How I Escaped Domestic Violence, Built a Seven-Figure Empire, and Found Love Along the Way
When Jess Lenouvel entered the real estate industry in 2005, she had no idea that in just over a decade, she’d find love, build a seven-figure business, and inspire other female entrepreneurs around the world. But she had to overcome her darkest obstacles to get there.
An early calling and mentor.
Real estate was in Lenouvel’s blood long before she realized it was her calling; her mom, Michele Leung, has been an agent in Toronto, Canada, for 35 years. “My earliest memories were at the family dinner table eating noodles, listening to stories about the deal my mom was working on,” says Lenouvel.
Unsure about her direction after college, Lenouvel’s mom suggested giving real estate a shot. Lenouvel got her license at 21, and immediately faced her first professional struggle. “I looked 16 years old,” she laughs. “But then I spoke, and clients took me seriously. You prove your worth through your work.
“I didn’t find real estate difficult. The conversations with clients paralleled what I’d heard from Mom the previous decade. I wasn’t fixated on the sale and just enjoyed helping people find a home—their sacred place of refuge and comfort.”
Lenouvel also attributes her early success to being female: “Women bring a unique asset in business. They’re usually more empathetic, innately understanding clients’ fears and needs. They notice minor details and are skilled at reading people—a crucial skill for any realtor.
“Mom taught me how to be a ‘money therapist’ for example, reframing someone’s thought process to overcome psychological blocks, empowering them to buy the house they wanted and could afford.”
Within 12 months, Lenouvel was making a solid six-figure income. By 24, it seemed like the world was at her feet.
Success, but not happiness.
“He was very charming, everybody loved him,” Lenouvel sighs, as she opens up about a three-year abusive relationship. “But he was threatened by my success. He had a primal urge keep me feeling small.
“The abuse was emotional at first. Blatant disrespect, saying I was worthless. Calling me horrible names, cheating on me. Drama and volatility became my daily existence. I stopped seeing my friends.
“Then things got ugly. He’d hit me, grab me, push me down the stairs. But he was incredibly remorseful afterward. You think, ‘Oh well, that won’t happen again.’ It’s a slippery slope—your standards slowly erode over time.
“You make irrational rationalizations. For example, I was convinced the amount of bruising on my body was a hemoglobin problem. Then my dad, who’s a doctor, took my blood and said, ‘Jessica, you have the iron levels of a man; you shouldn’t be bruising.’”
Lenouvel’s tipping point came on a rainy Tuesday night in 2011 when the abuser was no longer remorseful after hitting her. She called a family friend, told her everything and pleaded for help. “She arrived at my condo at 10:30 pm with her six foot two, 200-pound husband who told my ex, ‘Pack your stuff, get out.’ Like that, it was over.”
Sadly, Lenouvel’s experience isn’t unique. According to the World Health Organization, almost 30 percent of women worldwide experience some form of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
New beginnings, at a price.
Newly single, Lenouvel’s confidence was at rock bottom. She felt that learning a new skill was the route to rebuild. With six years of residential selling experience, Lenouvel started working for a developer on November 1, 2011 to learn real estate from a new angle.
“I was determined to rise in a male-dominated environment,” Lenouvel says. “I had to prove that I was capable and worthy of success. I started making good money and felt empowered. But my boss developed feelings for me; I bizarrely transitioned from an abusive relationship into a sexual harassment situation.”
Around this time, Lenouvel met her future husband and business partner, Yves (pronounced Eve). “Within 30 seconds of meeting, there was no choice; I was madly in love.” Six months later, Lenouvel was engaged. After arriving at work the next morning wearing an engagement ring, she was fired.
But she’d learned enough during that year to spot a hole in the Toronto real estate market, which was experiencing a development boom. “Builders were paying huge commissions to realtors who closed clients on their construction projects,” Lenouvel says.
With no income and multiple deposits on her wedding, she started a business with her fiancé out of necessity: ShopCondos.
Creating a monster with her No. 1 fan.
According to Lenouvel, many realtors rely on 1970s marketing techniques—door knocking, mailing flyers, cold calling. “You trade time for poor quality leads. So, ShopCondos was 100 percent online from day one, an outlier in the Toronto real estate market at the time.”
Lenouvel wrote sales copy while her fiancé designed the website using YouTube tutorials. Google advertising was relatively new at the time, and they sold construction projects “off the plan” in volume. The result? Seven figures within 12 months. Any self-doubts had evaporated.
But Lenouvel was miserable and overwhelmed. Her biggest year was 220 deals with zero outsourcing. She’d work 15- to 18-hour days, seven days a week for two months and then burn out for a month. “I was like a phone that recharged a little, then the battery died. I lost perspective from being so ‘in’ the business that I couldn’t see a way ‘out’. I ‘escaped’ on vacation, but spent the whole time feeling anxious.
“With hindsight, I didn’t scale properly. Freedom comes from leveraging the talents of others. It’s basic hiring. You grow to a certain point. Then you hire and delegate. I feared no one would do as good a job as me. So I did many things outside my ‘zone of genius’—stuff I didn’t excel at or enjoy. It wasn’t the best use of my time.
“Women often feel the pressure to be perfect but don’t ask for help, thinking they can do everything. But we don’t feel supported and get frustrated when we can’t manage; it’s a vicious cycle.”
Although Lenouvel was one of the few women excelling in her marketplace, she’d lost her passion. “I attracted low-quality clients, who wanted the ‘best deal’ rather than being excited to work with me. I stopped seeing them as people; they just became leads. That’s a deeply unsatisfying way to work when you initially loved the feeling of connecting with clients.”
Lenouvel realized there was only one person to blame: herself. She closed ShopCondos in February 2018 after selling over $300 million of property in five years. “I immediately felt alive again,” says Lenouvel. She and her husband packed their belongings into five boxes, sold the cars, and moved to LA with the cats to be closer to Lenouvel’s business mentor, Scott Oldford.
New dawn: purpose and love.
“My mission is to help realtors scale efficiently and create a life of freedom that every entrepreneur craves. The reality for most entrepreneurs is a hamster wheel to burnout.”
“People are jaded from being advertised to,” says Lenouvel. “Frequency without relevancy is annoying. Your advertising needs to be so specific to attract people who would chop off their arm to work with you.
“Real estate marketing is the worst. How many of these terrible, generic, total BS statements do you hear? ‘Buy it before it hits the market!’ ‘Free home evaluation!’ ‘First access, VIP pricing, don’t miss out!’ ‘#1 in sales last year!’ ‘We’re not just realtors, we’re matchmakers!’
“What if instead, you built a relationship with people? You don’t walk up to someone in the street and request immediate sex. But that’s how most people sell. They’re shooting for the one night stand. Make your content relevant, intimate and omnipresent, and you’ll blow up your business.”
The best way to do this, according to Lenouvel, is to “market to the small pond”—find a niche and decide who your client will be. “That’s scary for a lot of agents who say, ‘I sell studios, bungalows, penthouses, and mansions—anywhere from East to West,’ which translates to, ‘I’ll take any deal.’” Thirty-five years ago, Lenouvel’s mom specialized in real estate for physicians. Now she’s cornered a lucrative market of high net worth clients and never has to work.
Lenouvel’s new company, The Listings Lab, helps six-figure realtors revamp their business models, taking them to seven figures within 12 months, while still having the time to enjoy life—hopefully with the love of their life. When discussing marriage after tying the knot in 2013, Lenouvel gushes, “It’s easy—if you’re with the right person. We have a blast 24/7; it’s never stifling. We know where we each stand and meld together in a way that makes us better.”
“You don’t need to struggle to fit in a mold. It pays to be authentic in business and life. Start sharing your experiences, career advice and personal life on Instagram, with teachable moments. You’ll build your brand. People will perceive you as approachable, warm, and trustworthy—a different persona than most realtors.”
And that persona doesn’t involve working 15 hours a day.