Curtis Layne and Ray Taaeb: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs

Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs are Casalova creators Curtis Layne and Ray Taaeb, whose app streamlines the home rental process for the digital age. We caught up with them to find out where they see their business in five years and what advice they would share with other young professionals…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
We’ve built a real estate rental app called Casalova that streamlines the whole rental process by letting you search for rentals, schedule viewings, make offers, and pay rent all online. We’re also creating transparency in the rental market by enabling reviews of landlords and tenants so you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
Ray: I had a wonderfully terrible experience of trying to find a rental in Toronto when I first moved here and found that I wasn’t the only one trying to find a place like it was 1995. Listings were usually poor quality or outdated, and when you finally found something you liked, you had to fill out a paper application just to make an offer. All the while, you had no idea who the landlord was and if they were reliable at all. Turns out my first landlord was a dentist and had no experience in managing properties, and my second landlord lived in the Yukon. We had to mail our rent cheques to THE YUKON. That’s when I knew there was injustice in this world and joined forces with Curtis to build Casalova.

Curtis: When I rented my first place in university I had a flip-phone in my pocket and used various low-grade listing sites to find a place. Seven years later, we all have a supercomputer in our pockets but we’re still using those same listing sites. The rental market has been late to the party with technology and I want to see the pain of renting be replaced with the joy of finding an amazing new place with ease.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
Ray: Best part has to be the variety of work in my day-to-day. In any given day I could be dealing with marketing, product design, legal, finance, customer support, and sales. I also love the fact that we’re building something that brings value to people and hopefully makes their lives easier. The most challenging part is the uncertainty that comes with being an entrepreneur and the time away from friends and family.

Curtis: The best part is that every day I’m being challenged to solve a new set of problems and am constantly being pushed past my limits. I’m a firm believer that you learn the most when you’re pushed to fail fast and learn from it. The most challenging part is related to the best part – as a founder there’s no one to fall back on if you’re having a tough day and you have to keep powering through no matter how helpless you may feel some days.

What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
Ray: I think there are several signs that indicate a lack of work/life balance but the biggest sign is the strain that it puts on your personal relationships. Being able to maintain a relationship and successfully build and scale a company involves a deep understanding, appreciation, and patience from your loved ones.

Curtis: I don’t buy into what most people call work/life balance. I like to sustain high-intensity on whatever I’m doing, whether that’s work, travel, or just having a good time. I believe that the balance comes from changing focus every few weeks or months and being fully immersed in the moment.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Ray: I don’t know where I see myself in five days, let alone five years. But I’d like to be growing Casalova on a global stage by that point and expand to rental markets in the US and Europe.

Curtis: Part of being an entrepreneur is living with daily uncertainty. My whole life has turned upside down in the past year since I quit my corporate job. Looking five years in the future is almost impossible. All I can say for certain is that I’m going to continue pushing myself and creating products that can change the world.

What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Ray: My one major challenge was deciding whether or not to quit my corporate job in order to become an entrepreneur. Looking back, it’s been the riskiest move I’ve made, but ultimately it was the right decision. I believe that when you’re no longer learning on the job or find it unfulfilling, it’s time to move on and find something more challenging/meaningful. Entrepreneurship has been the avenue for me to test my limits and constantly learn.

Curtis: One major challenge of the path that I have taken is having to pass up on a lot of opportunities to hang out with friends and family. People often don’t understand what it takes to create a successful business. I overcome it by reminding myself why I’m doing what I’m doing and by having faith in myself to be successful in the long run.

What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
Ray: Success to me is about doing something that is greater than yourself and making an impact; doing something that provides value to others and is also fulfilling to your life’s work. Money can certainly bring temporary happiness, but creating value and constantly working on your craft will bring true happiness.

Curtis: For me, success is about creating something that adds value to people’s lives. Since money comes from creating value, I believe that money and happiness often come hand in hand, but I don’t think that money directly brings happiness. It’s a side-effect of being successful.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Ray: My most memorable milestone is when I got to see people actually using our product for the first time after months of working on it. It’s really exciting to see something that we’ve built on someone’s laptop screen or phone.

Curtis: Making the leap to quit my job and start a company has been the most memorable milestone so far.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Ray: Forget your plan B. If you have a plan B in life, a backup, you will always end up doing what your plan B is. Because whenever your plan A gets hard, you’ll know that you have a fall back and you’ll settle. My advice is to scrap the plan B and go all in with your plan A.

Curtis: Go after what you want. Don’t stay at that job “just one more year” so it will look good on your resume. You’re only young once and if you wait too long, life will get in the way. Take a risk. You want to look back on your life in 20 years and know that you gave it everything you had.

Where is your favourite place to wine/ dine in your city and why?
Ray: This little Indian buffet in King West called Agra’s Fine Indian Cuisine.

Curtis: Khao San Road, hands down. I used to go there a couple times a week before quitting my job. Great food,and a great atmosphere, although it’s notoriously difficult to get a table.

When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
Ray: My favourite “me” time is spent riding my motorcycle. Ultimate zen is found in the empty country roads on a Sunday afternoon.

Curtis: On the basketball court. It really allows me to get into the moment and forget about whatever is stressing me out.

Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
Ray: Barcelona. It’s got the beaches, nightlife, history, architecture, food, and wonderfully beautiful people.

Curtis: It’s a toss up between Barcelona and Berlin. Very different cultures but they both speak to different parts of me. Barcelona for the beaches and the food and Berlin for the gritty culture and music scene.

If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
Ray: Drake – Trophies

Curtis: Jimi Hendrix – Power to Love

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Ray: I would be travelling the world on a motorcycle.

Curtis: I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. Since making the leap to entrepreneurship I can’t see myself ever going back.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Ray & Curtis: We’ve started an event called Poochella, which currently has 18K people attending on our Facebook page. We’re donating the proceeds from that event to local animal shelters in Toronto. We want to create a rental platform that promotes the community and gives back as well. This is just one of the ways we’re doing that and we’ve got some exciting plans going forward.

What to you is notable?
Ray: I think being notable is about taking a chance on yourself and doing something you truly believe in. It’s so easy to play it safe in life and just get by. The real challenge comes from following your true passions and living outside of your comfort zone.

Curtis: Notable is doing something you believe in no matter how many people try to detract you or tell you otherwise. It’s about making short-term sacrifices to achieve a long-term vision and never giving up in the face of adversity.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Ray: Android.

Curtis: Android.