Sometimes there are things in life that simply take people by storm – most recently, Avatar the insanely successful movie from James Cameron, Facebook & Twitter, Jersey Shore the reality MTV series (come on! you know you watch it) and Lady Gaga the hit pop artist, just to name a few. Each of these examples has made a lasting mark on their respective industry. Right now, in our much smaller industry by comparison, there is another phenomenon growing wildly fast. And in case you’ve never heard of them, by way of living under a large rock, their name is ThinkBigWorkSmall.com or TBWS or Frank and Brian or even FnB as we’ve learned to affectionately call them. TBWS is a place where real estate professionals can catch up on the most important issues facing them today inside a daily seven minute video dialogue AND be completely entertained while doing so. I discovered their daily show last year and can attest to their addictive qualities. In fact, even their theme song jingle is so simple it’s pure genius; it can get stuck in your head for days inspiring you to sing it over and over at the dinner table (my wife was about to rip my head off, my kids loved it). Who knew mortgage and real estate finance news could be this fun. It’s as if your favorite morning local TV news met Jim Cramer of Mad Money with a guest spot from Benny Hill, but even better.
After meeting FnB at NAMB West this past December and hitting it off, they happened to mention The Niche Report on their December 10th Daily show. I awoke to my iPhone being blown up with subscription requests and a small army of TBWS followers demanding we put FnB in the magazine, which we were happy to oblige. Hell, forget their crazy army of followers making demands, we had to learn about who these enigmatic, mysterious industry personalities are and where they come from, so we set forth to talk with these two and the following is what transpired.
What is “Think Big Work Small”? It’s not ONLY a Daily show, right?
Frank Garay: Think Big Work Small is a company that has three elements to it. The first element is the TBWS Daily Show. The TBWS Daily contains industry news, sales tips and resources for mortgage and real estate professionals, and it's all with a lighthearted twist to it. Currently the TBWS Daily show has about 100k subscribers and receives anywhere from 12k to 20k views a day. The second element is our products. We have two right now, which is an MBS tracking service for mortgage pros, and the Video Marketing Engine (VME), which is a private video marketing sales system for sales people. The third element is the resource center. The vision of the resource center is to become the "Amazon.com" of the mortgage and real estate industry.
Tell us about Frank and Brian. What are your backgrounds? I heard that one of you has a real estate background and the other has a mortgage finance background, any truth to that? What brought you two together?
Frank Garay: I've been a mortgage broker since 1987. I recently moved my license to the real estate side of the business for the sake of the show. We felt it would be a better balance considering we have a large Realtor following that seems to be growing quickly. Brian has been a mortgage broker for 15 years, so we've got a bunch of street level experience. Our "coming together" is a funny story. Originally the TBWS Daily show was hosted by me and my brother Patrick Vogelpohl. In December of 2007 my brother could no longer host the show, so I had to find a replacement. I was actually very worried about finding someone new because my brother and I had a really good chemistry going. Brian and I worked for the same mortgage brokerage whose CEO (Tim Kearns) is also the CEO of TBWS. I told him about my brother leaving and he immediately suggested Brian. Only problem was Brian and I didn't really care for each other, in fact I'd say we actually disliked each other. But I was stuck, and I trusted Tim, so I hit Brian up to do the show. Surprisingly without hesitation he agreed. I remember our first show together. It was a total train wreck. If I said that Brain had to do 50 takes I wouldn't be exaggerating at all. We've been doing the show together for two years now and I consider him to be my best friend. I couldn't imagine doing the show with anyone else.
Tell us about how TBWS originated and why.
Frank Garay: Think Big Work Small was originally a web based CRM that had automated open house flyers tied to our local MLS, along with other personally branded marketing materials in it. My business partner, Leo Schrupp, and I (Frank) had it built to replace the half dozen 20 year olds we had working for us that suffered from the typical issues that 20 year old's suffer from. We launched it on June 30, 2007. It was a few months prior to this that business was really slowing down, and we realized that the 50 or so loan officers we had working for us didn't really have any sales skills. They had gotten into the business when the getting was good. Not only did we have 50 loan officers, but we had all the overhead to go with them so I knew we had to coach them if we were going to survive. We started by trying sales meetings, but only about 10 out of 50 would show up. So we shifted over to webinars. Webinars provided a bit of an improvement, but not much. After all, a webinar is still a meeting. So on July 2nd, just after we launched TBWS, I finished a coaching webinar with pitiful attendance wondering what we were going to do. I was sitting there starring at the webcam we bought for the webinars, and I thought to myself; "I think I'll just do a video and send it out". So I did it with the help of my brother. It was short, funny, and it had a good message to it. I uploaded it to YouTube and emailed to our 50 loan officers. By the end of the day it had over 50 views on it and we received many emails thanking us for it. The next day I said to Leo "I think I can do this every day", to which he replied, "you're crazy." We came back from the July 4th holiday and on July 6th I made our 2nd video that was received just as well as the first. My brother and I continued to make and distribute a video every day. On July 17th 2007 I decided to call the video the "TBWS Daily" in an effort to tie the video into the CRM somehow. I wasn't sure how it would tie together with the CRM, but I just went for it. It's funny. I look back and I remember that first video. I remember after I sent it out thinking to myself, "this is what I'm going to do for a living... this is going to be my contribution to the industry". It was a weird feeling, and it's even weirder now looking back at it and thinking about it.
When did you notice that TBWS began to gain traction in the industry and why do you think that is?
Frank Garay: Well, I remember our Halloween show 2008. Brian was Gene Simmons and I was Ace Freely (sp?) from KISS. Our sales tip was using "props" to get business where we displayed Brian's daughter as a "prop". It was funny (at least we thought so) and it almost got 1,000 views! We were stoked! I remember us saying to each other that our 1,000 view Daily was just around the corner. Our first 1,000 view daily was on November 12, 2008. We were dressed in French attire and talked mainly about the auto industry, but for some reason, we past that elusive 1,000 view mark. I remember Brian looking at me saying, "someday we'll have1,000 views everyday"! I think the realization that we were gaining some traction was on our first 2,000 view Daily. That was February 4th, 2009 and it was titled "Poor Wells Fargo... What Will They Do"? It was about Wells Fargo not being able to have their exotic retreats for the first time in many years. I remember "the brass" thinking that there must have been a view counting problem, because there was no way that we actually got over 2,000 views. But... we did. It was that next morning that I was actually a little stressed out about the show. I was thinking to myself, "Oh my gosh... there are like 2,000 people paying attention to us! How can we ever deliver something to them every day"? Today I'm stressed out if we don't get 12,000 views! We started really gaining traction in the middle of 2009. We would hit 5,000 views pretty consistently with an occasional 8,000 views on a great day. We can attribute much of the results to Brian's idea to start the HVCC petition. That petition has over 100,000 signatures on it and it introduced us to a lot of new people. I think the reason that we've achieved the success we've gained so far is because we're real. Since we don't have sponsors, or advertisers, we don't have to be PC. We can just say what we think, and that seems to resonate with people. We get to say the things publicly that most people want to hear, so it all works out. We have however toned it way down. Now that we're getting a bigger voice, people rely on us as a value piece to send out to others. We have to respect that so, we've taken the edge off the show a little. But we're still not very PC at all.
We know you offer free daily video outputs, so what’s the deal with the $49.95 offer on your website? Is this product for all real estate professionals or is it geared towards one segment over another?
Frank Garay: The $49.95 product is what we call our Video Marketing Engine or "VME". It's a private video player that has the same format as the TBWS Daily Show. There are advantages to using a private player to send video to your database. Not only can you provide links and downloads directly from the player page, but you can also track who is watching your videos and who is not. This is really important for sales people. Our player is useful to any salesperson that focuses on maintaining a database of past clients, family and friends. It's actually a full blown CRM that you can send HTML email from with tracking ability as well. It's a very powerful marketing platform if video is the method that you choose to use for your marketing efforts. Within the system there is a prerecorded "Video Marketing Workshop" that's very helpful to watch. The workshop goes over the "show concept" which is what we've found to contribute to our success. The method of video marketing can easily be employed by anyone within their database and their local market area.
How do you come up with the topics you discuss on your daily videos? And what topics in particular have generated the most responses from viewers?
Frank Garay: We search about 20 websites every day and Twitter is quite useful as well. We're always looking for stories that have the most impact on our day to day business. Brian is the main writer with respect to news stories I'm the main sales-tip content provider. Since I've managed loan officers for many years, the "coaching/sales-tip" realm was natural for me. Brian on the other hand will flat out tell you that his favorite thing in life is reading the news, so it's a perfect fit for the show. We both have a good sense of humor, however Brian has this "steel trap" mind that retains all kinds of useless information that somehow becomes quite useful for the show! It's so weird. We'll be looking at a story and out of nowhere Brian will say that it reminds him of some obscure scene from some movie that was released in the 70's, or a line from a song that I've never even heard of. His brain is a holding tank of a bunch or random information, that's one of the reasons we call him "Captain Random". FHA, HVCC, YSP and Wells Fargo seem to generate the most responses for us. Really it's the stuff that can have an immediate positive or negative impact on the business that gets the most attention, which makes sense. A lot of times we don't have very interesting stories to work with. When we're working with boring news, we call it "polishing turds" which is exactly what it is. In those situations we usually swing a little heavier to the "humor" side if we can to keep it interesting.
Tell us your opinion on the drivers of the economic downturn…was it the fault of greedy real estate professionals and Wall Street, the lack of government oversight or homebuyers that should have known better?
Brian Stevens: Looking at it from my perspective, progressive and aggressive loans that we're delivered to lenders for consumer's consumption is the primary driving force. Prior to Y2K you had qualifying ratios of 27/38 on very few fixed or conservative adjustable products. Once we figured we could use Credit Scores to determine a borrowers "likelihood" to make his mortgage payment, the flood gates of bad loans and lax underwriting began to open. We started at fixed rate conservative underwriting to 100% neg am stated income stated asset loans with a 580 credit score. This artificially spiked property values which lead to the compounding problem of "cash-out refi's" on artificial equity. Sure borrowers should have known better but buying a house became a "money making enterprise" and not a place to lay your head. The truth of the matter is most borrowers knew what they were getting into but didn't care because everyone and their mother told them their house was going to continue gaining equity. Look there's enough blame to go around for what took place. To hold one single group i.e. the brokers, appraisers... is just too easy and wrong.
Do you think the new and upcoming regulations are helping matters? Give us your opinion on HVCC, the Safe Act, Red Flags, and the new GFE and HUD-1 (RESPA regulations)?
Brian Stevens: Absolutely not. Everything the government has done costs the borrower more money and takes more time. Honestly, I can’t think of one thing the government has done that makes sense. HVCC has led to shitty appraisals at a discount fee to the appraiser and a inflated cost to the borrower. SAFE ACT..... Do I really need to be tested on 100 plus industry acronyms? How does that help anything?! New GFE... you can’t get 3 industry professionals to agree on it, how is the client going to figure it out. Not to mention the 3 page document doesn't accurately reflect the transaction. If we go back to pre Y2K and enforce those reg's we'd be fine.
IF TBWS had the power of the Feds, what changes would you enact regarding the mortgage and real estate industries? What are the biggest opportunities here?
Brian Stevens: Just as I said. We would go back to a reasonable set of products with reasonable underwriting. Most importantly, we would enforce the laws of the land. If you're screwing up you lose your license. Further, I'd let these foreclosures go through and get to the recovery part of our recovery.
In your opinion, what is the Federal Government doing right and NOT doing right in terms of industry regulation?
Brian Stevens: If I had to pick one thing and this is a long shot, the National Regulation with the SAFE act may be a good idea. The government is in a precarious position because something had to be done and I know hind sight is 20/20. I just would have liked to see them involve industry professionals in their decision making. Do you remember when all this was going down with Sec of Treasury Tim Geithner? It came too light that he didn't have a staff. He was so busy lending his hand in historical monetary change that he didn't have time to hire a staff. It's that type of "shooting from the hip" that's exacerbated our problems.
Frank Garay: What really bothers me is that our elected officials are so influenced by lobbyist money that they won't go after the real offenders. Let's face it, Brokers only sold what they were given. If we were never given bad products they would have never been sold. The real problem was that fact that the rating agencies were in bed with Wall Street. Rating agencies wanted to rate in order to make money, the investors and bankers wanted the highest rating possible, throw in a lack of regulation and you get a disaster. Attacking the broker in this mess is like attacking the caboose of the train rather than attacking the engine - the rating agencies.
Given what has gone down in the last few years, how do you see the dynamic between the real estate agent, the mortgage broker, and the consumer changing? Or do you see the relationships remaining the same?
Brian Stevens: Or do you see the relationships remaining the same? At the end of the day I see it as remaining largely unchanged. At the consumer level it’s always been about relationships and it always will. We may have a bigger and different stack of paper for the consumer but those papers will get signed based on communication and trust.
In general, where do you see the real estate market heading? Will it get worse before it gets better? Or have we hit rock bottom and the only way is up?
Brian Stevens: Well, people are still not making their house payments in record numbers, and until that changes, a double dip is inevitable. A newer word to our vocabulary is "strategic non payment." This is where people can but choose not to make their payment. I'd like to see the psychological profile of some of those strategic non payments. I really believe people have lost their desire to make payments as well. I think you'll find an even newer industry term. That of course would be the "I don’t give a crap... non payment." In any event until we solve that I think well jump back in the deep end.
Frank Garay: Until we get unemployment under control we won't see any real recovery.
More specifically, where do you see the future of the mortgage broker? Do you see the business changing to a banker model or do you foresee a future for the mortgage broker?
Brian Stevens: A dash of broker with two sprinkles of correspondent lines is probably our immediate future. However the broker will never go away. First, the most motivated sales people are your friendly neighborhood mortgage broker. Secondly, there is no cheaper and more transparent way to deliver a loan than through the broker channel. Eventually the industry will realize this point.
Frank Garay: Having Brokers and Correspondent lenders at the disposal of the major banker only makes sense in that they don't have to carry retirement and health care for those originators. Once the witch hunt for the broker has subsided, you'll see the fat cats scrambling to get them back.
What are we going to see out of TBWS in the near future?
Brian Stevens: Lots of changes that involve our viewing audience. We have an unbelievably innovative and intelligent gang of viewers. They are the future of our industry. The more we can tap into them the better off we'll be. We will become a conduit for others to exchange ideas. We will have a forum where all ideas and products can be shared. However all products and ideas will be scrutinized by their TBWS viewing peers. Really, I'm excited for our future.
As Stewart Mednick, our managing editor, mentioned in From the Editor’s Desk, TBWS will be hosting an exclusive monthly column for TNR beginning next month. What are your plans for this column? What do you plan to discuss with our readers that you may not be able to address in your daily show?
Brian Stevens: We want our column to be understandable and enjoyable for people inside and outside of our industry. We want to tackle topics that we cannot with our 7 minute daily show.
Last but not least, tell us something that nobody knows about Frank and Brian. Don’t be shy.
Brian Stevens: Let me take a run around the office and see what others have to say… Let’s see, we sometimes drink way too much... nope they already knew that.
Frank Garay: Brian's kids are sometimes un-kept... oh wait, nope, they've already seen them.
Brian Stevens: Our language is often off kilt... nope got that. Frank plays in a hillbilly band.... no. Oh I got one, Frank thinks he may have fathered a kid in the Philippines in the 80s and won’t go back because he's afraid he might end up getting a lap dance from his daughter. I once drove to Florida to ride out a hurricane (Francis). On that trip I ran down the freeway naked with 100mph winds just because I could... then bought and drove a 1983 white caddie Hurst and drove it home across all the southern states.
And that’s why we love you guys, keep up the great work. And as FnB say at the end of every Daily show - "if you like what you see, pass this along to everyone you know."