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The story of local rental website, OrangeHousing.com

By Melissa Zomro-Davis

Date:

Donna Glassberg, founder of OrangeHousing.com (PHOTO CREDIT: ORANGEHOUSING.COM)

As a property manager in Syracuse, during the late 1990s, Donna Glassberg noticed a problem that needed a solution. Renters struggled to find housing in an easy, accessible way. 

While walking in her Syracuse University neighborhood, Glassberg would see cars pulled off to the side of the road, with people writing numbers off the for-rent signs plastered on the sides of the buildings. She thought this was a terribly inefficient way to find housing for students and faculty moving to the area. Since she was immersed in the industry and understood the process well, Glassberg knew she could create something that would help both her employers and her renters to connect in a more efficient way. 

A change was needed, and Donna knew she could make that change. Her son was 10 years old at the time and he was learning how to make a simple website. He explained to his mother that his friends would be able to see this website from their own homes. This was a novel concept since during this time period there were only about 200,000 websites around. The innovation process began for Donna and she thought, “I could create a website that could be the answer to the problem I wanted to solve.” She launched her website before Google and before smart phones, so this was quite an innovative concept. She wasn’t even sure how renters would find the site. 

Find the site they did, and OrangeHousing.com became the first rental website in Syracuse, exploding with popularity. Within in a month, the Syracuse University chancellor’s office called to ask what exactly this website was and if they would be allowed to link to it for the entire university community to see. After a short period of time, more links were made to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), Onondaga Community College (OCC), SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Le Moyne College.

As the market changed, Glassberg started to notice another potential problem. She was limiting her audience. She needed to start marketing her website to more than just students and faculty looking for housing in Syracuse. So, OrangeHousing.com diversified and began opening the site up to young professionals wanting to rent in Syracuse. The thought was: Why just cater to one demographic? There were many who needed this service.

The competition has definitely increased globally with over 2 billion websites, and many national rent sites with which OrangeHousing.com must compete. But that is not affecting OrangeHousing.com too much since Glassberg continues to stay one step ahead of the trends. The site is constantly drawing new property managers and owners posting the openings they have. Using a local phone number instead of an 800 number works to her advantage. People want that personalized service, that human connection; and that is what Glassberg offers. A personal feature the site provides is a list of resources that new residents might need such as identifying an eye doctor, where to get winter clothing, and whatever other local services the renters have questions about. 

It is quite remarkable that this small website that was formed in 1997 is not only in operation to this day but it is still the go-to for many newcomers to the area. Glassberg credits this to the fact that she is not afraid to look for assistance with her business. “Seeking out help from others, like Melissa Zomro Davis at SBDC, is beneficial to one’s business even if you have been running a successful business” says Glassberg. 

To keep it successful, a business owner must observe his or her surroundings. What is the environment of the industry? How can a business run better? Constant evaluation of what the clients’ needs are is one way to continue to grow. As the demand changes, the business must change. Having a growth plan is a great way to ensure that your business stays in the forefront of the industry. 

Donna Glassberg has no intention of settling with where she is at now. She is always looking to the future. Her latest growth plan involved obtaining her Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certification so that she would be more of a benefit to her strategic partners, such as SU, ESF, OCC, Upstate Medical, and Le Moyne, who all value working with minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBEs).

I referred Donna to Lamont Mitchell, who oversees the MWBE certification for the city of Syracuse. Lamont assisted Donna with the process and now she is Syracuse City WBE certified. 

“I will continue to seek out help when needed. I believe the future for my website will be continuing to grow with housing options as well as partnering with businesses and nonprofits who want to advertise as well on the site,” Glassberg says. 

Glassberg has begun working on her next project to stay ahead of the trend. She is going to start promoting housing options on the OrangeHousingNY IG (Instagram) site. 

Working with her community resource partners, staying engaged with her community, and acknowledging the strategic partnership’s wants and needs, Glassberg has made OrangeHousing.com a staple in the community. When the times changed, so did OrangeHousing.com. “Being open to change and trying to stay one step ahead of the times helps me to stay in business,” says Glassberg. 

Donna is truly a woman entrepreneur pioneer, one who will ensure her business continues to stand the test of time by being willing to foster change, growth, and use her innovation skills to be beneficial to her strategic partners in the community. 

Advisor’s Business Tip: 

Building your community partner resource network and keeping abreast of what is happening within your industry locally and globally can help you succeed in your venture.       

Melissa Zomro Davis is an advanced state-certified business advisor at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) located at Onondaga Community College. Contact her at m.lzomro@sunyocc.edu