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From Aerospace To The Note Space: The Journey To Full Time Note Investing with Note Mastermind Member Dan Deppen
I’m excited to have our buddy Dan Deppen on. He’s the head honcho at Fusion Notes and fellow Note Mastermind member joining us from the Rocky Mountain high, Denver, Colorado. How are you doing, Dan? Are you doing well?
I’m doing well. It’s not too bad. I can’t complain.
We were visiting a little bit. Dan was in Austin for the Note Mastermind and I’m excited to have you back on as a follow-up to your previous episode. Dan put in his notice and left his full-time job. We had him on to talk about what he’s focused on. It’s a cool, fast forward now and seeing, “How’s everything going?”
Everything’s been going well. It’s definitely been a busy ride since then. Quitting my job, it doesn’t have any working less hours than I did before that, that’s for sure.
Let’s do a quick flashback. Share with everybody and talk about what your background is, Dan.
My background was as a mechanical design engineer in the aerospace industry. I had done that for ten years. I worked on satellites. In the very beginning when I was still in college as an engineering intern, I worked for Lockheed on the space shuttle. I got to do some really cool things. I enjoyed it. I did my MBA at the University of Colorado. I became a Product Manager and worked for Oracle for several years. I traveled around the world doing that. I liked it, but I had always wanted to work for myself. When I was looking to move money out of stocks, I’d always done a lot of stock and options trading on my own.
When I had moved some of that into real estate, I had looked at that not just doing traditional rentals and around here the Denver area, that’s tough to do right now. I was looking for other kinds of real estate related investments. That’s where I came across notes. I ended up really diving deep in on notes. I had started to build up a business on the side and decided to go ahead and do that full-time. It’s at the point where I understood the business. I felt like there was a lot of potential in that, was able to find deals, was able to find funding and at that point dove and went full-time.
You’ve got a lovely wife and two little ones as well too.
I have two daughters, ten and twelve.
Let’s recap the conversation that you had with Jennifer.
She was always very supportive. It was funny because she was still an engineer in the aerospace industry. In the past, I had written a book on poker. I used to be big into online poker years ago. I was always more of a gambler. I was getting more into notes and that was obviously where my passion was and we were starting to have conversations around at some point I’d like to do this full-time. Her comment was, “You should go ahead and do it.” You should be less conservative and go do it. She’s a pretty conservative person by nature so when she said something like that, I was like, “Maybe it’s time to get going on that.” She’s been super supportive throughout.
You’ve spent some time, you’d closed on some deals, and you bought some deals in your IRA. Let’s talk about that for the readers thinking like, “That’s awesome. I’d like to go full-time at some point.” It’s nice you’ve got Jennifer still working and still bringing home money and stuff, but that didn’t mean you sat around playing golf all day or playing online poker.
No, I did the opposite. When I went full-time, I had a reasonable number of deals. In my LLC Fusion Notes, there were maybe around ten or so at the time, but with nonperforming note deals, those things take twelve to eighteen months to pay off. I knew that once I left my job, it was going to be a little while until income started showing up. We had discussed that. My wife is an engineer. Basically, she could pay the bills on her own if really push came to shove and I had some other money and other assets scribbled away. I made a plan. I knew I could run for twelve months and even if I completely flubbed and did nothing over those twelve months, I could go back to work.
That wouldn’t be fun financially, but I wasn’t really going to hurt myself. I wasn’t taking a giant risk. If I was the sole income provider and we’re depended on me for health insurance, it would have been a different animal. I would have had to wait longer before I could do it. The idea was if I can start going full-time now, I can build the snowball for the business because the earlier I can build that, the better off I’m going to be in the long run and just planned on that dip. Now, I basically come out of that dip, which is nice. I’m starting to get some exits, certain base notes that are reperforming. There’s a steady base income coming in and that’s been nice.
That’s always nice when you start seeing those chunks reperforming. It’s coming and starting to pay your bills on things. It’s really a great way to look at it. It’s like, “I’ve got this covered, I’ve got our monthly amount covered. I can work hard this month or take some time and have some fun.”
Having that and getting that steady base is nice. As you get exits here and there periodically, those are really nice bonuses on top of that. I definitely worked hard, especially the first four or five months. I was cranking day and night because I know these deals take a while to pay off. I know the existing ones are going to take a while to pay off. I was working hard to try to get as much as I could and in the queue at the time. Now I’m starting to get on the backside of that was a lot of the funds are starting to spit out on the other end.
Basically you are now doubling down and rinse and repeating again.
That’s a nice thing. Once you get your systems and processes down, I’ve got some pretty steady due diligence processes, pricing processes and other things once you get the formula. What I really like about notes is you can reuse everything. When I was in the aerospace industry, you build a satellite and stuff, it’s usually as a one-off. If you build three, that’s like mass production. You learn all these things on a project and then it gets done. You go to the next one and a lot of times you’re doing something totally different, which is part of what made that industry fun. As far as making money in notes, it’s nice when you can take everything you do on one job and then apply it to the next one.
That makes it a little bit simpler versus having to re-invent the wheel or figure out a retro rocket entry back into Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a little bit easier sometimes.
It’s definitely a lot easier than that. There are a lot of details you’ve got to capture. Once you get those in within processes and understand what you’re doing, it’s not too bad. You can leverage everything you’ve done in the past.
Let’s talk a little about what’s been your big game plan? If you had two or three things that you dove into your first three to four months, what would you say the big things that have helped contribute to your success?
The big things were getting some of my pricing methodology and things down. One of the things I was doing at first was I had an ROI calculator that I’d built. It was pretty decent but there was a lot of one-off analysis on every deal. The other thing that would happen is sometimes I put a bid in and you get a counter offer back. Sometimes you don’t get a counter offer back for like a week or two later and you’ve done a million things in between it, then you’ve got to go back and remember I was like, “What was I doing on this one?” I do some things now where when I work out a bid. For one thing, the spreadsheets are a lot more robust and easy to use than it was. I get out of some of that one-off analysis stuff. A lot of times, I can also calculate multiple prices. I can figure out where I’m going to bid, at what price the deal completely blows up and I can document that. Somebody comes back with a counter two weeks later, I can quickly jump back in and figure out where I’m going to be, what I need to do if I can accept it, decline or counter again or whatever. Those kinds of things have been very helpful.
Obviously, as you get to know your market better, you’re buying more deals in markets. You want to bet your cost basis how it goes down a little bit as you’re diving in assets. You do not have to use all the due diligence funds or things like that too.
One thing in the business that people run into, and I’ve certainly done this, are you get a bid accepted and start pulling BPOs and O&Es and things like that. A lot of times you find out you can’t close on the asset because there’s something wrong with the property or there’s a title issue. I’ve wasted a lot of money on those. I tend to do less now. One is getting the relationships with the sellers and knowing when the sellers tend to have junky assets and which sellers tend to be clean. If it’s a seller, I know their stuff is going to be in good order. I might go and get everything at once. There are one or two sellers in particular where I’ve bought a lot of good stuff from them but a lot of what they have is a junky and I’ve told those.
I was like, “I’m going to do some of the due diligence in series. I’m going to get eyes on the property and I’m not pulling an O&E until I do that.” It’s going to take a little bit more time than might otherwise because I wasted so much money on these things before and a lot of times about issue sometimes that the seller knew about before. I’ve definitely adjusted that process. If I need to go fast, I can go fast as well. I use guys like Dickie Baldwin. Sometimes you’re going to send him an email to get things going. I’ve got an assistant that’s working for me now. If I have time, I can turn her loose on things. I’m a lot more efficient and I don’t get bogged down as much in the due diligence as I did in the early stages.
Let’s talk a little about your assistant. Are they locally? Are they virtual assistant? How’s that working for you?
My assistant, Sarah, lives about fifteen minutes away. She works remotely because I was saying you don’t have to be in the same place. I work out of my house. I don’t have an office or anything like that. I did want someone that was in the local area because I want to be able to meet up with them face-to-face periodically. In fact, we actually did that. That’s a better and more efficient process for me. I don’t feel like I’m just throwing stuff over. We’re a lot more aligned. She’s been huge because she had a background as a paralegal. She had worked on it with some firms that had done foreclosures. I had to teach her my stuff and I had to teach her this specific niche, but there are a lot of things she already knows. She can record documents. She understands a lot of the documentation. She can write things up for me. She can search out anything online, really get due diligence and other sorts of things like that.
It’s a huge asset to help you really be able to focus on what you need to focus on as you start to close on deals. There are a lot of little things that tie up the time that you need somebody understandable, but it’s not necessarily the best use of your time.
Early on too, I would get bogged down on all sorts of things. You run things like the city wants you to register something and fill out some paperwork and a lot of times they don’t make that easy to do. Sometimes I get letters from cities and I’m not actually sure what it is. Sometimes I can send some of that stuff to Sarah and say, “Here’s what I got. Just go figure it out,” and she does it. That’s really nice. On the due diligence stuff too, it’s cool. Not so much due diligence, but I have one in Muskegon that I’m going to be likely taking back here in a couple of months.
I don’t necessarily have a team ready to go on the ground. I’ll find some realtors and have them go by and get me some recent pictures because it’s been a couple of months since I’ve had pictures and have them give you an estimated value. She got two folks to do that. We’ve got some value estimate and some of the pictures. The property’s looking good. When we talked, it was like, “We need to change locks. There’s probably going to be a cleanout and some other things. We’re getting all that stuff prepped so that when we actually get it back in a few months, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running on that one.”
Do you have to work full-time or part-time for those?
She’s working about half time. She’s a mom and has some kids and this works out great for her because there’s a lot of flexibility. She can’t work full-time with all that stuff going on. It fluctuates a little bit between 15 to 30 hours a week, but overall averages out to about half time.
That’s good because that’s an extra 15 to 30 hours a week that you’re putting into going out and would probably raising capital or finding deals and using the most effective use of your time at that point or play a little golf maybe.
I have been getting the golf in a little bit. Not as much as I wanted. I did join the course that’s close by and I haven’t done that in the last few years because I didn’t feel like I had the time to use it. I haven’t really been getting out there that much yet, but that’s my game plan for this summer to be able to have a lot more time doing that.
Didn’t you win a championship or something like that?
The other course I play, I won the club championship and the other year they started doing this funny thing where they got a green jacket for the winner, a size ten million jacket. You looked like a little kid in your dad’s coat, but then the whole thing is meant to be silly. That was a lot of fun going there.
That’s a great effective use of your time playing golf. If you’re out playing golf and you’re a member, you’ve probably got some people who are playing golf, probably got some investing or they were looking at some stuff. It’s a great four-hour bit of marketing piece. You’ve got somebody captive for four hours playing golf.
The new place I’m playing at now, definitely there will be a lot more potential for that.
I used to play a lot of golf when I was a banker. It’s what we would do. We’d take our high-end clients out to lunch or an afternoon every Thursday or Friday and hang around with a golf club. You never know what conversations you hear at the nineteenth hole.
It’s an interesting cross-section of folks, people in all kinds of different businesses and different industries. It’s definitely a fun place to hang out.
You don’t have an office, but I might throw an idea your way to hang out there maybe once or twice a week for a few hours working remotely.
That’s not a bad idea. They have a restaurant and a bar. I could set up shop in there and do that for a little bit. That’d be pretty easy to do.
Put your Fusion Notes or I Love Notes or some of that stuff on your laptop. “What are you doing? What are you working on?” “Just finances in Muskegon and making America great again.” We need to get you some swag there, Fusion Notes or some hats there for you to wear.
I haven’t really bought any swag, only Fusions Note stuff that I buy or the mailing labels.
You get those really cheap, don’t you?
They’re super cheap. Actually my daughter’s put them on the envelopes, so that’s what their little job is that they help with.
What’s been the biggest surprise in the last few months? If there was something that’s stood out as a surprise to you that you’ve thought might’ve been more difficult or a little bit harder on you that maybe it wasn’t as bad or maybe something is a little harder than what you expected?
I think what got hard for me was after a few months, I was at the point where I was getting into somewhere in the 30s as far as the number of notes in all various stages. I had a couple of different things collide at once. I took an REO that turned out to be a hoarder house and was in really rough shape. I had a couple of situations with crazy local code enforcement people. At one point, I had a code violation on a property in Toledo and they sent me this thing that said $75 fine because of some trash or something in the yard and I was like, “Fine.” I didn’t have time to get to it right then. I was like, “I know they might add to the fines or whatever, but I can’t deal with this right now.” When I didn’t respond within a week, they sent me this other thing saying, “We want you to show up in court or we might try and arrest you.” I was like, “What is going on?” I called you about that.
I remember that phone call actually, now when I think about it.
I had a lot of things in. By then I had been running really hard, day and night for a few months. I was getting a little brain fried at that point. What I would’ve done a little bit different, I’m still trying to do this in a way, is just chill out a little bit and not feel the need to crank day and night. I wish I would have slowed down and chilled out a little bit throughout the entire process and not try to boil the ocean and do ten million things all at once.
Is that what playing a little more golf was going to help you calm down a little bit? Are you planning some things with Jennifer and the girls?
Yes, we’ve got a Disney cruise coming up.
You know who to call as the expert with Disney cruise.
I was discussing that with Stephanie at the Mastermind. She already gave a bunch of recommendations. We’ve been all over that and then we’ll take a road trip to visit my in-laws in Michigan and probably look at some assets along the way while I’m doing that as well. I’ve got my parents coming out to visit. I’ve got a lot of things going on this summer, so that’ll be nice. That’s why I’ve also been cranking to get Sarah up online to be able to delegate as much stuff as I can to her because some of these times, I may be going off the grid for a little bit. I’d been putting everything in order now. I feel comfortable with where I’ll be able to do that. The sky’s not going to fall if I’m offline for a few days.
Where are you guys looking at taking a cruise? Caribbean? Europe?
It’s Eastern Caribbean, so you go to Castaway Cay and then I think it’s in the Virgin Islands, Tortola and somewhere else. My wife’s been doing most of the planning.
Internet is not cheap on there. You’ll spend $100 a day if you’re going to be on your phone the entire time, but you can very easily get approved loan mods and documents via your phone or approve things. That’s what I did. I would log on for an hour at the end of the day with my assistant. It’s the same thing, what are the fires that we needed to worry about and go from there back and forth. You can do it.
I know I can and I’m thinking about just not even doing the internet and looking at all the deals that I have and work and tell everybody, “If a document comes through and there’s something I need to do, it’s going to have to wait a week or so until I get back.” We’ll see. I’m still figuring that out.
What has changed about your marketing in the last few months? Do you still keep the same formula of emails and other things? What’s been the biggest bang for your buck because you’ve got a little more time now?
Mostly the marketing’s just been more consistent. I don’t know that it’s changed too much. I had my weekly newsletter going out before and I’ve continued with that. I get a lot of good feedback on that. I have a YouTube channel where I make a lot of videos on using Excel and applying that to notes because that’s something that people struggle with. Back when I was doing my MBA, it was a little easier for me taking a lot of the finance courses in statistics with an engineering background. A lot of people came in there with liberal arts backgrounds and other things, but they didn’t really have to use spreadsheets.
I help people out and they appreciate it. That’s when I got into notes. I thought that would be a good thing to do. I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback on that. That’s actually led to a lot of funding as well because people who are interested in notes look for that and then find me. It’s been doing more of it on a more consistent basis. I’ve been able to put out some other videos as well. Talking about some of the low hanging fruit sources that are out there to buy notes and a little bit of the bidding process and just some of the other nitty-gritty things that people are looking for information on.
You provide good quality content. You’re sharing some of the hurdles and things that are good. I think that’s what’s really helped you market as well is sharing a few things is to build trust and rapport. It helps people like, “I don’t want to do this. It looks like you’re pretty proficient at it. Let me just write you a check and let’s see if we can work on things together.”
That’s happened a lot and that stuff doesn’t necessarily take me a lot of time there. When I write my newsletter, usually I write about whatever’s on my mind that week or whatever’s going on or whatever I’ve learned about. There’s usually something fresh in my mind. I sit down there for 30 minutes or whatever and crank it out. It’s a pretty easy thing to do and I’m on a regular cadence now with it, so it’s not too bad.
That’s the thing about the note business. Everyday is a little bit different but it’s a lot of the same things over and over again. In an email, once you set up a good template, as you have in your newsletter, you’re just changing three or four paragraphs and probably tweaking a picture or two with a couple of links.
I usually like to have a picture in there, so I find a picture online or whatever fits and then write the copy. Sometimes there’s a video. If I do that, I record it. It doesn’t usually take that long and then slap the video in there and go. It’s not really a cumbersome process.
How many notes have you closed and settled in total now?
I’m exactly at 50 right now.
What are your big goals for the rest of the year?
My goal at the beginning of the year was to close 60 throughout the course of 2019 and I’ve closed eighteen so far. I’m about a third of the way through the year, so I’m feeling pretty much on track because you get to the fourth quarter, things should pick up a little bit more. All that’s tracking well now that I’ve got some of these systems in place. I feel comfortable scaling that up and continuing to go at the same clip that I have been.
What are you using to track your deal flow? Are you using as an online portal like Podio, Pipedrive or Infusionsoft? What are you using that’s working well for you?
I use Pipedrive for mine and that works pretty well. I’ve got it set up the way that I like it. Initially, when I set it up, I went to Adam Adam’s videos. As I got deeper into it and figured out how I wanted to run my business, there’s a lot of stuff in there I’ve changed and customized. Now that I have the assistant, I had to buy another seat for her, but it’s really nice because we use that as the tracking system and the task list. Instead of sending her a million emails whenever there’s something I need help with, I put stuff in there and then she’ll take care of it. If there’s something that’s super urgent I needed to do right away, I’ll just send her a text and we’ll do it that way. That’s worked well and it gives me a good view of where the whole portfolio is overall. It has a good one stop shop for all the information. That tool works for me. I know other people who use Podio and other stuff. I’m not religious about the tools that I use, some people are. They’re very insistent that one tool’s better than another. I think you want to understand how you want to run your business, customize the tool the way that you know you need to suit the way that you want to run it and then just use it consistently.
What’s the best advice you’d give somebody who’s thinking about leaving their job or going full-time? Let’s start with that first. What’s the best advice you would give somebody?
I would say to have a plan as I did. There are multiple ways you can attack it. Some people will take the notes business to the point where they’re actually replacing their income and they can free run. If you’re going to move a little earlier than that, have a plan for how you’re going to deal that. Either has another source of income and understand how you’re going to cover health insurance or if you’re going to use savings to ride through, then understand how much you have and how long you can run and pre-decide it like, “Here are my decision points.” If things don’t go the way I want them, then this is the point where I would have to knock it off there and think it through ahead of time and then just remember too. For me, I planned on this income dip and that was fine. Mentally, I found myself grinding and grinding, trying to get as far as fast as I could. Even though it was ahead of my plan, I still felt like I had to crank 24/7 until I came out of the dip.
Someone who’s looking to get into the note business coming from a fix and flip side or another side, what advice would you give them?
I would say definitely get some training, do your homework, talk to people who are in the business. Wrap your head around it. Don’t just start buying stuff. You need to put the time in to figure things out, but at the same time, don’t go crazy with that. At some point, you’ve got to go buy stuff. I see a lot of people where notes or other kinds of real estate investing were almost like a hobby where they do a lot of training, travel around the conferences and don’t actually ever really get around to buying anything. If that’s a hobby, that’s fine, but you’re not going to make money doing it that way. At some point, you’ve got to gain and get the real-world experience because you can study as much as you want up front, but there’s always a lot of unique situations with notes. At some point, you’ve got to experience them, get through that and figure out how you want to run your business.
You’re going to learn so much more from buying your first couple of notes of working your way through that. No webinar, no podcast, no video series is going to help you duplicate that. There are a lot of different ways these country western songs can go.
It seems like it’s always something different. Sometimes too, I’ll get hit with something that feels like it’s out of the left field and then you talk to people and they’re like, “I’ve seen that.” They find it out. That’s actually not that unusual.
It’s little things to keep you on your toes for stuff. Anything in the hopper or anything that’s outside of the normal business activity that you’re thinking about doing with your note business or adding to the marketing aspect to things that you’re looking to do in the near future?
At some point, I’m going to do a podcast so I’m thinking about that and talking to Daphne Peterson about that. We’ve been going back and forth. We’ve had some cover art and some other stuff, but I’ve been very heading down doing deals. She’s a realtor at Sonoma County and she has been going through her busy seasons. We’ll probably re-sync on that. Actually, I had a phone conversation with Tom Hazzard about doing that as well. I said, “I’ve got this vacation coming up in a few weeks. I need to do certain things before that,” but I’m going to circle back with him after that and see about getting things going.
Daphne is great. Daphne is a fellow Mastermind member and an amazing person and that’s good. You have a little bit of balance there, the real estate and investing of things and go from there. Daphne is phenomenal. If you decided you’re working with Podetize, Tom and his team will help you out. They’re phenomenal. We’ll look forward to that. That’s good stuff. When you started in the note, when did you originally start?
It was in early 2017.
You have 50 deals. That’s a great start of things and basically full-time for a few months. Several months of a ramp up to get where you want it to be and now you’ve been unemployable. Maybe not unemployable, but gleefully unemployed.
I think I’m unemployable. That’s fair. I would have a hard time going back throughout my aerospace career and then working in NIT. I worked for primarily some larger companies, worked for a startup a little bit at the end, but I always felt like I was waiting for permission to do things that I felt were obvious. Whereas at my notes businesses, if I feel something is important, I just go, which is nice. In those first few months actually, that created a problem for me because there was no filter. That’s where I would start going day and night. I learned I need to self-regulate and back off a little bit here and there. I don’t think I would do well if I had to go back.
It’s not a fun thing to go back and have to hurry up and wait for somebody else to give you the decision.
That’s more exhausting than doing the work.
Is Jennifer starting to the eye, “Maybe it’s time for me to start looking at leaving,” or she enjoys what she’s doing and still hanging around for everything?
She still enjoys what she’s doing. She used to make comments. I don’t think she wants to do it forever. I think at some point, maybe when the kids are out of the house or whenever, she’s just going to want to either back off a little bit at work or maybe do something different eventually. It’s not going to be immediate, but that’s the plan. It’s long-term. This will give her a lot of options at some point.
What’s the best way for people to reach out to you, Dan? If they want to reach out to pick your brain and ask you a question or two?
The best way is to drop me an email. My email is at Dan@FusionNotes.com and then on my website, FusionNotes.com. I’ve got all my information on there and also my YouTube channel. I’m pretty easy to find and there isn’t a whole lot of Dan Deppens out there. Just Google me.
Dan, I want to say thank you. I’m very proud of you. You’re doing a great job. You’re a great Mastermind member. You’re always there to help out other people. Is there any advice you’d give to somebody thinking about joining the Mastermind? Any words of advice?
I would recommend doing it. It’s been very good for me and you call the Fast Track training the fast track because it speeds things up and it definitely speeds things up for me. I did that then I quit my job about six months later. There’s no way I would’ve hit that point that fast without that. The resources are great. The live Meetups we did were really good. It’s fun to have that network of a bunch of serious note investors and then also offline in the Facebook group and things, it’s invaluable. You’re always running into these little weird situations or different things and usually, there is somebody that’s seen it in one way or another. If somebody is thinking about it, I highly recommend you check it out. They can always give me a call too if they want to discuss it up on that more than once for folks.
I appreciate that, Dan. Thanks so much. You keep cranking. We’re here to help in any way we can, but you are rocking and rolling. You are definitely a note rock star out there.
With all your help, everything has been great.
I’m glad to help. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re focused, you’re staying in your lane and you’re all going out and making it happen. Thanks so much. Keep it up. We look forward to even bigger things from you. Feel free to check out FusionNotes.com. Reach out to Dan if you’ve got any questions about anything. Learn from Dan. If you’re thinking about doing this, put a plan together. Talk to people that are doing it. Seek counsel, not advice. Talk to people who are doing or are where you want to be, and then put a plan together and work that plan. More importantly, don’t let the freedom of being unemployed or leaving a job strangle you. Some people will waste that time. Some people won’t take it seriously. Dan took it very seriously and that’s why he’s able to do what he’s doing now and take a little bit more time to have fun. As he says, be unemployable now versus unemployed. Take care and go make something happen. We’ll see you all at the top.
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About Dan Deppen
I have been a real estate investor since 2001 and founded Fusion Notes in 2017. Fusion Notes is a private real estate investment firm focused on managing a portfolio of real estate notes (non-performing and performing mortgage loans) to produce above-average, safe and consistent returns for our investment partners.