This month we chatted with José Costa Rodrigues, the Co-founder and CEO of Relive, who began his entrepreneurial journey at the young age of 16.
Relive has developed an innovative technological platform to digitalize and automate all of a real estate agent’s day-to-day services, aiming to empower the next generation of real estate entrepreneurs.
*This interview has been slightly edited for reading ease.
First, can you tell us about your professional background and the path that led you to Relive?
I would say it started when I was seven years old. When I started playing football, or soccer as they say in America. That was an important part of my life. I played in the first youth division in Portugal for almost twelve years, so I used to play against a lot of the guys that are in the national team right now. It was a very important experience for me to play normally even though I playing against the best.
Where did you play, out of curiosity?
I was playing at União Leiria, and although the professional senior team isn’t in the first division right now, they’re on their way back, I’m sure of it. Anyways, the youth teams were always very good, we were always in the first division. I say that this is a big part of who I am because it really made me a more competitive person, willing to put in the effort of going to training every day, no matter if it was fiery hot or if it was raining, or if I had a small pain here or there. Football was a big part of gaining this resilience.
When I was 16, I started to understand that maybe there was something that I liked even more than football, which was to make a few bucks here and there. To be able to be free and to do whatever you want with your friends and to be a cool kid when you’re 16. Back then, in the little town where I’m from, the big thing was to have an iPhone. It was the most ‘cool kid’ thing. But I still remember, and this was almost ten years ago, that iPhones were already pretty freaking expensive. So, I went to my parents and I asked them for an iPhone. They told me, “José, we are never going to give you that phone because it’s just too expensive”. So, I just started selling stuff on OLX. Like, everything I could find I would sell on OLX. And it made me some bucks! I remember how I would ship it, then I’d get a check from the post office and go to the store to get cash for the check. And yeah, I saved some bucks and I bought my first iPhone. I still couldn’t afford the new one though, so I bought a used iPhone also on OLX. When I got to school, all my colleagues thought it was so cool that I had an iPhone. “How did you do it? It’s so expensive.” And I told them, “Yes, the new one is, but if you want this one, it will only cost you 400.” Each phone probably cost me 300 to buy, so I made €100. Suddenly, I feel like I’m a millionaire, I can do anything. €100 in profit! What if I sold 10 phones, or 50? And that was that.
I started being known in my hometown as ‘José dos iPhones’, and then I moved to Lisbon to start the company that ended up becoming Forrall Phones, the first refurbished technology company in Portugal. We ended up growing to more than 100 employees. We raised almost €5 million from investors. We opened 15 physical stores in Portugal and Spain. We sold more than €20 million worth of phones. That sure was a lot of phones. Then the company was acquired. Nowadays, Forall Phones keeps going further. It is still growing and I’m very happy about it. That was the first part of my life.
How did you get into real estate, specifically, after you exited Forall?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I always tell my team right now, “guys, you are blessed by God”. You are in such an amazing business, just make the best of it and make money. I used to have a very complex business. I’d go to China for a whole month just to source spare phone parts so we could figure out all the individual steps of our supply chain. It really taught me a lot, it was very tough. I would say that the most difficult part was really to open the stores, because for you to find the right place at the right price with the right infrastructure, its not easy. Like, I don’t know anything about opening a store in, I don’t know, like, Porto, or Coimbra. I’ve been to Coimbra once in my life!
So I dealt a lot with real estate agents, and noticed that some of them were very good real estate agents. They were making a lot of money, but they were clearly very overworked. They’d jump from one call to the other, and then another. They would tell me that I only had 15 minutes to see the store because they needed to be at another showing elsewhere right after. They were always running from one place to the other. The really successful real estate agents were always running around because they were a one-man-band.
On the other hand, you saw the low producing agents. They were just doing a couple of deals per year, selling their cousin’s house or their mother’s house, or just helping a neighbor. They were not professional, so they had all the time in the world. So I thought to myself: “Okay, real estate is a huge industry. There’s a lot of money to be made, and there are a lot of real estate agents. Maybe there’s an opportunity here for us to help real estate agents have better performances.”
So we started our company, Relive, in order to build a platform that would help them not only become successful real estate agents, but truly manage a successful brand. We started meeting with top producing agents and we asked them, “So last year you did $200,000 of revenue, did you know that there are a lot of businesses in America or in Portugal, small family owned businesses, that do nowhere near $200,000 in revenue? Those businesses that have real expenses — employees, rent — they’re not making half of the money you are. However, you are the one that hasn’t even started a formal company. You haven’t hired someone to manage your social media. You’re still taking all of your calls on your phone. You don’t even have your own website. What is going on? Let us help you professionalize your business so that instead of doing 200k in revenue, you do 300k.” So we developed the platform, the mobile app, and the services that would allow them to do just that. That’s how we’ve started.
It seems like you spotted a specific problem and immediately set out to try and fix it. Do you have any advice for young people that are embarking on their own entrepreneurship journeys?
Yes. Everyone must think that this whole story seems very nice. What we haven’t talked about is how if you’re an entrepreneur starting your own company, you probably, for the first year or two, will be constantly adapting. You’re going to be knocking your head against the wall trying to find the right way to do things, trying different things. You need to find out what makes your business grow, and then you need to double down on that and be consistent with it. That would be my advice, not to be afraid of trying different things in order to get to your target market and to then build a nice business. Now, the thing is, we don’t have a lot of money as a startup. So, if you’re going to fail, try to fail as fast as possible. As fast as possible and as cheap as possible.
Now switching tracks a little bit, if you could go back in time, is there anything you’d do differently?
Oh, yes, so many things. Like, I think it’s very tough to be a first-time founder. There’s this thing an investor told me once, that one of the biggest reasons why he was investing in me was my track record. Not my individual victories, or failures, but all of them put together. The whole journey. I think that when you’re a first-time founder, everything is on the extreme at first. When you get to scale, or you get new hires, you’re so excited. Or, everything is horrible when a customer decides to leave, or your key employee suddenly decides to go to your competitor. What I’m saying is that you keep jumping from one emotional extreme to the other. I lived every single one of those things as a first-time founder. Now that I’m moving to my second or third company, I think I already have a different kind of experience, a different kind of maturity that helps me manage my emotions the right way. So, my advice to entrepreneurs out there would be to manage their emotions, to have mentors, to get help from their investors. When you’re 19, nobody teaches you to hire or fire someone that probably has kids at home. For those kinds of things, you just need to learn to be tough.
Lastly, I would like to ask you what’s the best part of being a self-made entrepreneur and also what’s been the most challenging part?
I would say the best part is, as Richard Branson says, for you to feel like you can pick up your notebook, open up a blank page and write anything down. I said I wanted to create a company in the United States of America that helps real estate agents be extremely successful. This is the easy part, right? This is the part where you dream. But then where’s the execution? Then you need to write down exactly what it is that you need to do to achieve that dream. So, I think the coolest thing about being an entrepreneur is that at first you start by defining small goals, it doesn’t need to be anything crazy. Then you start executing, and three months, six months, or one year later, you look back and you’re like, “Oh my God, how was this actually achievable? I did that.” That, for me, is the most motivating thing.
Then the most challenging thing. As an entrepreneur, I would say every single freaking thing. I think it’s just tough. Let’s be pragmatic, it’s very tough being an entrepreneur. You need to manage a lot of emotions, you need to learn a lot of new things all the time, and you need to deal with your ego. It doesn’t matter that you’re the founder, CEO, or whatever. That means nothing. What matters is that you need to be someone that inspires others, that gathers the right people, that builds the right product, that knows what your customers need and really delivers those dreams, that EXECUTES. So I think the challenging part is for you to know how to do so many different things. That’s the most challenging thing because there is a long time between being an entrepreneur with an idea to being an entrepreneur with a company that actually has a marketing, finance, tech, and operations department. That’s where you need to manage your ego and make sure the most important thing for you is your company, and not yourself.
*Interview by Álvaro Furtado