An In-Depth Interview with Israeli-born American Startup Founder Roy Dekel

Rarely, entrepreneurs with years of experience in an industry will decide to forge a new path in that sector by integrating new technology.

Roy Dekel (photo credit: ROY DEKEL)
Roy Dekel
(photo credit: ROY DEKEL)

Rarely, entrepreneurs with years of experience in an industry will decide to forge a new path in that sector by integrating new technology. For Roy Dekel, co-founder and CEO of real estate tech startup SetSchedule, that was exactly the journey he chose. After many years of success in high-level positions throughout the real estate sector, Roy seized the opportunity to integrate technology into this human-centric industry.

Long before founding SetSchedule, Roy spent five years serving in the Israeli military with honors. This time in the military instilled a high level of drive in Roy, pushing him to constantly seek out opportunities to improve and innovate. Upon moving to the United States, Roy entered the business world as a manager at The Windows Group, then as president for the DCH Home Development Company. From there, Roy felt the urge to create his own path and subsequently founded his own investment firm. In 2014, Roy set out to create a technology-driven company that would provide much-needed tools for real estate agents. Now, his company SetSchedule is doing just that- pioneering machine learning and artificial intelligence as useful tools for real estate agents. And as Roy’s success grows, so does his charity work – Roy fundraises regularly for child cancer charities and supports a plethora of other non-profit groups.
Today, we’re diving deep with Roy to understand how his Israeli roots and his time in America has influenced his journey in the real estate and
tech worlds. Roy is here with us to share valuable insights on real estate, tech, and entrepreneurial ventures.
You’re from Israel and spent five years in the military. Can you tell us about that experience and how it shaped your startup aspirations?
In my five years as a seal and later as an officer, I had the opportunity to work for the largest organization type in the country, and while business is not exactly warfare, the exposure to the vast ecosystem helped shape my viewpoint on teamwork, accountability, company structure, and training. 
What do you think are driving factors for the many Israeli startup founders?
Israeli’s have no plan B. They are a country surrounded by enemies and as a result are driven to be the first and the best for their own survival and livelihood. In this respect, Israeli’s are brought up uniquely, and they have a different sense of obligation and thinking rooted deep within their culture. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Israeli people comes from the correlations of that culture and the structured experience provided by the military. In short, they are taught that survival and self-reliance go hand and hand. This is clear based on the simple fact that Israel has more companies listed in the Nasdaq than any other country besides America. 

Speaking of Israeli founders, your SetSchedule co-founder is also from Israel. How did that partnership emerge?

The relationship between Udi Dorner and I had been many years in the making. We first met about 16 years ago through mutual friends, when I first immigrated to California. At that time we were both involved in separate business ventures, and other than friendship didn’t anticipate crossing paths in business. Udi had been focused on technology and I had been working in real estate investments and funds. Between the two of us, we had cumulatively run four different companies in different industries.  About 12 years into our friendship, we each found ourselves in an ideal place to start something new. It was perfect timing, we had each talked about diversification and starting a business. During the course of the conversation, the topic began to shift, from individual businesses to talk about a joint venture and how each of our skill sets can contribute to build something new. In one of the less desirable vegas hotels on the strip, we stayed up all night talking about how we can bring technology to the real estate space. We had used the floor to ceiling windows as a whiteboard and used hundreds of sticky notes, and by four in the morning, Udi and I had birthed SetSchedule. I knew that night that Udi who had proven to be a lifelong friend would be the perfect partner and my better business half on our journey.
What gave you the idea for a technology-driven real estate company?
Real estate has always been a passion of mine. I have been involved in real estate in some aspects from construction to investing. Based on the fact that we had real estate portfolios from several states, and that I had managed several funds, I wanted to scale the operations and toyed with the idea of expanding into a brokerage. When diving into the intricacies of the business, it was clear to me that the industry had pain points that could be addressed through technology. Many brokers faced issues in production and conversion, and I knew that I could help scale and streamline the experience with the help of technology. Through an agnostic marketplace, we address the agent pipeline and conversion issues, bringing economical leads from business partners with machine learning technologies to allow for a better and user-specific experience. Through Targeted Records, big data and AI we have helped agents to be the first to communicate with potential customers likely to enter the market. Our Virtual House tool has been essential in continuing business opportunities remotely, and we are on the cusp of releasing new tech that will connect professionals in the industry.
How did you effectively transition from working at a business to starting your own?
From being an officer in the military to always pushing the boundaries of rules, and challenging authority. I have never been a small or inside the box thinker, and am most comfortable in a leadership role, I grew up in a household where my father owned many businesses, and for me, entrepreneurship was always a future that I saw for myself. Starting a business wasn’t really a transition, as more of a predestined outcome.
You’re an avid fundraiser for charities. What are some of the charities and non-profits you’re most passionate about and why?
I like to focus on the future so I am often drawn to charities that involve education and the development, health, and safety of children. I would like to give a shout out to a few Charities the ATS, larger than life, and the JCC.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned as a startup founder?
Being a business owner has provided me with an amazing education through experience. The number one tip that I would give anyone starting a business for the first time is to pick a business partner. A partner, if you choose right, will help lighten the workload, provide complementary skillset, is an advocate with the same goals, and can help you weather the hardships of a new company. However, if you choose wrong, it can cause internal conflicts, contrary decisions, and additional challenges that can be catastrophic for the continuation and success of the business. 
Keep in mind no matter the business you will have obstacles. Entrepreneurship is hard. If it were easy more people would do this. So expect the challenges and as the head of your company the blame. Work harder than any other employee and know that no one would do a better job than you, so do not outsource to experience. Passion and drive will outperform, and last longer than experience any day.
Do you have suggestions or advice for young Israelis who aspire to start their own companies? 
You don’t need a big investment to start a company. All you need is an idea, passion, and drive. Watch your pennies when you first start out, many great ideas have come from ingenuity and necessity and your business is no different, you are only limited by your own ability to creatively solve problems. Find a business partner to help you be fearless, to lean on, and split the work with. Focus on the long term, and know where there is a problem, there is almost always a solution.