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November 20, 2023 • Interview with Chad Silverstein of Authority Magazine


Innovating in Real Estate: Antonio Castelan’s Rule-Breaking Journey with Fortum Digital

Article Summary

Antonio Castelan’s origin story, rooted in a humble Houston neighborhood, is a tale of triumph over traditional constraints. His journey, fueled by his parents’ resilience and a fascination with technology, led him to establish Fortum Digital Services. Antonio’s bold entry into the competitive real estate industry, challenging norms and pioneering innovative approaches, set him apart. He credits his success to a blend of creativity, adaptability, and a deep commitment to value-driven service. His story is a testament to how thinking differently and breaking conventional rules can redefine success in real estate marketing and technology.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Growing up in South Houston, Antonio Castelan’s journey was profoundly shaped by his parents, immigrants from Puebla, Mexico. Their resilience and hard work instilled in him the values of perseverance and excellence. This upbringing, coupled with a keen interest in technology, fueled Antonio’s ambition to innovate in the real estate sector. His early experiences, marked by financial constraints yet rich in community spirit, became the foundation of his entrepreneurial ethos. Recognizing the potential in real estate, Antonio set out to make a significant impact through technological innovation and a commitment to enhancing property management solutions.
My journey began in a modest, vibrant neighborhood in South Houston. My parents, having migrated from Puebla, Mexico, provided a nurturing yet challenging environment. They taught me the value of hard work, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence. Despite our financial struggles, my childhood was rich with lessons in humility and the importance of community. My parents’ unwavering support and belief in my potential ignited a passion in me to transcend the limitations of our circumstances. I grew up with a relentless ambition to create something impactful, something that would not only change our lives but also leave a mark on the world. This drive led me to the world of real estate, where I saw an opportunity to make a real difference through innovation and dedication.
Entering the real estate industry at 17, Antonio faced skepticism from industry veterans who doubted his youthful perspective. However, he viewed these challenges as opportunities to showcase his unique strengths. By emphasizing innovative digital marketing strategies and introducing fresh, tech-driven solutions like AI analytics and immersive 3D property tours, Antonio quickly turned skepticism into respect and established Fortum Digital Services as a credible and forward-thinking player in the real estate marketing arena.

Can you give us a glimpse into your journey into this industry and share a story about one of the most significant challenges you faced when you first started out? How did you end up resolving that challenge?

Entering the real estate industry has always been a formidable challenge. The industry, known for its complexity and competitiveness, was particularly daunting for someone 17 years old. One of the biggest hurdles was gaining credibility and trust from seasoned professionals and clients. They often viewed my age and lack of traditional experience as a disadvantage. However, I turned this challenge into an opportunity by focusing on what I could bring to the table: fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and an unwavering commitment to providing value. My resolve paid off when I secured my first major client, who was impressed by my unique approach and the results we delivered. This experience taught me the power of resilience and the importance of believing in your vision, regardless of the obstacles.
The most significant influence in Antonio’s career has been his father, who, although not an entrepreneur, imparted crucial life lessons that shaped Antonio’s business approach. These lessons in hard work, empathy, and selflessness translated into Fortum Digital’s client-focused strategies. Antonio’s business philosophy, rooted in creating value and prioritizing relationships, mirrors his father’s teachings. This approach has been instrumental in shaping Fortum Digital’s ethos, emphasizing genuine client engagement and building lasting impacts in the real estate digital marketing space.

Who has been the most significant influence in your business journey, and what is the most significant lesson or insight you have learned from them?

The most profound influence on my business journey has been my dad. He was never an entrepreneur himself, but the life lessons he implanted have been invaluable. His approach to life, emphasizing hard work, empathy, and putting others first, deeply impacted my own business philosophy. He taught me the essence of true value — that real success comes from making a positive difference in others’ lives, not just in profit margins. This lesson of selflessness and investing in relationships has been a cornerstone of how I conduct business. It’s about creating genuine connections and building a legacy of impact, lessons I carry with me in every decision I make.

Leading anything is hard, especially when grappling with a difficult situation where it seems that no matter what you decide, it will have a negative impact on those around you. Can you share a story about a situation you faced that required making a “hard call” or a tough decision between two paths?

One of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make involved choosing between two potentially lucrative projects. Both promised significant returns, but pursuing both simultaneously was not feasible due to resource constraints. I had to make a choice: play it safe with the more conventional project or take a risk with the one that was more innovative but uncertain. After much deliberation, I chose the latter, driven by my belief in its long-term potential and alignment with our company’s vision. It was a risk that paid off, leading to groundbreaking success, and opening new avenues for growth. This decision reinforced the importance of trusting your instincts and staying true to your company’s core values, even when it means making difficult choices. This particular project was daring and risky. One that if, and only, played to perfection would yield the results we were after. The careful deliberation and innovative strategies were the difference makers and really our mark.
An early marketing strategy setback became a turning point for Antonio. This experience honed Fortum Digital’s focus on meeting client needs with precision, leading to their acclaimed success in real estate website development and targeted advertising for property management.

Let’s shift our focus to the core of this interview about ‘Successful Rule Breakers’. Why did you decide to “break the rules”? Early on, did you identify a particular problem or issue in how businesses in your industry generally operated? What specifically compelled you to address this and want to do things differently?

My decision to break industry norms, standards and everything in between stemmed from a profound moment of clarity during a hospital stay. That night, as I laid reflecting on my life and career, I realized the potential of myself and my ideas. Unique insights and methodologies we had at Fortum Digital Services — our ‘crystal ball’ — we are one in a million. I saw how conventional methods in real estate were failing to fully capitalize on emerging trends and technologies. Determined to bring a radical change, I began implementing strategies that were unconventional but highly effective. We introduced AI-driven analytics, focused on creating deeper, more meaningful client relationships, and emphasized the human aspect in a technology-driven industry. This approach not only set us apart but also led to significant advancements in how real estate marketing is perceived and executed. It was a testament to the power of thinking differently and having the courage to challenge the status quo.

In the ever-changing business landscape, how exactly do you decide when to adhere to industry norms versus “breaking the rules” and forging your own way?

Deciding when to adhere to industry norms and when to break them often boils down to intuition, honed by experience. While industry norms serve as reliable benchmarks, they aren’t always the optimal path for innovation and progress. In my journey with Fortum Digital Services, there have been numerous instances where following the standard procedures felt limiting. One example was our approach to client engagement. The industry norm focused heavily on quantitative metrics, but I felt something was missing. So, we incorporated a more holistic approach, emphasizing qualitative insights and personal connections. This shift not only differentiated us in the marketplace but also led to deeper, more meaningful relationships with our clients. It was a risk, deviating from the tried-and-tested path, but it paid off by creating a unique identity for our brand in a crowded market.

What guidance or insight can you offer to new entrepreneurs trying to follow existing and accepted industry norms while at the same time trying to differentiate themselves in the marketplace?

For new entrepreneurs, the balance between adhering to industry norms and carving out a unique identity is delicate. My advice is to learn the rules thoroughly first. Understand why they exist and what they achieve. This knowledge forms a solid foundation upon which you can build your unique ideas. Then, start experimenting within safe boundaries. Small, calculated risks allow you to test the waters without jeopardizing your venture. Over time, as you gain confidence and understanding of your industry, you’ll find opportunities to innovate. Remember, differentiation in the marketplace doesn’t always require grand gestures; sometimes, it’s the subtle changes and the unique values you bring that set you apart.

To make an impact, you have to champion change, get creative, and take risks. Please think back about the decisions you’ve made that have helped your business get to where it is today, and share your top 5 strategies or decisions that helped you succeed by doing things differently.

I. Embracing Technology Early and Innovatively: Our journey into embracing cutting-edge technologies like AI was marked by both risk and opportunity. In the initial days of Fortum Digital Services, when the digital marketing sphere was just warming up to AI, we plunged headfirst into it. A defining moment was when we used AI-driven analytics for a client in the healthcare sector. The AI tools analyzed vast datasets to uncover unmet patient needs, which we leveraged to create a highly targeted campaign. This strategy not only skyrocketed the client’s engagement rates but also positioned us as pioneers in AI application in marketing. It was a gamble that paid off, showcasing how early adoption of technology can lead to groundbreaking outcomes.

II. Prioritizing Quality Over Quantity: A pivotal moment that exemplifies our commitment to quality came when we faced a lucrative offer from a high-profile client whose project objectives didn’t align with our value-driven approach. The project, though financially enticing, focused more on surface-level metrics rather than deeper, impactful results. After much deliberation, we decided to decline the offer. This decision, although difficult, strengthened our brand ethos and attracted clients who valued depth and authenticity. It was a testament to the long-term benefits of upholding quality and integrity in our services.

III. Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Learning: Our commitment to continual learning was crucial during the pandemic. When the crisis hit, we had to quickly shift gears and rethink our strategies. Our team, already steeped in a culture of learning and adaptability, rose to the challenge. We developed new digital solutions for clients struggling with the sudden shift to online platforms. This agility not only helped us weather the storm but also cemented our reputation as a versatile and resilient agency. It was a clear illustration of how a learning-driven culture is an invaluable asset in times of uncertainty.

IV . Dare to be Different: From day one, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking was our cornerstone. We love a crazy idea. Utilizing advanced analytics, a powerhouse of strategy and planning, AI, and our crystal ball, we are able to predict market dynamics and shifts that ensure our success. This bold move into uncharted territory demonstrated how innovation can not only solve existing problems but also open doors to new possibilities. Differentiating ourselves implies we are the same as other marketing companies to begin with. We are pioneering solutions for the future.

V. Focusing on Sustainable Growth: Our approach to growth has been measured and strategic. A key decision that reflects this was when we had an opportunity to expand rapidly by merging with another agency. After careful evaluation, we chose not to proceed as it would have diluted our core values and strained our resources. This decision, though slowing our growth pace, ensured that we maintained the quality of our work and the well-being of our team. It highlighted the importance of sustainable growth — expanding not just for the sake of size but with a clear vision and adherence to core values.

As a leader, how do you rally others to align with your vision? Also, how do you identify those who may not be fully committed or even silently sabotaging or undermining your efforts? What steps do you take to address these situations?

Aligning a team with a vision requires clear communication, transparency, and, importantly, leading by example. To rally others, I share not only the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ behind our goals. When team members understand the purpose and the impact of their work, they’re more likely to commit fully. Identifying those who are not aligned or may be undermining efforts is a challenge. I look for signs in their engagement levels, their contributions to team discussions, and their overall attitude. Addressing these situations involves open, honest conversations. I seek to understand their perspectives and, if necessary, realign their roles to match their strengths and interests. In some cases, tough decisions have to be made for the greater good of the team and the company.

Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?

Reflecting on the last two years, several specific accomplishments come to mind for me to feel truly satisfied with our progress. Firstly, the dinner party with my closest support system — it’s a symbol of gratitude and shared success. Secondly, the act of buying those flowers represents a personal tradition of acknowledging milestones. Professionally, expanding Fortum Digital Services into three countries across three continents is a significant goal. Achieving this would not only mark our global footprint but also validate our strategies and the impact we’re making in the real estate industry. These accomplishments are not just milestones; they symbolize the growth, the relationships, and the global influence we aspire to have.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If I were to inspire a movement, it would be focused on cultivating global empathy and understanding. In a world increasingly divided by opinions and beliefs, fostering a culture of empathy can bridge gaps and create a more harmonious society. This movement would encourage people to step into others’ shoes, to understand diverse perspectives, and to act with kindness and consideration. Such a shift in mindset could have far-reaching effects, from resolving conflicts to creating more inclusive communities. The power of empathy, when harnessed collectively, can lead to profound changes in how we interact with each other and address global challenges.

Final Thoughts

In reflecting on Antonio Castelan’s narrative, we see a story of transformation and innovation in the real estate industry. From his humble beginnings in South Houston to leading Fortum Digital Services, Antonio’s journey illustrates the power of resilience, creativity, and a commitment to doing things differently. His approach to breaking industry norms and implementing cutting-edge digital solutions has not only set Fortum Digital apart but also redefined success in real estate digital marketing. Antonio’s story is a testament to how innovative thinking and a strong value-driven approach can lead to remarkable achievements in the industry. For more insights into how Antonio and Fortum Digital are reshaping the real estate digital landscape, read the full article here –