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This Entrepreneur Launched Her Booming Real-Estate Business In The Middle Of A Recession In tough economic times most business owners can only see challenges. Rokelle Sun saw an opportunity. Here's how she made the most of it.

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Rokelle Sun

Vital Stats

Player: Rokelle Sun
Company: Greenland Funds USA

Provide a brief bio on your business: How you launched, level of success, growth trajectory, where it operates, who it serves, what it provides, how it started, founder details, etc.

Although I studied economics in college, I started my career as a multilingual broadcast journalist working for KTSF TV in San Francisco, covering primarily business and political

In the middle of the 2008 financial crisis, Rokelle Sun left her position as a journalist at KTSF TV in San Francisco and launched her first business, Greenland Funds USA, a real estate investment and redevelopment firm in San Francisco, California.

Related: How To Recession-Proof Your Business

As a real estate developer, Rokelle is responsible for asset allocation, risk management, and redevelopment strategies. In short, her job is to optimise investor property values by ensuring the most efficient use of capital.

For over a decade, Greenland Funds has flourished based on the business's successful capital growth strategy in special situation funds and highly-volatile real estate markets. During the last financial crisis, their investment strategies and redevelopment tactics produced sizable returns for the company, most importantly, a threshold of 15% in annual returns for investors.

In 2017, Rokelle co-founded her current firm, Prism Capital Partners, combining her artistic vision and investment savvy to create highly innovative, technology and design-driven living spaces utilizing environmentally conscious building practices.

Entrepreneur chatted to Rokelle about launching in a recession and how she bootstrapped her business to success.

Q: What funds did you use to launch your business?

I started my business with my own savings combined with capital from family and friends. As my investment portfolio began to yield more and more impressive results, I was able to attract additional investors.

Related: A Beginner's Guide to the 5 Easiest Ways to Become a Real Estate Investor

My track record for creating and maintaining successful capital growth strategies has laid a strong foundation for trust and confidence from our investors. I learnt that "show, don't tell' is the key to success in a capital-intensive business. You need to prove yourself before people will back you.

Q: In addition to launching in the middle of a recession, what were the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Because I started Greenland Funds during the financial crisis, it was extremely difficult to lure investors into real estate at that point in time. Most people were pessimistic about the market, and many didn't believe it would ever completely recover.

I had to come up with a strategy to limit the downside because every potential investor I talked to was afraid that the market would tank even further.

However, I was eventually able to find a market niche. I executed timely buy/sell turnarounds in order to limit the risk and aligned numerous advantageous factors in order to achieve a win-win synergistic market advantage in the special-situation real estate category.

Related: How To Make The Most of a Recession

Looking back, I think my success was due to my ability to see prospects in unlikely places and to find opportunities where most saw only a dead end.

By earning my stripes during the toughest of times, I learnt that challenge energizes me and stimulates my ability to think strategically. I'm proud that through acquiring and redeveloping distressed properties, Greenland Funds participated in the recovery of the US housing market.

Q. Have you needed to pivot the business, and if so, why?

Yes. In the beginning, I was aiming for acquisitions and long-term holding/growth. But I had to shift my strategy to high-volume, short-term holding and fast turnarounds in order to limit the risk to investors. In this way, I was able to secure funding.

Q. Why do so many businesses fail operationally, and how can this be avoided?

I believe that the fundamental problem is the failure to distinguish between operational effectiveness and strategy.

Many firms prioritise productivity, quality and speed, and this has led to a remarkable number of management tools and techniques, such as outsourcing, total quality management, partnering, reengineering, time-based competition, and change management.

Related: How Sisa Ngebulana Built SA's First Black-Managed Listed Property Fund

Though these might result in dramatic operational improvements, they do not always translate into sustainable profitability.

In my experience, management tools cannot take the place of strategy. In the competitive field of real estate investment and redevelopment, maintaining a viable competitive position in the marketplace is key.

Q. How did you determine who your target market was, and how have you reached them?

I determined my target market by applying economic theory and investment strategies. I also bet on the rate and speed of the recovery of the housing market in the surrounding subprime areas of San Francisco.

Given that The Bay Area has one of the strongest housing markets in the US, the methodology of "buying" and "selling" investments is the core of investing; hence, the very basic rule of investing: "Buy low and sell high."

I was certain that what went down would come up again once the market recovered (given enough time). Though this sounds like common sense, when you try to put it into practice, most people shy away from the "bad" times.

Related: 5 Ways to Get the Most From Commercial Property Ownership

Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor-in-Chief: South Africa

Nadine von Moltke-Todd is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Media South Africa. She has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors and subject matter experts over the course of a decade. She was the managing editor of the award-winning Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa from June 2010 until January 2019, its final print issue. Nadine’s expertise lies in curating insightful and unique business content and distilling it into actionable insights that business readers can implement in their own organisations.
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