How can you succeed with your creative and analytic sides as a woman? Merrill Chandler sits with Sarah Sullivan, the CEO of SuGo Capital – a company that offers you financial freedom through real estate investing. Sarah shares her journey going through MBA, circus school, corporate, and real estate. The key to succeeding? Learn to say “yes!” Experiment and try new things. Don’t try to follow one path because there are infinite paths! Figure out what gives you joy, wealth, and freedom. Listen to this episode for more inspiration.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Circus School, Real Estate Investing, And Saying “YES!” With Sarah Sullivan
We are opening the doors one more time for you to be able to explore in celebration of Women’s History Month. My guest is Sarah Sullivan. Her background is a massive swing between the creative and the strategic. As you will learn in this episode, her ideal way to explore everything that came to her in her life was to say yes so that she could find out what resonated the most. In this episode, we are going to do a deep dive with one of the most fascinating women and someone I love to call a friend.
In the spirit of Women’s History, exceptional women, and the Women’s Month Movement that I have dedicated my March 2022 to, I would love to introduce you to Sarah Sullivan, a friend, an entrepreneur, and a genius. What’s crazy and why I have Sarah here is that she’s not a genius just in her space. She’s a genius, and then she chose a space. Sarah, welcome. I’m so happy to have you here with me.
Thanks for having me, Merrill. Thank you for that introduction. That was very flattering.
I have told you this. Here’s a little backstory. I met Sarah at a mastermind called Board of Advisors. It didn’t take us long to recognize that we were both special. We are gregarious personalities, and we are out there. In that group, we go out to dinners and lunches. We started getting to know each other. At 7:00 PM, I started my Bloody Marys. Pretty soon, it became an opportunity to share different recipes for some of the elixirs that we like to take in.
From there, it was on. We were best friends. It was an amazing night. I don’t have pictures of it. I’m wearing Sarah’s scarf through the rest of the evening and looking quite dapper because she has amazing style above and beyond the sheer genius. First of all, tell us a little bit about what you are doing now. I’m going to cast back and look at the journey as a woman, how you’ve got here and what that journey has meant to you.
I’m full-time in real estate. I own thirteen apartment buildings. It’s about 2,600 units and over $250 million in assets under management. I purchased all those with investor funds. It’s an amazing space to be in. I’m sure we will get to this. It was not a straight-line journey to get here but I found my niche and focused on it. It has been an incredible journey. I feel very fortunate to have been able to find exactly what resonates with me, what I’m good at, and the alignment. Every step of the way was like, “It’s not quite right,” and then it was like, “Everything is right.” It took off. I have apartment buildings. It’s fabulous.
First of all, I refer my clients to you. You have shared some of your clients and referred them to me. There’s great synergy in getting fundable and then where to use these different bank loans and commercial loans for long-term passive investments. What is most important to me in this interview is to celebrate Women’s History Month and your journey. Take me back a few years can’t be more than a decade but take me back to where you started your career and when you decided, “I don’t want to be doing this. What else is there?” We call them wealth vehicles. Share that process when you started awakening up, “Is there something more for me?”
I was in business. In college, I had a career working for big and small tech companies. There was a moment after I got my MBA where I was like, “Something is not right.” There was something uncomfortable. The dream I had was, “When I get this degree and my MBA, I’m going to be a VP of some big tech company. I’m going to be rich and have a fun life.” It wasn’t like that. What I did was I moved to England and went full-time to circus school because I was like, “I want fun. This is boring.”
She left her post-MBA life, went to London, England, and went to circus school. Remember, we talk about the creative strategist. MBA is a full-blown strategy side. Here comes Sarah to say, “Let’s check out the far end of the creative side.” Tell us about circus school.
It was intense. It was mostly 16 to 18-year-old people. I was 30 years old and almost twice their age. They were like, “You are married. You are old.” I went, and it was training 8:00 to 5:00 every day, five days a week for three months. Needless to say, I was extremely physically fit after. It was tons of fun, and we created it every day. I did partner acrobatics. I was throwing people around. That was the base. You can’t tell but I’m almost 5’9. A lot of the people were under 5 feet.If you see the ugly version of you, you need to change your life. Click To Tweet
You ended up at the base of the pyramid. You are the thrower and the catcher, not the throne.
I did aerial arts as well, trapeze, and silk. I was like, “This is life for me. This is the most fun I have ever had. These people are fabulous.” You are trusting people with your life. With the connection and intimacy that I felt with the people I was training and performing with, I was like, “This is life. This is it.”
I’ve known her for years, and I did not know about circus school. My interviews are all about me exploring my friends because we’ve never got to this over Bloody Marys.
I don’t know how we missed that part. We were so into talking about money and how we make money for our clients. This is the fun stuff. I did that. I was traveling around Europe, teaching, performing, and exploring. It was great. I had a moment. I bought a friend of mine a pair of shoes. He was in the circus, and he cried because he said, “I have never had shoes this nice.” These were secondhand checkered Vans that I saw. They were £4. It was super cheap.
I was married. My husband was supporting me, so I didn’t have to worry about the money side. I realized, “This is our path. You are poor. It’s fun but I don’t want to be poor.” I was trying to figure out how I could keep circus in my life but use my business side. I helped start a circus school. We came back to the US and lived in Silicon Valley in Palo Alto. I was like, “We need a circus school here. The parents will pay for it.”
All the CEOs could go to circus school instead of monasteries when they are trying to get their creativity on.
That was also fun but I still didn’t get rich doing that. We started having kids and stuff. It was a lot of work physically while I was doing that. I went back to corporate at that point and said, “I tried to have the fun side but then I didn’t have the money.” Now that I have a family, I went back to corporate and worked for tech startups as the Director of Engineering, program management, and these things at tech startups. I didn’t have as much money as I wanted. I had money but I didn’t have time. I was working so hard. I didn’t have time for creativity and fun. It began to be less part of my life.
There was one night when I was putting my kids to bed. They were under 3 and 5, maybe 2 and 4 or somewhere in there. I was watching myself at the moment, and I was an ugly person. I was so stressed out from the Silicon Valley life, the long commute, the babies in two different kinds of daycares and preschool, driving, picking them up when daycare was closing, and the rat race that everyone talks about. That level of stress in my body came out because my kids were not going to bed.
I saw myself and was like, “This is an ugly version of me. I need to change my life. I don’t know what I’m going to do but I need to change my life. I need money and freedom.” I don’t know how I’m going to do it but I made a commitment that night. I was going to figure out how to do it. The journey began. I was like, “I’m going to have my company. I don’t know what it’s going to be but it’s going to make me a lot of money and freedom.” I started researching all these online coaches and stuff. I was like, “I will put in the work. I’m a hard worker. I’ve got to figure it out.” I tried a bunch of different things.
Learning to leverage is the point.
To people reading, try a bunch of different things. I was like, “I’m going to do an online course for stay-at-home moms who want to be acrobat fit.” I had this Acro Fit from Home course. I started like, “Let me ask people around me.” I was in Silicon Valley. There were a lot of people not working but they had luxurious lives. I’m like, “What are you doing?” Many people were talking about real estate but not real estate as I knew it. I had taken real estate courses from gurus like fix and flip and wholesaling. I was like, “That is a ton of work. That’s not financial freedom.” People were saying, “We invest in syndication. It’s group projects. We are passive. Someone else runs them.” I started learning more.
I took courses from the gurus and a couple like Rich Dad university with Robert and RE Mentor™ with Tyler Deveraux. I went through these things, and it hit me. I had done some stuff in quite a few things in real estate and lost money. This is another thing. There were big fat failures where I lost money in real estate but I didn’t say, “Real estate is off the list.” I said, “I’m not doing what’s right for me in real estate.” I want people to know that because I get the stories all the time from investors like, “I’m nervous to invest in D because someone I know failed at A.”
It’s because it’s under the umbrella of real estate or whatever big overarching idea it is.
I remember after I went to the first workshop around syndications. I came back and was like, “Mom, listen to this model.” I explained it to her. She was like, “That is a big fat scam. My friends from church lost a lot of money in ’08. You should not touch real estate.” I was like, “Your friend lost some money buying a duplex. This is different. These are cashflowing apartment buildings in emerging markets, not in your neighborhood.” It was all about learning to buy not where you live. That’s different.
It’s learning to buy in markets that are exploding with the asset class that is fitting the supply and demand of what’s going on in that place. It’s the economies of scale versus 1 to 2 units at a time. I was like, “This is it for me.” I started down the path of trying to do this with my husband. We’ve got nowhere but I still didn’t stop. It was nine months of trying to get our first property. We’ve got nothing. My husband said, “I’m out. I have a great job that goes well. You can do this on your own.”
I was like, “I’m going to do it. Peace out. I will figure out how to do this.” It was not a negative way. It was a very peaceful peace out. I went to one of the coaches and the programs and said, “You are amazing. Why aren’t you ten times as big as you are?” They said, “This piece is something that we are not amazing at.” I was like, “That’s the piece I liked best. This process from A to Z or this section is what I like. I don’t like all this stuff.” They are like, “We love this stuff. We have some other partners who like this stuff.” I was like, “Let’s do it together.”
We partnered up, and both of our companies exploded. They had been doing it for years. Now their portfolio is double what it was. I had no portfolio, and now I have a big portfolio. There’s a lot of stuff in entrepreneurship and startups in Silicon Valley where people in the same stage get together as support groups. The CEO of one of the startups I worked with said, “I’m the CEO of a startup. I’m not going to talk to other CEOs of startups. I need to be in a group with CEOs of these companies that have already scaled and been through it.”
I was like, “I need to partner with someone who is already way ahead of me.” That’s what I did. They have been doing it for years, and they needed help in this one area. We joined forces. If you are starting a company or in a company and you want to explode, partnerships are amazing if you are good at one thing but not so great on another. Some people hire for that. That is a way to do it but you still have to train that person. I found that partnering was the whole thing for me.Experiment and find out what sticks. Click To Tweet
Unpack their skillset. Somebody was doing A through G. You loved H through P. Somebody else was doing Q all the way to Z. They are already competent at that. I love what you are sharing because so many of us think we have to do it all. The very nature of an entrepreneur means, “It’s on me. I’ve got to do it all rather than leveraging other people’s skillsets.” I shared that a big piece of fundability™ is the creative strategist. It’s the balance between our creative self and our analytical self.
Can you please share with the other women who are celebrating with us and even their male counterparts how you balance? You swung to the MBA or massive strategist and all the way to circus performer and trainer. I can’t see very much of A to Z that got missed before you landed in this balance and niche. Tell me about how you came to be aware of the internal partnership between your creativity and your analyst or the creative strategist.
I don’t think it was on purpose. It was through experimenting, trying a bunch of different things, and finding what stuck. It wasn’t intentional. It was like, “Let me take all the Facebook ads that pop up.” There’s someone teaching some method to grow a business. There was the real estate that I knew how to do. I learned how to analyze the project and put together the syndication. That’s the analytical side. I found a marketing coach. What I do with my partners is all the marketing and investor relations. It’s the heart side of it.
I’m so into what’s best for them. I spend time getting to know them, their family, and their goals to make sure that they are investing in the right thing. I don’t think it was purposeful. It was just trying out and saying yes to things. A lot of people out there are like, “I went to this three-day challenge. They were trying to sell me a package afterward.” I was like, “If it resonates, buy and try it. If it doesn’t work, you put out a couple of thousand bucks. Who cares? You could make $1 million.”
There’s a bigger upside than a downside.
I said yes to so many things. For things that didn’t click, I said, “I tried it. It didn’t work for me. It might work for someone else.” I kept trying and saying yes until I found the thing that worked. There are email marketing and education forms. I put on large educational events for investors. That worked for me. Some people say, “It’s a lot of work. That doesn’t work.” It works for me because I love teaching. It was a lot of the skills that I learned from teaching acrobatics and aerial arts for so many years. I had to make sure that people understood what they were doing or they would get seriously hurt and go to the hospital. It’s a life and death situation. It’s carrying that heart. I need to make sure that people understand and educate. It’s the level of caring that I have for people.
That’s important for us to all learn because if you are accustomed for years to taking care of somebody’s literal physical safety, that’s not a big stretch to take care of or prioritize their financial and emotional safety when it comes to the white-knuckled, “What am I doing? This is insane,” type of decision. People have said yes to you as their first time at real estate investing. Passive it may be, you are the first. They are still white-knuckling until we all get that level of comfort like, “I’m on my third property with Sarah.” In my experience, what you do resonates. That’s why we have so many great connections and send people to each other.
I spent fourteen months on a fix and flip. It’s a live-in flip. Buy a duplex, fix one side, live in that while I fix the other side, and then start changing out light bulbs in an oven. It was a crap show for me. I was like, “I am not that guy. I know how to get money from banks.” What I can do and what you do has this merry little synergy because the bank loans that I get can be handled. I haven’t seen an instance in any of your proposals where the monthly stipend doesn’t cover my payment to the bank. All of a sudden, I would end at the end of your trajectory 5, 7 years, or whatever it is.
I’m free and clear with a big pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. That is a thing for me because I don’t have to pick up a hammer. That was madness for me. I get it. Going back, what challenges have you found in this space? Have you found challenges that you as a woman found challenging? Real estate isn’t a male-dominated space. It’s nearly 50/50 in my experience. What challenges do you run into? To the women reading and whatever their entrepreneurial enterprise is, how have you overcome challenges that you have faced as a woman?
The multifamily space and the rooms I’m in are 90% male but that was not a challenge for me. In college, Math and Physics were the courses I was in, which were predominantly male. I worked at Boeing on the rocket program. It was predominantly male. I was used to being in rooms that were predominantly male. I didn’t feel like it was a challenge at all. That was comfort. When I went to a room where it was all women with my marketing coach, I was like, “What do I do with all these women?”
A turning point was my real estate mentor or coach and now partner said to me at the beginning of when we started talking about multifamily, “You are going to rock it. Being a female is going to benefit you so much in this space.” I was like, “I don’t get why.” What happened is that women feel more comfortable opening up to me, “Here are my financial plans. I don’t know these things. Can you help explain this to me?” There are also men.
Many male investors have said to me, not in these words exactly, “I’m comfortable asking you all these questions that I don’t want to ask a guy because I don’t want to seem stupid or ignorant that I don’t already know all these things.” People feel comfortable opening up, sharing, and asking. If you don’t understand your investment, you are not going to make it. That’s key. It was a great thing. The challenge was me realizing that it’s not a challenge. It’s a huge benefit.
You are a gift to half of the real estate investment population so that they can feel safe to ask any warranted concerns, questions, comments or otherwise and be like, “Shoulder to shoulder, as a woman in the business, what can I anticipate? These are my goals.” You have a listening ear. That is phenomenal. I didn’t see that one coming.
Here’s a challenge as a female that I had, which may resonate not because I’m in real estate but as an entrepreneur. I want to take care of people. You want to do things yourself. It has been a challenge for me to scale by hiring and giving things to people. This is still a challenge for me. It’s hiring, giving, and letting people grow in their positions by letting them make some failures. They get to do it because it’s like, “It’s not going right. Let me take it back. I can fix it.” That’s the challenge when you are trying to grow a company. In 2021, we had a lot of success but I was also beat at the end of the year because I was doing that.
I have to speak to that because for those of you who have gone to the Bootcamp, became clients or checked into our fundability™ accelerator, the Momentum program, Sarah has a bonus. I have my coaches and the people I believe in as part of a bonus for that. You offer consultation as part of that, which is still you. I understand that it’s very hands-on for you. You better get it while it’s getting good because she may be training somebody to do all the right things to get a quality experience.
That’s the point. One of my biggest challenges like yours is because I grew this puppy from the tiny me talking to mortgage broker clients back in 1997 one-on-one, “Let’s solve your fundability™ problems. Here’s your optimization plan.” There’s no assistance. There’s nothing. Now I have over a dozen full-time people handling things that I used to do on my own. That was not an easy weaning process.
It is difficult but necessary. It creates movement in the curve and the trajectory.
I would like any philosophy or practice. The most difficult thing for me was learning that I needed to find somebody I could admit was better than I was at each position I was hiring for. I have not onboarded the last three advisors. My advisor leadership team has all onboarded. I’m like, “I’m the guy over here. You may have watched my Bootcamp as part of your training but I wasn’t even involved.” As you look forward to through the rest of 2022, what is your plan and strategy, the internal conflict, and whatever is true for you? How are you letting go?Visualize what being successful will feel like. Click To Tweet
It’s involved because I realized it at the end of 2021, I felt like I was such a cliché. Some physical things were happening to me that I was like, “This is because I have such poor health because I’m so overworked. I’m such a cliché. How did this ever happen? I was in the circus, and now I’m unhealthy.” I have two coaches who are helping me scale. One is on the practical side of it, and the other is on the mental side.
I was taking control and going back to the programming I had as a female. My mother took care of the house. I was trained to take care of everything. My brothers were not trained to take care of everything. It’s that programming and those paradigms that I have in me like, “I need to take care of everything. It’s all on my shoulders.” I’m actively working on releasing those paradigms and adopting new paradigms so that I can give away ownership.
I don’t know if you learned this but what I learned is she is taking control of letting go. It’s a process. It’s stepping away. I get it.
Also, a key thing is visualizing what doing this successfully will feel like, “How do I visualize and manifest someone better than me at the investor follow-up? Who’s better than me at writing my email copy or whatever it is?” It’s the freedom, release, health, and happiness that I would feel. Visualize that.
While you said the investor follow-up, I went to the Showtime show Billions, where they have IR or Investor Relations. They are magic makers of knowing who their people are and how to support them. I went straight there. I’m like, “I want a visual of what that looks like.” In conclusion, here’s a two-part question. What would you share with all entrepreneurs and with women who are where you are in this process of letting go? What would you share with your twenty-year-old self?
With other women who are in my position, be honest with yourself about what’s holding you back. If it has been holding you back for a while but you think you can change it yourself, you probably can’t, and you should hire a coach to help you.
If it’s still on your to-do list and months or years have gone by, maybe it’s time.
If you are honest with yourself, it’s pretty obvious what the thing is about you personally that is holding back the growth of your company. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. It might be a coach you hire for 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months. You release and move past that barrier, and then you are ready to rock. I always hire coaches. I’ve got to this point where I was like, “I’m good now.” I released my coaches because I was like, “I’ve got it, but now, I have new things I need to be coached on.” It was a little scary to hire because there are more expensive coaches but my profits are higher. Let’s do it.
Keep investing in yourself. Your twenty-year-old self is the one getting ready to go into your MBA. What questions would you ask yourself sooner than you did?
There are so many ways. Don’t follow one way. I thought there was one path, and there’s no one path. There are infinite paths. I have been taking steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 ever since I was five years old because I thought that was the path. I would tell myself, “There are so many paths. If it’s not fun, figure out a path that’s fun.” Another thing, which is something that I have changed, is to be yourself as far as, “There are steps to take.”
I also thought there’s a way to be and look. I didn’t enjoy my post-MBA or pre-MBA life because I was quite rigid and stuffy when I was in work mode. Outside of work mode, I was doing circus stuff and having fun. I felt like I had to be uptight and rigid to be taken seriously. When I settled in, I was like, “I can be whatever. I can shave the side of my head.”
That’s how I met you. You were clean on one side. I’m like, “I love this woman already. Hi, my name is Merrill.” It’s because you weren’t molded. That came at a price, coming to that awareness that you get to show up how you wish.
I would have liked to show up as myself in all areas of life back when I was twenty instead of in the last few years.
Sarah, I adore you. You know that. I can’t wait for our next round of cocktails and the next scarf because you are one dapper fashionista. I love your jam. Thank you for joining my tribe and me. This may end up in your tribe. Hopefully, your people may get to know a little bit more about you because it isn’t the formula know, like, and trust. It’s that authentic side you are talking about.
The more they get to know us truly, our tribe coalesces automatically and all on its own. We find the people we love working with. You are a true joy and blessing in my life. Thank you for joining me to celebrate Women’s History Month and sharing with all of us the amazing story of how you have come to be this realized and amazing creative strategist. Thank you so much.
It was an honor, Merrill. Thank you so much for having me here. I love that you are also authentic, which is why we resonated right away. You told me stories about yourself. I was like, “I can’t believe this guy is telling me these stories after five minutes. He’s an open kimono.” Those are the people we get to choose in our lives and to work with. It’s fabulous. Thanks for having me on. Readers, thanks for reading. It has been fun. Feel free to get in touch with me. I love meeting people. That’s my passion. That’s what I do.
She’s a genius at it. Thank you, Sarah. Like, love, share, and send this to a woman who deserves to explore all of the beautiful recesses of her soul so that she can develop further even the creative strategist in her life. We will see you on the inside.
About Sarah Sullivan
Sarah Sullivan is the founder and owner of SuGo Capital, an investment company that connects investors to strong passive income via real estate. SuGo Capital consistently offers hands off investment opportunities available for both accredited and non-accredited investors.
Sarah’s passion in life is sharing her knowledge around real estate, investing and helping people advance on their path to building wealth.
Sarah is the host of the Confident Investor Conference. SuGo Capital currently has over $240MM worth of assets under management with a track record of over 35% ARR for investors at exit.