Rany Burstein is the CEO and Co-Founder of Diggz, a roommate finder and rental search platform based out of New York City. Born and raised in Israel, and educated at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he studied business and graduated Summa cum laude. After over a decade working at a big bank on Wall Street, he decided to take a shot at entrepreneurship, specifically in tech. Tech was his first passion; he was building websites when the Internet was just getting started while he was still in high school. Most notably, he developed and owned the website for Israel’s biggest soccer club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, which he sold back to the team during his military service. Rany has also been an active volunteer with Junior Achievement of New York for over ten years, where he teaches in NYC public schools about financial literacy and was awarded as ‘volunteer of the year’ in 2012. Rany currently resides in Soho in New York City.
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Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Rany Burstein: I was born and raised in Israel, but in the last 15 years I have been working and living in New York City. My first steps into entrepreneurship were actually many years ago when in high school I started building websites. I was doing everything from writing the HTML, producing the graphic design, and writing the content. Most notably, I developed and owned the website for one of Israel’s biggest soccer clubs, which I sold back to the team during my military service. When the dot com bubble exploded, I changed course and decided to study business in the U.S. and attended UNC-Chapel Hill. I graduated with the highest distinction and then moved to New York to work for a big Wall Street Bank. I worked there for over a decade, but I was always looking for a way to get back into the tech. When I came up with the idea for Diggz, I found my way back to entrepreneurship.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Rany Burstein: I don’t think it’s black or white. Some people are gifted with traits that make excellent entrepreneurs or are born into that environment. Others can learn to hone the traits that make good entrepreneurs. Not one entrepreneur is the same. Basically, anyone or any background can turn out to be a successful entrepreneur. having a drive, ambition and the ability to learn and tolerate failures and mistakes is key.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Rany Burstein: Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as your typical entrepreneur. I did spend many years working in finance and was initially quite happy with my career and chosen path. But at some point, I had an itch to do something on my own. Whether for my own business or working for others, I have a passion to solve problems and have the drive and the grit to keep chipping away. I think I combine the experience from both Corporate America and my years working on my startup which gives me a unique perspective and approach to growing my business.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Rany Burstein: I founded Diggz in 2015 along with my co-founder Ben Blodgett. We launched only in New York and today we are in over 25 major cities in the U.S. and Canada. We help thousands of people each month find their roommate, fill up their room for rent and even find apartment rentals. The idea for Diggz came after a bad roommate experience and even the worst roommate search attempt. Thinking I found the perfect roommate on craigslist, the would-be female roommate slammed the door on my face after realizing “Rany” was a guy and not a girl. Something as trivial as gender, and a face photo were not included on Craigslist.
I saw a problem and an opportunity, that was not addressed by anything in the market back then. The core product has remained similar over the years, but we’ve continuously worked to make the app faster, more intuitive as well as spent a lot of focus to keep our platform safe from bad actors and scammers.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Rany Burstein: Don’t assume your life as an entrepreneur is going to be easier. When you start your own business the line between personal time and work time gets blurry. So be ready for that. You’ll find that you work more hours, whether at nights, weekends or holidays. However, if you started a business of your own business and you are driven by passion, then you won’t mind the extra hours. Also, success doesn’t happen overnight. Be ready for tough times, failures, and making mistakes. The key thing is to learn from them and improve.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Rany Burstein: I’m sure I’ve made a ton. Not sure if anything we paid dearly for but I think we could have stepped up our marketing efforts way before we actually launched. I think it would’ve made for a smoother start back in 2015. That’s one thing I would’ve changed if I could do it again.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Rany Burstein: Learn as much as you can in your new space and keep learning. Try to understand the aspects of your business that you are not great at so you can at least have an intelligent conversation about it with your staff or service providers. For example, If you don’t deal with SEO or don’t know much about it, at least learn the basics. Don’t just blindly delegate it to someone else. I think plugging your shortcomings or gaps with talent is great, but you also need to be able to manage and converse with your experts. So the more you know, the better.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Rany Burstein: I think for me it wasn’t getting bad advice but rather not getting almost any good advice. I would just stress for others to set up a network of advisors, experts, or mentors that you can call upon before and during. Perhaps you have your business partners or employees to be a sounding board, but having unbiased and diverse opinions is very important. Even if you don’t agree with the advice you receive, it’s at least another perspective to consider.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Rany Burstein: I don’t think COVID-19 has changed anything entrepreneurs should already assume. As an entrepreneur, you should always be ready for a changing and challenging environment. Granted though, the pandemic has been extreme and long. You want to stay optimistic, flexible, and ready for change and to navigate rough times. There are always going to be some patches of difficult times for any successful business. Resiliency is what separates great entrepreneurs from failures.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Rany Burstein: I mentioned this earlier, I think many folks think that most entrepreneurs had overnight successes. They don’t see all the hours and years someone has dedicated to create something, nor do they see or the constant challenges that need to be overcome. Many successful businesses took years to take off. So be patient, gritty, and keep marching on.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Rany Burstein: There is no single recipe for a successful entrepreneur, but I think it’s important to be able to build a good team around you, be comfortable delegating, maintaining your vision yet remaining flexible to change. Drive, grit, and a good work ethic will go a long way.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Rany Burstein: Yes! There is so much information out there. From guides to inspiring stories of success and failure. Just take your pick. Ones that I enjoyed reading and learned a lot from though and that I recommend anyone to read are “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel, which I should probably read over again. “The hard thing about hard things” by Ben Horowitz and “Startup CEO” by Matt Blumberg. These are all useful books that will get you thinking about things you might have not have thought of before, or help prepare you for what’s next as an entrepreneur. I’d also recommend picking up some books about marketing, whether it’s content marketing, SEO, or just general ones.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Rany Burstein: I would love to be a soccer club manager. There are so many aspects aside from the sport itself in running a club which fascinates me. From the business side, talent acquisition and developing existing talent, marketing, and inventory sales, community involvement and so much more. It’s very much like running a business, but you get to enjoy the sport itself, and hopefully experience more wins than losses.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Rany Burstein: I would add Neil Armstrong. It’s becoming more apparent that our future is tied with space exploration and even interplanetary habitation. And in one hundred years when humanity looks back, it will be clear that it all started with that first step on the moon. Mr. Armstrong paved the way and inspired many young entrepreneurs back then to get involved in all the space advancement that has happened since and is in progress today.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Rany Burstein for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Rany Burstein or his company, you can do it through his – Facebook
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