By Kimberly Hundley
IN his 34 years, Inside Self-Storage columnist Scott Duffy has been down, but he’s never been out. The founder of Self Storage Capital Group Inc. doesn’t know how to give up, which is fortunate, because his setbacks would have most of us brandishing our lily-white flags. If triumphing over adversity and beating the odds was an Olympic sport, Duffy’s place on the podium would be guaranteed.
A born entrepreneur, Duffy started his first company while a freshman studying business at the University of San Diego. His life derailed during junior year after a car accident in Mexico left him with two brain hemorrhages and a months-long recovery period. Duffy was forced to drop out of school. Unable to read or even watch TV, he listened to music and inspirational tapes, including those by motivational guru Tony Robbins.
Duffy was so intrigued with Robbins’ presentation, he decided to work for the best-selling author and speaker. “I tried to apply for a job as an intern, and they offered me something much bigger than that. To this day, I don’t know why,” says Duffy, who joined Roberts’ team at the age of 20 as international representative, selling programs and conducting workshops throughout the United States and Canada.
Cherishing the Plateau
Just one year later, Duffy’s hectic schedule shuddered to a stop. He was back in the hospital, having sustained severe injuries in a bicycling accident. This time, recovery would take a year. Duffy was understandably frustrated. Why him? Why again? But his experiences with Robbins and other inspiration specialists fortified him against despair.
“Working for Tony enabled me to work one on one with some incredible people, including top athletes, entertainers and community people, who had overcome significant personal or professional challenges to get where they were,” Duffy says. “I had this reference about what a person could and couldn’t do. I believe what we can do is absolutely incredible. What we usually do can be disappointing—but we have this unbelievable potential that most of us haven’t been able to tap into.”
Two key pieces of advice helped Duffy through his healing. He remembered the words of writer George Leonard about how a person’s development map includes plateaus. “You need to be able to recognize when you are on the plateau and love that, because that is where growth and progress take place,” says Duffy. “Another thing that stuck with me was the saying, ‘You are going to have good days and bad days. But you won’t know which is which because you don’t know what you are going to make of the experience.’” Duffy emerged from the accident determined to enter the budding dot-com industry in San Francisco as a businessman.
Breaking into the highly competitive technology business would prove to be one of Duffy’s biggest challenges. He applied everywhere he could, hopping from couch to couch in friends’ homes while maintaining an apartment with his sister in Los Angeles. He was running out of money and occasionally sleeping in his car. Then the crucial moment arrived: Duffy was down to his last $100 and knew he’d be bunking in his vehicle again. Was it time to give up his dream?
“I had to make a decision in that moment. Was I going to settle and take a job close to home, or was I going to figure out a way to get into the technology business? What I did was drive home, grab my things, pawn them, pay my sister the back rent, take the remainder and go right back up to San Francisco. And it was shortly thereafter that I got a job. You might call it my darkest hour. I would say it was one of the best days of my life.”
Duffy used his pawn money to buy pizzas for a brand-new company, Infoseek, pasting a photo of his face inside the boxes. Company officials loved his chutzpah, but said to wait a few weeks for an interview because the sales rep was out of town. Disappointed to come so close with his finances near nil, Duffy boldly persevered. “It’s just the way I’m built. When I have a goal, I am committed to doing everything necessary to make it work,” he says.
Ultimately, Duffy’s career would read like a Who’s Who of dot-com giants. He joined the startup team for Quote.com, which sold for $78 million to Lycos. He launched West Coast sales and opened offices for CBS Sportline, and boosted revenue for Xoom.com as vice president. In 2001, Duffy moved to the Fox Sports Internet Group, closing a major distribution deal for the company. By the time he left the tech sector in search of new entrepreneurial opportunities in real estate, he’d never have to worry about where to sleep again.
The Road to Storage
Deciding to depart Fox wasn’t easy, but Duffy felt a pull to return to his family’s traditional business of real estate. “I wanted to focus on building businesses based on passive income, generating businesses that pay you while sleep.” He asked his brother for advice, saying, “What’s 180 degrees from what I now do?” The answer was unexpected: self-storage. Duffy researched the industry and fell in love with it. “I saw a big market, a highly fragmented market and a relatively unsophisticated market. All that combined looked like a great opportunity.”
Last year, Duffy formed Self Storage Capital Group Inc., a real estate investment company specializing in developing, acquiring and managing self-storage facilities. The company creates syndications that include institutions and private investors.
Duffy says the group’s market outlook is what differentiates his company from others. “Our mantra is patience. I believe most of today’s real estate investors are like day traders at the height of the dot-com boom—they don’t really know what they are getting into. I believe we are experiencing nothing more than a good, prolonged real estate cycle. I am busy preparing our company and laying the groundwork so when this bubble bursts, we are in the right place at the right time.”
Self Storage Capital Group’s ultimate goal is to close deals that are win-wins for partners and investors. The company recently launched an acquisition and development division based on feedback from partners. “We want to make the process of buying and developing a self-storage business turnkey,” Duffy says.
Duffy’s story was featured earlier this year in Entrepreneur magazine, which is tracking his foray into self-storage. Though Duffy will always find encouragement in the teachings of Robbins and other successful people who have shared their insights, his main inspirations these days are wife, Tera, and pug dog, Sarah.
The secret of slaying obstacles and fulfilling potential is all about attitude, if Duffy’s life is any indication. “I think what has de- fined my career—whether it’s been personal challenges or going into difficult business situations—is that I’ve been successful in turning those things around and creating a win,” he says.
Does Duffy have any advice for those striving to make it in the business world today? “First, align yourself with people you trust and genuinely like,” he says. “Second, be patient. Don’t get caught up in the hype. If the numbers don’t work, they don’t work.” And it nearly goes without saying—don’t be too quick to believe you’re having a bad day. It could be the start of something beautiful.
For more information, call 310.656.0900; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Duffy also contributes a bimonthly column to Inside Self- Storage titled “Business in Development.”