I’m a curious guy. I like to know what makes things tick, or why people do what they do. So it’s no surprise that I love to network with other entrepreneurs, thought leaders and business owners. I like to learn what motivates them and how they turn ideas into reality. It never fails to amaze me to hear about what inspires them and what they do at a practical level to bring a strategy or a dream to life.
In the course of my recent networking, I spoke with someone who has built several businesses in the title industry. It occurred to me, in talking to him, that ours is truly an industry of small businesses and formerly small businesses that built themselves into something bigger. We’re not just a legion of VC-funded start-ups and joint ventures like some industries. I’d know. I’m a second-generation mortgage professional myself. I grew up in my family’s title business, learning things from the ground up. Even though the business did very well, we weren’t building it to sell it. We weren’t waiting on venture capital or a buyer to come along. We were building something for the long term. I know of plenty who did the same thing, and when the time was right, made the sale to a competitor or a larger company. But they built their businesses as their own—not as a holding company or some temporary vessel while they “put lipstick on the pig.”
In spite of all the talk of the coming of Amazon and Google (still waiting on that), the vast majority of our success stories start as small, closely-held businesses that work hard; innovate and keep grinding until they’re big (usually still closely-held) businesses…or at least they’re purchased by a big business.
We don’t have as many boards or IPOs as many industries, although we are seeing a few more than usual after an unbelievable 2020. Many of the technologies used widely in our industry were originally proprietary but worked so well they spun off into separate revenue streams or even entirely new ventures. Even when a small business succeeds in our industry, the owner(s) or founder(s) tends to stay aboard and keep that structure longer than in other industries.
There are probably any number of reasons for that, I guess. We’re a traditional industry, heavily regulated at all levels. We’re highly specialized—nobody from outside our industry looks at us and says “Gee, someday I’d like to own a title insurance company.” We tend also to be a little commoditized, as much as I hate to use that word. So I suppose ours is a labor of love. It’s probably why we have such a small-town feel about us (and I mean that in a good way).
Yes, this distinguishing characteristic has its drawbacks too. But I’m not going to dwell on that at the moment. Just take a second and marvel at it. If you own or are part of growing a small or mid-sized mortgage or title business, take a bow. You’re part of a worthy venture, and you’re very possibly on your way to even bigger things.
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