Failure issue: Erik Hatch

Written by: Fargo Inc

There’s a familiar theme in Erik Hatch’s life.


“Every time I thought I was meant for something else,” says Hatch, who owns Fargo real estate firm Hatch Realty, “I was meant to be home the whole time.”


“Home” for Hatch is not so much a physical space as it is an idea. An identity, really.


A self-proclaimed “goody two shoes, suck up, brown-nosing, super involved giver,” he’s about as self-deprecating and comfortable in his own skin as they get, but he hasn’t always been that way. In fact, he spent much of his teenage and adult years embracing and then resisting the identity, a tension that’s not only caused its share of personal problems for him but also played a significant role in his professional rock bottom.


His first bout of rebelliousness hit him during his freshman year of college at NDSU.


“My experience had always been ‘safe’ in high school,” says Hatch, a Fargo native. “And I was tired of safe. I felt like life gave me a bad hand at times, having a father who wasn’t involved and a mom who was fighting cancer. And I felt like I never had a fair shot, as some of my peers did. And so I tried to run from that.


“I thought that church and community and things that were familiar were going to hold me back. And I ran from it, to throw myself a pity party because I felt like it was one of those things that was holding me back, when really it was the thing that was lifting me up.”


His first six months on campus, he started drinking, stopped going to church and actively avoided the clubs and leadership positions he’d sought out during high school. It wasn’t until he stumbled back into church one morning months later, hungover and unshowered, that he had an interaction he says he sorely needed at the time.


I sat there and I just wept,” Hatch says. “Tears of guilt, tears of coming home, tears of everything else. And a guy came up to me, put his hands on my shoulders and he said, ‘Where have you been?’ And it was just that reminder that it was home all along and I had run from it.”


Armed with a renewed energy and sense of purpose, Hatch threw himself back into the community, getting involved on campus with his fraternity, student government and homecoming, among others. This time, though, he strayed from “home” in the other direction.


“I was trying to be everything to everyone,” says Hatch, whose mom passed away around the same time after a years-long battle with cancer,  “And I was mad at the world and I was pretty broken myself. And so I sat with Rollie Johnson, who works at First Lutheran Church. And he was my youth director, and Rollie told me the words I’ll never forget: ‘Hatch, you’re not that important.’ “‘Hatch, you’re not that important.'”)


“And that resonated with me over and over again, when I get this ego of myself that I’m essential to things being successful and for them to happen in the best sort of way. And even at the age of 21, my ego got ahead of me because I thought: this university won’t function without me. And saying that now feels so farcical and yet, when I was caught in it, I felt like I was sooo important and I wasn’t. And he was such a great reminder in my life of my lack of importance.”


It was Hatch’s second reality check in a relatively short period of time, and even though they manifested in different ways, the common thread was a kind of deluded self-absorption that’s not uncommon in 20-somethings.


Finally ready to make an impact on lives that weren’t his own, after college, Hatch accepted a full-time position as a youth director at First Lutheran Church in Downtown Fargo.


“I loved the idea of being impactful,” Hatch says. “I loved the idea of sharing stories and energy and humor and enthusiasm with people, specifically kids. It was a natural place for me to talk and to give voice. I wanted to find (a small group of) people to pour into.”


He’d found his calling, giving back to and developing young men and women. And for nearly eight years, he led prayer groups, organized mission trips and immersed himself in the lives of kids he’s still close with to this day.


By 2011, though, he was at something of a personal crossroads again. His part-time real estate business, which he’d been involved with for close to five years, was gaining momentum at the same time that he and his family were facing some personal and financial issues that were going to require a larger paycheck. So he made a decision.


He’d flip-flop his full and part-time jobs, devoting the majority of his time to growing his real estate business and supplement it with some ministry work on the side, a decision that was not without some anxiety.


“It was twofold,” he says. “I was ready to jump into real estate full-time, but a life of 100 percent commission is really scary. And, in addition, ministry is part of who I was. And I was scared to death of losing that.”


And if you didn’t know it was his first year as a full-time realtor, you wouldn’t have believed it.


Within 12 months, working under the Keller Williams Realty umbrella, he’d sold 52 homes, had $25 million worth of commercial listings in western North Dakota and had grown his team of four to a team of 11. And his success didn’t go unnoticed.


“I have a large personality,” Hatch says. “And it either attracts or detracts. A lot of people have opinions on me, and it’s either favorable or unfavorable. I’m okay with that. It still hurts when I find out people don’t like me. Most everybody who knows me and knows me well really thinks pretty fondly of me. But it’s the peripheral people who will make assumptions and see how bold and audacious I can be sometimes, which can come across as cocky and egotistical.


“And I’ve blurred that line far too many times. Not intentionally, but it’s simply from trying to stand proud as who I am and what I’ve done. But those who know me intimately know how vulnerable and transparent and broken I am.”


What he also had, in addition to a booming business, was a laundry list of headaches that often come with growing too quickly, too soon.


“I had more leadership, more management, more inventory and more problems than I ever knew what to do with,” he says. “I kept my foot on the gas pedal no matter what. If it had a pulse and could fog up a mirror, I wanted to work with it.” (PULL QUOTE: “If it had a pulse and could fog up a mirror, I wanted to work with it.”)


He says he also made the mistake of restricting his hiring pool to his circle of friends.


“If somebody came and wanted to be on the team and if I had a good relationship with them or I even thought I’d really like them, I brought them on,” Hatch says. “Which was really unfair to them. Because I hadn’t grown as a leader, I hadn’t grown as a manager and I was busy trying to find a bunch of people to work for me. When I should’ve been trying to find a bunch of people I could go to work for.”


He found himself drifting from “home” again, even if he didn’t see it at the time. He became obsessed with being The Boss and making sure everyone knew he was.


I was not authentic to who I was,” he says. “Because it was all about me and not about we. I wanted my name on everything. Not because I knew the intricacies of marketing but because I wanted my ego stroked. It was a mess that I had created, and I didn’t realize it because I was right in the middle of the storm. Getting kicked out is what it took to become more aware of it.”


After a series of mistakes by Hatch and his team led to irreconcilable differences between him and Keller Williams management, a decision was made that he says hit him like a bus. They let him go and told him that he and his team of 12 had 48 hours to find a new brokerage or else his real estate license would be sent back to the state until he did.


Hatch says that while he lashed out at the time, looking back now he sees that the bulk of the blame falls on him.


“I didn’t take ownership of the things I had allowed to happen,” he says. “Because it all started with hiring people who weren’t right for the job that I put them in. Or even if they were right, I didn’t give them the right runway to succeed. It was all my fault. From beginning to end, it was all my fault. “It was all my fault. From beginning to end, it was all my fault.”


“The mistake I made was – imagine you’re building a house on an improper foundation. No matter how great the construction and craftsmanship are, if that foundation isn’t steady, it’s going to fall apart. And for me, I messed up in the beginning and it all fell apart.”


And so, armed with the lessons of the falling out between himself and Keller Williams, Hatch set out to build the right foundation the second time around – starting with the business model itself.


I wasn’t okay with my wake and my ripples affecting other people’s business anymore,” Hatch says. “And working at a larger brokerage as a loud, boisterous, aggressive advertiser and marketer – somebody who puts his name and face on everything – creates ill will in some environments.”


After a nine-month stint working with a local construction developer, Hatch took what was left of his leftover staff from his Keller Williams team and assembled what he describes as a ragtag staff of bartenders, struggling marketing coordinators, really anyone who he thought might fit the new culture he was trying to build, and he gave them a shot. It was, after all, not cultivating the right culture that he insists was his downfall the first time around.


He says he and his team finally understood the importance of having a concise set of values and an established mission, and it bled over into the process of building his Hatch Realty team.


“When you hire someone and don’t listen intently to why they’re motivated and what brings them to work every day, you essentially have somebody just going through the motions, as opposed to following their passions,” Hatch says. “I want people who work with me to feel like they are the owners and I’m working for them. In the past, (people) were working for me.


“Fast forward (to today), and every person who’s on our team, I know intimately what keeps them awake at night, I know how much money they want to make, I know what kind of car they want to drive, I know what kind of family they want. And my business never used to look like that. I dive in deeply to the intricacies of each person. I find out what their real skills are natural talents are. And instead of me trying to put them in a position that I need them to fill, I listen to what they’re great at and build a position around that.”


I don’t believe there’s such a thing as self-made men,” he says. “I’m a product of my environment and the people around me who have held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own. I always knew how to sell houses and serve and take care of people, I just had no idea how to run a business. And I’m figuring that out every day.


“But at the core of it, we can figure the business stuff out so long as we keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is that I’m a youth director, a youth minister.”


He just happens to sell real estate now.


Hatch Realty

4215 31st Ave. S, Fargo


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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!