VENTEUR spoke with Walt Danley, President and Founder of Walt Danley Christie’s International Real Estate. With 45 years of experience in the luxury real estate industry, Danley has built his success on four guiding principles: integrity, knowledge of the market, understanding the needs of his clients, and dedicated hard work. These attributes, combined with his keen negotiating skills, have enabled Walt to log nearly over $3.5 billion in sales–a record unrivaled in Arizona’s luxury home market.

Walt Danley, President and Founder of Walt Danley Christie’s International Real Estate

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

I learned that I have an enormous capacity for work. I have always been entrepreneurial and have always enjoyed working hard. I also enjoy a challenge and like taking creative approaches to solving problems. 

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?

I’ve never really felt lonely. However, there are times when decisions must be made that impact other people, and that process can feel isolating at times. I’ve had a handful of exceptional mentors over the years that I have leaned on in these times, and they have always helped me chart my course. 

What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?

Intuition has always played a major part in my success. I work in residential real estate, and while the transactional parts of what I do don’t change a lot from deal to deal, the process of getting to the finish line is different every time. 

There is no standard playbook. While my intuition has certainly been honed by my experience, it is still my most important tool. I would assume this is a common thread among entrepreneurs.  

The most successful entrepreneurs I know are not “classically trained” MBA types. We are more apt to take risks and follow our intuition than rely on what we read in a book.

The Psychological Warfare  

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur? 

While I certainly agree with the “more work, less sleep, lack of attention to my health” part of the question, I don’t feel that it has led to any insecurity issues. In fact, the success I have found in business has bolstered my self-confidence and self-esteem.

The Mistakes

What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?

1. I felt like I had to be able to do everything

I wanted to be self-reliant early in my career, so I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to master things that I did not do well and that I did not enjoy. 

An early mentor suggested that I focus on what I do well and what I enjoy and hire people to fill my knowledge and skill gaps. 

That was probably the best foundational advice I ever received. I’ve been doing that for more than 40 years, and it has played a large role in my success.

2. I didn’t work from a pre-determined business plan

I felt I needed a level of flexibility that didn’t fit well into a preconceived plan. However, a good plan is the key to everything. You need to be flexible and willing to adjust, but you should always start with a good plan.

3. I spent too much time working in my business and not on my business

I’ve made adjustments later in my career, but it would have been good to begin that way.

What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?

1. Surround yourself with specialists

While it’s okay to try to master a new skill, it’s more efficient to surround yourself with specialists who can do things you can’t….or don’t want to do.

2.  Be generous with your time…no matter how busy you are

I have always been blessed to have great mentors, people who took the time to help me with various issues over the years. I feel it is incumbent upon me to do the same. I am always willing to help people at any time.

3. Take time to enjoy your successes

Enjoy the view from the top of the mountain you just climbed before you start climbing the next one.

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?

While the housing market was disintegrating before my eyes after the 2008 housing crash, I met with my team, and we brainstormed on what we could do. Most of the team began the meeting with the mindset of “surviving,” while I was thinking more of “thriving.” 

There is opportunity in every market pivot, so we determined to leverage every relationship with lending institutions we developed over the years and focused on understanding the short-sale process. 

The net result was that we did more luxury short sales and bank-owned business than anyone.  It was a dreadful time. 

People were losing their homes, and lives dramatically altered, so it was very emotionally tough.  

But we gained market share, and we were able to help people navigate a really difficult time.

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems impossible?

You are asking the absolute wrong person. Selling residential real estate is an intensely personal business. I get to know my clients well, and many of my strongest and longest friendships started as a business relationships. 

Also, the people who work for me are some of my closest friends. Work and personal time tend to bleed together. The line between my personal and professional lives is almost non-existent.

What advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?

1. Travel more when you are slow

Anytime there was a lull in my business, my instinct was to work harder and longer. There is a seasonality to what I do, and I wish I had taken more trips during the slow times.

2. Learn to use technology more effectively

I know I could be a little more independent if I had started to learn how to use a computer better earlier in my career. I was the first agent in my office to use a pager and the big “brick” cell phone, but I depended on others too much with computer issues.

What do you think the most significant difference is between how an entrepreneur sees their career path versus how an employee at a company sees their career path, and why?

I think an entrepreneur sees a problem and thinks, “how am I going to solve this?” 

Employee tends to ask, “how are you going to solve this?” 

One is not better than the other. 

They are just different. 

Entrepreneurs need employees as much as employees need entrepreneurs.

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