Raul Villacis' Journey From Midlife Crisis to Millionaire Mentor
“Modern-day gladiators with an omnipresent dark warrior side, ready to strike.” That’s how leadership coach Raul Villacis passionately terms the top-level male entrepreneurs, leaders, and influencers he works with.
“Whenever I’m in a business deal or I need to turn it up, that dark warrior comes out, makes no f---ing excuses, and gets sh-- done.”
But sometimes, even warriors come face to face with their limitations. Despite portraying an illusion of invincibility, they too can hit a midlife crisis.
Villacis was no exception. It was his own midlife crisis that eventually led him to his calling: working with others who are going through a dark time or tunnel like he did. He helps them realize it’s OK to be vulnerable and open up about their self-doubts. More importantly, it’s OK to shift the measurement of success beyond money and status — to happiness and fulfillment.
The family man, investor, and mentor helps men find their “edge” again. “That edge is something either you have or you don’t. Maybe you had it at one point and you lost it, but you can’t buy it,” he says. By taking them to the next level, he takes their businesses to the next level as well.
Left behind in Ecuador.
Villacis’ road to where he is today was paved early. So were the emotional scars that would surface in his midlife crisis.
When Villacis was 8 years old, his parents took a “quick trip” from Ecuador, where they lived, to the U.S. It turned out to be an extended trip in search of a better life, and it lasted three years. Villacis and his siblings were cared for by his grandparents in the meantime. When he was 11, they moved to Connecticut to be with his parents in their new home — a two-bedroom apartment they shared with two other families.
The change was confounding: a new language, culture, life, and … temperature. Connecticut winter wasn’t exactly the same as the climate he’d lived in near the equator. Villacis remembers starting sixth grade bundled in three jackets, waiting for the bus, looking like “a snowman with olive skin.”
People looked at him differently. And they picked on him, especially when the neighborhood kids had to start getting on the bus 30 minutes earlier so the driver could take Villacis to English language classes at a different school.
Villacis learned to use his differences to his entrepreneurial advantage. He started selling used Sega Genesis and Nintendo games in junior high school, sometimes hustling kids in church. In high school, he bought T-shirts for $5 while visiting cousins in the Bronx, then sold them back at school for $15 or $20.
When he was 18, his ambition for earning money became necessary — and urgent — when his father was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. The disease causes progressive muscle weakness and deterioration, and he knew his father’s days as a body-shop mechanic were numbered. While his mother took care of the household, Villacis felt the need to step up. “I had to figure out how to become a businessman, because I knew I was going to need to take care of them.”
He took on odd jobs, selling everything from computers to cars. When he was 21, his dual language skills helped him land a temp job at Bristol-Myers Squibb. At the same time, Villacis and his brother started investing in multifamily real estate properties. When the money got good enough, Villacis said adiós to the cubicle.
From buses and billboards to broke.
Villacis started his own real estate company at age 23, and it took less than seven years to become the largest Latino-owned real estate investment firm in Connecticut. He had over 150 on staff, including 14 of his family members.
Villacis had millions in assets. There were buses and billboards with his face on them. He had made it.
Then it all came crashing down. The market collapse in 2008 devastated his company, and Villacis was forced to lay off most of his staff. Millions in debt and afraid his wife would leave him as a result, he felt truly overwhelmed for the first time.
But his wife and family stuck by him. His “aha” moment came when he realized that people want to profit from their houses when the economy is good, but they are willing to sell for far less when the market crashes. Villacis started negotiating a lesser payout with his clients’ lenders. To his surprise, lenders accepted less than what they were owed. He then began to manage financial institutions’ bad assets. As the economy worsened, his contracts only grew.
“We were figuring out how to make lemonade out of lemons,” he says. Remarkably, he turned everything around in six months.
“I realized I wasn’t just lucky in my professional life,” he says. “I could make it in any market. Everything is a cycle. There’s always an opportunity.”
Drinking away the pain.
There’s also a human cycle in life, and what goes up can spiral down.
In his mid-30s, Villacis started having sharp, recurring stomach pain. He saw a series of doctors, including a cancer specialist. He had a colonoscopy, blood work, and other tests. They showed nothing out of the ordinary. Villacis was perfectly healthy.
When the pain didn’t go away, he feared the worst. “I thought I had cancer and was dying.”
So he drank. “It was the only thing that would stop the physical pain at night,” says Villacis. “I couldn’t sleep unless I had a drink. I was drinking tequila every night.”
In the beginning, it was a few shots a night. Eventually, it was half a bottle. The breaking point came when he woke up hungover on the couch and found his 4-year-old son staring at him, wondering what was wrong with daddy. “That’s when I realized I had a problem. I needed to figure out what was wrong with me.”
For the sake of his son and daughter, then age 2, Villacis began a process of “gut-wrenching” personal rediscovery that involved everything from self-help books and seminars to meditation retreats in Fiji and India. For the next year and a half, he spent half a million dollars on a journey out of his midlife crisis while his partners oversaw the business.
Villacis finally became aware of the source of his pain: emotional damage from his childhood separation from his parents, trauma from the disease that left his father in a wheelchair, and the market crash. As he began working it out within himself, the pain started to go away.
“I’m not a monk. I’m a businessman.”
To keep the pain away, Villacis meditated for three hours a day. While it was great for fulfillment, it wasn’t good for business. “I realized I’m not a monk; I’m a businessman,” he says. “I needed to find a way to take the teachings that I’d learned and actually operate like a businessman.”
That’s when it hit him: this was his “edge.” The concept of controlling your emotional state and having the awareness to operate at a higher capacity became the core of what he teaches today. His creativity took off, and he started having fun in his business again. His pain went away — and stayed away.
Using his “edge mindset,” Villacis helped his real estate employees overcome fear of failure. Something clicked, and they started doing more business. Their revenue in the first quarter alone matched that of the entire previous year. Word spread, and others began asking Villacis to teach them how he did it.
Villacis’ first coaching client was making just $40,000 a year. “I took him to $250,000 the first year. After three years, his business was doing over a million dollars,” he says. “That’s when I developed the framework I use now. I said OK, what we’re doing here works.”
In 2014, Villacis launched an elite coaching experience and retreat for male business owners and entrepreneurs called The Next Level Experience. He creates a finely curated group of high achievers, a sort of “comforting” brotherhood of individuals at a similar level of understanding. The framework includes a personalized action plan and measuring progress with accountability.
Villacis takes them through an unforgettable experience of “processes and breakthroughs that allow them to let go of the façade of who they think they are.” The ritual includes yoga breathing, meditation, and hypnosis, along with neuro-linguistic programming. This uses subconscious power statements similar to affirmations but stronger to help overcome self-doubt. Villacis has also developed The Next Level App, which tracks his clients’ behavior in a gamified, competitive way.
Today, Villacis charges $250,000 to work with clients one-on-one for a year. For $125,000, he takes on 12 “private mastermind” clients at a time and focuses on helping those making over $1 million a year exceed eight figures. He also offers three-and-a-half-day bootcamps for $25,000, and his team runs other year-long programs at the same price.
In total, his coaching revenue was $2 million in 2018, just a partial percentage of his net worth. He estimates that, between private clients and bootcamps, The Next Level Experience alone will bring in $5 million from coaching in 2019. His income stream also includes real estate, social media marketing, and investments in other companies.
You won’t find mention of “midlife crises” on the The Next Level Experience website. But Villacis writes openly about helping those who seem to have lost the vision for their business or the certainty they had when they first started.
Villacis describes midlife crisis as “the tunnel” and thinks of it as a rite of passage for many men. “Every time I have had a painful experience in my life, it was the kick in the a-- I needed to discover who I am,” he says.
“I’ve gone through what they’re going through. I know their fears. I know exactly what they’re feeling,” he says. “There is this pressure to be a leader, to be manly, to not talk about it or show emotion. You don’t have anywhere to go. You feel like there’s no support, like you have to keep it all together, when the reality is you don’t have it all together.”
The fear is that a younger, faster guy will take your spot. And if you don’t grow and innovate, if you don’t “figure your sh-- out,” make strong decisions, and take risks, you’re out. To Villacis, “businessmen are modern-day gladiators. The longer we’re in business, the higher the risk of getting ‘killed’ — replaced or sidelined. That’s the game.”
Villacis’ favorite movie is indeed “Gladiator,” the epic historical drama starring Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius. Even in his free time, he is uniquely drawn to stories of men’s journeys to incredible success — which always seem to involve pain or crisis, followed by a purposeful triumph.
This is the theme of his third book, a self-help book for businessmen called “The King’s Code” to be released in spring 2019. He has planned a journey back to Ecuador as part of “Tu Proximo Nivel” (Your Next Level), a grand tour sharing his message through Latin America. He’s also working on a version of his app that will be available to anyone.
“I want to impact 1,000 leaders and influencers by 2020; I want to help them find their edge. Every man that I help represents 1,000 lives because he’s a leader and an influencer. By impacting one person who can make a difference, I’m impacting thousands of lives at the same time.”
Can you hear the crowd chanting in the Colosseum now? “Maximus! Maximus! Maximus!”