Robert Reffkin is founder and CEO of a billion dollar enterprise. Here is the most important lesson he has learned.

BY Preta Peace Namasaba October 25, 2023 3:29 PM EDT

Robert Reffkin is the co-founder and CEO of Compass, a real estate technology giant. He founded a successful company at the young age of 15, steadily climbed the corporate ladder, and eventually built a billion-dollar enterprise.

Born to an Israeli immigrant mother and African American father, Reffkin’s early life was heartbreaking. His father left him when he was a baby and his grandparents disowned him because of his race. At the age of 11, Robert’s father passed away, leaving him to be raised by his single mother. It was his mother’s unwavering resilience in the face of adversity that ignited the entrepreneurial spark within Reffkin.

At 15 years old, Reffkin started his first business. With money from his bar mitzvah and babysitting, he launched a DJ company called “Rude Boy Productions”. The business offered its services at bar mitzvahs, high school dances, and house parties. By the time he graduated from high school, Reffkin had made more than $100,000. The success of his first entrepreneurial venture is what spurred him to greater heights and a college entrance.

“In high school and college, I was a C-student in part because I didn’t see how studying calculus or Western Civilization related to my life or my dreams. I knew that excelling in school wasn’t going to be the way I was going to distinguish myself in the world. At the same time, I was energized by my entrepreneurial efforts and my summer internships. I moved as quickly as I could to get through school and have my real life begin, because the real world made so much more sense to me.”

Robert Reffkin in TechCrunch

A self-described C student, Reffkin’s high school guidance counselor discouraged him from applying to college. It is this skepticism that gave him the zeal to give his best in the SAT prep. He was driven by a desire to prove not only to himself but also to others like him. His unwavering determination bore fruit as he secured admission to Columbia University. Remarkably, in under two years, he had already obtained his undergraduate degree in history and economics-philosophy.

After graduation, Reffkin was hired as an analyst by McKinsey & Company, the youngest analyst to ever be hired by the corporation at the time. Two years later, he returned to Columbia University to pursue his MBA. He then took a foray into investment banking, working as an associate for the Wall Street firm, Lazard.

In 2005, under President George Bush’s administration, Reffkin became a White House fellow. He served as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow. He went on to serve as Vice President – Principal Investment Area at Goldman Sachs. Five years later, he was promoted to Chief of Staff to the President & Chief Operating Officer.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is that feedback is a gift. Even when it’s hard to hear, feedback is a gift. My relationships with many of my mentors deepened because I started asking them for really tough, candid feedback — the sort of things they thought other people wouldn’t tell me. And then, I’d actually take their advice, apply it in my life and let them know how it had helped me. That did two things: First, it led to more honest and practical advice that helped me get better faster. Second, it made the people who had given me advice feel far more invested in my success and the success of what I was working on.”

Robert Reffkin in TechCrunch

With tech entrepreneur Ori Allon, Reffkin founded Compass, a real estate technology company in 2012. Although he didn’t know much about the real estate industry, Reffkin initiated a revolution. Compass supports a technology-enabled brokerage platform which enables its real estate agents to provide outstanding service to sellers and buyers. It is specifically designed for the real estate industry with an integrated suite of cloud-based software for customer relationship management, marketing, client service, and brokerage services.

Described as the “greatest fundraising machine in the history of America”, Compass raised record-shattering sums of venture capital. With over $1.5 billion in funding, the company has 19,000 agents and $1.6 billion in revenue as of May 2023. Holding 4% of the US brokerage market, Compass is the largest independent brokerage as measured by gross transaction volume. In April 2021, the company went public and is currently ranked at 572 by Fortune 500.

Committed to civic development, Reffkin founded America Needs You (formerly New York Needs You). The organization aims to provide mentorship to low-income college students and set them up for a successful career through career development, college support and internships. From 2007, Reffkin ran marathons in each of the 50 states to fundraise $1 million for charity. Recently, he published his book No One Succeeds Alone: Learn Everything You Can from Everyone You Can, to inspire people from underprivileged backgrounds to follow their dreams. All of his proceeds from the book are going to charity.

From unfortunate circumstances, Robert Reffkin has fabricated his own place in the world. He is changing the way we purchase housing and empowering real estate agents in the process.