Tim Nikolaev was a successful Cutco sales rep turned prolific real estate investor. Focusing primarily on mobile home parks, Tim and his wife have managed to accumulate over 500 rentals in about 10 years, enabling them to essentially retire from the traditional workplace. Tim has taught 3 classes in the MBA Program at the exclusive Acton School of Business, where he was named Teacher of the Year. He is deeply curious about what it takes to unlock human potential and is now shifting his energy toward the next part part of his career in that domain. He has co-founded or supports projects such as Strata Athletics in Youth Sports, Humble in Career Development, and Peak in Early Education.


Q: Let’s start by having people hearing a little bit of your personal background.

  • I grew up in Moscow, Russia.
  • My Mom wanted to move to America, and we moved to Topeka, Kansas.
  • That was a challenging experience because it was a big difference from Moscow (12-15 million people) to Topeka (about 300,000 people).

Q: How did you choose Topeka?

  • My Mom ended up meeting somebody and got remarried.
  • My stepfather’s business was in Topeka.
  • This really opened up my opportunities with Cutco.

Q: How did you get in with Cutco?

  • I was wondering what I could do with work.
  • I was really good with computers. So I went to Circuit City, but they didn’t hire me.
  • The 2nd option was a flyer my Mom picked up in a parking lot.
  • I was naïve enough not to question anything. That was a wonderful, beautiful gift.
  • I accepted Cutco energetically and I trusted Jeremy Couch, my manager.

Q: What were some of the transformational experiences from your time with Cutco that really stand out?

  • I had a fairly good 1st
  • I went in with 2 beliefs that I got from my Mom: whatever you do you got to be the best and if I can copy what someone else is doing, I will do it just as well.
  • Thanks to VectorConnect, I started learning from people who are now my friends and who I first heard then through audio recordings.
  • There were several moments that changed my life.
  • First when Jon Berghoff broke the record for SC2 push. One of the things he said was when I’m in the push period, I’d listen to Jim Rohn’s Power of Ambition. I resolved I was going to do the same thing.
  • Secondly, when I got my first $10,000 push, hearing about Hal Elrod’s miracle equation literally changed my life. I could continue to work even when rationally what I was trying to do was not possible.
  • John Ruhlin was also a great influence. I got his email address and chatted with him and talked him into allowing me to see him in Cleveland. I love John and he’s a genius at what he does. I was like hey, if he can do it, and if I do the same thing, I can do it too.
  • I think I was one of the first people to start doing corporate gifts in the Midwest.

Q: Any other lessons you feel stand out from your time with Cutco?

  • As much as I learned a lot from these incredible guys, I probably learned more from my customers.
  • I got a pretty quick formula. I’d show up and ask questions. Very specific questions.
  • I learned how to sell based on those questions and my experiences.

Q: Can you remember any of the specific questions you’d ask pertaining to finding out their needs and what you were going to recommend they order?

  • I would ask how they cook, if they ate meat, when they were entertaining, how many people they had over?
  • Just basic stuff. In my mind, it was a way to narrow down what to recommend.

Q: Tell us about your journey after Cutco.

  • I met a lot of people who were happy and didn’t make a lot of money.
  • I met a lot of people who were unhappy and didn’t make a lot of money.
  • I met a lot people who were making a lot of money, but unhappy.
  • I met this couple. They seemed so laidback. They had several kids, married for 40 years. The things I envisioned I’d want.
  • I asked them what they did and they said they owned 40-50 houses around the area. I started narrowing down what I could do as a 23 year old.
  • We started with single family homes. Buying, renovating and renting houses to families.

Q: How did it unfold over those years? Tell us more about how that unfolded.

  • My now wife and I were getting engaged.
  • We saved money for the engagement ring. Instead of taking the money and buying the ring, we took our credit card and did one of those 0% offers for 2 years and bought the ring.
  • We took the money we’d saved and bought our first house. We took the rent and paid off the ring. It took 6 months to do it.

Q: Can you share what amount of holdings you guys have now in terms of number of units?

  • We started looking at how we can grow.
  • We now serve from 500-600 families.

Q: So, your primary source of income for the last 8-10 years has been your real estate holdings. You’ve had a job, a very temporary job I understand in the early stages. You essentially retired, financially independent at 36, right?

  • We set a goal to achieve our retirement by age 30.
  • It happened about 2 weeks before.

Q: What advice would you have for anybody who wants to get in a track of building real estate holdings?

  • If someone wants to get started in real estate, it’s like getting started with Cutco.
  • If you’re selling Cutco, there’s probably 6-8 things you need to do. Well, it’s the same with real estate.
  • You have to decide are you going to do everything yourself or are you going to be part of a team and do one thing well?
  • If you’re going to do one thing, find the best team, educate yourself. Success is something you attract by being the person you become.
  • If you’re going to do everything, it’s going to take time.

Q: If somebody wants to learn the ways of doing this, without having significant dollars to bring to the table, what resources do you recommend?

  • If you’re interested, you can look at the verticals you want to get to.
  • Information isn’t the bottom line. What is the bottom line now is the desire, ability, discipline, the why.

Q: Let’s talk about what you’re doing with Acton School of Business. Tell us how you got into it.

  • I talked to 5-6 billionaires in Silicon Valley and asked them what are you doing and why are you doing it?
  • I kind of had this realization that the answers to the questions we have really are in the inside and not somewhere else.
  • Acton is a school that was founded by Jeff Sandifer. They basically teach in the Socratic manner, meaning they don’t answer any questions. Everything is a discussion among the students.
  • The program has been ranked the most competitive MBA programs in the country for the last 6-10 years.
  • All I get to do is ask questions and listen. It’s heaven for me.
  • It’s exactly what I would have wanted when I was a kid … to follow my own curiosity.

Q: Can you share some of the fascinating conversations that have emanated in those classes?

  • I teach 3 different classes including a class on customers, a class on growth, and a class on operations.
  • Operations seems the most difficult for most people … how do you connect sales and production? There’s always a tension between those 2, so that’s a fascinating discussion.
  • Most people gravitate to one or the other, but can you be in the middle of them and connect them?

Q: It seems like you’ve being able to have these very deep conversations. Reflecting on those conversations, are there things you wish more people in the world knew or understood?

  • There’s a first part of your life when you’re trying to find a way, a way to get what you want, a way to succeed.
  • As you get more and more successful, you think your way is THE way, and so you’re excited to share it.
  • When you get to a certain point, you think if this is THE way how come I don’t have everything I want?
  • Then you realize this is just A way, not THE way for everyone.It works for me, but it’s only one way.
  • Secondly, I coach basketball. Everyone who plays sports wants to win. The only way you really can win is to stop focusing on winning and start focusing on the process.

Q: What is something you feel like you wish most people would do that would help move their lives along, more towards what they want and what their lives could be?

  • Ask themselves why they want what they want.
  • Find another person who’s willing to have that discussion. Most of the time, when you figure out the why, you don’t actually need to do the thing.
  • When the why gets bigger, the how gets easier.

Q: How do you think you could see the world being a better place?

  • Our grandparents made huge sacrifices.
  • Our parents came along and everything was more easy and simple.
  • Then we grew up and saw our parents working their whole lives without really asking why.
  • The world I think has this next chapter of opportunity. How can we find our area of genius?What is an activity that when you do it, time flies, and you have more energy when you are done?  Can you spend more time in that area?

Q: From your own personal perspective, what excites you about the future?

  • I love having conversations with people.
  • Helping them achieve their dreams.
  • I don’t have to make money from it.
  • I love the result that it makes in the world.
  • Now I’m trying to figure out what other ways I can do that.


  • Some really compelling and fascinating concepts came out of this conversation.
  • I loved hearing about the 2 beliefs instilled in Tim by his mom: to be the best in what you do and to copy success.
  • I like what he shared about the 4 types of people, one of whom were people who are doing well financially AND are happy. They have that combination of outward success and inward success.
  • Most of the answers for the things we want are found in the inside.


To learn more about Acton School of Business, visit here.


Show notes for this episode provided by Brian Njenga.

To access all episodes and sign up for free resources, visit our podcast page!


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