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Suneet Singal: Interview with an Innovative CEO

Suneet Singal

Suneet Singal is a pioneering entrepreneur and finance architect from the Greater Sacramento region of Northern California. Singal is the CEO of First Capital Real Estate. The California-based entrepreneur works across consumer retail, finance, financial technology, real estate, renewable energy, and numerous other sectors. He specializes in acquisitions, corporate strategy, and deal structuring.

The First Capital chief executive officer recently marked two decades in business as a successful entrepreneur. That includes time spent as the chairman of a renowned equity real estate investment trust and heading up a Nasdaq-traded real estate operating company. He has also held C-level positions within many other highly successful public and private companies.

Elsewhere, he has built, bought, operated, and sold numerous businesses in several distinct industries. Alongside excelling in acquisitions, corporate strategy, and deal structuring, the enterprising CEO is an internationally recognized authority on direct investment, equity and debt placement, and structured finance.

For many of his years as an entrepreneur, California native Singal has focused squarely on commercial property, land entitlement, principal sponsorship, real estate master planning, and transportation-oriented development. Today, he focuses equally on a blended mix of real estate and non-real estate assets and other ventures.

He works closely with an ever-growing roster of family office operators, many with significant asset portfolios. His work alongside these family office operators includes advising on capital structures via complex domestic and foreign transactions.

He also serves or has previously served as a director, officer, or principal shareholder maintaining one or more positions within various joint ventures, partnerships, project holdings, and investments. Born and raised in California, the visionary entrepreneur remains happily settled in the so-called Golden State today, where he lives in El Dorado County with his family.

Where did the idea for First Capital Real Estate come from?

First Capital responded to increasing demand for a complete, vertically integrated real estate industry services provider with all-important value-add potential. Exactly 20 years later, we continue to meet the still-growing need for such services among clients in almost every imaginable industry.

Crucially, the initial idea behind First Capital remains at the heart of operations today. Of course, this idea has evolved, including a process of evolution that has seen us enter a number of secondary and tertiary markets. As a result, we now cater to a broader range of clients than ever in a forever-expanding catalog of sectors.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Most entrepreneurs will say, “No two days are ever the same,” but I’m a big fan of finding a routine that works and sticking to it. As an entrepreneur, things don’t always turn out as you expect or go precisely to plan. This reality is just as true in day-to-day life as anywhere else.

Still, I do my best to maintain a routine. I tend to schedule meetings at set times. That way, people know when and where to find me and always have a good idea of when I’m available. Whatever I have in store on a given day, I want to spend as much precious time as possible with my family before that day ends.

Whether having breakfast together or spending time as a family in the evening, it also keeps me productive. That’s because the less time I have to spend outside of business hours dealing with professional matters, the more time I can spend with my family, enjoying our time together.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m very proactive when it comes to bringing ideas to life. The less time you spend thinking about ideas, the better, in my opinion. If you have faith, put the wheels of action into motion right away. Even if that idea ultimately fails, you’ll reach a point of success or failure sooner than if you spend too much time contemplating or talking yourself out of what may be a fantastic opportunity.

Some ideas only require minimal determination and initiative to get off the ground. However, for bigger ones, it’s likely necessary to call in the help of others. Where this is the case, I take the same approach – bringing my team promptly up to speed and putting the wheels in motion with as little delay as possible.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The concept of fully autonomous vehicles has fascinated me since childhood. For almost a decade now, we’ve seen greater and greater steps toward totally self-driving cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Now, I think we’re very much on the cusp of a widespread roll-out of fully self-driving technology, and I think that’s massively exciting.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As I’ve already touched on briefly, I believe that my family-centered approach to life makes me a better and more productive entrepreneur because I want to do the best for my family now and in the future. Meanwhile, the more productive I am in my day-to-day business, the more time I can spend with my family outside of work hours.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’d probably tell the younger me to balance his ambitions with a commitment to well-being. As most businesspeople will attest, entrepreneurship can be demanding and all-consuming. Accordingly, I think it’s of the utmost importance to remember to prioritize your individual well-being, even when chasing the most critical of professional goals.

It’s an approach to entrepreneurship and life that I’ve instilled into my four children. As a society, we all too often play down the vital role that both physical and mental health play in every facet of our lives. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance has never been more critical than in today’s world, I’d say.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Oh, wow, that’s an interesting question. For me, it’s probably the impermanence of everything. Whether it’s our experiences, relationships, possessions, or even our own existence, nothing in life remains constant or lasts forever. In reality, there’s no arguing with the fact, either.

It may be less of a case of people disagreeing and more of people not wanting to accept the truth, which I can understand. That said, people mustn’t forget that the same impermanence applies equally to positive and negative aspects of life. So, even the most joyful moments and achievements are transient. Likewise, challenging times and other hardships will pass, hopefully giving way to new, more positive experiences.

Personally speaking, recognizing and embracing the impermanence of life has given me a deeper appreciation of the present and a total sense of acceptance of the here and now. Moreover, it encourages me to cherish my loved ones, make the most of the opportunities I encounter, and prioritize what truly matters.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Embrace hobbies. I’m very into weightlifting and boxing, so I train regularly. While I’m not suggesting everyone becomes a weight-lifter or a boxer, I believe everyone should make time for their passions. It doesn’t matter what they are.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Networking. It may seem obvious or straightforward, but it’s something that people overlook all the time. Building your network correlates to building your business. For whatever reason, people quite often shy away from networking, or so I have found, particularly more recently.

Immediately after the coronavirus pandemic, fewer people were networking than ever before. That’s understandable, but we need to remember the value on offer because, for example, networking has been fundamental in my success and the success of First Capital Real Estate. It’s imperative that established business owners promote networking as a means of growing future entrepreneurs’ ventures in the years to come.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Looking back, I would say that there are times that I’ve overlooked things, business-wise, that were staring me in the face. While not failures per se, I think failing to act on gut feelings has almost certainly led to missed opportunities.

That said, I’ve never rested on my laurels. So, there’s not necessarily anything to regret in that sense. Instead, I find it interesting to see where others have capitalized on opportunities I may have let pass me by to one degree or another.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think the wine-making and alcohol industry more generally is long overdue for a sea change. With that, I’d like to see more businesses catering to future generations of wine lovers.

I believe there’s massive scope for high-end wineries and vineyards focused on zero or low-alcohol wines. While zero or low-alcohol wines are nothing new, they exist more toward the lower and middle portions of the market. Any major venture focused on changing this would require considerable investment, but there’s plenty of investment out there for the taking.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Just last month, I spent $80 on a premium travel pillow. Now, with many perfectly acceptable alternatives available for just $20, I appreciate that an $80 version may seem like an extravagance. However, the difference in quality is night and day. Crucially, the version I opted for has a clever asymmetric design that makes it easy to find a comfortable position every time I use it.

In a similar vein, something that I recently started to spend considerably less than $100 on is priority boarding when flying. Now, when I’m traveling, if priority boarding is available, I’ll always take it. I travel a lot and only used priority boarding occasionally in the past. Now, though, I’m sold on the idea and will never turn down an opportunity to board more quickly when presented to me.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’ve been using Trello since 2014 and swear by it. I recommend it to someone at least once a week. It’s great for organizing and prioritizing tasks, projects, and workflows. But unlike many similar products on the market, it does so in an intuitive and highly visual way. It also works incredibly well with other services I like, such as Google Drive and Slack.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger” by Matthew Yglesias. It addresses the topic of population growth and how embracing larger populations can promote massive economic prosperity. I would recommend it to anyone seeking a thought-provoking perspective on population growth and its implications for businesses and society.

What is your favorite quote?

“In business, as in life, it’s not the destination that matters most; it’s the journey. It’s about the lessons learned, the challenges overcome, and the growth achieved along the way. It’s about building relationships, fostering a culture of collaboration, and creating a shared vision. It’s about embracing diversity, nurturing creativity, and empowering individuals to unleash their full potential. It’s about balancing short-term results with long-term sustainability and making decisions that align with your values and principles. It’s about continuously adapting to a rapidly changing world, staying ahead of the curve, and innovating to meet the evolving needs of customers. Business is not just about making profits; it’s about making a positive difference in the lives of people and the world we inhabit.” – Indra Nooyi

Key Learnings:

  • Find a daily routine that works for you, and don’t be afraid of sticking firmly to it.
  • Always prioritize personal well-being, even when chasing critical professional goals.
  • Be proactive in bringing ideas to life. If you have an idea, don’t wait until tomorrow – put the wheels in motion today.
  • Recognize and embrace the impermanence of life to gain a deeper appreciation of what matters in the here and now.
  • Never rest on your laurels. Instead, always capitalize on the opportunities presented to you.
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