By Marc Rodan
Posted: 22 May 2020
No filters, easily applicable and always fun. In KREW Stories, Marc Rodan interviews creators and entrepreneurs about building a flourishing business while living a rich and fulfilling life. This series is not about the quick wins to success. It’s about the experiments, the road blocks, the milestones and the fuckups of people who dare to go against the grain and realize their dreams. These are their true stories.
For our very first story, I speak with Christoph Rosenthal (30), a German entrepreneur who built a small real-estate empire in Spain within about 3 years time. With his investing community and co-living company ‘My Blue Bricks’, he already renovated and sold (a.k.a. ‘flipped’) 15 apartments, rented out 74 rooms and invested about 1.5 million euros worth in real estate with investors from all over the world.
And he did all of this next to his full-time job as a software consultant from sunny Barcelona.
That guy who always did everything
Christoph and I have known each other for a while now. We both graduated from IBCoM (International Bachelor in Communication & Media) at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
Already then, I saw Christoph as a remarkable person who kind of did everything. He participated in a bunch of committees, got good grades, was super social… and as if that wasn’t enough, he also taught himself to speak fluent Dutch on the side.
After our studies, he traveled to England, Argentina (where he taught himself to speak fluent Spanish), the United States and eventually to Spain. He found a home there, because he has lived in bustling Barcelona for 5 years already.
How did you end up being an entrepreneur in Barcelona?
“it was a hard decision back then, but it all comes down to love really.” During his travels, Christoph fell in love with an Argentinian woman. After two years of having a long-distance relationship, they decided to look for a place where they could speak Spanish and live together.
“Barcelona is full of buzzing hubs for entrepreneurs”
Aside from love, the mediterranean lifestyle also appears to have been an important reason for Christoph to move to Barcelona. “You’ve got the beach and the mountains nearby, the weather is always great […] and I’ve been able to meet some really awesome people here. It feels like home.”
How do you start a business in Spain?
Cities like Barcelona and Valencia are often mentioned as amongst entrepreneurs and digital nomads as great places to run a business from. But how hard actually is it to start your business there?
Not so hard, according to Christoph: “Spain and Barcelona used to have the image that they aren’t really suitable [for running a business]”, “but over the past few years they really took some big steps forward over here. For example, there’s a nice initiative that’s called Barcelona Activa: a startup incubator, financed by the Spanish government.”
Christoph started his first Spanish business with support from this institution. Fun fact: it’s also where the original AirBnB Experiences was born. “Barcelona Activa is a really cool institution where many people with a lot of experience get paid by the government to help small startups with fundraising, writing business plans, advice and much more.”
Aside from the free help from Barcelona Active, Christoph also mentions the many active communities, startup events and digital nomads. You can easily get in touch with these communities and events via Meetup.com or a co-working space. According to Christoph, they can be a great help during your startup phase.
How did you get the idea for My Blue Bricks?
When Christoph had just moved to Barcelona, he started working as an Account Manager at HP Enterprise. Right away, he met his would-be-cofounder of My Blue Bricks there. Together, they quickly came to the conclusion that both the stress and pressure of the corporate lifestyle didn’t fit their vision of an ideal lifestyle and what they wanted to bring to the world. Yet, they didn’t change their lifestyle, because of the security that came with it.
“By reading books like ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ we realized little by little that if money is the end goal [in order to live the life you want], then why don’t we start learning about money?” Christoph wanted to earn enough passive income, so that he could say ‘yes’ to everything that gives him energy – like helping other people where it really matters. At the same time, this passive income would allow him to say ‘no’ to what doesn’t give him energy. This means that money isn’t the end goal for Christoph, but the more meaningful he can live by not having to worry about money. “We have to be careful that we don’t wake up in 20 or 30 years and still […] go to a job every day that we don’t care about. Just because of the pay check.”
With that attitude, he and two other co-founders started a business in expat services, which failed, but laid the foundation for My Blue Bricks. “[After our first business: SuperFriend], it wasn’t like we immediately said ‘alright, let’s now start something in real estate’. It was a more natural process of discovering which possibilities there are and what would be the best vehicle for us [to become financially independent]. We eventually decided to go with real estate, because of the relatively low risk, the relatively stable return-on-investment and the fact that it’s possible to invest in real estate in pretty much every country.”
An example of an apartment that My Blue Bricks renovated and sold. Source: Mybluebricks.com
What has helped you the most?
“What’s crucial, of course, is that you have people in your network with expertise who already [invested in local real-estate] multiple times. In other words: you need a mentor.”
Christoph found his first mentor via online forums. This person eventually became the third co-founder of My Blue Bricks. While the new guy had already made a number of local investments himself, he also had a mentor. His mentor had 25 years (!) of experience with real-estate investments in Barcelona already. “We learned a lot from this mentor indirectly [through our third co-founder]. That was an amazing experience.”
Aside from finding mentors online, Christoph also organizes monthly meetups in Barcelona about investing in real estate, generating passive income and financial independence. Via these meetups, organized via Meetup.com of course, he met lots of new mentors and lots of people who wanted to invest in his projects.
“Organizing meetups has really been a great help for us”
Of course, finding mentors and organizing meetups can still sound like a pretty big thing for newbies who want to get into the real-estate game. That’s why Christoph mentions a final thing that has helped him a lot in his own journey: “simply having the guts to take the first step”. You could attend a meetup, for example. That’s how you get in touch with other investors which you can learn from. “That’s what I always tell people at our meetups too: ‘you’ve already done the hardest part, from here on out everything is going to be pretty easy.”
How the heck do you do all of this next to a full-time job?
You’d almost forget, but Christoph still works full-time as a software consultant next to running his business. How is that possible? Christoph: “I try to manage my energy instead of my time.”
What he means to say with that is that he consciously invests time in the things that give him energy, like sports, yoga and meditation – following the example set by the book The Miracle Morning. In addition to this, he carefully determines the moments of the day on which he completes his three to four most important tasks. He found that his most productive hours, for example, are before 11:11 am. Before that time, he wants to have completed his most important task of the day. Whatever tasks he can complete during the remainder of the day are a nice bonus, but definitely not a ‘must’.
That’s not everything though. Christoph’s busy agenda forces him to very consciously choose in which tasks he puts his time and energy. Ideally, the tasks he chooses bring him closer to his primary goal of becoming financially independent. That’s why he tries to reserve the majority of his time for ‘important, but not urgent tasks’ from the popular Eisenhower-quadrant. According to the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, these are the tasks that bring you closer to your personal goals.
When do you reach financial independence?
“I’ve asked myself precisely that question many times and ended up with a very specific set of numbers. I determined that I’m financially independent when I earn a passive income of 2000 euros after tax per month. My passive income has to be three times this number.”
One third goes to taxes, another third goes to his company in order to keep it running, which leaves the final 2000 euros for himself. On a monthly basis, this means that My Blue Bricks has to generate about 18.000 euros of profit, without time or effort from any of the three co-founders. “We’ve given ourselves 10 years to achieve this goal.”
If those 2000 euros sound a little low to you, Christoph advises you to take some time and come up with a list of all your monthly expenses. Then take a good look at that list and determine which of those things you really need to live a relaxed and happy life. “You often need a lot less money than you think to become financially independent.” Christoph believes that through investing in real estate, amongst other things, anyone can become financially independent within several years time.
Christoph’s 3 tips for your first real-estate investments
1. Make sure to start with something. Anything. For example, by attending a monthly event for people who want to invest in real estate via Meetup.com.
2. Find one or multiple mentors: people with experience in the local market who think it’s fun to help you on your way in the world of real estate. You could use online forums to find them (or the meetups, of course).
3. Make your first investments through an investing community like My Blue Bricks. This minimizes your risks and provides you with a lot of knowledge in an easy manner. With the money and experience you earn from your investments within this community, you can eventually start investing in projects on your own.
According to Christoph, an amount of 5000 or 10.000 euros is enough to get started with real estate investments in an investing community.
How can you help other entrepreneurs?
“One of my core values in life is helping other people, so I wouldn’t want to put any limitations on that really”, Christoph says laughingly.
To make it a little bit more specific, he says that he can help you with starting your business, living and working in Barcelona… and of course: investing in real estate. Christoph especially likes to help the people who are still doubting about whether they should do it or not, or the people who are having trouble actually getting started.
As a side note, he mentions KREW and how we promote being yourself, being vulnerable and following your own path as an entrepreneur. Well, from experience I can wholeheartedly say that Christoph is one of the warmest and most authentic entrepreneurs I know. If you’re looking for someone to help you be true to your core as an entrepreneur and as a human being, then Christoph isn’t “just a guy” – as he refers to himself – but possibly ‘the guy’.
About the author
Marc is the Founder of KREW and Chief Editor of KREW Stories. In 2015 he started his first business as the tallest (mini) pancake baker in Sweden. Since then, he has travelled the world to start businesses in both branding and online education. Marc loves penguins, UFOs and anything blue and orange, always makes up songs while doing the dishes and dreams of one day living in a tree house as big as Jake and Finn’s. Connect with him on LinkedIn.