Buffalo tech pioneer and innovator, Jordan Levy, shares his passion for Buffalo and advice for success
This past Monday I had the opportunity to sit down with Buffalo tech pioneer and innovator, Jordan Levy. For the few people that do not know, Jordan has played an integral role in developing and expanding the Buffalo tech community. Currently he is the Chairman of Synacor, a Partner with SoftBank Capital, and is on the board of a wide variety of companies including ACV Auctions, BuzzFeed, Launch NY, Take2Consulting LLC, and much more! I sat down with Jordan to discuss the Buffalo tech scene and why he values and cares for Buffalo so much (Full Audio Below):
How did you get started?
“It wasn’t on purpose, Ron Schreiber, who has been my partner in business since 1982 was the first Apple computer dealer in Buffalo. He had a hard time getting product for his store, and so he wanted to start a computer distribution store to distribute products. I was in the advertising business and he asked if I wanted to join him. I thought he was nuts and I didn’t want to quit my job, change my life, and take a risk. However, after a trip to Las Vegas for the consumer electronics show in 1983, I said I’m in.”
What made you want to be a pioneer in Buffalo for technology?
“Maybe some people want to come back and pontificate that it was their intention, but really we were starting a business going 250 miles per hour, we were building it, we sold it, we did another one and sold it, and repeated again some more. Everything that sort of came from that came as a by product of that, but there was never a real intention of trying to start a tech business. Frankly, everybody thought we were crazy and a lot of people tried to convince us to move out of Buffalo.”
When you talk to your friends from other areas about Buffalo, what are some of the things you tell them about?
“Understand that I have been doing this for a long time, and all of my friends both in business and personally know of my passion for Buffalo and for Western New York. They know that I bleed the Bills and the Sabres and our great city. No matter where I am, everyone understands my passion for it. I have been lucky enough that through a little bit of success, I have made some friendships and I have been able to get a lot of those people to come to Buffalo over my career. When they come to Buffalo they generally shake their head and they get it and understand why.”
What would be your elevator pitch to get people to stay in Buffalo?
“I would tell people regularly that there is no, and I mean this, no better place to raise a family and have a fantastic quality of life than Buffalo. Now I get it, that as I get older the winter is less important to me and my kids are grown, that it is a little less important for me to be here all the time, but when my kids were growing up it was a great place to raise them. We have an extraordinary education system and a great quality of life. The family values are just so different here. People are much more modest here and I think because of that people are friendlier.”
What would two advantages be that Buffalo has over another city?
“Cost advantage is probably first and foremost in everybody’s mind. Second, what people probably don’t realize and don’t understand is how competitive talent is. We have businesses, lots of them in New York City, on the West Coast and more. While there are more people there is also more competition for those people. We get poached, our turnover rates are much higher. Here when we started Upgrade, or Ingram Micro, or Campus Labs, and more, we have been able to grow very rapidly and get great people. We are a young growing business that people want to be a part of and we’re not competing with twenty other companies just like us.”
If you could waive a wand and improve two areas in Buffalo, what would they be?
“Talent wise, we need more engineers. We definitely need more engineers with experience. It is a factor that I think inhibits our ability to grow. Environmentally, I would say if we could figure out how to have milder winters it would be better.”
What would you say is the biggest opportunity for Buffalo right now?
“I don’t know that I have a specific answer for the biggest opportunity. Ron and I have been able to build a large amount of enterprises out of Buffalo. People said it was a mistake to build here, but this is where we wanted to. This is home. I think you can look for reasons and excuses on why you can’t build businesses here, but to me they are all bullshit. It is more a failure of your company and you than it is of Buffalo. I do believe that you can build businesses here, you can build them large, you can build them successful, and you can change the world. You need to check that baggage at the door and say you can do it anywhere. No excuses. The only excuse when it comes down to it, is look in the mirror. The truth is you can build a company here as big as you want.”
The biggest mistake you have made in your career?
“I have made a lot of mistakes and I would say the most disappointing decision I made was when we sold Upgrade Corporation (then called SoftBank Services Group). We sold it to Onix, and I did not insist as part of the transaction that they keep their headquarters here in Buffalo for at least five years. Within one year they moved the company to Nashville. That company today is Sitel Worldwide with 65,000 people. At one point we had over 3,000 employees in Buffalo. That would be my biggest mistake and disappointment because I easily could have said to leave the company here for four or five years and then it would have stayed forever. I won’t make that mistake again.”
Advice to someone starting their tech career in Buffalo?
“Don’t make excuses because you are in Buffalo. You can succeed anywhere. It is harder but that does not mean it is not possible. I chose all my life to work where I live, not live where I work. I’ve chosen Buffalo as my home and figured out ways to grow businesses here. Just put your head down, if the idea is great you will have a wonderful outcome no matter where you are.
Advice for the general entrepreneur in Buffalo?
“It is not easy to be an entrepreneur. You have to be prepared for failure, you have to be prepared for adversity. You have to be prepared for hurdles and roadblocks everywhere. If you can try to keep a level head and work hard you can succeed. Sheldon Adelson is one of the richest people in the world, and I think he went bankrupt five or six times before getting to his level of success. He never gave up. I think that’s the idea, believe in what you are doing and I think great things will happen.”
A huge thank you to Jordan for taking the time to speak with us and share his passion and love for Buffalo! To listen to the entire recording, just click play below! Have any questions or comments? Leave them below!