Making a Partnership Work with Sam Khorramian and Oliver Graff

Discover the rules of making a partnership work from two fast-growth c-founders. Partnerships can be hard. Most tend to end in frustration and turmoil. Partnerships are much harder when you don’t have a framework for making the partnership work. Today’s guests are Sam Khorramian and Oliver Graff. These two co-founders started Big Block Realty with the right frameworks to guide their growth. Big Block Realty ranked on the Inc. 500 list between 2016 and 2018, ranked 26th, 31st, and 33rd, respectively. Sam and Oliver walk us through how they approached making a partnership work. Listening today will give you some very tactical steps to improve your business and make your co-founders align together for the journey.

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Sam Khorramian and Oliver Graff: The Transcript

Target Audience: Sam Khorramian, CEO/Co-Founder. Sam is a high energy, serial entrepreneur, international speaker and internet marketer that has helped countless people grow and start their businesses. Oliver Graf, President/Co-Founder. Oliver is an industry-leading marketing and fulfillment expert. His ability to build scalable systems is key to Big Block’s growth and to our agents’ success. Oliver is responsible for developing highly targeted marketing campaigns, systematized business structures, automated support systems

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Sam Khorramian: [00:00]
Respect the fact that we’re in business with each other cause we respect each other’s lane and like I know he’s really good at what he does and he knows I’m really good at what I do. So we found the solution and just getting out of each other’s way and letting both of our rule in our departments. And oftentimes if someone comes to me and asked me my opinion on something that’s in his department, I’ll say, hey, these are my thoughts. But you know, I would touch base with Oliver cause he, you know, he runs that. So we’ve just learned to get out of each other’s way.

Oliver Graff: [00:29]
A couple of thoughts I would have on that is one finding partners with complementary but the opposite skill sets so that you can bounce off each other and share different perspectives to respecting each other’s lanes. Right. Like if it’s, if it’s in my lane, usually he’s gonna default to whatever my decision is and vice versa. If it’s in his lane and I’m going to default to whatever his a decision is.

Gene Hammett: [00:56]
Welcome to grow think tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Jean Habit. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: [01:13]
When you have co-founders? You have a built-in partner, so to speak. You have someone that you can bounce your ideas off of, but and also compliment your skillset. It’s great when it works great, but it’s also very difficult to have partners and co-founders work cohesively together for a long period of time. Now, today we’re going to uncover some of the magic behind making partnerships work. I’m going to do a series of these, so stay tuned for more than just this one episode on partnership because I want multiple perspectives. Today I’m talking with Sam Khorramian and Oliver Graff with Big Block Realty. They were on the INC list three years running at a really astronomical pace. I’m going to look at my notes. In 2018 they were 33 in 2017 there were 31 in 2016 they were 26 that just run rate of three years of growth like that and the three years before that, so six years of growth. They really were able to get it to work together as co-founders. Now what we’re going to be talking about today, and I love this part of the conversation is about how to argue and commit, how to really take a difficult situation where you have deposing thoughts, you have great ideas, maybe on both sides, different perspectives of what we should do next and you have to argue it out and then commit to move forward as partners without ego and really how to grow the business through that cofounder relationship.

Gene Hammett: [02:42]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to so you can get the 12 principles. And I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align with each individual episodes. When you subscribed to grow think tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet depending on when you’re hearing this. But you can, you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. So stay tuned now for the interview with Sam and Oliver at Big Block Realty.

Gene Hammett: [03:30]
Hi Guys, how are you?

Sam Khorramian: [03:31]
Doing well, thanks for having us on Gene.

Oliver Graff: [03:33]
Excited to be here. Thank you.

Gene Hammett: [03:35]
Thanks, Sam and Oliver. Well, I’m with the cofounders of Big Block Realty, which really impressive growth. I’ve already kind of sharing some of those numbers with you. I want to kick this off and let you kind of bring our audience into why did you guys have to start this business?

Sam Khorramian: [03:52]
Well, you know, for us, we wanted to create something in the real estate and brokerage space that really hadn’t been done. Our model was really simple. We wanted to create a system that put our customer’s best interests first. So we created a brokerage that’s really high on support commission service. You know, we just wanted a place that we were excited to work and we decided to go create it for the industry.

Gene Hammett: [04:19]
Now is there a specific sector of the real estate industry that you guys focused on?

Sam Khorramian: [04:26]
Yeah, we’re in the real estate brokerage space. So we started a real estate brokerage, real estate, and we started with zero agents. Today we have a thousand agents that work at the company.

Gene Hammett: [04:40]
That’s what’s really impressive about your growth. And so when I think about this and one reason why I want to have you guys on you guys, I dunno, have you been lifelong friends and this started to start a business together or how’d, how’d you actually meet before the business?

Sam Khorramian: [04:56]
Yeah, we met in college actually in a fraternity. Funny enough. And we were both very entrepreneurial and kind of just have that in common. So how to a lot of just conversations around the business. We both we’re also in sales at the time. So we were selling cell phones and the mall. That’s Kinda how we started down the path of direct sales. And we used to compete, he managed to kiosk right down the mall floor from where I did. So we used to compete, we used to always collaborate to like, okay, this person’s coming. They were interested, but I couldn’t close them that, you know, here’s some hot buttons, this and that, so that he could try to close them. And just always had that in common. And ever since college, we’ve started a number of businesses. Actually, even while in college we started a few businesses. So it’s just we’ve just kinda always had that.

Gene Hammett: [05:54]
Well, I know it works for some people and that’s one way I want to have you guys on the show to talk about, you know, how do you make this work? So what are the advantages you saw in the beginning of having co-founders?

Sam Khorramian: [06:07]
You know, Oliver and I are very yin to each other’s Yang of that makes sense. Oliver is detail-oriented. He’s good at numbers, he’s very analytical. I’m the exact opposite. I’m kind of you to know, more out there with the ideas on the sales side. So we just really supported each other well and we learned that we could go twice as far, twice as fast, maybe even faster if we leveraged each other’s skillsets.

Gene Hammett: [06:41]
Well, I’m going to have to pick him up. The really is impressive too, to know how fast you’re going with, and I understand that Yin and Yang aspects. Has there been anything where you guys have had trouble disagreeing human to see the others ways perspective?

Sam Khorramian: [07:02]
Yes. It’s gotten a lot easier and I can kinda touch on a how and why. But you know, as an entrepreneur you have a lot of pride behind what you’re doing and you obviously are confident in yourself. So oftentimes we would have different perspectives on the same agenda or challenge. And it would get heated. And we did argue it out. We always hugged it out at the end. So there are certainly challenges of just who’s right and ego and all these different things. But over the past few years, we’ve learned to respect the fact that we’re in business with each other because we respect each other’s lane and know like I know he’s really good at what he does and he knows I’m really good at what I do. So we found the solution and just getting out of each other’s way and letting both of us roll in our departments. And oftentimes if someone comes to me and asked me my opinion on something that’s in his department, I’ll say, hey, these are my thoughts. But you know, I would touch base with all of her cause he, you know, he runs that. So we’ve just learned to get out of each other’s way.

Gene Hammett: [08:07]
Oliver, would you agree to that? Do you just, you learned to do it?

Oliver Graff: [08:11]
Yeah. A couple of thoughts I would have on that is is one finding partners with complementary but opposite skillsets so that you can bounce off each other and share different perspectives too. Respecting each other’s lanes, right? Like if it’s, if it’s in my lane, usually he’s going to default to whatever my decision is and vice versa. It’s in his lane and I’m going to default to whatever his decision is. And then also we have mediators, right? Like we have a few mentors and a few coaches that we work with where if we’re really deadlocked on something, it’s like I look, let’s stop arguing and let’s just consult our counsel, our mentors, our group of peers that we trust and then kind of take it to a vote so to speak.

Gene Hammett: [09:00]
I am curious, you mentioned coaches, I coach a lot of fast-growing companies. What’s the one single best advice you got as it relates to growing the business fast from your coach?

Sam Khorramian: [09:11]
Oh man, that’s a tough one. I think my perspective, yours might be different, but the main coach that we have, culture is at the longest time taught us that the biggest delivery you can have in business is conversion. It’s in sales. It’s the ability to get people to feel comfortable and confident. So one of the things that we’ve done really well is we focus very heavily in our sales department and Teaching and coaching our people how to have effective communication in conversations that get people to make the decision to work with us at a much greater rate than our competition. So we really do believe that conversion is the single most important part of any organization.

Gene Hammett: [09:57]
It’s hard to argue with that, I’m sure.

Oliver Graff: [10:00]
Little more, a little more tactical, right? Like at the beginning we were, we didn’t know where to focus. We just knew we want to do a track everyone and we were getting a lot of interest from how to stay in there, getting a lot of interest from different markets and this and that. We were kind of running in different directions and not really knowing what to explore and how to explore it. And one of our coaches, that same guy that Sam was just talking about, it was basically like getting to a thousand agents in San Diego. Don’t even think about leaving San Diego. Just focus on San Diego and then branch out and worry about those other markets and different things because that way you’ll have a strong base, a proven concept, you’ll have worked out all the kinks and then you can just take that into different markets.

Gene Hammett: [10:47]
Smart advice too because most businesses are too distracted and I’m sure that’s that having that level of focus has contributed to the growth of the company. Would you say?

Sam Khorramian: [10:58]
Big time? Yeah. And you know, we learned that every time you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else. And as entrepreneurs, you like to say yes cause it’s fun. But you know, Mike Ferry taught us to really learn to say no and focus on what matters.

Commentary: [11:13]
Let’s pause right here for a second. We are students. I talk with them a little bit after the camera was rolling and we talked about the importance of investing in themselves and going to different groups and different ways of seeing things. These guys really investing heavily into the business but also themselves because they know how important it is. Now. Do you think there’s a correlation between that level of investment and the amount that they’re growing and the pace that they’re growing? I see it all the time. So you want to continue to invest in yourselves and that really is important for you to grow as a person and grow as a leader. I work with a lot of high growth leaders so that become better leaders and I’ve seen the power and the impact that investing yourself has. Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett: [12:00]
I want to go a little bit deeper with this whole concept of working together. So how did you find share anything specific you can find this making it work as a co-founder?

Sam Khorramian: [12:13]
Well outside of respecting each other’s lanes all over. And I still to this day, we spend a lot of time outside of the office and one of two categories. One, we go to a lot of events. We’re in really high-level mastermind groups. We have a lot of coaches and consultants. We are students and we’re students together. So we go to events together, we learn together, we come back, we strategize together. And that always rekindles the excitement rekindles you know, the romance behind what we’re doing and helps us stay focused. So I really believe that a big part of our ability to think and grow together is that we’re learning and strategizing and putting ourselves in the right environments together. For me, I know that that’s been huge.

Gene Hammett: [13:02]
Well, this kind of reminds me of the whole mantra that I think a lot of fast growth leaders live and die by, which is change or die. You’re always learning, right? Does that relate to you, the change or die?

Sam Khorramian: [13:15]
Absolutely. We’re always talking about that. One of the things that we ask ourselves often is what could kill us in the next three to five years? And we’re always trying to look at what’s happening down the road so that we can pivot internally and, and find ways to compliment changes or make money with changes. And a big part of that, again, goes back to being in the right environment. You know, when you’re in the right room with the right people, you ask yourself questions and think about things you wouldn’t otherwise do.

Gene Hammett: [13:45]
I want to take a little bit of pivot here because I want to look at some of the mistakes you may have made because this is a chance for you know, I’m sure that you had to work through some tips, difficult times, but you know, there are other people listening in here that are, that have partnerships that maybe things aren’t going as well. What are some of the mistakes that you learned from?

Sam Khorramian: [14:05]
The first thing that comes to mind is back to kind of what we were talking about earlier, we said yes to things we shouldn’t have said yes to. You know, there’s a lot of shiny objects and opportunities out there. So we explored things that maybe in hindsight we shouldn’t have opened a location as early as we did. We shouldn’t have started different jobs and businesses that we did. But it was all under the idea that you know, we, we wanted to have more opportunity. So I’d say one of the biggest mistakes would probably be just saying yes to too many things and, and learning to respect the idea that he focused on the most important part. Everything else works. And for us, that’s growth and recruitment.

Gene Hammett: [14:51]
Fantastic. Oliver, you want to add to that is a mistake?

Oliver Graff: [14:55]
I’m just focusing on too many different things. Like we kind of have the shiny Red Ball Syndrome and that was another thing that we were coached on at an event specifically. Our coach basically said, look, you got to focus on only things that are related to real estate that directly touch a transaction and say no to everything else. And so that’s, we literally have a contract that’s up on my wall in the office where we both signed it and it basically says we are only allowed to focus on these few things. And we listed them out and that was it. And we both signed it. And that was like four years ago probably. And ever since then we’ve only focused on those things and we’ve been able to, it’s been a lot more clarity around what to say no to.

Commentary: [15:44]
Too many projects. Did you hear that? There were too many projects, too many distractions. And in fact, you could say both of those things together, the shiny object syndrome, are there too many red balls balancing or all the same issue. So if you want to grow fast, you want to make sure that you are really clear about the strategy that you’re committed to and that everyone else is aligned around that strategy. Because as a leader, if you are wishy-washy and you’re, you know, always flipping back and forth and you’re really not able to commit or get others to commit, you really will miss the opportunity to have the kind of alignment you need for fast growth. I work with companies to get people to take more ownership of the work and so when they think about responsibility of their work, they’ll trade their time for their paycheck, but when they have ownership, they know what they’re doing really matters and they’ll be aligned to that one strategy when you have it defined clearly. So as a leader, if you have any thoughts about where your strategy as you have some debate and you need someone to help you through it, make sure you reach out. I’d love to get to know you and see the work you’re doing and see how I can help you figure those strategies out. Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett: 1[6:53]
Well, I appreciate you saying that because it’s probably had a big impact on your overall growth and you wouldn’t be where you are. Had you not had that level of coming together and alignment. Would you agree to that?

Sam Khorramian: [17:07]

Gene Hammett: [17:08]
What happens when you guys reach one of those really sticky situations where you know really one believes one way, the other one beats one, right? And you’ve got to make a decision and then you have to whoever, let’s say the idea doesn’t come into that you still have to commit to the other idea. Does that happen with you guys?

Sam Khorramian: [17:29]
All the time? It happens all the time. One of the things that we kind of have a handshake agreement around is that if we’re stuck on something, like I said, we’ll take it to our circle of peers and that we trust. We also have a VP here who’s kind of a third pivot person that we bounce stuff of. But then our handshake agreement is that, look, whoever, whoever loses whoever’s, you know, had just had to have no ego about it and just be on board. And that’s, that’s why it had to swallow it a couple of times. He’s had a swallowed a couple of times and us just kind of agree that that’s the way it is. And because of that, you know, there’s no foul feelings around, look, we’re going to take it to our circle. Whatever we collectively agree on, that’s the decision and that’s kind of it. And then we don’t look back on it.

Oliver Graff: [18:20]

Gene Hammett: [18:21]
You know, you guys look like pretty easy gun guys, but at some point in time, it’s got to get pretty heated. So are you guys okay with that, that confrontation and really speaking your mind, but then also being able to commit after the fact when you decide which way we’re going to go?

Sam Khorramian: [18:39]
Yeah, look, I mean we’ve, we’ve had our fair share of battling it out. I mean, I remember sometime, especially in the early days, we’d be in the liar, our different offices, like yelling at each other from across the office about our perspective or opinion. But back to that handshake agreement, you know, we really love and respect each other. And because of that, that, you know, it makes everything else work. Like I will battle it out until we take into a vote and I will make my peace. I will make my pitch, I will put it all on the table. But the power of the vote is that it allows you to shut up and live with the decision. And you know, we’ve never crossed that. So I think if you can build that relationship in that agreement with your co-founder and you battle it out until you take it to vote and you both can live with the decision that’s made, it helps you shut up as soon as you need to.

Gene Hammett: [19:36]
You know, I think some of the danger that that happens, and I know it probably happens sometimes, but you try to find the middle ground, but middle ground ends up being probably a week solution. Either way, it’s murky waters. So you guys are really, are looked like to be pretty comfortable with this whole argue and commit, would you say?

Oliver Graff: [19:54]

Sam Khorramian: [19:55]
Yeah. I mean we find it out like brothers sometimes, but like you said like we’ll always hug it out afterward and we’ll the people that we go to for advice are, we’re both very trusting in their feedback and what they have to say. And then once, as you said, once we take it to vote, then you know, we’ve gotten everyone’s feedback, we’ve heard all the points of views and if it’s decided one way or the other, then that’s just what we go with and we’d all look back. We don’t look in the rearview mirror. Yeah.

Gene Hammett: [20:25]
Well, I want to give you a chance to, to talk a little bit about making the Inc list 500 and literally, I’m going to go back to my notes in 2018 you are number 33, 2017 you are 31, 2016 you were 26. So that’s really impressive. You understand the math of being the fastest-growing company out there. What would you share back with those listing in about how do you actually do this repeatedly over a series of years?

Sam Khorramian: [20:54]
I think that for us, I default to two things. First is we’ve always been committed more than anything in our business to our customers’ experience. We really believe that if we can continue to deliver wow experiences and all the ways focus on the customer’s best interest, that you can’t quantify that on paper, right? You can’t carry the zero. You can’t do things to mathematically equate what that means. But we are passionate about our customer. We’re passionate about their experience and that has given us a big part of our growth is organic because so many people are sharing the story and so many people are, are putting it out there and helping us grow. And then the second thing is we really are we’re very hungry that you weren’t enough is never enough. And always thinking about how we can continue to have exponential growth a causes us to think about things that we probably wouldn’t if we were okay with small growth or mediocre growth. Like we always want to be 10 x eight and that that causes us to look at things differently.

Gene Hammett: [22:10]
Well, that is really a lot to take in. And as business owners and high-growth leaders, I’m sure that they feel the same way about that customer experience and getting other people. When you guys have you know, leadership, you think about developing the leaders of your company, what is something that you, kind of, your mantra around developing those people to think for themselves, make those decisions and really take ownership of the work that they do?

Oliver Graff: [22:40]
I would say first and foremost, the, our hiring process is really strong. We try to actively repel people from wanting to work here and there by the people, it kind of forces the cream to rise to the crop the cream of the crop to rise to the top. So we’re, we’re able to attract really good talent. One, so, you know, just being able to trust those people to go out and execute is huge.

Sam Khorramian: [23:12]
Yeah. And just to piggyback off of that, one of the things that we always say internally is, you know, we believe that the more we empower our people to be able to make decisions and make mistakes, the quicker we can move the company. So our motto here with our staff is like, we don’t care if you do something wrong. We look at that as a, as an opportunity to have a case study around how to make it sure that we do it right next time. So, you know, we don’t scold people, there’s, you know, no one here is really afraid about making a mistake with a ball that’s in their core because if they do make a mistake or do it different than we like, that gives us an opportunity to use that as a case study and make sure that they do it right in the future. And I believe that that empowers them to pick up the bat and swing and make decisions and all that good stuff.

Oliver Graff: [24:04]
Almost everyone in the company is either started at the front desk or on the sales floor. So that’s something that we also believe in, is really giving the people that front end experience so that they’re dealing with the customer firsthand. They’re hearing the problems, they’re hearing the challenges, and then we’ll move them out and just hire a new person for the front. So by doing that, everyone’s got that, that front end experience, they’ve had kinda got some battle scars and they just, they understand the business a lot better so they’re able to make clearer decisions because they have a better understanding of the full picture.

Gene Hammett: [24:42]
Well, all of this wrapped up together makes a great episode here for the growth think tank. I really appreciate you sharing with us about, you know, making a partnership work and making, making co-founders really successful. So if you wanted our audience to find out more about you, where would you send them to?

Sam Khorramian: [25:00]
Well, you can check us out at or you can find us on Instagram or Facebook on the Ninth Zero Number 98 zero spelled out and he is all of her graph 360 is that right?

Oliver Graff: [25:13]

Gene Hammett: [25:14]
Fantastic. Thanks for being here at the Growth Think Tank.

Sam Khorramian: [25:19]
Appreciate it.

Oliver Graff: [25:19]
And thanks for having us. Great interview.

Gene Hammett: [25:22]
Wow. Just love that interview. That’s the first time I’ve had partners come on my show before after hundreds of episodes. This was the first time and I really appreciate the perspective of how do you move forward as co-founders and partners and grow as fast as you’re growing. Now, one of the things that I really like about the end of that interview was about the empowerment and their relationship with failure. It’s been talked about many times on the show, but you really want to empower the people around you to fail because if you hold them back and get them, you know, used to not taking risks, they will never take them. They’ll assume that that’s part of the culture, but if empower them, you have that positive relationship with failure that we’re going to learn from this and we’re going to move forward. You can go really fast and big block realty is an example, just that fit. So hopefully you’ve enjoyed this interview talking about making co-founders work, but also something into making business growing fast. So as always, lead with courage, will see you next time.


Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.



GTT Featuring Sam Khorramian and Oliver GraffGTT Featuring Sam Khorramian and Oliver Graff



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