Episode 45: AMA with Kenny

Episode 45: AMA with Kenny
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Connie

Hello, and welcome to The Thoughtful Realtor podcast. I'm Connie Chung.

Cliff

I'm Cliff Tsang.

Kenny

And, I'm Kenny Gong and we are the founders and partners of Willowmar Real Estate.

Cliff

Every episode, we sit down for insights, stories, and conversations about all things in the market today, running a real estate team in California, and finding our way as leaders and business partners.

Connie

And today, we've got an exciting episode for you. We're doing not one, but three episodes of AMA: Ask Me Anything, and today is part two of the series. The twist here is that each partner will be in the hot seat, and we weren't kidding when we said we get real personal. We've compiled a list of questions from listeners and each other to get to the good stuff.

Cliff

Alright, so who is next in the hot seat? Dun-dun-dun!

Connie

Kenny, you're up.

Kenny

Oh, here we go.

Connie

Alright, some good questions for Kenny came in. All right, Kenny. Well, prior to Willowmar, you worked many jobs. You worked in radio producing, social justice, non-profit fundraising, and many folks don't know you were a former baker.

Kenny

Yes.

Connie

So, I imagine you've baked many, many wonderful things. What's the most famous bake of yours or most memorable?

Kenny

Oh, the most memorable. Hmm. I'll tell you about two things. One is: I remember, this was actually, I think this might've been in college, but I remember I got all of my friends together and we made the most epic possible lasagna. So, we did everything from scratch. We made the cheese from scratch. We made the pasta from scratch. We made the sauce from scratch, the sausage from scratch, all of it from scratch.

Cliff

Is that a one-day endeavor or is that multiple days?

Kenny

It was a one-day endeavor. I split up all of my friends into teams, and each team had a different role, a different ingredient they were making. And then, we put it all together. I think that still feels like the most memorable thing that I've cooked.

And then, baking-wise: something that I still bake—because I do not bake anymore after professionally baking. I decided not to try to bake ever again because it was just too much. So I do bake one thing mostly, and it is a galette, which is the easiest. It's just pie dough, either you make it or it's—

Connie

Are you making it from scratch?

Kenny

Sometimes I do. Sometimes I do make it from scratch. Yeah. But if I don't have time, I won't. And you just dump fruit in there with sugar and some seasonings, some pats of butter folded up and you can literally make dessert—a beautiful, company-ready dessert in ten minutes—and it's so easy, and it's foolproof. I have taught people how to make galettes, and it has become their signature thing because it's so easy to make. And so that feels memorable, and also, it feels great to teach people how to make things and then that becomes their signature thing is also satisfying.

Cliff

To the uninformed, such as myself, who don't know what a galette is, can you describe what a galette is?

Kenny

It's just pie dough that's rolled out flat, so you've got a big round circle of pie dough and then you just pile in a bunch of fruit, and then you fold over the pie crust. So, it's kind of like a flat—

Cliff

Is this not a pie?

Connie

It's like a tart, a baked tart.

Kenny

Free form. Yeah. Without a pie tin, so it can be very rustic and organic. And pies, typically, because they're tall, they take like an hour, hour and a half to bake, and you have to cool it all day. So, it's a little bit more of a project. Galettes are like: throw it on. You know, you don't have to do it. I could teach anyone how to make a galette. Truly teach anyone. I can teach—Cliff, do you want to learn how to make a galette?

Connie

You should make it!

Cliff

You looked at me, and I was like “Oh no.”

Kenny

Anyone, anyone?

Connie

I love that you have a galette in your repertoire. I actually still think of one of our holiday parties. You made two, not one, but two quiches. And I still think about those quiches. They were so decadent and light and fluffy and indulgent all at the same time.

Kenny

Yeah, it's fun. It's really, really fun.

Cliff

Next, what was your biggest risk and what did you learn from that experience?

Kenny

Oh, my biggest risk. At the end of the day, it's always going to be getting into real estate because at that time of my life, I had no real sense of where I wanted to go in life. And it felt like it was a low-stakes risk, but it was the biggest risk because it felt like something so completely different than what I had ever done before.

Like Connie was mentioning, at that time I was doing radio, I had been in non-profits … And real estate, to jump into this bizarro industry of ours where—

Connie

That's one way to put it.

Cliff

What do you mean?

Kenny

It can be really competitive and it's hard to start a business in this industry. It's hard to start a career in this industry. Yeah, I think it turned out to be the biggest risk, and what did I learn? I just learned that it’s possible. Some of the things that are so unexpected can be the best things that could happen in your life.

And, my dad was in real estate all of my life. I never thought it was for me. And so because I grew up around it, it became the last thing I ever wanted to do, right? Because of that, it also felt like a big risk, right? It felt like a risk to do something that felt so antithetical to who I was at the time. But doing that risk, I learned that sometimes what you think is the most antithetical to you is actually what's truest and most authentic.

Connie

Oh, on that note, what do you enjoy most having gone down this path?

Kenny

I have loved getting to know colleagues, new agents, ,especially because now in my role—throughout my career, before we even started Willowmar, I spent a lot of time just doing anything that I possibly could to help other people in their career and in their business. And so that was always something that was the most enjoyable.

I just loved helping other people build their business, and the fact that I can do that now, and it's part of my actual job, and I'm not just doing it for free, for volunteer, when someone cold emails me …

Connie

But you get quite a bit!

Kenny

But back in the day, it was like, “I'm doing this for free.” So now, that is actually part of my job—and that we have built a company that it is fundamental to—that has been so enjoyable. Really, really, really, really enjoyable.

Connie

Getting into the more personal realm—and I love this about Ask Me Anything because people get to know a little more about you—but most know that you are a minimalist.

Kenny

Yes.

Connie

Having visited your home, sometimes I'll ask Kenny, like, “Hey Kenny, do you have such and such?” He's like, “Oh no, I gave that away last week.” Or like, “Oh, do you have shorts?” “No, I don't own any shorts anymore.”

Cliff

Shorts is in the category.

Connie

He did not bring any shorts to L.A.

Kenny

I don't have any.

Connie

So tell us, walk us through your framework of what stays and what goes and how you organize everything.

Kenny

Okay, yes. Everything in my house has to either bring me joy or be useful to me in some way.

Cliff

Like a Konmari kind of theory.

Kenny

Like a Konmari, yes. But I think—

Connie

How did shorts not fit?

Kenny

Because they were not useful. They were not bringing me joy. The interesting thing is that to me, it has become this exercise and how to be so intentional in my life. So, it's always, always, always: is this thing that I have in my environment—because I think also what I have found is that anything that is in my environment has an impact on me—so it is either inspiring or it is discouraging. And so, because of that, I'm really just thoughtful about everything that I surround myself with and that allows me to say that everything that is in my home has a purpose, and it is an intentional decision that I am making to include it in my environment.

And that has been really helpful, not only for material things but everything in my life. It's such an extension of how I go about my life. How I approach my life is just to be really thoughtful and intentional and ensure that anything that I have in my surroundings, in my environment, is there because I truly want it there.

Connie

To those aspiring for the minimalist lifestyle, do you have go-to recommended places to purge said belongings?

Kenny

Oh, I will keep it brief because it's very challenging. Because we live in such a consumerist and materialistic culture, it's so easy to bring things into your home, and it's actually very, very hard to thoughtfully get it out without it just being thrown into the landfill, right?

So, I'm always actually trying to think about, like: okay, if this is something that I don't want in my home, how do I get rid of it in a way that is thoughtful for the environment, in a way that is aligned with my values? And so, all of these things are just like, “How do I get rid of this mug or whatever it is?” But, there's a really good thrift store in San Francisco called Community Thrift in the Mission.

They are a mission-driven organization as well. So, what they do is they have all of these organizations that the proceeds for all of their sales can go to. You can designate which organization, whatever is sold from you that you donate, the proceeds will go to, and I love that model.

I always designated to my alma mater alumni. The old organization that I worked at—LYRIC, which is an LGBTQ youth organization, 208. If you go to Community Thrift in San Francisco, it's 208. That's the code.

So, that's a place that I go to. And then the other place that I now will always go to is Buy Nothing groups. And Buy Nothing groups—oh my gosh, the things that people will take. And that actually is, it's the biggest one because a lot of times, when I can't give something to Community Thrift or another organization, then there's a good chance that it can be taken by Buy Nothing.

Cliff

That's so neat. I didn't know the minimalist philosophy that you live by. I have actually more questions, but we could move on. In my head, I was like, “Wait, so how many forks does Kenny have?” But then I was like, “Wait a minute. Do you not?” Then you have to have a spork because that's—

Kenny

No, I have four. it's four and four. Four and four. Just only that number.

Cliff

For hosting. You have to plan for that.

Kenny

Exactly. Yeah. So only three people can come to my house at a—or you know, they gotta …

Connie

They have to use the knife to pick at their pasta.

Cliff

Next question. So I think most people, well, maybe some people know, some people might not know that you are a very, very big fan of BTS. Yes. And I know that you are part of the Army, as they call it.

Kenny

Yes.

Cliff

So, just tell us more.

Kenny

Oh my gosh.

Cliff

What does that mean?

Kenny

So, I love them for so many reasons, and the biggest reason that I love them I think is because they are a really, really good example in mainstream pop culture of what non-toxic masculinity can look like. Yes, and so for folks that don't know, BTS is a Korean boy group.

They've been around for ten years, and they have a prolific discography. They've made nine albums and have done a lot in the humanitarian space as well. So, they've spoken at the UN a handful of times on various issues. They've stood up for different causes, political causes. They actually even stood up to their Korean government at the time for various corruptions and things like that. So, they represent role models. Like when you think of a role model, it's "how do you show up in the world?"

How do you, with all of that influence and all of those eyes on you, how do you show up? And they show up in a way that is both really admirable, they really show up in how to be a good person. They just, everything that they do is about how to be a good person. And also they talk a lot about mental health.

They also talk a lot about being introspective and caring for each other. They're just like a positive–they're positive role models.

Cliff

What does BTS stand for?

Kenny

It stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which is, translated into English, it's like “bulletproof boys,” which essentially, it's a whole long thing, but they started out trying to be really good representations of how to be a world citizen.

And they also just are really talented and incredible artists and amazing dancers. So, on top of all of that, they're just fun, entertaining and hilarious. And yeah, they're just really, really fun examples of how to just be in a relationship with people, how to do things that you love, and how to be nice. That's why I love them.

Connie

Speaking of relationships.

Kenny

Yes.

Connie

One of my life goals is to matchmake you, Kenny, as you know. And for listeners, if you think you might be a good match for Kenny, let us know, send me an email, [email protected]. But this episode was really just a plug to find Kenny's life partner. You know, I've loved following your dating journey and just hearing all the stories. I'd love to know: what's one lesson you've learned about yourself in this process of dating?

Kenny

Oh, that's interesting. Well, first and foremost, for context, yes, Connie has tried to matchmake me multiple times over the years. She is the only one that I will go on blind dates for. And she has put me on, I don't know, I feel like I've gone on multiple blind dates that you've set up.

Connie

I think two. Just two.

Kenny

Two? I think it's more.

Connie

More? Maybe.

Kenny

But anyways, what have—

Connie

If you count the ones when I took over your Hinge account, then set up the dates on your behalf and catfished as you, yes, definitely more.

Kenny

Yes. But all of that has really taught me about allowing life to unfold. I think that's really it because I think when I was younger, it was kind of thinking about, “Okay, who's an ideal partner? What are the characteristics that they're going to have and how do I use that as a way to force my way through life to find and to go after a goal?”

What I've really learned about myself and about life in my dating journey is that you just have to allow things to unfold as they will. And that the people that I connect with as part of my dating journey have all been so unexpected, and there's so many things about life, there's so many things about love and about dating that are surprising and wonderful and unpredictable and learning about myself or what that has taught me.

So, I guess that's learning about myself. What [that] has taught me is to be open to allowing life to really unfold as it will and allowing love and dating to unfold as it will.

Cliff

Very well said. Very, very well said. Oh, that's such a nice lesson. Kind of related, but it's a question about happiness and joy and all of that. So, what in your life right now is giving you the most joy

Kenny

Oh, what in life right now is giving me the most joy? We already talked about BTS so unfortunately I can't use that. What in life is giving me the most joy? Really, really, is it a cop out to say Willowmar?

Connie

If you say Willowmar, you have to say one other thing too.

Kenny

Okay, yeah. So I'll just say … I'll say … I don't even know what's giving me the most joy. You know what I have loved recently is: I have always been a really big fan of cafe culture. I've loved cafe culture. I love—especially what's so wonderful about the Bay Area is that there's so many cafes, different kinds of cafes that have different vibes. And so, I've always loved exploring all of those things. But what has really been nice is to go to all of these cafes and just turn off my phone and just write. And I get my Americano, I get my iced Americano, I get my pastry, and then I'll just sit there with my journal and just write. And I try to do this at least once a week, and usually it's on the weekend when I can actually feel okay about turning my phone off. But that has been so joyous because it's just a chance to reflect.

It's a chance to … I don't know, embrace and absorb the energy that a cafe has because there's always people around. You just never know why they're there, what they're working on and just to feed off of that energy, but to not be a part of it. I actually just like feeding off of that energy and being anonymous but still being around it. And that has been so, so, so joyous.

Connie

What's one cafe someone can find you at?

Kenny

Oh, the closest one I've been going to is this small little cafe called CoRo–it stands for “coffee room”–in Berkeley, and it's attached to a coffee bean roastery. So they roast beans, and a lot of different coffee companies will roast their beans in this space. And then, the cafe will feature all of the companies that roast their beans there. So, I love that one.

Connie

Ooh, cool.

Cliff

Related to the journaling, is it freeform or what kind of topics are you exploring?

Kenny

Usually, it's free form. So, I will do a really wonderful practice that I've started during my days called morning pages. And it's the first thing in the morning: you just free write stream of consciousness, three pages, and allow yourself to clear your mind. Work on some things that you might be trying to problem solve in your head, or just write whatever you want to write. And that format has been really nice because you also don't know what's going to come out. If you don't give yourself a prompt, you allow whatever's actually in your mind to come out. And that's also very therapeutic.

Connie

Alright, last question. How do you stay true to yourself?

Kenny

How do I stay true to myself? Therapy, life coaching, which is actually true. I think having regular moments to reflect on what I'm going through and to have a space I've been with my life coach, shout out to Bea Kim, for over—at this point, it's at least four years, maybe even five years—that I've spoken with her and had sessions with her every two weeks.

And having that space, it allows me to reground, recenter myself, and to find my way back to myself.

Cliff

Yeah. Maybe you can also share—I remember a few months ago, you described your experience with coaching. And the neat part is since you've been working with her for so long, there's that longevity, I don't know if that's the right word, of where she's helping you connect the dots of  “Hey, three years ago …” Well, maybe just explain a little bit more of that because I thought that was really powerful.

Kenny

Yeah. I mean, it is really true because she takes such great notes, which I don't know because we're on the phone.

Cliff

Have you met her in person?

Kenny

I've met her in person, but not in the context of a coach. But we've always just been on the phone. It's not even Zoom. It's just on the phone. And yeah, because we have such a long history, she's able to pull and recall things that I've said one year ago, two years ago, three years ago that informs what may be happening currently. And that's been so amazing because she'll just be like, “Hey, you know, that thing that you just said, do you know that that's been something that you've been working on for four years and you never really—or that's something that you put out as an intention four years ago, and it's now becoming fruit.”

Things like that that are just … Oh my gosh, you don't even know. And I think that has a direct relationship with my embracing of the notion of life unfolding as it will because knowing that her making those connections has allowed me to trust in myself and trust that if I just put myself in whatever feels authentic right now, it will be planting the seeds for whatever is going to fruit, whenever.

Connie

Oh, so cool to hear.

Kenny

Yeah.

Connie

Okay. So this next series is a set of questions we're asking all partners. They're all the same questions. So it's this or that, we're going to give you two options, and you're going to choose one. Alright, starting: coffee or bubble tea, boba.

Kenny

Oh my gosh. I mean, it's going to be boba, but quickly, quickly coffee is coming up, is closing in, but it's still boba.

Connie

Yeah.

Cliff

Oh, the shock on Connie's face when you said that.

Connie

Well, I don't see you drink coffee that often.

Kenny

Mid-thirties.

Connie

Oh, I admit it.

Cliff

Next one: summer or winter?

Kenny

Summer.

Connie

Sweet or savory?

Kenny

Oh, I've got a big sweet tooth, so I'm going to go with sweet. Yeah.

Connie

You do.

Kenny

Yeah.

Cliff

Texting or FaceTime?

Kenny

I love a FaceTime. I really do love a FaceTime. Yeah.

Connie

Book or movie?

Kenny

You know, I've always been such a big movie buff, but like we've talked about before, it's hard to sit through movies these days. So, I think it might actually be book. Yeah, I love books.

Cliff

Are you a pizza or pasta person?

Kenny

Oh, okay, so I think I eat more pizza. But if I could only eat one forever, it would be pasta. Yeah, it'd be pasta.

Connie

I know the answer to this one. Early bird or night owl? Which one are you?

Kenny

Oh, well, I'm an aspiring early bird, but in my heart of hearts, I'm a night owl.

Cliff

Rainy day or sunny day?

Kenny

Sunny day. Yeah.

Connie

Netflix or YouTube?

Kenny

YouTube, ugh. Yeah, that's the easiest one yet.

Cliff

Indoor or outdoor?

Kenny

Oh, I'm going to say … I'm gonna say indoor. I'm going to say indoor.

Connie

Would you rather travel by car or plane?

Kenny

Plane. Plane. Yeah. Plane. I love the airport. I think that's the only reason why. I just love airports.

Cliff

Really?

Kenny

Yeah.

Cliff

Oh, wow.

Kenny

Yeah. I used to go there when I was a kid. As a kid, you can go a little bit further in, but I remember …

Cliff

In the plane?

Kenny

Even just in the airport before, yeah. You used to be able to go in further. Yeah, and actually, that's why I probably go to airports. I'm one of those people that goes to the airport two, three hours before. I'm the opposite of Connie, who just likes to walk onto the plane. I like to go to the airport, just enjoy the airport.

Cliff

Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Kenny

Nonfiction, yeah.

Connie

Cake or ice cream?

Kenny

Oh, ice cream cake.

Cliff

Music or podcasts?

Kenny

Oh, music or podcasts. I listen to a lot of music, so I think I'll go with music, even though I love, I love, I love podcasts and listening to all kinds of different podcasts. But the volume of my time is spent, yeah, music.

Connie

Shopping online or in-store?

Kenny

I just don't like shopping in general. Don't like it.

Cliff

The minimalist.

Kenny

The minimalist. Yeah. I try not to shop, but if I do, I'm going to advocate and aspire to be in store because I think that there's just a lot more intention and thought that happens when it’s in store.

Cliff

Yeah. This list is a “this or that,” but there can be aspirational answers too. So you're aspirational and …

Kenny

That's my last aspirational answer.

Connie

Well, that's the end of another episode of The Thoughtful Realtor and with Kenny Gong, founding partner, in the hot seat. So many good, juicy questions answered.

Cliff

So, if you like this content or have more burning questions, we'd really love to hear from you. You can find us at willowmar.com or on Instagram at @willowmar__.

Kenny

Yes, and if you haven't already, please hit that subscribe button and leave us a review.

We read each one of your reviews and appreciate when y'all share the love. So, until next time …

All

Bye!


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