Funding the Future: Angelique Brunner ’94


DANNY WARSHAY:
I’m Danny Warshay. I’m the Executive
Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. I want to welcome you all today. And those of you have
been to our events know the way I always welcome
you– which is to ask, for how many of you is this
your first Nelson Center event? Raise your hand. Awesome. We always love to
see new people here, so thank you so much for coming. And if you’re not already
on our email list, a good way to get on is to
go to our website, which is entrepreneurship.brown.edu. Right on the home page,
you give us your email. And then roughly every week
we’ll keep you in the loop on hearing about these
kinds of programs. Just briefly, to
tell you who we are, we’re in charge of
everything related to entrepreneurship on campus. And we typically talk
about three buckets. One is curricular. So there’s an
unprecedented number of courses that are
being taught at Brown related to entrepreneurship,
including my own. I see some of my students here. We’re hiring more faculty. We’re funding academic research. So there’s a very strong,
rigorous academic underpinning to everything we do. Outside the classroom,
events like these, there’s a ton of this
happening, as most of you know. So workshops, speakers, events–
very generous alumni coming back to share their expertise. And then third, the way we
normally describe it is we’re not only helping you learn
about entrepreneurship, we are here to
empower you to do it. So there is a ton of
venture support resources, in the form of increasing
amounts of grant funding. We run a summer
accelerator called B Lab. We have a Brown Venture Prize
competition coming up in March. We support you after
you want to leave Brown, in the form of grants and
other connections to resources. So curricular, co-curricular,
venture support. That’s the way to think
about the three buckets. I’m not going to
take a long time to introduce Angel, except
to say, thank you so much for being here today. This is part of our
“Funding the Future” series, which has extended into
different realms of finance and entrepreneurship
in the, roughly, year that we’ve kicked this off. And Angel is going to talk
for a little while, I think, and maybe prompt a
few early questions. This tends to be
relatively informal. So I think, with
Angel’s permission, we’re going to make this as
interactive as we possibly can. To the extent that you’d like to
participate and ask a question, just raise your hand so
we can get you the mic, so we’ll make sure
you’re on film. There are a couple of
deadlines coming up next week. So we also will pay
to send you to do entrepreneurship-related
internships in Sweden, in Germany, and in Israel. We’re doing that
in collaboration with Brown Connect– and February 21 is the deadline. If you’re interested
in learning more, you can go to that
same website– entrepreneurship.brown.edu. And there was one
other reminder. Tuesday, “Startup Studio,” which
is another series we’re having. And that’s Peter Roberts. So I know many of you are not
going to be here on Tuesday, but many of you will be. Peter Roberts is an
expert in immigration law, and has been really generous
to many of our students for whom that’s an
important topic. It should be for all of us. If you have a personal
reason for which that’s an important topi, Peter is
also available to meet with you privately. So all of that available
on our website– entrepreneurship.brown.edu. So I’m going to turn
the mic over to Angel– thank her for being here. And thank you all as well. Thanks very much. [APPLAUSE] ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: I
don’t know that I’m going to touch these slides. I may touch a few slides,
but I’m going to skip around. So thank you everyone
for coming today. I’m in Washington most
of the time, that’s where my company is headquartered. I was class of ’94. And how many folks here
are juniors or seniors? So when I was your age, my
life changed dramatically. And it changed here at Brown. It changed because of Brown. And I am here now
because of Brown. By the time I was a junior, I
had led the last two protests in Brown history– for here, here for now. It got 253 students
arrested, when we took over the
admissions building for need-blind admissions. I just saw the exhibit
last September. And that was the last
protest in Brown history. I did that my freshman
and sophomore year. By the time I was a junior,
my mother passed away. And my father, who
was much older, was left with my
8-year-old brother. And they weren’t
really doing very well. And so I thought– I had three classes left,
so I called the dean. I was a full-scholarship
student. And I called Dean
English, at the time. And I said, my family’s
not doing well. It’s not working out I think
I’m going to have to drop out, or I may have to put my
brother in foster care. And I don’t want to put
my brother in foster care, so I think I’m going
to have to drop out. And she said, well, what
if you brought your brother and your father to Brown? And you went to
school half time, and we gave you a
fifth-year scholarship, and you took your
classes pass/fail? And I said, well, I
hadn’t thought about that. [LAUGHS] So that’s what I did. And that was Brown’s idea. That was not my idea. I was 20 years old, and
I wasn’t that creative. And it worked out. I took my classes pass/fail. I think I only
passed three of them. I took four classes. I graduated. I managed to successfully
apply to Princeton, to the Wilson school. I actually successfully
applied to all the schools I wanted to go to
for grad school. I accepted to Berkeley,
because I had this dream that I wanted to go to
law school and policy school at the same time. And then I looked at
schools for my brother, who had a learning disability. And there weren’t any
schools close to Berkeley. And so I called up
Princeton in August. And I said, I made a mistake,
do you have a spot for me? And the director of admissions
said, let me call you back. And they made an
extra spot for me. They made an extra
scholarship for me. They kicked somebody
out of family housing and gave us a nice two-bedroom. And I finished up at
the Wilson School. One of the deans at the
Wilson School, at the time, was class of ’75 from Brown. So that’s why I tell that story. And then I and then
I proceeded to be a single parent in college, and
grad school, and thereafter. And I would say that was
my first moral distraction. And I would say that
my life has been a sum of moral distractions. And now, I manage a
half-a-billion-dollar real-estate fund, that has
helped families from 60 countries come to the United
States with the EB-5 program, and has created
over 30,000 jobs. And the reason why I
started that company was because of an internship
I had in South Providence. And in South
Providence was where I first saw neighborhoods that
didn’t have grocery stores, and didn’t have banks,
and didn’t have housing. And it was through
a work-study program here that I was exposed to that. And I was exposed
to the immigrants that we were teaching
credit counseling, so that they could become home
owners in that neighborhood. So I’ll pause for
questions now before I get to sort of the in-between part. Dan wanted me to
pause for questions. I’m happy to pause
for questions. And while I’m posing
for questions, I’ll just tap on
this rugby slide– just because I know we got
a bunch of ruggers here. So I thought that would be fun. So anyway, do we have
any questions yet about my time at Brown,
or anything like that? Yeah? AUDIENCE: I’m wondering
what you studied. Or, I guess, you played rugby– are there any other
experiences at Brown– ANGELIQUE BRUNNER:
That were important? Yeah, absolutely, rugby was the
only experience that mattered. [LAUGHTER] So I was scrum captain, so that
was a very educational thing, for sure. But I studied public policy. I came here and I studied
low-income housing and AIDS prevention in
low-income populations. And at the time, AIDS
was the number one killer of black women 18 to 40,
and low-income housing was something that we
were not doing very well. Unfortunately, 25
years later, we’re still not doing it very well. But that’s what I studied here. Let me expand on that. So when I was here
there was no LGBTQ– what are the new words now? I. But what else goes with it? I don’t know. But anyway, my girlfriend
put the T in LGBT. And we took Pride
Week to Pride Month, and we designed the Queer
Studies program here. And there were
nine students that worked with two professors, and
we designed the whole program. So I guess I also did that. And getting 253 students
arrested is its own education. I got them to not leave
the admissions building when they threatened arrest. So a lot of kids left,
but 253 of us stayed. And they had to bring in
school buses to arrest us. And then five years later,
we got need-blind admissions. [LAUGHS] Does everyone know
what need-blind admissions is? Well, that’s good, because
I didn’t know what it was until I had to protest it. AUDIENCE: It’s only for
domestic students, though. ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: Really? Well, I think they should staple
green cards to your diplomas. So I’m definitely
part of the converted. Anyway, this is us at
graduation without my mom– and my girlfriend’s
family at the time. Let’s see if we
can get past here. This is Dean English, who
made sure that I graduated. It was a pretty big deal. And, really, I have to
say that anything that I do I have to credit Brown for. Because it was
Brown that made sure that they were not
the fail point. They made sure that whatever
I was supposed to do I was going to be able to do. They weren’t going
to be the ones that– I wasn’t going to
be a statistic here. So skipping to my company. So this is my current project. This is Virgin
Hotels in Nashville. It’s the second hotel. As you know, we’re going to
now be the new headquarters of Amazon– Headquarters 2. It’s hard to believe that I
could help Sir Richard Branson, but he needed $40 million
of my money, which came from 80 immigrant families,
who all wanted to come here. And I know Dan
mentioned immigration. I’m an immigration expert. Because like I
said, we’ve helped families from over 60
countries come here with either just their kids
on the EB-5 program, or the whole families
on the EB-5 program. So if there’s anything we
can do, we have 100% success. I’d be happy to make
our firm available. So these are before and
afters of a neighborhood that we’ve done in DC. And you’ll see a Burger King. You’ll see a storage facility. You’ll see an
abandoned warehouse. You’ll see a parking lot. And you’ll see a Quality
Inn external corridor hotel. And that is how I use
the EB-5 money, which is to rebuild neighborhoods. I have over 900
competitors, regulated by Homeland Security
and the SEC. And I choose to do
business this way. No one else chooses to
rebuild neighborhoods. And I would tie that back to my
experience in South Providence. And then I would, again, call
this a moral distraction. I moved to Washington in 2000. And Washington, DC, the
nation’s capital, in 2000 had half as many grocery
stores as the suburbs. So we had one grocery
store for 20,000 residents, and the suburbs had one grocery
store per 10,000 residents. We had no big-box retail. We had no Best Buy, no Target. We had no Whole Foods,
no Trader Joe’s. No REI, no Home Depot. I could go on. I could go on and on. And what that
creates in a city is something called retail bleed. And what that means
is that you’re going to spend that money. You’re going to go
shop at Whole Foods. You’re going to go
shop at Trader Joe’s. But you’re going
to get in your car, and you’re going to drive to
Maryland or Virginia to do it. And so that tax that is paid
on whatever you’re purchasing doesn’t go to the District. It goes to Maryland,
or Virginia. So from an economic
perspective of running a city, it really should be
a state of emergency. So when I asked around,
why was this the case, they said, oh, it’s the riots. You know, we’re rebuilding
as fast as we can. And I said, well, what riots? They said, the 1968 riots. And yeah, that didn’t
really sit well with me. That wasn’t really the pace
that I was interested in. And before I
started the company, my two previous bosses
both sat me down. And they said– well, the
first boss said, look, your pace is upsetting people. And I’m to need you to modify
your pace to the organization. So I quit. And then my second boss, at
Fannie Mae, he sat me down. He wasn’t my boss. He was my boss’s boss’s boss. And he sat me down,
and he said, look, we really have to talk
about the pace at which one should turn a battleship. It’s a battleship. You’re just not doing it right. And so I quit. And then I started the company. I just wasn’t
happy with the pace that Washington
was being rebuilt, and I wasn’t willing
to put my name with a story that
started in 1968 and hadn’t gotten
better in 2000. That just wasn’t going
to be the story that went with Angel in Washington. And so, again, people
always ask, how did you start a company, that you have
clients from 60 countries– and you have staff from 12,
and they speak 16 languages? Listen, I’m not qualified to
intern at my own company now. You have to have language skill. And I don’t speak any languages. They’re really hard for
me, and I can’t do it. And so I’m not even
qualified to be an intern in my own company now. But if any of you guys
have language skills, I’d be happy to
entertain an internship. [LAUGHS] So this was a moral distraction. And as a result there
are a lot of people who don’t like me in Washington,
because my story doesn’t make them money. I don’t take any government
money for my projects. I don’t need any local partners. I don’t talk to any
neighborhood organizations. All I’m doing is creating jobs. And if I can do that 100%
in the private sector, and I can be a
morally-driven capitalist, I’m going to do that. And if working with other
people changes that pace and slows that down, then
I’m not available for that. So we now have about 15
projects in Washington– about $300 million
in Washington, and the rest is scattered
around the country. You saw Nashville. We have a bunch of
stuff in California. We’re currently doing a very
large hotel in New York City– the Ritz Carlton in Midtown. And people ask me, why
do I do luxury hotels? And I actually had
to educate Marriott on why I do luxury hotels. I said, well, at a luxury
hotel your bellman make $70,000 a year, and they don’t
have to have gone to college. And they can stay in
that job, and they can become the general
manager of that hotel, and they can become the
CEO of your company– if they want to, because
of your programs. So to me, they’re
the highest-wage job I can bring to an urban area. So that’s why I like
hotels, and that’s why I build luxury hotels. And I’ll never forget the
guy at Marriott’s face when I told him that’s
why I liked his hotels. He’s like, wow, we
never really thought about our hotels that way. So that’s how we got here. I just got back from a
conference in Switzerland, with the World Economic
Forum, called Davos. And I’m flying to London
tonight for follow-up meetings with folks who are
working in Nigeria, including Kofi
Annan’s son, Kojo. And we’re looking at how
to expand our program to more African clients. And again, it’s a
moral distraction, because no one’s working
in those communities. And then the other thing
that we’re meeting on is to discuss how to
onshore medical health care. Nigeria has the fastest-growing
population of millionaires. And they all have to fly to
London and the United States, just to give birth, practically. And so we’re looking at how can
we partner with the Cleveland Clinic to bring those facilities
back to Nigeria, or Ghana. The other thing we’re
looking at is remittance. Western Union charges
incredible fees. And people are sending
millions of dollars a year back to their countries. And Western Union
isn’t giving back, so we’re looking at replacing
Western Union with a model that will take the fees that
people pay for the transfers and reinvest them in real-estate
projects in their home countries, to redevelop them– and then give the people
who use the platform a return on that investment. And again, that’s just
a moral distraction. It’s not being done well. Can we do it better? And I think that that has been
something I learned at Brown. And I learned it
at Brown because I was distracted by my family. And Brown taught me that
you don’t have to choose– that you can do the right thing
and do well at the same time. It might take a little courage. It might take a
little less sleep. It might take a little prayers. It might take a lot of things. But you can do that– that
you don’t ever have to choose. And I feel like that’s something
that’s part of the Brown ethos, that you don’t have to choose. Our history of entrepreneurship
here predates me. And I was saying
to Dan, man, I wish this existed when I was
here, because it would have tied together so
many of the things that I was enthusiastic about. And the other thing
I learned here was that problems are
actually just opportunities to create solutions. That’s all they are. And Brown does a
good job of that. We had we just started the
Environmental Studies program when I was here. And I wasn’t in it, but my
friend who was in my class was in it– now runs
sustainability for Yahoo. And that’s because Brown was
willing to be on that cutting edge of that discipline, that
wasn’t even a discipline yet. And I think it continues that. And this is a perfect example– the idea that
entrepreneurship itself has a set of tenants and
values that need to be taught. OK, let’s try for
questions again. You mentioned a couple of
things that your company does. So if you could
just elaborate more, for some of us who don’t
know the full story. You work with bringing
families to the US, and also real estate– so
building luxury hotels. How does that all,
I guess, tie in? And how did you
jump started, also? Because you seem like you
quit all those jobs, and then Well, luckily, I recognized
that look in people’s eyes– when they look at you
and they think, wow, there’s just no possible
way you could do that. Because I recognized it
from when I said, oh yeah, I’m going to bring my dad
and my brother to school, and I’m going to finish school. It’s this look where people
want you to be successful. They really want you
to be successful, but they don’t believe
that anything you’re doing is possible. So I was like, OK, well, that
just means it’s just that hard. And I did that, so
building this will only be that hard, so it will be fine. So I mean, I started
it in my living room. My first business partner
was an immigration lawyer. And, unfortunately,
he thought he could learn everything
about finance in two deals, and then branch out on his own. And the mistake he made– and if he had played
rugby he wouldn’t have made this mistake. He basically assumed that
if I had a level playing field– if I had
everything we had created, and we were competing,
that I would lose. And that’s actually the
worst situation for people, is a level playing
field with me. That’s not a good scene. Because I’m going
to work harder. I’m not going to quit. When you give me 5%
odds, I get excited. Give me 50% odds and
I’m going to sleep in. So now I have a
half-a-billion-dollar company, but I started it
in my living room. I took whatever money I had,
and I hired my first employee. He’s still with me. And I bet on me. I don’t know how many
people here are in finance. But my first deal, my
developer didn’t even believe I could raise
the money, so he made me give him a deposit. And I said, OK, fine,
I’ll give you a deposit. And I’m going to
go raise the money, and then I want the money back. You know, when you’re
an entrepreneur, you actually have to
be willing to do stuff, and no one believes
in you but you. And that has to be enough. And so that’s how I
started the company. And people always ask
me– because they’re like, but you don’t have
any language skills, and you say language
is hard for you. And I’m like, it is. But I really want to
rebuild communities. The part of the
story I didn’t tell is my relationship to
the immigrant community. So I grew up in Silicon
Valley, and martial arts was my first sport–
which didn’t hurt. As a child I actually
taught martial arts, before there was
the movie Karate Kid– not the second Karate
Kid, but the first one. So I had this inner
self-discipline that I didn’t even understand– that I didn’t know
I had, that just was kind of like a low
hum in everything I did. So my sensei was
Japanese Brazilian. I used to tutor in karate–
a kid that was from Hungary. Everyone was first generation. I mean, Silicon Valley. My dodgeball partner was
Takahashi from Japan. I studied with two
twins from Turkey. I traded cupcakes for
seaweed rice balls with my Japanese friend. I had a friend from Malta. I had friends from Armenia. Like, it just went on and on,
and I thought that was normal. Cuban Russian– my best
friend from high school, now still, he emigrated
from Russia at 8. He’s Russian Jewish. What didn’t seem to rub off
on me were the languages. And it was so bad,
actually, Brown waved me out of languages. So I actually have
a language problem. But I picked up all the
beauty of all those cultures and the importance of diversity. And when I was building
the company, I said, I want a world that looks
like the Star Wars cantina. If I could hire
someone green, I would. So I had this vision of how
the world is supposed to be, and I just kept
building to that vision. But no one ever believed in me. And even to this day,
my business partners feel like we’ve
accomplished something. Everything I’ve done to now– 30,000 jobs, 1,000 families
from 60 countries– in my ideal world it
would be a bullet point in the story of me. Everything I’ve done
up to now would be just one single bullet point. So does that help at all? AUDIENCE: Can you describe
your first project, from making that initial
first deposit that you had, to pulling together sources, to
actually see something built? ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: Yeah. So I should back up, because
that first project was when I branched out on my own. My actual first project
was Sugarbush Ski Resort. They were doing an expansion. And I was at Fannie
Mae at the time. And, in fairness, before
I started this company, I had done $3 billion in
financial transactions. I started out as a
venture capitalist. That’s what I really liked. I’m back investing
in companies now. And that’s why I said,
I had no intention of being in real estate. I didn’t want to do– I mean, OK fine, I studied
urban planning and everything, and finance. But I did not intend
to go do this. I was really excited about
learning new companies. And I was really enjoying
myself as a venture capitalist. But just this story that people
wanted me to believe and buy into about DC was so horrific,
I just couldn’t participate. So I went into real estate. I’m at Fannie Mae. I get asked, because I’m
a venture capitalist, to meet with this
guy– this immigration lawyer who was this idea. Can you see if he has
a good business idea? I think he has a
good business idea. It’s going to solve
my DC problem– because I’m going to
go all over the world, and I’m going to
get money, and I’m going to rebuild all
these neighborhoods. But I don’t want to mess
up my reputation in DC, so we’re going to
start in Vermont. [LAUGHS] So we call the Vermont Economic
Development Department. And we’re like, yeah, we want to
use your EB-5 regional center. Is there anyone in
your state that’s doing a big renovation redo? Are they creating a lot of jobs? Is there something we can do? And they’re like, well,
there’s these two ski resorts, and you can go talk to them
and see what they’re doing. And the guy on the
other side of the table was this guy named Win Smith,
who was from the family Pierce. Fenner, Smith, who
founded Merrill Lynch. He was on the board of
directors for Merrill Lynch, and this was his pet
retirement project. Like, this guy knew finance. And I’m like, really? Really, this is who I have
to negotiate with first? This is just not good. [LAUGHS] But I did it. Because my eye on
the prize was that I was going to access
this world pool of money to rebuild American cities,
and bring living wage jobs to these neighborhoods that
no one wanted to rebuild in– and capital markets were making
up every excuse in the world not to write a check for. So I did it. And we cobbled
together 40 investors from all over the world,
and we made up everything from scratch. And I had come from an
institutional background, so I had a sort of a
best-practices mindset on everything. And I just made up my
own best practices, from a white sheet of paper. And then we turned
our attention to DC, and we funded a market that had
been burned out for 45 years. And we turned it into a grocery
store, and senior housing, and apartments, and a hotel. And it was in the downturn. And EB-5 money is
great in the downturn, because nobody wants
to write a check. And we’re the only ones
with the checkbook. It’s great– very
counter-cyclical. So this, I thought, was the
best project in Washington. And the thing you’ll learn about
banks is that they’re lemmings, and they just follow. And they will not do
anything that’s cutting edge. And so it was so bad that
no one would write a check. The federal government–
HUD– had to give them a loan. And then three years into the
project, when it was built and the markets had
recovered, this project won Best Project in the World
with the Urban Land Institute. And everyone was
patting themselves on the back about
how great it was. And I was like, guys do you
remember that no one would write a check? They didn’t remember. So entrepreneurship for me,
at every step of the way, has been very lonely. And I like to think about Jesus. Jesus, when he first figured
out He was like the guy, no one was following Him. [LAUGHS] So when you have
a good idea, you have to be comfortable being
lonely for a little while– before you get your
first follower. I had had the inner
strength that Brown gave me by giving me the opportunity. I mean, even what they did for
me was still an opportunity to be extraordinary. Right? Like, oh, just come to school. Oh, I didn’t tell
you guys this part. My dad died that year. He died within a
year of my mother. So he came to
campus in September. He died on Easter Sunday. He died of heartbreak. I brought him to school
to try to keep him alive. And I hope you never
have to do this, but it’s very hard to
take care of two people at both ends of
the age spectrum. They don’t want to
read the same books. They don’t want to
eat the same food. They don’t want to
watch the same TV. They don’t like the
same Christmas presents. It’s very difficult. So you’ve got to
divide your time. And you know, eight year
olds don’t understand why you’re not with them. And people who are
dying don’t understand why you’re not with them. So Brown give me an opportunity,
but everything I had to do was still extremely
difficult. And so with what I learned about what
I was capable of at Brown, it was very easy
to start a company. It’s really not that
difficult. And I really didn’t care that
none of these people believed in me, because I
knew what I was capable of. So you really have to look to
yourself for your strength. You really have to find
ways to test yourself when you don’t have
that far to fall, and learn what you’re made of– and rugby was
incredible for that. Because I was one of the
smallest people on the field, and I had to play a
position called flanker. Which meant I had
to be really fast, and I always had to
get first tackle. And it didn’t matter what
size that person was. But if I missed
that first tackle, I failed my entire team. And I wasn’t about
to fail my team. That was not an option for me. And you don’t
become scrum captain because you wake up
one day and you decide, I want to be scrum captain. It’s the opposite. Your team decides they want
you to be scrum captain. So those were valuable
lessons as well. And then I should also
say in martial arts, my sensei, who I thought was
just the meanest human being ever, ever to walk the planet. Because as a 10 year
old and 11 year old, he only let me
spar boys and men. And when we went to tournaments
and there was a girls division, he wouldn’t even let me enter. He made me enter
the boy’s division. And when I tested for my belts,
he made me spar three on one. And there were no B’s. There were A’s. And if you didn’t get an
A, you stayed at your belt. So people were like, why are
you teaching with a green belt? I’m like, because I
can’t get a brown belt, because I can’t pass my test– because he makes me spar men. And now I spar men
every day, and they don’t know what hit them. So it worked out. More questions? AUDIENCE: How did you overcome
your lack of credibility on first deal? What was your pitch to investors
when they’d say, what have you done [INAUDIBLE]? ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: Yeah. So I had done $3
billion in transactions, and I’m a trained economist. I trained under
Bernanke at Princeton. So I didn’t have any
lack-of-credibility issues. That wasn’t an issue. But that would have
been challenging, if I had no credibility. AUDIENCE: So I
imagine that I would love to do what you’re doing. However, I imagine that working
in the field of finance– I’ve done it for a few
summers, and it is not a pleasant place for
women, for queer people, for people of color. So how did you get through that? ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: I have
been blessed with a comfort in being the first– the first and only
in a lot of things. And so I learned early on that
was part of my lot in life– that I had that
fortitude that I could be the only one in the room, and
know that no one else was ever coming. They were never ever
going to let anyone else in that looked like me. And that was going
to be on purpose. And that I was going to
have to stand in that space and hold it, until I
could open the door and hold it open
for someone else. But it’s hard. It’s hard. AUDIENCE: How do
you decide areas that you decide you want to
go in [INAUDIBLE] uplift, and [INAUDIBLE] ANGELIQUE BRUNNER:
Honestly, I look for– so this is interesting. So this is a neighborhood
in Washington called NoMa– north of Massachusetts. And the city loves to pat
itself on the back about all the work it’s doing in NoMa. But all the work it’s doing in
NoMa stops right at the tracks. And that story of the other
side of the tracks, that’s a real story. That’s not a fake story. That’s a real story. So they patted
themselves on the back about how they were doing
this whole neighborhood, but it stopped at the tracks. They had no plan for what was
happening on the other side of the tracks. So I thought that was a
perfect place for me to go. So I just went to the
other side of the tracks, and I did everything
that they were too afraid to even make a plan for. And we’ll bookend
it with retail. And we’ll put 1,000
units of apartments along the whole thing. And I have no competition,
because they didn’t even think it could be successful– so they didn’t even try. AUDIENCE: Hi, I’m Cameron. Thank you for sharing your
stuff about martial arts. I had a lot of similar
experiences growing up with martial arts. I was wondering about your
path from graduate school to founding your company. ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: Sure. So in graduate school, I did my
summer program on Wall Street, at Merrill Lynch. And this is going to
sound crazy to you guys, but I’m going to tell you
this part of the story. This just means we’re supposed
to be doing questions. But we’re already doing
questions, so we’re good. So this is how I
present, preferably. But in order to work on
Wall Street that summer, I had to wear heels,
nylons, and a skirt. And I thought I was
going to commit suicide. I thought that was just
the bridge too far– I couldn’t do it. So I did it for a summer, and
it really, really killed me. And so I was like,
OK, I can’t do that. There is like no
way I can do that. So I went and I worked
for a financial advisor, that advised cities and states. They’re still the number-one
financial advisor. And that was a
little bit better. And I liked that
work, but it wasn’t intellectually stimulating. And my dream job was to
be a venture capitalist. So I complained to
some of my friends from school, that
like, oh, I really want to be a venture capitalist,
but no one’s going to hire me because I don’t
have an engineering degree– and I’m a black female. I was telling my sob story. And my friends, who had been
in my study groups at Princeton and had worked with
me– and were white men, or whatever– they were
like, have you tried? And I was like, no,
I haven’t tried. And they’re like, you
know what, based on you, why don’t you come back and
complain after you’ve tried. [LAUGHS] So I got the first
job I tried to get. And it was great,
and I loved it. And I was really excited. And then the guys I
worked for got paranoid. And they were raising their
second fund and were like, uh, we don’t have
engineering degrees, and you don’t have an
engineering degree, so we think you should
go back to school. But I’m like, but I have
three Ivy League degrees. They’re like, yeah, but
we think Harvard Business School is really the thing. [LAUGHTER] [LAUGHS] I said– I quit. And I had already been morally
distracted at that point, because I was a venture
capitalist in Washington. And they were telling
me these ridiculous– and you know, Washington
likes to be known for its black middle class. They’re very proud
of themselves. They’re multi generation. They have been going to
college for three generations. I’m first generation college. So I mean, they’re very,
very proud of themselves. So when they say, this is as
much as we’ve done since ’68, they don’t want anyone
coming in doing more. So I tried to go into
real estate in Washington. And I went to a
quasi-government organization, that had control of every
single property in Washington that was underdeveloped–
every single one. And the city was giving
away houses for $1. Let’s just be clear– like, they were
acting like Detroit. Like, it should have been
a state of emergency. I didn’t understand why anyone
wasn’t working 23 hours a day. So I got in there and I
wanted to work 23 hours a day, because we were giving
away houses for $1. And they had a 50% dropout rate. And they didn’t have
any grocery stores. And people thought that was OK. I’m like, this is not OK. You’re doing well
and no one else is. This is just not OK. So that job lasted 11
months, because I couldn’t match my pace up to my team. And then I went and worked
for this amazing entrepreneur who was building on
the edge of the city, and just doing really
innovative stuff. And he had grown up in DC,
but he had gone to Stanford. See, now we’re back
in Silicon Valley. A lot of good things
come from Silicon Valley. So, anyway, that was
wonderful, but he was building like 60 units at a time. And that just wasn’t
the pace that the city was going to get rebuilt at. That wasn’t going to scale. So then I went to Fannie Mae. And Fannie Mae is the most
coveted quasi-government job in Washington. If you’re at Fannie Mae– you know, the Washington
Post wrote articles about Fannie Mae’s
cafeteria and their chefs. Fannie Mae was just the best
job you could possibly have. So when I got lectured
there about the pace at which one should
turn a battleship that’s when I started my company. And now everyone
works at my pace. And if you talk to my
team, no one leaves. They come. They stay. They’re your typical Millennial. They think they know
everything, and that you’re hiring them for what they know. And I actually hire people
for the way they think, and then we teach you
everything you need to know. And people have a lot of fun. They feel super challenged. We really push down. One of the ways in which
I manage the company is values-based management. And you might read
about that in Parenting. I read about it after I did it. I didn’t have a name for
it when I was doing it. I’m a very values-driven person. So we don’t have a lot of rules. There’s not a lot
of, tell the investor this, tell the investor that. Don’t tell him this,
don’t tell him that. It’s just, the
investor comes first. We’re helping families
come to the United States, and we’re rebuilding
neighborhoods. And we always tell the truth. Very simple. You can make all the decisions
you need to in that box. And we’re 70% female. I don’t even do the hiring. I only have three people
that report to me. Everyone else does the hiring. And we have people from
12 different countries– all first generation–
no second generation– all second-language English. It’s really a sight to see. And yeah, we’re 70% female,
and I wasn’t even trying. You know how I found
out we were 70% female? My head of marcomm did a poster
for International Women’s Day. And I counted the number
of women in the company to the men. And before that, I wasn’t
even paying attention. We were just hiring talent. AUDIENCE: How’d you find
investors on your first deal? Did you cold call? ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: So
on the very first deal my business partner was
an immigration lawyer. So his job was to
find the investors. But then we went over
to China together. We went to Korea together. We went to a few
places together. So I had some relationships
for the second deal. Everything I do now is
all relationship based. So if you’re a developer
and you get money from me, you were referred to me. If you’re an investor and I
take you, you were referred me. If you’re an in-country partner
and you work with investors, you were referred me. If you’re an immigration
lawyer, you were referred to me. Everyone is referred. So you can’t cold
call my company and do business with us. If I can’t call someone and they
tell me you’re a good human, then we’re not
going to do a deal. AUDIENCE: Hello,
my name is Antonia. And when you started, and you
didn’t have the relationships, what do you attribute your
success to– for these like $300 billion deals? ANGELIQUE BRUNNER:
I really think intention and integrity
has an energy to it, and it actually has
an attraction to it. And I actually think there’s
intrinsic value in being just a good human, and that
good things happen to you– and that if you do
something with integrity you attract what you
need to accomplish it. Because there’s no
math equation that explains why I was
able to do this. And I have to tell you,
there’s a graveyard full of my competitors. I have tons of competitors
that are just– I mean, they still
can’t understand why they can’t compete with me. They just can’t even make
any sense of me whatsoever. So I can’t give you
anything tangible. I’ve never had a mentor. I’ve always wanted one. I’ve just never had one. I don’t quit. I don’t quit. I will outwork you
I’ve never met anyone who works as hard as I do. That’s why a level
playing field is so dangerous for my competition,
because they just don’t know what hard work looks like. They just don’t know. In most cases, they’ve
never had the challenges, so they don’t actually know
what quitting looks like– because they haven’t been
challenged at the level I’ve been challenged at. There’s so many times
I’ve had 5% odds, and still had to work
in complete faith, that just nothing
makes me flinch. DANNY WARSHAY: I hear
the bell ringing. And so I want to
pause for a moment. I know some of you have
to leave for 1:00 class. But I don’t want to miss the
opportunity for all of us to join and thank Angel
for being with us today. [APPLAUSE] ANGELIQUE BRUNNER: Thank you. This has really been my
dream to come back to Brown and give back more. So thank you. DANNY WARSHAY: I also don’t
want to necessarily stop the conversation. I do want to encourage
those of you who have to leave to do so quietly. And then, anybody else
who would like to stay– do you have a few more minutes? ANGELIQUE BRUNNER:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the one
thing I would say, is when it doesn’t matter–
when the stakes aren’t as high as your brother’s life,
your father’s life, dropping out of school,
all those things– when you have lower
stakes, push yourself past where you think you can go. And do that every time you can. Because you can
train for courage. I recently read
Roosevelt’s biography. And he used to do big
game hunting because he was training for courage. You can train for courage. But the first ingredient
of leadership is courage. DANNY WARSHAY: Great. Thank you again.

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