Brian Davis is the Co-Founder of Spark Rental, a real estate company that provides rental automation and education services to landlords, property managers, and renters. He is a passionate real estate and personal finance educator, a rental industry expert who lives to help others realized their dreams of building a passive income.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Baltimore in a very middle-class home with divorced parents. I had a pleasant and happy childhood, and can’t complain in the slightest. But despite being better with money than most, neither of my parents taught me anything about money. I had to go out and learn financial lessons the hard way, first by failing miserably and then by reading and learning on my own. I plan to raise my daughter with as much financial savvy as I possibly can.
If that constitutes “privilege,” then all the better – I’m going to give her as many competitive advantages as I can, without spoiling her (a disservice done to children by too many successful parents).
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I’d sought out more help from mentors. Like most young people, I thought I knew more than I did. I lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in poor investments because I didn’t put in the hard work to learn how to invest properly.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In real estate investing, new investors often get fixated on the wrong details, such as financing or asset protection, and experts oblige them. But what new investors should really focus on are the fundamentals of how to find good deals, and how to verify that they are in fact good deals, along with either learning how to manage rentals or hire and manage property managers effectively.
And, of course, new investors all want to know how to buy properties with a small down payment. Instead, they should focus on how to save money faster, because more cash gives them more options.
But no one wants to hear that they should spend less and save more.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
When I first set out as an entrepreneur, it took several years to turn a profit. That caused massive problems in my marriage, and for my confidence and self-esteem. I was working long hours with no guarantee of it ever being worth my while. Eventually, I picked up a side hustle of freelance writing, which created an income floor. It also helped bootstrap the business, which subsequently turned the corner.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Success requires a mix of hard work, honest appraisal of your own strengths and weaknesses, and an eye for opportunity. You can call it luck, but opportunities constantly fly by us, and often we simply ignore them or fail to recognize them at all. I think a huge factor in success is simply staying open-minded and paying as much attention as you can to subtle opportunities.
As a quick example, at times in our business we earn most of our revenue from a source we added as an afterthought. We just brainstormed ideas and decided it was worth experimenting with, and it ended up saving our business at one point.
What is your morning routine?
I aim to wake up around 6:45, but I don’t set an alarm – one of my few indulgences as an entrepreneur. While I brush my teeth, I listen to the BBC five-minute world news summary for the most critical world news. I then listen to one of several business podcasts on my eight-minute walk to my office (in a coworking space).
I aim to be at my computer by 7:15. I scan for any urgent emails but ignore most until later in the morning when my brain is less rested and capable. I then write out one thing I’m grateful for, three must-do tasks for that day, and perhaps a couple of other lower-priority tasks that I hope (but don’t need) to accomplish.
By 8 am I make breakfast at the office, and while eating I read Morning Brew for a summary of the most important business news of the day. My breakfast every weekday is simple, fast, and healthy: fat-free yogurt with blueberries, bananas, and homemade granola. I also brew green tea which I don’t sweeten.
I try to answer most non-urgent emails in the late morning when my focus starts dimming. In my mid-day break, I work out and eat lunch, and the workout really helps recharge my energy and focus for the afternoon.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Meditation helps lower stress and clarify your thoughts. I aim for ten minutes a day, which anyone can spare.
Eating healthy and daily exercise also make a huge impact on your mood and mental clarity. Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean bland food, or spending more money. It does require that you learn how to cook, and put in the effort of preparing your own food.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
The most important thing is planning your priorities. As an entrepreneur, start with a five-year vision for your company. Describe it in detail. Then write out what you would need to accomplish in each of the next five years, with the most detail given to the coming year.
Then drop down to quarterly plans for the next year, with most detail given over to the next quarter. From there, you can write out your plan for the next month.
Each week I set one “Champagne” goal: something that would make me want to pop a bottle of bubbly if I achieved it. But also set two other larger goals for the week, that you definitely want to accomplish.
Finally, each morning set three top-priority tasks that you must accomplish. Remember to focus on work that will actually move the needle in your business, not the tasks that are fun or easy. When in doubt, focus on the bottleneck or constraint – the one thing that’s holding up progress for other goals.
The daily mid-day workout also makes a huge difference in my afternoon productivity. Seriously, if you want to get more done, start working out every day during your lunch hour.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The book that started me thinking differently about money was Robert Kiyosaki’s classic Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Most people don’t really internalize the concept that their money should work for them, not the other way around. So they go out and work hard, earn as much as they can – and then spend nearly every penny of it.
I also like You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero and Personal Success Made Simple by Brian Tracy. On the business side, Traction by Gino Wickman is extremely useful in systematizing your business to work on rather than in your business.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I love Don’t Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier and try to read it once every six weeks. I also love The Man in the Arena speech by Theodore Roosevelt. Both give me reassurance that the harder road I chose as an entrepreneur is not in vain.
And I love the quote originally from Walt Whitman, “Be curious, not judgmental,” recently re-popularized by Ted Lasso. The world would be a better place if we were all more curious and less judgmental.