Rany Burstein of Diggz tells us how you can find rooms you’ll love and roommates like you.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Diggz.
Rany Burstein: I was born and raised in Israel and moved to the U.S. for my college education, where I attended UNC-Chapel Hill, studied business, and graduated Suma Cum Laude. When I graduated, I lined up a Wall Street job in New York, where I worked for a big bank for over a decade. I wanted to grow my experience and take a shot at something different. I’ve always had a passion for tech. In fact, I started building websites when the internet was just getting started while I was still in high school. Most notably, I developed and owned one of Israel’s biggest soccer club’s websites. I sold it back to the team during my military service; that was my first exit. A modest one, though, since it’s before e-commerce blew up.
The idea for Diggz came to me after I had a few bad roommates over the years in college and later on in New York. However, the crystallization occurred after one really bad roommate search experience; Thinking I had found the perfect roommate on Craigslist, a prospective female roommate slammed her door in my face after realizing I, “Rany,” was a guy and not a girl. This was last minute, too, so I ended up taking all my stuff in storage instead and couch surfing for a month until I was able to line a place of my own.
The problem I noticed was that there was no effective way to find reliable roommates that fit your specific preferences. Something as trivial as gender or a face photo was not included on Craigslist. It was hard meeting roommates online and even harder to find ones you like. The whole process was a crapshoot, and you didn’t really learn much about your future roommates upfront.
I researched the opportunity and found that nothing in the market addressed the problem back then. My own experience got me thinking of a better way to connect with like-minded roommates. I liked the new-then dating apps, which require two people to match first with a mutual intent, then chat online further before meeting in person. Together with my cofounder Ben, we went on to lay out the vision for Diggz and got going to launch it.
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Rany Burstein: I think one of my habits that carried through my personal life, academic years, and then in my professional career and ventures is to find a healthy balance. I stay focused when I need to study or work, but I also allow myself time to recharge and disconnect as much as possible. And not to feel too guilty about it. I always say there’s always enough work to last 24 -7, but if you don’t recharge, you will start to experience a diminishing rate of return. Recognize when you need a break. Working less hours doesn’t mean less work. I’ve always sought to be more than 100% productive when focused on work. If I feel like I’m working slower or losing focus, it’s time to step away. Take care of your body, health, and mind. In the long run, it will also translate into better work performance.
How does Diggz market its product/services online?
Rany Burstein: We rely mostly on organic traffic; however organic doesn’t mean it just happens. There is a lot of work that goes into PR, SEO, site optimization, and more. I think we’ve also been able to create “word-of-mouth” for Diggz. People always ask roommates (as with couples) how they met or found each other. We augment this with paid marketing as well as needed. For example, when we launch in a new market, getting organic traffic takes time, so we rely more heavily on paid marketing and PR to get started.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Rany Burstein: We mainly use the native ads management Google or Facebook provides to manage the campaigns. I could see the value of additional software if we were running a big budget or a lot of campaigns. We also use Unbounce for crafting dedicated landing pages for each ad and run A/B testing for those landing pages. That has definitely helped boost our sign-up rates for paid ads.
How are you funding your growth?
Rany Burstein: We are mostly bootstrapped. My self and my cofounder have invested initially to get the company started and going. We have held off on raising external or venture funding. Diggz today is generating revenue via partnership and premium upgrades by users.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Rany Burstein: When we launched in 2015, there were less competitors similar to us, but there were options. Craigslist was the main one back then. I think today, fewer and fewer people turn to Craigslist for roommates, at least. Plenty of Facebook groups are competing with us, as well as several roommate finder apps and sites that are more comparable to us. We’ve been around for a while, so I think we’ve stayed in the game. I’ve seen a few competitors come and go during those years, but some have stuck around as long as we have. I think ultimately, it’s providing the best quality user experience as well as options for someone looking for roommates. We have some unique value propositions that others don’t. For example, while most sites focus on finding a room and scrolling through room listings, we focus on individuals and allow people to pair up regardless of whether they have a room or not. In fact, most of our matches are between two people that pair up to find a place together.
Tell us a customer success story of yours.
Rany Burstein: We have plenty! Everyone who finds their roommate or can fill up their empty room is a success story. We had one customer who was moving to New York and using Diggz to find roommates. She finally not only found a roommate but also made a few close friends who she met once arriving in New York. So again, we are about connecting people in the same boat. You might end up living with them, be friends with them, or maybe just get valuable local tips. The roommate search experience doesn’t have to be transactional.
Your final thoughts?
Rany Burstein: Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs; We all have plenty of ideas that come and go. But the key is to pursue to make your idea real. So if you want to solve a problem or start a new venture, there is always a way. You can start as a side hustle, get a loan, find early investors, or bootstrap it yourself; just get started. The road will be bumpy, but try to appreciate the ride and keep learning.