Mavericks Personified: Nick Barber
He took a risk and located success
In his senior year, Nick Barber cashed out his vacation time at work and borrowed money from his parents to start a business on a shoestring budget. He and his partners originally operated the company from a spare bedroom. Three years later, UMoveFree is the largest apartment locating company in the country with 75 full-time agents and thousands of clients nationwide.
It dwarfs its nearest competitors, some of which began years earlier with enormous start-up capital. Last year the business grossed nearly $4.5 million.
"The concept was simple," said Barber ('04 BBA). "Help renters find an apartment, collect a commission from the apartment community, and offer part of that commission back to clients to increase volume."
The concept took off.
What distinguishes UMoveFree is its proprietary software that integrates every part of the business, from finding leads to sending invoices.
"We hired a bunch of UT Arlington graduates, not leasing agents but software and computer science majors. They are my left and right arms, literally," Barber said. "Together, we started tinkering with technology, creating a customer database and linking it with our Web site. We developed Web-based software applications that our leasing agents would use to access customer information. Over the next few months, it evolved from just archiving customer information to creating applications and tools that helped increase our closing ratios and organize our processes."
Whereas traditional agents may place 20 renters a month, Barber's can place 80. "Our process is a conveyor belt," he said. "We are a free-move, volume apartment locator. That's what makes our business profitable."
Valarie Flick ('05 MS) is UMoveFree's director of technology and one of its first employees. "From the beginning, Nick and I agreed that we would like to be in a position where we could hire UT Arlington students and alumni. We both feel that it is important to give back to a school that gave us so much."
Several other UT Arlington graduates work at the company, but none so resolutely as the boss.
"Nick loves to work," Flick said. "E-mails at 3 a.m. Phone calls at 6 a.m. He has more energy and enthusiasm than any boss I ever worked for, but it's easy to work for someone who is right there in the trenches with you. Nick loves this company, and it shows."
All the hard work takes time. Barber puts in a minimum of 80 hours a week (enough to keep him seriously single), but he has never shied from responsibilities. In college he was going to school full time and working full time, at Trammell Crow in Dallas, while starting his business.
Marketing Associate Professor Mark Peterson remembers quite the focused student.
"Nick did well in my class, but getting the highest A was not his priority," Dr. Peterson said. "He was succeeding in launching his business at the same time, so he was carrying a huge load. Now, a couple of years later, he nurtures a great appreciation for learning. He actually says that when he encounters a challenge, he goes to his bookshelf and gets out a textbook. As a professor, this is the kind of self-teaching that I want all my students to do more and more throughout their lives."
Barber sees it this way: "Some people never use what they learned in school; they're just in it for the degree. For me it was the other way around. I was completely enamored with the idea of creating an environment where I could use what I was learning to make money—better yet, to be my own boss."
Barber is a second-generation entrepreneur. His father started several successful commercial insurance agencies.
"I think a lot of who I am today I picked up from my father," he said. "My dad used to talk about being a brick in the wall—someone who, if removed, would cause the wall, the organization, to fall. A crucial member of the organization. I've always tried to be that guy."
Rod Barber is senior vice president with Frost Insurance Agency in Fort Worth and a 1970 UT Arlington graduate. He credits his son's success to integrity, instinct and determination.
"Making money is one thing, but building something is quite different," Rod said. "Taking care of people and building an organization is something he can be proud of."
— Shawn Stewart