Ian Burnstein | Surviving Encephalitis, TIGER 21, and Building a Self-Storage Empire
Smart Business Revolution

Ian Burnstein is the Co-founder and COO of Storage Pros Management (SPM). He is a former attorney turned real estate and self-storage entrepreneur who has invested in multi-family, RV parks, self-storage, and cannabis dispensary sale-leaseback sectors. He has been a part of more than $500,000,000 in transactions since 2015.

Ian is currently an investor and the Chair of a TIGER 21 peer group, Owner of Storage Business Owners Alliance (SBOA), and President of SBOA Tenant Insurance. He is also involved in a community clinic in honor of his father.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Ian Burnstein, the Co-founder and COO of Storage Pros Management (SPM), about his entrepreneurial journey and how he survived encephalitis and a kidney transplant. Ian talks about the challenges he faced building his business, how he joined TIGER 21, and how he has been serving others through a community clinic. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How Ian Burnstein left law to go into the paving and trucking business
  • Why Ian started his own business — and the challenges he faced building it
  • Ian’s experience being diagnosed and treated for encephalitis
  • Ian talks about selling his business in 2015 and how he founded the Storage Business Owners Alliance (SBOA)
  • Why Ian got a kidney transplant and how he got involved in his father’s clinic 
  • How the TIGER 21 network operates
  • Where to learn more about Ian Burnstein

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:10

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, and I’m the host of this show. Every week I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies ranging from Kinkos to Netflix to YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, Ace Software, go check out our archives, lots of great episodes there. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25 where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. Quick shout out to Stu. Stu, thank you so much for our introduction to today’s guest. His name is Ian Burnstein. He’s a former attorney like me turned real estate and self-storage entrepreneur. He’s invested in multi-family RV parks, self-storage can even cannabis dispensary sale-leaseback. I don’t even know what that is, but we’ll find out. He’s been part of more than $500 million in transactions since 2015. Just the co founder and CEO of Storage Pros Management, the owned and operated portfolio that until a recent transaction was comprised of more than 90 properties, encompassing more than 5 million rentable square feet of self-storage. He’s currently an investor and the chair of a TIGER 21 peer group. And we’ll talk about that as well. And also Owner of the Storage Business Owners Alliance and President of SBOA Tenant Insurance. He’s also involved in a really cool community clinic in honor of his father, we’re going to talk a little bit about that, as well. 

Of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. If you ever listen to a podcast and are curious about how to do it yourself, shoot us an email at support@rise25media or visit our website and we’re happy to help you out. Alright, Ian such a pleasure to have you here today. And you’ve got so many different things you’ve been involved in, that I want to touch on. But first, let’s talk about leaving the law because you and I are a rare breed that we went from practicing law to practicing entrepreneurship. And that’s not an easy transition. You know, I think if I’m ever in a crowd of other lawyers, at least a couple of them come up to me and they want to know how I did it, and how they can do it too, because they’re secretly miserable frequently. So this was back at about 20 years ago. 2000 was when you left the law. And it was pretty glamorous when you when you left tell us tell us all about?

Ian Burnstein 2:51

No. So I’ve worked at one of the larger firms in Detroit called Jaffe Raitt. And Ira Jaffe, who was actually the founder of the firm and namesake who just recently retired from the firm, but his son was one of my best friends. So I grew up with Ira, I always admired him deeply. And so the opportunity for him was was great. I never really thought I would go to law school, become a lawyer, I was always very interested in business, even through college, always had something entrepreneurial going. But when I got to the end of college, I started doing the interview process. And nothing really spoke to me, nothing I could really find was, was really interesting me. And so I actually went to law school by default figured I get the training. And the rest would kind of happen from there. So when I got the law firm, realized very quickly, I was really good at bringing in business, I was good at talking to people and engaging. But sitting at a desk and drafting documents. I’m just not a detail guy. It’s just not me. I’m the I’m the visionary. I’m not the integrator. And so when I was bringing in a lot of business and people who were just billing a few more hours, me and making more money, and I’m bringing half million dollars to the firm as a 27 year old associate, that didn’t work so well for me. So I need to have control of my own destiny. And so my wife gave me great advice said you should start talking to people, once a month, schedule a lunch, see who’s out there, what opportunities are out there. And a client of mine was in the paving and trucking business and I was a real estate lawyer and they were doing a lot of developments and acquisitions. And just great guys who totally self made, timing was great for them and for me and I decided to leave. And so

John Corcoran 4:34

they were getting big enough that they could use some of your skill set to come in and help with the different transactions. Okay.

Ian Burnstein 4:40

Yeah. So I decided I was going to help them you know, I wanted to really understand all the areas their business I was hired to run their real estate, but actually to really help them I literally went out and work paving crews for a two week stint and then I worked with a truck driver for a few days and engineers I’ve learned how to sell paving jobs and how to estimate just I can really understand their business. But you know, when I left,

John Corcoran 5:03

there must have been times where you pinch yourself. You like cheese like I went to law school for this?

Ian Burnstein 5:07

Yeah, no, there’s no question. I mean, literally the day I left. So on a Friday, I was at the law firm, beautiful offices, were literally you’d have to get up. I mean, somebody every 15 minutes came in, if you wanted to take a document down to somebody three offices away, they would take it for you. They make a copy, it’s a fax, and they bring it all back to you to going on Monday, where I was literally working in a trailer. And my view out my window was the city dump. No job. Luckily, within six months, I actually was able to get my own office with somebody we were doing business with, but it was a great experience. And I never

John Corcoran 5:43

thought you’re gonna go into paving and trucking.

Ian Burnstein 5:47

People thought I was crazy. They look,

John Corcoran 5:49

I did that, like, because I had that own experience myself, you know, telling a family friends, you know, law school classmates that you’re doing this, what was that? Like?

Ian Burnstein 6:00

So I’ll tell you, for me, kind of two things happened. So these guys who I knew pretty well from being their lawyer, but they I was so impressed by the two hardest working guys that you cannot work these guys still to this day. Totally self made. I mean, they started painting striping parking lots in high school, and then got into paving and then trucking me totally self made. And, and to test me. I mean, they would, they wanted me to meet them for interviews, like for 35 in the morning. And which I did. And one of the brothers on a napkin kind of drew out what the vision would be. And I wish to save that napkins, I’d love to have that in a frame. And it changed my life. It really changed my life. Yeah.

John Corcoran 6:45

What did you write down on it?

Ian Burnstein 6:47

Just a roadmap and a vision of how we start buying a little bit, we buy more, buy more. And eventually, you know, we grow we have a full operating real estate business. And it

John Corcoran 6:58

wasn’t just about the paving and trucking. Okay, this is a bigger vision beyond

Ian Burnstein 7:04

the paving. And trucking was really what said, my end of the business to invest more and diversify. So I quickly got out of that, but focus solely on real estate, but it was exciting, it was exhilarating. And watching these guys, you know, make big decisions. And you know, I learned a ton being there. I mean, it was a master’s program for me more of a PhD. I mean, these guys what they had to do to grind it out every day. And create it really inspired me motivated me taught me so many of the things that I’ve learned today tell me some things I really, I think made me successful. And others I realized I don’t want to do other things too, or I want to do it differently. And I learned a tunnel

John Corcoran 7:48

artsy work with these guys for five, six years, something like that, I think it was 2006 where you decide to go out on your own and you decide to kind of part ways with them. So what happened there.

Ian Burnstein 8:00

So we had a really good exit on our storage portfolio kind of storage about 2000. We when I got there, first thing I were done, and thought about becoming full partners, kind of getting away from having salary and, and really becoming a 1/3 partners me with with the brothers and just couldn’t really come to terms and what they offer just what I just couldn’t, I couldn’t have afforded to do it. It wasn’t worthwhile. So I decided I needed to go. Really the only option was to go work somewhere else, which I had no desire to go work for anybody ever again. And or go on my own. And what

John Corcoran 8:41

did that what would that have looked like? What does going on in your own mean? That means I

Ian Burnstein 8:45

had no idea. I had no idea. So two things I had going forward. We had a really good exit. So I had enough runway. Yeah, it was a probably three four year runway of what I would, you know, what I was making with these guys, which is, you know, probably double what I was making as a lawyer. So I had some time to figure it out. And my wife who’s amazing and way smarter than me, has been at Ford Motor Company for 23 years. So she had a good paying job. And so, you know, when we parted the way I called her and I walked up meeting and said I just quit and she said good. You got this you ready? So I really didn’t know what I was gonna do. I had no plan I thought for at first I would stay in run the deals that we were doing together. And then that just didn’t work out. relationship wise was time just to have a clean break, which I did, which ended up working out fortunate because we were doing a ton of residential development. And in 2006 Yeah, so yeah, January of oh seven. We signed they bought me out of my interest in the residential component hockey. And then right after that happened I met Um, my now partner and in the storage space and you know, and we all know what happened in the residential world, right, right after that. So that would

John Corcoran 10:09

be looking back on that. I imagine at the time, you’re probably, maybe I’m reading into this maybe not happy about that result. Maybe you brought, like many people in 2007, they thought real estate was going like this. But in retrospect, it

Ian Burnstein 10:23

seemed like it was a good thing. No, it was. I mean, it was unbelievable. So I’m guessing it’s ever happened to me. You I was actually going to Charlotte, North Carolina, almost every week, had a young son, a daughter on the way. And my wife had actually agreed we were going to move to Charlotte, most likely, as soon as we came to terms, which we didn’t. And so we all know what happened to the economy. And I was a personal guarantor, and all those leases and all those deals on the loans. Yeah, it was a very difficult time. And I was very fortunate to not be there.

John Corcoran 11:00

Yes, yes, I was practicing law at a real estate firm at the time helping a lot of people like that. Who had signed personal guarantees on page 30, that they didn’t realize, Wait, what are you telling me? Yeah, that was a tough conversation. Is that fair time? Yeah. So um, so what do you do then? So you’ve got some you got your lottery, obviously, you know how to put deals together. But that imagine means that you’d have to go and raise some money does that what you did raise money and put together a real estate deal or self storage deal.

Ian Burnstein 11:32

So I a couple things I was doing some consulting, and I was building a website, which was all predicated upon a great economy, and the website was helping banks actually analyze real estate projects quickly and efficiently. And so the timing of those was not good. And those that was my kind of one failure that I point to. But I met just by total luck, I met my current business partner. And we were both in a very similar situation. We both had sold our properties to the same buyer, actually. He had some deal flow, but didn’t have the equity. I had the equity and I had the managerial experience, I’d run our properties, and manage them. And so we got together. And I mean, within four months of knowing Him, we owned eight properties. Wow. Incredible. And we were Wow, that’s fast. We had nine people operating out of a, you know, 1500 square foot office, just figuring out and flying cars and planes all the time, and, and then boom, the recession.