Customer-satisfaction is the key ingredient of a successful business. Keeping customer need in mind, Laurence Rosenberg along with Ralph Baracos co-founded Rent-Direct.com so that people could rent apartments without having to pay astronomical brokerages.

Rosenberg shares with eBrandz readers his business philosophy and his thoughts on entrepreneurship.

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Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business.

Rent-Direct.com is designed to help the average renter in the New York City area find a rental apartment without having to use expensive brokers. We offer more choices, full support and do not charge any brokerage. For a small, one-time charge, users have access to the full range of a broker’s inventory of available apartments for upto 60 days. Every apartment listed on our website has complete information to help the client make a decision.

Give us a brief description of yourself.

Hi, I am Laurence Rosenberg, President and Founding Partner, Rent-Direct.com. I have worked for over thirty five years in the real estate business and have been functional in residential and rental brokerage, sales management and the co-ownership of a real estate brokerage agency – Swift & Watson Realty.

Among the various jobs held by me, of particular note are my job as Regional Sales Manager of Residential Sales and Leasing at Times Equities Inc., and as a sales agent for the New York based firm of Rodman Realty and Kanelba & Robilotti.

How did the idea for your business come about?

In 1995, my founding partner Mr. Ralph Barocas, approached me with the blueprint of Apartments Illustrated Inc., now known as Rent-Direct.com. We were both of the opinion that there had to be a better way for a person to rent an apartment other than having to approach a broker who charges astronomical brokerages. We devised the idea of storing verified and updated, apartment rental information, building and apartment photos, maps and neighborhood information on a single platform. The information along with support would then be sold, via a subscription, for a fee to people who were looking to rent an apartment. Renters would rent the apartment directly from the landlord without having to pay the broker’s fee.

What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?

– Don’t be afraid to fail, but don’t let yourself fail easily. Be prepared to work hard and to give up on vacations and weekends.

– Become an entrepreneur when you are young, before you start a family and get weighed down with responsibilities.

– Plan the business and research the competition. If you have nothing different, or unique to add to the business, then you’d better make sure that the demand for your product/service has not reached a saturation point.

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would have worked for several large companies before starting out on my own. Having the experience of seeing how organizations are built and interact is extremely valuable. Entrepreneurs are good at getting a small business going, but often fail when it starts to grow because they don’t have a good sense of how organizations are built and how to delegate responsibilities.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

– Be smart and willing to work hard

– Be social and prepared to meet anyone and everyone that might be able to help your business or use your product or service.

– Be honest, fair, and genuinely interested in seeing your customers succeed. Help them to succeed if you can.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

Until I feel I have exhausted my ability to reinvent the idea. Once you’re out of ideas to improve, reposition, or change your product or service, it’s time to give up.

How do you generate new ideas?

I use my partner as a business-savvy sounding board. I also talk and think aloud which helps me identify potential barriers to the success of my business. I also listen to my customers. I do some of the sales myself so that I get a chance to interact with my customers and understand their needs.

What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

My greatest fear is failure. It keeps me going. If you experience your fear as paralyzing, nail-biting fear – then perhaps you should be doing something else. But if the fear is the constant awareness that you can’t lay back and rest on yesterday’s accomplishments, that you have to keep innovating and responding to the market, then you will continue to enjoy the success that comes with the work.

How do you define success?

For me success is knowing that I’ve made a difference to people, helped them, made enough money in the process, enjoyed life and to ultimately retire secure in the belief that I have enough money to live out my years and leave something to my heirs. For me, success isn’t recognition by the public, lots of toys, or a big flashy car and house.

Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it?

Initial funding came from personal loans, credit cards, and a small group of friends willing to loan me money. Initial funding isn’t easy if you don’t already have a track record.

After the business begins operating successfully, build a line of credit with your bank when you don’t need the money. Borrow and pay it back early. Borrow a bit more and pay it back early. One day, you will be able to borrow when a good business opportunity arises – based on the confidence you’ve built with your bank.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My father who was self made and a strong family man. He was always fair and was not dazzled by glitz but by substance. He was an artist who balanced art with business. He was supportive and always on the lookout to help people.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

I enjoy charting my own course. Every day, I get up and think about what needs to be done that day and do it. Sure there is routine and boredom, but mostly, I get to make it up as I go along. I get to keep it going as long as I want and as long as people are willing to pay me.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

The height of my business success was just before the start of the depression of 2007. My office was at it’s largest, my income was at it’s height, and we had sufficient staff to try new ideas and innovations.

In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.

Self-reliant.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?

Willing to overpay people for mediocre performance and not instituting proper controls to measure the quality and quantity of their work. Trusting too many of the details to others without proper documentation of what they were doing.

Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?

I admire any large business that has been around for at least 70 years. I am always amazed at how large businesses were able to grow before computers, email, and cell phones came into existence. To make that happen is a tribute to organizational genius.

Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 or 20 years?

Retired and traveling. I will sell my business by then.

If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?

These were real good questions. Congratulations to whoever thought of them.