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Greg Sax and Noaam Blum.

by G. Sax, Director of Growth Management, RESO

Welcome to “Three Questions,” an interview series that introduces you to real estate industry professionals, their businesses and how they interact with real estate standards with a goal of humanizing the tech side of the industry, fun included.

This week, we enjoyed a fascinating conversation with Noaam Blum, Co-Founder and CEO of RentBase. We discussed early career hustles, pitching your business and how international and cultural influences can shape a career. Huzzah!

Q1: The rental space seems to be increasing in importance as we tread an economic environment that might have some people choosing to rent over buying, at least for the time being. At the same time, MLSs are seemingly more open to including rentals in their business plans than ever before. When you were working as a REALTOR®, did you launch RentBase because of your daily observations of what was happening in the market or was it something else?

Noamm: I started my real estate career in 2008, which was actually a wonderful time to be joining the industry, despite what was happening in the housing market.

Everyone around me was saying that it must be so hard, but I found my way through rentals. It was the lowest-hanging fruit. Meanwhile, on the sales side, nobody was willing to work with me, because I had zero experience.

Rentals gave me all the practice I needed in terms of negotiations, working with investors and taking advantage of a niche specialty in order to know better than a typical sales agent what the return on an investment of a property is based on its rent potential.

While flourishing in rentals, I found myself getting into sales, because the owners of properties where I was working rentals wanted me to help them add to or sell their real estate portfolios.

Then, over the years, following renter cycles, my rental client base started wanting me to help them buy homes.

I often say that rentals suck. I just want them to suck less. Tech companies in the real estate space and MLSs were mostly operating with home sales in mind, not rentals. As I was growing my business, I was desperate to see something that would meet my needs. Eventually, I decided to build the product of my dreams that did not exist at that time.

Q2: You presented RentBase at a National Association of REALTORS® iOi Summit in Los Angeles as part of a pitch battle, and you have done other product pitches in this manner. What have you learned from the experience that you can share with other young companies that want to enter the real estate space?

Noamm: I was invited to my first pitch battle by Liz Sturrock, Chief of MLS and Innovation at the Miami Association of REALTORS®. It was in front of thousands of agents, and it was an incredible experience. I cherish those moments, as those opportunities are so rare and rich.

I would say to founders, find yourself a great pitch coach, because it makes a world of difference. Look at the types of services offered by someone like Tom Burke who has coached many TED Talks presenters and CEOs. My wife found him. He was doing a session at Google. I connected with him, and he turned me from a glitchy robot into someone who could distill my story down to its essence and articulate in a way that sometimes even gets a laugh out of the crowd.

Q3: Israel, Boston, Israel, Boston. Your career path is a unique ping pong back and forth between these two places. Judging by your resume, will your next big product play be in Israel?

Noamm: My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Israel 40 years ago, and I was born and raised in the U.S., so I feel lucky that I was able to take in the good of both cultures.

I might be more brazen and direct than some others, because Israeli culture and language is direct and eye contact is important. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to continue that directness in all exchanges, which is fine. My roots and my family have been raised in the U.S. I like to say that I’m a polite chutzpah guy.

The more you can take in from any culture can help you in your career and life. Israel has proven to be very successful with startup culture. I’ve taken in some of that as an agent, entrepreneur and just as a person.

At RentBase, we also have engineers and investors based in Israel, so any excuse to go there, I am happy to take. If I have to make them up, then so be it.

I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts and went to Brandeis University. I was a relatively sheltered person until I volunteered to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

My experience in the IDF inevitably brought so much to my later real estate career. I wanted to eat as much shit as I could, so everything would taste sweeter afterwards.

During my first years as an agent, craigslist was the main way to post rental ads. The timing of your post mattered, and I found that most renters were active from 8:00 pm to 12:00 am. So I made it a point to be in the office and posting rentals, because, for me, it was way better than an army patrol shift. 

In the army, you learn to be able to push yourself. “I can’t” is not part of the language. Your “limit” goal posts are constantly being pushed back. I applied those lessons to my early days in real estate and continue to do so to this day.