Over two decades ago, Mike Meena launched Augusta Financial out of his home in Santa Clarita, Calif., determined to build a successful business while staying honest. Since then, Meena has become a $270-million originator and expanded the company to four branches across the Los Angeles metro area. His top tips for originators: develop strong community ties, be humble and forget about designer clothes.
Power Originator: You went out on your own with Augusta Financial in 1995 after five years in the industry. Was that a difficult decision?
Mike Meena: It was easy, to be honest. Every other owner and every other company lied to me and said they would do things they never did. I knew what I had to do to make money, which was be consistent, market and be in front of people. I worked for a few companies that went out of business because they didn’t manage their money properly or do things the right way. It was some tough times in the early and mid-90s. We started in a tough time and continued to do the right things to get business.
PO: What advice would you have for originators who want to launch their own business and follow in your footsteps?
MM: It’s tougher to do that now. The most difficult change we made was in 2009 when we went from being a mortgage broker to a mortgage banker. That takes certain net-worth requirements and other things. I don’t think it’s as easy today to open up a company like I did. It’s going to cost you half a million dollars to get there. My answer to people who are starting would be to find the right company for you. You have to find a situation where you are comfortable, and a place that is going to help you grow and not hinder your growth. Train under someone who knows what he’s doing.
PO: So it’s critical to find the right mentor to get started.
MM: Yes, if you are out on your own, you are competing against pros with strong reputations. You can see a lot more loans working for a top producer than you could ever see working for yourself. On my team, we do 500 deals a year. One person on my team might see 120 transactions a year. A person who works for themselves might not see 120 transactions in seven years if they do 18 deals a year. So where are you going to learn quicker?
PO: You’ve managed to expand Augusta Financial steadily over the years. What marketing strategies have worked for your company?
MM: We don’t have a full marketing department, but we employ a marketing company, Creative Marketing Solutions. We do things like take an ice cream truck to big offices and events to reach potential clients. We also have a limo that we rent. We book it out a certain number of hours per month, and the real estate agents can rent it from us at our cost. That’s new this year. They take it out when a client closes escrow and make it a special occasion. The client gets taken out to dinner and they can pick up their family and friends. The marketing company is also less than 24-hour turnaround time on most fliers or postcards. We hire them for a monthly fee, and the realtors pay them per piece.
PO: It sounds like you have a lot of good community connections in general.
MM: You have to be involved and be a presence everywhere. We are the biggest lender in town, and people come to us for everything. We sponsor a lot of charity events. Last year, it was Tidings for Teens where we helped 97 children in foster care pay for back-to-school clothes at Old Navy. One of our guys takes the ice cream truck to cancer patients every year. That’s the kind of people we have here. We do that to say thank you, and the business rolls in regardless of whether we do it or not. We do have a lot of community connections in our office. I would say 70 to 80% of the people in the Santa Clarita office live in Santa Clarita.
PO: The charity events must build a positive atmosphere. Are you doing other things to make Augusta Financial a fun place to work?
MM: Well we haven’t laid anybody off, and other places have. We are trying to hold onto jobs. When there are good times, there are bonuses and parties, but we don’t do anything too wild because I know about the ups and downs in the business.
PO: Any final advice?
MM: I’ve seen so many loan officers live paycheck to paycheck. If they invest in real estate and don’t think about that beautiful shiny new car, they are going to be so much better off. Real estate doesn’t fail in California. You are making a big mistake if you are investing in Louis Vuitton and expensive cars. That’s what I live by. Guys who worked for me 15 years ago would comment that I’m doing 400 deals a year and driving a Honda Civic. It’s really important to stay humble and think about tomorrow, not just today.