Juli Kaufmann believes in a quadruple bottom line return. Her company, Fix Development, applies this philosophy to each and every real estate project in their portfolio, prioritizing economic stability, environmental stewardship, social equity, and cultural continuity.
Juli founded Fix Development in 2009, and has since developed more than $25 million in real estate projects in Milwaukee. While Fix Development operates as a “for-benefit” company, Juli’s focus is on businesses that generate earned income but give top priority to social mission. The Aux Evanston, a project to be owned 100% by the community, is a great example of this.
Juli is also the managing member of Riverbee Collective, a collective of over 40 investors who all own a piece of a Milwaukee building formerly known as the Cream City Hostel. This building was redeveloped by Fix Development, and the Riverbee Collective is currently transitioning the building into a housing cooperative meant to support people dealing with losses and uncertainty such as jobs, instability and landlord challenges. She is also a founding member of Fund Milwaukee, an investment group that seeks to match unaccredited local investors with opportunities to support local entrepreneurs, all while focusing on impact. The effort has raised over $1 million in local capital to date. Juli is also a founding member of Bublr Bikes, Milwaukee’s bike sharing system. She also consults on impact-based commercial real estate development projects, providing guidance on real estate and financing development strategies.
Awards include the 2020 Milwaukee Magazine Betty Award, which honors remarkable women in the community: 2018 Woman Executive & Executive of the Year by BizTimes Milwaukee; 2017 Biggest Neighborhood Impact Award by the Milwaukee Business Journal: and a 2013 AIA Top Ten Green Projects in the Nation, for The Clock Shadow Building, in Milwaukee.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:19] Hi there. Thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate for Good. I’m Eve Picker and I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. I love real estate. Real estate makes places good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or not. In this show, I’m interviewing the disruptors, those creative thinkers and doers that are shrugging off the status quo in order to build better for everyone. And speaking of building better, I’m very excited to share that my company, Small Change, is now raising capital through a community round that is open to the public. Small Change is a leading equity crowdfunding platform for impact investment in real estate. For as little as $250, anyone 18 and over can invest in Small Change, helping to fuel our growth as we disrupt the old boys club of capital that routinely ignores so many qualified people and projects. Please visit wefunder.com/smallchange to review the full details of our raise and to make an investment if you can. And remember, investing is risky. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.
Eve: [00:01:59] People, planet, profit and place. This is the return that Julie Kaufmann believes all real estate should achieve. Less than that is simply not good enough. Julie founded her company, Fix Development, with this explicit goal. She applies the philosophy to each and every project in her portfolio, prioritizing economic stability, environmental stewardship, social equity and cultural continuity. One recent example is The Aux in Evanston, Illinois, a vacant warehouse destined to be converted to a black owned business wellness hub. The goal is for the community to own and manage the building, with investors contributing through a crowdfunded capital raise, and Julie has orchestrated this in the background.
Eve: [00:02:58] Hi Julie, it’s really great to have you on my show.
Juli Kaufmann: [00:03:01] Hi Eve. Good to see you.
Eve: [00:03:04] So, you’ve said that the driving force behind the fixed development business model is your quadruple bottom line philosophy, and I wanted to learn about that. What is that?
Juli: [00:03:16] The quadruple bottom line is sort of a morphing of what’s more commonly referred to as a triple bottom line for people, planet and profit. I think that’s language that got some traction in recent years. I in my work really just, personally in my life really, just care you know a lot about people, a lot about planet and I understand we live in a world where profit or money drives basically everything. So, for me, it was always just more about finding pathways that had to do, had impact beyond just my pocketbook. But the fourth element really is about place or culture. So, people, planet, profit and place, recognizing that, you can’t just drop in something that’s beautiful for the environment and good for a few people. It really has to be of the fabric of place to be meaningful in a way that I think transcends time. And I try to integrate that fourth bottom line in the work I do as well.
Eve: [00:04:17] So, how did you build your development company around that idea? That’s a lot.
Juli: [00:04:24] Yeah, I mean, it’s a lot. It just I think it makes sense in hindsight when people are like, what do you do? Try and creating a framework to make sense. But what I really like to say is I built my company and I called it Fix Development because I was just an individual who was an activist and wanted to fix shit. If I can say that in your podcast.
Eve: [00:04:41] Of course you can.
Juli: [00:04:42] So, I was like, I shortened it to Fix Development to be a little more appropriate. But I think that I’ve evolved as a human, as an activist, it’s my nature. And that started back in college, you know, protesting and being activist around a number of topics, including climate change. We didn’t even call it climate change back in those days. But nonetheless, thinking about, how do I be the change I want to see in the world? And eventually I found my way to entrepreneurship only because I was living in neighborhoods all the time and concerned about what I saw in my own neighborhoods. Why were there toxic brownfields? Why was there disinvestment? Why were there lack of things that I wanted to go to like ice cream shops in my neighborhood? And what can I do as an individual to make that look differently? And so, it really is just around that activism background and a do-it-yourself mentality that the world is not going to change for us and the systems are increasingly morphing against us, if you will, us being the euphemism for the individual and our own self-determination. And so, through that lens, I started to think about what I wanted my little corner of the world to look like, and development became the vehicle I used.
Eve: [00:05:55] So, you know, then Fix Development, what needs to be fixed in development? I sprung that one on you, right?
Juli: [00:06:04] What doesn’t need to be fixed? Yeah. I mean, I think what you focus on in your podcast, are these themes are very common for us change agents in this work and it’s really the financial systems and real estate systems themselves. They’ve been, the architecture of those systems, are built around white male dominance and that’s not always bad but it’s exclusionary and we’re a diverse, multicultural world. And in my community, that’s certainly applies. And in my neighborhood that applies. And when you don’t have all those voices and perspectives and ideas at the table, it changes what the world looks like. And it’s not always for the better. And when you’re increasingly driven by solely economic profit of singular profit, financial profit as a bottom line, it’s no surprise that there’s toxic waste dumps all around us and that people are marginalized in decision making because they’re not valued. And so, I even forget the question, but I think all of that needs to be fixed.
Eve: [00:07:05] All of that needs to be fixed. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it goes really deep, doesn’t it? Because that filters into zoning and all sorts of things that impact the physical world around us. But what led you to launch Fix Development? What were you doing before?
Juli: [00:07:21] You know, my background is, I started in corporate America. I worked for Procter and Gamble, and I sold like Downy fabric softener. You know, gross right? Sort of sucked the soul right out of me. But it’s useful, I have a business degree background and I think it’s useful as a training to understand the mindset of a lot of smart people in the world and how they apply their intellect. And I didn’t view it as meaningful. And I eventually worked my way through some nonprofits thinking mission driven work would be a solution. But you find very quickly that all sectors of the world have systems that are oppressive and dominant paradigms that are part of the problem and not the solution. And so, you know, I found my way, like many entrepreneurs, to entrepreneurship. And I think the reason real estate was my calling had more to do with just neighborhood activism. Like I could see places and wanted to see places look differently. I don’t have formal training in real estate development.
Eve: [00:08:19] Oh, who does?
Juli: [00:08:20] Yeah, right. I mean.
Eve: [00:08:21] That’s why so much of it is bad.
Juli: [00:08:24] Amen, sister. I think that partly that I recognize that, like, there were a lot of bros in my community who were like, doing some stuff. They just had access to money. And I was like, oh, what are you doing that for? You know, because they can, I guess. And so, what’s beautiful about it is, the flip of it is because, quote unquote, anyone can do it, but can do it badly. Anybody can also do it and do it well, was my belief and I did put that to the test. And so, I do use this DIY strategy in all of my work now, do it yourself. I learned it myself. And then I said, you know, I’m nothing special. Why can’t I collaborate with other neighbors in other parts of my city and teach them alongside me as I’m learning, and we learn together and do it ourselves?
Juli: [00:09:11] So, a big part of the Fix Development model is this co-development model, bringing together spheres of expertise that aren’t necessarily developers but that know communities are, you know, community leaders who are opinion leaders, who can rally neighbors around an idea, bringing together folks who just have lived there forever, who know the real estate and are like, oh, that building is such an important asset in our community. Here’s why. Those kinds of values are critical to successful development. And so, it’s been a mechanism I continue to use now, is just working with quote unquote average neighbors to raise up real estate.
Eve: [00:09:49] Interesting. So, it must be really difficult to balance each project’s financial return on investment to reach that quadruple bottom line goal. What does that look like for you?
Juli: [00:10:03] Every project is different because every project is such, you know, that cultural resonance that being embedded in of the community is so critical that each community defines the project for us and therefore they’re never the same. So, I have projects where, you know, Black leadership, Black equity, Black ownership is a critical social impact of the project, and other projects I have a real driving force around climate change and minimizing environmental impact and celebrating resilience. And those aren’t mutually exclusive. But, you know, in each project, a different set of values emerges as kind of the leading set. And that’s fun. It keeps it interesting. And, you know, in an ideal world, all of the bottom lines are represented, and they are to some degree, just some have different priorities, I guess I would say.
Juli: [00:10:52] And it’s just being true to that and bringing that as a through line, through everything, weaving together those priorities in each decision. So, for example, a project I have in Illinois right now, African American equity is the critical driving factor. And so, they are making decisions at every step. And for example, we’re hiring a Black architect, we’re hiring a Black general contractor, we’re hiring a Black graphic designer. So, it’s not just, you know, who the tenants are, who the leaders are, what the project looks like, who owns it at the end. It’s every step in between where that priority is paramount. But at the end of the day, we’re making strong environmental decisions. It’s going to be a cultural icon and there will be a positive bottom line financially. So, each project is a different tapestry. And so, therefore they’re all extremely hard and take a lot of work. And it’s not easy to cookie cutter these.
Eve: [00:11:41] Well, I’m going to dig into one aspect of it. You mentioned this project that is really all about building an asset for Black people, for African Americans. So, you know, you seen the statistics on investments in Blacks and in women, and they’re like shockingly low. 1% of all venture capital invested goes to Black-owned companies. So, in real estate, that must be really hard. If you’re putting together a project where Blacks have ownership and are the driving force, what does that look like when you go to a financial institution or try to raise money for that project?
Juli: [00:12:17] Yeah, you don’t go to financial institutions because you get what, you know you get, which is no. Or patronizing maybe that’s eventually a no. Or you’re doing it wrong, here’s the way to do it. And I think that for me, in my work, I’m white, but I’m a woman. And when I started, I happened to be a bit younger, too. So, those were a couple strikes against me anyways. You know, people just pat you on the head and say, oh, isn’t that cute? It’ll never work. And I think now I’ve done my work for over ten years, you know, I still get no, but I’m less patronized because I have examples I can show. And in this case, we don’t bother to just waste time on it anymore. We go to a contingency of the willing. And increasingly there are more of us. There are platforms like Small Change that you’ve helped lead that bring together like-minded compatriots. I’m often asked the question, who else out there is doing the work you do? And for the longest time I said, I have no idea. I’m sure there are brilliant people.
Eve: [00:13:13] Yeah.
Juli: [00:13:14] I’m no different in some ways, and there are probably people just like me so frustrated everywhere in this country and beyond. But I’m too busy trying to get this job done to know. But I knew of you a little bit. So, now I think there are mechanisms through the World Wide Web where we’re finding each other, and that means investors too. So, I don’t generally use banks. I can’t. They don’t want to party with me, so I don’t party with them. But we have to find more angels. It’s still the case that a lot of projects that I work on and folks like me and entrepreneurs like me, we’re not just trying to build in suburbs, in affluent neighborhoods and then layer on it something we’re trying to solve way more than that. And we recognize, we want to be in the urban community because density is important to climate change. We want to be in the urban community because equity is important to human existence and there are lack of projects in certain communities. So, we’re already layering on to our developments, so many barriers that most of our traditional colleagues don’t have. So, we still need subsidy if you will. We need angels and impact investors.
Eve: [00:14:14] You know, you need subsidy basically, because the world thinks that Blacks and women are not investment worthy.
Juli: [00:14:21] Right. And that has built up a system of, that the real estate won’t get appraised, even if I can show you that I have a business model that will work, you’re not going to value my piece of real estate in a certain neighborhood because of all the other systemic racism and oppression and all those things. I mean, of course, all real estate development projects have subsidy. They just call them different. They call them tax incremental financing, or they call them, you know, the government will give $1 million handout to our very successful corporation in our town because they asked for it. When we ask for it, we have to do a song and dance all day to the end of the moon. But I think it’s worth it when you see the impact of these projects once they’re built. They are transformative in people’s lives, truly. And now we have ten years of experience in my company where you see the impact of the jobs that have been created, the companies that have been formed, the commercial corridors that have been catalyzed to greater impact, neighborhoods that have become more stable. I mean, it’s very real and very tangible.
Eve: [00:15:19] Can you tell me about 1 or 2 of your very favorites?
Juli: [00:15:23] They’re all my Children and none are my favorites, Eve.
Eve: [00:15:25] Okay, well, 1 or 2 of your children then. You know, I suppose a couple of projects that best exemplify this quadruple bottom line and what you can get out of it.
Juli: [00:15:38] Yes. I have a wonderful project in a neighborhood called Walker’s Point. It’s a historic neighborhood in Milwaukee, one of the three founding neighborhoods of the city. And it was my first project. So, that’s probably why I love it. It’s a very hard-core example of my philosophy in action. I lived kitty corner from a toxic waste dump in my neighborhood, and that just infuriated me. And on that site, I ultimately built my first huge project. It’s an $8 million building called the Clock Shadow Building, and it has a urban creamery on its first floor, and then it has health related businesses on the top three floors. It’s a smaller set of investors. It was my first project before crowdfunding was really even going. It’s over, it’s now 12 years old this year and it had had incredible impact. And now that neighborhood is actually quite transformed. And what I’m proud of is we set the standard and I think we helped catalyze change in that neighborhood. And now it’s actually outpacing, it’s one of the few neighborhoods where change is outpacing the rest of the community.
Juli: [00:16:35] And so, we set rents back in the day that are now renewable in long term leases that are affordable. So as the tides raise all ships, our ship is staying anchored. And those tenants remain viable and have a growing base of customers because the neighborhood has grown up around it and it has won international awards for its climate impact, we use rainwater to flush the toilets, we have a farm on the rooftop. So, it’s demonstrated a lot in terms of environmental impact, it’s generated returns for its investors every year, and it has thriving nonprofit and for-profit tenants. So, I’m really proud of that project. And it’s one of my first.
Eve: [00:17:10] Let me ask you about that. You have this anti-gentrification strategy. How does that work?
Juli: [00:17:14] It’s, first of all, it’s community owned, right? So, our neighbors, our owners aren’t looking to flip and get out and make a big profit. They would like a return on their investment, but by definition, they are neighbors who own our real estate and therefore their vested interest is in their neighborhood staying great for them. And they don’t want Applebee’s, you know, they want a local coffee shop. They don’t want all these mega chains come and taking the soul out of their neighborhood. They want our local neighbor who opened a ice cream shop to continue to thrive with that ice cream shop. That’s a literal example. It’s called Purple Door Ice Cream that we got into one of our projects in this neighborhood. So, I forgot the question.
Eve: [00:17:50] No, that’s good. That’s a great answer. Because it’s community owned, it’s community controlled, and decisions are made that keep the project full of the sorts of businesses the community wants. Right?
Juli: [00:18:02] And it comes, those owners have a philosophical alignment with the quadruple bottom line. So, they’re getting a financial return. They’re not looking to increase those rents every year just because they can. They’re looking to ensure those tenants stay. They keep getting return, but they get those cultural, social and environmental impacts as part of their valued return. And if we were to forgo those returns, sure, we could recruit different tenants at this point. But that’s really critical. And I think without owners like this working in combination with tenants, you don’t have that kind of outcome.
Eve: [00:18:34] Right. So, how do you find the projects or how do they come to you?
Juli: [00:18:39] Yeah, there’s an overabundance of brilliance and opportunity and properties in all of our communities that could be developed. So, there’s sort of some special magic and sauce. I started by working my own neighborhood and picking off projects that were meaningful to me. As the model grew and more neighborhoods were attracted to it working in their neighborhoods, I’ve partnered with Co-developers. And so, I usually look to find somebody who’s extremely motivated, who has time and capacity to give to the project that is a recognized leader, and they may not have the business model fleshed out, but they know a lot and they will come as a co-equal to the table minimally. And then we build the project together. And at this point, I’m not taking on any more because I have way too much on my plate.
Juli: [00:19:25] But most of my projects have been in different neighborhoods throughout the greater Milwaukee area, and I now have a, I was recruited to a project in Illinois which I resisted for quite some time because, I mean, it’s so hyperlocal, the work we do. You know, it’s knowing your community that really matters. But in that particular case, there are five other co-developers. So, it’s a really strong local team and I’m able to just bring the real estate experience that that team did not have and add it to their expertise. So, the common threads are that there’s passionate co-developers, that there’s a really cogent idea. In the case of the Illinois project, it’s a coalition of tenants focused around wellness and racial equity. So, they have a common theme they want to get after and that’s it. Then we just build it from the ground up. We do it ourselves. Each one’s different.
Eve: [00:20:10] Have any disappointed you, any of these co-ownership models?
Juli: [00:20:15] Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say the one thing that’s been beautiful and not disappointing me, but it’s restored my hope is that there have been so resilient through pandemic that because of that local ownership, there is such a strong base of community support that buys into these tenants that goes and shops there even during the hardest times or where experts from the ownership community come in and help them pivot from a brick and mortar model to a virtual model so that most of our tenants not only survived but thrived during pandemic. That was an upside. A downside, a hard thing I learned, I guess, one project I’ve had was a hostel project. It’s the first hostel in Milwaukee and we partnered on that project, we had about 80 community owners. We still do. But it was a single tenant project.
Eve: [00:21:01] 80.
Juli: [00:21:01] Yeah. I mean, I think that was that’s one of my larger ownership groups, 80 owners. All in the neighborhood, really excited about the hostel concept. And then it opened right before pandemic.
Eve: [00:21:10] Oh.
Juli: [00:21:12] Hostel is like the worst possible business to have.
Eve: [00:21:15] Oh yeah, that’s pretty bad. How do you pivot from that?
Juli: [00:21:16] So, it died. It died, and then it was our only tenant, so then we had a real tough challenge. We were able to pivot. But the learning there is diversify your revenue streams.
Eve: [00:21:28] Yes. Yes, So.
Juli: [00:21:31] But not too many. Not too many.
Eve: [00:21:32] What are some other influences on your work? Maybe that’s enough. You sound to me, I’m an introvert, you sound incredibly brave for taking on this sort of vast array of new people and always sort of putting them together in this big jigsaw puzzle of development projects. 80 investors in a little project is significant.
Juli: [00:21:56] It’s such an astute insight, Eve. I’m also an introvert, and when people who meet me learn that they’re stunned because you have to cultivate your extroverted and I think I’m shocked by you telling me that as well. I’d say who inspires me are ironically, people. It’s such a hard thing to explain to people who aren’t like us in terms of introversion, but I really don’t want to spend a ton of time with people, yet awe inspired by all of them. And they are the reason the work happens. But I just would like to go away from all of them. And it’s not because hate people so much as it sucks the soul out of me sometimes.
Eve: [00:22:26] It really does. Yeah, I taught for a while and it was just exhausting, and it took me a few years to figure out why because, you know, I gave it my all, but I was so exhausted afterwards, it would take me the whole next day to recover.
Juli: [00:22:40] Yeah, exactly.
Eve: [00:22:41] And other people get energy from that. And we were sucked dry, right. So…
Juli: [00:22:48] Yes, but I think it’s an important point to say that these projects, this work that we do, it requires people with incredible passion and energy and commitment and perseverance to lift such hard things and believe in them for so long. And part of the reason I stand in my two feet and come and be present all the time is because I do see how many people are moved by it. And one by one we turn minds and hearts and I just keep telling others, you can do it too. Please do it.
Eve: [00:23:17] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Juli: [00:23:18] So I can take a nap.
Eve: [00:23:19] Yeah. No, I feel exactly the same way. So, the big question is, and we know the answer, is this kind of real estate development harder than developing a market rate building?
Juli: [00:23:32] Isn’t that hysterical? It’s a hysterical question.
Eve: [00:23:35] But it’s an important one because, you know, sometimes it’s actually really hard to get to that magical 21% internal rate of return that, you know, deep pocketed investors are looking for. That’s hard.
Juli: [00:23:45] Never get to that. Never get to that. But I guess I will say in fairness, I don’t think I’ve ever done a traditional real estate development. So, what do I know how hard they are? What came to mind to me right now is like what people say to you when they haven’t had children, and then once they have children, they’re like, I had no idea.
Eve: [00:24:02] It’s true.
Juli: [00:24:02] Traditional development is really hard. I get it. I’m sure that it is. Now layer on all these other things and try and do it. You’re really just trying to change systems in this kind of work, and I think people can all understand how hard that is. And what for me at this point in midlife is difficult, is looking backwards and thinking, wow, so many of these things have been amazing. And then while I’ve been doing them, I’ve felt so proud, and I’ve seen the impact. And yet at the same time, it’s crushing to see how little the world has changed.
Eve: [00:24:34] Completely crushing.
Juli: [00:24:36] That’s where I have to look to the next generation for hope and inspiration, because I’m short of it. I feel like I do feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. Yet, I’m just so dismayed at how little progress as a society we’ve made and.
Eve: [00:24:49] We actually seem to have stood still. I think we’re working in this little corner of it, and it feels like progress. But then when I look outside this little corner, I realize there really isn’t any progress at all and that is, it is crushing.
Juli: [00:25:01] Yes, the end. Thank you for coming to our depressing podcast.
Eve: [00:25:06] Well, if you’re going to listen to two women developers, this is what you get.
Juli: [00:25:11] Reality sucks. We’re in it.
Eve: [00:25:14] Yes. My first really significant project downtown. When I went to the first banker, I approached, I got, oh, honey, no one’s going to live downtown. And that was, that just motivated me to go to the next one.
Juli: [00:25:28] Right. I mean, I do think, like, there’s a point at which it motivates you, right Because we’re so wired to not take no for an answer because we can see the vision. And I think that’s the power of continuing to do the work, is helping others continue to see that there is an alternative. It’s like when we had the first Black president in the United States. I know how meaningful that is. One of my other favorite projects we didn’t talk about is called the Sherman Phoenix. What happened in Milwaukee was police shot a Black man, there was an uprising. A ton of buildings got burnt down. One was a bank, and me, together with co developers, redeveloped that into a hub for 30 black owned businesses. All to say, I now get to lead tours where all kinds of folks, not just Black people, come and walk and say, and you can literally see the tears in their eyes saying, I’ve never seen a place like this in my world. And these are Milwaukeeans who live in predominantly Black neighborhoods, who have never seen a marketplace where the business owners and the building owners look like them. And it is literally transformative.
Eve: [00:26:30] That’s really fabulous.
Juli: [00:26:31] Yeah,
Eve: [00:26:32] Will you conduct an Eve Picker podcast tour?
Juli: [00:26:36] Yes.
Eve: [00:26:37] For all our listeners, that’s really fabulous.
Juli: [00:26:39] Of course.
Eve: [00:26:39] So, then how do people perceive you and how do they respond to the work that you do?
Juli: [00:26:44] I think you have to ask them, right? My sense of it is people like you and I have fans and haters, I’m sure. I don’t know. I mean, you don’t get to this point in Systems Change work without ruffling a few traditional feathers. I speak truth to power all the time. It’s increasingly easier for me to do that in rooms where I look different than the audience I’m talking to because I have the power to do that. I try in every speech I now give to talk about my white privilege. I talk about white men, and it’s not an attack. It’s just a statement of reality that we need to keep saying out loud. I date a white man and sometimes I can see how uncomfortable he gets with that conversation. It’s not personal, it’s reality. And until you. When you’re the dominant paradigm, you don’t see it. You don’t see how it affects those of us who aren’t in it. So, I think that that makes people less comfortable with me sometimes. But certainly, I know that there’s plenty of people who view this work as inspirational and I hope that they’ll replicate it in their little corners of the world.
Eve: [00:27:52] Yes. So, I’ve heard you say that much of your work has less to do with construction and more to do with advancing social entrepreneurship and developing new models for social investing. What does that mean and how has that played out in your life?
Juli: [00:28:09] Yeah, I think really real estate is just the vehicle. You know, it’s a tool, but what’s really important is how we change. I don’t even like to say change the narrative, but actual change the reality of the corner of the world. It happens to be through brick and mortar, but the real power of the model starts with co-development. Teaching neighbors that this is a skill set and a power they have that they can access and that they can take control of in their own little corner of the world. That’s number one. Number two is that then you can imagine not only leading a project, but populating a project with your friends and neighbors who have brilliant ideas, who never had access.
Juli: [00:28:48] That guy down the street who makes this new thing he calls a spring roll, but that he bakes, not fries. And it has sweet potato and black beans in it because that culturally feels more acceptable, that idea is brilliant. And it doesn’t have to be that you go to a big bank and get a big loan, your neighbors can pull together and help you start that little business in this little building that’s on your main street. That’s all possible. And guess what? Those banks won’t finance it. Well, that’s great. You know why? Because we don’t want that kind of system oppressing us any further. Look what they’ve done to put us in this position. Let’s do it ourselves together and own this building. So, when I started, there weren’t mechanisms to self-fund and do it ourselves. I mean, learning how to do real estate was somewhat possible because I did it in places where nobody gave a crap, to be honest. And so, there were so many opportunities that we could just take.
Eve: [00:29:33] That’s exactly what I did. Yeah.
Juli: [00:29:35] Get buildings for free here, please take this building for free. And then, oh, no, only a crazy person would do that. And then, right. You know.
Eve: [00:29:43] Oh I know exactly.
Juli: [00:29:44] And then you do it. But then you feel so proud because you did it together and you have this amazing thing that exists in it and it’s a powerful beacon. When we started, there wasn’t sort of a mechanism, there wasn’t crowdfunding, there weren’t crowdfunding laws, believe it or not. I mean, the Internet did exist, but not much more. So, we formed a group called Fund Milwaukee, which in many ways is a precursor to what you have as Small Change or many other platforms that aren’t real estate focused now. But we just looked to a lot of local living economies across the state and country and said, how are you pulling your assets and resources as neighbors to get things to happen? And we built off of that. So, we built our own little micro funding mechanism in Milwaukee. It’s now been supplanted mostly by some of these platforms, but it still works because we’re all volunteers, so we don’t layer on any fees which any platform needs to survive.
Eve: [00:30:37] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Juli: [00:30:39] You can’t do this for free forever, even though we do a lot of it for free. And then it’s because people give to people, right? And so, people like us, who don’t look like the power structure, who don’t have the right language, come to a safe environment and say, I have this idea. I don’t even know how to put it into a business plan. It’s a group that wraps around and helps and says, here’s why this might work or here’s why it wouldn’t. We’re not going to reject you because you didn’t have a good business plan. We’re going to help you. It’s a supportive environment. So, all of that is meaningful and has impact. And at the end of the day, yes, there’s a building, but what we’re left with is people whose lives have been changed and whose skill set has been expanded. And that can be adapted and replicated and expanded in their families and in their neighborhoods and in wherever they go next. And that’s intrinsic wealth.
Eve: [00:31:25] And that’s an amazing legacy to leave behind, which is only, because you’re pretty young, it’s only going to get better. It’s pretty fabulous.
Juli: [00:31:34] I’m pretty young. I’m trying to retire soon.
Eve: [00:31:38] That’s young. It’s just a state of mind.
Juli: [00:31:40] Fair enough, right. I need another lifetime to hike for a while away from everybody.
Eve: [00:31:46] Yes. So, I have one last question. And that’s what keeps you up at night?
Juli: [00:31:51] You know, it’s what we touched on earlier. It’s not anything specific to my projects. It’s specific to the world. And, you know, will we survive climate change? Will my kids survive climate change and wealth inequality? Those are the two main disparities that I see just getting worse. And I am very scared that we’re not substantively making progress in the right direction. I see, there’s very few women world leaders, and I think it matters when we have them and they’re stepping aside because they’re exhausted from the work. And I think we need more people with bold and just profoundly transformative disruptions at this point.
Eve: [00:32:31] Yes, the New Zealand prime minister stepped aside, which was really sad for exactly that reason. Yeah.
Juli: [00:32:37] So, I hope, I want to stay hopeful, but I have to say it’s hard to see how we get to the other side of wealth inequality and climate change. And those are the two things that I think really are spiraling us out of control these days.
Eve: [00:32:51] Yeah, well, I want to believe that there’s a lot of people like us out there squirreling away in their little corner, making things happen because, you know, there’s got to be, right. I wish I lived in your little corner of Milwaukee. It sounds fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s a great conversation and I want to come visit.
Juli: [00:33:13] Well, thank you and thank you for Small Change. We are raising for my projects on your platform, and it’s been an incredible vehicle to do that and it’s transformative in the work that I do to have platforms that advocate the same values. So, thank you.
Eve: [00:33:46] I hope you enjoyed today’s guest and our deep dive. You can find out more about this episode or others you might have missed on the show notes page at RethinkRealEstateforGood.co. There’s lots to listen to there. You can support this podcast by sharing it with others, posting about it on social media or leaving a rating and review. To catch all the latest from me you can follow me on LinkedIn. Even better, if you’re ready to dabble in some impact investing yourself head on over to wefunder.com/smallchange where you can invest directly in Small Change and our mission to democratize capital formation to create impact in commercial real estate development. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music, and a big thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Juli Kaufmann