While the US was grappling with the 2008 financial crisis, Aaron Fairchild decided it was the perfect time to enter the real-estate industry, the same industry that had just gone belly up.
“Warren Buffet has always been fond of saying, ‘Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful,'” says Fairchild.
Following Buffet’s advice, Fairchild cleaned out his retirement savings to start Green Canopy Homes, a Seattle-based company that builds and sells sustainable, energy-efficient houses.
Considering the decade’s worth of financial knowledge he gained from working at his father’s bank, and years of home-building experience he’d accumulated, it’s no surprise the risky venture paid off.
We spoke with Fairchild as part of our Fast Track Q&A series, in which we’re asking small-business owners the same 11 questions about their professional and personal inspirations. He shared his early aspirations, his dreams of time travel, and why it’s important for entrepreneurs to check their ego. Read more in the series here »
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember being asked that point-blank by my sister, and I answered with “rich.” And that’s a horrible perspective. I hate even putting that out there [laughs]. As I matured I became a little more reflective, and I had four goals since high school: to write a book, start a company, teach, and be involved in grassroots politics.
How did you get the idea for your business?
When the real-estate market was crashing, I thought, here’s an opportunity where I can align my skill set in banking and financing as well as my values into a place that can generate positive return for investors and build a business.
The idea was born through the lens that people are freaking out about the marketplace, and [real estate in Seattle] is something I know a lot about, and maybe I can start a home-building company with the mission to inspire resource efficiency in the residential marketplace. So that’s what we did.
How did you pick the name of your business?
We went through branding sessions and came up with the name Revive. Our attorneys told us we couldn’t trademark that, so we went back to the drawing board and came up with the name Thrive. Again, our attorneys said you can’t trademark that. So our marketing director came up with a list that included the word “canopy” and there was really something about it that I liked. The notion of the forest canopy covering and shelter — I loved all that, but something was missing.
I left the next day to go on a family vacation. While my wife and I were on a run, I told her about the name that our marketing director had come up with, and my wife suggested green canopy. I thought, that’s it! We stopped running, I whipped out my phone and searched Google to see if we could get a URL with it and saw that we could get it and trademark it.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
Starting a very capital-intensive home company. I left my father’s bank, cashed out my shares in the company, and basically took my retirement early. I spent all that on Green Canopy and went on to raise capital from 45 shareholders to a total of about 80 different investors. We manage real estate and build homes in a highly leveraged business model, and I don’t know a lot of entrepreneurs who would take on that risk. I really poured everything into this business.
What is your greatest talent?
Communication and articulating ideas and vision. Good communication really means good listening. I often describe our company as a communications company that happens to build homes. And I think part of our success is contributed to my relentless pursuit to good communication and implementing that into the company through our values and our culture.
What’s the first job you ever had?
Pulling vintage auto parts out of a vintage auto-wreckage yard.
What’s the weirdest job you ever had?
At 15, I prepared and packed frozen pizzas in a cooler.
Which entrepreneur do you most admire?
Elon Musk. His ability to not just envision big goals but implement and execute on that. Anyone who doubts his vision is not using history as a guide, because historically he’s delivered on everything. From paying people through the internet, to rocket science, to tying solar grids together across the country, to building gigafactories, to building the most exciting electric vehicle to hit the market — most of his endeavors have been profitable undertakings, and if they’re not, they certainly have a clear trajectory. He’s an amazing entrepreneur, and it just kills me that he’s my age.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
The ability to go back in time, anytime I want, even if for only an hour, and then bounce back to the present.
What advice would you give to a entrepreneur?
Check your ego. Just because you’re an entrepreneur and you came up with the idea doesn’t mean that your ideas are always right. You need to make sure that you’ve got humility. Confidence minus ego equals humility. And just because you got a positive outcome doesn’t mean you made the right decision. How you know you made the right decision is not by the outcome but by the process that you went through to make the decision. If the process of making the decision is right, then that was the right decision to make regardless of the outcome. If it’s a bad outcome, then you just learn from it.