The American Dream: From Busboy to Magnate - Santiago Arana, The Agency
Santiago Arana's Entrepreneurial Success Story is Proof of the American Dream
Imagine just graduating from college and in your first job trying to focus and work hard, but the sound of nearby gunshots is earth shattering. To Bolivian native, Santiago Arana, these gunshots were not only an omnipresent distraction, but also a wakeup call. During this particular event, Santiago was working in an office located next door to government headquarters. The Bolivian government was riddled with corruption, and the country was in major social unrest; amalgamated by an assassination attempt on the president and more than 45 casualties. A distraught Santiago was in earshot of the chaos and called his father; together they decided that he should leave the country, continue his studies, and return when the country’s state of affairs was more stable.
Santiago won a scholarship to study his masters in Finance, but the program was only taught in English. He didn’t speak a word of English, but that did not deter him. He left Bolivia with $120 in his pocket and landed in Santa Barbara, California where he crashed on a couch at his aunts home.
For eight months, Santiago slept on a couch while studying English. He worked as a busboy in a restaurant, since he couldn’t speak English yet. After 4 months of language immersion, Santiago’s English improved, and he asked to be promoted to a waiter, to which the restaurant manager permitted. Now, 13 years later, that same restaurant manager works for Santiago. Over the course of the year that he worked at the restaurant, he waited on a a beautiful girl who eventually became his wife. He fell in love with her and moved to Los Angeles where she lived and continued working in the restaurant industry.
“I always thought that, whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to do it 100% and I’m going to make sure I use my time in the most efficient way.” This drive pushed him up the ladder in the fine dining world, and allowed him to make a very decent living. But once Santiago got to the top, he wanted more. He recalls that someone told him, “‘In real estate, you can make a good living selling a couple houses…. or the sky is the limit!’” The latter really resonated with Santiago.
Santiago made the leap into real estate and worked tirelessly, but over the course of three years, he sold only a couple houses. In an industry where connections and word of mouth are paramount to success, Santiago was at a disadvantage. He admits, “I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have any friends or family. I was in LA by myself, I knew my wife, but that was it.”
A big follower and fan of Tony Robbins, Santiago kept in mind a quote, 'the reason for not succeeding is not the lack of resources, but the lack of resourcefulness.' He worked on his resourcefulness and slowly began to grow his rolodex, finally gaining some momentum. Suddenly, alongside the rest of the country, Santiago was blindsided by the crash of 2008. A microcosm of the national economy, the real estate business was utterly immobile. It was a crushing blow, and now with a young family to consider, Santiago decided to go back to the restaurant world. As he pulled into the parking lot to submit his application, Santiago had an epiphany. He had never quit anything in his life before, so why now? Thinking to himself he said, “I’m going to stick to real estate and I’m going to make it happen, no matter what.”
In this pivotal moment; whether it was a gut feeling, divine intervention, or dumb luck, this decision inevitably led him to become one of the top Realtors in the United States. Looking in the rearview mirror, it’s clear that his life and career could have gone down two very different roads. Especially given the fact that his real estate career was not matured and the state of the economy was in crisis. With the help of his innate persistence, he sought mentorship from a successful realtor. He learned to capitalize on his upbeat and likable personality, and during open houses he thrived in the realm of forging new relationships. He slowly but surely started to figure out the formula to success, which he outlines in four steps. “First; know who you really are, define what you want, have unbreakable faith that it's going to happen, and lastly, work your ass off to make it happen.” Santiago says, “I stuck to it, worked really hard, put the energy into the universe and it came back to me.”
By April 2012, the economy began its upturn and Santiago, now experienced with 6 years in the industry, used that momentum, and his business exploded to a new level. By the end of the year, he was named among the Top 250 Realters in the United States by the Wall Street Journal, and has since made the list each year consecutively, exponentially increasing his ranking.
In 2013, he joined The Agency as a Principal and Partner, along with Billy Rose and Mauricio Umansky. He has worked with celebrities, he has broken records, and today, he’s on track to exceed $500 million in sales.
Not bad for a busboy.