Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It’s a place where I’ve done interviews with over 1000 tech entrepreneurs. We talked to them about how they came up with their ideas, how they built up, where they got their first customers, what their revenues are etc. Today I’ve got a non-tech interview for you.
There’s a woman who I heard about who started flipping homes. Who flipped one home, I don’t even know if it was an intentional flip. But she sold it and that got her started on this career that now has her running a company that builds custom homes. Her name is Marnie Oursler. She is the founder of Marnie Custom Homes. They build luxurious custom homes on Delaware beaches.
She is also about to have a new TV show on the DIY network, it’s called, “Big Beach Builds.” I’m really looking forward to seeing it. It’s starting in the fall of 2017. We’re going to get to see her beach renovations on that show. I’m excited to have her on here. And this interview is sponsored by two sponsors that I’ll tell you more about later. The first will help you hire your next great developer. It’s called Toptal. The second will help you run your website right. They host your site. It called HostGator. Marnie, welcome.
Marnie: Hi. Thanks, Andrew. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: You know what? I’m kind of like, especially in my head, about the fact that I mispronounced your name the first time because I feel like you’re going to be big. And then this will live and people will say, “How did this guy not know her name? What rock is he hiding under?”
Marnie: That’s totally fine. A lot of people mispronounce it.
Andrew: Do you feel like you’re on the cusp of something big?
Marnie: Yeah, yeah. I think we have some great things going. We have a lot of momentum. We have a great team and we have a lot going on.
Andrew: I’m not sure how relevant it is to your business, but our usual question here at Mixergy is, “What’s your revenue?” You told our producer what the revenue number was. Do you feel comfortable saying it publicly?
Marnie: Yeah. We do anywhere between $7 and $9 million a year.
Andrew: $7 and $9 million, meaning the price of the homes that you build and sell are combined $7 and $9 million?
Marnie: Just the price of the homes we build. I don’t sell any homes. I don’t do any spec homes. People have a lot, so they already have a home site and they come to me to design it and build it.
Andrew: I saw the collection of photos on your site. The homes are beautiful. They look comfortable.
Marnie: Thank you.
Andrew: And they’re all on the beach.
Marnie: Yes, they are all within walking distance to the beach. Some are beach block. Some are oceanfront. The others that we do our usually on the bay or some sort of body of water. So I focus on the water.
Andrew: And it all started when you decided you wanted to buy a house for yourself. Did you know you wanted to fix it up? Did you want to start building things within it? Did you want to start fixing it up?
Marnie: I wanted to start fixing it up. I never wanted to build. Well, I never thought I did. My father was a builder. My grandfather was a builder. My great-grandfather was a builder. So I grew up in the home building industry and never really had any interest in pursuing that as a career. But I was really interested in the statistics of where I was living in the market at the time.
So I bought a house, just saved a ton of money, ate peanut butter sandwiches, fed cats, washed cars, did whatever I could. I was working for a real estate agent, making like $10, $11 an hour. So I was doing these odd little jobs to save money, Then I bought a house, did intend to myself because I knew I couldn’t afford for anybody else to do it. And it was fun. It was my own little, I guess, part of being independent. So I could do whatever I wanted with it. I painted the walls a purple color. I just did some really neat things. Ended up, still watching the market, and sold it within nine months. My $18,000 investment turned into over $100,000.
Andrew: Over $100,000 in profit?
Marnie: In profit, yes.
Andrew: What else did you do? You said you did a few little cute things or creative things to the house. What did you do?
Marnie: I changed the floor plan a little bit. I opened up a wall and opened up the space and made it flow better. Other things, I changed the flooring, I painted everything. I had harvest gold appliances in the kitchen and replaced the appliances with just white appliances. Added a washer/dryer, like a little laundry room. Just some other things. The outside curb appeal was hideous. We called it the wigwam. I painted the outside and then I re-landscaped and put a driveway in. It was nothing overly intuitive, but I used a lot of creativity and just a lot of hard work.
Andrew: Did you have any idea that you would eventually be selling it? Was that part of it?
Marnie: It was. I didn’t realize I would be selling it so quickly. So I was just watching the market and I thought it was a good opportunity. Might as well put it on the market and see what happens. There was a lot I wanted to buy. So there was already something, and that’s kind of how I am.
Andrew: A vacant lot?
Marnie: A vacant lot, yes. So I saw that opportunity, so I said, “Well, I’m going to see what happens here and see if I can sell this house.”
Andrew: What did it cost you to do all those renovations?
Marnie: Not very much. I might’ve put $7000 into it, at the most.
Andrew: And things like taking down a wall? Did you get any help from anyone else? I wouldn’t even know how to take down a wall.
Marnie: Yes, I had some friends. Taking down a wall is really not that hard. You just like, just punch a hammer through it. So I had some friends that helped me a little bit and then we had a painting party. I think all my cousins came and my siblings.
Marnie: We painted the whole house one weekend. So I had some help. But it was just a lot of just do it yourself. Let’s fix this thing up.
Andrew: Did you end up buying that lot?
Marnie: I did. I bought the lot. I got a really good deal on it and that’s when I built my first house, is on that lot.
Andrew: That can’t be that easy. So you said you come from a family of builders. Did you go to your family and say, “Hey, I bought a lot. I have something in mind. Can you help me actually turn it into something real?”
Marnie: Yeah, it was funny because initially when I told my dad I was going to buy the wigwam. He was like, “You’re out of your mind. This is crazy. This is so expensive. What are you doing? This is nuts.” I was like, “All right, well whatever, I’m just going to do it anyway.” He was like, “I’m not supporting you financially whatsoever. But even like emotionally, you’re kind on your own a little bit with this because I don’t think this is a good idea.”
So I just said, “Okay I’m going to do it anyway.” So I did. So when I sold my house I remember calling my dad. I was like, “Dad, I got a contract on the wigwam”. And he was like, “There is no way.” He’s a builder, so he’s used to a different type of a house than a wigwam.
Andrew: I love that you keep calling it the wigwam.
Marnie: Oh yeah. When I told him I got a contract on it and how much the contract was for he said, “There is no way.” I said, “Yeah.” So then I told him I wanted to buy this lot. It’s closer to the beach, it’s a great location, it’s a good buy. He was like, “All right, you’re onto something here. I’ll help you with the . . . not financially but with the design part, with finding an architect and building the house.” He would come down probably every other week and just check the job site and sort of guided me through that process.
Andrew: Do you think someone else who didn’t have family in the business would you have been able to build that place the way that you did?
Marnie: That’s a good question.
Andrew: I guess at your stage in this experience.
Marnie: No, I think that part of my success in home-building is that I was raised in it. I didn’t realize until I built my first house, at that time, how much I knew. My brother and I, we work together now on the show. We worked together growing up for my dad and I never realized how much I was learning by just being out on job sites, even just being around it with my family.
My mom worked for the company. My uncles all worked for the company. So it was just part of our life was home-building. And I think that is sort of intrinsic in me now. That is part of who I am. So I think starting off it was like, “Of course I’ll build my own house. Why not?”
Andrew: What’s one of the things that you remembered from growing up that allowed you to build this first place?
Marnie: I don’t know that it’s anything in particular. But I just think the process of sequencing and understanding the order of home-building. I think that’s definitely something that’s very important and something that not all builders can get right especially the first time.
So in terms of being able to visualize how you want a room to look at the end and get it there in framing, and laying out bathrooms and kitchens and things like that. I can go into a house with studs and be like, “Oh yeah, this is going to look amazing.” And a lot of people would be like, “What are you even looking at? You’re looking at studs.”
Andrew: I definitely couldn’t. I had a friend who basically gutted her apartment and I said, “This is too tiny. It’s going to be a mess.” Tiny especially stood out. And then I thought afterward. It was stunning. It’s one of the best places I’ve seen here in San Francisco.
Marnie: I think that I have that sort of ability that I grew up with. My parents are very good visually and with spatial. I think that is either is genetic or just from being around it.
Andrew: So how did it come out?
Marnie: The house?
Andrew: Yeah, the first one.
Marnie: It was awesome. It was awesome. So that’s when I started my company.
Andrew: What made it so awesome?
Marnie: It was different. So I was building in 2005. And that was during the building boom. A lot of builders at the time were, I guess they were more focused on margins. And I was just focused on building a cool house because I needed a place to live. And I couldn’t afford a builder. I just did some neat details. A lot of it is just the little details that make spaces feel good. And people don’t understand that until you’re in a house and you’re like, “Wow, this house is amazing.” But you don’t even know why.
Everything lines up right, the hallways are the right width, the powder room fits right, everything has a good flow to it. I think that was part of it. It was something that I didn’t just build to sell, or build because I had to get it off my plate and I had a bunch of houses to build. I put a lot of thought and detail into that.
Andrew: What are some of those details that I should now be aware of, that because of this interview I’m going to be smarter about when I look for a house?
Marnie: I can tell you some of the things. One thing that drives me crazy is when the trim doesn’t all line up.
Andrew: The what? The trim doesn’t line up?
Marnie: The trim, like your window and door trim. Like sometimes it will stagger.
Andrew: Meaning the top of the door and the top of the window don’t line up. One is a little higher than the other?
Marnie: Right. So those are things that, it’s hard . . . it’s not hard to do, but sometimes, doors and windows aren’t the same product. So they’re not always going to finish the same. But you have set the head height at the same height. And when you’re using 8-foot doors sometimes you have to notch the header of every window. So it’s little things like that.
Andrew: What do you mean by “you have to notch the head of every window”?
Marnie: So if you’re doing, like usually you have a 12-inch header above a window and a door. But the windows and doors . . . actually, I think we were notching the door headers because doors are taller. Because you have an inch gap at the bottom. So if you have an 8-foot door, it’s 8-foot, but you need an inch at the bottom. You have to notch into that header to get it all to line up right.
And then you have things like exterior doors, interior doors, pocket doors, incased openings. So that’s four different types of a door, all different brands. And they’re not all the same size. So to get all of that to work and line up right you have to think about it when you’re framing it to make sure this is going to trim out right. Those are some things that are really important to me.
Andrew: What’s another thing that after a home is built we can pay attention to?
Marnie: Some things are like spaces, like sizes. Like when you feel like a space is too tight you’ll notice it right away. And that’s something that’s hard to fix later. Like in your kitchen if your island is too tight to the refrigerator, it’s just annoying. Because you’re always kind of bumping into things. So there is a lot of kitchen design-related items that sometimes can be awkward.
Andrew: Did you do it with the idea that you would sell it? Did you end up selling it?
Marnie: I did end up selling it. I didn’t do it with the idea I would sell it. But another opportunity presented itself so I put on the market.
Andrew: And did it do well?
Marnie: Yes, I did really well on that. That one was probably one of my best, in terms of the profit because it was a good time. I think I built it in 2005, sold it in 2006.
Andrew: Just before the housing market had fallen into trouble. And is that when people started saying to you, “Hey, I love the way you built that house. Can you build a house for me?”
Marnie: It is. I would see people, I was working in sales, so I was in home sales and I would see people . . . I would always be on the job site on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Those are my days off. And they would ask, “Who are you? Where is your dad? What are you doing here?” I would say, “I’m the builder.” They wouldn’t believe me. I would say, “Come back next week, we’ll be in drywall. I’ll show you around.”
I met this one couple that would come back every week. They loved the house. They loved the feel of it, the colors, and the style. They asked if I would build them a house. They had a lot in a really good location. I thought they were crazy. “Why would I build you a house? There are so many good builders around here. Get one of them to do it. I have a job. I just needed to do this because I couldn’t afford a builder.” And they said, “No, you have a different style. You have a way about you.”
I still said, “I was not really interested in building custom homes.” So I got some attention from that house but nothing that I capitalized on at the time
Andrew: What did it take to finally get you to capitalize on it?
Marnie: The recession.
Andrew: I see. How did the recession impact you?
Marnie: I was in home sales. It was November 2006. And I was working in a model home. It was so incredibly boring. I literally go to work and read magazines all day. I was like, “This is miserable. I’m not making any money. There are no potential customers coming through the door.” So I quit my job, just out of the blue. I was like, “I’m done. I don’t care what I do, but anything is better than just sitting in the house alone all day waiting for people to walk in.”
I left that and I had my real estate license, so I thought worst-case, right now I’ll just sell houses and see what happens. And of course I put my license with RE/MAX and nothing was selling, so I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do. I called that couple, John and Jessica Barber, and I asked them if they found a builder. They said, “Yes, we think we’ve found a builder.” And I had already built my second house. It was the wigwam, and then I built my first house and then my second house and I was living in it.
I said, “Well check out my new house. You’re going to like it.” I literally called them every day and said, “Please just come.” So they did, and they loved it, and they said, “Okay, you can bid on our house.” So this was in like the spring of 2007. I remember calling my dad and I said, “I’m going to bid on a house to build.” He said, “You are crazy. Do you realize what’s going on in the economy right now?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s why I’m going to do it.” He said, “No, do not get into this industry.”
I said, “I’m going to, so could you just give me some advice on bidding?” And he did. He ended up coming down to the beach and we went through the blueprint. He helped me just to make sure what I incorporated in the bid. His advice was, “Make sure you make it as detailed as possible. Do spreadsheets and all that fancy computer stuff because your competition isn’t doing that. And that’s where you’re going to get a leg up. If you technologically can get ahead.”
Andrew: Because the more detailed you are, the more what?
Marnie: He knew at the time a lot of builders weren’t giving a lot of detail because the market had been so good. I knew it was bad. But I was also still studying the trends. So I was seeing that we went from all this volume to nothing. So I knew that it was. But a lot of builders were still busy because they were still finishing work that they had already . . .
Andrew: So they weren’t really putting in an effort to get new business?
Marnie: Right. I don’t think a lot of people realized at the time how bad the market was because if you’re a builder, you’re building a house that you signed a contract for a year ago. So unless you’re paying a lot of attention, you’re not quite sure of what’s going on. Especially in a smaller market, in a resort market, like we have at the beach.
Andrew: But why does extra detail help with your bid? Is it because you can give them the right price? Or what?
Marnie: Right. So I can give them the right price, and then I can also talk to them about cost-saving alternatives. So I could tell them this is why your house costs X. This is what’s on the blueprint. We can change it to this if you want to save money or if you want a different type of product.
Andrew: And then it gives them more confidence in the actual price lining up with your bid?
Andrew: Quick sponsorship message and then I’m going to talk about the next step in this evolution of your business. The sponsor is a company called HostGator. Have you heard of them?
Marnie: I have not, no.
Andrew: How techie are you?
Marnie: I’m not super techie at all.
Andrew: You didn’t build your site. You hired a company to do it for you, right?
Marnie: I used to be a better techie than I am now but it just got so big so fast.
Andrew: The business did, right?
Marnie: Yes and the tech industry. Just to keep up, I have to hire social media people, website people, graphic designers.
Andrew: Your site looks great. I was looking at the source to see what it was built on. It’s built on WordPress, like many other sites. Just really simply. And WordPress is one of the fortes of HostGator. In fact, not only did they do WordPress hosting at a really low price because now they’ve got it dialed in after doing it for so long, they even have a special WordPress hosting package. So if anyone out there wants a managed WordPress hosting, meaning have someone make sure that the sites backed up, that it’s protected from viruses, that its actually customized for WordPress. Well, HostGator has WordPress hosting. And all you have to do is go to HostGator.com/mixergy, sign up, then upgrade to the WordPress hosting package.
I see WordPress hosting go for hundreds of dollars a month. It shouldn’t be that way. HostGator will give you all that stuff if you’re listening to me and, just like Marnie, you’ve got a WordPress site. You can switch over. In fact, they well even migrate for you. So if you don’t like your hosting company and you just don’t have the patience to move, HostGator will move you. They will get you on their great hosting package which means you’re going to have unmetered disk space and bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, you’re going to have incredible tech support. And if you don’t agree with me that this is a great hosting company that you’ll be happy with, they have a 45-day money back guarantee.
Go check them out. They have a special URL for Mixergy listeners. They’re going to give you 30% off. It’s HostGator.com/mixergy. It’s a good sponsor to have. I’ve had them now Marnie, for almost a year now. I think they’ve bought out all of 2017 and they keep trying to lock out other sponsors.
Andrew: I wouldn’t have guessed. I would’ve thought that if you’re buying ads in a podcast, what you want to do is buy a day and then let someone else have a turn. And then buy another a day. And then let someone else have a turn. So that you’re not just getting the audience to tune you out because they hear you over and over again. But apparently, it’s working. You bid? Did you get it?
Marnie: Yes. Got the job and then I started a company.
Andrew: When you say “started a company,” what does it mean exactly to start it? Did you say, “All right, anyone else who wants me to build a house, I’ll do it for you”? Or is it build a website, or what?
Marnie: Yes, well I just started, I guess, I had to get a business license and do all that stuff. I had to name it. So I named it. I was really under the radar for a long time. What I did is I decided this is what I’m going to do, is build custom homes. Once I started I really liked it and I liked working with clients and the detail of the floor plan and the design. So I decided to put my house on the market and use it as a model home. This is the second one I built.
I knew when I was selling houses that people come to model homes when you put balloons and cookies. Balloons and cookies. So I bought a helium tank and literally lined the streets every morning with balloons and did an open house in my house. And this is in the fall of 2007. One, the fall is not very busy at the beach, and two, it’s 2007 so the economy sucked. So there weren’t that many people around. But I was getting people to come into my house and I was meeting them.
I met another couple that wanted me to bid on a renovation that they had. It was a major renovation. I think we literally kept like two walls. So I did that and I ended up getting that job. I ended up selling my house, which was fine.
Andrew: Because these people who came in to see how you build homes, one of them decided to buy your place?
Marnie: Yes, one of them decided to buy it.
Andrew: Did you put it on the market?
Marnie: It was on the market. But I had my real estate license, so I just put it on the market.
Andrew: Just to see what happens?
Marnie: Really just to get business and if it sold, well, okay, then I’ll build another one. So I did that. And then I met this, after the 2007 and early 2008, I met a couple that was referred by the first couple that I built for. I built their house. That ended up being the first LEED-certified house in Delaware. I built that and I got a lot of recognition for that house. The market wasn’t very good. There wasn’t a lot of building going on. I was building this LEED-certified house. It ended up, it was one of the first in the country that was environmentally friendly.
Andrew: You told our producer the reason you wanted to be under the radar, is that it’s hard to be a woman in this industry.
Andrew: What kind of difficulty is there? And then why would being under the radar help you?
Marnie: It was hard for a couple of different reasons. One, subcontractor respect, it was hard to earn a lot of respect in the field, at first. So I really had to prove myself. One, that I knew what I was doing and that I was competent and that I had the abilities to start and complete the projects. And then two, I think with the client, I was young and a woman in a predominantly male industry and I was bidding on jobs and not getting any of them. A lot of people would say, “You don’t have enough experience. I don’t trust you enough that you don’t have the experience to do what I want.” So that was hard from that standpoint.
Andrew: How do you overcome that? That’s a legitimate fear. Someone that hasn’t build a house now, or has built one house for herself, is going to build a house for me? I don’t know that I would trust you. What did you do to overcome that?
Marnie: I started using my clients as my marketing tool. And I had a website and this was the first website I think I built. I was really focused on internet marketing and marketing to people who weren’t necessarily here at the beach because they didn’t know. They didn’t know how old I was. They didn’t know that I was a woman. So I could do really cool photos of what I’d done and get people engaged off the bat. So I did that. That was sort of one of my focuses.
The other was just networking in the community of asking for referrals from real estate agents. I would have real estate agents over to my house and say, “Look at the house I built. I’ll build this for your clients. Just give me a shot.” That was really helpful. I had tried networking with architects and I was not successful at all. So I just went a whole different route and wanted to just get out there in the public and say “Hey, look at me. I can do this.”
And a lot of people did. The people that I met did like that I came from a family of builders. That did serve as an advantage to me. So I think from that perspective, and once they would meet me, I think people would feel more comfortable.
Andrew: When you had people over to your home, is it just like a dinner that you would invite them to? Or would you have parties for real estate people?
Marnie: I would have open houses a lot of times and say come over for cocktails between 5:00 and 7:00. I would do that a lot and when I actually sold my one house, and this was in I think 2009-2010, I built another one. The crash had happened and people had sort of adjusted to it, and I bought a foreclosure and built a house on that. I had invited the entire town to my house for an Open House over Memorial Day weekend.
I literally thought I’d get like 50 people. I got hundreds of people in my house. It was awesome because they saw it, it was neat, it was just a cool house. It had some neat details to it. I was able to meet people and say, “This is me. I love what I do. And if you want me to build you one.”
Andrew: That’s a lot of hustle. And they didn’t break anything having hundreds of people go through your house?
Marnie: Nothing I wouldn’t have already broken. I mean, look at me, I’m sitting on the floor.
Andrew: What’s the pillow behind you? I’ve been trying to read it.
Marnie: It says, “Go jump in the ocean.”
Andrew: Go jump in the ocean.
Marnie: So I’m pretty laid back and I like a casual sort of lifestyle and I think the houses lend to that. Having a bunch of people over is what people do at the beach. They like to entertain so the houses are usually built to entertain.
Andrew: What did you do to entertain so many people at your house? Beer?
Marnie: Beer, yes. People come for beer and wine and then sometimes you can do like cheese. But mainly just drinks.
Andrew: So how does being under the radar actually help you if you’re a woman? It sounds like you’re not under the radar. It sounds like you really were . . .
Marnie: Not anymore.
Andrew: But back then, even when you were starting. Sounds like you really were out there.
Marnie: It was nice, I think because I just didn’t have that . . . I don’t think I was a real threat to people because I didn’t know. And all of a sudden I just became really busy where I was turning down so much work because I couldn’t keep up. So that’s where it was neat. I was like under the radar and suddenly, I’m one of the only builders that was busy. A lot of other builders either went out of business or were just banging their heads against the wall like, “How do I pick up work?” And I’m just rocking and rolling building all these custom homes.
Andrew: Quick sponsorship message. I’m hoping you’ll actually give us a tour of the house. Maybe you can turn your iPad around and show us.
Marnie: I’m in my office right now but I can leave the floor. It’s small. I’m in this room right now, but it’s cool.
Andrew: The sponsor is Toptal. I wonder how many people are listening to us now who have tech companies. I’ve had many people who have listened to me who say, “You know what? I’ve decided it became so hard to hire developers, that we finally said, ‘All right, let’s give this new thing Andrew’s talking about a shot.'” And then they were excited because the results were fantastic.
Here’s the thing. It’s so different, Marnie, that people just don’t fully get it yet. The expectation is that if you’re hiring developers, you put up a bunch of ads online, or you hire a recruiter and they go out and get you the best of the best. The problem with all that is that it’s very expensive, time-consuming, involves a lot of resumes, and you’re not really getting the best of the best because they’re not filling out resumes for you.
What Toptal decided to do was, the founder started this network of people who are the best developers and kind of created this elite field that if you were at Toptal developer, someone in their network, then everyone knew you were the best developer, or one of the best developers out there, the top 3% according to your peers. And so Toptal put together this list of developers who are fantastic, who are willing to work remotely for companies, and then they started looking for companies who wanted to hire great developers. And that’s what they have right now.
If you need a developer, you go to Toptal. They go to their network and they find the right match for you based on what project you’re working on, how long you need a developer, what your work style is, what your company culture is. I had someone over to my house the other day and he said he called up Toptal and he was shocked. He said, “These guys are the best. I expected to pay a lot of money.” But he’s paying a lot less. I don’t want to scare people off by saying how great these guys are and have you think that they’re going to be super expensive.
One of the reasons why Toptal developers aren’t crazy expensive is because they’re all over the world. They’re not here in San Francisco, generally speaking. They’re in places where it doesn’t cost much to live. So you’re going to get great developers, often working wherever they want to be, and always giving you great output.
If you want to hire them or if you want to talk to Toptal to see if it’s a good fit for you, there are two ways to do it. You can go to their website. Or you can email me and I will personally introduce you to my guy over at Toptal. So the website is, and they’re giving us a special offer on this special URL that I’ll tell you about in a moment. The website is Toptal.com/mixergy.
When you go there you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours. And that’s in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. Or you can email me. Andrew@mixergy.com. I’ll introduce you to my friend over at Toptal. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring.
Marnie, you want to do a quick scan around the room? And then we’ll come back to the interview. Let’s have a look at where you’re working. I see you’re in shorts. Are you on the beach?
Marnie: I’m not on the beach right now, but yeah I wear shorts every day. Can you see?
Andrew: I can see, yeah.
Marnie: I don’t know how to do this. Is this right?
Andrew: Lower it a little bit. Maybe you can flip the camera around so that it’s the back facing camera. Let’s try that.
Marnie: Is that how I do it?
Andrew: Tap my face.
Marnie: Oh there we go. I have a bunch of light fixtures that came today. So this is how you come in the front door.
Andrew: And then I can see that dining room table looking environment. There is the couch where you were sitting.
Marnie: This is a table I made. It’s from the old boardwalk. It’s out of reclaimed wood.
Andrew: I see that, yeah.
Marnie: And then I put stars and stripes on it out of saw blades.
Andrew: Those are saw blades?
Marnie: Yes, these are saw blades. You can still see the little ripple in them.
Andrew: I can see it, and then who hammered them in?
Marnie: I did.
Andrew: Wow. Looks fantastic.
Marnie: Thanks. We auctioned a replica off at an auction and it went for a lot of money. So then I have a surfboard in the corner.
Andrew: Do you surf?
Marnie: Do you want me to turn this light off? Would that make things better?
Andrew: No, I think the light is good.
Marnie: I do, but not a lot. There are more boxes. We get a lot of stuff from clients that send stuff to us to go in their houses. This is an old wood wall right there. And then we do some Wainscoting. These are some houses that I’ve built.
Andrew: I’ve noticed your houses have names. I’ve gone back and looked at the archive of your website. And going back for years, you’ve got houses called The Lookout, Sunrise Landing, Toast of the Coast.
Marnie: This is The Lookout.
Andrew: Who is naming it?
Marnie: I name them.
Andrew: Which one is that?
Marnie: This is my old house. This is the one I invited the entire town to, The Lookout.
Andrew: I see, is that three stories?
Andrew: That looks spectacular. I can see why people would want that.
Marnie: From that rooftop deck on the right, you can see the ocean.
Andrew: There is no way that . . . You just built that for yourself? You need that much space?
Marnie: Nope. But it was fun. And then this is one that’s on the bay. This is really cool. This is called . . . I forget what it’s called.
Andrew: That’s not Toast of the Coast?
Marnie: It is Toast of the Coast.
Andrew: There it is, I can’t really fully tell because the images didn’t make it on archive.org. So who names them?
Marnie: I name a lot of them. This is another one. This is called Bord de la Mer. This is on the oceanfront. This one’s neat. I name a lot of them. But, the owners named this one they had. Sometimes the houses come with names. Like when they buy them originally and we tear them down or do whatever to them, so they use that.
Andrew: I feel like I should name every place that I live. It adds so much cachet to it, don’t you think?
Marnie: Absolutely, it makes it personal. Do you want me to show you the rest of our office?
Andrew: Yes, and why don’t we keep talking as you do that.
Marnie: Okay, I think my brother’s still here working. He works for the TV show.
Andrew: So Marnie, how much of it was you? At some point, you had to say, “I can’t keep being the creative force behind this and the marketing force.” How did you start switching? How did you start moving beyond just you?
Marnie: This is Chris.
Andrew: Hey, Chris.
Chris: Hey. How’s it going?
Marnie: He’s my brother I grew up working with.
Andrew: We’re interviewing your sister.
Chris: Marnie just got locked out of her own office.
Andrew: I see that.
Marnie: This is Chris’s office in here.
Andrew: Hey, Chris, what’s it like to . . .
Marnie: He’s got two computers.
Andrew: Can you hear me?
Andrew: What’s it like to wear your sister’s name on your shirt?
Chris: It’s awesome.
Andrew: Really? It doesn’t feel like, “Hey I’m the guy, I’m the brother. She should be wearing my name”?
Marnie: And I’ll be wearing his name one day.
Andrew: I see.
Marnie: He’s got a bright future coming.
Andrew: What are you up to?
Chris: What am I up to now? Well, I head all the renovations right now. So we have four going on in various stages of permitting. Once a complete renovation. One is a lot of backyard space. One is totally backyard space, fire pits, really awesome, cabana type stuff. So that’s kind of what I’m working on.
Marnie: He’s like the logistics man.
Andrew: Well cool. It’s nice to see that you guys don’t have the kind of rivalry that my sister and I have.
Chris: No, we’re all good. It’s all good.
Marnie: Yeah, that’s right. He’s going places. So I’ll be wearing his shirt soon enough. You’ll see him on TV. He’s in the show.
Andrew: All right.
Marnie: He and I laid out a kitchen today and some bedrooms. And we demoed around the houses. He literally the other day had me . . . explain how we were swinging from the ceiling fan.
Chris: We were doing demo and we’ve done demo bunch of times and it gets monotonous, just banging holes in the wall. It’s cool for like 10 minutes. And then after that it’s like real work. So there were some ceiling fans. We went ahead and just decided to see if we could swing each other. If it would hold our weight. Weirdly enough it held both of our weight. And I weigh about 185.
Andrew: So you swung from that thing?
Marnie: It’s hilarious. I can’t wait to see the footage. He had me, literally, he had my legs, and was spinning around in a circle. It was funny because it wasn’t coming down.
Chris: Yeah, so it was great.
Andrew: That’s what you love about being adults. There is still part of me, I’m clearly an adult and have been for a while, but there is still a part of me that thinks, “No, you’re going to get in trouble for doing that.”
Marnie: That’s what so fun about these demos. There was one, at the same house, we were both like, “Chris, let’s see if the cabinet doors can hold our body weight.” So we’re literally hanging from the doors until they ripped off. They were like, “Oh, okay.”
Chris: So most people demo their house and it’s really stressful. For us, it’s kind of fun.
Marnie: It’s fun. All right, I’ll walk you through it. Thanks, Chris.
Chris: Thank you.
Andrew: While you’re doing that, Marnie, can you tell me how you started hiring other people? It feels like that’s a challenge.
Marnie: Yeah. The office is kind of a wreck right now. I didn’t know we were going to be . . . Well, one, I just got out of the shower, I didn’t know I was going to be on TV or video. This is one of our schedule boards we ride on the wall, it’s a whiteboard wall. And then in here is we have a barn door into our workroom where we have nothing but blueprints all over the place for houses we’re building. And then we have another schedule wall for all of our schedules. And then it’s just office stuff. And then there are a couple more offices back there.
Andrew: Okay. Let’s go back to the conversation. I’m a little worried about losing some of the people who are just listening to the podcast. But I’m so curious to see what a builder like you would live in. And I kind of thought this is going to be your house. And I said let’s spy on your house.
Marnie: Yes, I’m sorry, it’s just my office. So when I decided to hire people, it just became a point of I couldn’t do everything. So I ended up having to outsource a lot of that. And a lot of that I outsource like the website, all the website maintenance was outsourced, the marketing I outsource. So it’s not somebody that’s on my payroll that I hire, people just do it. Social media, that I outsource.
And then in-house I knew I needed a superintendent. And actually, I had an assistant superintendent helping me. It was okay. It was good. But he knew he wasn’t really cut out for the job and one day he was like, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore. This is too much for me.” So I was kind of left with what am I going to do because I definitely need help. And then somebody, John, who works for me now, approached me and just said, “Hey, I’m looking for a change.” He was a superintendent with a national builder. And I knew him. But I didn’t realize I was ready to pay what his salary needed to be to get him.
So that was like the biggest transition for me was, is this sustainable? Can I do this much revenue? Can I pay him? Can I grow? Is this okay? Or should I just hire somebody who I don’t have to pay a lot and I’ll do more? So I ended up biting the bullet and hiring John and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made because he is so good and he takes so much pressure off of me all the time. And my clients love him. And it enabled me to go focus on the show and do some other things.
I also have a bookkeeper, she’s like a treasurer for the company. She was actually the first person that I hired. That’s merely because I hate paying bills and doing the books. So that’s the first thing, as soon as I can hire somebody to do this and I can afford it, I’m doing that because I don’t like to do this.
Andrew: And this is a part-time person?
Marnie: She’s full-time but she’s not in the office full-time. She works remotely and then she comes in the office twice a week.
Andrew: I guess you must have lots of expenses considering all the parts that go into building a house.
Marnie: We do. To track all of that is a full-time job.
Andrew: How’d you land a TV show?
Marnie: That was interesting. So a couple of production companies throughout the years had reached out to me about possibly doing a show. I never really thought anything of it, until I had been working with the marketing firm out of DC, a PR person out of DC. I wanted to do more public speaking. And this was after I got my MBA at Duke. I wanted to do more outreach.
When they contacted me I said, “A production company has contacted me, what do you think?” And she used to be a producer. And she said, “If you’re doing an interview with them, I need to be in the room with you because it’s so different when you are on camera for the first time with a production company. You need to have energy, you need to do all of . . . there’s little techniques with all of that.” So I had this interview with, it was a Skype, with two production companies actually the same day. And both wanted to pick me up for sizzle reels. I ended up having to choose so I chose Leopard, who is my production company now.
Andrew: What do you mean by sizzle reels?
Marnie: A sizzle reel is a little short video that they come down and produce.
Andrew: To show what you’re like?
Marnie: To show what I’m like to major networks.
Andrew: And so how did they even find you, these two production companies?
Marnie: The internet. I’d won a bunch of awards and so my name was kind of out there a little bit in the media. And they ended up getting Erika Hardin worked for Leopard, I guess her role is casting, ended up finding me, called and said, “We want to come down.” I laughed at her I said, “There is no way. I can’t be on TV. This is not for real.” She is like, “No, no, no. This is legit. We want to come down. I’ve looked up hundreds and thousands of people and I want to meet you.” So I was like, “You’ve convinced me that you’ve done some homework here.” And she did.
Andrew: You said you had to learn a few things about being on camera. What did you learn?
Marnie: So it’s just your energy level. I think that’s the hardest thing because a lot of times throughout the day you’re like, “I’m going to go look at this house, then I’m going to go eat lunch.” And just do the normal things that everybody does. But to make that, not sound exciting, but be more excited about it. They say your energy appears 10 times less on TV than it actually is.
Andrew: So you have to magnify it by 10.
Marnie: A little, not a ton.
Andrew: How do you do that? What’s your process for doing that?
Marnie: It’s really not that hard for me to do it because usually, I am very energetic about what I’m doing. But just remembering that. That if I’m on TV that I’m not . . . I don’t really know what my techniques are because I haven’t really seen that many shows that I’ve done, just the pilot.
Andrew: DIY Network that’s what we’re looking, this coming fall.
Andrew: I see you talking about it on Marnie Holmes Facebook page and I can see the build up to it.
Marnie: Oh cool.
Andrew: Congratulations to it. Congratulations on the success of this business. Thanks for being on here and doing this interview with me.
Marnie: Thanks, Andrew. Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.
Andrew: You bet. Anyone that wants to go check out your website can, of course, go check out, actually it’s just marniehomes.com. My two sponsors are the company that will host your website. It’s called HostGator, and the company that will help you hire your next great developer or designer it’s called Toptal. And I’m grateful to them for sponsoring, thanks. See you on TV, Marnie.
Marnie: All right, thank you.
Andrew: Bye, everyone.