John Berkowitz grabbed a surfboard, paddled out into open water, and let loose nearly a year’s worth of anxiety. “I just screamed,” he says. “At the top of my lungs. It was the most incredible PTSD scream I’ve ever done.”
Berkowitz had begun 2020 trying to acquire a larger company, which was already stressful. Then the pandemic set in, causing chaos. Investors were scared. Travel was impossible. But he pulled it off— raising $68.1 million, outlasting competitors, navigating cultural barriers, and transforming his business as a result.
Now, he realizes, the pandemic pushed him into a great lesson about business. He discovered that with the right attitude, downsides can become upsides. “You can lean into the uncertainty,” he says. “I gave ruthless transparency into our business.”
The saga began in September 2019. Berkowitz is the founder of the Austin, Texas–based OJO Labs, an online platform to help people buy and sell homes, and he had a great chat with the CEO of Movoto, a large online real estate brokerage. Berkowitz saw an opportunity. If he could buy Movoto, he’d gain millions of customers and take a massive leap forward.
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