BTU #165 - Marines to Real Estate Development (Chris Antonov)

Most jobs are not rocket science - you don’t need to be that technically adept. If you leave the military with the right mindset, you can figure anything out. You’re given a mission and a task just like in the military and you’ll figure it out if you care enough to do it. So if you find an industry that you’re passionate about, you can be successful in that industry.
— Chris Antonov

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Chris Antonov is the Director of Development at Morgan Creek Ventures, a boutique real estate development firm focused on leading-edge approaches to sustainability and building design. Their real estate portfolio ranges from office and mixed-use redevelopment to ground up residential and preservation communities. Chris started out in the Marine Corps, where he served for eleven years in both the active duty and reserve components. 

Why Listen: 

This episode is all about Real Estate Development. Most people on Active Duty are likely familiar with Real Estate and Real Estate Brokers, but Real Estate Development is different. Chris does an exceptional job of talking about Real Estate Development: the multi-year process of finding land, purchasing land, designing a building, constructing that building, and then leasing the office space or building. He also provides a great look at how this work is highly relevant to many of the skills we develop on Active Duty. He also talks about how his work in the Marines was largely project management, and how that is one of the key skills in his current job.

Our Sponsor: 

  • StoryBox - People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
  • Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at

Selected Resources: 

Articles on that we reference

  • 1% rule -
  • Rent vs. Buy -
  • 50% Rule -
  • Bigger Pockets - perhaps the best online resource of real estate investing. Rich finds their podcast the most useful.
  • - great real estate, also looking at AirBNB property as an investment. Great articles about her approach to real estate
  • - a business in a small town, and they have several multi-family units that they own as a business as well. 
  • The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down: Real Life Strategies for Investing in Real Estate Using Other People's Money

    Transcript & Time Stamps:


    Joining me today from Boulder, CO is Chris Antonov. Chris is the Director of Development at Morgan Creek Ventures, a boutique real estate development firm that focuses on sustainability and building designs. The firm’s portfolio ranges from preservation communities to commercial real estate. Chris served for 11 years in the Marine Corps both on active duty and in the Reserves.


    What does Morgan Creek Ventures do?

    First and foremost, we’re a bit different from a traditional developer. Usually the developer manages ground up construction and you lead the team of construction workers and architects. Coming from the military, I was used to being in a very mission driven organization. We maintain that mission driven sensibility at Morgan Creek in that we are always looking for ways to be sustainable in our projects.


    What kinds of buildings are you developing?

    Our current project, Boulder Commons is a building with several stories. The first story is retail while the other stories are office spaces. That’s what’s meant by the term “mixed use”.


    What do you do as the Director of Development?

    I run the day-to-day operations. I oversee our projects. We have other associates that are a little more hands on with the projects and I supervise them as a leader of the overall project.


    What are the broad goals of a project?

    It depends on each project because sometimes you are building something from the ground up whereas other times you’re building in an existing building. But when you’re starting from scratch, you first need to find and buy the land. You then work with architects to create a plan for a building that will be approved by the local government and the community. Then you’re working with a general contractor to come up with a building plan and budget. As a developer, you’re a project manager so you’re managing the various stages of the project.

    You’re also working with the bank to get financing for the project and with investors. The investors are usually the primary funders of the project and they will guide what kinds of things they are looking to see in the building. It’s a multi-year process from beginning to end.


    With so much going on in any given project, it must keep things very interesting.

    Yes absolutely. I was a Logistics Officer in the Marine Corps and project management was a huge part of what I did. When I transitioned to the civilian sector, the idea of managing people and resources was the mentality that was ingrained in me. And I also wanted to be part of something that was mission driven. I was interested in renewable energy and realized that in real estate, if you have a sustainability focus, it’s a great way to deploy renewable energy ideas. And it’s a varsity level project management type of position because there’s so many moving pieces.


    I completely agree. And I think for those same reasons a lot of veterans are well suited for project management roles.

    Looking back at my military experience, I can understand now that the intangible skills that I got such as discipline, communication and attention to detail have allowed me to succeed outside the military. Most jobs are not rocket science - you don’t need to be that technically adapt. If you leave the military with the right mindset, you can figure anything out. You’re given a mission and a task just like in the military and you’ll figure it out if you care enough to do it. So if you find an industry that you're passionate about, any veteran can be successful in that industry.


    I love that idea of taking those skills that you’ve been able to refine in the military and applying it to an industry you’re interested in.

    When you build a building, you’re dealing with very similar things that you deal with in the military such a teams, people, timelines, and planning. As an officer in the military, you’re a jack of all trades but master of none. So you really rely on the enlisted guys that have an expertise in a particular field. So it’s similar to my project management now because I don’t have the technical construction knowledge that a lot of people on my team do. My role is more about providing overall leadership and guidance on the project. 


    What does a typical day look like for you?

    I would tell you that 99% of the time I work 8-5 Monday to Friday. Nothing is usually required on nights and weekends. Usually I have an hour break in the middle of the day and I can use that as I choose. My tasks vary from day to day depending on the projects we’re working on. I use Excel a lot to model and understand projects as we’re making decisions. Meetings are another big part of my day. At other times during they day, I’m professionally developing associates. I put together a program that provides mentorship and career guidance for our associates. I also spend time putting together materials for our projects.

    Aside from that, I find myself in a lot of strategic conversations with my boss about what he wants to accomplish. Long story short, I do a lot of management.


    How many projects are you typically working on at a time?

    We are a boutique company so we currently have five full time employees and in total we are a team of eight. With that bandwith our focus has been to have one project under development, one project under design and also be in the acquisition phase of another project. There has been times when multiple opportunities have come up at once or times when it’s a little bit slower. We’re really trying to touch every phase of development at one time.


    Is this something you thought of doing while on active duty?

    I got out of the Marine Corps in 2014. I just needed to do something different. I enlisted in the Marine Corps two weeks out of high school and eventually became an officer. When I got out, I traveled internationally for six months. I also took the GRE before I left on that trip because I figured I would go to graduate school. During my trip I was accepted to the University of Colorado in their MBA program. Coming into the program I had a completely open mind. Real estate wasn’t at the forefront but I’ve always had a side passion for building things. During the program I kind of stumbled upon the real estate program and decided to pursue it.  I did an internship at Morgan Creek and it was just a really good fit for me. My boss was happy with my performance and I was eventually offered a job.


    How essential was getting your MBA to the success you’ve achieved?

    I think it was extremely helpful, especially an MBA focused on real estate. At University of Colorado there’s also a Master of Science in Real Estate.  At its heart, real estate is a business so an MBA is helpful. When it comes to the dollars and cents and the marketing, the business type aspects fall on the developer. You can go into real estate with only an undergraduate degree. But I would recommend if you really want to set yourself up for longterm grown, an MBA is extremely worthwhile. That experience was an invaluable tool for me.


    Are there any resources that you would recommend?

    Books -

    The Real Estate Game - concise and well-written book on real estate

    Website -

    Urban Land Institute - Architecture and construction website


    Real Estate News for Investors


    If people want to improve their Excel skills, do you know of any resources that can help them?

    There are a lot of online courses. Urban Land Institute offers webinars. There’s also a lot of online videos. There’s a lot that’s available for free online. There’s also community college and university courses that you can take an use your GI Bill to pay for it.

    Coming out of the military, I was not well-versed in Excel. It took a lot of hands on work to get to where I am now. But it’s very valuable. If you want to lead people in real estate, you need to be able to build models in Excel because that is what your people are going to be doing.


    You work for a boutique real estate firm. But are there nationwide firms as well?

    Absolutely there are large nationwide and worldwide real estate firm. We are definitely on the low end in terms of size. But there are a lot of small boutique firms out there. There’s different benefits and negatives to both approaches. I chose a small firm because i can touch every aspect of real estate. I see the marketing, leasing , construction, etc. The negative for some people would be that I’m a jack of all trades but not necessarily a technical expert in a specific area. So it all just depends on what you’re looking for.

    And being a developer is just one part of the business. There’s also property management or being a broker. The accounting aspect is also huge. There are entire banks focused on commercial lending. We’re just one arm of it.


    Because you’re getting exposed to every facet of the business, it seems like you could later move into or specialize in any of those areas?

    Absolutely. If you ever want to be a business owner this is a great place to be. If you start off in a larger firm and move to a boutique firm in a more managerial position that’s fine too. My boss worked for other people for 14 years before he opened his own business because it takes time to build the network and experience you need to eventually make your own business a success. The more exposure you can get to every facet of the business, the more knowledge you will gain.


    Do you have any last words of advice to share with listeners?

    As you get out of the military, look yourself in the  mirror and be honest with yourself about what your strengths and weaknesses are. And use that to guide your next steps. Also use the GI Bill to your advantage. It’s a huge benefit that your civilian counterparts don’t have. Going to school right away and geared toward your strengths is something I would recommend. The transition process has been really interesting. After I left active duty, I joined the Reserves. That was a great transition point for me. It ended up being a good bridge while I was getting my civilian life in order. So think about the Reserves as an option when you are transitioning.

    So three things - education, knowing yourself, and look at the Reserves as a possible bridge between active duty and civilian life.


    I think those are all incredibly valuable thoughts. Thanks so much for joining us today.