an outside company take care of the larger projects.
Tell me how you started, how you wanted to do something new.
After I got married and continued studying for about two years, I started working on graphics marketing and personalization business. I purchased my first machine that would transfer pictures on t-shirts, caps, mouse pads, and others. I opened a store in Coney Island Beach and in a New Jersey Mall.
During that time, people used to take pictures with a camera and film. I started a network of 250 photography shops that would develop the film. People will find our promotional brochures included in the envelopes containing their developed photos.
I did not own these stores. I just gave them commissions for promoting us by putting promotional inserts into the envelopes, hanging prominent signages to promote us, and offering promotional products such as pens and ball pens.
In 2002 and 2003, I took a chance and slowly transitioned into construction and real estate, although I knew nothing about these businesses. It all started with an idea of how people make it big and make a million dollars yearly.
How did you start this business?
In 2003, I found some small houses in Brooklyn where I could give a 10% down payment and use home equity to do construction a few months later. I purchased a home at cost, invested in its construction and improvements, and then sold the house.
I familiarized myself with the construction process, learning by watching and asking to understand how the process works. It was challenging because I made mistakes along the way, but I learned from the experience.
I took a business partner who understood and oversaw the construction. This partner had the same determination as I had and was aligned with the vision of our company. We worked on about 10 houses until we moved into real estate development and building condominium units.
Tell me more about your journey into real estate.
Before I shifted to real estate, I started with promotional products. Then I did purchasing, constructing, and selling houses. I started with one partner and eventually got more for more projects. Along the way, I realized that I could make some bigger projects, which is why I tried commercial condominium development.
I learned zoning and building code regulations and restrictions. Together with my investors, I purchased a million-dollar worth of land for construction and development. Our investment turned out to be much more profitable than expected.
What made you decide to move ahead and do something bigger?
I did the underwriting and the numbers and it made sense that it would be profitable. It was my first time making a big investment, so I was fully dedicated to this project, and I learned a lot from it. I made some money doing other projects, too.
How did you scale your business with 10 office staff and some workers on the ground?
We just continued the same work – made several developments and went into condominium projects. Building condominiums through the money from investors was profitable, and business was doing well. However, things started to slow down in 2008 when people became afraid to invest, and banks were not keen on giving out loans. That's when I transitioned from being a real estate developer to the construction side.
What are some of the regrets or mistakes you made over the years and how did you get out of them?
I call these mistakes and regrets learning curves, as I prefer to be more optimistic. I try to learn from someone else’s mistakes instead of my own.
I was overconfident and started doing too many developments. Although everything was underwritten and we understood what we were doing, it's impossible to do multiple things at once. If I focus on one project, I lose sight of the other.
The secret to success is delegating and trusting people. I learned how to trust and delegate to people who make mistakes as long as they don’t repeat the same mistakes.
How do you trust your workers when delegating tasks to them?
Your employees will respect you more if they know where you stand. You hire people you like and trust their abilities. You should also have a system for reviewing, reporting, or updating things.
When you trust your workers, you let them work more independently and ask for updates. Trusted employees feel more responsible.
Describe your hiring process.
I only hire people with experience on the job as there would be less training and fewer mistakes.
We offer courses for people who want to know more about construction, whether online or in person. This is a three-month course on learning the basic knowledge of construction materials and processes, how to read plans, and so on. This would be helpful when they get a job and gain work experience.
Given the two options, I am more inclined to hire and pay someone who knows the job. It makes life easier and less costly.
When did you start accounting for your business, not just from a tax standpoint but for business development as well?
I came without a formal education in the business. I did what was best and my entire accounting at that time was a spreadsheet where I wrote information about my transactions such as costs and expenses, details of checks, and many others. I matured into QuickBooks and eventually hired an accounting firm to take care of it.
I learned that from my gross income, I have to take into consideration the operating and miscellaneous expenses as well as taxes to come up with a final net income. Miscellaneous items such as insurance payments, audits, premiums, gas, car insurance, and tolls, sometimes add up to 50% of your total expenses.
How would you differentiate working in the business from working on the business?
People should know the difference between selling a product and having a business. This is the concept of working in the industry and working on the business.
If you work in your business, you are tied up in everyday operations, like orders and deliveries, follow-ups, and monitoring. Hiring a manager to work in the business helps you focus on the business. You can think about the big picture and acquire clients for marketing.
Why do you think that writing down expenses and opening a new location does not necessarily translate into success?
Putting up additional branches, investing in locations and furnishings, and hiring additional people are just some of the opportunities we have now. These things will entail financial costs as you try to expand the business. In this setting, you have to adapt and see things from a different angle. You can look at a piece of property or a business and see it differently with a different outcome, which can be the way for you to succeed. You have to think ahead when faced with a challenge or competition.
How would you relate “Turn adversity into an opportunity” to your business?
The key is to take the challenges and use them to your advantage. When COVID was constricting us from doing construction projects, I had to look at it from a different angle and see if a new endeavor could be made out of it.
I thought of building and strengthening the brand by making informative 57-second videos on anything I can think of about home construction materials, tools, and terminologies. I would shoot all these educational videos and post them once a week, which received a lot of good feedback. People will want to call and engage you and do business with you because you get credibility when you look like you know what you're talking about.
How do the videos you make help you?
The videos help with branding and it translates into business. Customers will be willing to do business because they see that I know what I’m talking about, or it could be that they become interested in the videos, and reach out. The videos were instrumental either on the last 30% or the first 60% to get them involved or close them. It made an impact and I didn't need to spend a lot of money on it.
Share your thoughts about ending each video with a call to action like, “Give us a call and we'll be happy to help you out.”
I would not use that sentence as a call-to-action ending. I would not sell myself because most people will not like that.
In the end, people will just avoid and ignore you if you say that you are better, cheaper, and faster, telling people how good you are.
A good call to action is to talk about the other person. People love to talk. Make the connection: people purchase from people, and people do not purchase products. So if you sell yourself, not the product, you are more likely to get the sale. My call to action is to educate and provide insightful information.
Another important factor is to acknowledge and give credit to people involved in my videos, such as the designers and vendors. Appreciation makes them feel good and most likely repost or share my videos. That is one way of free marketing.
What are your mainstreams of client intake?
Instagram works best for construction marketing. I found out that women often hang out on Instagram and make the most of these choices when it comes to home construction. For professional construction like medical buildings or other commercial projects, I noticed that men are more likely to visit LinkedIn.
Other marketing mainstreams are advertisements in local publications for branding, websites, signages, and exhibit participation.
We also do marketing by connecting with designers, architects, space planners, and those who have first contact with my potential clients. Occasionally, I keep in touch by sending gifts, tokens, or compliments to my current and even past clients. I believe there is nothing wrong with giving back to these people who would give you work, recommend, or vouch for you to other potential clients. It is just making yourself visible.
What kind of media do you usually post on LinkedIn and Instagram?
Usually, we put photos or videos, especially on Instagram. Photos of finished product updates, a quick 10-second video, and educational videos at least once a week. Making videos helps connect with people, and I make sure to respond to their comments.
Do you use videos for your marketing?
Yes. I would go to a job site and shoot about an hour's worth of footage, give it back to the studio for editing into 20 clips complete with intro and outro on 57-second videos, called construction tips, and release a video weekly that automatically goes into Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, et cetera. And you know, make sure to put the hashtag, tag the people, et cetera.
How do you reach out to your clients?
Connecting with people shows goodwill and keeps the energy alive. It costs a little to keep your customers happy, and an even nicer approach and a more positive view is accommodating customer remarks and complaints. People appreciate these acts and might give you much more in return even if they don’t have to. Try to be nice and kill them with kindness. Being a nice person always brings better and more favorable results. Good people don’t always finish last as long as they don’t mistake your kindness for weakness.
What is the best way for clients to reach you?
My email address is JoshR@JBuildersNY.com. Clients may contact me through LinkedIn, Instagram, Jay Builders, or JoshRubenstein.