M2G Ventures is a Dallas-Fort Worth commercial real estate company founded by twin sisters Jessica Essl and Susan Gruppi. In this episode, Terry sits down with co-president Jessica and they discuss her time in the industry as a woman and how her team is making an impact.
Terry asks what she’s learned working on projects in urban industrial development, adaptive reuse and mixed-use districts such as Mule Alley in the Stockyards. Like many professionals, her success has come with obstacles. Jessica shares her tips for working with family and growing up in the industry.
Enjoyed this episode with Jessica Essl? Listen to Terry’s discussion with her sister and co-president Susan Gruppi. And, join us next month for insights from economist Dr. Peter Linneman as he returns to the show.
Terry Montesi: Welcome to Leaning In, a commercial real estate podcast hosted by Trademark Property Company. Join me, Terry Montesi, CEO and founder of Trademark, and other Trademark leaders as we talk to industry experts about the future of retail, multifamily, and mixed-use real estate. Thanks for checking us out. And now it’s time to lean in.
Today, Jessica Miller Essl, my friend and co-president and co-founder of M2G Ventures, joins me to share her motivations for starting the company with her twin sister Susan and to talk about their current projects. We also look at their B industrial redevelopment program, as well as the key takeaways that Jessica learned while working with me at Trademark. Jessica also shares about M2G’s partnership with the UT Southwestern Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care as well as her focus on giving back to the local community. We close our chat with tips on working with family and advice for people just beginning their real estate careers.
Good morning, Jessica. Thanks for joining us today.
Jessica Miller Essl: Thanks, Terry.
Terry Montesi: Why don’t you start by sharing your background, what motivated you to get into real estate, and then ultimately, to found M2G Ventures with your sister Susan.
Jessica Miller Essl: Awesome. Well, thank you for having me on. I’m going to try and give my version of the story that probably sounds very similar to Susan’s, but it’s from my perspective. But M2G was founded by myself and my identical twin sister Susan in 2014. It was something we knew we always wanted to do. We grew up in an entrepreneurial household. Our parents did real estate, really kind of every type of real estate. They had their own company, and they had no employees. And so we grew up around the kitchen table talking about real estate and business kind of our whole life. We went to TCU and studied finance and real estate. We knew, in the long term, we wanted to have our own company together.
And I remember my dad telling me, and I’m going to skip around to some other questions that may come up later, my dad telling me, you need to find, I was the big fish in a really small pond, if you want to be in a big pond, you need to find a really big fish to learn from. And don’t take all the lessons that I taught you as kind of the best of the best. Go out there and find the best of the best and learn from them. And Susan and I met Terry, who’s a pretty big fish.
Terry Montesi: At least in his own mind.
Jessica Miller Essl: In his own mind, his own mind, in a pretty big pond. And so we kind of started our careers at Trademark. But my background, I started as a leasing representative for Trademark and did that for about four years, worked on- the benefit of working on, I think, some of Trademark’s really formative projects. And it was probably year 15 or 20 of Trademark whenever I was there. This was 2007 to 2011. And then I went to Open Realty Advisors in Dallas and learned the other side of the business and started doing tenant representation for I think a lot of the world’s kind of major brands and doing site selection and strategy for them.
Terry Montesi: Who were some of those brands, Jessica?
Jessica Miller Essl: When I was at Open, I worked on North America for Apple, and I was primarily responsible for really Central America, the North East other than New York City, North West other than Seattle, and then parts of California. And then I worked with J.Crew and Madewell on their expansion. I worked with Tesla and helped lead their expansion in the United States into retail stores, Restoration Hardware, Diane Von Furstenberg. So, I had a really good breadth of client base and got to learn really how retailers think, which, ultimately, for me, I wanted to understand both sides of the coin to be effective kind of as we went forward in our careers and what we knew we wanted to do. And I’m curious by nature, and so it was kind of fascinating at the same time.
So anyway, I did that until 2015, helped start their landlord platform as well. And then ultimately, Susan and I started M2G in late ’14, and I made it a couple months after she did. And then we started our company from there. So, we knew we always wanted to have a company together. And we knew we wanted to do something big. And when I mean big, I mean impactful, not necessarily in size. And we’ve always been entrepreneurs. So, we’ve always been attracted to just wherever there’s whitespace. I think that’s kind of the gift or curiosity of being an entrepreneur is you kind of look at the landscape and you think where can I make a point of difference. And so that’s when we started M2G.
Terry Montesi: And why don’t you continue, tell us about M2G. What is M2G? What’s your vision? What are you working on? What have you done? Tell us about it.
Jessica Miller Essl: So M2G stands for Miller Second Generation as kind of an homage to our parents who taught us a lot in kind of those early years and continue to teach us today. We really do two things. We do ground up in urban industrial and then we do adaptive reuse in mixed-use districts. Our mission is to inspire evolution through impact and innovation. And I truly believe in that mission.
I kind of mentioned a second ago about being an entrepreneur and curiosity and whitespace. We picked a mission that we could be loose enough to continue to kind of flex our entrepreneurial spirit. So, we love adaptive reuse. We love redevelopment. We’ve done some ground up development specifically in industrial as well. But we love kind of looking at a property for what it is today, imagining down to who are the types of users and the types of people I want to see in this place once we get done with it, and then crafting that vision and executing towards it.
So, we started in late ’14, we’re about 23 team members now, and we’re a completely vertically integrated developer, primarily DFW based, although we just expanded into Austin, Central Texas, which we’re pretty excited about. And we’ve done about 700 million in property since we started our company.
Terry Montesi: Great, thanks. And congratulations.
Jessica Miller Essl: Thank you.
Terry Montesi: So, what have been some of the key challenges that you and Susan have encountered and dealt with since establishing M2G? And have you faced challenges and experienced benefits, either or, or both, as female business owners that you could share with us?
Jessica Miller Essl: Yeah, for sure. I’ll start with key challenges that I think any business owner would have, and then I’ll kind of transition to the female side of it. But you just never know what the market is going to throw at you. And I remember our dad telling us that, growing up, it’s real hard when the market’s against you. It doesn’t matter how cool, how awesome, how hard you work, but it is real hard. And at that point, you want to be the best loser, the least amount of the loser. And as we started our company, we’ve definitely had our own versions of challenges. I think everybody did with COVID. At the time, Susan and I were both single income households. We had a team, mouths to feed as well. And we just did what we normally do as an entrepreneur – pivot. So I think that, just kind of stick to it.
But you have to be really humble as an entrepreneur. I remember you teaching me that a lot, like be humble, keep reminding me be humble. And by nature, I think being an entrepreneur, you also have inherently, I think you put on a badge of confidence a lot because you’re usually the first one doing anything. So you either are actually confident in it, or you have to pretend to be in order to get out there. And so, I’ve had lots of humbling experiences since we’ve started M2G. But I think the reminder, since I’m an optimist by nature, for me has always been once you get to the other side of that, you made it.
And then as a female business owner, I would say, and even before that, even in my career, there’s a couple things. Being underestimated is a blessing and a curse. When you’re underestimated, it’s pretty easy to blow past your competition because they are sitting there going, oh, that’s cute. Whenever you’ve actually made it and been successful, it becomes a little bit of a curse, because then at that point, you’ve gone past, and they said, okay, so we’re really going to compete. And so, then people put on their, they put on their accelerator too, and then you start competing in the world that everybody competes in, which is the business world, not the they’re cute, they’re female, they’re sweet, they’re identical twins, whatever. And so, that was a blessing and a curse. But it’s always been something I know. And if I was being underestimated, I knew I was being underestimated, and it was fine. And I could use it to my advantage. And if I wasn’t being underestimated, it just meant get your big boy pants on, we’re all going to do this together and work really hard.
I would say the other kind of flipside of that is you can’t always put yourselves in the same room, in the same conversations as, say, a colleague that’s a man can. It’s okay for them to go play golf and go to the bar afterwards, and it’s 8pm and they go to dinner. And sometimes you just have to kind of say no to that stuff because you’re a working mom, too. Sometimes guys are having to say no to that now, too, because they’re parents also. But there’s just some rooms, and I remember one of my old bosses Johnny telling me that, like there’s just some things that you just don’t do because it’s not important for you to do it.
But what that means is you’ve got to be able to find ways to tip the scales back in your favor. And I remember early in my career, that meant I stayed up really late researching and trying to know every single thing about whatever I was working on, or waking up really early just to make sure that I was putting myself- if I wasn’t going to be the most experienced person or I wasn’t going to be one that’s going to be able to go to the happy hours and be chumming it up with everybody, then I better know my shit backwards and forwards. And so that’s what I chose to do, and I think Susan was the same thing. And I’ll say one other thing. You’re told, I think people in general are told find a mentor. I think females also are told find a female mentor.
Terry Montesi: And you failed miserably.
Jessica Miller Essl: Well, I’m going to bring it back to it. For me, I didn’t put gender as a specific thing. I just found people that wanted to help advance my career and were interested in helping me and were good people. And some of those people are female, a lot of them are males, specifically the one I’m talking to. And so I think if you just find really quality people that are not necessarily, they don’t necessarily have to have walked in your exact shoes in order to help usher the way.
Terry Montesi: So Jessica, you guys have been a bit of a pioneer in DFW bringing serious placemaking to industrial properties, I think eight so far. How did this idea come about? And how has it worked?
Jessica Miller Essl: So again, I think being an entrepreneur, you see whitespace. And like everything, I’m sure it’s like for you, when you go to like a restaurant or an awesome, wherever you’re at, you’re like, if I did this and this, I could make this and make it slightly better. I mean, we’re like the ultimate American. We take what everyone else has done well and then do the better, faster version. But I think for my background, I just couldn’t help but see it. Coming from a retail background and placemaking being so important in it, specifically when I was at Trademark, I mean, that was one of the principles that you instilled in everybody that you worked with. And y’all are one of the best, if not the best, at that in the industry.
And then when I went to Open, I saw every possible place someone could try and placemake in order to kind of attract a customer. And so, I gained just like a really interesting knowledge of it. And I started working with Tesla Motors, and they had kind of a two fold strategy, which was showroom and then also kind of a dealership or industrial model, and thinking through strategy for them there. And I started to see some interesting examples of how a tenant could brand an industrial facility. And once I saw that, it’s kind of hard to unsee it. Once you see it, it kind of becomes the most obvious thing to you. You’re like, why isn’t everybody, regardless of the type of location that they’re trying to build, why aren’t they brand forward? Why don’t they want to create a place that other people want to be? Why aren’t they trying to use those four walls as an additional expression of their brand and make it a pleasant place for customers to come if they want to or b2c or b2b, whatever you want to do?
So anyway, this was about 2018, Susan and I started talking about, and we did this in our early years a lot, like I literally would do like brainstorm whitespace meetings with her. And we would just talk about ideas that we thought could be challenging or really formative to the industry. A lot of them were terrible ideas. And some were good ideas, and this happened to be one of them. And so, we’ve continued to do that. And as the industry has started to get more used to that being a concept, I mean, we’re not the only people doing that anymore, we’ve continued to iterate it and push on it a little bit more. I mean, it’s still really nuanced. You can’t put like a really great soft seating area in the middle of an industrial park because someone’s going to get hit by a truck, literally. But you can do really cool things like very intentional design, really great signage, really cool marketing, public art, which we’ve done a lot of that, great lighting, a lot of the things that are kind of like just the normal standard in mixed use become a really interesting way to placemake industrial. So we’ve continued to do that. And I think we will continue to have a point of difference in that as we continue to expand our industrial platform.
Terry Montesi: You teed up my next question. You guys just recently expanded into Austin. What made you want to work in Austin? What are your goals for entering that part of Central Texas?
Jessica Miller Essl: So I’ll say again, I think when anybody starts their own company, if they think they’re kind of cool and in real estate and understand trends, Austin probably comes up as like, man, I should be in Austin. And what’s made us I think successful in DFW so far is that we literally live here, so I understand the market backwards and forwards. And so, we’ve been kind of afraid, honestly, to go into Austin without that same approach. Like we need somebody who’s going to live and breathe Austin because it is an off-market market much smaller than DFW, and so you’ve really got to have boots on the ground and somebody super knowledgeable in the deal flow and also kind of in relationship building there. And so, ended up becoming a perfect kind of opportunity for us, we have one of our partners who we’ve done a lot of business with was going to open his own shop, and it worked out that hey, let’s do it together instead of you going off on your own to do it.
And so, we started launching in Austin, and that was about six months ago. We have two deals under contract right now, both industrial. But kind of our goal for the first year, I’m going to take a note from my own playbook, which is just to establish ourselves as a quality player in industrial property, then expand into mixed-use. It’s a small community, but I believe that there’s whitespace, much of what we uncovered in DFW, that there’s a difference between kind of your smaller entrepreneurial player and then your institution, there’s not really a middle market Austin yet. And so that’s how we want to play and then really come at it and establish the brand from there. So, we’re excited about it. That market moves really fast. Stuff that is crazy to do here is like the norm there. So I’m excited to continue pushing the envelope with our creativity. In some places in DFW, we’ve had to be a little bit not really right, it’s a little too far. In Austin, I think we can flex that creative muscle even a bit more, so I’m excited about it. And then outside of Austin, starting to think more on kind of industrial as well, San Antonio, other parts of Central Texas because I think there’s an opportunity there also to continue kind of building our footprint.
Terry Montesi: Hey, Jess, your career started here at Trademark Property Company where you were a senior leasing rep, actually intern. I met you and your sister at a TCU real estate club event, then intern, then senior leasing rep. Tell me what are some of the main things that you learned while you were here that you’ve taken to M2G, and maybe what are some things that y’all are doing very differently than we did at Trademark?
Jessica Miller Essl: Yeah, for sure. So, I have the benefit of always loving the places that I’ve worked. And even whenever I knew I wanted to start my own company, I knew I wanted to, it’s just in me to want to have a big impact in where I was, and I think Trademark, one of the things it does really well is if you have that desire to make an impact, there’s room for you there. I can remember several conversations I was in that I was definitely not the qualified person to either be having or to be giving my opinion, but Terry or other senior leaders making room for that because that’s how you come up with new, fresh perspectives and kind of drive business forward in a really, really fast moving industry at this point. So I think just the ability, that was one of my favorite things there, was just the ability to make a difference and have an impact.
And I don’t think that- as I’ve started my own company and when people come to work at M2G, that’s how Susan and I are also. There’s a seat at the table for everybody. And it apparently is very rare that people do that. It was much more like hey, that’s this closed door meeting that this decision gets made, and you get told the decision but you don’t get to understand the why or be a part of it. And so, I think we’ve taken that to M2G as well.
And I would say on the industry side of it or business side of it, I think Trademark and you, Terry, very specifically taught me a lot about understanding the customer. And if you can just always think like the customer, you’re going to be steps ahead of your competition. Because even, so your customer for example, in this case, and I could use an example, Westbend, it’s a the Fort Worth resident who wants to have something really cool and different, a unique sense of place, they may be a little bit- They may be well traveled, they may have seen some other things that they want a more urban environment. And so if you can think like that, you’re going to be stronger in kind of the stairstep up the stakeholder model when you’re negotiating with the tenant, or you’re coming up with your merchandising plan, or you’re coming up with your architecture plan. And so I try to, anytime we’re coming at a new project, like think all the way down to who’s the last line of the customer and then work backwards. And I think that has helped us in kind of all the product lines or product mix that we’ve gotten involved in because it makes it a little bit less fearful too. Like, if you can just say I’m going to think like the customer and then stair step backwards, you can figure out the point of difference. So I definitely think that we do that similarly and that’s something I learned from you.
The other thing, and I just touched on it, is just really great merchandising, regardless of the product type. And I think you see that in every product type. Multifamily, I think merchandising is important in terms of the curation of the mix, the unit mix that you’re trying to do. It’s another form of merchandising. I think in industrial, we’ve already kind of touched on that. But grouping like tenants together and thinking through different ways of placemaking. Obviously, in retail and office, it’s a little bit more obvious now. But again, just thinking through that has been a really important part of my career.
I would say some of the things that we do a little different, we’re a smaller company, obviously, and we’re much younger in our kind of generation of the company. We’re on year nine right now. We’ve got 23 people. And I don’t know if we will ever get as many- I don’t know if we’ll ever be as big as Trademark. And I don’t know if that’s a on purpose thing or not on purpose thing, but it’s not necessarily part of there are certain visions that we’re casting. And I don’t know if that is going to be one of them. So, we’ll see kind of on that. And then I would say kind of the other is we do very minimal third party work. So any third party stuff that we’re doing, we either owned it at one point and then sold it to somebody else and then kept the management, or it’s kind of more in the form of advisory work, which y’all do a lot of that. We only do really one at a time. And that’s really been in the Fort Worth Stockyards for the last six years and will continue to be on that. But I would say that the heart and soul of M2G is very similar to the heart and soul of Trademark.
Terry Montesi: Well, I’m flattered. Okay, you mentioned the Stockyards; let’s talk about that. So you and Susan and M2G were instrumental in visioning, branding, and leasing Mule Alley, which has been a part of a transformation, including the Drover Hotel, et cetera, that has completely taken the Stockyards to the next level. In fact, I ran into Brad Hickman recently, and he told me that traffic has increased from 2 million visitors a few years ago to 8 million visitors per year now. Wow, that’s incredible. First off, congratulations on this successful engagement. Tell us about that process and that engagement and the Stockyards today and if you have any involvement there going forward.
Jessica Miller Essl: Yeah, for sure. I would say it’s very rare that when anybody starts their own company within the first few years, they get the opportunity to work on a legacy project like that. And we happened to be, I think, right place right time. And like I said, we love whitespace and thinking through creative ideas and ways to transform what something is. And at the time, another ex Trademarker Kirby Smith, which you remember Kirby, called Susan and I and said, hey, I’m working on this really great project with Majestic and the Hickman Family here in Fort Worth. And we’re going to transform the Stockyards, and I’d love for you guys to kind of help us do it.
So we started our engagement there, and that was in 2016, a couple years after we started M2G. And then we worked on that up until 2021. That was really the first phase which was a five year phase. And it was really kind of everything in terms of starting from kind of idea generation, like what does this want to be, who’s going to be the customer mix, the research side of it, which I love. I did a lot of that at Trademark in terms of thinking through who the customer is, what’s the trade area need to be. So we kind of helped lead all of that, and then started thinking about branding and marketing and placemaking, and then going into merchandising and leasing. We also did project management for them.
So that type of project, it takes every single person who’s working on it to put on every hat they possibly can to execute the vision that it deserves. And so we filled in, along with a lot of other people, Craig Cavalier, the guy that we report to there that’s managing partner for the project, has a knack for finding really I think talented people that lean in as far as they can to make the vision become a reality. So, we worked with him on it. But we were able to execute something that we’re really, really proud of. With phase one, Mule Alley is now 100% leased. When we started the project we put on, we call it the wonder wall, tell me all the categories I want, tell me the top three tenants in each category. And I think we only got to maybe number two on most categories.
And it was a pretty dogged pursuit by ownership to not take the easy way out because we definitely could have, especially with COVID kind of in the middle of it. So, the project was supposed to grand open at the end of March in 2020. And great timing. So instead of that happening, we basically had to phase the first tenant openings. And the Drover opened in February of 2021, which has also been a- it’s the number one Autograph Collection hotel in the world.
So, we’ve been able to really just have a lot of firsts on that project. And I think it really came from we made that thing as sticky as we possibly could make it. And it’s just getting started. It’s been around for centuries at this point. And the goal for us is to continue to make it interesting and fun and joyful and people to be able to roam through the district and just find something new and different they haven’t ever seen before every time they go down there. So that was the first phase of several future phases. We are beginning kind of the brainstorming or dreaming process on phase two right now with Stockyard Heritage, which is the partnership between Majestic and the Hickman Family, and we’re really excited. But I think that’s going to be the kind of project that we just kind of work on for my entire career, just keep thinking about it. But it’s one you go to bed at night thinking about, wake up in the morning thinking about, and wake up in the middle of the night thinking about.
Terry Montesi: That’s great. What a great job. I took my family down there over the holidays, and without you guys, it wouldn’t be like it is.
Yeah, so Jessica, you’ve worked both on retail branding, visioning, and leasing and this industrial branding, visioning, leasing, and redevelopment. What are some of the trends that you’re seeing in those areas, especially in Dallas Fort Worth in Texas?
Jessica Miller Essl: For sure. So, I think, when we started M2G in ’14, very thoughtful placemaking I don’t think was really a trend in industrial, and we kind of touched on that earlier. But I also think even in kind of urban, you can’t really say Fort Worth has high streets, but like urban redevelopment, I don’t think placemaking was really a thing at the time. And so, I think that has really been a trend that’s continued in Fort Worth and Dallas since 2014 when we started. And I think it’s just continuing to get more and more sticky and more thoughtful.
I went to HG Sply this past weekend and saw Quince, and their frickin’ storefront is just, I mean, all of a sudden, I’m in San Miguel de Allende, it’s friggin nuts. So I think it’s continued, the trend’s continued to retailers. I think for a long time, they kind of assumed that the landlord, they’re going to placemake up until my door, and then, once you get inside, I can placemake. I think retailers are doing a really good job now thinking about how do I extend my brand into the public realm and starting that kind of visioning at more of a blurred line, a blurred line between landlord and tenant, which I think is really important to make thoughtful places, more like you see kind of organically happening in Europe and other parts of the world. But we’re going to continue to do that.
Terry Montesi: That isn’t accidental, because we see projects around the country that we take a look at, and those stewards are just like you say, they just have strip center storefront and then you have a great tenant like Warby Parker go in, and they don’t encourage them or allow them to do what Warby does great and express their brand on the exterior. And Quince and HG Sply here at our project, I mean, we let them and encourage them to sort of bust through because that’s so much more interesting than just building architecture.
Jessica Miller Essl: Absolutely. And we were eating at HG, and the entire time I’m at HG, and I’m always going to be an HG fan, I’m thinking about, man, I can’t wait to come back to go to Quince because even though I wasn’t inside the restaurant all, I couldn’t even see what they were doing in there, the outside expression of their brand and the experience that they want to craft for their customer is reminding you to come back. So anyway, I think that’s going to continue. And Westbend I think is a great example, too, because y’all are on the river, so you almost feel like you’re in a totally different place. Like I love creating places and being in places that you feel like you’re somewhere else in your daily life on vacation. That’s kind of some of the stuff that we’ve done in the Stockyards.
So I think that trend is going to continue. And I think that there is going to be a have and have not in terms of developers who do that well, and then the others that are very prescriptive and prescribed that don’t know how to do that. Because if you don’t do it well, then it starts to be messy and confusing, etc., versus kind of a positive. So I think that’s a trend we’re going to continue seeing. I think we’re going to continue to see Class B conversions and Class B redevelopment in industrial in DFW. We have a huge trade area.
Terry Montesi: I have a question on that. Help us understand who the tenants are that are interested in upgraded redeveloped Class B industrial. Who are these people?
Jessica Miller Essl: Yeah, so probably about, I don’t know, 10 years ago, you started hearing about the trend of like last mile industrial, and last mile industrial, what that really just meant is you’re the last stop before it gets to the customer. So what you’ve seen now in kind of some of this Class B in the well located sub markets in DFW is these locations are so close to kind of the end consumer that they’re starting to have a kind of blurred line between business to business or business to consumer.
And so, you see tenants attracting to, and you and I have talked about this, being attracted to maybe what you could consider inferior attributes in terms of clear heights. So current today’s industrial class A product would be, okay, I need 32 to 36 foot clear, my parking ratio needs to be x, I need to have at least 150 foot truck court, all those things. Well, in Class B and these kind of really valuable sub markets, super urban infill, they’re willing to take 90 foot truck court and in some cases down to 16 foot clear because they are trading it for being close to their customers.
And so those type customers are ecommerce users. There’s a lot of life sciences and tech. We have several distilleries and breweries in our portfolio now that are actually distributing on site, a lot of your home design or showroom type tenants. They have a couple projects that have, for example, granite showrooms, like you’d see in the Design District, but they also come with a little bit of a distribution space behind that. So those are some of the examples of tenants that you’d see. And then I think you’re seeing it too in some of the other trends I mentioned when we started at the beginning, some of these automotive tenants like a Tesla or Rivian or Lucid Motors, any of those guys, a lot of them started that trend. So those are the ones that are attracted. But it’s the tenants that are wanting to get as close to their customer and to me, honestly a little bit of a blurred line between brand statement and distribution facility. And that’s like our ideal tenant.
Terry Montesi: So, as you mentioned earlier, I’ve had the privilege of working with and mentoring you and your sister Susan for, what, 17 years or something like that.
Jessica Miller Essl: A long time, since 2007. So yeah, 17 years.
Terry Montesi: 16 years. So, what has this meant to you? And why has mentorship been important to you? And are you passing the tradition on?
Jessica Miller Essl: I’ll start with what’s it meant to me. I think having strong mentors, it just gives you, and I said this at the beginning of the call, I’m a confident person by nature, but it just gives you such a different air of confidence and strength in your thought process. So I can remember several times, this has been while I was at Trademark, when I went to Open, since I’ve had M2G, it probably still happens at least monthly, where I encounter a situation that I am perplexed by, I don’t know how to add exactly the right amount of value to, could be confusing, I could be scared of it. And I know that I have people I can call, and especially you, and say, hey, Terry, you may not have encountered this, but what would you do in this situation, or has this occurred for you?
And that type of lack of lonely feeling as a business owner and then throughout your career, I think it is one of the keys to making people, letting them accomplish the things that they maybe have the talents to accomplish but maybe not the knowledge or confidence to do alone. And I was lucky I have an identical twin. Or experience. Yeah, experience, knowledge, etc. So that’s been- I mean, it’s allowed me to go into some rooms where I haven’t had the experience or the confidence, etc., and know I can own it and come back stronger for it. So, it’s been everything for my career. And often, whenever I’m talking to some of our team members, 70% of our team is female. And all of them say, you all have really great mentors. Like Susan and I just, hey, here’s a situation, I’m going to call Terry, or I talk to my old boss Johnny sometimes as well, and there’s a couple others. But I say I’m going to call so and so and just see what they think. And they’re like- and they just will kind of help you work through the problem, like yeah. So, I’ve come to find that it’s kind of rare to continue with that, too, and to have people so dedicated to my success and our success. So it’s been everything for us. Have I transferred the tradition yet?
Terry Montesi: By the way, it’s been a huge privilege for me.
Jessica Miller Essl: Thank you. I know. Well, it’s one of those things that if it’s a good match, I mean, I do tell that to people too, if you don’t really want to hang out with your mentor, probably not a great mentor for you. It’s got to be a great match. Like, when we get together, I’m looking forward to it, and we never want to leave. And I think that’s what makes a very successful partnership in anything. But anyway.
And then, have I continued it, so I have a seven year old, for everyone listening, seven year old and a five month old. And so, I have two little tiny mentees at home. And then, M2G, we’re going on our ninth year, and I would say we’ve really been growing and growing the team really since 2018. So we’re going on our fifth year now. So, I would love to say that I have transferred the tradition formally, but I really haven’t at this point. I’ve really been focused on kind of building our team, building our company. Any extra hour in the day I’m really spending getting home to babies.
But I want to. It’s a desire I have because it’s made such a impact on my career. And some of the younger people in our office, I definitely take an important part of wanting to make sure that they’re getting more than just a job. And it is something that we’ve impacted on or kind of pushed for our entire team is that mentoring our young people at M2G, young people that are at MTG or even just new people at M2G, that is so important for them to continue to feel fulfilled because they will find that elsewhere if people don’t feel like they’re being heard, listened to, or are not learning kind of above and beyond. And so, we do do that as a company as well. But I haven’t personally gotten into doing it yet. So it’s something I’m looking forward to.
Terry Montesi: Well, I’ve told you before, having- and our relationship and mentorship just happened sort of organically. Although y’all were very intentional at that-
Jessica Miller Essl: We followed you around for long enough.
Terry Montesi: When we met at real estate club thing. But I so regret that I never had a mentor because I’ve made so many mistakes that I could have avoided, and I’m sure I could have done- I could have had a successful career if I had a mentor. Who knows what I might could have done.
Tell our listeners about the relationship between you and your identical twin Susan Gruppi and how it’s worked being in business together.
Jessica Miller Essl: So, I think the statement is iron sharpens iron. And I think that’s me and Susan in a nutshell if I had to put that into words, which means sometimes there’s fire and sparks, and sometimes we sharpen the spear together. And we just accomplished things that I never thought we could accomplish. But my relationship with Susan, having our own company, it makes my highest highs even better and my lowest lows even worse because I know what she’s feeling because I’m thinking it too. But the confidence that I have to go into a room with her, I can’t even really describe it, because I know I’ve got somebody who’s there. And anybody who’s been in a meeting with us knows we finish each other’s sentences kind of in an awkward way. But anything that we’re convicted about, it’s pretty hard to get a word in; we are going to get the point across.
But I would say, for nine years, it’s been very challenging at times. But the overall has been way more than I ever could have imagined. And now that we’ve grown our team to where Susan and I aren’t kind of reporting to each other anymore, which is basically what we were doing the first five years of our company, you start to see how, really the statement, two heads are better than one. I mean, it just works. So I couldn’t be more grateful to work with her. And any challenge that comes our way, we just look at each other and say, we’ll figure it out. So it’s pretty awesome.
Terry Montesi: Yeah, so Jessica, you and Susan and M2G have focused on giving back to the community with your mental health initiative, which includes a partnership with UT Southwestern Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care. You’ve now raised around $800,000. Wow, way to go. Share more about this initiative and what your goal for this effort is.
Jessica Miller Essl: Yeah, so and again, I’ll go back to our mission statement, to inspire evolution through impact and innovation, and our mental health initiative is no different. In 2015, my first daughter was born. And my then husband at the time kind of had a severe mental break and developed really severe bipolar disorder. He never recovered. We divorced, and then he was hit by a car in the middle of the night during a manic episode. And during that time that we saw him go through kind of all the stages of understanding of a mental illness and trying to help yourself and understanding the different medications and going through different types of psychotherapy and therapy, I just realized how primitive and not developed that world was. And people with resources and the ability to get to the right referrals still aren’t getting- It’s still trial and error.
So, when he passed away in 2017, Susan and I, just like everything else, looked at each other and said, we’re going to make a difference, we’re going to do something different. And we want to focus on changing the conversation around mental illness and changing the stigma and really change awareness around it, but then also ultimately change the way that people are treated and different types of treatments in the future.
And so, we met with Dr. Madhukar Trivedi in 2017, who is one of, if not the, preeminent research doctors and doctors in the world on depression and different types of mood disorders as well as suicide. And instantly, I knew he was somebody we wanted to really think about making a difference with. He is kind of an entrepreneur also. And so, what I love about him is he and I can get in the room and brainstorm on different ways and different treatments and different thoughts, and he’s always got a prediction. He’s not going to say he’s right, but he’s always testing something. Which as an entrepreneur, that’s kind of what we do. And so I knew we’d found kind of a kindred spirit there.
So since we started that initiative, we raised a little over $800,000. And we specifically funded the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care here in Tarrant County that’s found at Moncrief Cancer Institute. We pledged a million dollars, we’ll finish that raise this year. And then we’ll move on to the next raise for whatever that is. But I think mental health and having a social impact piece of our company is always going to be super important.
But our goal is that at some point, maybe in the next 10 to 15 years, and I think we can do it, that there will be a biomarker that is found that would tell you if you’re predisposed to severe mental illness or mental illness, and you could start treatment early, very similar to like high blood pressure for heart attack. And so that’s the goal. And along the way, changing the narrative and allowing people to know that it’s okay to talk about, if you’re struggling or someone else in your family struggling to reach out and talk to somebody who’s been through it and not to be shy about it or nervous or ashamed. It’s just like every other brain disease or any other disease. There’s just nothing you can do about it other than try and find people that have been there before and help continue the conversation and get the resources that people need.
Terry Montesi: Thanks. That’s super important. And I really admire the work y’all are doing. You mentioned earlier, you might want to ask me something. Is there anything you want to ask me?
Jessica Miller Essl: So I’d loved the question, what is different about M2G versus Trademark and then what is the same? As you’ve kind of looked at us, I can’t even say from afar because we’re so intertwined in terms of our discussions on a daily basis, but I’m curious, from your perspective, how are they different versus the same?
Terry Montesi: Well, from what I can tell, there are a good many similarities. One thing I will say, y’all are just marketing machines. I used to think we were good at marketing. You guys are. You guys have set a new bar. I think y’all are incredible at that. I think I’ve always been, Jessica, a little measured. I’m an entrepreneur, but I kind of do it in steps. Y’all are bolder, y’all have been bolder than my wiring has enabled me to be. And we’re pretty bold. So, y’all are amplified versus certainly most people in the industry. I’ve definitely seen those things. And I’ve also been, and it’s back to being bolder, I started in this sort of retail place and expanded into mixed use, and then took a long time to expand into multifamily. And y’all have been just much quicker to, and a lot of it’s about confidence, to like go from retail, mixed use, and industrial. And so I think those are probably the primary differences that I have seen, and I’m sometimes a little jealous of that. But a lot of it’s just about the wiring and confidence.
Jessica Miller Essl: There’s two of us that work each other up.
Terry Montesi: I’m confident, some people would say overconfident, I’m sure, but also have, like I said, been measured and had a real sort of cautious humility around thinking that, hey, I can just go be as good as the great multifamily developers or the great industrial developers and felt so comfortable staying closer to my core. So that’s the primary difference that I noticed.
Jessica Miller Essl: What are you excited about for Trademark this year?
Terry Montesi: Well, I’m really excited to get our multifamily program, which now we’re about into the second year, get it started with a couple of projects being under construction, as opposed to being in design. We’ve got four well into design that we should be starting construction in the next 120 days on. Our first project here in Fort Worth, which we’re super excited about and I’m really happy with the design and the location, the unit mix, it’s going to be cut above. It’ll even make you proud I think. We’re building the first one across from a project that you guys renovated and redeveloped and rebranded. So that’s kind of fun to have us all in the neighborhood. And so, I’m really, I’d say, super excited about that. And just really have the best team we’ve ever had here at Trademark. Really, culture and team is in a great spot. So those two things are the things I’m probably most excited about.
Okay, one last question. So what advice would you give your younger self when you first started out in the real estate industry now that you’ve got a number of years under your belt?
Jessica Miller Essl: No two paths are the same. And don’t compare yourself to other people. So I can remember thinking very early on and trying to like analyze this, like how do I get to be a developer. And you talk to one guy, and he’d say, oh, start as an analyst, and then you talk to another guy that says start as a leasing person, you talk to another guy, start as a finance person, or whatever. And that type of paralysis by analysis of thinking which one’s the perfect path to get there, there is no perfect path to get there. And you kind of have to learn a little bit of each of them and then have a core competency in one of them to ultimately get to your goal. And I think you could apply that to any industry.
And then, I would say, I would tell myself, don’t be in such a hurry. Now I’ve gotten- I’m about to be 37. So, I’m experienced enough to know that this is a marathon, not a race, and every single achievement doesn’t have to be back to back or failure. Like it’s all just part of the ride that you’re on. So I tell myself to enjoy the journey instead of trying to get to the next step so quickly. Like sit and think for a little bit, understand what’s happening. And I think becoming a mother who does that to you too because you realize how quickly they grew up. But anyway, those are some of the things. I’d say slow down, don’t be in such a hurry, and no two paths are the same.
Terry Montesi: Well, I have enjoyed our visit as always and really appreciate your time, my friend, and you did a great job.
Jessica Miller Essl: Thank you, Terry. I really appreciate you having me on.
Terry Montesi: Thank you for listening. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode. To learn more about Trademark Property Company and to see how we elevate the every day, visit trademarkproperty.com.