Everything in Stride

Over the course of completing 50 marathons—one in every state—Compass CEO Robert Reffkin gleaned valuable insights that inform his life and leadership.

Compass Founder and CEO Robert Reffkin | Image: Ben Lowy

In 2007, Compass Founder and CEO Robert Reffkin set out to do the impossible: complete 50 marathons, one in every state, to raise $1 million for the same non-profits that supported him as a student. Rising early to run the Westside Highway or circle Central Park, he completed his goal, starting the feat while working at Goldman Sachs and passing the last finish line after co-founding our company.

Still committed to staying active, now, when he’s not chasing after his two little girls, he jogs between his West Village home and our Union Square headquarters. He also infuses the lessons learned criss-crossing the country on foot into how he leads Compass, especially as it opens offices from coast to coast. Here, his top 10 takeaways:

1Run slow to run fast.
During a marathon, pros know that you run the second half faster than the first. The same applies to business. Invest in building a strong foundation early, and then you can execute and expand quickly over time.

2Nobody succeeds alone.
When I was training, I surrounded myself with people who inspired me: my family, friends, coach. In fact, my mom accompanied me during all 50 races, usually jogging beside me for the first 3K and then meeting me, cheering, at the finish line. That same level of support — beginning to end — is crucial when you’re starting a company.

3Learn from what came before. Then iterate on it. 
Inspired by stories of people climbing Mt. Everest for charity and cross-country biking to bond with a parent, I looked to those ideas to create my own. Then I considered my goals — to stay in shape, raise money to do good, see the nation, and spend time with my mom — and races presented a way to accomplish all that. It was multitasking, but outside the context of work.

4Change lanes — without losing speed.
Despite record winds and a small injury, my last run was my best, the New York City Marathon. I broke three hours. How? Even though I’d already run 48 races by then, I hired expert Tony Ruiz to help me reach my personal best. That’s what we’re doing in our business now, hiring leaders like our Head of Product Christina Allen. We’re partnering industry experience with the passion from which our initial success grew. The combination will allow us to realize our ambitions.

5Sometimes it’s best to fly blind.
After I’d set the goal of raising $1 million, I emailed everyone I knew about it. The first response asked, ‘What if you don’t finish?’ Frankly, I hadn’t thought about failing, but had I not told the world, maybe I wouldn’t have stuck with it.

Peer pressure can be more powerful than pressuring yourself, and sometimes goals are only reachable when you don’t know the full ramifications of what will be required to achieve them.

6Conserve your energy.
During those 26.2 miles you’re competing against your own mind. Against the “no,” the self-doubt. Similarly, expanding Compass across the country is a lot of work. So when sprinting against business milestones, I remind myself of these races to recalibrate my thinking.

7Adapt to your terrain.
Geography, race culture, personal state of mind — they contribute to each, individual race. The Seattle marathon was incredibly hot. In St. Louis, it snowed the entire run. But in Michigan, I watched the sunrise from the road, and in Indiana, the course traversed cornfields. There was the competitive spirit of Boston, the overwhelming cheers in New York, the absolute silence of Death Valley.

As Compass began expanding last year, these distinct experiences taught me to customize the company’s approach to different landscapes. Because, let’s face it, the landscape won’t adapt to you.

8The first race is easy. The last exhilarating. Leaving 48 in between.
You get to run 25 and realize there are 25 to go. 30, 35, 40 — they’re not that cool. You lose that excitement. Similarly, some people go to startups, then quit when things aren’t cool. When it’s not the massive excitement of the first founding period, the first product adoption, the initial expansion.

The real test is the next phase, especially when you consider the many companies who’ve gone before you. The first 25 firms show you can’t do it. You have to stay committed for the distance to be the one company who does.

9Passion is my adrenaline.
Most sports have conflicts. But marathons are the most positive gatherings of people because everyone is running for something or on behalf of somebody. Marathons are pure innocence and unfettered passion. It’s the same feeling at Compass. Pride and confidence in the team and the teams for each other.

Recently an LA agent accepted our offer, and he told me that his former brokerage called him to ask, ‘Can you explain to me why?’ The agent responded, ‘because Compass has one thing that you don’t. Passion.’ Real estate agents are by nature entrepreneurs. Unlike most brokerages, Compass is not run by custodians, but by entrepreneurs themselves.

10 Live in the now.
When I look back on life, I can say I lived. At work, in the community. Founding America Needs You. Working in the White House. Marrying a wonderful woman. Supporting my mom. Having children.

I’ve heard it said that you can have it all, but not all at once. And I say that being pushed and pulled is a good emotion. It forces me to make the most out of every moment, every interaction, in the name of moving forward on what matters: the people, the causes, the company.

Learn more about Robert, his company, and the team he leads at Compass.com.