Interview with John Lee

John Lee

Meet John Lee author, public speaker and the founder of a technology fund called Social Property.

John Lee2At 27 years old John Lee made his first million from buying and selling properties. That very same year he was almost killed by his own fortune – while driving his Lamborghini, he was involved in a freak accident. According to him, that year was the turning point in his life. Not because he made his first million, but because he was given a second chance to live.

John realised that in an instant he could have lost everything and if that had happened he would’ve considered himself to have been a failure because he would have left the world without leaving some kind of legacy behind. In his very own words, John said “There are 8-9 billion people on the planet. When we leave the planet, we want to be remembered for something. I think failure in life is to die and to not have transferred your knowledge to another person”. He added, back then, “What made me really happy was material stuff… cars, big house, money…Now that I have all of that, I care about making a difference, about leaving a legacy. Everyday I ask myself, how can I make a positive impact in other people’s lives so that they can also live a better life? That is my mission.”

It’s been seven years and that’s exactly what he’s doing, he’s transferring his knowledge. Now 34, John is an author, a sought after public speaker and the founder of a technology fund called Social Property which aims at being the biggest property platform in the world, connecting 10 million users and helping them to find the properties they want all over the planet. Already, he has shared the stage three times with Richard Branson giving talks around the globe.

What is your morning ritual?
I think having a good morning ritual is very important. I always need to have a workout in the morning. Simple run, something to get my sweat going. I believe that if you put good stuff in your mind, it will manifest itself during the course of the day.

I also practice gratitude. I try to wake up every day and find things to be grateful for and this helps to set a positive tone for the day ahead. If nothing else, I always remind myself to be grateful for the ability to breathe and to walk. I incorporate five minutes of meditation in my morning ritual. As well as this, I try to make my mornings as productive as possible. I usually wake up early and make sure I do 10 things before 10am. I don’t believe you need a lot of sleep. Most of the billionaires I know and study, sleep an average of 6.5 hours. I’m passionate – when I wake up, I just want to get things done!

The principles that you teach in your property seminars seem very universal, you seem to be drawing best practices from a number of different situations. While these are applicable to the property business, the principles are also relevant to other industries as well. How important is the ability to learn from other industries?
You can’t just learn from your own industry. I used to work as an animator for Harry Potter and this is what I learnt. The lamp of the first Pixar movie was the first breakthrough. They didn’t just study a lamp. They studied life. They studied character. What is it that makes people laugh, that makes them cry? When you’re watching a Pixar movie, it’s very moving. What you don’t realise is that they are just pixels. They don’t exist. It’s fake. And yet, somehow, when you watch the movie it draws you in.

That’s because the people who work on these movies understand human psychology, human emotions and human interactions. When you’re talking about taking things outside of your industry, as an animator, for example, I would study actors; I would study the statue of David, I would go to Italy and I would look at all the museum and look at form. I would go to the natural history museum and look at dinosaurs, weight, and skeletal structure. I would talk to doctors and study muscle formation. And when you apply all this information and put it together, it becomes magic!

And the same goes for business. You will not achieve any breakthrough if you are too focused on your own industry. Real disruption often comes from outside. I learned from Randy Zuckerberg (Mark Zuckerberg’s sister) that the biggest hotel company in the world, doesn’t have any hotel (Airbnb); the biggest taxi firm in the world, doesn’t own any taxis (Uber), the biggest content company in the world, doesn’t produce any content (Facebook). As such, we are in the process of building the biggest buying and selling property platform in the world (Social Property) without owning any property – by connecting sellers from around the world to 10 million buyers.

Unlike many “self-made” young millionaires who’ve come from privileged family backgrounds and have an elite education, you had neither. What were some of the sacrifices you had to make in order to get to this level?
When I was younger, everyone used to call me boring John. I remember when my friends went out to a party or karaoke, I would be the one to stay behind. You see, when you are on an entrepreneurial journey, many people may not understand your daily challenges. I even had to end my relationship with my girlfriend because she doubted all of my endeavours and had negative thoughts about everything that I was setting out to do. Now I see my friends 10 years on and they are still doing the same thing, nothing has changed, it’s almost like going back in time.

From a very young age, I knew what I wanted because I saw my parents slaving away in front of a hot wok. I had to be taken care of by other people. I didn’t get to see my parents until I was 11 years old. I told myself I didn’t want my children to have the same childhood experience as me.

Did the training in the kitchen help shape who you are?
I used to work three jobs. During the day, I’d work in a call centre; in the evening I would work in my mum’s Chinese takeaway; and on the weekends I would work 9 to 5 in a shoe store. I knew what it meant to do hard work. I saw my parents work so hard and I thought there had to be a smarter, quicker way of doing things. And I realised it’s not about just working hard, it’s also about working smart. They used to do everything themselves. I asked the question, why do everything yourself if you could get others to do the work for you? Then you could spend your time doing the most important things. In my culture we have such a strong work ethic, in wanting to do everything ourselves – this is our biggest strength and also our biggest weakness.

John Lee3
Photos courtesy of WMA

Being so young, how did you get people to trust you with their million dollar properties?
There are two things that I learned from a young age. One is how you look, two is how you present yourself. Everyone you meet you have to add as much value as possible and then they will start to trust you. And it is your duty to do that as well! It is not what you look like, it is how you come across. That’s why I spend a lot of time studying prime ministers, presidents, leaders, politicians because I want to learn the art of public speaking. Because the biggest skill you have in your life is the way you present yourself. It’s how people perceive you that matters. I have spent years trying to refine my craft of communication.

I also think that the passion that I’ve always shown has helped me. People saw something different in me that they could not necessarily put their finger on. They would say that he does not look the part, but there is fire in his belly…. I remember walking into a room when people doubted me because of the way I looked and my age. I was able to convince them with my depth of knowledge, conviction and preparation. During that meeting I made half a million pounds for my tech fund.

And you don’t see too many people like that.
Most people die at 25 and get buried at 65. It’s not their fault because they were not educated the right way.

You were not educated the right way either.
But I found the way. It’s all about the standards that you set for yourself.

You have met a lot of very successful people. What do they have in common with each other and who do you admire the most?
Two of the people I admire the most are Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, although I have not met either of them. The successful people that I’ve met are not in it for the money alone. Money is not important to them, it is always a means to an end. But they work for a purpose to leave a lasting legacy. Steve Jobs called this making a dent in the universe. We have to do things we want to be remembered for.

What I also see common among them is that they are all passionate about what they do. For instance, when Steve Jobs was dying, he was working on his deathbed on the iPhone 4s. When he wrote his autobiography – he asked the writer to give the first two unedited versions of the book to his children. He wanted his children to understand why he didn’t spend any time with them. He was too busy trying to change the world. And I think he has…

This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2015 Issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!