June 2020 Newsletter Always LOVE an Underdog

Always love an underdog


I was an underdog until my early twenties. Not much was expected of me while I was growing up, but I was always able to make people laugh because I loved being silly. I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. But then something happened. In my late teens I saw a movie called Rocky, and that was the beginning of my change. For those of you who didn’t see it, Rocky is a story about a less than average boxer with very little to show for his work (a true underdog) until he began to develop a work ethic that eventually put him in the ring of the heavyweight championship and changed his life forever. Rocky became successful because he found a new mindset and work ethic, and the same thing happened to me.



I stopped being an underdog when I realized there was nothing I couldn’t do if I put my heart, mind, and soul into it. When I learned to focus on my mission and I developed an unstoppable work ethic, there was little doubt in my mind where I was headed. I knew that eventually I would not be the hunter but rather the hunted…and I liked it!



What is really amazing is that the group Survivor who did the theme song for the Rocky movies recorded my commercial jingle for DEEB Realty 20 years later. I don’t believe it was a coincidence – I believe it was meant to be. Everyone who heard the commercial always asked me, “Is that the same singer from the Rocky movies?” I was very proud to say yes!



“Victory is a thousand times sweeter when you’re the underdog.” 

— Jenny Han


Why I am I such a fan of the underdogs? Because normally they try harder. They are usually out to prove somebody wrong, but in my case I was out to prove myself right! When I started DEEB Realty in 1993 no one in the real estate industry gave us a chance. They bet against me. Well, 16 years later those same nay-sayers were proven wrong when we became one of the largest independent real estate firms in the Midwest with over 350 people. I am not saying this to impress you. Instead, I want to impress upon you how important it is to BELIEVE in the underdogs, to believe in people who have an incredible work ethic and walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Sometimes all you need is one person who believes in you, and you will remember them forever. That person’s belief in you may be the inspiration you need.




One of the people who believed in me is a GREAT man named George Akers who was the president of First Mortgage, a national mortgage company with an office in Omaha, Nebraska, where DEEB Realty originated. When we only had 10 agents in our firm, he treated us like we were the largest firm in America. George and his company were with us every step of the way from underdog to prosperity. George believed in us. He also became one of my good friends and spiritual leader over the years, and for that I will also be forever grateful.




Have you ever encouraged an underdog and let them know you believe in them? If not, it’s never too late to make a difference in someone’s life.




Let me tell you what excites me today – watching someone who has drive, desire, determination, and a work ethic to be the very best they can possibly be. I will believe in that person, I will support that person, and I will encourage that person and always let them know they have what it takes, just as much as anyone else does.




One of my favorite underdog stories in sports involves the 1980 USA Men’s Hockey team. In what would become known as “The Miracle on Ice,” the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team, a squad of amateurs and college stars put together at the last minute, faced off against the Soviets, a well-established, cohesive team who had already proven their dominance on the world stage. USA’s victory against the Soviets became iconic with announcer Al Michaels’ line of “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The Americans would then come from behind to beat Finland in the finals. If you have never watched the final period of this game, please do. It will excite and elevate you, maybe not for yourself but for all those people out there who want to experience what they did.



Ultimately, being an underdog allows you to see a bigger, clearer picture. There’s so much more to do, and when you start from the bottom you have a unique perspective about what it will take to move your business to the next level.



Being an underdog can be tough, but it teaches you important skills as a business owner and a human being. Being humble, empathetic, and understanding are emotionally intelligent skills that you can develop when you are starting out and you don’t have any big investors to fall back on.



In truth, other people connect to people when they are open, honest, and authentic. Being transparent about your status or vulnerabilities as a business can help consumers connect with you better. The power of the underdog can make your business distinctive and help you stand out from the crowd.


In 1976, Apple Computer Company was founded by young college dropouts Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, along with their third partner, Ronald Wayne, who sold his share of the company for a mere $800 three months later. Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell, Inc., once stated that if he possessed Apple he would liquidate the company and give the shareholders their money back. Jobs certainly proved him wrong.



“Love me or hate me, both are in my favor… If you love me I will always be in your heart… If you hate me I will always be in your mind.

— William Shakespeare



Here’s another success story of two underdogs who made it big. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, childhood best friends, began their journey by enrolling in a $5 ice cream making course. In 1978, the entrepreneurs scraped up $12,000 to open their first store in a renovated gas station. In 1980 they began distributing ice cream to local groceries and Mom & Pop stores out of Cohen’s Volkswagen. Haagen-Dazs (Pillsbury Company) attempted to halt distribution of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Boston, prompting a “What’s the Doughboy Afraid of?” customer campaign. In 1999, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. was sold to Unilever for $326 million.


I can relate to that story on a much smaller level. When I first opened my company, the principals of one of the oldest real estate firms in Omaha tried to keep our company from growing. Their attempt to sabotage us came back to bite them in the rear years later. Silver spooners should be nice to their competitors!


Maybe you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth. Instead, you’re starting from the very bottom like I did, but your intention to succeed is what keeps you going. The determination to make a better life for yourself or turn your passion into a profitable business becomes your driving motivation, and as I said earlier, you are motivated to prove yourself right.



Not having a safety net to fall back on and putting your ABSOLUTE ALL into your mission means that you have more to lose if your business idea doesn’t take off.



Like life, business is never simple, but the challenges that life throws at us can make us stronger, more resilient, and even hungrier to succeed. This is the attitude of a true underdog who is determined to be successful. So let’s all encourage those who are fighting an uphill battle. Let’s empower them by giving them hope with our words of inspiration. When underdogs reach their goals, they are usually the most grateful people you will ever meet and by far the best people to get advice from. Even though I am no longer an underdog, I still think like one and I pray I always will. I feel blessed to have the underdog mindset, and I want to help others. If you know of a company or a person that could use my help, please send them my way. I am ready and willing to help!



If not now, then when? And if not you, then who?


What People in the Audience are Saying…

With Van's passion, humor and experience you can be assured of one thing- your audience is going to get fired-up, built-up, and fully charged –up. As an entrepreneur at the top of his game Van is in the unique position of being able to "talk the talk" because he has "walked the walk". Over the years he has been a great inspiration to me and my staff. Van is a speaker with charisma, humility and impact and he's a difference maker in the lives of the people he touches…"

—George Akers // President, First Mortgage Corp.

I wanted to thank you for coming and speaking with our company today. I thought your presentation was awesome! I was really motivated and inspired by your thoughts and ideas. I will use this motivation to grow my business and my personal life.”

—Justin Pauls // Realtor, Tampa, Florida

We are delighted you will be accepting the award for Omaha’s Top 25 fastest growing companies. Congratulations on your outstanding growth and we wish you continued success.”

—Tracey Fortina // Omaha Chamber of Commerce

Thank you for running such a class act company. It is an honor and a pleasure to be associated with someone such as yourself. I know you are probably one of the most respected businessmen in the region.”

—Dustin Talacko // Realtor, Omaha, Nebraska

Congratulations on writing “Selling from the heart” and thank you for sharing a copy with me. Your class has been one of the most enjoyable classes I’ve ever taken. Your enthusiasm and passion for your work are awesome. But the most refreshing part of the class was your delightful sense of humor. Thank you again for being a fantastic teacher.”

—Linda Reismeiler // Student at Randall School of Real Estate, Omaha, Nebraska

Kudos to you, Van, for reaching a major goal. But more than that...For successfully building one of Omaha’s best companies from scratch and making it thrive even in less than ideal market conditions. You have realized the American Dream...And brought it home to many, many others. My best to you!”

—Todd Andrews, Anchor and Producer, KETV Omaha

Having you here again was such a blessing to so many! As I looked at the pictures, I could see just how interested each and every person was in what you had to say!

This has been such a gift to our agents when they need it the most. The fact that you come, you are so genuine and caring, you are so honest, you are not trying to sell anything and your passion to help each and every person believe in themselves and become the best they can be is HUGE! The timing is perfect for us all helping and caring about each other, so, thank YOU from the bottom of my heart for giving of yourself to help all of us!”

—Carolyn Summerton // First Mortgage Company of Idaho

I enjoyed your seminar and its focus. I was on the fence whether or not to attend and decided why not? I could have sat through an all day session if there was one, usually I end up at the seminars that start with a focus and quickly go astray. I found with yours time flew by too fast and it was already time to go but I wasn’t ready to go.”

—Scott Asbill, CDPE // Associate Broker, Realtor