My secret steps to becoming a millionaire: Learned Over 20 Years

Saad Benryane

Every week, hundreds of posts flood the internet from individuals searching for the elusive magic pill to achieve success. They ask for the secret sauce, the hidden recipe, or the foolproof method that guarantees wealth and prosperity. The truth is, even if I could sell this information for $99, no one would buy it. Why? Because the reality of success is far less glamorous than the dream. There is no secret, no shortcut, and no easy way out. It all boils down to hard work, sacrifice, and relentless determination. This is my story—a 20-year journey of unwavering commitment, countless sacrifices, and valuable lessons learned.

1. A Relentless Commitment: 14 Years Without a Break

For 14 years, I worked a steady 9-5 W2 job without taking a single vacation or off day. My dedication was such that I only missed six hours of work the day my son was born and another day when I was struck down with swine flu. My unwavering commitment to my job allowed me to save money consistently, laying a solid financial foundation for my future endeavors. During this period, the concept of "work-life balance" was a foreign idea to me. My life revolved around my job, and my focus was solely on building a financial cushion that could support my dreams of entrepreneurship. Every day was a new opportunity to learn, grow, and save.

While my peers took vacations, enjoyed weekends, and celebrated holidays, I was at my desk, putting in the hours. I knew that the sacrifices I made today would pay off in the future. This period was marked by an ironclad discipline and a laser-focused commitment to financial stability. It wasn’t easy, and there were moments of doubt and exhaustion, but I kept pushing forward, driven by a vision of financial independence and success.

2. Choosing the Right Industry: Real Estate

Success requires not just hard work but also strategic decisions. I chose to immerse myself in an industry known for creating the most millionaires: real estate. I spent every waking second learning about this field, exploring its different niches and verticals. This wasn't a casual interest; it was an all-consuming passion. I read books, attended seminars, and studied market trends. The more I learned, the more I realized the immense potential that real estate held for creating wealth.

Real estate is a vast industry with numerous opportunities. From residential and commercial properties to property management and real estate investment trusts (REITs), the possibilities are endless. I decided to focus on residential real estate initially, as it offered more opportunities for a newcomer. Understanding the market trends, the factors that influence property values, and the legal aspects of real estate transactions became my daily routine.

The journey was not without its challenges. The real estate market is influenced by various external factors such as economic conditions, interest rates, and government policies. Keeping up with these changes required continuous learning and adaptability. I subscribed to industry publications, joined real estate forums, and networked with experienced professionals to stay updated.

3. Networking and Adding Value

Understanding the power of networking, I reached out to the most successful people in my area. I emailed them, not asking for handouts but offering to provide value in exchange for learning opportunities. This approach opened doors and eventually led to opportunities to be part of real estate deals. By positioning myself as someone willing to work hard and add value, I gained the trust and mentorship of industry leaders.

Networking is often misunderstood as simply making connections, but it’s much more than that. It’s about building relationships based on trust, mutual respect, and value. When I reached out to successful real estate professionals, I focused on how I could help them, rather than what they could do for me. This mindset shift made a significant difference. I volunteered for tasks, offered to assist with projects, and showed genuine interest in their work.

One of the key lessons I learned during this phase was the importance of mentorship. A mentor can provide guidance, share insights, and help you avoid common pitfalls. I was fortunate to find mentors who were generous with their time and knowledge. They taught me the nuances of the real estate business, from evaluating properties and negotiating deals to understanding market cycles and managing risks.

4. Gaining Experience and Building Wealth

Obtaining a real estate license was a pivotal step in my journey. I agreed to write offers for a group of investors, receiving $750 at closing while crediting the rest of my commission to the investors. This arrangement allowed me to write thousands of offers, pocketing over $100k in cash and crediting close to a million to the investors. Through this experience, I learned what investors looked for, who they used for lending and contractors, and how to evaluate and close deals.

Working with investors gave me a unique perspective on the real estate market. Investors are primarily focused on the numbers—the return on investment, cash flow, and potential appreciation. By writing offers for them, I gained a deep understanding of what makes a property attractive from an investment standpoint. This knowledge proved invaluable when I started investing in properties myself.

Additionally, this experience taught me the importance of due diligence. Before making an offer, I learned to conduct thorough research on the property, the neighborhood, and the market conditions. I developed a checklist of factors to consider, including the property's condition, comparable sales, rental income potential, and future growth prospects. This meticulous approach helped me minimize risks and make informed decisions.

5. Transitioning to Ownership and Joint Ventures

Armed with this knowledge, I started buying my own properties and doing joint ventures with the investors' group. I found contractors in the service industry who were great operators but terrible at business. I bought into their companies and assembled a team to handle the backend operations, covering areas like HVAC, roofing, and roll-off dumpsters. This diversification helped me build a robust portfolio of assets.

Transitioning from writing offers to owning properties was a significant milestone. I applied the principles I had learned from working with investors to identify profitable opportunities. My first few properties were small single-family homes that needed some renovation. By improving these properties and renting them out, I created a steady stream of income.

Joint ventures with experienced investors further accelerated my growth. These partnerships allowed me to leverage their expertise, resources, and networks. We pooled our capital to invest in larger properties and shared the profits. This collaborative approach not only reduced my financial burden but also provided valuable learning experiences.

6. Building and Monetizing a Rental Portfolio

At one point, I built a portfolio of 19 rental houses, each purchased for an average of $125k. When the market spiked, I strategically sold 14 of these properties for an average of $310k per unit. This windfall allowed me to pay off the remaining five rental properties, providing a steady cash flow that covered my living expenses.

Building a rental portfolio requires careful planning and management. I focused on properties in neighborhoods with strong rental demand and potential for appreciation. Screening tenants, maintaining the properties, and handling repairs were some of the challenges I faced. To streamline operations, I hired a property management company, which allowed me to focus on acquiring more properties.

The decision to sell a portion of my portfolio was based on market conditions. Real estate markets are cyclical, and timing is crucial. By selling when the market was high, I maximized my profits and reinvested the proceeds in other opportunities. This strategy not only increased my net worth but also reduced my debt, giving me financial stability.

7. Investing in New Opportunities

With my financial foundation secure, I dumped the rest of the money into a self-storage deal and short-term rentals. By the age of 38, my net worth had soared north of $4 million, and my monthly cash flow from all properties and businesses exceeded $20k, with some months hitting $60k. It took 20 years and many 80-hour work weeks to build what many call “passive income.”

Self-storage and short-term rentals are two lucrative sectors in real estate. Self-storage facilities have low operational costs and provide steady income. I partnered with experienced operators to manage the day-to-day operations while I focused on expanding the business. Short-term rentals, particularly vacation rentals, offered higher returns compared to traditional rentals. Platforms like Airbnb made it easier to manage bookings and attract guests.

These investments diversified my income streams and provided financial security. However, the concept of “passive income” is often misunderstood. While these investments generate income with less day-to-day involvement, they still require oversight, maintenance, and strategic decision-making. The term “passive” is relative, as achieving financial independence demands continuous effort and vigilance.

8. Reflecting on Sacrifices and Regrets

Looking back, I realize the immense sacrifices I made along the way. I regret not spending more time with my kids and family. The pursuit of wealth consumed so much of my life that I missed out on precious moments and relationships. Having money is nice, but it doesn't compare to the value of relationships, family, health, and memories. The more you make, the more you tend to spend. While my life and problems are still similar to when I was living paycheck to paycheck, the difference now is that I have nicer cars, a bigger house, and the freedom to do whatever I want—though this freedom often becomes monotonous quicker than one might think.

Financial success often comes at a personal cost. The countless hours spent working meant fewer hours with my loved ones. Important family events, milestones, and simple everyday moments were missed. While I was building a future for my family, I sometimes forgot to live in the present. This realization is a stark reminder that time is the most valuable asset we have, and it cannot be regained once lost.

Moreover, the pursuit of wealth can create a cycle of constant striving. As income increases, so do expenses and lifestyle expectations. It's easy to fall into the trap of always wanting more, leading to a never-ending chase for the next big deal or investment. This cycle can overshadow the true purpose of financial freedom—enjoying life and spending time with the people who matter most.

The Changing Market and Future Outlook

The real estate market has changed dramatically over the years. I no longer invest in real estate as I've seen many people over-leverage and lose everything. The key takeaway from my journey is to find something you are passionate about and go all in. But never lose sight of what's truly important—live your life, cherish your family, friends, and health.

The real estate market is dynamic and influenced by various factors such as economic cycles, interest rates, and government policies. Over-leveraging—borrowing too much money relative to the value of the assets—can be a dangerous strategy, especially in volatile markets. Many investors learned this the hard way during economic downturns, losing their properties and investments.

Today, my focus has shifted to more stable and diversified investment opportunities. I prioritize investments that offer steady returns without excessive risk. Additionally, I have become more selective in my ventures, ensuring they align with my long-term goals and values. This approach not only protects my wealth but also provides peace of mind.

Conclusion: The True Path to Success

Success is not a destination but a journey. It requires unwavering commitment, strategic decisions, and the willingness to make sacrifices. There is no magic pill or secret formula. It’s about working hard, learning continuously, and staying true to your values. My story is not just about financial success but about the lessons learned along the way. I hope this rant helps someone realize that success is within reach if you are willing to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices. But always remember to balance your ambitions with the things that truly matter in life.

In sharing my journey, I aim to inspire others to pursue their dreams while maintaining a balanced and fulfilling life. Success is not merely measured by financial achievements but by the quality of relationships, health, and personal fulfillment. By understanding the importance of balance and prioritizing what truly matters, one can achieve a holistic sense of success.

The key takeaway from my story is to find your passion, commit to it wholeheartedly, and never lose sight of the bigger picture. Wealth and financial freedom are valuable, but they should not come at the expense of personal happiness and meaningful relationships. Success is a multifaceted journey that requires both ambition and mindfulness.

By embracing these principles, you can navigate the path to success with clarity and purpose, ultimately leading to a fulfilling and rewarding life.

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