Eugene Gershman’s Entrepreneurial Journey in Real Estate From Russia to Seattle

Episode Transcription

Glenn Harper [00:00:00]:

Hello again, everybody. Another edition of Empowering Entrepreneurs Podcast. I’m Glenn Harper.

Julie Smith [00:00:05]:

Julie Smith.

Glenn Harper [00:00:06]:

How’s it going today?

Julie Smith [00:00:07]:

Sounds like you’re a little tongue tied today.

Glenn Harper [00:00:08]:

I am. I don’t know what the deal is, but the coffee should kick kick any minute. I see you’re back on the Starbucks.

Julie Smith [00:00:14]:

I am, but I you know, just this is the first one out of the week, so I’m doing well.

Glenn Harper [00:00:17]:

What is today? Thursday? That’s great. Well, we’ve got a great show lined up for you today. We’ve got a an incredible guest. I’m gonna do my best on this introduction, and then, our man here is gonna tell us if we’d nailed it or not. I’d like to introduce Eugene Gershman, A real real estate aficionado. If it involves real estate, he wants to explore and execute on it. He’s the CEO of GIS Development and GIS Residential Construction. The companies do design, construction, development of real estate projects.

Glenn Harper [00:00:44]:

A typical success story, LOL, he joined the family business and made it better. He’s an obsessed entrepreneur that thrives on helping other construction companies become successful. Thanks, Eugene, for being on the show.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:00:55]:

Thank you. Pleasure being here.

Glenn Harper [00:00:57]:

How’d we do on that intro? Does that sum up your life in a 2 senses or less?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:01:01]:

Pretty much. Pretty much. So, after that, I guess we’re done.

Glenn Harper [00:01:04]:

Yep. That’s it. Oh, I’ve got we’ve got questions. We got lots of questions. No. We we appreciate I’d like to stalk our guests a little bit. And, It rumor has it that you’re from Seattle, Washington and where you regularly skulk on the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Is there any truth to that rumor?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:01:24]:

You know, haven’t been to Strace Juan de Fuca in a while, but, yes. Visited there. Is are you close

Glenn Harper [00:01:30]:

to that?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:01:32]:

I mean, last time we, traveled through the waters, was a couple years ago going up to, Victoria, BC. But, yeah. No. Mostly east, east side of Seattle.

Glenn Harper [00:01:46]:

K.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:01:47]:

Bellevue, Redmond, It’s, it’s where we’re based. Our projects are ranging, all pretty much all over the metro area. Recently mostly down south in the south end of, Seattle.

Glenn Harper [00:02:01]:

And and Seattle’s got its own ecosystem. It’s just a a very interesting place For people who aren’t from Seattle, we have a hard time understanding the allure of it. But everybody I know that’s ever been there say it’s beautiful. The weather’s kinda whatever, but it’s just got this own ecosystem. Have you lived there your whole life, or did you move there? You did you go back and leave somewhere and come back to it?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:02:20]:

It feels like I’ve been here my whole life. Definitely more than half My life. I was actually born and raised, in Moscow, Russia and finished high school there and then moved here to, go to college and state.

Julie Smith [00:02:33]:

Well, I’m gonna say that Glenn’s gonna fail his stalking class because,

Glenn Harper [00:02:40]:

because one of the things is that he is it says he has a second language of Russian. I was like, well, how did that come about? Well, that explains it all. So, again, intriguing. When you moved here, did did your parents were here too? Everybody moved or just you?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:02:53]:

I moved with my parents. K. Some family, was already here, so that’s why we Joe’s Seattle just because my aunt and uncle is already here. And, but, yeah, it’s, recently, you know, in the last Couple years due to politics. I don’t like talking about it just because people get all, you know, political about it, but, you know, truth is truth.

Glenn Harper [00:03:14]:

You know, it’s it’s great because, you know, one of the probably the hardest things that’s come to the country at your age is probably assimilating to the language and culture and all those things. It had to be so different, Buddy, I could I would never known that because you can’t tell on your accent. That’s that’s awesome. Was it hard to get rid of your accent?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:03:30]:

I I feel I still have some, you know, maybe Maybe before I wake up. Well, you know, that’s why I’m working on my coffee. But, Yeah. I don’t know. I started learning English when I was, what, 8, I think. Just, you know, taking, like, second language in school. By the time I graduated high school, I could Pretty much understand most things. Then I came to America and, started talking to people, and I’m like, holy crap.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:03:54]:

I don’t understand anything that people are saying.

Glenn Harper [00:03:56]:

Oh my gosh.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:03:56]:

Like, this is not the language that they taught us. So, you know, yeah, it took some took some time took some time to get used to the accent and,

Glenn Harper [00:04:04]:

Like

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:04:04]:

some practice.

Glenn Harper [00:04:05]:

I’m telling you the the context and the inflection and the slang would has to be impossible because you probably learned it the proper way, and then you come over here and it we don’t talk like It’s gotta be fun.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:04:15]:

I mean, starting from words like awesome that they don’t teach you in a, you know, second language class. Like, what is that? You know, my 1st experience in admissions office at, University of Washington here, I asked a question, and the gal goes, how come? Like, what does that mean? I understand the words, but what does that mean?

Glenn Harper [00:04:38]:

So, you know, what we always try to figure out is how people get where they You got there. And, again, I’m gonna be jumped. That’s that’s a few questions down the road. But did your did your parents like, what made them decide that they wanted to come to America because your aunt or they just They had an opportunity because what year would that have been when you came here?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:04:56]:

Oh, it was mid nineties. We moved to 96.

Glenn Harper [00:04:58]:

96. Wow.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:05:00]:

Yeah. Early to mid nineties was a very difficult time back there. So, a lot of our family have, been moving, out of, the country. Some went to Israel. Some moved to, the US. We have a lot of family in Boston. This part of the fam family ended up in Seattle, so We chose Seattle.

Glenn Harper [00:05:19]:

Funny how you end up there. And then did your parents what was their when they came here, did they have work right away? Or how you just obviously started college when you came here. Right? But did they they started their company. I guess that was the the whole, GIS they started that, your dad?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:05:33]:

Well, so yeah. He started GIS back in Russia back in, 90 2. So he that business is still alive, somewhat. But, so he kept It’s going back and forth. I mean, we bought a few properties here, along the way. And, yeah, when I got done with college, I was like, no. I don’t wanna do that. Don’t wanna do construct.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:05:55]:

He was a contractor. K. He wasn’t so much a developer. He was a contractor. I had a lot of interesting projects, that I kinda grew up, following. But, yeah. No. I got done with college, and I’m like, no.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:06:08]:

I don’t wanna go into construction. It’s too messy. It’s too stressful. I’m gonna go into finance because it wasn’t stressful.

Glenn Harper [00:06:15]:

Did you did you work in construction while through college? Did you did you then employ on projects and things like that or no?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:06:22]:

No. No. Not officially. I mean, I was, kind of sitting in meetings all the time. You know, my summer’s Breaks. I would be involved in just helping out, you know, looking over, I don’t know, Excel sheets, looking over the documents, So, you know, sorting papers. So I was kind of always in the mix. I knew what was going on.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:06:42]:

I knew, the process. I knew all the people, but not formally.

Glenn Harper [00:06:48]:

You weren’t, like, labor. You know, like, schlepping concrete and running pulling wires and stuff. So he at that point, he was not he was more like a He had the subs doing all that, and he kept you on this side of the business side of it.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:06:59]:

Right. Exactly. Yeah. The clean side.

Glenn Harper [00:07:01]:

Yeah. Which is Good and bad. Right? There’s a lot of satisfaction breaking down stuff and building stuff, but at the same time, it breaks the body down. Right? I mean,

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:07:09]:

It it truly does. Yeah. It truly does.

Glenn Harper [00:07:12]:

You know, it’s, the the family business that and, you know, when I’m looking at your bio here and and And you go to University of Washington and you’re like, here you are. You’re studying English. You’re doing what you do in Russia. You moved to Seattle, and, like, I am gonna go to University of Washington. I’m gonna do econ. How do you pick econ?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:07:28]:

I didn’t get into business school.

Glenn Harper [00:07:31]:

That because I’m like, no rational person thinks of that unless they’re gonna work for the government or university. So, like, how did you pick it? Yeah.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:07:38]:

You know, at the time, it’s funny. I, usually don’t say that, but I figured I’ll be honest this morning. Excellent. Right? So I, few years ago, read a book. I forget the name of it. But, he was talking about, just broad education and, good foundational background. And, this at economics was actually one of the best, degrees college degrees that gives you the broadest, foundation for whatever you wanna do in life. And, of course, at the time, I didn’t think about that.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:08:13]:

At the time, I really didn’t know what I wanted To do I actually started out pursuing, computer science, and, I took a bunch of math classes, physics classes, early, computer science. And I think my, CS second left side, finished the Q1 then started taking Q2 of, programming, And that broke me. I, was sitting there writing some code for

Glenn Harper [00:08:40]:

God.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:08:40]:

I don’t know, 2 nights straight. And then, after 2nd all nighter, I’m like, this is stupid. I found the miss the code wasn’t working. I couldn’t, couldn’t see why, and it wasn’t working because I missed the comma or some Something, you know

Glenn Harper [00:08:53]:

20,000 pages prior before. Right?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:08:55]:

Yeah. Exactly. And I’m like, this isn’t for me. This is too tedious. I I see the big picture. I like solving problems, but sitting here writing code is just not for me. So I, didn’t pursue computer science, started applying. Figured I’d apply to business school, and, UW actually had a separate admission process to their business school.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:09:17]:

And so, at the time, English was my weakest spot. I mean, I I was fine, in math, but, writing essays and Explaining what I wanted to do wasn’t, you know, wasn’t for me. So, didn’t get enough scores to, get into business school, and, school Economics wasn’t part of the business school. So I’m like, okay. Yeah. Well, that’s close enough. So that’s, that’s how I got it with a ended up with a degree in econ. And then I ended up going back, few years later and got my MBA, got into foster.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:09:51]:

Actually, took an evening program. I continued working full time, for the small investment firm, here in Bellevue. And, yeah. I got my MBA. So, in the at the end, I’m like, that was actually the best decision. I’m glad I didn’t get, didn’t get an undergrad business, because MBA is so much more useful.

Glenn Harper [00:10:10]:

You’re speaking Julie’s language. I think you did something like that. Right?

Julie Smith [00:10:13]:

Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, when you go through something like that, you get so much real world experience from your peers. And it’s not necessarily the textbook learning that everybody talks about right. Like, it’s

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:10:24]:

Right.

Julie Smith [00:10:24]:

Oh, wow. You just went through that same situation that I’m dealing with wherever you may be, and taking just little nuggets from everybody and, helps to really build who you are and where you wanna go.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:10:35]:

Exactly. Exactly.

Glenn Harper [00:10:37]:

Yeah. I couldn’t I I I don’t even know how I made it to college, and the thought of going back For something else, I was like I’m like, I just gotta do the CPA test, and that was brutal enough. And I’m like, I’m so glad I’m done, and it’s a lot. That’s what Julie does. She takes care of those those operational type things. So that’s been wonderful.

Julie Smith [00:10:53]:

So when you got your MBA, what was your goal with that? What did you see yourself doing?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:11:00]:

While so my admission, essay, I was talking about Launching a new, broker dealer firm. So that was still, we were still in the hangover of, the .coms. I started in, what, 2001, I think. Yeah. The market just crashed.

Glenn Harper [00:11:20]:

Mhmm.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:11:21]:

And, half of our, students because I was in the evening program, how far students lost their jobs and started taking up a bunch of, day classes so that they could At least graduate earlier, since I didn’t have a job. But anyway, my admission essay, I wanted to start a new, type of a broker dealer. I’ve wanted to create some new efficient and computerized, trading and investing platform, and it all sounded great. Yeah. I was thinking like this like a tech startup, here in Seattle. And, during my last year of, MBA, My, dad calls me, and he has and he goes, so there’s a project I got introduced to. It’s, all the way in, Hungary, in Budapest. He goes, there’s an investment opportunity, that I’m thinking of investing, but also, there’s an opportunity for us to set up a, branch of our construction office.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:12:16]:

I’m like, okay. Well, that sounds cool. He goes, they send me this, huge stack of, Financial documents, projections, and they’re all in English. He goes, do you mind taking a look at it and let me know what you think? So he sends me the stack of papers. I look at them, Calling back. I’m like, yeah. You know? On the surface, at least from what I’m seeing, it, really looks like an attractive project. Yeah.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:12:40]:

So that’s cool. So I’m flying over there next week, to meet with these potential partners. He was, do you mind joining me? Just helped me out in the meeting. And there’s a group of partners, some spoke Russian, some spoke English, some spoke Hungarian. And so there’s, there could potentially be a language barrier. My dad speaks good English, but, not as good as mine. So He asked me to join him for a meeting. I’m like, okay.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:13:04]:

Sure. That’s fine. I’ll fly out to, Hungary. Someone meeting after another meeting, after another set of documents, So he’s getting closer to making decision to invest into the project, and then he calls me. He goes, so I think I’m gonna do it. He goes, we’re gonna need to set up an office there. He goes, if only I had somebody I could trust.

Glenn Harper [00:13:24]:

Not enough o’s and smooth. Your dad’s smooth. God love them. I was wondering how this happened. Keep going.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:13:31]:

And so I’m like, okay. Okay. I suppose I could go. I still have 1 quarter left, It’s, at your dub. And I’m trying to remember what I did. I think I took an extra class, Before, during the fall quarter so that I could and then I took an online class. I I forget the details. But, anyway, I was able to, get out about 4 months before the program was done.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:13:56]:

I got enough credits, got on a plane, that was, It’s, what, January or February 2003 and or 2004, and, he ended up in, Budapest. Country that speaks absolutely Nothing. Crazy language. It has nothing in common with any other languages that I knew. And, but it was kind of a cool experience. Fun city, a lot of history there. And, Yeah. That’s how I joined family business.

Julie Smith [00:14:27]:

So how did you navigate that, obviously, communication barrier?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:14:32]:

You know, it’s interesting. So Hungary because it was, part of the, you know, old communist block for so many years. A lot of older people spoke Russian, and then, most younger people would speak English.

Julie Smith [00:14:46]:

Okay.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:14:46]:

So between English and Russian, I was able to navigate, over there, all of our partners, they spoke English, so that was easy. The staff that we hired, we brought, brought in a guy from Russia, one of our construction managers, to move over there, and then we hired a couple of other, Russian speaking, people In Budapest, and that’s how we set up the office. But, yeah, navigating around the country. It was funny. People from, like, mid thirties to mid forties, that was the hardest because they didn’t speak any other foreign language. But anybody, younger than that or older than that wasn’t a problem.

Glenn Harper [00:15:20]:

Did you find because, you know, Of the you know, how the politics were in the region for the prior 40, 50 years and then it changed, was there any hostility towards you as being Russian, Or have you guys compensated that because you’ve already been an American and came back? And, like, were you associated in a negative context? Because I feel like that would be a huge barrier to try to overcome, You know, on probably old school. Right? The younger people probably were, like, whatever. But the old school, was that was that a thing?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:15:48]:

Sometimes. I mean, not, I didn’t experience it at work.

Glenn Harper [00:15:53]:

K.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:15:54]:

Socially, sometimes, you know, you go out to, I don’t know, A store restaurant and, trying to figure out what language to speak. Usually, default for us would be English, when we try to speak to, people outside, most restaurants, like servers, would speak English, so that’s always the default, but sometimes we’d have to switch to Russian. We get, you know, some comments in Hungarian that wouldn’t understand it. By by the, look in their in their eyes probably weren’t very positive.

Glenn Harper [00:16:24]:

Yeah. You can’t walk in and say, hey. We’re from Russia. We’re here to help. You can’t really say that. Have to say it in a different way, and then that would probably but, again, that’s the cool thing about the, human experience. And what’s great about, like, the American experience is that Once you can break down the barrier, everybody really they’re human. They just wanna work together.

Glenn Harper [00:16:42]:

Right? And they just wanna get good projects. And back to your getting sucked in with your with your dad, I mean, That’s genius because family businesses are brutal. Right? Like, it it’s not your 1st choice because you watch what he had to go through. But, Again, how do you trust the right person and you go do it, and then you were they had great opportunity to be able to go do that thing. How long did you stay over there for? Little under a year. K.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:17:05]:

So we moved there in February, came back in December. The project actually never happened. Why? Due to due due to local politics, It’s, the, partners were never able to get the building permit. When we moved, the the permit was imminent, and then it was a very cool site, historical reconstruction of historical sites. So there was federal government involved and local government involved and,

Glenn Harper [00:17:31]:

We didn’t know who’d get the kickback to. That’s how I know how

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:17:33]:

that works. It’s the hardest part. Exactly. Somehow, there there was a contract with the federal government. There was supposed to be a permit from, the local municipality and, in, for some reason that never came to be. So we moved back. Our partners were actually in litigation with the the government there for many years. They ended up winning

Julie Smith [00:17:56]:

the case.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:17:56]:

It took about, I don’t know, almost 10 years to win. Lawyers got paid well. Always. We got we we got paid a little bit. But,

Glenn Harper [00:18:06]:

Is it a safe assumption to say that your dad was you know, when you’re an entrepreneur, you’re kinda either doing business or building a business. Is it safe to say that your dad recognized that he Probably doing business, and he needed to convert to be that entrepreneurial and be running a business where he’s an investor not out there grinding things out. And he recognized that you probably acquired that skill set with your MBA program and and drop of a hat running to Raymond and doing that for him. You think he saw the potential in you to say, hey. You could turn this company into something amazing, or did he already have the amazing company and you were just added on to that?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:18:43]:

He had a pretty good company. He, he was, still is very entrepreneurial. Whenever he sees possible opportunities, It’s, he jumps into them. You know, a lot of times we have to, you know, kind of Mhmm. Slow him down. Like, hang on. Let’s figure it out. Let’s see how it’s done.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:19:02]:

But, yeah, I mean, a number of years ago, Probably about 20 years ago, he shifted from, just actively running every single operations. Because at that by then, He already had a manufacturing facility. He had, an architectural firm, design firm. He had, several construction divisions, and, he recognized that he can’t be running them all. So, he started bringing in people, to specifically operate. And, yeah, with my MBA, I’m sure he recognized that, now, of course, knowing what I know now, I would have never hired myself. Who who hires a kid straight out of college to run a new division? That’s just stupid.

Glenn Harper [00:19:42]:

It’s potential.

Julie Smith [00:19:43]:

It’s potential. Hungry, I’m sure, forced, you know, to learn, to figure it out. And sometimes I think the further you’re out of school or the older you get, right, you kinda lose a little bit of that. So So you’re in Hungary. Nothing’s happening. So you come back. Now what?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:20:02]:

So before I came back, he bought a property, here in Bellevue, and I kinda started, Evaluated it, running some numbers while we’re still in Hungary, to see if we could develop a project here. It was a partnership, with, another gentleman, property owner. The Initial ideas where it was a small piece of land, about, 45 100 square feet, downtown Bellevue, which was a Growing, suburb of Seattle, with a few high rises. We started looking at what we could build there. It was zoned for mixed use residential, so we’re like, well, we know residential. We could probably Develop something. So when the project got canceled and hungry, I packed up, moved back, and, jumped, right into this deal. You know, we hired an architect.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:21:04]:

We, ran an appraisal. We, Hired all the surveyors and, you know, started going with the development process. Now I’ve never done that before. I, since my focus was always on finance, I was pretty good with Excel, and, was running all the projections. And, so the way we started the business is, My business here is by, just hiring a bunch of consultants.

Glenn Harper [00:21:30]:

Mhmm.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:21:30]:

So we had a ton of consultants, that we’ve engaged, and That was our 1st project.

Julie Smith [00:21:39]:

We Had you come to terms that you’re probably not doing what your admissions SA was on in your MBA, or were you still holding on to that?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:21:48]:

Oh, no. I forgot about it.

Julie Smith [00:21:49]:

Okay. I love that one.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:21:52]:

That, well, I mean, So that was remember, that was I wrote that while while we were still kind of, on the rise. It was the year 2000. The market was Just soft, but it didn’t quite crash. It was before 911. Right. So .coms were at the peak, so that’s when I wrote the essay. When I got into the program, that’s when the world ended, effect effectively for that period of time. So, The whole tech revolution, was abandoned, and, I, I mean, I still thought that I’d stay in financial Services.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:22:31]:

So yeah. No. After a year in Hungary and after kinda, working with, my father for a while, It just seemed like that would be the thing that I’d stay here to do. Well and besides, things were stacked up for me So that, when I came back, there’s already a project waiting, and I couldn’t just say, no, I’m not gonna run it. You know, since there’s a project, We we gotta figure out how to get it built.

Glenn Harper [00:22:56]:

I think that,

Julie Smith [00:22:57]:

I think your dad’s smarter than

Glenn Harper [00:22:59]:

we. Yes. He’s he’s genius. But But to that point, I think the the key thing where is you know, as an entrepreneur and trying to grow and do what needs to be done, it’s so hard to trust somebody And hand it off and and know that they’re gonna get it done. And that’s, you know, that’s in every place in the world. But in you know, I would imagine in Russian culture, it’s hard to trust people. Right? In here, it’s hard to trust people in America. And Knowing that, you know, you’re there as an you know, you came over.

Glenn Harper [00:23:28]:

You’re not plugged in as much as you would wanna be for him to be able to trust you, And then you had to then go and give other people trust you. I mean, that’s that’s hard to do, but he knew that you could do that, and and that was a lot to have him give up that control for you. And And guess what? You didn’t shirk from it. You just jumped in and said, I got it, which is very important.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:23:47]:

Honestly, the hardest part, I was in my, what, mid twenties. Mhmm. Running a business, walking into all these professional offices to look at you like a kid. Like, what are you doing here?

Glenn Harper [00:23:56]:

What’s he know?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:23:57]:

You you you wanna design a A building, a tower, and, like, come on. Get out of here. So that that was the hardest thing to overcome. You know, the

Glenn Harper [00:24:06]:

Stereotype?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:24:07]:

The the the the biggest lesson from, that, from that time of my father’s is like, look. All you gotta do is dress to impress. You know, put up a suit and, walk in there and, talk about what you know and ask questions. And so that’s, I mean, that’s what I used to do. I’ll look at the Just from, you know, mid 2000. I’m, wearing a suit. I’m here in Seattle. Right? Nobody’s dressed up.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:24:31]:

Suit. Yeah. And, Yeah. I had my, pseudo sports coat and,

Glenn Harper [00:24:37]:

When do you think you know, so to do that, it, As an entrepreneur, you’re you it takes a bit of a swag to have that. Is that swag something you had just because of how you grew up, because of the transition Over to Seattle, the transition back to Romania, the transition back over here. When did you develop the confidence to just say, look, I the answer is yes. I’ll figure it out later. How how did you when did that hit you? Like, you’re like, I am the man. I belong here. I can do this. When did that happen?

Julie Smith [00:25:05]:

Maybe he was born with it.

Glenn Harper [00:25:06]:

That’s what I’m wondering. That’s because some people are and some people aren’t. Right?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:25:10]:

No. I mean, it’s a it’s a good question. I I don’t know how to answer that. I think, maybe I was born with it. I think going back I was, like, in my, what, teens, when we got our 1st computer, and I was messing around with it, like, Playing video games, you know, whatever, basic video games we had. And, my family was like, look. At least learn how to, like, operate that thing. I’m like, well, how do I learn this? And nobody knew how to do we didn’t have books on how to figure out computers, right, what they do, or how to write code, or how to even just Use basic, software, and, my way of learning was just clicking buttons and see what happens.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:25:54]:

I figured I shouldn’t be able to break it that easily. So, so that was that’s always been my way of learning. It’s just To, you know, click a button, see what happens, and, expect that I don’t know anything.

Glenn Harper [00:26:08]:

So you’re curious.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:26:10]:

Right. And to this day, my expectation is I don’t know anything. You know, just, go in and start figuring it out.

Glenn Harper [00:26:18]:

So that’s terrifying for most people. You know, as an entrepreneur, that’s the mindset you kinda have to have. Is it was you think then you made that switch right then at that time or, like, I’m just gonna be curious about things and see what happens? Or were you more, Well, I’ll do this, but I’m really not sure about that. Right? You know, some people are cold turkey. They just go change over. And other people, it takes a few steps of success, and then they’re like, okay. Now I’m over there. You felt like it was just a thing and then there you were, or you did it take some time?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:26:46]:

I I I don’t think I’m still there. I’m I’m But

Glenn Harper [00:26:50]:

but, I mean, you’re still curious, though.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:26:51]:

Well, look, look. Every time we have a challenge, I don’t I don’t know the answer. I I don’t know how to get there. I I don’t know if we’re gonna get there, but the only way to find out is to make the 1st step. And that’s, that’s how I, operate is, You know, when I, when I see a challenge, my, one of my favorite phrases and people in the company hate me for saying that. I’m like, it’s not rocket science. We can figure it out. And they’re like, Some of these issues are pretty damn complicated.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:27:18]:

Mhmm. But I’m like, well, I mean

Glenn Harper [00:27:21]:

How hard could it be? Do this,

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:27:22]:

and then we’ll do that, and then we’ll we’ll figure out how to get there.

Glenn Harper [00:27:25]:

Well, I think that’s probably the the premise too is that once you assume the responsibility of taking on the project, you just know that if you don’t know it, you’re gonna find somebody that does. You’re just kinda like you’re gonna make sure it gets done. You may not have to know it all, but you’re gonna take ownership of that. And I think that’s a big nugget for Our entrepreneurial audience that you don’t have to know everything. You just have to know where to look.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:27:46]:

Exactly. Exactly. Well and our, specialty for a while has been and Probably still is doing projects, that are difficult, that are, you know, critical areas, steep slopes, wetlands, or We have some sort of challenges, unusual challenges, and we kinda pride ourselves in solving these problems. And that kinda stems from that mindset is that, yeah, Maybe nobody knows how to solve this problem, and we’re gonna figure it out.

Julie Smith [00:28:14]:

It seems like we’re oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:28:16]:

Yeah. I was just gonna say, what I’m finding now Is in a lot of cases, even professionals with years of experience, a lot of times, don’t know how to solve certain problems. And you kinda sitting there, You know, it’s kinda like going to the doctor’s office and the doctor’s looking at you and says, I don’t know what’s wrong.

Julie Smith [00:28:34]:

Right.

Glenn Harper [00:28:34]:

And

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:28:34]:

you’re like, alright. Aren’t you the person who’s supposed to I mean, it happens a lot. Right? When they’re like, well, we could try this, we could try that, but we don’t really know. And so that’s, It’s what we’re dealing with a lot of times.

Glenn Harper [00:28:46]:

They call it the doctor’s practice, the lawyer’s practice, the accountant’s practice, who are practicing because it Changes all the time. And can you pivot and adjust to that? Right?

Julie Smith [00:28:55]:

Yeah. I mean, it seems like early on, you really had that light bulb moment of That you needed to surround yourself with people who were probably smarter than you, especially, you know, in the early beginning. But As you’ve gone through your your career and your journey, was there ever a time where it was just really imperative That you build a team. And what have you learned as you’ve gone through your journey about building teams and surrounding yourself with those people?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:29:23]:

Absolutely. Well, I mean, especially as we started scaling, and, growing the construction division, I mean, it became apparent. I I’m not a builder. You know, I my favorite phrase is I know enough to be dangerous, but I, you know, I don’t know enough. So, absolutely. Building a team, bringing in the people, that know how to get this stuff done, was, is, imperative. And the hardest thing about it is finding the people who truly know how to get things done. Especially in the last, A decade.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:29:58]:

The labor market has been absolutely crazy.

Julie Smith [00:30:00]:

Mhmm.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:30:01]:

Construction market over here has been insane. It’s literally impossible to find, construction professionals. It’s hard to compete with the giants with unlimited, So, you know, funds and unlimited marketing, that throw into advertising positions. So it’s it’s been difficult. The the hardest part has been attracting talent.

Glenn Harper [00:30:23]:

But, you know, what’s funny about what as I’m putting all this together, what you’re saying is, you know, you you’re act actually, You know, you’re more of an artist, and you’re a visionary to see a project and go, we can make that be happen, But they’re not easy projects. They’re hard projects, and most craftsmen don’t wanna just lay 2 by fours all day. They wanna create and build something because that Is that inner side of them? So I think you probably acquired a team of of workers and such and teammates that they like the hard projects. It challenges them, gives them Fulfillment, and then you get to see that vision and and challenge them makes them better, makes you better, and makes the client probably really happy is what if I were to guess.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:31:06]:

Right. I mean, we yeah. You know, we scale up, scale down, staff up, depending on the project’s demands. And, yeah. Sometimes we promote, from within. Sometimes we, shrink down and, And, you know, let, let everybody go and start over. You know, the core right now, the core is just the family. It’s, my sister has joined the company, right at, out of college back in I forget, 04, 05.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:31:36]:

Her husband now, is a member of our team. So the 3 of us is kind of the core here that runs the company. And then everything else Yeah. We, we’re fluid in that regard. And, sometimes, you know, sometimes I feel Yeah. Like, best person to get things done is myself, and, I jump in and get it done. Sometimes we, hire consultants, or bring in a full time.

Glenn Harper [00:32:06]:

You know, it’s, the family business and becoming an entrepreneur, You know, was your dad always had his own business, or did he start doing that later in his life? When did he decide? Did he work for somebody then start his own business? How’d that happen? Because a lot of times, As a as a as a kid watching your parent do their entrepreneurial journey and struggle, it usually pushes off A certain segment said, I don’t want any part of that. And then other ones are like, oh, I love that struggle. And then they wanna and they gravitate for it. But Right. Again so sometimes, you Did your dad say I’m done with having a real job? I wanna be an entrepreneur. Or did he always have those tendencies and you just kinda, like, got sucked in as as we say?

Julie Smith [00:32:46]:

But, Glenn, I think to that point, There’s different I think it’s just different perspectives that people have as they grow up. So you may see it as a struggle where someone may see it as invigorating. And watching the people, you know, go through those ups and downs, those hills and you know, whatever you call it. But I I think, honestly, it’s up to each individual Kid, as you would say, about how they perceive, you know, what their parents are doing and what they’re going through.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:33:11]:

Right. I mean, my father’s always been entrepreneurial even working for a government job. I mean, keep in mind, where he grew up, there was no private employment. You couldn’t have a business So right until, 91. So he was working for his government job, but he’s always had some side hustles. He was Always trying to do more and, make more money and, become better. And, I mean, he grew up the ranks and the management, where he’d work, but then as soon as he could start a business, he started business. So, I Obviously, grew up around that, so definitely, rubbed off.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:33:48]:

But right now, I can’t imagine doing it at all. So I can’t imagine working for a corporation. You know, but I just had a conversation with my daughter the other day, and we talked, we’re talking about family business. She’s 16, and she’s like, I wouldn’t wanna work in a family business. Like, that sounds terrible. You guys always talk about work. She goes, I don’t wanna talk about work at a dinner table. I’m like, what’s the work? It’s life.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:34:14]:

She’s like, no. I don’t want that. Like, okay. Well, you’ll figure it out.

Glenn Harper [00:34:17]:

She she she will. You know, it’s

Julie Smith [00:34:21]:

How many kids do you have?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:34:22]:

F three. Okay. F three. Two older daughters and a son.

Glenn Harper [00:34:26]:

You know, the, trying to figure out on this on this journey of what this looks like, you know, for, like, an end game, or is it just Keep going like you said because it’s just part of who you are at this point. Like, how do you get out of this? And there’s really is no way ever gonna get out of it probably, but I don’t know. Is it something you wanna build this thing and sell it? It depend on what your kid’s gonna do? Are you just gonna keep milking this thing and keep doing your thing? Because when you think about the opportunity that you’ve been provided to be able to be in the right place at the right I’m in the US where this is encouraged. It’s very hard, but it’s encouraging. And the path is there versus where you came from where it was really, really almost impossible to do it. Like, that’s a great opportunity that, again, people probably just don’t even understand that there is the opportunity here to do it, and here you are slaying it. When when is it gonna end? Are you just gonna keep going or, you know, build it and sell it or just keep rolling with it?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:35:19]:

Well, see, the thing about real estate is it’s really project dependent. And that’s why I’m looking at it. I have these thoughts. Can we ever get to a point where This development company becomes, I don’t know, some sort of Ongoing business, with history and the systems in place and, you know, new acquisitions, new development, new liquidations To the point where we could just package it up and sell it. And I, I haven’t figured out how to get this done yet. Most development companies That I know they’re so project dependent that when the projects end

Glenn Harper [00:35:59]:

Over.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:35:59]:

There’s really no business. So as long as we keep acquiring new, projects as long as we keep, doing new partnerships. And our acquisition for us a few years ago, we switched to a 100% partnership model. We don’t like acquiring land. We and it started out kind of out of, selfish reasons, but, It’s, it turned into an opportunity. The way we acquire new projects is by partnering with property owners. And, you know, opportunities keep coming. And as long as we keep running them, you know, the business is there.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:36:37]:

At some point, maybe we could put people in place that they could just keep doing what I’m doing and what my family is doing so that we could kinda step up and, be above that. But I haven’t figured that part out yet.

Glenn Harper [00:36:49]:

Is it it’s it isn’t it fun instead of being the owner of a 100% of all the things you do You partner with people and help bring them up with you. I mean, that’s gotta be pretty rewarding when you get good partners and and they get to be part of the process, spread that risk a little bit, but You’re bringing everybody with you on the rising tide versus just it’s all about you guys. Right?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:37:09]:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s, that’s what the model is all about. It’s, there’s so many, people that, have developable properties. Either, You know, they inherited the property from, you know, relatives, or they, got into, they figured that maybe they could buy a land and develop There’s so many, foreign investors here that bought a properties and hired an architect and said, let’s develop something, and then quickly realized that it’s, It’s, quite a bit more complicated than just hiring an architect. And so that’s, that became a niche of itself, That you know, we’d get calls from architects saying, hey. There’s a a developing opportunity. You should really step, Step up and to help these guys out.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:37:54]:

Most of the requests that come to us is somebody who, has development ambitions. They don’t really know how to finance their deal. And so, we come in and we help them, with fundraising. We help them get the project funded.

Glenn Harper [00:38:06]:

I would look on the Internet. It seems real easy. I don’t know why you make it so hard. It just says you gotta do these couple Thanks. And it’s done to develop a project. I don’t I don’t

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:38:12]:

get that. Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Julie Smith [00:38:15]:

Coming coming from the CPA seat over there. So 1 question we like to ask our guests, What is your superpower?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:38:24]:

My superpower? I’m pretty mean with Excel.

Glenn Harper [00:38:28]:

I could tell.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:38:31]:

So every time we do a project, I run performance myself. I mean, I usually have somebody started out, but then I quickly, put them aside and Stakeover and, running for

Julie Smith [00:38:43]:

a while. Is not your superpower? No. I’m just kidding.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:38:47]:

I’m working on that. Yes. It’s, no. But specifically, reason is, to know the project, you really know, you really need to know, how, pieces get put together. And, that Excel model is everything for me. And so that’s why I typically spend a lot of time myself, working with the numbers, understanding the numbers so that when I, go out to investors, when I go out to lenders, when I speak to, construction design team, I understand, where, things are put together. It’s funny. When I was hiring, a couple years ago, we’re hiring a new, controller.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:39:29]:

And One of the questions I asked is how well do you know Excel? They’re like, oh, I know Excel pretty well. I’m like, okay. On a scale of 1 to 10. They’re like, well, probably like an 8. I’m like, okay. Well, what’s the most complex function in Excel or feature that you’ve worked with? And based on that answer, I actually know How well they know it’s. Mhmm. I’m like a one,

Glenn Harper [00:39:50]:

but I but I love it.

Julie Smith [00:39:51]:

I’m I’m a negative. I don’t even like to open it on my computer. What is your end game? I know we kind of alluded to this, and, you know, obviously, you’re trying to figure some of those things out. But where are you? What do what do you wanna do?

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:40:07]:

I think the end game is to, so, the 2 major divisions that we have is construction and development. And, right now, our construction division is pretty much a 100% dependent on the development division, on the projects that we bring. And the development is division is pretty much 100% dependent on, team to, propel the business forward. So the end game is to have 2 divisions self sustaining, meaning, to have all the systems in place where Construction team, can have its own management, its own process, and, could go out and bid on projects independently. And, b, if if if the development division, stops bringing in projects, I want the construction company to survive and, have their own, You know, exist based on their own merits. And then the development group is working on the new fundraising platform right now so that we could always have access to, fundraising or funds, for new projects. And then, we already have, you know, some sort of a backlog pipeline of new partnerships come in from property owners, but I would like To strengthen that. And I think once all of these places are filled and that machine is working, that I could, you know, elevate myself, above that.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:41:36]:

And, hopefully, then we can talk about packaging up and The selling it or, you know, transitioning into some other form.

Julie Smith [00:41:45]:

That was really a trick question, and I loved your answer. But at the end of the day, I still think you’re gonna be dabbling in Excel and making sure everyone’s doing everything they’re kinda supposed to be. And Even as you package it up and let it go, I don’t see you fully stepping away because you’re so immersed into it. And you can just tell you have a passion, and it definitely is fulfilling to you And what you’re doing. So there’s no endgame.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:42:11]:

As a as a business owner, you’re always involved. I mean, maybe I’m just The the unique, idiot here, but I’m involved in everything. You know, the other day, locks weren’t working right at the building, and I, drove out there with a Crew driver took it apart and, you know, try to figure out what’s, going on there. It’s just it’s just how it works.

Glenn Harper [00:42:32]:

There’s nothing wrong with that. Well, it has been a a pleasure, talking with you today. I appreciate you taking your time, Eugene. And I don’t know if you wanna give it a little plug of your companies or whatever. Just real quick, we can throw Pump in there if you like.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:42:44]:

Absolutely. Yeah. So, GIS, companies, GIS development, The website is, jiscompanies.c0. We’re in all social media, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and our core business is multifamily, single family development. So partner with property So if you got a property, that you’re trying to sell, don’t try to sell it. Right now is perfect time to, develop it. So, give us a call.

Glenn Harper [00:43:14]:

Well, that’s awesome. I really appreciate you being on the show, e g, and I think I can call you that now. So we’re good.

Julie Smith [00:43:19]:

He’s been waiting that works. All episode to do that.

Glenn Harper [00:43:22]:

Well, thanks. Another good one, Julie. Great talking to everyone, and we’ll see you later.

Eugene Gershman (EG) [00:43:27]:

Thank you, guys. Pleasure being here.

Episode Show Notes

Hey there, entrepreneurs! Today, we’ve got a special guest on the show – Eugene Gershman, the big boss at GIS Development and GIS Residential Construction. We’re diving into his story, from growing up in Moscow to making moves in the US real estate scene. Get ready to hear about his hands-on approach, his plans for the future, and how his family has shaped his hustle.

Tech Startup Dreams: “I’ve wanted to create some new efficient and computerized, trading and investing platform, and it all sounded great. Yeah. I was thinking like this like a tech startup, here in Seattle.”

— Eugene Gershman (EG)

Key Takeaways

1. Family Influence: Eugene’s upbringing in an entrepreneurial environment and his father’s successful business in Russia significantly influenced his career path and approach to entrepreneurship.

2. Adaptability: Eugene’s experience of moving to the US, learning English, and assimilating to American culture reflects the importance of adaptability in navigating challenges and pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities in new environments.

3. Confidence and Resilience: Overcoming skepticism and stereotypes in the real estate industry, Eugene learned to project confidence and dress professionally to earn respect, highlighting the importance of resilience and self-assuredness in entrepreneurship.

4. Hands-On Leadership: Eugene’s hands-on approach to project management and decision-making emphasizes the importance of understanding Excel models and actively engaging in the operational aspects of the business.

5. Embracing Challenges: As an entrepreneur, Eugene embraces challenges, viewing them as opportunities for growth, problem-solving, and innovation, exemplifying the mindset necessary for navigating business obstacles.

6. Learning through Experience: Eugene’s journey of learning about technology and computers through trial and error reflects the value of experiential learning and embracing curiosity in entrepreneurship.

7. Strategic Partnerships: The focus on strengthening partnerships with property owners and enhancing fundraising capabilities underscores the significance of strategic alliances and financial acumen in real estate development.

8. Entrepreneurial Vision: Eugene sees himself as an artist and visionary, emphasizing the importance of passion, creativity, and a team that enjoys challenges in driving entrepreneurial endeavors.

9. Persistence and Patience: The challenges faced in Budapest, including obtaining building permits and navigating local politics, demonstrate the need for persistence and patience when overcoming obstacles in international business ventures.

10. Succession Planning: The consideration of future exit strategies and the potential evolution of a project-dependent business into an ongoing, saleable enterprise highlights the importance of long-term planning and succession in family businesses.

Memorable Moments

03:30 Learning English, adapting to American culture.

09:17 Struggled with English and ended up with economics as a major.

11:21 Evening student launches tech startup, Hungary construction branch.

14:46 Navigating between English and Russian for staff.

20:02 Evaluated property, planned project, partnership, development, architect hired.

25:10 Learned about computers naturally through curiosity and experimentation.

26:18 Entrepreneurs need a fearless, adaptable mindset.

32:06 Family business impact on entrepreneurial tendencies discussed.

34:26 Navigating journey, seizing opportunities, considering future options.

37:09 Real estate development appeals to various investors.

42:44 GIS companies focusing on property development and marketing.

Eugene Gershman (EG) is an innovative entrepreneur and business leader. During his MBA studies, he developed a vision for a new type of broker-dealer and investing platform. However, a surprising opportunity arose when his father introduced him to a project in Budapest, Hungary. Despite his original plans, Eugene seized the chance to set up a branch of his family’s construction office in Budapest, embarking on an unexpected and exciting new chapter in his professional journey.

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