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Entrepreneur Series - Mark Milz

Thursday, March 26, 2020   /   by Mark Pages-Oliver, MBA

Entrepreneur Series - Mark Milz

Mark Milz a custom builder, developer, serial entrepreneur, uncertain Raiders fan and genuinely fair and decent guy. 

He is a local phenomenon in the East Bay area and has many business interests outside of the real estate world. Having expanded into the boutique wine, tech, manufacturing and several other industries, Mark is building a sizable portfolio. Even in these uncertain times, Mark sees opportunity everywhere and through a critical eye I’m expecting Mark’s portfolio to grow through recessions and upswings!

(This was filmed prior to social distancing - ahhh remember those days?! Seems like months ago now!)

 


Here’s a transcript of our interview:


Mark Pages-Oliver:  

Thanks Mark for agreeing to spend the time and your beautiful custom project here. Tell us, before we get started, in your entrepreneurial journey and how that came to be. Tell me about this project. It's pretty special.


Mark Milz:

Yeah this was an interesting one. So there was a 1950’s house that was custom built for 

the previous owner and it was actually in pretty immaculate condition but looked like the 

Brady Bunch: crazy tile and old wallpaper and things like that. My vision here was to keep in the style of the neighborhood but just really modernize it; give it a contemporary feel. But still stay kind of within what's in the neighborhood as far as on the outside. We did kind of bend a lot of normal finishes and things inside to give it a really special feel to it.


Mark Pages-Oliver: 

Yeah it looks awesome. So when you’re creating a project like this, when do you 

start talking about and imagining the fixtures and fittings of the properties? Right from the start or is it as the project’s developing and you’re getting more in your mind’s eye of the end buyer? Walk me through the process.


Mark Milz:

For us, since we’re doing it on a spec level, we kind of start from the beginning and we 

really try to be creative but also be able to fit the wants and needs of a lot of buyers because if you go too far one way, you’re going to limit your pool. It’s a really hard line to tow a lot of times but we like to give people something more than just your everyday cookie cutter thing. 


Mark Pages-Oliver: 

Well I think you’ve hit this one out of the park. 


Mark Milz: 

Thank you.


Mark Pages Oliver:

It’s a pretty cool project. Let’s sort of set the table. Where were you born, family, 

schooling, things like that. What's the fifty thousand foot view like?


Mark Milz:

I was born in San Jose, my mom’s from San Jose, grandma still lives down there. But we 

moved to Sonora, which is a really small town going up toward Yosemite, when I was thirteen years old, which was a really big change for me. You know, going from a city with a million people to a town that has five thousand. I did high school up there, played sports, normal childhood pretty much in that aspect. And then came back down to the Bay Area; I went to college at Saint Mary’s. I did my bachelor’s and my master’s there. My dad owned a construction company, did a lot of big commercial projects, so I grew up in the business with a father that was very entrepreneurial. For me, that was my path that I went down. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

So you had the example of your father doing this, you’re then able to leverage 

from that. I mean, were the doors open because of that do you think? Or was it a case of he just wet your appetite and then you took the reins from there?


Mark Milz:

I wouldn’t say doors were open at all, I kind of feel like I blaze my own path in this that I 

do. But commercial stuff is very different from residential. I always like residential because I like the creative side of it; it’s much more personal. Commercial’s a little bit colder, a lot less emotion to it. It’s just all about dollars and cents and that kind of thing. Residential, there’s an ability to be more creative; it really means something to the end user. So we take all of that much more personally when we build these homes. They’re our babies and they go from nothing to what we create at the end and then pass them on to whoever’s going to live there. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

This is just a general question, I mean obviously you’ve got several business 

interests and we’ll touch on that not exhaustively, but what do your days look 

like? I mean how do you structure your day? Do you structure your day?


Mark Milz:

My days change constantly. I have a calendar that’s pretty much packed from morning til 

the evening. I get up pretty early, try to work out in the morning, get to the office, and 

either just take meetings or work on planning for a new project. I visit pretty much every single one of my projects everyday. I’m very hands on, I have a great team on me but I like to be very involved. My day gets chaotic, though. It can go from having two things on the calendar to having twenty real quick. It’s kind of an ever evolving thing. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

Absolutely. Do you take time off then? How do you balance that I mean obviously 

you work really hard, what’s the downtime like for you? 


Mark Milz:

I mean I like to travel a lot, go to concerts, go out and have a good time. People think that 

when you own a business you can just leave and go on vacation whenever you want but that’s actually the opposite. When I’m on vacation I’m usually on my phone or or emails or dealing with issues that come up, those things don’t just stop because I leave. They’re ever moving, they’re always changing, things are always moving forward, so it can be difficult. You try to disconnect as much as you can when you can, but it’s not easy.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

You’re never fully disengaged. So tell me a little bit about your business interests.


Mark Milz:

I’ve started making different investments over the last couple of years. I own part of a 

winery in Napa with a buddy, Ian, who I went to business school with. I’m the owner of a couple different pieces from a couple different tech companies. I like to have my hands in a lot of different things; diversify it so hopefully someday I can retire. We’ll see, I’ll probably be one of those guys that doesn’t retire. At least I have the option to. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

Talking about these business interests that you have, how do you find them, how 

do you source them, how do you critique them, what makes it a good opportunity for you?


Mark Milz:

I’m lucky and at a point now where a lot of this stuff gets brought to me. A couple of 

these things I was involved with from the beginning and able to get in right in the beginning and be a part of it. A couple of the other ones, they just come to me knowing my background or that I have interest in them. So a lot of them, I’ll vet them myself or talk to other friends or consultants and see if it’s a good fit for me. If I can pass it off to somebody else maybe it’s a good fit for them. You’re sifting through a lot, a lot of the time now; everyone’s got a million ideas and you’ve got to figure out what works well for you what you truly believe in.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

So it’s kind of like a needle in a haystack approach or is there a volume of opportunity that you’re finding?


Mark Milz:

Not necessarily a volume, I think it’s just whatever comes to you when the timing is right 

and whatever fits your personality or business appetite, is a better way that I look at it.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

When you say that, is it if something is by far, in a way, makes sense financially, 

it’s a real winner financially, but it’s outside of your core interests or maybe there are moral or ethical dilemmas or anything like that? How would you approach something like that? 


Mark Milz:

If it’s outside of my core interests and I believe in the team behind it, and I really think 

it’s going to be a success then I’ll still jump in on something like that. I have a couple of investments like that. If it’s an ethical thing, I won’t touch it. I believe in karma; I’m not trying to do anything that will get me in trouble or get other people in trouble or put other people in a bad situation so I stay far away from that stuff. 


Mark Pages-Oliver: 

That makes sense. You’ve got a long term philosophy on business and how you interact with investments. 


Mark Milz:

I think you really get back what you give and if you start off with negative or bad 

intentions in the first place then you’re really going to get that back in the end. So I just try to keep my hands clean. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

I couldn’t agree more; I’ll often say to clients or associates or new recruits into our business, that I always want to walk on the same side of the street as my clients. I never want to have to cross the street, even if that means that we don’t do business or I don’t make any money. I would still want to be able to walk up to them and shake their hand, look them in the eye and feel confident that I’ve done everything right; that money hasn’t come first. 


Mark Milz:

That’s how we treat these projects on the homes that we build. We often do so much more 

on these houses than other people. “You call a flipper,” I hate when people use that term to me now because that’s not what we do. We’ll go through and take things so much further just to make sure it’s a really good product to give to the end user. Because we know it’s going to be a family that lives in the house. We want them to enjoy it and raise their kids and whatever they’re going to do; I don’t want to have to go back and fix things or like you said, walk across the street from somebody that lives in the same town as you. We try to look at our real estate projects the same way too. 


Mark Pages Oliver:

Not to be morbid, but it’s your funeral; what are people saying about you?


Mark Milz:

I hope people will think that I always tried to do things the right way, the honest way. 

And mostly if it’s my funeral I want people to have a good time, at least minimize the sadness. Have a shot of Jack Daniel's and have a good time, life's short.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs, people that look at you and 

your story and your path and say ‘I want a piece of that.’ It may not necessarily be in property but they like your journey and want to replicate it in some way.


Mark Milz:

I would tell them that there’s no easy way. It’s hard work, it’s perseverance. I’ve done 

hundreds of projects and I’ve done projects that didn’t go well and you just fight your way through it and basically figure out a way to get to the end and there’s just no easy path. If you’re going to put in the work then you’re going to get the result. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

I forget who said it but, “entrepreneurs are the only people that will work eighty hours to avoid working a forty hour work week.”

Looking back at your career, what has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle that?


Mark Milz:

I worked for a production home builder out of college and I did everything from 

customer service to project management to quality assurance. The biggest challenge for me was figuring out when to take the jump on my own because we went through the recession and that was really difficult. Trying to be able to save my own money to do my own thing and it was almost impossible to take steps forward. So I think that was the biggest challenge, and then it was being comfortable with just having that paycheck. Then at a certain point, I just said screw it and left and that was the best thing I ever did. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

When you left did you try to lean into your own stuff, your own work, while you 

still had a full time job or did you just make a cut?


Mark Milz:

I was doing it for like three years while I was working there and basically my time was 

not well spent being there anymore. So it was costing me more money to stay there and get this paycheck than it would be to focus on what I should have been doing full time, which are my own projects. 


Mark Pages-Oliver:

You were burning at both ends because you saw the long term plans and the 

vision there. And at the end of the day you just wanted to be happy, as well, doing what you were doing.


Mark Milz:

I’m not someone that wants to answer to someone else or wants to work at a corporate 

level. That’s not me so it just wasn’t a good fit.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

You’re a Raiders fan, are you going to be going to Vegas a lot more now? 


Mark Milz:

I mean, I’m mad at them so I don’t know if I’m a fan yet again. We’ll probably go to a 

game or two in Vegas because it’s in Vegas. Maybe we’ll start “dating” again, we’ll see. I was a long time ticket holder, we had a suite and all that stuff but it doesn’t feel good when your team leaves and goes to a different city.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

I don’t imagine you have a lot of luxuries but what luxuries do you allow 

yourself? What are the things where you’re like, “that’s really valuable for me to spend money on?”


Mark Milz:

I like to go out to good restaurants, I like good scotch, I collect whiskey, I like classic 

cars; I’m a car guy. I have a 1967 Shelby GT Mustang 350 so I really like classic muscle cars. I like to travel, I like to stay in good hotels. So that kind of stuff for me is important, the experiences and those kinds of things. You have to spoil yourself with something every once in a while.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

Are you also concerned about legacy or what happens after you?


Mark Milz:

So I don’t have any kids yet. Right now, being an entrepreneur, I’m always worried about what’s going to happen tomorrow, a month, a year down the road. I have a lot of other people that I feed technically, families take care of guys that work for me; that’s always a worry for me. I probably worry when I shouldn’t worry but it’s just the nature of the beast. As far as the legacy I’m trying to build my company, my portfolio into something that has value without me, so that would be creating a legacy business wise along with my other investments and things like that. So eventually, when I do have kids, that will be something that’s there for them. But I feel like I would be that type of guy that would be like, ‘you don't get any of this until you’re mature enough or work for something yourself’ because I don’t really like the handout stuff. I didn’t get a lot of handouts and I feel like it makes you into a harder working person and value that stuff more.


Mark Pages-Oliver:

Totally, I 100% agree. Thank you so much for spending time with us today, I  really appreciate it and I know you’re a busy guy. I think these sorts of informal chats are going to be really valuable for the next generation of entrepreneurs who’ll understand the grit and granular aspect of being an entrepreneur, it’s not all pie in the sky and Ferrari's and traveling around the world. It takes a lot to be able to get there and do it and I think you’re in a great position to be able to help and inspire that next generation coming through.


Mark Milz:

Thank you, thank you guys for watching. I appreciate the time today.

 
Range Real Estate
39 Quail Ct. Ste 200
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
925-236-0915
Mark Pages-Oliver, MBA DRE #2020349
Lisa Caldwell DRE #01267745

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