6 lessons for turning challenges into entrepreneurial opportunities

ASU accountancy alum is the 2020 Spirit of Enterprise Award winner


November 17, 2020

Ninety-two percent of executives say the pandemic made their company rethink how they work and 87% of employees say their company has created better ways of working since the crisis began. That’s according to The Work Survey by intelligent workflow platform company ServiceNow.

“This illustrates that there are opportunities that come from times of transition,” said Jerry Coleman, an Arizona State University accounting alumnus and co-founder of Offerpad, Elevation Home Energy Solutions and more Arizona-based companies. Offerpad co-founder Jerry Coleman ASU alumnus Jerry Coleman speaks during a virtual event. Download Full Image

Coleman, a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in real estate and a passion for developing and growing companies on a national scale, knows firsthand that every challenge is an opportunity. He shared six business lessons in his keynote speech, titled “Turning Challenges Into Opportunities in Times of Transition” on Nov. 3 at the 24th annual Spirit of Enterprise Award event in honor of him. 

Lesson 1: Take a step back during transitions

The real estate development company Alliance Investment Group that Coleman co-founded in 2004 had been working on a $30-million project with $1 million of hard costs invested when the market crashed in 2007–08.

“We were able to take a step back and say, ‘OK, what's happening here?’ I think times of transition are key if you can recognize them and build on future success," Coleman said. "We had to make a very difficult decision. It was right to cancel that project and quickly transition into looking at distressed assets as opposed to new development projects.”

He shifted to buying, renovating and renting single-family homes when many families’ properties were being foreclosed during the Great Recession.

“We continued to look at what was happening around the country and beyond and we saw a real need for quality rental homes for families across the U.S.,” Coleman said.  

While it began with single-family rental homes in Arizona, a partnership with investment giant The Blackstone Group came together with a plan of scaling a national single-family rental company — and Invitation Homes was born in 2012. The home leasing company put $10 billion into buying 50,000 single-family rental homes across 14 markets in its first two years, hiring 1,500 employees and putting 10,000 contractors to work. Today, it’s a public company with a market cap of over $16 billion and remains the largest single-family home rental portfolio with 80,000 homes across 17 markets across the country.

“It started with a major disruption in the real estate industry and came down to making the transition based on new developments that were happening — even though the developments were in the Great Recession and a massive housing collapse.”

Lesson 2: Follow your talent for fulfillment

Coleman stressed the importance for people to learn both what it is they enjoy doing as well as where their skill set lies. He told the audience to consider what they're passionate about and how that fits in with their talents and abilities.

“I've realized over the years that I enjoy the early stages of a business — coming up with an idea, launching it, fundraising and beginning to scale,” he said. “Then as things stabilize into the operational phase, I become less interested. And, frankly, that's not where my skill set lies. The sooner we can recognize the areas where we're both passionate and skilled, the better it will be for us in our careers.”

In 2014, Coleman stepped away from Invitation Homes and started Elevation Home Energy Solutions, one of the Southwest’s largest solar sales and installation companies.

“We saw that it was closely tied to real estate and one of the biggest expenses associated with real estate,” Coleman said.

With footing and experience in the residential single-family home industry, he co-founded Elevation to bring clean, affordable solar power to thousands of homes and businesses across the U.S.

Through each of his business ventures, Coleman applies his accountancy knowledge from ASU and his legal background achieved with a law degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to understand tax policies and profitability principles, as well as lead acquisitions and oversee legal and risk management areas.

Lesson 3: Build on your business base

While Elevation provides energy solutions to individual homes, “We also began taking those solutions to portfolios of properties to bring meaningful uses not only to property owners but to utility companies,” Coleman said.

He’s currently in the process of working with utility stakeholders to create virtual power plants, which would replace nonclean, nonrenewable facilities with new energy solutions.

“We saw different opportunities to build on our advancements,” Coleman said. “Bringing the home and utility industries together has created opportunities to take scaled energy solutions across the country.”

Lesson 4: Modernize market services

With residential real estate experience, along with that of founder and once top U.S. real estate agent, Brian Bair, Offerpad was created in 2015 to provide homeowners with an easier, more convenient way to sell their house. This involves selling directly to Offerpad for a competitive cash offer within 24 hours, no showings, the ability to pick their closing day and a free local move. Recently, Offerpad began to partner with sellers to list their home, too, including free show-ready home services, a back-up cash offer, home improvement advance and dedicated experts and support.

Lesson 5: Partner with great people

“I've been lucky that I had a great partner, Josh Simonton, at Alliance,” Coleman said. “I had great local co-founders through Invitation Homes in Dallas Tanner, Tom Stapley and Marcus Ridgway and others. And I have a great founding partner of both Elevation Home Energy Solutions and Offerpad in Brian Bair.”

Coleman said working with Bair for over 10 years and learning their different skill sets were keys to their success.

“Brian was one of the most successful traditional real estate brokers in the country and was continually looking to bring more solutions to homeowners who wanted to sell their house,” Coleman explained. He and Bair combined that experience with what they learned at Invitation Homes to develop something great.

Lesson 6: Get creative during COVID-19

Ninety-one percent of executives and 87% of employees say their company transitioned to new ways of working faster than they thought possible.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Offerpad quickly worked to understand the changes that were happening with a focus on safety for employees and the homeowners working with them.

“The solution was already geared toward facilitating the digital home buying and selling process and that worked in our favor,” Coleman said. Offerpad also continues to make it easier with virtual tours and a virtual closing process.

“As challenging as the past several months have been, take a step back and look at how they provide an opportunity to bring better solutions to the public.”

Shay Moser

Managing Editor, W. P. Carey School of Business

480-965-3963