Meir Fried, co-founder and CEO of Lightwater, is regarded as the epitome of success on the national CRE stage. Meir is seen as a sincere person who can work his way through even the trickiest of situations, whether it be dealing with staff, investors, or coming up with unconventional solutions to hedge risk in an economy with rising rates. He draws on his extensive managerial background as VP and Partner at J Wasser & Co. and leads the Lightwater team with the same professionalism, honesty, and innovation. We had the opportunity to interview him today and learn more about him and his incredible entrepreneurial journey
1. What was it like growing up in your neighborhood?
I grew up in Brooklyn NY. Most people think of Brooklyn NY as this hip trendy hipster area, which is accurate, but Brooklyn also is home to an incredible amount of ethnicities, each of whom builds their own little world within Brooklyn. Growing up I was entirely oblivious to the fact that Brooklyn was beyond diverse, and housed so many different kinds of people from different backgrounds. From when I was born, until I was around 17, my view of Brooklyn was that there were 3 types of people. Hasidic Jews (ultra-Orthodox), Orthodox Jews (not ultra), and non-Jews of various persuasions.
It was a very sheltered view of the world, but my community prides itself on keeping children sheltered until they are mature enough to interact with outsiders in a way where we can stay committed to our morals and beliefs, and at the same time offer the dignity and respect that is due to all people. I had very minimal exposure to people who were not Orthodox Jews, and our exposure to American Culture was also curtailed. But we were very committed to our sports. Playing, and following all types of sports was very common. We followed all major sports, with extreme dedication, since it was one of the few “Kosher” outlets that were acceptable in our community.
2. What do you remember the most about your childhood that still is relevant to who you are today?
One thing stands out above the rest, and I can picture it like it was yesterday. I try to instill this in each of my kids. I liked playing sports a lot. I was one of the top kids in my school. Especially in Basketball. We didn’t have organized sports, but we took our pickup games very seriously. Every now and then I would either have a bad day or meet a new kid that was better than me. But it wouldn’t get me down. Because I knew that all I needed to do was go back home, and spend a dozen hours in my backyard practicing, and I would be ready to take on any challenge. The notion that any challenge can be overcome by hard work and dedication, and the fact that it proved to be accurate again and again and again throughout my childhood, really instilled with me a feeling that I can believe in myself against all odds, and that with enough hard work, I can position myself for success. I saw over and over again that if I didn’t put in the work, the results were not forthcoming. But when I outworked everyone in the school, I would come out on top. The discipline that sports taught me was a lesson that I live with every day, and continue to use for all my endeavors. Whether it’s building a community charity, building my family relationships, or building a business. Those principles have remained true as ever.
3. What was it like hanging out with you in high school or college?
Interesting question. I had 2 phases in High School. (Probably more than 2, but this is an article and not a book.) In the first 2 years of High School, I was in a local school that I did not enjoy much. Naturally, my studies were of minimal importance, and my jump shot was priority # 1. Luckily, or should I say due to countless hours of hard work, I had a deadly jump shot. And I was decently sized, for a Jewish boy. I was top 2-3 in my grade, and playing Basketball was the focus of my life. Being friends with me meant that we were playing ball together for hours and hours, which was awesome. I was very intense, and not forgiving of sloppy players. I feel like some of that translated into my work ethic. In my business, I am very forgiving of staff who make mistakes or have various challenges. Provided the work ethic and commitment are there. But if someone is not willing to put in the work, I have zero tolerance. I guess not much has changed on that front.
In 11th Grade, I switched to a School with a more relaxed environment. Not surprisingly, I went from the renegade who didn’t care about studies, to the hard-core academic who cared more about studies than athletics. I guess it’s because I thrive at being a contrarion, which has served me well but also comes with a fair share of baggage.
4. What was your first job? What did you learn from your first job?
My first job was in the collections and leasing department at J. WASSER and co. But it wasn’t a typical first job. I stayed in religious studies full-time we’ll after high school. I did 4 years post-high school of religious studies. I then got married when I was 21. And stayed with my religious studies for an additional 5 years. I got a rabbinical degree when I was 26, and technically could have gone into the rabbinate. But considering the fact that I had 3 kids at the time, I knew that I needed to make more money. My wife is a nurse, and she was the sole breadwinner for our family for those first 5 years. When we recognized that we wouldn’t be able to cover our budget, I needed to go out and supplement her income.
That first formal job was when I was 26. But I was an articulate responsible candidate, which allowed me to pursue a management position from day 1. It wasn’t a lucrative job. I got paid $650 a week, to run the Collections and leasing department. My goal with that job aside from the money was to learn the industry well, so I can learn how to provide value to our clients, and perhaps help the company grow exponentially. I refined my craft in handling the management business and was able to help facilitate the growth of the company. It was meaningful growth, and my efforts allowed me to develop many new skills and expertise, which in turn allowed me to earn the trust and respect of those around me.
5. What was the problem you set out to solve when you started LightWater Capital?
My Partner, Joe Wasser, who is absolutely the most incredible business partner I could have hoped for, had been in the CRE business for many years. But the assets we had access to, and our capabilities were quite limited. We were only able to find and acquire property in the realm of 5-10 apartments at a time. We knew there was a bigger world out there, where people were doing the same kind of work, the same efforts, and creating the same value, on an exponentially larger scale. We had a really hard time finding and funding deals ten times the size, in our local backyard of Brooklyn. There were developers doing bigger deals, but for the guys buying brick-and-mortar assets, the larger deals were very hard to come by, and when you found them, they were purchased by much bigger players.
6. What was your biggest challenge when starting LightWater Capital?
The main challenge was the evil cycle that many businesses are faced with. No one wants to do business with someone new, since they don’t have any experience, and someone new can’t get any experience if no one will give you a chance. The brokers on the deals we wanted to pursue didn’t want to hear from a new group just starting out. Neither did the investors want to invest with a group that is likely to make some obvious mistakes that can lead to catastrophic failures. We needed to convince the national brokers that we were worthwhile, on account of our local success, and at the same time convince our Investors that this new world of commercial real estate was exactly like the old world that we were used to, just bigger and better.
7. What has been your biggest win in recent years?
There are so many moving parts, where what looks like a win today, could take a dive and end up being a disappointment, and what looks like a disaster today could end up being the biggest win long term. So it’s really hard to say. We’ve closed deals in challenging times, which impressed many of the people around us. We have shown an ability to weather storms in tumultuous times, whether on the transaction front or the operations aspect. Being able to break into a new market is always a big win. And your biggest deal is typically your biggest accomplishment. But I would have to say it’s the deals that we purchased, and sold a few years later, after improving the condition of the properties, increasing the income and the value, and then selling it off for a profit that blew the socks off of our Investors. I would say the biggest win is after an investment cycle, hearing an investor say “I feel like I’m on a winning team when I invest with you”. Or the way another investor put it “we have complete faith and trust in you guys, and are looking forward to growing with you for years to come”. That in my book, aside from the money which is always nice, is truly the biggest win.
8. What’re you most excited about Lightwater Capital in the next few years?
To be honest, the world is so crazy right now, and it always feels like, for every good day, there are 3 bad days. And the bad days suck the air out of you. It’s hard. But I am most excited about the fact that we set out to scale our business, and have begun to scale at a significant pace over the past 3 years. The job is just beginning, but our reputation is sterling among our investors. We’re not the biggest, the smartest, or the richest. But our Investors know that we are honest, and work as hard as anyone. And that reputation will carry us a long way into the future, so long as markets can stabilize at some point.
9. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t get overwhelmed. I tell this to my kids every day. People think being successful means that you need to be the best out of 100 people or 1000 people or more. That’s not the case at all. You don’t have to be the best in your class, or school, or church. All you need to do is make smart and responsible decisions as they come, one day at a time. Look for growth, and don’t get complacent. But smart decisions made over a decade will bring you to a place that’s better than you could have envisioned for yourself. Don’t get overwhelmed, just look at the moment, the day, and the week, and try to make it a good day, a smart week, and you’ll see growth develop around you.
10. How much of your success would you contribute to luck and how much to hard work?
There is no such thing as luck in my world. I haven’t purchased a lottery ticket in decades. Luck brings you something small short term. Even a 1 million dollar lotto winning doesn’t last. You want to build a sustainable lifestyle, and the harder you work, the bigger you can build that life for yourself. I tell my son all the time, I don’t envy athletes. I sometimes pity them. Other than the top 1% of athletes, they are all placed into a vicious unsustainable life cycle. They get more money than they can imagine and build these lifestyles as if their income will be there forever, and most of the time it fizzles within a decade.
Hard work can allow you to slowly build a sustainable lifestyle. Luck can strike once or twice or ten times, but it is not reliable or sustainable. Build for yourself something that can last for decades, that you can rely on for decades, and not only will it be there for you long term, but the fact that you earned every penny will also be beyond rewarding. The life you build doesn’t need to revolve around a business you built, it could be a talent you developed that has inherent market value to one company or another. Put in the work, make yourself valuable, and you will see dividends for decades. You are your biggest asset, and the work you put into yourself will never disappoint.
11. Do you have a morning routine and/or nighttime ritual that helps keep you on your top game?
I’m an Orthodox Jew. We pray in the morning and the evening. Praying for success and expressing gratitude on a daily basis for all the things I have been blessed with, really keeps me grounded. I’m grateful that I have an amazingly supportive wife, as well as healthy children. Spending some time in solitude and reflecting on all the good things I have, keeps me focused, and allows me to appreciate the challenges I have. And recognize that even when I have hardships, the fact that I have what really matters keeps me content, and motivated to push myself for the sake of myself, my family, and my community.
12. Is there anything you would like to share with our readers that we didn’t ask?
It’s important to stay humble. People don’t envy those with humility.
13. What’s the best way for others to learn more about you and LightWater Capital?
Shoot me an email! firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to talk to readers if there is the value I can provide them in their journey. Maybe it will help me, maybe it won’t. But I am confident that if I do my best to help those just beginning, I will never regret it. We have a website as well. LightwaterCapital.com. it’s pretty banal. But has all our info there. As well as some links to podcasts I have done.
14. How /in what ways do you give back to your community?
This is a big one for me. It starts with family and community. The Orthodox congregation that I’m a part of has really developed into a wonderful place. All my kids have dozens of friends. We have a wonderful social circle, and my family has really thrived as we’ve been living there for the past 10 years. If anything the community needs from me, I’m happy to help. We host educational seminars on parenting in my home, as well as other subjects. When we moved in 10 years ago, it was mostly families in their late 20s and early 30s with one or two young kids. Now most of us are in our mid to late 30s or early 40s, with 4-6 kids each. Yes, it’s a handful. Giving back to the community has always been a priority of mine. I volunteered to run a campaign to build a new synagogue for the growing group of families there. It’s been 6 years since we started the project and our new building is almost complete. The community raised internally almost 3 million dollars, and I facilitated a 3 million dollar construction loan. It’s very exciting and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.