Ryan Serhant on the discipline that made him a real estate superstar

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From an early age, Ryan Serhant knew that cultivating self-discipline would bring him opportunities.

Serhant was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up around four much older siblings (three sisters and one brother) and one younger brother to whom he was closest in age. However, because of his father’s career in finance, the family moved around a lot, living in Long Island and outside of Boston, as well as other parts of Texas.

Not ever staying in one place for long, Serhant says he never had a best friend until he was about 14 years old. But he and his siblings were taught to pass the time when not at school or after-school activities by doing various chores or getting jobs, when they were old enough, to earn their keep.

“I grew up in a pretty strict, conservative household,” Serhant said earlier this month ahead of Inman’s second-annual “Global Real Estate Influencer” program.

“We all had jobs, we had to make money for ourselves from a really young age,” he added. “We did a lot of manual labor growing up … My first real job was a business I started with my little brother where we split firewood. We called it ‘Jack Ryan Wood’ because [my brother’s] name is Jack. And that business ended really fast, because that was no fun whatsoever. I was 10 years old; my little brother was 7.”

Decades later, Serhant has built a real estate empire around his personal brand. After launching to fame on Million Dollar Listing New York in 2012, the CEO, founder and broker of SERHANT. went on to star in multiple spin-off shows on Bravo, create the popular sales training program “Sell It Like Serhant,” write three books and build his own brokerage from the ground up.

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Ryan Serhant | Credit: SERHANT. Studios

Serhant’s following has also exploded during this roughly 14-year period from newbie agent to brokerage CEO. He now has nearly 2 million followers on Instagram, about 1.3 million on YouTube, and nearly 770,000 on Facebook. People from all over the world buy his books and enroll in his courses (which have racked up students from over 120 countries now) because the real estate pro has nearly perfected the art of sales and all the components that go into it.

Now as a 2024 Inman Global Real Estate Influencer, Serhant will have yet another platform from which to share his insights on sales, the housing market, media and more. And he’s aware that with such a huge platform comes great responsibility.

“If you are lucky enough to have a following and have people listen to you, you then have a responsibility to people to influence correctly,” Serhant told Inman.

A love for acting

Looking back now, Serhant said that the lack of stability he faced during his childhood because of having to move around so frequently greatly influenced the direction his life took and where he is today. Serhant felt a gravitational pull toward acting from a young age because he could forget his loneliness and step into someone else’s life when embodying a character.

“Pretending to be somebody else, right on stage, doing Shakespeare and different things was my way of not having to be myself,” Serhant told Inman. That way, he wouldn’t have to face up to his own reality and “make new friends all the time,” he said.

Because his parents wanted him to be well-rounded, Serhant was only allowed to do one play per year in school, however, and had to try out different sports during other semesters of the year.

“I was just terrible at all sports,” Serhant told Inman. “My hand-eye coordination is just not great. And I wasn’t that fast.”

Even from a young age, Serhant had the self-awareness to think that because he didn’t have the natural talent or the passion for sports, it was probably a waste of time. That kind of consciousness about how much time Serhant has — in any given day, or in life — has also motivated him to stick to his passions and not waste a moment, he told Inman.

Regarding his school days in theater, Serhant thought, “I’m going to invest the time into this because I think maybe I could do this for my career. And fast-forward all these years later, I did give it up to do real estate — but then it found its way back into my life.”

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Ryan Serhant at 121 Waverly Place | SERHANT. Studios

Making it in the Big Apple

After graduating from Hamilton College with a degree in English Literature and Theater, Serhant took the LSAT, thinking a career in law might be a viable option for him, something which his parents would have been thrilled about. But he completely bombed the exam and decided that option was off the table.

Instead, Serhant took a leap of faith and moved to New York City to give his dream of acting a shot. He had diligently saved up about $20,000 over the years and figured that cash reserve might carry him through about five years in the city without forcing him to get a “survival job” that he might hate.

“I just knew that if I didn’t at least try it, against my parents’ wishes — heavily — I would then just go get a job, and then I would be 60, and then what am I going to do?” Serhant told Inman. “So I had to at least try it.”

For two years, Serhant went to audition after audition, facing rejection after rejection. He got a few gigs here and there, including some as a hand model (which is where most of his income came from), but his money started to run low and he realized he needed another income stream.

He wasn’t yet ready to give up on acting altogether and didn’t like the idea of picking up shifts as a bartender, waiter or temp because then he’d have to commit to specific hours, which could get in the way of auditions. So he decided to pick up some rental deals because he could make his own schedule.

“So I just started doing rentals, and then one of the rental clients turned into my first sale client, which was a listing at 3 Hanover Square for $379,000 or something like that,” Serhant said.

After that, Serhant’s real estate career started picking up momentum — he started doing a lot of deals in Long Island City and even picked up his first press for a building he worked on in the Financial District for a 2010 story in Bloomberg about FHA financing for new construction, post-subprime mortgage collapse.

That story, which featured a photo of Serhant in what he called the “classic” arms-crossed broker’s pose, helped him to get noticed by casting agents for Million Dollar Listing New York. During the initial audition, Serhant said he got about 30 seconds in front of a camera, which he used to tell his audience who he would be two years from then. After an arduous nine-month audition process, he was chosen as a cast member.

“It was a unique opportunity,” Serhant told Inman. “But then once I got cast, everyone told me not to do it. ‘New Yorkers don’t take reality TV seriously,’ ‘It’s going to be the worst thing that’s ever happened to your career.’ And I was like, ‘I’m kind of unaware that I even have a career … ‘ It was the end of 2010, and I really only started taking real estate seriously at the end of 2009.”

That first season of Million Dollar Listing New York was a bit of a trial by fire, as Serhant had a very limited real estate network in New York, and was still getting to know the ins and outs of the city, not to mention trying to figure out things like how to price a penthouse in SoHo.

But once he got through that Season 1 initiation, the show took off globally and Serhant was launched into fame.

“It kind of became part of this real estate-pop culture zeitgeist,” Serhant said. “Then they put it all over the world, which is the one thing I never anticipated.”

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Ryan Serhant | SERHANT. Studios

A growing empire

As soon as Million Dollar Listing New York hit the air, Serhant went to work pitching new shows to Bravo, ultimately landing Sell it Like Serhant in 2018 and Million Dollar Listing: Ryan’s Renovation in 2021.

Then in 2019, Serhant launched the “Sell It Like Serhant” training program, which now includes more than 22,000 members across the globe. That same year, he published Sell It Like Serhant: How to Sell More, Earn More, and Become the Ultimate Sales Machine, which was followed by Big Money Energy: How to Rule at Work, Dominate at Life, and Make Millions (2022) and Brand It Like Serhant: Stand Out from the Crowd, Build Your Following, and Earn More Money (2024).

In 2020, Serhant made the leap from agent to broker and launched his own eponymous brokerage while in pandemic lockdowns.

That is a lot for one individual to accomplish after about 14 years in the industry, but Serhant maintains appreciation for the outside forces that have helped bring him to where he is today.

“I was always so thankful for opportunity,” Serhant said. “Whether it was the opportunity to go shovel people’s driveways and make $20 per driveway when I was younger, to be able to buy my first video camera or starting my own company with my little brother to sell firewood, I was always so excited about an opportunity. I think spending all those years acting and auditioning, especially two years in New York City, you develop a thick skin and a real sense of understanding about yourself and your core identity because it’s just pure rejection all day long.

“When I had that opportunity for Million Dollar Listing, I got onto it, and I was so thankful. You can ask Bravo [and Andy Cohen] — when they said ‘Jump!’ I said, ‘How high?’ I was so appreciative of that opportunity, that I wasn’t going to let it pass, and I was like, I will not let this fail.”

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Ryan Serhant speaking at Inman Connect New York 2024 | Photos by AJ Canaria Creative Services

Surrounding himself with the best

With all the different endeavors Serhant is wrapped up in, from reality TV to real estate educational programs, to his brokerage’s expansion and new technology, and more, it’s easy to wonder how any one human being can keep all of these things straight at once.

Serhant said that one of his secrets to keeping it all moving forward is through leveraging himself through other people.

“I surround myself with great people who are uniquely qualified to do what they do,” he said.

Case in point, Serhant recently announced that Josh Team, the former president of Keller Williams, had joined SERHANT. as president of the company’s brokerage arm and was instrumental in developing S.MPLE, the firm’s new agent support product. Serhant also noted that the firm’s CFO, Natalie Vitebsky, served as Douglas Elliman’s CFO for seven years and Compass’ head of finance for two years before joining SERHANT.

By surrounding himself with an executive team, managerial team and support staff, Serhant has eliminated even the need to do things like worry about what to eat — he has a nutritionist who handles that, he said, as an assistant handed him a protein smoothie promptly at 5 p.m. during a recent Friday Zoom call.

“[Those teams are] really, really, really awesome,” Serhant said, “and really, really great at what they do to enable me to do what my highest and best use is.”

Serhant has got it figured out so well that Harvard Business School actually published a case study in 2023 on how he manages his time “for repeatable success,” including some of Serhant’s trademark strategies, like the 1,000-minute rule; Task Triage; and Finder, Keeper and Doer methodologies.

But the broker also maintains a pretty regimented routine, especially during weekdays, which starts with a workout at 4:30 a.m., and typically wraps after work spending time at home with his wife, Emilia, their nearly 5-year-old daughter, Zena, and his mother-in-law, who goes by “Ya-Ya.”

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Ryan Serhant with members of SERHANT. in 2021 | SERHANT. Studios

An awareness of his responsibility to followers

With his rise in fame, Serhant said he is very much aware of the power he holds through his various platforms and feels a responsibility to whomever is out there watching him.

“I don’t make motivational, inspirational, thought-provoking social media posts for my health,” Serhant joked. “I don’t think it necessarily helps my business — selling real estate — either. It’s my version of giving back as best I possibly can and presenting myself as a full human.”

The CEO added that his goal when he wakes up in the morning is to go out into the world and show respect for the people he encounters, in the way he dresses, carries himself, and presents himself through other forms. Serhant said that he receives multiple emails a day from individuals who have been inspired through his shows, books, and/or educational courses to pursue a career in real estate, and he doesn’t take it for granted.

“So if I’m helping people lead better lives, whether it’s by helping them buy and sell real estate, or sell buildings and building the greatest real estate firm the world has ever known, or I’m just helping individuals maximize their fullest potential, then I think I’ve done the best I can,” Serhant said.

The broker said he’s excited about how “incredibly fast” SERHANT. is growing and will continue to expand in the next year, as well as the positive reception of S.MPLE by SERHANT. agents thus far. The brokerage is now operating in New York, Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

In addition, a new Netflix series starring Serhant and agents from his brokerage is set to release on the platform soon, although a release date and show title (leaked reports have suggested House of SERHANT. was a working title) have not been made official yet.

“It’s probably the most stressful TV you’ll ever see,” Serhant told Inman. “And also fun.

“I’m just excited to push things forward, excited for the future,” he concluded.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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