Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working on UN SDG 10 to reduce inequalities in the world. Today I’m super excited to speak with Ron Zakay, co-founder of Deal Engine AI. Are you ready to be enlightened?
Spiffy: Hi there, Ron! You’ve got me wondering what challenges you’re addressing through Deal Engine AI. What can you tell me?
Ron: Thanks so much for having me, Spiffy! So, every kid in the world has had an argument with their parents that ends with, “it’s not fair!” That’s because everyone knows that not everything is equal. In the world of business that is especially true. “Who you know” is often more important than “what you do”—that’s why a lot of great ideas aren’t even listened to because the people who come up with them are often on the sidelines. We founded Deal Engine to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table, no matter who you are.
Spiffy: I have heard “it’s not fair” quite a bit during my travels. So, can you tell me more about what motivated you to ensure everyone has a seat at the table?
Ron: I’ve been working in Silicon Valley for many years, and I often see amazing people get ignored because they’re not the “cool kids.” Growing up, I was never one of the cool kids. I’m a geeky gay man from the Middle East who plays Dungeons and Dragons—it was painful—it is that othering and isolation that inspired me to create a platform that would allow EVERYONE to get a fair shot at success. My passion, my core, and my “mission” has always been to empower others. That’s exactly why we created DealEngine.
Spiffy: How will this kind of empowerment ensure that the world is an equitable place?
Ron: Venture capitalists invest in companies that they think have a chance for success, but far too often they don’t even know about companies founded by people of color, women, older people, LGBTQ people, and others. My strong belief is that if investors knew about these companies, they would back them. We created DealEngine to be a revolutionary marketspace bridging between all founders and viable investors. We want everyone to win.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a recent milestone you’ve achieved?
Ron: Between the launch of our platform, to the start of our closed beta, our first cohort of amazing and unique startups, our acceptance into StartOut’s Growth Lab, and finally meeting my team for the first time in person, it’s really hard to choose one. It was an amazing month for us—and an even more amazing experience. This is why I love entrepreneurship.
My office—until we meet in person. (Image courtesy of Ron Zakay)
Spiffy: I’m always curious to hear about how entrepreneurs deal with failure. What about you, Ron, can you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up?
Ron: You know, Spiffy, entrepreneurship is all about failure. All we hear about are the successes, but most of the top entrepreneurs and founders have had previous companies that didn’t do well and most experienced failure. Of course, I did too. I wish that when I first started someone had told me that it was okay to fail! And when my first start up failed, my communities propelled me past the failure. Failure is another step forward. Don’t give up.
Spiffy: Have you learned anything unexpected recently?
Ron: I am surrounded by an amazing team and colleagues in DealEngine. We are almost twenty strong, and all of us share a passion for the future we are bringing about. It is the same exact team that holds me accountable to my privilege, that has cleared my view into what that means, and how we can bring about a better future. I have a lot to learn, but one lesson resonates with me the most: My privilege is a megaphone, and knowing that, I have to hand it to others.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Ron: It has taken a long time for me to feel truly welcomed in this world as a gay man. When I was a kid, there were no LGBTQ support groups in schools, and “gay” was a pretty common insult on the playground. The world has evolved a lot in twenty years. While we all walk a different path, we all do so humanly, and we all walk in with love and care. I am proud that my family elevates my company and my company elevates my family. We all belong.
Ron Zakay is the co-founder of Deal Engine, a San Francisco-based company that empowers all entrepreneurs to get recognized by investors and have a fair chance at success for all. (Nominated by StartOut. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 8, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.