Jonathan Fhima of F2: Five Things I Learned As A Twenty - Something Founder
As part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Fhima.
Jonathan launched F2, a private equity firm focused on real estate debt investments such as senior loans, mezzanine loans, preferred equity investments, and not financings, in June of 2021. In less than two years, F2 has deployed more than $100M and has closed 16 transactions. Prior to starting F2, Jonathan worked on both the Acquisitions and Debt Strategies teams at Lightstone, one of the largest real estate private equity firms in the United States, having spearheaded $1 billion of real estate acquisitions and simultaneous financings. Jonathan graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Sy Syms School of Business in NYC with a major in Accounting and a minor in Business Management
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you for having me! I’m a Los Angeles native and stayed in the city until I graduated high school. I took a slightly unconventional route, spending a year studying abroad through an exchange program before starting college in New York City. After earning my degree in Accounting with a minor in Business Management from the Sy Syms School of Business, I was fortunate to start my career as an investment analyst at Lightstone, a highly respected real estate private equity firm in NYC.
During my almost six years with Lightstone, I worked on sourcing, underwriting, due diligence, leveraging, and closing over $1 billion in real estate transactions. I quickly advanced to the roles of Associate and Vice President before co-founding Lightstone Capital, the firm’s private debt vertical, in Q1 of 2019. As part of the Lightstone Capital team, I originated and closed over $400 million in senior debt, mezzanine debt, preferred equity, performing and non-performing debt investments across all major asset classes in the United States.
In June of 2021, I decided it was time to embark on a new challenge and build my own real estate private equity firm. That’s how the F2 story began. I chose the name F2 because my last name is Fhima, and I’m the second child. While the name may not be very creative, it holds a lot of meaning for me personally.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?
About two months ago, something interesting happened. One of our clients reached out, looking for a $10M loan collateralized by a portfolio of assets worth over $20M. I was immediately drawn to the opportunity and knew we’d face stiff competition from other lenders. I pulled together a compelling bid within 48 hours, hoping to secure the deal.
Unfortunately, I later learned that F2 was up against my former firm, Lightstone, in the bidding war. It was a true David versus Goliath scenario, and in the end, Goliath came out on top. I’ll admit, the first week after losing the deal was tough. It would have been our biggest deal to date and would have really put us on the map. But, I knew I couldn’t dwell on the setback forever.
I quickly shifted my mindset and focused on two important things. First, I reminded myself that getting stuck in a rut can be paralyzing. The sooner I recalibrated myself, the sooner I could start pursuing the next big opportunity. Second, I realized that even though we didn’t win this deal, there was still reason to celebrate. In under two years, F2 had already secured a seat at the table with some of Manhattan’s biggest financial players. That’s something I thought would take five to ten years to achieve.
It’s important to always look for the positive in every situation, regardless of the outcome.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
F2 definitely has a few unique factors that set us apart from other firms in our space. One of the key aspects that we highlight is our institutional background combined with nimble execution. All of us on the F2 team have experience working at some of the largest institutions in the country, but we prioritize making the process for our clients as simple and streamlined as possible.
However, what really sets us apart and makes us stand out is our brand and online presence, particularly on social media. We recognized from the outset that it’s unconventional for a private equity firm, or any financial institution for that matter, to actively cultivate a social media presence. But we wanted to break the mold and build a brand that is positively recognized not just among financial institutions, but also among everyday people on the internet.
To that end, we’ve invested heavily in our social media presence and have garnered over 7,000 Instagram followers, sold out our branded merchandise, and continue to aggressively build our brand. We believe that building a strong and recognizable brand is essential to our long-term success and sets us apart from our more traditional peers in the industry. In this digital age, F2 puts emphasis on its digital marketing as a client acquisition strategy and a way to meet the next generation of borrowers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My family. I know that isn’t one person, but It’s an entity — almost the same thing! My family is my biggest support system and fan base. Although none of them are directly involved in F2, they have been with me since day one, cheering me on every step of the way. My parents, in particular, have sacrificed so much for me to pursue my dreams and have supported me throughout my education and career at Lightstone. When it came time to start F2, their unwavering support was absolutely instrumental in getting the company off the ground. Simply put, without my family, there would be no F2.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I am working on a really exciting project that we will be able to share publicly in Q4 of 2023. We are heads-down and hyper-focused on deal sourcing and business growth in the meantime. We are steadfast on raising capital and closing deals, but with caution given the current market conditions. As they say, success is a marathon, not a sprint, and we plan to keep that in mind as we move forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I take my extracurricular activities and charitable work outside of the office seriously, but there’s something related to work that I find relevant to mention. I dedicate a significant amount of time helping young professionals who are in college and eager to learn, as well as networking with working professionals. I frequently speak at my alma mater, participate in Zoom calls, and invite students aged 17–22 to our office. I try to put myself in their shoes and remember the fear and uncertainty I felt at their age. I understand that the pressure of finding a job after graduation is real, especially given the current job market.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I find the biographies of financially successful folks to be highly motivating. Books on Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Phil Knight and Bob Iger are some of my favorites and especially inspiring.
Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder”. Please share an example or story for each.
1 . The launch will be an emotional rollercoaster. The initial two weeks were a euphoric high, with an outpouring of congratulations and excitement that overwhelmed me. However, as the dust settled, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Sitting in my apartment on a quiet Friday, the realization dawned on me that I was no longer receiving a steady paycheck after six years of working for others. In that moment, I was struck with a sense of urgency and a renewed motivation to succeed, knowing that failure was not an option. The weight of responsibility for the success of my venture was both exhilarating and daunting, and it drove me to work even harder to make F2 a success.
2 . The emotional rollercoaster feeling from launch never goes away. In my experience, I have come to realize that running a business is much like life — it has its ups and downs. There are times when everything falls into place and we experience a surge of success, closing multiple deals, building meaningful relationships, and raising ample capital. And then, there are those inevitable periods of three to five months where we face setbacks, have no exciting prospects in sight, and things just don’t seem to go our way. During these challenging times, it is crucial to remember that this is all part of the journey, and that it’s the adversity that makes success all the more worthwhile. It is in these moments of uncertainty that we must remain optimistic, persevere, and stay focused on our goals.
3 . Surround yourself and partner with people that you can learn from, and trust. When I launched F2, I made the decision to return to LA and form a joint venture with Concord Companies, a highly respected real estate private equity firm located in Beverly Hills. I have known the founder for most of my life, and I have always been impressed by the remarkable success that he has achieved. By joining forces, we have accomplished countless things that would have been impossible if I had continued as a solo entrepreneur. As my partner often reminds me, it’s better to own a large piece of watermelon than the entirety of a grape. Together, we are creating something truly remarkable and are poised to achieve even greater success in the future.
4 . Stay true to who you are and follow your gut. When I first launched the firm, I was determined to emphasize the importance of expanding our brand on social media. At the time, some financial professionals questioned why F2 even needed an Instagram account and mocked the idea. However, I had faith in the potential reach and impact that social media could have on our business. Fast forward two years later, and we have already sourced two deals from like-minded individuals who reached out to us via social media. The return on investment from the time spent building our social media presence has been evident, and it has validated our early adoption of this strategy. It just goes to show that in this day and age, new forms of media will play a vital role in business development and growth.
5 . Don’t forget to give back. As you achieve success, be sure to remember the importance of giving back and dedicating your time to those who may benefit from your experiences. While individuals in their 40s, 50s, and 60s often recognize this, it can be easy for those in their 20s and 30s to overlook the significance of providing guidance and support to the next generation. Ultimately, it is important to remember that success is not only measured by personal achievements but also by the impact that you have on others and the legacy that you leave behind.
What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty year old who is looking to found a business?
As I reflect on my previous answer, I am reminded of the importance of two crucial lessons that I have learned throughout my entrepreneurial journey: patience and emotional resilience. It is no secret that there are relatively few young entrepreneurs who achieve long-term success. This is not due to a lack of intelligence or good ideas, but rather their inability to persevere through difficult times and adapt to changing circumstances.
Therefore, it is imperative to maintain a positive and steadfast mindset when faced with adversity, for it is during these moments that we must exercise our emotional fortitude. Equally important is the ability to detach oneself from bad ideas and pivot when necessary. When your intuition tells you that something is not working, it is essential to immediately refine, pivot, and adjust your approach to achieve your desired outcome. Remember, successful entrepreneurs never give up; they evolve and adapt to overcome any obstacle in their path.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!