The Psychology of Running a Successful Business with Aaron Cummins and Emily Duke

Sometimes our college degrees don’t take us down the path we expect. In this episode, I speak with Aaron Cummins and Emily Duke, owners of LUX. Denver. We discuss the psychology of being a successful business owner and the importance of following the path that is right for you.

Aaron and Emily online:

Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hey there. This is Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado bass small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Welcome back to the podcast. My guest this week are Aaron Cummins and Emily Duke. In 2014, Colorado native Cummins and Duke founded Lux Denver Real Estate Company, one of the fastest growing and most successful privately owned boutique real estate brokerage firms in Colorado. As entrepreneurial minded individuals with backgrounds in psychology, both were seeking a business that would enable them to create meaningful relationships make a difference in the industry they love and find inspired living in their lives and businesses. Together, they formed Lux Denver, where excellence in real estate meets inspired living. Lux is a company with a soul that is committed to providing both exceptional client experiences and a progressive, relevant brand that is accessible pay structure for their brokers. The two are committed to supporting a community where people who value people gather, leading the conversation for modern real estate practices, while helping people find inspiration in all they do. Aaron and Emily, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Emily Duke 1:16

Thanks for having us.

Aaron Cummins 1:18

Thank you, Katie are excited to be here.

Katie Brinkley 1:20

So let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about where you both grew up and what life was like growing up?

Aaron Cummins 1:25

Sure, then, and I grew up in Aspen, Colorado, so I’m a native, grew up there my whole life. Ended up going to university in Boulder at CU. Graduated from there and moved to Denver shortly thereafter, after a little bit of a travel since then landed up back in Denver and just kind of haven’t left Colorado ever since. And it’s kind of in the home state in my backyard for all my life for a lot of different reasons.

Katie Brinkley 1:56

Emily, what about you? Where are you from originally? Tell us a little bit about growing up.

Emily Duke 2:00

Yeah, so I’m originally from Southern California. I completed some schooling there and then moved out to the east coast to complete some school out there and wound up planting in the middle. And I’ve been in Colorado for over about a decade now. And love it moved here for the overall happiness of the people and a lot of things I was reading online about what color Colorado was like, way back before it became kind of the hotspot to move to. So I’ve seen a lot of changes here and

Katie Brinkley 2:34

love being here. We’re in Southern California, you’re from near La.

Emily Duke 2:39

I grew up between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Okay,

Katie Brinkley 2:43

great. Yeah. My husband is from San Diego originally. So yeah, I always met someone to Southern California, I always like to see if it’s maybe the same area, what you two together, let’s hear about what connected both of you to starting this company together. I

Emily Duke 2:56

think it was luck, happenstance. Would the universe whatever you want to call it, we had a mutual friend who was in the entrepreneurial space. And she recommended that the two of us sit down. For no real particular reason. I think it was just that she thought we both should connect. And we did. And we quickly hit it off and realize that there was a huge conversation available to us and how we could partner inside of the entrepreneurial space. And the rest is history. We’ve been together for many years now.

Katie Brinkley 3:30

So Aaron, tell us a little bit about how you guys decided on opening up this boutique real estate agency?

Aaron Cummins 3:37

Yeah, I think kind of like what Emily said. So we were fortunate to be introduced by somebody. And we actually sat down at St. Mark’s coffee shop on 17th. As we can both probably pick out the table that we saw that and we just put our heads together, we were both acting independently running our separate businesses, kind of both related to real estate. And we realized there was just a missing in the industry that we wanted to sell. You know, this industry is over run by typically an older generation. And we wanted to be the younger generation that had a voice and wanted to make a difference in kind of not reinvent the wheel per se because there it’s a little bit tricky to do that but kind of offer a new outlook of how we can conduct business inside of real estate, but still abiding by the governing laws.

Katie Brinkley 4:23

Now either either one of you can answer this question. I think that both have said entrepreneurial multiple times just in the very beginning of our conversation here. Did you guys both know from a right out of college that you wanted to have your own business that you didn’t want to go and work in corporate America?

Emily Duke 4:41

I think for me, I knew that the standard nine to five cubicle life wasn’t going to cut it. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted it to look like what I wanted my life to look like my experience of my job to look like I just knew that it needed to be something that I was passionate about. I was engaged in I really cared about just kind of settling for a paycheck wasn’t going to cut it for me. So I think I happened on this track through the different choices that I made. And at this point, I can’t imagine any other version of life. I joke that I’m borderline unemployable, because I’m just so much of an entrepreneur that I can’t imagine, you know, being told that I have seven days of vacation per year, or having to go into work from nine to five and report to someone. It’s just far from my reality at this point, and I’m very grateful for that.

Katie Brinkley 5:34

Emily, I was gonna say, talk to us a little bit about your upbringing and eventual career and professional journey. Now, you said that there was a couple of things along the way, where you’re like, yeah, it just kind of ended up this way. But take us through some of your stuff.

Emily Duke 5:47

I had kind of an unconventional upbringing, I was homeschooled for a long time. And then I started going to college when I was young. And so I was always kind of on a fast track to where ever I was going in life. And so by the time I was 18, I ended up having my associates degree, took some time off, did some things related to psychology, which is what I have my degree in, and then went back finished my degree and spent some time in, in the psychology field. So I think I was fortunate to have a lot of unique experiences and be able to interact with life in a way that a lot of kids wouldn’t have been able to otherwise going through traditional schooling in the traditional timeframe and I think that that opened my eyes to how I might be able to live a little bit different life that maybe the traditional path wasn’t wasn’t for me and allowed me the opportunity to you know, own a own a brokerage for many years at this point when not everyone would have that opportunity at this point in life.

Katie Brinkley 6:52

Aaron, take us through your your eventual career journey and professional journey. How did you end up to being an entrepreneur and and with Emily here.

Aaron Cummins 7:02

For me, I was heavily influenced by my household, my father, who was an attorney, who owns his own practice of an aspen, my mom was a designer. And she owned her own line of an aspen as well. And just see that life. And growing up with that lifestyle really impacted the way that I knew I wanted to live. For me, my dad always made time for skiing, biking and his family. And then he did law on the side, it was never a primary thing that was still his life. It was a means to put food on the table. But he knew that his life was more meaningful than just what he does for work. So for me, it was really finding a path like what Emily said, for me, I don’t a nine to five is not something that that would ever come into close reach to me either. I wouldn’t be able to successfully complete a full day of that. I don’t think you’d find me outside wandering around lost, probably. But yeah, it’s been a wild journey. I can’t say that. You know, since I was eight years old, I was dreaming of owning my own company. And I, you know, I think we all kind of ran our same course I ran the occasional lemonade stand the occasional carwash pretended like I ran this garage sale. But I couldn’t say that I had like the biggest inspiration to start my own company. But I knew that I wanted to work for myself in some way, shape, or form.

Katie Brinkley 8:23

If someone is listening right now, who is an aspiring or new business owner? What is the single biggest piece of advice that you’d want to give him or her as the journey starts? Aaron, we’ll start with you.

Aaron Cummins 8:33

Awesome. It’s a good question. I wish I had some super wise like TED Talk answer to give you but I think for me really with it, don’t lose track of your inspiration. And what really lights you up and feel your fire? It’s hard work that intimidating. really believe in what you’re doing? And I know that’s kind of a bumper sticker answer. But if you don’t believe in it, no one else’s. So it has to be the 110% truth under your your mind before somebody else buys into it.

Katie Brinkley 9:07

Your own biggest cheerleader. Exactly. Yeah. What about you, Emily? What is a big piece of advice that you’d want to share with another entrepreneur?

Emily Duke 9:16

Yeah, I completely agree with what Aaron said, I think it’s really important to believe in what you’re doing. The other piece of advice I would share is to be ready to get back up one more time, then you’ve been knocked down because the path to entrepreneurship is paved with bumps and potholes and successes and failures and all kinds of things that it’s impossible to predict at the beginning. And those of us who succeed I think in a lot of ways are the people who are able to persevere even just a little bit longer or harder than people who gave up maybe when they’re right around the corner from success

Katie Brinkley 9:59

and go Enough of that answer here. Emily, what do you think that some of the biggest mistakes that business owners make when they’re trying to grow and sustain a successful business?

Emily Duke 10:07

I think a lot of the mistakes have to do with the way that our culture is structured to inform us as we grow up. And as we move through life in this very consumerist, bottom line driven conversation. So a lot of what I see is people who are growing too fast or becoming too focused on their bottom line and losing track of the purpose behind the business in the first place. And it’s a hard thing to do, because we all have to survive, we have to, you know, we want to put food on our table. And we want to be able to contribute to the world and go on our vacations and have a comfortable life. And as an entrepreneur, that’s not something that comes automatically like it would in in an employee role. So I get that there’s a real reality behind this. And I think that being able to balance the two conversations for finances as well as for purpose is the path to long term success.

Katie Brinkley 11:07

Absolutely. I think that if once you have a clear mission statement or purpose statement, especially as a small business, it’s critical to stick with it and not lose sight of that as you continue to either or grow or or or struggle. Yeah. Aaron, what, what does your model look like for finding and engaging and selling to your ideal clients and customers these days?

Aaron Cummins 11:28

That’s a great question, I think, for our model, if you need to, because again, it’s an older business. Really, for us, we want to ensure that we’re attracting the people who understand our brand, who understand our mission, who understand what we have to offer. And under understand the authenticity of experience we can offer them, we’ve kind of taken a shift to that conversation into how we market to those people and how we attract those people and even inside the company and how our agents find their clients. Instead of kind of using antiquated methods, we’re really diving into what matters to people inside their lives and how they can find the people that that they relate to, to help and generate business from those people, as opposed to just doing the cold calls or door knocking, which is kind of an older technique that people used to do, certainly not something we do especially nowadays,

Katie Brinkley 12:19

what type of marketing Have you found works best for your business?

Emily Duke 12:22

For us, it’s very authentic marketing. So as Aaron has alluded to, because this industry tends to rely on a lot of antiquated marketing practices, we’ve found generally, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, tactics and empty promises that the industry likes to use, both in attracting brokers as well as attracting potential clients. And for us, it was really important to strip back that that curtain and be real and be authentic, and speak to the consumer in a way that we feel many companies have yet to do in terms of connecting to something that really matters to them and listening to who they are and how do they live their life? And what matters to them? And how can we support them on that journey. So it’s not a sales conversation, it’s not about let us come in and convince you of why this thing is good for you. It’s let us come in and support you and advise you and help you on your journey where you’re going. And I think that’s a distinct conversation in our industry.

Katie Brinkley 13:22

Yeah, and there’s so many realtors and brokers and in Colorado, especially, you guys have mentioned a couple times on what you guys are trying to appeal and do things differently. And how do you guys really feel that you separate yourselves from the hundreds and 1000s of other realtors and brokers and agencies out there?

Emily Duke 13:46

Yeah, it’s a great question. And it’s something that we had to really address for ourselves before we could address that for other people. And I think it’s an iterative process as well. But we can give you the answer now and what it looked like five years ago, and what it will look like in five years may be different. For us, we’re again focusing on a conversation that really resonates for us. And we hope resonates we know resonates for a lot of people in the community and people who work with us, and which is to tap into a conversation bigger than the sale, we don’t stop at, you need to buy or sell a home. Great, let us be the one so we can make money off of you. We’re interested in the human component of that we’re interested in how people live their lives and what inspires them and how can they interface with our company in a way that both sets them up for Financial Success whether they’re a broker working for us or a client we’re working for, and also how can they engage in things that really matter to them whether it’s going on those trips or helping the world or donating money to a cause that really matters to them. We try to set everything we we do up in such a way that people are given the finance mental resources and the support to explore those spaces that may not be supported for them other way otherwise in other ways. So for us, it’s about really holding the space for conversation for inspired living and inspiring people that that conversation is available to them. And what does it look like for them to step into that and really map on to their lives? How can I live a life of meaning, and we happen to sell real estate in that process?

Katie Brinkley 15:27

That’s awesome. And you know, Emily, you brought up so many points here on psychology, for real estate, which I think a lot of people might not even consider, Aaron, you got a degree in psychology. So how have you been able to navigate owning a successful business with really mostly having a background in psychology.

Aaron Cummins 15:48

For me, certainly real estate is something that just kind of fell into my lap. But there’s always a psychological component to any consumer driven business. So for us, it’s really an I think Emily did speak for us when we first met was that we had a true authentic conversation from the get go from the day we met. Despite how you know, we perceive ourselves outside in the world and how we showcase our company. We want that true authentic experience with our clients. However, we’re not here to just make a quick sale, we want to know the people we’re working with. And we want to dive deeper into that human connection. So I think it’s kind of intermixing in a strange way, not that I’m pulling notes out from my college books and saying, Oh, I could use this or this person, you know, it’s just driven by authentic human connection is really the source of where the cycle, the psychology degree might come into play. Again, it’s something that kind of just fell into my lap real estate wasn’t something I was dreaming of doing. But it is certainly a way to create those genuine experiences for people and those genuine connections as well.

Emily Duke 16:49

And I think to build on that to our backgrounds, and our belief, and having this human driven process has allowed us to create a lot of systems and structures that support our agents and our clients and having an exceptional experience. Because, as you mentioned, in our introduction, we’re committed that everyone we work with have an exceptional experience. And that means that we have to do things differently than other people in the industry are doing to ensure that that happens. And being focused on the aspects that Erin is speaking to have allowed us to develop systems and operations that really support those commitments.

Katie Brinkley 17:26

Now, I’ve been able to go through some of your guys, check out your website and check you out on Facebook. You know, talk to us a little bit about having an online presence and how it’s important for your company.

Emily Duke 17:40

I think an online presence is enormous. We know that over 90% of consumers are starting online. And they need to be able to find someone who aligns with them, who believes the same things that they believe in, who they can verify other people have had exceptional experiences with because this is one of the largest purchases that someone will make in their life when they’re interacting with us in the capacity of real estate. So we want to be able to stand out to be easily found and to look really good when we are because it’s important to us that our external appearance represents our internal structures and value as well.

Katie Brinkley 18:22

Aaron, do you have anything to chime in on on that?

Aaron Cummins 18:25

Yeah, I mean, to echo Emily, you know, for us, the online presence is utmost important. I mean, from being Google reviews to how our brand is shown through our website, I think we can all relate that there is an even greater psychological component. When you’re browsing the web, and you come across a really catchy website, you know, what are they selling you you dive a little bit deeper into what that product is, you really want to learn about it. When you come across kind of the stagnant brand or website, it really doesn’t leave the door open to any more exploration. So for us, we’ve always been cognizant and focused on on how we can make this look as beautiful as the experience can be inside of the transaction.

Katie Brinkley 19:07

Now, right now, for our listeners, we’re right in the middle of the COVID-19. So sure that your brokers or agents are not able to be out there and doing a lot of tours of the homes. How have you guys been able to kind of pivot and shift to more of an online experience for both agent and buyer?

Emily Duke 19:28

Yeah, it’s important to us to obey the rules that are being set out for us because we feel that we are responsible for being good role models in our industry and in our communities. So we wanted to be sure to honor the requests that were being made of us as citizens in Colorado. So first and foremost, you know, we’ve been paying attention to all of the rules and regulations and updates that have been rolling out and being conscious of how we’re interfacing with those, I think in general for COVID-19 The Need to go online and take take things virtual has really sped up the timeline for where a lot of industries may have been going already. And so for us, it looks like a little bit less in person interacting, we feel in some ways, we’ve been more in touch with people since this has happened, because there’s been so much happening. And it’s important to us to have that supportive community around our company, particularly in times like this. And so we’re really fortunate that the real estate industry has been impacted, particularly in Colorado, much less than many other industries. And we’ve still been able to get properties under contract to close properties to have properties closing in the next few weeks. So we’re just trying to operate within the guidelines that we’ve been given to continue to serve our clients and our community to the best of our ability, while also shifting our focus to virtual a little bit more than we might have otherwise.

Aaron Cummins 21:06

Been to that just a little bit more. I think, really, it shows and I normally talk about a little bit, just the advancements in technology, and how we could really benefit from these different advancements, you know, their technology that’s available now can give you essentially a complete virtual walkthrough tour as if you’re in the home, which really was something that people were headed toward before. But now it’s really an option for people to get a feel for what it’s like, I think the thing that will be interesting for us is that we have a lot of people who are interested in a lot of homes, they’ve done the virtual walkthrough, once they’re able to go into the home, we’re really interested to see what’s going to happen for these people, are they still going to love it the same way, or something going to ship for them? Because you’re just getting an inside peek of the home. But for us, we like to look at the bigger picture to like, what does the neighborhood look like? What’s around you? Is there a general vibe outside of just what’s inside the home? So, you know, it’s an evolving conversation. But as Emily said, we’re fortunate enough to not have been so heavily impacted, where we stopped and more availability in the market than not.

Katie Brinkley 22:10

Emily, what is the best piece of advice that you’ve received? And how has that impacted your business?

Emily Duke 22:16

I think it’s to stay true to myself, to have integrity in how I run business, to be honest, in my business dealings. And and to remember that doing it the right way, even though it may be harder, and it may take longer, in the long run, I believe will pay out in dividends. And it’s not worth cutting corners, it’s not worth taking some of the risk that other people do kind of to your previous questions about, you know, exceeding their growth abilities too quickly and focusing too heavily on the bottom line. I think if if we can all in business, keep a holistic approach to why we’re doing this and who we are and who who we’re committed to being in business in our lives and the world. That approach is most likely to turn out the best results in long run.

Katie Brinkley 23:19

And what about you what is a big piece of advice that you received that really affected your business?

Aaron Cummins 23:24

It’s hard to narrow down and again, I wish I had some really beautiful quote or answer to offer to you. You know, Emily’s spoke to it pretty perfectly, you know, adding just a little bit more to that. For me, it was never rationing for like as a kid, when I get a new president or new toy and you quickly rip off everything, take it out of the box and you just start tinkering with it. You want to put batteries in and you start pulling really hard, because you just want to get this thing working. For us. It’s been so cognizant about how we’re taking every step of this business, from the launch of it to everything we’ve done in between we’ve done a rebrand. And we’ve read, we read on the website numerous times. I mean, the amount of stuff we’ve done behind the business and the amount of time that we just really have to sit down and say, Okay, how do we do this in such a meaningful way that it’s going to create a meaningful and big impact, we all get so excited for the addition. And then the implementation is always the hardest part. So it’s really it’s essentially, it’s like receiving your favorite toy and you are forced to read the instructions first. And it’s a big instruction book.

Katie Brinkley 24:27

Absolutely. I just a great way of putting it because I think a lot of small business owners can be so excited about it and get in over their head a little bit too quick and the new toy just ends up going in the trash because they didn’t read the instructions.

Aaron Cummins 24:42


Katie Brinkley 24:43

Finish up. Is there anything that I didn’t ask about during today’s discussion that you think is important to share? The one thing

Emily Duke 24:49

that comes up for me is that our mission in the company is inspired living and it’s really important to us that we not only have a pretty mission but also live our Mission and are living examples of how this can play out. And so I think Aaron and I have both done a really beautiful job of mapping that conversation on to our lives and taking actions that are in alignment with what we say we’re about, because I think it’s easy to say you’re one thing, it’s harder to be that thing as well. And so we try to be living examples of how inspired living is possible in life. So other people can experience it, model it. Even just be aware that that’s an option for them. I love

Katie Brinkley 25:35

it. Yeah, guys, this has been such a great conversation. Where can we find out more about you and your business online?

Emily Duke 25:42

Yeah, so you can visit our website at WWW dot Lux We’re also on Instagram, Facebook, and you can find us on Google as well.

Katie Brinkley 25:53

Awesome. Well, thank you again so much for coming on the show. Thanks for having me. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at or connect with me on LinkedIn. Just look for Katie Brinkley. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.