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We live in an era of superheroes where they take in billions of dollars worldwide at the movie theater. Though she doesn’t wear the cape or the spandex, Janine Yorio fits right in with this crowd. Sure, she’s not flying around or fighting aliens, but it has been said that her “superpower is her ability to turn wildly creative visions into financially-feasible realities.”
Because of this, over her career, she has overseen real estate investments totaling more than $2 billion. She’s worked on over $1.5 billion in equity-style transactions ranging from $10 million to over $700 million and managed an investment portfolio of $110 million. She has also made a killing in the teddy bear bread market growing up in suburban Maryland. Not bad for someone whose first career choice was to be a broadcast journalist.
Not counting the ones she created as a kid, the first company she brought to the public was NewSeed, which invested in and advised companies that made agriculture more sustainable. That startup got her recognized as one of the “14 Innovators Who Are Changing Green Business” by The Atlantic.
Her newest venture, Compound, a New York City-based company making real estate investment accessible to a larger demographic, was recently named one of Inc. Magazine's “50 World-Changing Startups To Watch.”
Here she explains how she overcame rejection, turned a childhood pastime into a career and who her favorite people are to share a dinner table with.
The chicken or the egg. Which came first? It’s an oft-asked question. One almost impossible to answer. The same goes with entrepreneurs. Are they born or are they made? In Yorio’s case, it leans to the former, though there are certainly some instances that made her the much-lauded businesswoman she is today.
“I’ve been starting companies since I was a little girl. I started a babysitting club in fifth grade and too many lemonade stands to count,” she reminisces. These sound like something almost every kid does, nothing that makes her a standout. But then she continues, and you start to see what set her apart from every kid trying to scrape together a few quarters to blow at the candy store.
“When I was 12-years-old, my runaway success was a home-delivery bread business. I made loaves of bread in the shape of teddy bears,” Yorio recalls. “They cost me fifty cents in ingredients, and I sold them for $10 each. At the time, the money I made from selling those teddy bear breads felt like a king’s ransom.”
You’d think such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment would have had Yorio applying to business schools at the first chance, but that didn’t happen. Instead, she went to Yale and studied history.
“Studying history taught me how to think, how to write, and how to use primary sources to verify facts—important life lessons that have served me well at every point in my career,” Yorio acknowledges.
A career that would’ve taken a very different turn if she hadn’t faced some harsh realities early on when she was striving to be an on-air broadcast journalist—an outgrowth of a class she took at Yale led by Walter Cronkite and through working at TV newsrooms throughout college.
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“I did a screen test in my junior year. I remember a man who worked at the network, after watching the screen test, said to me, ‘You’re pretty, but not pretty enough to do on-air,’” Yorio says. “That’s all he had to say. From that moment, I decided I never wanted to limit myself to a career where I would be judged almost solely on the basis of my looks.”
This type of rejection would have thrown a lot of people for a loop, but how Yorio reacted only serves to underscore her strength of character and ability to handle setbacks. Because instead of tucking tail, she graduated from Yale in three years and promptly got a job on Wall Street—at Salomon Brothers, no less known for being one of the most cutthroat bastions of the old boys' network.
But that didn’t stop Yorio. She worked her way up the ladder, moving from Salomon Brothers to private equity firm NorthStar Capital and then to Andre Balazs’ Standard Hotels. Though successful, that feeling she had as a girl running her own business still called to her.
That’s when she took everything she learned from the old guard and turned it on its head. First, it was NewSeed, which worked to change the antiquated way food is produced by embracing companies and innovations that are sustainable, both economically and environmentally.
Now with Compound, she’s doing the same thing with real estate investing by trying to diversify not only investors but also her team. “Investment management is a stale industry dominated by white men who have captured an inordinate amount of wealth at the top of that pyramid,” Yorio explains. “There is room for innovation and for a more diverse group of players to win.”
She adds, “I’m inspired by the success of women like Toby Moskovits, a prominent local New York City real estate developer, Kathleen McCarthy, co-head of Real Estate at Blackstone, and Kathryn Petralia, CEO and founder of Kabbage. These are women who have not just been tremendously successful, but have done so in industries known to be harsh, even for people with thick skin.” Given the success of Compound and Yorio’s willingness to embrace diversity, she’s surely inspiring a young girl somewhere in America with a lemonade stand to dream bigger.
OOZE, NOT EXPLOSIONS
Just like her own idols, Yorio never uses her gender as a crutch even though it often leads many to see her as an interloper in the male-dominated world of investing. Rather, she uses the fact that some see her as not belonging to her advantage.
“I think that insiders can think of all the reasons why things are likely to fail. Outsiders come with a different point of view and for that reason are often indefatigable enough to proceed with an idea where the odds of success are stacked against them,” Yorio concludes. “Some of the biggest revelations have come from total outsiders.”
That includes Yorio. Thinking outside the box, she and her Compound team created a proprietary product called Cityfunds, which is a real estate fund that combines the best attributes of ETFs (exchange-traded fund) like low fees and liquidity with the tax and diversification benefits of REITs (real estate investment trusts).
Though it sounds complicated, Cityfunds allow investors of all sizes from all over the world to own interests in residential real estate in prime cities like Manhattan, Austin and San Francisco, which opens up opportunities for more diverse clients—not just the old guard and the super-rich.
“Most Americans are intimidated by investing, but it doesn’t have to be complicated,” Yorio explains. “If you invest in places you know and understand, you can break down that mental barrier that makes investing feel scary and foreign.”
Investing shouldn’t be intimidating, but Yorio does advise that taking risks is a part of being an entrepreneur. “You have to be willing to be vulnerable to failure, to put yourself out there and let others see you try,” she advises. “It’s hard to do that, knowing that there is a chance you might fail. But everybody who has ever succeeded has done exactly that.”
Triumph comes in many forms for entrepreneurs, but being able to read the field you are entering is a key to success. What’s especially important is pinpointing a need in the market and figuring out the best way to fill it. Or as Yorio justifies, “As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.”
According to Yorio, once the idea comes to you is when the real work begins, because nothing truly revolutionary appears fully formed. Just as a writer must edit their work, an entrepreneur must focus and direct their concept into a well-honed strategy. “Good execution is rarely an ‘explosion of perfection’ but rather a ‘gradual ooze of improvement,’ Yorio informs.
FAMILY & FOOD FIRST
Like most entrepreneurs, Yorio has a hard time stepping away from her business. But when she does get away, she makes sure she tries to make the most of it.
“I prefer to plan vacations no more than two weeks in advance because if I have a vacation in the middle of a big sprint at work, then I can't enjoy myself anyway,” she reveals.
Still, despite being so busy she does admit she enjoys travel. “I’m a hotel junkie; I love great hotels, and I love a nice spa,” she says. Both are probably an outgrowth of her time as the head of acquisitions & development for Andre Balazs Properties, which included the multi-millionaire’s signature properties like The Standard hotels, The Mercer hotel, the Chateau Marmont, and Sunset Beach.
These are the kinds of places where boldfaced names go for parties and to be seen, and it wouldn’t be hard for Yorio to score an invite. But that doesn’t fit into her schedule or her lifestyle. “I'm pretty stingy with my free time and my social commitments because I need some downtime after my jam-packed days,” she notes.
Her relaxation comes in the form of hammocking, which she lists as a favorite hobby. She also tries to find a balance between work and rest by staying active. “I enjoy running and skiing,” she says. “Although admittedly I don't have enough time to do both enough.”
Part of her busy schedule comes from work, but a lot of it also comes from her home, where she keeps her most valuable possessions. “I have two children, so they're my number one hobby,” she explains.
After a long day of work, she makes sure to spend time with them, especially around the dinner hour—just not always their table. “I love to try new restaurants with my children. Like me, they're adventurous eaters, and they love the theater of New York City's terrific restaurant scene,” she says proudly. “We're having Cambodian food this weekend, and my kids are all excited to try it!” Sounds super.