Inside Sam Battista’s World: What It’s Really Like to Start a Business in University
Meet Sam Battista, a man who knows what he wants. A 2016 Queen’s University Commerce graduate, he decisively turned away alluring offers from top consulting firms like Bain & Co. to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in the real estate space. Now, he’s at the helm of PropertySpark, a platform dedicated to managing social media advertising for realtors. Interestingly enough, however, Sam would also be the first to tell you that it has been really tough—in his words, sometimes it just “sucks, a lot” to run a business. The QEC sat down with Sam to talk about his decision to start his own business and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. For excerpts of our interview, keep reading!
QEC: How did PropertySpark come to be?
Sam Battista: I don’t think a lot of people know this, but I didn’t come out of the gates knowing exactly what kind of business I wanted to do. I had no idea, I just knew I wanted to start something. I started working for my dad, a real estate agent, and I was doing all of his online marketing. It wasn’t pretty, day in day out, but from working with him and learning social media, I started connecting the dots and seeing how massive of an opportunity it is to advertise for real estate agents on social media. Think about it—you’ve probably seen hundreds, if not thousands of property ads in the past week that you haven’t even thought about! There are billions of dollars being spent on this. What we had when we started PropertySpark, was my knowledge of what realtors actually wanted since I was working for one and talking to many of them. It’s not just about how big the market is. The real insight that you need to have is what that individual in the market actually wants.
QEC: What are the most valuable pieces of advice you’ve received as an entrepreneur?
SB: One comes from a book that a mentor recommended. It’s called The E-Myth Revisited. The book is about automating processes, but the first chapter was about building a business that you actually want to run. A lot of the business decisions that I’ve made for PropertySpark have trickled down from that piece of advice. So many people go into businesses that they don’t even want! Even if they’re making a ton of money, or have a ton of customers, they’re probably stressing themselves out, because it’s not something they want to be doing.
The second piece of advice comes from a book called, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz. He basically says, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to struggle. In our world, especially, where all the content is about making you feel better and more productive, making you happier, making you sleep more, making you love your job more… it’s all bull**** when you’re an entrepreneur! Making decisions to save your company are not fun. If I didn’t read that, or have someone tell me how hard it was going to be, I don’t think I’d be here now.
QEC: A huge part of the QEC is the mentorship opportunities for competitors. Has mentorship been important to your journey as an entrepreneur so far?
SB: Absolutely. It’s been massive. A lot of them are professors and businessmen from Queen’s. Most of the chats I had with my mentors were in my fourth year at university. It’s really interesting, because I thought that when I went to talk to them for the first time about how I didn’t take the big job and salary, they’d give me s*** [laughs] Excuse my language—but they didn’t! I actually had one mentor who just looked at me, nodded, and said “You’re in the jungle, now.” That was it! [Laughs]
Another mentor I had at Queen’s is someone who graduated a while ago, started his own extremely successful business in the Kingston area, and actually had one of the same [summer] internships I had, way back in the day. I remember sitting down and also breaking [my decision to start my own business] down for him, and this guy told me which books to read, and what to do. I actually read those books, and actually did it. That’s the difference: actually listening to what your mentors tell you.
QEC: What are your plans for PropertySpark in the future? Do you plan on growing the team?
SB: Of course! I think there’s a difference between staying small and staying lean. Some people say to keep your business small, but in my opinion, if you don’t grow, you die. It doesn’t mean you need this huge budget for hiring more employees. We just hired a full time engineer to do coding, and it’s awesome having him on the team now. Someone’s coming on to do third-party sales, so we’re always growing, but also keeping it as lean as possible.
QEC: What would you say to students similar to yourself, who are hoping to launch a startup of their own?
SB: You have to know that it’s going to hurt a lot before you get anywhere you want to be. I’m not saying that it’s not hard to be an investment banker, or a marketer. Holy, that’s so hard! There’s struggle in every single job, but my thought process was, ‘If it’s going to hurt, I might as well do what I want.’ I looked like an idiot to most people for turning down that corporate career. What people don’t see is how much it sucked, and how much difficulty I went through to get here. Starting a business wasn’t a trend to me; it wasn’t something I was doing for admiration from [others]. I just really wanted to do my own thing. Some people just box themselves into one area. It’s fine to keep jumping, and keep trying different things. We’re young! You don’t need to stay in that box.
QEC: Name one quality that all entrepreneurs share.
SB: It comes down to not caring what other people think. You don’t care when your friends tell you that your idea is stupid, or when you have negative money in the bank, but you’re still somehow investing into your business. It’s not fearlessness, because I’m still scared half the time. Some of the people who are closest to you—your friends, your family—will give you bad advice, because they’re not entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, you need to realize that you can’t give light of day of every single thing people tell you.
To learn more about PropertySpark, visit their website. You can also keep up with Sam’s personal journey on his Facebook page, StayLit.
The QEC is an internationally-renowned undergraduate startup competition. It offers over $75,000 in cash prizes to its top winners, and applications are open until October 30, 2017. Apply now!