From Fat Kid to Freedom – How I Got Started in Business

I get a lot of question from other entrepreneurs and business owners, but especially from the young guns – college seniors or recent graduates – about how I got started in real estate and development, and in general how I built multiple businesses. So, I figured I would take you all on a little journey down memory lane and show you exactly where I started and some of the pivotal moments and decisions that led me to where I am today.

This is a long one, so pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine (Mine? Pinot Noir), and get comfortable. It’s story time.

[1993] I’m going to take you back about 24 years to when I was in 6th grade. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s interesting now to look back and see that even then, I was a bit of a rebel. My mom found these forms that I had her fill out for me (i.e. leverage). Even then, at 12 years old, I refused to have anyone put a limit on my thinking. Cowboy? Model? Astronaut? Hell no. I was going to be a business owner.

[1996] School was never my favorite place to be (and that is definitely an understatement). I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, dabbling in drugs, smoking cigarettes heavily, and using food as a way to numb my feelings and escape from this life that I was living, but hated. I hated the way I was living for a long time and in the process ended up over 100 lbs overweight, failing classes, and driving a POS car. My self worth was non-existent, I was in a dark place in my life, and was completely unsatisfied by how my life was going. Enough was enough.

One day, when I was 15, I came home from school and just started crying. My dad found me like that in my room and said, “You have two choices. You can accept where you are or you can change.” There is that moment, and you know it when it happens and I’m sure you’ve had moments like this before in your life, when you’ve wanted to change, but nothing really happens. And then you’ve had those moments when you said, “F*$k it. No more.” And in that moment, your life changes forever. You are fully committed to the new direction and you cut ties, burn bridges, and leave behind the old you for good. That’s what I did that day. I stopped caring what other people thought of me. I stopped hanging out with my friends who turns out weren’t really friends after all (Quick side story: These “friends” broke into my car and stole all of my belongings which erupted into a series of fights over the next couple of weeks. My big brother had to come down from college with some of his friends, things got physical, and the police got involved. It was a total shit show. But I never backed down. I was committed to this new life. And eventually, they started bullying someone else.) I stopped letting other people dictate who I should be. From that moment on, I was determined to never let anyone put a limit on what I could do or who I could become. I was writing my own story.

[1997-1999] A year after one of the lowest points in my life, I was 100 lbs lighter – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I really started getting into sports at that point, hockey, snowboarding, and eventually settled on football. My Junior year we won the state championship and my Senior year I was Captain of the team along with a couple other guys. What a difference those friends were from the ones I was hanging out with before. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, right? Well, today, I am in business with two of those former football Captains. Pretty cool…

[2000] School and tests still weren’t really my thing. I wasn’t good at taking tests, so my SAT scores sucked. Combine that with the fact that my grades my Freshman year of high school were terrible. College was an option, but only in the guaranteed admissions program at the University of Vermont (UVM), which meant that I had to get a 3.0 my first year of college to be fully accepted as a student there. Challenge accepted. There were five people from my high school who did the guaranteed admissions program, but I was the only one to be accepted as a full time student. 3.2 GPA my first year. I’m really proud of that, because I had a clear vision and was going to work harder than anyone else to get there.

[2000] During my Freshman year at UVM, I had a friend who crashed on my couch, but didn’t actually go to school there. We all had one of those, right? He was selling cars and had this great opportunity for me to make a little extra money. We bought a car for $1000 – $500 cash in, each. It was all the money I had at the time (he was a good salesman!). So he bought the car, fixed it up, and sold it a week or so later and we doubled our money. What!? All I had to do was hand over some cash, do nothing else (I never even saw the car), and two weeks later my $500 was $1000. It was the first time I experienced leverage in the business world. But I would never have had that experience if I hadn’t been willing to take the risk. No risk, no reward. Seemed like a pretty sweet deal to me, so I kept putting the money I made back into more car purchases with my buddy. After about six months and grossing about $40,000 each, he didn’t need my capital contributions anymore and was going to move forward on his own. And that’s when I learned about the value of an agreement – putting this shit in writing! Though really, shouldn’t they be called disagreements? The only time you need that piece of paper is when you don’t agree.

[2003] So, I took my cash and bought a condo with my brother. It was a pre-construction unit (part of a large new condo complex) that we bought for $160,000. Brand new, spacious, great location… and once it was complete, we rented it out. Meanwhile, I was living in a basement (literally). I’d seen it before with the cars, so I understood how important it was to put money into the business or business deal first. Personal comfort be damned! Everything was going fine until 2005 when our note was pulled and we were forced to sell (yeah, we weren’t supposed to be renting the unit and the bank found out). I thought it sucked to have to sell when everything in real estate was booming! But, that peak, meant we ended up being the highest sale in that development for almost 10 years. Not a bad deal. Life was happening for us, not to us.

[2004] When I graduated college, I started working as a commercial underwriter. That only lasted six months. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say I was fired for sticking up for my mom. So there we were, both my mom and I, without jobs. But I just kept going. I found a great job with the help of my professor (Build relationships with your professors! They can do a lot more for you than you know!).

[2005] The new job was great. I was still a recent college grad, making $42,500/year, I had an assistant, and an 1.5 hour lunch break where I went to the gym (I wasn’t going to give up that habit!). I stayed there for about a year and a half. But there were limits that came with working for someone else, at least at that organization. I needed to be free to think and explore and experiment with my own ideas, my own business. I needed to be in control of my life.

[2006] So I did what every sane person would NOT do in late 2006, during one of the biggest, if not the biggest, real estate bubbles in history, I quit my job, became a Realtor, and started building a real estate team. Everyone thought I was crazy, including my parents, and they were right. Don’t get me wrong, they supported me, but they still thought I was crazy. I think Steve Jobs said something about the crazy ones changing the world, so it’s all good. Still, everyone tried to talk me out of the making this move and to go back to a stable job. I just said, “F*!k you,” as nicely as possible and just kept doing my thing and allowed their doubts to fuel the fire inside me.

[2006] My Papa really came through. He let me borrow $8000 to start my real estate business and I took $4000 of it and immediately flew to a Howard Brinton sales conference with my wife Sarah (who was my girlfriend at the time and was also getting back into real estate). Yup, I spent 50% of borrowed cash to invest into us and our education. It paid multiples. I remember being at the conference for about an hour and saying, “I’m good now,” because I had gotten so much info in such a short period of time. But we stayed, made connections, took a ton of notes and I started dreaming about being on stage like one of those top producing Realtors one day.

When I was back in Vermont, I put three homes under contract in my first 30 days of business. At the time, we didn’t even have an office yet and nobody knew who we were. Sarah and I worked from a 450 square foot apartment. I would lead generate for 10-13 hours a day, every day, until I had set one appointment. That’s why I never understand people who tell me that they lead generated for three hours and checked it off their to-do list. Well, did you set an appointment? If not, then you’re not done. We shouldn’t reward ourselves for the activities, but for the results! We just didn’t quit. We put our heads down and did whatever needed to be done to hit our goals. Our next step was getting an office and within a few months we hired an assistant. We still had very little money and I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to pay them, but I knew that we had to leverage out the administrative work, so we could go sell real estate and grow our business. I went through about five assistants in five months (that was a learning experience!) and hired a dear friend as my first Buyer Specialist who still works with me ten years later at KW Vermont and owns multiple other successful businesses.

[2009] I had a lot of success quickly. Within my first couple of years of real estate, I was the REMAX Associate of the Year, the NVBR Rookie of the Year, we had one of the top teams in New England, and I was named one of the nation’s Top 30 Under 30 Realtors by Realtor Magazine. The awards were great. People definitely knew who we were now. But it wasn’t enough.

top 30 under 30

[2010] I wanted more freedom, more growth, and more opportunity for myself and for those I was in business with, so I decided to open up the first Keller Williams Realty office in Vermont. The challenges with all of that definitely warrants a separate blog post! We had the fastest office launch in New England history. Brian, my business partner for KW Vermont, and I recruited 40 people in less than 3 weeks in a rented building with nothing but a folding table and a couple of rickety chairs. With only 400 Realtors in our entire real estate board (in about a 3 hour radius), I would say we did a damn good job! Anything is possible when you have a clear vision and are willing to do the work. Seven short (and long) years later, we are the largest real estate company in Vermont.

[2011] I founded Hergenrother Realty Group, currently the #28 real estate team in the country, with teams in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Idaho, and California, as well as Vermont.

[2012] I partnered with my brother, Tom, to start BlackRock Construction – a residential construction, commercial construction, and development company. We also partner with investors on several of our projects and host seminars on how to build wealth through real estate and development. BlackRock Construction was just ranked #42 on Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 5000 list of companies.

[2016] After training and teaching leadership and business classes around the country for years, I founded Adam Hergenrother Training Organization to reach an even wider audience through live training events, online webinar series, and one-on-one coaching. This month, we partnered with Dartmouth College, Thayer School of Engineering to provide even more professional development opportunities through our organization.

Owning a real estate franchise, along with my real estate team, was the foundation for the rest of my entrepreneurial journey. From an early age, I was willing to take risks, reinvest my money into my business and into my training and education, and leverage jobs to other people. Several years ago I also learned the value of working ON the business, rather than IN the business and that is when I ultimately found freedom. I didn’t want to have a job, so before I started any new business, I always found a WHO first – someone else to run the company or research a new business venture. Freedom is what drives me. It drove me when I was 15 years old and I wanted to be free of the physical weight holding me down and free to create the life I desired. Freedom continues to drive me – financial freedom (the freedom to give by richly blessing other people’s lives), physical freedom, spiritual freedom to truly embrace other people’s growth and success, social freedom to experience the journey of life with other people when and where I choose.

And for all those young, aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners who want to know my secret to success? It’s simple – there is no secret – you’ve got to do the work, put in the time, do the activities (consistently), say no to late nights out and yes to early mornings of exercise and working on your personal development. Do. The. Work. There are no limits, except for those you impose on yourself. Either accept where you are or make a change. I chose to make a change and haven’t looked back.

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