Rany Burstein is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Diggz. He was born and raised in Israel, and moved to the U.S. to pursue his college Degree. He attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he studied business and graduated Summa cum laude, which landed him a finance job in Wall Street upon graduation. After over a decade working at big bank, he decided to take a shot at entrepreneurship, specifically in the tech space. Tech as always excited him; he started building websites when the Internet was just getting started while he attended 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. In fact, if it wasn’t for the dot com bubble burst in the late 1990’s, Rany believes he would have stayed in the tech industry instead making the shift to study business and finance. 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 awarded as ‘volunteer of the year’ in 2012. Rany currently resides in Soho in New York City.
Where did the idea for Diggz come from?
The idea for Diggz came to me after several bad roommate search and living experiences in New York. Finding a good roommate always seemed like a crapshoot. When I needed a new roommate in NY back in the early 2010’s, I turned to Craigslist which was the only tool I knew was out there. I remember having to go through so many spam emails, and sifting through fake or dupe ads. The first roommate I found on craigslist was a total disaster, but luckily we only lived together for a few months.
My next roommate search experience was the one that really solidified my desire to start Diggz. I decided to move out of my apartment and away from that nightmare of a roommate. I found this sweet listing by a potential female roommate in a luxury building in the Financial District in downtown Manhattan. We exchanged a bunch of emails and we seemed to be a perfect fit. We planned to meet in person and finalize things. When I arrived to her apartment, she opened a small crack in the door and told me that I have the wrong apartment and slammed the door shut. I knocked again, telling her I’m Rany, the guy she’s been emailing this whole week, and she replied behind the door “I thought Rany was a girl”. I was so frustrated with the amount of time I wasted. If only she knew my gender or saw a pic of me prior. Small details, but crucial when it comes to living with someone.
This experience got me thinking of a better way to connect with like-minded roommates. I liked the dating apps style, which requires two people to match first with a mutual intent, then chitchat further before meeting in person. I partnered with my co-founder, Ben Blodgett, and together we launched Diggz in 2015 in New York City. Today, we are in over 20 major cities in the U.S. and Canada and help thousands of people each month find their roommate or fill up their room for rent.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In a typical day, I have to change gears and tackle multiple aspects of running Diggz, whether it relates to product, marketing, reviewing analytics, solving problems and spending time on creative work and strategic thinking. To stay productive, I try to avoid distractions, mostly personal, delegate when possible, remove any bottle necks that depend on me, and stick to my schedule. I like to write down task list of things I need to get done today, and things I have to get done this week. As you can imagine that lists constantly changes, but writing it down helps me stay organized and focused.
How do you bring ideas to life?
There are two ways I source ideas; the first, they just pop in my head. They can be triggered by observations, casual thinking or problems I encounter throughout my day. The second way I source ideas, is by a more artificial and planned process, such as from users’ feedback, surveys, polls, research and talking to subject matter experts. Regardless of the source of the idea, I try to put some analytical thinking behind the ideas, whether it’s crunching numbers, or running an A/B test. Once an idea is valid, I assign a priority to it based on Lean principles balancing between it’s complexity and it’s added value.
What’s one trend that excites you?
VR/AR technology; I recently got my Oculus VR headset and it’s absolutely amazing. There is so much potential to create new experiences, new types of businesses and services. We’re really just at the beginning and the possibilities are endless. I think we’ll see so much progress emerge in that space in a very short amount of time.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I think many entrepreneurs will share the feeling that if they were able to keep going, they would work 24/7. There is always something more that you can do. However, there is diminishing productivity that kicks in at some point during the day or week. Recognizing that point and being able to step away, disconnect and recharge in the end will increase your overall productivity. I’ve always strived to find a balance between work and life. It’s important to get enough sleep, carve time for self-care, spend time with family and friends, and have a hobby or two. Being in work mode all day every day will just cause you to burn out and not work at your fullest capacity.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to take risks. It took me a while to step out of the corporate life into entrepreneurship. If I had to do it again, I would’ve done it a few years sooner.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
This one might be controversial and unrelated, but I believe that if you have COVID antibodies, you have long term immunity and most likely can’t get it again. I had COVID in March, and I recovered. Something inside just tells me that I’m done with this nasty virus.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
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 regularly read various blogs, newsletters and do deep dives into new services and technologies to keep up. Every day, I spend at least 30 minutes learning about something new.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Putting ‘user value’ first in all that we do. At the end of the day we are a B2C service and we have to ensure that we serve our users, I should say clients, as best we can. Our new ideas, development prioritization, etc. are all determined by the added value to the user. We might not get it right every the time, and often adding user value also helps our business metrics, but as a strategy it’s proven to be successful for us and a good guide to make business decisions.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As an entrepreneur, you will make so many mistakes along the way. Big or small. It’s just the nature of the business. The key thing is to learn from those mistakes and avoid repeating them. When I was much younger, I sold one of the sites that I had built and owned for very little money. It was before e-commerce blew up. While it was my first exit and I did get compensated, today I feel as I’ve left so much on the table. So while I didn’t have to overcome this ‘failure’ I had to learn from it. Value your time and your work and don’t sell yourself short. And also, negotiate to leave yourself an upside when possible.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If you can find a solution to make all of the garbage that’s left on the sidewalks in NYC and the constant garbage trucks roaming the streets disappear, I’ll happily allow you to infringe on my idea.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I just bought a new portable 15 inch screen. It’s very slim and light and I can easily connect it to my laptop. Now whenever I am on-the-go or traveling I can still work with two monitors; which I find to be super productive.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’m old school, so I like post-it-notes (not the physical ones, but Windows’ ‘Sticky Notes’), outlook reminders, and I’ve been making use of my Alexa to set reminders.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“That Will Never Work” by Marc Randolph, one of Netflix’s co-founders. The reason I liked it is that while it’s a narrative about the founding and forming of Netflix, it teaches you lessons about raising money, surviving tough environments, building a team, and changing to adapt to scale. It definitely is an inspiring story with many good tips and lessons. This is also the book that I read while I was recovering from COVID. It felt great to walk over to Washington Square park (after I recovered) after work to do a bit of reading while getting some fresh air.
What is your favorite quote?
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By Albert Einstein
• Frustrations and problems that you face in your personal life can turn into business opportunities.
• Get comfortable with taking risks, be prepared to make mistakes, but never stop learning.
• Don’t neglect yourself or those you care for in your quest for success.