“Motivated By Innovation And The Freedom To Be Creative”
How a Surf Bum became a 4 time Inc 500 Entrepreneur…
I’ll start this story in the 3rd person like most website’s do:
(Even though we all know they were written by the person who they’re supposed to be about)…
“Oliver is such a strong man, he’s such a great guy, with an amazing tan. He’s so talented… and good looking. Yada Yada Yada.”
That doesn’t feel right.
So here’s the story:
A long long time ago (1967)…
In a galaxy far far away (Germany)…
Josef and Renate Graf (my parents) decided to immigrate from Germany to the United States.
Two Germans, not speaking any English.
First they moved to Canada for a few years, and then eventually made the journey down to Orange County.
After living in Germany and Canada they got tired of the cold weather and frigid winters. They wanted to go somewhere with a “Warm Mediterranean climate”… so they narrowed down their search to either Australia or Southern California. After some deliberation (and several glasses of wine) they decided they would go to California.
They made the move and settled into their new life in the USA.
Several year’s later (1980), they had a beautiful baby boy (me).
Which made me a first generation American.
When I was young both my parents worked long hours, so Oma and Opa (my Grandma and Grandpa) came over from Germany to help raise me for the first few years.
Since they only spoke German, they only spoke German to me. That taught me my first language (German), which I still speak today. I didn’t learn English until I went to kindergarten at 4 years old.
My parents, being Immigrants, worked hard for everything they had.
They climbed up the ladder of “American Success” step by step. Witnessing their journey first hand always motivated me to want to work hard as well.
My dad had his own business and my mom became Vice President of Lion Country Safari.
They were focused and determined in business, which was one of the greatest lessons they passed on to me.
A little back story…
I come Come from a long line of entrepreneurs so becoming an entrepreneur seemed like an obvious path for me.
My great Grandfather had a bike shop in Germany during the War.
My dad, being an engineer, started a medical equipment manufacturing and supply company. His company was involved in the invention of the Schulman clamp (Still used today for cutting babies umbilical cords at birth).
Seeing how hard they worked was always an inspiration. They put their blood sweat and tears into creating a life for us and it motivated me to want to do whatever I needed to do to be successful.
As long as I can remember I’ve had the entrepreneurial bug.
I was the kid in elementary school already “starting businesses”…
I would do things like sell fireworks to all the other kids in the neighborhood to make money.
They didn’t allow fireworks to be sold in our city, so I would go to the neighboring city to get them in “bulk”. I’d buy them, bring them back, break them down into smaller packs, and then sell them off to the other local kids.
It was a profitable (and fun) business for a young boy.
From there it escalated…
I’ve been involved in everything from selling couches online, clothing brands, print companies, events, casino gambling websites… you name it, my business partner Sam and I have probably tried to start a business around it.
On top of being entrepreneurial, I’ve also pretty much only worked in sales jobs. Learning to sell is essential to success.
I recognized early that EVERYTHING around us is bought and sold (think about it, everything from the car you drive, to the place you live, to the clothes you wear, to the device your reading this on… everything has been bought and sold, in most cases several times). So I decided I wanted to master the art of selling.
I became obsessed with sales and marketing and how they can influence people to take action. Not in a creepy or negative way, but in a “guide them down the path to helping them get what they want” kind of way.
Because of this obsession, I needed to know everything about sales.
I became obsessed with reading books like Psychology of Sales (Brian Tracy), How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie), and Secrets of Closing The Sale (Zig Ziglar).
That lead me to further explore self development programs like the Napoleon Hill Foundation and Anthony Robbins.
At this time I was in college and we worked selling phones at the mall. Yes, we were the guys that used to stop people in the middle of the mall and sell them a phone right there on the spot (this was way before everyone had one).
With all the sales training I was consuming I was consistently ranked one of the top sales people in the company and was continuously studying to get even better.
One day I had an epiphany…
Since I knew I could sell, I figured I might as well sell something expensive.
At the time the most expensive things I could think of were… Yachts, Jets, and Houses. Since I didn’t know anything about yachts… or jets… I figured real estate would be the best decision.
Got my Real Estate license in 2005.
Shortly after I got my license, the real estate market started taking a turn for the worse. Little did I know we would be heading into the worst real estate market for the last 25 years.
We started seeing the trend of mortgages defaulting and the number of pre-foreclosures increasing so we needed to figure out how to survive and thrive in this new (bad) market.
During that time we got heavily into short sales where we bought and sold over 260 properties in 4 years.
Then we started a brokerage
Around 2010 the short sale niche had dried up because the overall market was improving.
A great thing overall, it just meant we would need to be flexible as we pivot into our next venture.
We decided to start a real estate brokerage. But not your traditional brokerage, we wanted to create something special.
With my long time friend and business partner Sam Khorramian we started a brokerage where we were 100% focused on service and the customer experience (for our agents and clients). Our model was different and so was our approach to a generally outdated real estate industry.
We were fortunate and it grew extremely fast landing us in the top 50 of the Inc. 500 three years in a row.
Now I’m motivated by innovation and the freedom to be creative.
We’ve been painting for several years and I’ve always looked at business the same way I look at art…
When you start a business it’s just a blank canvas. Next you add a foundation layer and build from there. As things progress, you constantly have to be thinking about the next moves. You also need to be flexible and anticipate things going wrong and needing to switch directions. I’ve always loved to create things and the creativity in building a business and creating a new painting are much the same.
They both make me happy… and ultimately you should do what makes you happy.
Here’s what we’ve been up to lately…