In fast-paced, commoditized industries, it’s easy to lose sight of bigger company values when we’re intently focused on getting to our next transactions. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Brad Compere, CEO and founder of Capstone Title, a full-service title insurance company based in Austin, Texas, joins us to talk about how to shift company culture to focus more on relationships—with coworkers, clients, and the community—even in transactional industries like real estate.
Brandon Laws: Welcome back for another episode of the Human Resources for Small Business podcast. I am your host Brandon Laws. Hey, in today’s episode, I have an amazing discussion with Brad Compere. He is an attorney who specializes in real estate transactions in Austin, Texas. He has got more than 17 years of experience working to improve the real estate closing experience for both commercial and residential clients and is a leading expert of the title and closing industry in Central Texas.
He is currently the President and CEO of Capstone Title, a full service title insurance agency, which he founded in 2014. So you may be asking yourself, “OK. What is he doing on the podcast that is all about HR?”
Well, he has a business that is in a commoditized industry and he has worked incredibly hard with his business partner to intentionally develop a culture where for one, people are really excited about their work, but to attract customers that are passionate about the same things that they are. So you’re going to love this conversation. We talk all about the things that they’ve done at Capstone Title to intentionally develop the culture, to bring in the right people and it’s just a great story. So you’re going to love this.
One thing I wanted to mention, and it ties in really nicely with this, is I want to tell more stories. I want to talk to people who have either, as an HR person, been in that seat at the table where they’ve really helped develop the culture, bring in the right people and have either had successes or failures in doing so, or I want to talk to the business owner who has led that charge and developed a business in their vision and bringing in the right people as well.
So if you have any referrals for guests on the podcast that have an amazing story to tell, please either email me – link is in the show notes – or reach out to me on LinkedIn or Instagram or Twitter, whatever you want to do. You can find me in any of those places.
So anyway, I will step out of the way. Enjoy the episode with Brad Compere.
Brandon Laws: Hey Brad. It’s so awesome to have you on the podcast. Welcome.
Brad Compere: Thank you very much, Brandon. I appreciate you having me.
Brandon: You’re welcome. So give me your background. You own a firm. You’re an attorney. What are you up to nowadays?
Brad: So the main portion of my time right now is spent leading the title company. Capstone Title is a title insurance agency, a Texas title insurance agency that provides title insurance and residential and commercial closing services for real estate transactions in and around the Austin area and really throughout the State of Texas.
I also am managing partner and owner of a law firm – Compere and Gorman – and we specialize in real estate transactions. So I split my time between the two businesses. But quite frankly, most of my time is spent with the title company because it’s scaling quickly and we have 18 team members. So it definitely takes the bulk of my time.
Brandon: You’re a busy man.
Brad: I am.
Brandon: What led you to starting the title company?
Brad: Well, so I have been an attorney now for – oh gosh. Eighteen years? And most recently, over the last 10, 12 years, specializing in real estate. I had a firm before I started these two businesses and I was what was termed a fee attorney closing office. Effectively, we were a branch office but run independently like a law firm of a local agency here. We were able to close transactions through our agreement with that local company.
So I got a taste of it over a five-year period, several years ago, of the title business and the closing process. When that law firm disbanded and we went our separate ways, I saw an opportunity to start a true business. You know, a law firm is definitely a different business than a traditional business. And I saw the opportunity to take my experience and my book of business and start an agency to really dive into a true business operation.
Brandon: You said that – the fact that you’re scaling the title company. I think as an attorney, you basically have to be in it all the time because you’re serving your clients and you – kind of like a dentist – you have to kind of keep it running. You’re the dentist, right? With the title company, you rely on people, right? You can hire people to help you scale. Is that kind of what you’re experiencing right now?
Brad: Exactly. Absolutely. That comes with its own set of challenges. But yeah, the law firm, you’re tied to the billable hour and that’s just kind of built with the model for most attorneys. So if you’re not in the office and you’re not billing hours, you’re not making money. With the more traditional businesses, you can bring on great people to help you build your vision and that’s what we have done and are doing with Capstone Title.
Brandon: I’m glad you said vision because that was actually going to be my next question is, “What was the original vision for the business?” Maybe you didn’t have one at the time. You just saw the opportunity and then you had to create the vision later on. What is that vision?
Brad: It’s funny. When I was thinking about starting a title company, I sat down with a very close friend of mine who’s a very successful residential real estate broker here in Austin. He asked me point blank. He said, “Are you passionate about title insurance?” I kind of thought about it for a minute. I know where he was going with this and I said, “You know what? Not really. I love serving people. I love people and I want to build something great with great people.”
So that kind of became the – I guess our mission statement at first was let’s build a great company with great people. It doesn’t matter the industry. We’re going to build a fantastic company and through the process, we had our core values too which at the time were honesty, integrity, transparency, service and community and kind of the values around those topics.
It later morphed into quite frankly the word “love”. It was – we realized that we were about loving people and we wanted to make sure that that vision and that mission came through, shone through. So right now, our mission is a three-fold platform. It’s service, community, and love. That’s what we talk about. That’s who we are and it’s all about loving people.
I have a business partner named Will Fair. Will owns a title company in Waco, Texas and it has been in his family, and he has been in the title business all his life and he and I sat down. He’s now my business partner at Capstone. We were introduced to a mutual friend, a banker here in town and when we sat down and kind of talked about our vision, what we wanted out of building a brand new business from the ground up, he mentioned something to me that just really stuck with me. He said, “You know, business and life is really simple. It’s about loving people.”
I just kind of took that to heart and I realized, hey, we’re meant to be partners because I feel the exact same way. So Capstone has really grown out of that concept.
Brandon: What’s fascinating to me is in the five minutes you and I have been talking, you’ve probably mentioned the word “people” probably five, six times and I think for – most people think of a title company, they don’t really think of people. They think of a transaction as part of a process. How do you get out of that where you have an industry or a business that most people think is very transactional, not really relational-driven whatsoever? How did you go about changing that paradigm for most people?
Brad: Really it’s about that vision I mentioned and it’s also just about your actions, how you operate day to day. So for me, one of the bedrocks of Capstone is giving people a great place to work. We spend at a minimum eight hours a day working together and so I want people to enjoy where they work. Our industry and our job can be very difficult at times. It can be very humbling and challenging.
So I want to create an environment and our team and our leadership team wants to create an environment where people enjoy what they do. They enjoy their work family. They enjoy coming to work and being a part of not just transactions but about helping people, because it really is about serving people. That’s why that service piece is first in our three-fold mission statement. It’s that service piece. We really are truly serving people and we want to lead every conversation with, “How can we help you?” We truly want to help you close your transaction. We want to help you and your family get into that new home. We want to help you and your business buy that new piece of real estate and do it in a way that makes them feel good, makes them look good and makes their life a lot easier. We will do it with manners, with respect. You know, it’s about, “Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” “Thank you,” “My pleasure,” “Please,” using your manners. I mean it’s a basic concept of treating people well but I think it has lost a lot.
Brandon: You founded Capstone Title in 2014. Is that what I heard you say?
Brad: That’s right. We kicked off January of 2014.
Brandon: So most people I think when they start a business, it’s because there’s an opportunity. There’s an opportunity to make some money. Somewhere along the line, though, you came to this conclusion that you really needed to intentionally develop a culture, attract the right people and really see through that vision. How did you come to that conclusion that you needed to build a great culture with great people?
Brad: Well, I mean a lot of it is education.
Brad: You know, reading books. I read voraciously.
Brandon: So you were inspired by maybe some books you read.
Brad: Inspired by that. I also am – I’m a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization or EO and there’s an Austin chapter here. So I’ve been a member there for almost six years. I’ve learned so much through that organization about how to be a great entrepreneur, how to be a great business leader and how to be a better person, quite frankly.
So the support I’ve received through just reading and through my connections and the education I’ve received through EO really kind of buttressed that culture piece.
In addition to – you know, and I had been a part of past businesses and I’ve been an employee of past businesses. I’ve seen how people get treated. I’ve seen how people react to how they’re treated and I wanted to do it differently.
Brandon: Besides stating your mission and your vision for the organization, just using words, what things from a tactical standpoint are you doing to intentionally build that culture? I mean, are you doing anything from compensation or perks and benefits, recognition program? Anything that’s really unique to Capstone Title that is worth sharing that has been kind of a foundational piece for building that culture?
Brad: Absolutely. I love sharing this stuff because I would encourage other small business owners to –
Brandon: Yeah. We appreciate that.
Brad: To reproduce and do some of the things we’re doing too. It’s not – I mean we’re not recreating the wheel by any means. But we’re just being intentional about it.
Brad: So OK, so some of the things, we profit share. That’s first. We celebrate work anniversaries with a card and a $50 bill and the note is, “Thank you for all you do. Go out and have a nice dinner with your spouse, significant other, friend,” whatever.
Brandon: And there’s something about cash too. People love the cash versus the gift card. Just it feels transactional, right? But the cash feels something – it feels like something more.
Brad: Right. And it’s not a huge amount but it just – it’s something to say thank you.
Brad: And they get recognition and know that they’re appreciated. Every week during our Monday morning meeting – we have a company-wide Monday morning meeting every Monday at 9:45 and we celebrate greatness from the week before. So we talk about feedback we’ve received from clients or folks involved in transactions. We complement each other and thank each other for being good team members, et cetera. We recognize milestones and other achievements that the individuals are making. So that’s a big part of that and just – it’s just a vocal thing that we do during the meetings. So I think people appreciate that.
About once a quarter, but at least a handful of times a year, maybe twice, two or three times at a minimum, we elicit specific written feedback from the team. We call it the stop-start-continue exercise. We ask everybody, “What do you want Capstone to stop doing? What do you want Capstone to start doing? What do you want Capstone to continue doing?”
We elicit and we say it can be anonymous or you can put your name on it, whatever, however you want to turn it in. But please provide feedback, so we can learn and we can grow. We’re a transparent company. We share our numbers and our financials with our team members and it’s all about everybody being a part of a community.
If it’s a top-down, keeping secrets, everything is confidential, you only know what you – you know, what we allow you to know, it creates drama. It creates friction and it creates resentment. I’ve seen it happen firsthand in the past.
So I wanted it to be different and allow people to feel valued and appreciated.
Brandon: Do you mind if I pull the thread on that, that transparency thing real quick? Sharing financials is always a fascinating topic to me. How much do you share? Do you mind mentioning what you actually share with financials? I think that’s a really good piece of advice for a lot of people because they want to be tied to something bigger than themselves. If you give insight as to the performance – they’re adults; they can take it. But I want to know what you share.
Brad: Absolutely. So we have basically three metrics that we follow every week. So we run our business on the EO’s Traction operating system. It’s the Entrepreneurial Operating System, Gino Wickman, called Traction.
So every week, we have our KPIs, the key performance indicators that we follow and that’s orders in the door, closings that happen, and revenue that comes from those closings in both the commercial and residential. We actually separate it out just to track it because the departments are a little bit different. But every week, we write it on the board. We have a whiteboard that we write the numbers on and what our goals are and whether we’ve met the goal. If we didn’t meet the goal, the number is in red. If we did meet the goal, the number is in green.
So it’s pretty straightforward and so we talk about those numbers. We look at the week before and then at the end of the month, we kind of talk about the numbers from the month and how we did with our goals. So that’s the real sharing that happens is every week and at the end of every month, we talk about our revenue, our profit, how we did on our KPIs and answer questions and we’re completely open with those. We share. Hey, when we have a bad month, we talk about why. We talk about what we’re going to do to make it better and then of course we celebrate the great months.
Then – I mean part of our – we call the – who we are and what we do – it’s tucked away in our employment manual. But part of that is we share our financials. Anything we can legally share, which I think employment information can’t. But other than that, ask. I will show you our financials. No one has ever asked. But it’s there for people to review, look at, our budget, all that stuff if they want to.
Brandon: That is fascinating. Do your employees say anything about that, whether they love knowing that – you know, the business performing well or does it engage them more in their work? What have you heard from a feedback standpoint?
Brad: I think it definitely engages people more. So we were recently named one of the best places to work in Austin by the Austin Business Journal and I think some of the feedback we heard – and it’s anonymous feedback. But the feedback we heard from our team was that the transparency is great.
What’s interesting too is there are some people that came – you know, came to work for us that had worked for some – maybe bigger companies or companies that operated differently. You know, they certainly never saw any financial information and they were just blown away.
On some level, it took some getting used to because they’re not used to knowing. Oh gosh, we had a bad month. Does that mean we’re going to shut down and lose our jobs? You know, you have to go through that. It’s OK to have bad months. You plan for it. Those are going to happen.
The good months offset that stuff and we have a plan in place and share all that – the vision and the plan to make sure people feel comfortable with being able to peek under the kimono, you know.
Brandon: There are a lot of title companies out there. Is the culture your differentiator? Because I wonder with compensation and benefits, if they’re pretty standard across the board in your industry. If you can’t do anything more than what your competitors are offering, is that culture really why people come to you and stay with you.
Brad: Definitely the retention piece.
Brad: And recruiting is starting to get there. It’s a competitive environment right now. Austin obviously, you probably know it’s one of the hottest real estate markets in the country and there’s a lot of real estate transactions out there.
Brandon : Yes, there are.
Brad: People are making a lot of money and quite honestly, a lot of companies are overpaying for that.
Brad: And being a smaller company, we have a hard time competing with that. So we can’t throw a big check at somebody. Then we’ve got to be different. So it’s – we’re going to create an environment where people can enjoy their work. I think that that’s – more people are talking about that. I think in the millennial generation, that’s more important to them – to really feel like they’re a part of something bigger and they really enjoy the experience more than the money they’re making.
I mean the money is important obviously. We all need it or we wouldn’t be working. But it’s – I don’t think it’s the first thing. I think it’s about the environment and the experience.
Brandon: So what are you doing to highlight that? So if recruiting – you said starting to come around. But you can’t throw money at people and the labor market, it’s really tight right now. Especially in Texas where there’s tons of transactions. You need great people. What are you doing to highlight the culture that you have? Is it anything from a digital marketing, employer branding standpoint that you’re doing? Are you just working off referrals? How does that work from a recruiting standpoint?
Brad: Great question. That’s always a challenge, right?
Brandon: People are struggling. So that’s why I have to ask it.
Brad: It seems – exactly. It seems like a CEO, that’s a – that’s a lot of what I do is community involvement, recruiting, et cetera. Yeah, it’s twofold. First is outreach via social media. So we have a PR and marketing firm, a third party marketing firm that does our digital marketing strategy and PR. Zilker Media. That’s how we were connected.
They do our social media marketing. So – and a lot of that is highlighting our culture and talking about that business aspect versus just real estate. And the second is we incentivize our team members with a bonus of if you recruit somebody and they successfully stay on, you know, beyond 90 days, then you get a recruiting bonus.
So we incentivize our team to reach out because that’s the best recruiting tool you can have is a happy employee, right? Or a happy team member. So we encourage that. We remind our team. Hey, there’s an incentive out there if you refer someone.
So some of our best team members have come through existing team members.
Brandon: You had mentioned a little bit ago that, for millennials especially, compensation is important. Of course we need our basic needs met. But a lot of times, they want to work for something that’s greater than themselves as an individual. Are you doing anything in the community that’s just outside of what you’re doing as a business for the community? Are you involved in the community in a way that your brand is elevated because people know that you’re doing good in the community?
Brad: Yes, absolutely. That’s a big – it’s an important thing to me and thus it’s an important thing for Capstone to be a part of the community and give back. So there are several things that we do. First of all, I’m involved in several boards as a non-profit individually. So there’s that piece of it and – which, you know, by default is an extension of Capstone because that’s me in a lot of ways.
Second is – so every month, we have a team building event. So like just a few days ago, last week, we went bowling and we may just go have dinner. We may go just have a quick happy hour. We may go out on Lake Austin on a boat. Do something as a team. Offer an opportunity to get out of work. Blow off some steam and have a good time together and build that cohesion.
Once a quarter, that is a volunteer event. So last quarter, we went to Austin Pets Alive which is an animal shelter here and volunteered two hours of our time helping with whatever needed to be done, cleaning pens, feeding dogs, whatever they needed done.
We’ve gone to the area food bank and volunteered time there. And then a little more substantially, we have recently partnered with a local non-profit called Austin Pathways and they’re associated with the housing authority of the City of Austin, which is the affordable housing here in the Austin area. The Austin Pathways is a program that educates, that supports, that mentors the residents of these housing projects.
They also provide scholarships for those that want to go on to higher education. We recently partnered with Austin Pathways to not only provide a financial sponsorship, but also roll up our sleeves and go give time to the organization.
It meshes really well with our mission platform of service, community and love. That community piece, that’s where that comes in is we want to give back to the community. We’re blessed to live in this wonderful city, to have a successful business and we want to give back and show our appreciation to our community. So that’s a big part of what we do.
Brandon: I love that. Brad, a lot of our listeners are small businesses for one. But either they’re the leader of the organization – HR and developing the culture falls on them. There’s a lot of HR professionals listening too and they’re in the same boat. They may have a small business and may work in a commoditized industry just like yours. What is – what’s something you want to tell them? Like get started with this. If they don’t have anything in place from a culture development standpoint, what kind of advice would you give them?
Brad: I think it starts with getting together with your team and coming up with values. What is important to you as people, right? Not necessarily as a business. I mean we need to profit and we need to get market share, et cetera, et cetera. But really talking about who you are and why you do what you do and writing those things down and brainstorming your core values. What is really important to you? What’s going to drive your decisions? What’s going to drive your hiring? What’s going to drive your firing?
If you can go back to your core values and make your important decisions, then you’ve really established that culture piece. I think that that’s where you start, you really need to – and spend time going through it. It’s also important to get buy-in from everybody that’s on your team. You know, not be a top-down exercise where these are the values I live my life by. So therefore, we’re going to run our company this way.
Now, our values, I definitely live my life by them. But I think so does everybody else, right? It’s important for us to hire people that believe in our values. If they don’t, that’s fine. I’m not offended. It’s not a good fit. But if you do and you want to come in and you want to give your time and be a part of our team, we would welcome it and we know that you’re going to have a good experience.
Brandon: I love that, I love that. I think it’s great advice. I think what’s interesting about the value piece and getting people bought in is that not only are they going to value those things at work. But they value them in their personal life when they go home as well. So I imagine that they will talk very highly about the work that they’re doing when they’re not in the office as well.
I think that’s only going to grow your brand. It’s going to make you attract the right people and probably retain a lot of people too. So I think that’s great. I think it’s great work that you’re doing.
Brad: You know, an example, if you don’t mind me sharing something real quick, we had a couple of our team members who were approached by another company and they were offered substantially more than they’re making now to move. They chose not to. Not only did they choose not to, they told them why. Then they turned around and shared it with me. The fact that they had been approached, they had turned it down and they told me why. It was 100 percent that culture piece.
Brad: Because I could match what they were offering. It was out of the normal range for the market. It was above the normal range. So it’s – you’re seeing a lot of that and I feel very fortunate. I’m very – obviously I’m very flattered and humbled that they would make that decision to stay with us and help us build our company. But it’s just a testament to you treat people well and they’re going to be loyal. They’re going to be a part of the team. They’re really going to dig in and be a part of it and have it be a part of their lives.
Brandon: Well, Brad, this has been a phenomenal conversation. Keep up the great work. Where do you want people to learn more about you, about Capstone Title or any of the other work that you’re doing?
Brad: Absolutely. So http://www.capstonetitletx.com/ is our website. We have a blog. You can learn about our team, about our values, about our vision and then we have a blog as well where we talk about our team. We talk about some of our real estate partners in the Austin area and we talk about culture and we talk about our business.
Then if anyone wants to learn more about Austin Pathways and just the incredible work they’re doing and maybe how that could be recreated in a different market, that’s www.AustinPathways.org and it’s a really neat program that’s helping our community.
Brandon: Amazing. One thing I should mention is – so we’re – I’m in Oregon. A lot of our listeners are in Oregon. But ironically our third most listeners are in the Texas area. So I would say listeners, if you’re in Brad’s area, look him up. Look up Capstone Title and see the work that they’re doing. It sounds like they’re building a great business and you – I mean they’re a great case study. So –
Brad: Thank you. I appreciate that Brandon. I would welcome a call, an email, grab a cup of coffee, grab a beer, whatever. I love talking about this stuff. I’m passionate about it and I always love meeting new people too.
Brandon: Awesome. Thanks for coming on the podcast, Brad.
Brad: I appreciate you having me, Brandon. Thanks so much.