Michael Lisovetsky (NYU Stern’15) is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of HomeSwipe, an app that helps you quickly find the home of your dreams. Michael spends his days working on HomeSwipe, his most successful venture to date.
How did you first know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I can’t pin-point when or how. It seems like a series of events that occurred, but my parents were a huge influence. They are immigrants from Ukraine and fell straight into running their own business but never had it easy. Seeing them with the freedom of self-empowerment formed an entrepreneurial environment for me. Growing up I tried different things and I noticed that people were willing to pay me for it. My first company was built by accident and I kept improving. Becoming an entrepreneur was more of a natural progression than a conscious choice for me.
What were some things about those first companies that were unique and taught you a valuable lesson?
I started three companies in college, HomeSwipe being the third. The previous two companies helped to “get some ideas out of my system” but were not viable businesses.
There’s a certain learning curve to becoming an entrepreneur that you can’t get in a classroom or from a book. You just have to do it and I can attest to that.
My first company, BuilderBuzz was a “business cards and t-shirts company”, or in my case, “let’s do everything but build a real company”. It might have been ignorance of the next steps, or uncertainty of what you need to do. There were lots of unknowns, and starting out was a disaster, but it was an incredible learning experience.
For my second company, LiveApplicant, we had an actual product, but we didn’t have any customers. We jumped into a space we didn’t understand at all. No matter how hard we worked on the product we couldn’t get a “Yes” from the customer because we did not ask the customer if there was a “need” for our product.
These experiences taught me valuable lessons that have guided my entrepreneurial journey. I am also a huge proponent of learning from others who have been there by reading their books.
What was it like transitioning from LiveApplicant to HomeSwipe?
It was tremendously abrupt. I had an opportunity to pitch to a super angel Silicon Valley investor and realized that my pitch was not generating interest. It was a sink or swim scenario and I decided to go for it. I had an idea that came to me during a call with my former co-founder, and he had suggested exploring needs in the real-estate market. When I pitched it to the investor, it was nowhere close to a business plan and I expected nothing out of it. It was really just a stab in the dark. Some might say it was luck, but I believe it was really because I took the chance. There would have been no luck if I felt bad for myself and didn’t do anything. Something about the way I pitched my idea sparked interest in the investor.
That set me going in the right direction. From my experience with my former startups, I knew what not to do, and we immediately knew what had to be done to expand my idea into a company.
What was the fundraising process like?
Have a reason for the investor to meet with you. It’s not really the quantity of the investors you are speaking to, but the quality of the inroad that led you to that investor. If you are an early stage entrepreneur, you don’t have a track record, and you need those inroads to speak for you.
We’ve been rejected 60–70 times, and it doesn’t really matter. We have had poor luck on the east coast, but fared better on the west coast. So the question becomes “how do I put myself in situations to make it possible?” Going to startup meet-ups is usually not the best use of time. Let’s say you go to one, and a VC associate is there. It doesn’t matter if you have a good idea — the VC associate that watched you pitch can always say no, but they can never say yes. Only a partner can make a decision about your pitch.
Explain the east coast vs. west coast dynamics.
The west coast is very much vision focused. They will delve into who you are as an individual, as an entrepreneur, and find the reasons why you are going to win. The east coast wants to see metrics that the west is a little more flexible on. As somebody once said to me, “the west coast approach is focused on scale, whereas the east coast approach is focused on revenue.” Also, VCs are much more open on the west coast and are more likely to take meetings.
How do you de-stress?
Meditate and breathe. I don’t let small things annoy me, and usually I just let stress bounce off.
I try to enjoy our wins, even if they are small or big. I saved screenshots of our early users as it was exhilarating when those rolled in. A big win was when one of our investors, the founder of Salesforce, sent a reply to us in 7 minutes with the final check that we needed to close our fundraising round. I was on an airplane freaking out, and also enjoying that accomplishment.
Any advice for people interested in becoming entrepreneurs?
Don’t box yourself into certain ideas because of the feedback you receive. Let people say no to you, rather than stopping yourself. The major killer of success is not trying. Once you develop your vision for your company, and start working towards it, you’ll get there.
This is Michael’s day-in-the-life:
7:00 AM — 9:00 AM:
Wake up, shower, and sometimes go to the gym. Getting up early before work enables me to have “me” time.
9:30 AM — 10:30 AM:
Arrive in the office latest by 9:30 am. We have a founders meeting for half an hour. Everyday is different, and that’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur. One day the world is crashing because the server is down, and I’m playing the role of an engineer. Another day is fully focused on marketing, so I have a bunch of conference calls lined up and figuring out how we are going to market better to consumers.
10:30 AM — 12:30 PM:
This is my most varied period of the day: pushing for investor meetings, hiring, social media marketing, etc. My co-founder is coding. He has the most predictable day out of all of us. He has one goal, output code.
12:30 PM — 1:00 PM:
We have lunch together. We are usually not all together at the same time, but we try to all have a break for lunch for 30 minutes. It’s a means for us to catch up. Whether on what are the next steps we need to take, or right now for example, my co-founder asked me to teach them Russian.
We also like to go out to experience a change in environment. My lunch is pretty predictable. I don’t like wasting the choices of my day on things that don’t matter. It’s always ground beef and salad.
1:00 PM — 6:00 PM:
We don’t stop until the work is done so the schedule could change depending on the day. There’s not really a strict structure but usually we have meetings with internal or external partners. A lot of those partnerships have come about because I had an idea and I decide to expand on it.
6:00 PM — 7:00 PM:
Usually finish up and grab a bite. I’m a horrible cook. I’ll most likely learn, but I’m procrastinating for now. I live next to Gotham West Market, and I usually just go grab a burger.
7:00 PM — 11:00 PM:
This is more of a relaxed work time. I’ll talk to friends while working and sometimes get great insights that I can apply to my work. I’m going to learn how to code eventually.
Whenever I take breaks I’m always reading, which is my main hobby.
Two books I really like are: “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill and “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. These are the manuals to life. I just gave someone the “Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco, which is about building businesses and freedom in your life.
11:00 PM — 12:00 AM:
Looking at stats, and thinking about what we are can do to improve our business. Thinking why is this low, or high. It’s an unhealthy obsession but also keeps the focus on the goals.
12:00 AM — 1:00 AM:
I am headed home and hit the bed. Some days I’ll still be up working at this hour. We are operating in three time zones so there’s always something coming up.