Episode Description

When you go to a networking event, most people there are just there to build their network. They are not there to help you, listen to you, or be of service to you. This is something Jonathan Keyser noticed and the reason he founded Keyser, a commercial real estate firm that focuses on the needs of the tenants. Jonathan proves that you can be selfless and still win in commercial real estate. Serving others indeed can lead to massive success. Catch Jonathan in this interview with Scott Harkey and learn how he managed to be who and where he is today.

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Episode Transcript

I am super excited because I got my boy in the house, Jonathan Keyser, bestselling author and so much more than that. He is the ultimate connector and my guru at times when I've been down. He built his own brokerage from scratch like a true entrepreneur. He's a good guy who is here to help other people. I want to dive into some fun stuff. What's up? Welcome.

Thanks. It's good to be here.

We'll get right into it. I want to tell the first story because it's cool and a little vulnerable. We talked about this in the pre-show meeting. The story goes like this. I came to John's office a few years ago. I was in the dumps. I was in a tough situation. I was feeling low energy. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was going through a divorce. I came to Jonathan's office and sometimes the universe puts things in the perfect spot for you with somebody. We had a random meeting in your office in Scottsdale. I hadn't caught up with you for a while. It was a life-changing meeting. It was cool sometimes how God works, how the universe works. It goes like this. I get there. I'm toast. I don't have a girlfriend. I don't even know about dating. I’m at my business. I don't even know what's up. Jonathan looks at me in the eyes and the energy was intense. He's like, "You're a freaking lion." He went into this whole story about lions and about how they're the king of the jungle.

It sounds super cheesy the way I'm telling the story but at that moment, it was what exactly I needed to hear, the pep talk to be like, "Know who you are, what power you have, and why you're here on this planet to help people." I'm telling you that from one line to another. It was a halftime speech from Bill Purcell where I was so jacked after that meeting. Thank you. That moment changed my life. Fast forward, another friend of mine came into my office about a year later from that moment. He was down about his job. He was like, "I don't know if I should be in this job." I have this lion in my office. I got this lion painting from Africa because I thought it was beautiful. It's this lion looking vulnerable. My buddy was down. All of a sudden this lion speech came back to me. I was like, "Jonathan, this is the lion speech." Thank you. That's who you are. It happened. I'm just a conductor. How did you find this guru piece in you? Did it just happen? How does it happen?

A little backstory probably helps. I was raised as a Christian missionary kid. I grew up part of my life in Papua New Guinea in the middle of nowhere. My parents taught me to love, serve, give and help. We came back to the States. I was in seventh grade and I had this dramatic realization.

Where are you from originally?

We're from the States but we went to Papua New Guinea and then we came back. I had this realization that we are poor. I didn't like being poor so I made a decision at an early age that I was going to be rich.

Everyone and everything is your teacher.

How old are you?

I was eleven. I remember I was looking in the bathroom mirror and I said, "You are going to be rich someday." I pointed at myself. I got into commercial real estate because I want to be rich and people said I can be rich. As I got in, I realized this is a cutthroat industry. Everybody's scratched, clawed and fighting their way to the top. I'm like, "If this is what it takes to be successful, that's what I'm going to do," but I was miserable. I was misaligned with my core values. I wasn't happy with who I was becoming. Years ago, I go to this nondescript industry conference and this guy gets up. I remember like it was yesterday. He starts talking about this different way of doing business.

He starts talking about a way of succeeding by helping others succeed. I was like, "Come on. This guy is so full of crap." I go up to him afterwards. I'm like, "Tell me more about what you were talking about. Is that possible? Can you succeed by helping others?" He told me a story. I likened it to a lemon tree. He said, "Jonathan, what you're doing is you're hunting and I'm describing farming." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Think about you planted a tree." In my house here in Arizona, I have a lemon tree. It is a monstrosity of a tree. I get more lemons than I know what to do with them. I can't give them away fast enough but it didn't always use to be that way.

This thing was tiny. It was getting eaten by bugs. It was half dead half the time. For years, I watered it and I cared for it but then that turned into this huge tree. He said, "Think of that tree like relationships where you could pour yourself into them. You invest in them and then they yield fruit over time." It made rational sense to me. I'm like, "That makes sense." What's so weird about it is it sounded like my parents. My parents had told me to love and serve but because they were poor, I had associated love and service with being poor.

Fast forward, I decided to reinvent myself and I said, "I'm going to throw the old business plan away. I'm going to get involved in the community and I'm going to help everybody that I can." I would ask one question, “How can I help you?” At first, they’d be like, "What do you mean how can you help me? What kind of weird thing is this?" I'd be like, "I'm serious. What do you need?" They were able to ask for personal things like their kids' needed internships. I'd go to work trying to help that kid to get a job. They would say, "I'm having these struggles in business." I’d helped them in whatever way that I could.

I remember when I met you, there was something on the back of your business card. Do you still have that? Remember when you first started? What was that? What did it say? It was somewhere around helping people.

“How can I serve?”

You're serious.

I'm dead serious. It was weird at first for people but once they saw that I was legitimate and sincere, there was this whole opening that was created in the relationship. I found that through service, you break through all of these artificial walls that people erect around themselves. You go to these networking events. You sit in the networking events or you stand and everybody's like, "My name is Jonathan Keyser. I do commercial real estate." Everybody's got their pitch but the reality is they're not listening to people. They're not focused on what they can do for people. I said, "What if I slipped this around? Instead of me trying to get as much as I could, what if I tried to give as much as I could?"

Through service, you break through all the artificial walls that people built around themselves.

That's when you started Keyser?

No. There was a period of time. I did that for about 5 years, 6 years. Going back to that story, when I had that speaker that I was listening to, I asked him and I said, "This sounds a little bit too good to be true. If it is true, how come I've never heard of it? If this is so awesome where you're helping people, serving them, loving them, giving to them, why aren't more people doing it?" He said, "It's because it takes too long." I said, "What does too long mean?" He said, "4.5 to 5 years." I thought, “That's crazy. Most people aren't willing to go through a reinvention that takes 4.5 to 5 years. They’ll go broke in the process,” but that's exactly what I did. Everybody around me thought I was crazy. It took me 4.5 years pretty much on the nose. I started getting big referrals by helping.

One day I had this epiphany in a hot tub in Sedona. I'm looking at the mountains and I'm thinking of what's possible and it came to me. What if you could change business? What if you could show other people that truly this is applicable beyond just you? What if you could scale this? What if you could teach other people how to do this? I then started realizing, “I have built this selfless service model in arguably one of the most, if not the most ruthless cutthroat industries in the world. If I'm proving that you can be selfless and win in commercial real estate, where else can you do it?” I launched Keyser and now we're an Inc. 5000 company like you. My book hit number one on the Wall Street Journal list and USA Today named us The Commercial Estate Industry Disruptor. We have an extraordinary group of people. We're doing work all around the world.

How do you know it works?

I live it. I'm doing it. I do it every day. I teach people how to do it. It's this idea of what if in every interaction you focused on how you can help the person in front of you? What if that was the mindset you brought? When you showed up at my office and you were a friend already, I didn't know what state you were showing up in. I had no idea what form of service I was needed at the moment. What I knew is that anybody walking through those doors, if I'm with them, my whole intention is service. I want other people to understand that this is possible and lean in. To me, this is the greatest opportunity available to business leaders.

Do you think we're on a spiritual awakening? We're not young guys anymore but we're younger guys in an entrepreneurial world. Do you think there's a spiritual awakening happening in business? You live it. You go to these conferences and the people you connect with. Having a connected network is so important but the way you've done it and connecting with the vibrationally extraordinary people that you've connected with, do you think we're on the frontend of this spiritual awakening happening?

I do. Beginnings and transitions are messy. There are a lot of people throwing up their hands and going, "The world is ending." The world is not ending. We're in a state of transition and there's good news on the other side of this. As hard as that is for a lot of people to see, I can see it. There is an awakening coming. It's not fun to go through that transition but there is a new level of awareness that's coming to the world. Everything goes in cycles but there's a new awareness coming to our world that is going to be truly transformative, I believe.

There had been so many funny stories that I've experienced with you and I appreciate about you. Anything from brainwave things we put on our heads to crazy Sedona experiences that you and I both talked about or the power of mentorship. There are so many things. We think about mentors as this specific thing. No, you learn from everybody. I've learned so much from you. Being able to take those bits and pieces of that knowledge and that curiosity that we both share about life, how do we expand our minds, how do we go to the next level in terms of performance and almost scare ourselves. Do you think people are built like that? Do they make a decision like that? Can they be coached and trained into that?

You can't train desire. Desire is the fundamental element where you have to want it.

Being of service is the greatest opportunity available to business leaders today.

That's been my experience. To me, that ability to emotionally desire something then performance happens. A lot of times we think performance happens first. I'm a firm believer, maybe some of its marketing. I know that emotionally something clicks where you want it so bad or you are so tired of another result that you've had. I've had that experience. I'm like, "Screw this. I am done doing this. I'm making a change for this."

Sometimes it's the impetus you need. Sometimes the impetus is something you need so bad. I look at my situation. I would not have had the interest in launching my own firm and all that's involved with that if I hadn't have had an experience that caused me to feel like that's what I needed to do. That's what I mean by transitions are messy. Just because it's not fun at the moment, it does not mean it's not good. Change is painful. Change is necessary. You talked about mentorship. I am merely an amalgamation of amazing mentors. I am standing on the shoulders of giants and that is 100% true for me, having extraordinary coaches.

You're the one that got me strongly considering a coach, which I now have a coach. It's insane.

There's nothing like it. The idea that we're supposed to be out foraging alone is crazy. It's not rational.

We're so used to coaches in every aspect of life whether it's baseball coaches, basketball coaches. Our kids have coaches. We have teachers. We have coaches in business yet we don't have these life coaches. You pay them. You taught me that. I was like, “Oh shit.” I then started talking to other people that had coaches. I was like, "This is a real thing."

There's accountability with it. There's the ability for someone to speak authentically into your world and to help you see what you can't see. For me, I always thought of myself as my foot's always moving. I'm trying for this show to hold it still. I'm a super high-energy guy. I'm like a racehorse. When you have somebody that's a performer that is constantly driving on something, your biggest impediment is between the ears. You keep this on right. You keep this on straight. You manage the stress that is possible when you're not thinking right.

When this thing is working right, I am ultimately powerful. When this thing gets off, I'm still ultimately powerful. I'm just doing the wrong things. I'm using it to destroy, to hurt, to do things that are not productive for my future or the people around me. Part of what makes having a coach so powerful is I call it keeping between the rails. Remind me of where I'm supposed to be going. I could be running 100 miles an hour in the wrong direction. That's not helping anybody. I might be going fast but it's not helping anybody.

At 25, if we could go back or any other 25-year-olds out there starting their career and they're thinking about this shift that you and I have had in our careers, for me, it happened in a destructive way. For others, I've seen it happen in all sorts of different ways. Mostly it's this emotional declaration for something different and desire to be better than where we are now. What do we go back to? What do you go back and tell 25-year-old you or a current 25-year-old?

There's so much wisdom out there. One of the things that helped me was being a student. One of my I am statement is, “Everyone and everything is my teacher.” I look to everyone. Most people once they get to a certain level of success, they think, "I got it all figured out. I already know that." Even if you do, the mind says, "Where is the one piece that I missed?" My coach is a huge fan of various disciplines on the mind like Byron Katie. He'll go to a meeting that he has been in 1,000 times. I'm not exaggerating with thousand. He'll sit in the front row, listening to the same thing he's heard 1,000 times before and looking for that one nugget he missed before. That's Steve. That's the mind. The mind is not listening to something as if you already know. That's number one. Number two would be to never be afraid. Do not ever imagine yourself as anything other than you want to be. The most destructive thing we could do is imagine ourselves too small. One of the greatest things my coach helped me see is that there's a lot more possible than my mind was tricking me into believing. I'm limitless and fearless. I don't mean that in an arrogant way.

Do you visualize it as I visualized it? My coach talks about a fully actualized person. Not that I'm there. I put this on another video before. I'm this ninja dude. I'm thinking about it. I'm karate-kicking shit. Every action is the pursuit of that greatness. Do you visualize it? Do you have vision boards? I know your I am statements. You told me about the I am statements, how powerful those are and the positivity of what it does.

Everybody can do it. There are a million rows to run. It's not like there's one right way, the way that I do it. Think and Grow Rich talks about all of it. This is wisdom from the ages. This is not like, "Jonathan Keyser come up with this idea." My very first I am was, “I am pure service.” My wife at the time laughed. She goes, "You were the farthest thing from pure service." I said, "I know but I want to be." It's creating in the present moment a future thing. I do that with my kids. I love the fact that I'm twenty minutes away from the kids' school because every morning we have a routine. We do our breathwork. We do our family I ams. Each kid personally creates their future. We go around and we do what we're grateful for. We go around and we'd send blessings to people, particularly the people you don't like that much. That's who you send the most blessings to. We end with like, "Remember who you are."

Imagine what that's like for a kid getting out of a car, walking into the world. Why would we have our kids doing that and us not do it? There's a decision about who you are. That can be constantly upgraded. Mine is simple. I could go through all of them but I won't spread it. I begin with, "I am JK." That's what everyone calls me, by the way. "Who I am is far more real than anything outside of me." That means I decide who I am, nobody else. Somebody says, "You suck. You're a loser. You're this. You're that." I respect your opinion. I can probably find some truth in that but let me tell you who I am. I'm the best ever was and forever will be. That's not cocky. I'm not saying that like I'm better than Scott. I'm saying the place that I come from is there is nobody that is going to be a better Jonathan Keyser than Jonathan Keyser. There's nobody. Everybody's trying to be somebody else. I just want to be the best me and the best me is me being me. Nobody can do it as good as me.

Transitioning is messy, but just because it's not fun at the moment does not mean it's not good. Change is painful but it is necessary.

That's the problem with comparisism and even gurus out there that use modeling. It doesn't work because we're all individual DNA creatures.

I used to hear as a kid, "You can do anything you want, Jonathan." I used to think it was bull crap. No, it's not but it all starts here. You have to believe that it's possible. It's about the discipline to do the things that are necessary. My coach likes to say, "There are a lot of people that come into my office and say, I'd love to have abs like you." He goes, "No, you wouldn't because with abs like me, you have to eat as I eat. You have to get up and do 1,000 crunches every morning. You don't want them. You say you want them but you don't want them." It's like athletes. Do you want to be a good athlete? It's not all glamorous. You didn't just pop out of the womb like Michael Jordan. You have to be the most disciplined person towards the goal believing they could get there and not giving up.

I've been okay with it more. I'll put a goal out there. I'll get through the process and be like, "I'm not enjoying this." There are other goals that I'm going to enjoy. It's going to be worth the emotional pain and process. What I love about my career is I love what I do. The process is fun. It's finding those avenues for the process to be fun. I've had so many other stupid things. I'm going to like race mountain bikes then I was like, "Nah." I love mountain biking but to be a mountain bike racer, you're going to take X amount of time, X amount of training. When I start measuring that out, I'm like, "Nah."

I would think about it like this. This is an acknowledgment of you. The difference between an acknowledgment and a compliment is that a compliment is what you say to make somebody feel good. I'm not saying this to make you feel good. I'm saying this as a true acknowledgment of something I've seen in your character. An acknowledgment of you is one of the secrets that I believe is key to an extraordinary life is positivity. That doesn't mean fake positivity but that means positivity. It's looking in the negative for the positive. When the worst possible thing that could happen, you're saying, "What are three positive things that can come out of this?"

I remember I've had multiple conversations with you where I'm like, "How are you feeling about that?" You're like, "It's great." You were sincere about it. The key is having this mindset that no matter what, I believe that everything that happens outside of you is neutral. You, as the owner of your own being and me as the owner of my own being, get to decide what that means to us. What most people do is create pain. They go, "That means I suck, it's hard, life is unfair, I'm unlovable." What if that's just a neutral thing and you go, "That is the coolest thing that ever happened to me. I don't know why yet it doesn't feel fun."

I think of the Eckhart Tolle stuff when I dove into it, I was like, "This makes sense to me." I need to check out Byron Katie.

Her whole thing is loving what is. She's like this transcendent soul. She woke up one day in a halfway house a different person. She realized that the only thing that was causing her pain in her life was her thoughts and her believing her thoughts. She went on this journey to question her own thoughts. When she questioned them, she realized that as much as was true that she believed was true was as true on the other side of it. In other words, it was as much not true as it was true. She was torturing herself with thoughts that were cyclical.

She is this person where if you listened to her work and she has a very simple process, it's to ask yourself four questions. Is in that moment, are you in acceptance, or are you in resistance to what is happening outside of you? If you're in acceptance, it doesn't disempower you like I used to think. It's not like, "I have to accept it so that means my life's going to suck." It means you're not beating yourself up. You're not creating pain. You're not creating misery. From a clear head, you can make decisions. What if no matter what happened in your life, you took it as a gift? I did this 30-Day Everything is a Gift Challenge in my company and it changed everything.

I remember we were on a trip one time. We were on a Fiesta Bowl trip. One of your guys recorded his own voice on his phone doing I am statements. I'm like, “This is insane but this shit works.”

It works because the mind is open to persuasion and it's the most persuadable by your own voice. When I'm doing my I ams in the morning, I'm visualizing what those are, imagining myself in that future state, feeling the emotion of what it feels like to be in that future state, which is a discipline. It's like, "Do you like to work out?" "No, but I do it anyway." "I love to work out so do you." There's the discipline of investing in yourself. This is what I would tell any 25-year-old. Investing in yourself is the best thing you could ever do. The more I upgrade this, the more I'm able to do, the more I can see, the more I understand, and the more I can serve.

The whole message in my book is a true joy. This is the squishy stuff so I'm going to go squishy on you. When my life was all about myself, I was miserable. It was a constant journey to make myself happier. It's like chasing the carrot. You never can quite get it, but when you turn around and you spend your time loving on others, you spend your time trying to help others, what I've created is this extraordinary organization. My firm does commercial real estate. We're commercial real estate brokers. It does not seem like a normal commercial real estate conversation. Everything that we do, we're a referral-only company. How in the world does that work? Everywhere we go, our people are trying to love others. We're trying to serve them. We're trying to meet the needs that they have. Why do we withhold the good we could do for others? Why we're withholding from ourselves?

You can't train desire. Desire is a fundamental element. You have to want something to get it.

What great marketing. As a marketing person, I love that. Help people and have a long-term approach. Play the long game in your brand. At 1:00 AM, the bar is closing and Kamikaze is trying to get all these leads. That's not how you ask a girl out. That's not how you build credibility. That's not how you build a brand. That's not how you become an amazing person. That's marketing in a weird way.

Not even in a weird way. That's what I talk about. I took everything that I've learned and said, "How do others replicate?" I put it in this book. With it hitting number one, I'm being asked to speak all across the country. We're launching an institute to train, empower and ultimately certify the next generation of selfless leaders but it all comes back to this idea of, "I believe it's selfish to be selfless." I believe that the more you serve, the more you get. I believe you cannot out-give the universe. It's like what an amazing gig. I love others. I experienced the joy of doing it. They experienced the joy of receiving it. If and when they decide to say, "That guy was so nice to me. I'll help him back," it becomes this cycle of everybody helping each other win versus everybody trying to compete against each other. It’s not a zero-sum game. That's what I'm trying to teach the world. It's like, "If I can do it in commercial real estate brokerage, anybody can do it."

I can't wait to dive into the book. I know you and I have talked about it before. I know how long it took you to write this. You put your heart and soul into it. To close this up, I know we went way deep. I knew we would. We're not going to be able to help ourselves. We're into this crazy stuff. There's not one business person out there that's not talking about the market. What's the future of the office lease? I think about it. You helped us get 50,000 square feet or something. They're like, "What's work from home?" What do you see the market doing? How do you see the economy? You're an economist for us. Play out as business people, what we should be thinking about.

First of all, this is a topic that I could spend a lot of time on but at a high level, real estate tends to lag. For those who don't know, my firm represents the tenants, the occupiers of space. It's a heavily conflicted industry so we're trying to bring transparency and true advocacy to that industry. I'm coming from the perspective of a tenant, of an occupier, someone who uses space for their business. If you're looking at what most companies are doing, they're going to a hybrid model, which is not new information. Everybody knows that.

As a result, what they're doing is giving back between 30% and 40% on average of the office space that they're occupying. If you think about that happening across the country, that's a significant giveback of space. If you look at all the indicators, sublease space is up 60%. It's 200 million square feet nationally. If you go back to the beginning of the pandemic, one, we had a hot roaring market then March of 2020. Usually, you'll see a real estate downturn because it lags the general economy 6 to 9 months after you see a traditional downturn. This is a little bit different circumstances because you had PPP that extended the people's ability to pay their rent.

You now got trillions of dollars being flooded into the system. It's pushing back this downturn that's inevitable. There's a lot of mitigating forces even without people re-imagining their office space and taking 60% of what they used to. There's still a downturn. All the indicators are there. We monitor all the different pieces by looking at the amount of mortgage-backed securities that are on watch lists. There is a significant amount of pain. We're projecting between 20% and 30% decrease normalized, averaged across the country over the next months. It's going to be an amazing time to be a tenant.

It's time to buy.

Not yet but it's common. I would say somewhere within the next months because there are opportunities in packets. It's not like an aggregate.

Investing in yourself is the best thing you could ever do. The more you upgrade yourself, the more you're able to do.

Also, subleasing potentially now.

Do short-term stuff. Get extensions. Don't spend a lot of money. Wait until the opportunity is and then strike.

Is residential going to be part of that game?

I'm not a residential guy. Residential is nutty but if you look at the fundamentals, there's a lot of conjecture out there. I look at the data. The fundamentals under commercial real estate have significant red flags. People ask me all the time, "Are people going to still use offices?" Yes. There's already this emotional pain of people say, "We got to get back together." It's the spiking of mental illness because of people being isolated. It's going to be more flexible. It's not going to be 8:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday. It's going to be people coming in and out. Designing spaces differently is also a thing we're going to see a lot of.

I love having you on. We could talk forever. Hit us up. We'll give some books away. Thank you, Jonathan Keyser. Follow Jonathan and the Keyser company in all his social channels. Look for him out public speaking. If you have any questions, send us a link, send us a DM. I'm happy to hear from you. Thanks.

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Scott Harkey

Entrepreneur & Podcaster

Scott leads a stable of marketing agencies and services offering the world's biggest brands speed, value and results. OH is an independent agency built to serve today's brands through consumer-centric marketing and strategy.