Together with his co-founder Simon Cohen, Ben Handler has grown Cohen Hander from a two-man property buyers’ agent team into an industry-leading agency. The duo found success by identifying – and actively addressing – a gap in the Australian property market. However, Ben also credits yoga, quantum physics, adland and the 14th Dalai Lama with the company’s continued growth. Sometimes, you’ve just got to look outside your industry for inspiration.
“Cohen Handler offers all buyers the opportunity to be represented by a professional, throughout the whole property purchase process,” Ben, the company’s CEO, told Dynamic Business.
“Buying a property is a very complicated activity when you don’t work in the industry or have any understanding of where to begin. This is more so when you’re entering an imbalanced market. Cohen Handler fixes this problem for all types of buyers — from first home buyers seeking to get their foot in the door, to more seasoned investors that are looking to add to their property portfolio. We are bridging the gap in the market in a way that no one else is, and we make the entire process simple and more efficient for all clients. Most importantly, we have helped professionalise, define, and lead our entire industry since 2009.”
“In hindsight we could have secured more capital”
Ben and Simon met in 2009 at a Halloween party in Los Angeles. While they both worked in the real estate sector and had a similar network of friends, they had never crossed paths. Simon had recently moved to the US to learn about the local property market and the Aussies got to talking about how it compared to the market back home.
“During our conversation, we pinpointed a massive gap in the Australian market,” Ben said. “While property sellers could enlist the help of a real estate agent, buyers lacked representation in the purchase process. This wasn’t the case in the US, where four in five buyers were enlisting the help of a buyers’ agent, a concept virtually unheard of here. With a desire to address this imbalance, we came up with the idea for Cohen Handler that evening.”
Leaving his job with property management company Charter Hall, Ben teamed up with Simon. They launched Cohen handler that same year, using $5000 from their own pockets to finance website development, rent and business cards.
“Since that time, the business has continued to grow organically,” Ben said. “By that, I mean growth was achieved without the help of investors, friends or family.
“We were determined to never raise a dollar of debt and for the first five years, we didn’t. The downside was we had to work long hours to ensure the business ran smoothly and had room for growth. The two of us worked across all aspects of business development, from the admin work to proactively door knocking for clients. In hindsight, we probably could have secured more capital or tapped more into our own resources to see us through the early years. This would have allowed Simon and I to hire the right people, freeing us up to do the roles we enjoy.”
“We consolidated growth this year, we’ll scale up in 2017”
In eight years, we’ve evolved from a two-person team operating out of my house to a 50-person operation with five offices across Brisbane, Sydney and Brisbane.”
“This year, revenue grew 172.3% and we opened new offices in Sydney’s Inner West and South West Sydney due to upcoming infrastructure projects that will drive growth in these regions.
“In October, we expanded our presence to Singapore, offering relocation advice and services to expats who are looking to move back home. That same month, we also helped 41 Australian buyers find the right property at the right price. These transactions totaled $72 million dollars, with an average purchase time of 37 days.”
“While 2016 has been about consolidating our growth, we’re using this year to scale up our buyers’ agent headcount across all of our offices.”
“I educate myself on subjects outside my industry”
Ben attributes his success with Cohen Handler, at least in part, to the wisdom he has acquired through reading. That said, he doesn’t go in for your typical, dime-a-dozen ‘how to succeed in business’ books.
“I prefer to educate myself with a broad range of subjects outside of the business industry,” he said. “While it’s still important to have a thorough understanding of the area you work in, if you pigeonhole yourself too much it becomes harder to be open to new ideas. Here are three books that have helped me get to where I am now:
- ‘The Art of Happiness’ (The 14th Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler): This book strips back all the superficial concepts we encounter on a day-to-day basis and taps into the basic understanding of human purpose — finding happiness. While business success is great, I tend to look for greater meaning in the work I do. This book helped me put the important things into perspective and gave me the discipline to train myself to focus on the areas that bring meaning to my life. Too often we use a materialistic or egotistical measure for happiness, but it shouldn’t be this way.
- ‘The Purple Cow: Transform your Business by Being Remarkable’ (Seth Godin): Competition is rife, especially in the real estate industry. As Cohen Handler continues to educate Australians about the benefits of having a buyers’ agent by their side, we have begun to see a lot of one- and two-man buyers’ agent teams pop up, which creates more noise in the industry. The Purple Cow is based on insights from the advertising industry; however, it’s very much applicable to Cohen Handler as a business. It’s a simple read that clearly outlines how to think outside the box and differentiate yourself and your business when surrounded by competitors all vying for a piece of the pie.
- ‘Why Quantum Physicists Don’t Fail’ (Greg Kuhn): It’s a very interesting read that touches on quantum physics and the different way of thinking that it presents us. The book goes on to explain that the law of attraction is real and mentions how important it is to mould your energy and thoughts to focus on what it is you desire. This book gave me a completely new perspective about thoughts, manifestation, beliefs and starting every day with positivity. We implement these practices at Cohen Handler, as real estate can be like a rollercoaster at times. It’s important to set a goal for where you see yourself in your career and we encourage our team to create dream boards of what they want to achieve.”
“Being mindful is necessary in a fast-paced industry”
In addition to being the CEO of Cohen Handler, Ben is also a qualified yoga instructor who actively practices mindfulness and meditation. Furthermore, these disciplines inform his company’s culture.
“I lead by example and highlight the importance of having a healthy mind and a structured work-life balance,” he said. “As a yoga instructor, I encourage all employees to participate in the free yoga and meditation classes offered by Cohen Handler. I personally meditate every morning to ensure I start the working day with a fresh and open mind, and I meditate at night to relieve the stress of the day.
“The property industry can be very fast paced and often non-stop. I encourage all employees to take a step back to ensure that they are being mindful of their own health, stress levels and happiness. Too often, people neglect themselves and their minds, which can lead to burnouts. From a business perspective, happy employees will create more value, better productivity and engagement at all levels of the company.”