Realizing the Company’s Purpose with John Berkowitz at OJO Labs

Mission-driven companies know the power of purpose. The strategies of realizing the company’s purpose will help you create the kind of team that you always wanted. Today’s guest is John Berkowitz, Founder and CEO at OJO Labs. Inc Magazine ranked his company #49 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. OJO Labs provides the only solution homebuyers, sellers, and owners need to navigate the complex real estate landscape. John and I talk about realizing the company’s purpose. We share with you strategies to unite and align your people.

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John Berkowitz: The Transcript

About: Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, its in John Berkowitz DNA to build a company that focuses on sustainability and profitability while providing real-world value. He founded OJO Labs on the belief that consumers can make better decisions with the help of a deeply personalized technology. Their distinctive approach prepares more people to be homeowners by leveling the playing field for homebuyers and sellers and making the dream of homeownership a more inclusive one, regardless of race or class.

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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.

John Berkowitz: [00:00:00] You’ve got to have a clear mission in any business and you could easily just say your purpose is fulfilling your mission. I think that great businesses probably have those separate and understand the difference of that. That makes sense.

Intro: Welcome from the Growth 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 Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: We’re going to talk about purpose, not in the way that you have heard us talk about it before, but we’re going to talk about realizing your company purpose with the co-founder of OJO labs. We’re number 49 on the Inc list this past year massive growth and John Berkowitz talks about the, what purpose really is and how it’s different from mission. We also look at how do you get people aligned around the purpose and what is the purpose of puprpose. That’s pretty matter, right? Well, today’s episode, we’ll be, , thrilling for you because you don’t get a real [00:01:00] solid understanding of how purpose, , is interwoven throughout their company and why it’s created such growth. And it’s probably not what you think. In fact we talk about friction, we talk about resistance, we talk about the things that are getting in the way, but that’s what makes this company better. So a very interesting interview that I think you’ll find helpful in your journey to being a better leader.

Now I want to pause right here for a second, because if you’re thinking about what does it take to be a more connected leader, a more empathetic leader, more visionary or strategic, whatever the words you put with it. Do you have a plan? Do you know what’s absolutely next for you? Do you have a game plan that allows you to follow that without question and have clarity? Well, my hope is that you do have the clarity to become the leader that you really want to be, to become extraordinary. Your people deserve it. Your company deserves it. Your customers deserve your partners, your. Everyone deserves you being a stronger, more powerful leader. And I want to help you do that. My job is to, as an executive coach is to help founder CEOs and their teams to continue growing, but also figure out what does [00:02:00] it take to be powerful leader that you want to be, and that you need to be in this journey of your business. If you want to reach out to me and have a conversation about what’s going on, just go to and schedule your call. I’d love to help you become an extraordinary leader. I hope you really figure out what that plan is. Again, you don’t have to work with me cause we’ll, we’ll lay it out there. I’ll help you figure out what’s next. And if you want me to help you, I’ll be happy to talk about that. But if you want to take that plan and run with it and come back down the road, let me know how you’ve progressed. Just go to Schedule a call. Now here’s the interview with John,

John, how are you?

John Berkowitz: I am great Gene, how are you doing?

Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. We’re having a great conversation today about realizing your purpose. , before we jump into that and look to you to tell us about your company, number 49 on the Inc list this past year. And it really is impressive growth. Tell us about it is OJO?

John Berkowitz: Yes it is OJO. Yeah. Yeah. OJO, OJO labs founded in 2015 by myself and my co-founder David Rubin and we have been methodically building and assembling all of the part to deliver in almost every zip code in the US and about 60% of [00:03:00] Canada, every service you need as a consumer to navigate the home journey. So whether you want to dream about what home you’re going to buy in five years, or find the perfect home for your family next week, to getting connected with really great vetted real estate and finding the right loan solutions, getting you into that home and then helping you manage the home. We’ve, we’ve assembled a platform, that delivers upon all of those promises for consumers in the US and Canada.

Gene Hammett: John, as you know, one of the things I love to do is figure out what makes companies grow so fast. , one of them is being purpose driven or mission driven. , do you use those words interchangeably or is it you see a different?

John Berkowitz: That’s a super good question. Yeah, I think there’s definitely a difference and I would not take one over the other, if that makes sense. , you’ve got to have a clear mission in any business. And you could easily just say your purpose is fulfilling your mission. I think that great businesses probably have those separate and understand the difference of them. If that makes sense.

Gene Hammett: Help us understand that with your company. What’s the [00:04:00] difference between the mission and the purpose?

John Berkowitz: Yeah, I think the mission you walk in my office here in Austin, Texas. And, , and written on the wall is to empower people, to make better decisions through the fusion of machine and human intelligence. That’s been written on our walls since we started the company. It’s what we do every day is kind of applying technology, unique business strategies, great consumer experiences, data, human experts, all combined to help you as a consumer, make a better decision. That’s what we’re doing. That is what we’re going to go do. That’s been carrying us the first couple of years. That was the purpose. Firing is a big business over the last, I think 18 months, there is a separate purpose that is not mutually exclusive from that at all. And very complimentary. We refer to it as leveling the playing field in housing, and that is applying the playbook that is leading us on that mission to deliver something bigger, which is we think really changing the fabric and experience of one of the most important purchases to consumer over me. But it is a different, it is [00:05:00] a, is a different set of goals. All going in the same direction, but something bigger than just profits and investor returns.

Gene Hammett: So, this was all the setup to what we’re really talking about here today, which is realizing the company’s purpose. I know how important that is to growth of a company, but you guys have grown, you know, almost 6800% in the last three years. Why is that so important to growth?

John Berkowitz: Yeah. You know, it’s really interesting, because. I had a company before this that also showed up high on the Inc list and it had high growth, but I think purpose was just not as woven into it. And again, as I said, I, I think we were, we were always doing this for the right reasons, but I think our purpose in the earlier part of this company was, was not as big as it is now. And we’ve seen accelerated growth. I think it is a, it’s an accelerant. Once you have the founding. It’s an accelerated because it, it pushes you and your team, you as a founder and your team executives all the way, all the way down to, to kind of all constituents in your company, it pushes [00:06:00] you further with more accountability, which leads to growth and like give you a tangible example of that in this pursuit that we’ll talk about in ours. I imagine of, of our purpose. We have bought company. In places that would have seen probably ridiculous based on our size, we have negotiated with foreign governments, which would seem ridiculous basis at our size. We have opened up centers and like a couple of weeks period, when we’d all been overwhelmed in foreign countries where none of us spoke the language, we we’ve done things totally different and change business models, which were counter to short-term profits.

And that has led to really really exceptional growth, but wouldn’t have been the easiest and most clear path had we not had the purpose driving us. And I think that when you have a bigger purpose to your company, you will, you will go through more complicated, more gutsy, more creative solutions to achieve your goal because you have to then if you were just chasing your simple, you know, 12-month calendar [00:07:00] returns as a business if I’m, if that makes sense, which I think leads to a bigger company over the long haul.

Gene Hammett: Absolutely. You said something there. I want to make sure we don’t miss this, but the purpose is woven throughout the company and it’s who we are. What we see inside your organization is it relates to this being woven in.

John Berkowitz: Yeah, friction as what you’ll see, friction insecurity, accountability questioning. So, so we are, we know we have a great business. That is just a mathematical fact as evidenced by some of the stats that you’ve shared. We know our economics, we know we have a great business. What we’re never certain of is are we doing enough with a purpose? And, and we have this woven into. Almost as deep insecurity, are we doing enough? Are we making enough progress? And it leads to people questioning decisions continuously and pushing through new ideas on how to do that from all angles on the company. And so it just, it builds momentum around. It’s less about, are we, are we doing good [00:08:00] things? It’s are we doing enough good things and the right good things at any given time. And it just leads to a constant evo of, you know, I was going to say evolution, but it’s optimization of the business for the purpose. Are we knocking down enough barriers for consumers? Are we solving the right problems? Are we solving the problems in the right way? Because the, the goal that we set out for in the, in the purpose that we’ve assigned ourselves.

Is so damn big. Nobody ever, frankly, over the next 10 years is going to be like, oh, we got it figured out. And so you’re always waking up and being like, is that right? And validating and questioning from all corners of the business. I think an outsider might come in and be like, this is one skeptical, like really critical group of people, but they’re all doing it for like a really healthy reason. Maybe lack of satisfaction shows up a lot. You know, you you’d be like man from the outside, company sure. It looks like it’s winning, but on the inside, they’re pretty darn critical of themselves, but probably not lost on you that the flywheel of fraction that, that can build when you get [00:09:00] that into your culture.

Gene Hammett: Is not what I expected to hear, being honest with you. I expected a little bit, maybe fluffy your answer, but when you said friction, I was like, okay, this is going to be interesting. It reminds me of.

John Berkowitz: Often times Gene, it’s exhausting, but what’s interesting in like the great resignation. I’m definitely afraid. It’s going to show up to our doors. Our people are overworked and overwhelmed with high friction jobs, but none of them are leaving. All of them are strengthening their conviction. And so there’s something magical there, right? Like, yes, I want to give more days off and make their jobs easier and love on them. Like every other CEO, but there’s something in the purpose that’s driving them greater. That means that even those probably higher stress. More challenging job. There’s something underlying, that’s not tangible that keeping us, making that progress every day. It’s super interesting.

Commentary: Now, John just talked about the great resignation. You’ve probably heard about this in the news. You’ve maybe made some plans, but here’s the way I know that you’ve got to move forward and there’s three critical components to it. I’ll lay them out. They’re very simply going to get more details. Just reach out to [00:10:00] me. I’d love to have. The first one is the shift to leading powerfully. You’ve got to lead powerfully through whatever’s in front of you. You’ve got to lead with intention and confidence and courage. Leading powerfully will help you create the space for the company to grow and navigate the great resignation and the things that are coming. But it’ll also give you the space to create, an awareness and growth amongst the individuals that you are in care of. The second shift you’ve got to make is really around inspiring ownership. You want people to feel like they’re part of something bigger than just a job, not just trading time for money, that they’re part of something. They have a sense of ownership. You don’t have to have financial tools like Aesop’s or profit-sharing or options or anything like that. You can do this by structuring the conversations, the rhythm at which you actually engage people in power people. And that is something that you want to make sure that you’re doing and inspiring ownership is very critical. If you want the company to really grow beyond where it is today. And then finally, I think you want to get a [00:11:00] coach. A lot of people I think are very afraid to ask for a coach. You don’t have to work with me. I don’t need you to pander to me and don’t need your help. I say this constantly because I know those that want help. They feel connected to what I’m doing. They will get the benefit. And for you, it might be someone else that you go after. But I see the value. I’m getting a coach because most people don’t have a sounding board. They don’t have someone that they can go to and talk about the things that they need to get clear about. And this is a big part and the benefit of coaching there’s many other benefits to help you shift perspectives and reframe things and give you tools and help you through, the challenges that you’ve got to go through. Cause we’ve been through them before with clients and with our own businesses. But when you get a coach, the right coach, you will have someone that you feel connected to. You will have a place where you have conversations and you leave each one of those with more clarity than before. Now, all of this is in the context of the great resignation. If you have the capacity to lead powerfully, to inspire ownership and you have the right coach, I think you’ll navigate this [00:12:00] storm pretty well back to John.

Gene Hammett: I appreciate you going through that with us. When you look at this, it tells me. This moonshot, right. Something that might not be impossible to get to because of the way you guys have framed it. But the journey is worth that journey. The ride, the work toward that journey is worth it. Is that, is that what you feel like is this is a moonshot.

John Berkowitz: I think, I love space. It’s probably closer to a Mars shot and now even. Okay. Without a friend Ilan and Bezos, Mars might not even be the right, like we might be on your Europa now, Phil it’s called a Europa shot. And I think it’s right. And I think it’s, you have to have a purpose that’s directionally going to take you through really important deliveries because there’s no doubt we’re going to land on the moon. That’s a fact in this business, we are going to land on the moon. And frankly, I think we have a very high odds of landing on Mars, Europa, maybe not in my lifetime and Europa in my business would be the equivalent of we, we have a number internally, 100 out of 100 for every 100 people that show up to our door today, looking [00:13:00] for help in the home journey we serve every single one up that’s a Europa shot, but the, the important thing is that we make progress every day. That makes a better business and a better world chasing Europa. We will land on the moon. We will, we will make a better experience than exists in real estate. I’d bet my life on it at scale, that will mean more North American families have better real estate experiences. I don’t know if we will ever get to this number internally a hundred out of a hundred, but, but the path is the same. If that makes sense. And it pulls you forward in the typical moonshot sorta way.

Gene Hammett: I love your passion around this. And I want to ask you this question. I always feel like this mission that you’re on and the purpose that you’re really living is you’re not just hiring people for a job. You’re inviting them on the mission with you.

And it sounds like you are in agreement with that. So how do you invite people to join us? We’re a little skeptical. There’s gonna be a lot of friction and you’ll probably be exhausted in this journey, but you’re going to really enjoy it. How do you make,[00:14:00], make that business case?

John Berkowitz: I, I have like a, and it’s not, it’s not like a, a repertoire. It has just naturally formed over time where I, when I am trying to bring you on the first thing I do is kind of sell you on. It’s a big opportunity. And, and this is something I go through in every new hire class, which is if you are the ruthless capitalist that like, you know, when, when the Coinbase founder came out and said, you know, screw values, screw, mission, whatever he said, like just rock and roll and be for profit. You were actually welcome to OJO. And that is totally cool. And as long as you are working on the values and what we do that personality is welcome here, but you must know that we are actually building really valuable solutions that are going to change the world. And so, as long as you’re not against that, I don’t care if you’re here just for the really good money on the other side, for the people that were debating. Should I join a nonprofit or should I join OJO? Welcome here, but also, no, this is a for-profit company that I believe we have a bigger impact if we were obsessed on shareholder return. And the nice thing is that, OJO [00:15:00] is equipped with both. And so I go through that. When I’m recruiting, you explaining that this company has found a really perfect balance of both. Then, then I scare the crap out of you and tell you how hard it is. And tell you that you can’t do it. It’s like a scary sandwich. And if you, you still are like in it with me, then I try to close out whether it’s the first call, the second call, the third call reminding you that life’s too short, not to work on great businesses that actually do legitimate, good work in the world. But, but it’s kind of a both because you, you, you don’t, you’re not going to get anybody’s attention by being like, Hey, I have this super hard, really high friction job that you’re going to feel unfulfilled in for the next three years. , that’s not a compelling sales pitch, but if you put it in the package of really understanding what people want, you’d be surprised.

I think a lot of people are searching for what we have. They just don’t realize it. But there’s a lot of people that when you go through that pitch, you disqualify or they disqualify themselves, which is absolutely, I would say more important then, then getting the right [00:16:00] people on is keeping the wrong people off. Some people do that through really high, you know, greenings and lots of hoop. Other people do it through discipline, you know, , vetting practices, my style. And we have, we have kind of both of those things I just said throughout the organization, my personal style is like high, high truth and deep conversations. To figure out needs deciding gene, are you the right person for this journey? As much as you determining you, the right person for this, ,

Commentary: John just talked about a scary sandwich. Now your job is not just to convince people to work for you. Your job is actually the opposite. You want to repel people. John’s talked about this a little bit. The episode, but I want you to really understand that your job is not to get people to work with you and convince them and pull them in and, and, entice them with promotions or bonus or responsibility or sense of ownership. Your job is actually to repel people and you want to repel the wrong people. The best advice I can give you as a leader is to make sure that you’re hiring the right people. And that means you’re not hiring the wrong people. The wrong people [00:17:00] will cost you time, stress, money and we’ll take you away from what you’re trying to create. So you want to repel the people that are not meant to be on the mission with you, just a word of advice perspective that I want you to take in. And heed, as you continue to grow your business. Now back to John,

Gene Hammett: I love the energy you bring to this and the clarity you have. You mentioned value. As a part of the organization. And I know that you’ve kind of gone back and forth. You’re a little contrarian to some of these things. So I have no idea what you would say, but would you say that values are important to how you guys organize and get work done?

John Berkowitz: Totally. Yeah. I think, values are super important and we, we actually, we, we changed value. We had a core value around never fail anyway, but forward. And now we have that as a concept, not a value, and we replaced it with earn trust. We did that, but two and a half years ago, usually you like put your values on you. You say them enough that you believe they’re the best. You don’t really question them. , I think values have to be like a great organization is a living, breathing [00:18:00] organism. , and it is not manifest destiny that it’s going to be crappy and it’s not manifest destiny that’s going to be great. And you have to tend to it and realize that it’s changing all the time values are, you know, the smile on an organization or the heartbeat, you know, they’re, they’re a part of the, the organism. They are not the silver bullet because there are no silver bullets. It’s a portfolio approach. And so values are super important and you need to respect them, nurture them, call BS when you don’t see them. I think some people write them on, on wall. And say we have values. And then like, really when you unpack it, they’re not living them at all. And then others use them as like religious weapons to drive performance.

We don’t do either. Here we are like, these are a set of things, amongst many other things that we need to do. And, and we take them real serious. But it’s, we respect that. The mission, the purpose, the values, the people, all of the organizational behaviors. All of that is what gets us to achieve the mission, not one [00:19:00] of those things. And they’re very interconnected. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra, but I see the two extremes as wrong. And it’s really the magic in the middle of, of it. You know, I, I, and there’s new hire classes. Every employee I say I did my part, I overly thought of the values and then I changed them midway through the company. I, as an employee will show up and do my best. I rate us a six out of 10 right now, living our values. I haven’t found a company that I would give a higher grade than us, but I still hold a high bar. And I, and I then tell employees, like, if we’re not living our values, it’s on you. It’s not on me. Right. There are 25 people, 30 people, 50 people in this new hire class. It’s on you all, not me to take this flag and you must take it from day one. And I think that’s been a, that’s been a good thing and also invite people to call BS really good when you have new hires to be like, if you look at my values and you don’t see us living them all BS on them, which is a totally acceptable thing. And when you, as a founder, admit that like you’re not perfect at living your values as a company. I think it [00:20:00] allows for that active conversation and continued improvement on living those values.

Gene Hammett: That’s about what I get from most people, you do it with a lot more energy and clarity. , but that, that’s just part of your personality. John, you’ve shared with us a lot about realizing your company purpose. And I want to give you one more chance to say, what did we miss talking about here that you feel like is important in thinking about your purpose and living it?

John Berkowitz: I believe deeply the magic that we have in our company is that our business models that us up to live our purpose and our purpose. Sets us up to really execute an incredible business. That is I cannot understate how important that is because we have a flywheel that makes us a better business every day, which allows us to have a bigger impact on our purpose. And by chasing our purpose, it makes our business better. That is a easier said than done and somewhat in us. I, you know, I’m sure I can move, you [00:21:00] know, looking backwards, connect the dots to tell you how smart we are. Some of that was locked. , others was like seizing the opportunities, but, but if I was a, if a founder. I want to be a purpose-driven founder and really have an impact. I would say you need to find the assets you have in your organization. Find what’s important to you and find where your business model needs to be changed or can accelerate that and connect those things.

I have a guided marketplace. That is my business model access in my business model is finding consumer solutions. The number one thing that consumers struggle with in real estate is getting the attention and personalization to get the thing they need on their terms. And if you do that, you’re going to end up putting more people that would have been disadvantaged and held away from home ownership into homes while building a very big company. And so there’s no, there’s no balance of power here. These things just go together and if you get good at articulating, they, they make each other better every day. I think that’s where the magic is, because if you don’t, you’re going to have a slow-growing company that [00:22:00] feels good, but has no impact. Or you’re going to have a vulnerable company that for a while, has impact. But isn’t sustainable and obviously the goals sustainable high impact, right? Purpose driven,

Gene Hammett: Incredible conversation here about realizing your company’s purpose. I really appreciate you being here, John.

John Berkowitz: Yeah, thanks so much Gene.

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.




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