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You know, Eric, on the show time and time again, founders talk about the importance of hiring great employees.
Eric Hornung 0:07
And they always say it’s so hard and so important early on to hire the right person.
Jay Clouse 0:13
It makes a lot of sense that is difficult because most founders don’t have experience doing high level searches or hiring top level talent.
Eric Hornung 0:20
And they’re also limited to their local talent pool a lot of the times.
Jay Clouse 0:24
That’s why a lot of founders choose to work with SPMB, one of the fastest growing executive search firms in the country. For over 40 years, SPMB has specialized in recruiting upper management and board members to early stage VC funded startups and larger growth stage companies do.
Eric Hornung 0:38
They bring the knowledge of a large global firm and combine that with the personalized service and attention of a boutique.
Jay Clouse 0:46
They have a dedicated team focusing on the Mountain West and Midwest emerging tech markets. So no matter where you are in the country, if you’re trying to hire top level talent SPMB can help you out.
Eric Hornung 0:56
If that sounds like you, you can go to upside.fm/SPMB to learn how they are closing hundreds of C level searches annually.
Jack Greco 1:11
It was a ride, you know, I mean, we raised a bunch of rounds. The company changed a ton. You know, the core team, really the first 50 employees bled for that company and they still bleed for it. But like you saw the full evolution of a high growth startup.
Jay Clouse 1:25
The startup investment landscape is changing. and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.
Hello, hello. Hello, and welcome to the Upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse, and I’m accompanied by my co host, Mr. Occasional Buffalo Bills fan himself, Eric Hornung.
Eric Hornung 2:06
I will put you through a table if you put occasional up there. Come on, give me give me the full credit.
Jay Clouse 2:11
Okay, maybe maybe I’m seeing occasional when I mean, secondary to your browns.
Eric Hornung 2:17
That’s fair. Yes, I am a Browns fan first and foremost. And tier two is the Packers and the Bills. Try to go to a Bills game whenever I can. In a pre COVID world. That would be more of a once a year ideal. In a post COVID world maybe be a once a year ideal as well.
Jay Clouse 2:35
Why the Bills?
Eric Hornung 2:36
My dad’s from Buffalo. So he grew up a Bills fan. And there’s a special connection between the Bills and the Browns being Lake Erie brothers. So it is it’s good people up there you have a lot of fun. And I grew up on the eccentricities of Buffalo. Specifically the food eccentricities. If you ever had a Beef on Weck.
Jay Clouse 2:56
I had a Beef on Weck in Buffalo actually.
Eric Hornung 2:58
From Charlie the butcher?
Jay Clouse 3:00
I don’t think it’s from probably a butcher. I went to some like Tavern but Beef on Weck is this constant when you’re in Buffalo.
Eric Hornung 3:06
Oh, it’s great Beef on Weck, buffalo wings, we always get bison dip. When we roll through pizza place we went to actually just sit down which is very sad, mighty taco. There’s a whole buffalo culture that didn’t really expand out of Buffalo and it’s very cool to go up there. Check it out, go down to Orchard Park, jump through a table. Have yourself a nice little time.
Jay Clouse 3:25
And as many people know, Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo.
Eric Hornung 3:31
Um, one of my favorite poems,
Jay Clouse 3:33
Which is in fact a full sentence. That is just Buffalo seven times. Eric, why are we talking about Buffalo.
Eric Hornung 3:40
We’re talking about the all America city because today on the podcast, we got connected to Jack Greco.
Jay Clouse 3:47
Jack Greco is the founder of ACV Auctions. The first tech unicorn in upstate New York, they IPOed not too long ago, becoming a huge success in Buffalo. We don’t hear about a lot of unicorn or tech activity in Buffalo. But in 2020, ACV’s revenue topped more than $208 million, up 95% from the year before. And as of December 31, more than 750,000 vehicles have sold on a ACV’s auction platform.
Eric Hornung 4:19
Imagine that we hadn’t heard much about tech in Buffalo. I think with Jack coming on this show. That’s gonna change because he is an introduction machine.
Jay Clouse 4:30
How did you get introduced to Jack?
Eric Hornung 4:32
Twitter man, really a friend who I’ve met through Twitter and indirectly through Cleveland, reached out like you got to talk to this guy. Talk to him for 15 minutes. And we were talking about he has a newsletter called Buffalo Bridge. We have a newsletter called Cleveland Tech newsletter. We were just jamming on that for a bit and I said you got to come on the podcast.
Jay Clouse 4:52
And so he did. He definitely seems like one of those guys from what you’ve told me that when you go into a city and you say Who should we know here in Tech. I imagine Jack Greco is one of the names that comes up time and time again in Buffalo. Eric seems like he’s living his one life that he has to live the best way that he can.
Eric Hornung 5:10
Absolutely. And if you do your listener want to live the one life you have the best way you can, you can go check out our friends at Ethos Wealth Management. That’s a Cleveland based company that’s Lake Erie based company in go to upside.fm/ethos to learn more.
Jay Clouse 5:27
In this interview with jack, we want to talk about the Buffalo ecosystem. We want to talk about ACV Auctions, we will talk about what he’s doing now as a member of the tech community out of one of the first tech unicorns in Buffalo itself should be a unique perspective from what we typically have here on the show, Eric.
Eric Hornung 5:47
So let’s hop into this interview. If you want to send us a note, if you want, tell us what your favorite Finger Lake is. I’m personally a fan of Seneca Lake, like how deep it is, I think it’s pretty cool. Some people like Canandaigua, because it’s a fun word to say. Regardless, send us your favorite Finger Lake @upsideFM or send us something a little longer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay Clouse 6:11
Eric, we got to make some big changes to how we do operations here at Upside.
Eric Hornung 6:16
This feels like an intervention Jay.
Jay Clouse 6:17
It’s a bit of an intervention. I have to give you some tough love. We’ve had some calendar problems over the last couple of weeks.
Eric Hornung 6:22
I’ve had some calendar problems, you don’t have to throw the third person on this.
Jay Clouse 6:26
I do like to take the blame for you. But this one is on you and Eric, I think we have found a solution to our calendar and scheduling problems.
Eric Hornung 6:33
But there are a 101 scheduling tools out there Jay that can help you avoid the awkward dance of finding a time to meet.
Jay Clouse 6:39
But this tool is by far and away the best one I’ve seen and I have looked at a lot of scheduling tools. And I am talking about SavvyCal.
Eric Hornung 6:48
SavvyCal makes it a collaborative effort allowing you to personalize links and allow recipients to overlay their own calendar on top of yours.
Jay Clouse 6:56
It’s going to make booking guests for Upside and even just one on one conversations a complete breeze. You got to see what this looks like you got to see how it works because you’re going to ask why wasn’t it always this easy?
Eric Hornung 7:07
You cal sign up for a free account at savvycal.com/upside. That’s savvycal.com/upside. And when you are ready to test out a paid plan, use the code Upside to get your first month free.
Jack on Upside we like to start with a background of the guests if you take us on a quick rocket ship through your history.
Jack Greco 7:37
Sure. You know I am a 37 year old single dad that lives in Buffalo today. How did I get here? I was originally from a city about an hour hour and a half East Canandaigua beautiful place one of the Finger Lakes. Grew up with a father that was an antique dealer and a mother that was the saint old as the two boys. But I kind of was always around especially with my dad being entrepreneur always around business. So that didn’t mean that I kind of clung to his hip, it meant that I kind of would jump out and do my own thing. I remember my first job was you know, I saw the guys at the pizzeria that nobody was following the boxes and I said Hey, I’ll fold these. They started paying me a dime apiece. Unfortunately, they paid me in quarters to walk by the arcade on the way out. So I never actually left with any cash. But you know, it taught me really like if you want something, go get it. Undergrad and grad school University of Rochester. I’ve lived in western New York really this area between Buffalo and you know Syracuse my entire life. I love it. Rabid build fan. You know, I never never had a job that I wasn’t fired from. That includes one of my own companies I founded. But they brought me back not too much longer later, but went to undergrad and grad school, got my MBA in finance, and started my career as an associate at a regional venture firm in Rochester. Did that for three or four years, broke off and started working on my own. Really I’ve kind of like stacked relationships and experiences. It’s more of like a fiber. So I’m always working with companies and really I’m working with people, right? I mean, I’m in a relationship business. I try to help people trying to help them achieve a dream develop company. It’s all the same thing. It’s all just like a blended fiber of relationships. So I did that first petroleum I’d done I did on my own. My early will really late 2014 I found out I was having a kid with a girl that I was dating up in Buffalo and decided to stop half assed and a bunch of things. That was one thing so me and two other guys started a company called ACV committed to that it was a wild ride. I ended up leaving, we started getting a little corporate and a little less startup fee in late 2018. We actually just went public a little more than a month ago, which was cool, cool for the region. So when we talked about buffalo that’s one of the macro themes is we now have a you know, a unicorn tech unicorn spire this popped up and the good and bad that come with because it’s not all good, right? Especially if you’re afraid of heights, that thing gets tall. But yeah, I’ve worked across industries, I started in more biotech material science, actually working with a bunch of technologies that were spun out of the British Ministry of Defence and aerospace that for some reason found a home in Rochester. So in the founders I work with, a lot of them either have some connection to the area, or I’ve just fallen in love with them as human beings. That’s me. All this beautiful artwork, you can see because we’re on a path podcast with my sons, too. So I tell people, I’m a dad, and then I do startups that’s in that order.
Jay Clouse 10:37
You mentioned that you had been fired from every job that you’d ever had, was there a common thread or a common reason?
Jack Greco 10:45
I’m a horrible employee. It’s me, I’m the common reason, right? Oh, no, it’s I have a tendency to my belly is directly attached to my mouth. And things will go through my brain. It’s like I live by this see something, say something, right? So when I have a problem, people know pretty quickly when I got a problem with it, and a lot of times, it was just so on one hand, I’m a loyal person. Right? I could have left, right, like, it’s not like there was only friction being filled on one side. And on the other side, I’m an extremely, like, I answered a one God, and it’s not the boss of the company, right? So if I think something’s wrong, I just do it the right way. I don’t, you know, I don’t really even ask her. I never asked her permission. And I hardly ever asked for forgiveness, right? Especially if I’m doing the right thing, and you’re not. And I try and keep the judgment to a minimum. You combine those things together, and you get a guy that, you know, hangs around until you show him the door. And then sometimes he doesn’t leave, right. I’m the guy at the bar that is wedged himself in the doorway, that it takes multiple bounces to move when I’m inside a company. So but it’s worked out okay. Right. I mean, what that means is my true calling is like, working with people. The second I’ve gotten really big into this, this whole, like, understanding personalities are the armor to our fears, right? And my fear is being controlled. Well guess what, like when, when that’s where your raw spot is everything it touches, it sets you off. I’ve at least come to appreciate that and myself.
Jay Clouse 12:15
Talk to me a little bit about this five year journey that you had with ACV. What led to the start of it, what growth looked like for the five years that you were at the company?
Jack Greco 12:24
What started it was two guys, Dan and Joe were were putzing around with this thing and working on it. And it wasn’t progressing, I think as fast as anybody wanted, and I had fallen in love with a girl. And after five months found out we were having a kid and said, holy shit, I gotta be an adult. And so you had three guys Joe had just moved back here from Albany, Dan was working a job where I don’t know how in the hell, he was paying his mortgage. And I was having a kid with a woman from another city. So we had no alternative but to raise money, be successful, right? That’s kind of how I got started. It was a good idea that I think I always equated it to ACV was the kind of idea that when you saw it, it was like watching a pickup basketball game. And there was just one person. There was like a man amongst boys. It was a man amongst boys idea for least of things I had seen, you know, and I got lucky. I got super lucky, right? I mean, I didn’t. If you’d ask me then like, Oh, my God, this is gonna be, you know, a unicorn it you know, in my deepest most Ross time, were completely open and vulnerable, I’d say. I don’t know. I mean, like, these guys are going basler huge. How could they possibly let us do this? You know, we got lucky. I mean, you know, it was a company. It was an industry that the industry the the, and I don’t know if you guys have ever been a, you know, automotive auctions. It’s the exact same I went to him. I used to sneak into him as a kid. There were a couple of them that were soft candy. Well, me and my buddies would sneak in, you know, we sit there and smoke little cigars and act like we were way older than we were, you know, yeah, it just it never changed. It was the same way it was 20 years ago. It was the same way it was 50 years ago. So and it was fun. You know, it was this concept of three guys and Dan and I knew each other a little bit, but neither of us really new Joe right, he had just moved back his wife was from Buffalo. I mean, they tie that bind was the majority of the women all of us have loved in our life we’re from Buffalo, and it is like the best recruiting mechanism The city has. I don’t know if I was like that, you know, but like the women want to come home and you’re just like, okay, you’re in charge right? You know, so, you know, we really got up and running. We had a hard time raising our seed round it was a million bucks. We only raised like, 600,000 of it on our initial close. I remember we closed Good Friday of 2015. I was sweating bullets because my son was doing August and Joe was having his first child that ended up being a little girl named Olivia, who was due in October and Dan already had a kid. We’re like geez, if the three of us can’t raise money, right like who can but we ended up getting the thing up. We sold our first car June 1 of 2015. And then, you know, month and a half later, we closed the rest of the million dollar round. And we want a million bucks and 43North. Are you guys familiar with 43North?
Jay Clouse 15:13
Actually, I am. And I think I read this that you got. You won that competition in 2015.
Jack Greco 15:19
Jay Clouse 15:19
I think 43North sponsored a startup weekend event that I was organizing in 2015.
Jack Greco 15:25
Real in Ohio?
Jay Clouse 15:26
In Ohio. Yeah.
Jack Greco 15:28
Man. They were trying everything back then. I mean, we I mean, it was brand new, right? I remember they were, we almost didn’t go into 43North. We were like, this is like a, like a like this businesses don’t do this. They don’t go wait a million dollars. Right? It’s like saying, if somebody came into me, when I was doing venture capital, I was like, how would you fund your company? They’re like, well, I won a million dollars on a lotto ticket, I start a business, I’d be like, okay, that discredits the whole thing. Right? You know, I was, I was excited that somebody had put money in you. And I didn’t realize it was like a random chance, but ended up being both, you know, like everything good and bad. You know, we did we won in 2015. It kind of it overinflated, our egos, some egos more than others. And ultimately, it led to a ton of friction. So five months later, actually, my co founder, Joe, and I had a little falling out. And he asked me if I would leave the company. And I said, You know what, at this point, I had, like a six month old kid that I didn’t really know. And I was like, This is way more important than a start up. And so I left, I was gone for a grand total of four and a half weeks. So because we were in the middle of raising RA, and I was leading it, while we were all doing it together, we weren’t getting a lot of traction. So then I started, again, that abrasive nature, I just went down to New York on my own, and started knocking on doors saying we’re three founders, I didn’t say who the CEO was, or the CFO or the CEO or CTO and got some interest in and that kind of ruffled some feathers the wrong way. You know? And so I was gone for a little bit. And then the company decided to bring in an outside CEO, the current one, George, George asked me if I would come back. And my my girlfriend, who is my fiance, at that time, she said, not over your dead body. And I said, Come on, we got to do this, right. Like, you know, I got two babies, Jack and ACV. You know, I got to find a way to balance it. You know, so I was supposed to come back, I actually came back as a consultant. And I was only supposed to come back 10 hours a week. And within two weeks, I was working like 55 hours a week. And I stayed for another like two and a half years. So it was super fun, though, right? So no but it was fun, right? I mean, like, I one thing that I never had was, I liked working with George because it was the first time I had, I had always had mentors, but like they typically weren’t who I worked for, and George never, especially in the beginning didn’t make me feel like I was working for him. Like he was a CEO. I was CFO and COO at that time. worst idea in the world was ever doing both of those, right? I mean, it ended up tearing my relationship apart and ended up tearing me apart. You know, I was a broken man at the end of that, you know, a broken overworked dog. You know, I felt like a horse that like, you know, when it breaks his leg on the track. You see the guy coming out with a gun, because that’s the only option. Right? You know, like, you know, there’s a blanket and a gun, the blanket goes out first, then the gun comes out. That was me, I was that horse, right? You know, I was I was lucky enough to drag my shattered hook off the track, and at least try and salvage things. But uh, dude, it was a ride. You know, I mean, we raised a bunch of rounds. The company changed a ton. You know, the core team, really the first 50 employees bled for that company, and they still bleed for it. But like, you saw the full evolution of a hydro startup, right. So my father is an antique dealer, but he also deals in new furniture. And we sell hardwood furniture, right? Oh, cherry maple, you know, the difference between that and like, pine is, is pine grows fast. And so it’s not as strong. It’s not right, like, in hardwoods grow slow. So when things grow fast, you don’t get fast and strong. You get fast and fast, fast and quick crests and tall, fast and boom, boom, boom, fast money printing, right? You know, and we grew really fast. You know, in the beginning, it wasn’t that fast. And I felt like we started and we had a piston to the center of a law right? The hardest part, right? It’s like walk you know, if you’ve ever you’ve ever tried to chop down a tree, thank God, it’s in the middle, not the outside and they will never come down. And the beginning of ACV was so strong. It allowed it to do this wildly expansive growth really starting in like 2017 all the way till now. You know, I mean, now all their numbers are public and you can go back and look at it and no have to worry about I’m saying something wrong, but like, you know, we had this like early growth and the question is, do you grow so fast? That you become spongy? And spongy flexibles. Okay, right. I mean, we can get in the philosophy of it. But spongy is not good when you’re trying to build something really tall. Bamboo grows quick, too, but it’s rigid, right? It’s not spongy. And so I always am constantly, like, worried this is too spongy. You know, when I left, I was worried it was maybe getting spongy.
Eric Hornung 20:06
We talked to a lot of different cities on this show. And almost all of them have some version of the same playbook, which is, hey, let’s invest a lot into seed stage, a stage, whatever it is, with the hopes that we get one unicorn that comes out. And that unicorn is then going to reinvest or create a level of confidence in the community that we can create another one and this whole flywheel effect then takes off when you were in this upward trajectory. Did you feel like the community was happy for you? Like they were supporting you? Like, how is your relationship with the Greater Western New York Community?
Jack Greco 20:46
Well, okay, there’s a lot when we just said one, there is no forest with but one tree, right? Okay. So that whole let’s get one unicorn. It’s important because you want this, this poster child that everybody can look up to, but honestly, man is not wise enough to instrument design of anything, right? Like we just aren’t. So the reason is, when you talk about this money, it’s like one it’s not people’s money to it’s doesn’t know what’s going on three, it’s typically, you know, there’s so many issues with that statement. Right? So let’s just table that. community was awesome. When you hear me pauses, because in my mind, I’m saying like, effing awesome. And I’m trying to take that out, because I don’t know what kind of audience you guys talk to. So but you can, you can Madlib, whatever you want for an adjective in there. But know that the community was awesome, right? Like, it is awesome. I’m not from Buffalo. My mother’s from Buffalo. My grandmother was from here and in my whole family on that side. So I had some blood in me from it. But in Buffalo Rochester, I don’t know if it’s like this in Ohio, but man, they are very different cities, completely different. We’ll go to St Bills game, but besides that, people just don’t you know, they don’t mash. So the community was great, right? I mean, with no community we would not have I think they got like 500 employees in Buffalo alone. Right now, almost all of those were sourced locally. No community, no employees, no community. No, you know, I mean, a lot of people call this like one of the quietest unicorns. You know, like, the company just didn’t brag a lot about it, but any of the bragging that was done was typically done by the city, you know, and they champion those. I mean, they did you know, now, there’s a lot that comes in, right, like, all of a sudden, you know, this, this goose craps out something looks like a golden egg. You get a lot of different people around the goose, right? You get nice people, you know, you get vets that make sure that the goose is healthy. And then you get people that are like pulling blood out of the goose to try and clone other goose. Right geeses right. So we got both, right. I mean, we got a lot of attention. Some of the attention was good. Some of it was bad. I’m a dad of a five year old son. So I’m attentions, good, some attentions, bad, same thing. But the city, the city definitely rooted for us. We’re a city that roots hard for what we care about, and it was no different with us.
Jay Clouse 23:06
I want to hear a little bit more about this. Because this is a perspective we don’t get a lot of the time. What does some of this bad attention look like when you reach a level of stature where people just want something from you?
Jack Greco 23:18
Well, we’re three white guys, none of us were the hot chick in school. Right? You could probably ask them what it’s like to but bad attention is it’s it’s not fundamental in its so it’s not an altruist against versus it’s not fundamental in its execution. Right. Even when we went to 43North, right. There were people that said, we want to help you, you saw this sheep wool, and then you saw a little wolf snout sticking out on the front of it, right? I mean, it just existed. Part of the reason kind of the band broke up originally was because we were getting a lot of bad advice. You know, your first crack through it your first crack through being in the limelight, you don’t I mean, the first couple of people to reach out to you’re like, Oh, my God, you get so excited. You’re like, people care, I’ve done something, I’ve achieved something, and you’re kind of looking inside you, and you’re pumping up your own ego. And then once you’ve been through for a while you’re like holy cow, this is a lot of people. The noise is all these people. Congratulations, congratulations. But the signal is, I want something from you. I want to sit on your coattails. I want to say I’m part of this, like, when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points like they did I forget who it was somebody did some type of tally. And it was claimed that like 20 times the attendance that they claimed to have been at that game. And those are just stated claims. It’s the same thing with something like this. Like, I’ve seen people that are like, yeah, I helped build a CV and I’m like, Who the hell are you? Like, I would know you I was there like 20 hours a day like, I don’t know your mug. I don’t know your signature. I can’t even like, I’ve never had a beer or broken bread with you. So like all these people it starts to become their’s like, you look on things like and I’m not like a social media person, but I am on LinkedIn, because a lot of the work I do now with founders, you know, I gotta be on there. Right? That’s the only thing I’m on. But you know, you go and you see these people and like there’ll be some people that took the proper approach like, look what we can create in Buffalo, right? Because we never wanted it about us. Right? It was never about Dan, Joe and Jack, it was about really good earth can grow something right a seed can grow on good earth, I want to talk about the earth, I want to talk about us as the seed. But then you see these other things that was like, you know, people with their arms around us being like, I did this, right. And, and it’s really hard when you’re not trying to take credit for something, when you’re around people who are trying to put credit on you and also take it, it just kind of kind of fucks with your mind. So I mean, it was bad attention. You know, it was an all of a sudden the statement, money and power making more of who you already are, when like when everybody’s broke, and you’re sitting around the table. Everybody’s running PBR, right, it’s not because it’s the cool thing. It’s because it’s the only thing you can afford. But when things start changing, attitudes start changing, or egos start changing. And if people are helping compress those egos and keep you grounded, it’s bad attention, if people are inflating those egos is bad attention. If people are like keeping you honest with the person you are, it’s great. But so like, it doesn’t matter if it’s financier’s, you know VC saying, we like this part of the team, we don’t like this part of the team. I was in meetings like that, hey, this person’s weak, this person is strong. And it’s like we’re a team. But you got to make sure you function as a team. Right. So all the cracks get magnified, when people get closer and everything gets zoomed in. And some people will take care of those cracks. And some people help you patch them.
Jay Clouse 26:33
I want to zoom into the statement you had about you want to build good earth and be the seed in that good earth. So talk to me about Buffalo and the earth there now, and how you’re thinking about raising up the ecosystem generally.
Jack Greco 26:47
So buffalo is a place with good people that work hard, right? Like nobody’s moving to Buffalo because they, because they love the burdens, right? The people that are here, it’s just like a while. You gotta want to be there. So it’s great. I look at that as a huge advantage. We’re not working with this, like plastic, materialistic, fake, you know, magnets, people go in places because it’s cool. Some point. What’s funny is we’re trying to get to the place where we’re cool. And then we’re gonna get all this bullshit that comes with being cool, right? I’m glad we’re not Boise right now, for a little city of Boise was beautiful. And now everybody thinks it’s cool. So there’s good people. We don’t have a lot of success stories, which means we don’t have a lot of people that have been there. So one of the things I’m trying to do, right, and I’m feeling like John Henry doing this with just a hammer, is I’m trying to put time out there and being like, Hey, I’m a founder on it. Here’s my phone number. Call me if you need something. Because so often once you hit it, they move away, or the ivory tower has gotten so tall, you can’t possibly none of us are grappling hooks, there’s no way to get up. Right. So I wanted to make sure there was accessibility and I’m trying to be personally be as available. I mean, one of the reasons I left ACV is I was like, I want to get back, I want to get back to the community. I’m to the point where you can find a better CFO and a better COO, you can’t find somebody like my purpose is to like start giving back. I did a podcast the other day and somebody said, what will be the thing that you leave the city and I said, when I fall and I rot into the earth, that’ll be the best thing I ever gave you. Do it right, you know, and so I’m trying to steal some of that now, right? Like, I’ve taken a decent amount of money out of ACV. I have angel investor donated absolutely every single penny of some of it twice over. If I’ve had an exit, I said, I don’t want to profit from this. Now. Sure. I like I’m not saying that to make you think that like, um, some golden boy like, Oh, my God, look at him, you know, like, like, let’s get the let’s get the talisman out and like, you know, sanctified? No, it’s like, I just think it’s what needs to happen. So I’m doing that I’m trying to put as much capital and time as I possibly can in the ecosystem. I actually am also working on another startup. Because often what happens is these founders, they just, like get fat, right? You know, and they’re like, Oh, I made it, I’ll do some investment, mostly in real estate, or I’ll give it to my money. It’s like, holy shit. That’s not how we got there. Right? Like, if I got here by driving stakes into the ground, I’m gonna keep driving stakes in the ground, even though I don’t need to do it anymore. So yeah, I’m, I’m partnered on a completely different company. Like, I took an approach I’m trying to, I was trying to find a founder, who was maybe underrepresented or a little bit of an underdog or an industry where people are like, well, you of course, you could do it, because now we’ve proven you can do it in software. You know, now I’m working on consumer goods company, where it’s like, Well, shit, like, what’s one of the hardest thing to raise money for when you have like a physical good, you know, and what’s one of the hardest things to do? It’s tough one, the guy I’m working with great guy. He’s had a couple successes, he’s had a couple failures. And in Buffalo, it doesn’t matter how many successes you have, they only count the failures, which is wrong. So I’m like, well, this is what I’m going to do. Right? So I’m a partner on this company is Azuna so I’m continuing to play the game. I’m putting time and energy out there, I spend like, you know, a good chunk of my time with the Azuna and the rest of it, I’m given to the community for free. You know, so a lot of what I end up being is I end up being like the corner coach, the customer motto to all the Mike Tyson’s that are trying to throw punches out that right that was that was his best, his best coach. So you know, I’m sitting I mean, I work with founders, when they have disputes like an arbitrator. I try and help people make connections, I’ve intentionally taken a bunch of my capital and become an LP and a bunch of funds. So those people pick up the phone when I call and I’m like, Look what’s going on in Buffalo, whether it’s a company I’m invested in or not, right, I mean, I think it’s Steppenwolf that said, fire all your guns at once and explode in the space. And I am literally lighting every gram of gunpowder. I can get my hands on the second I find that praying to God, something catches.
Eric Hornung 30:48
So tell me about that a little bit more on the angel investing side, when you’re doing angel investing with a philanthropic or mission driven purpose, where you’re kind of lighting all those guns on fire at once? How do you decide what to say no to? Or do you say no?
Jack Greco 31:04
I do say no. And I don’t think of angel investing as philanthropic. I think sometimes we try and play that as it’s mission driven, is the statement that I highly resonate with, right? Like I have a donor advised fund that can only go into 501, c threes. That’s my philanthropic stuff, right? And I do that completely anonymously. And it goes wherever my heart tells me it should go. But when it comes to angel investing, no, I don’t you know, I’m I’m in. I’m in about 70 deals right now. And I’ve seen, you know, I have like 1200 founders in my Rolodex. So even though the good companies have like two or three, I’m a big fan of co founders in a business, you know, like that. There’s obviously a ratio there. That’s not 100%. Right. So there, there are a couple types of investment that I do. I do. I love being first check in. I do that, right. If I see something I do not wait for somebody else. I take pride and privilege out of those 70 deals. Probably 25 of them. I was literally the first money they ever took sometimes for months, some in one case for like a year. Right. I’m cool with that. totally cool with it. I don’t ask for special terms. Because I think that’s all bullshit. Everybody’s always trying to squeeze more out of it. It’s all bullshit. That’s not the reason you angel investors to be able to like snidely whiplash away in the lack of better term. You know, but my big thing is team first, market second, that’s pretty much right. Like, I want to know the team I want on the market. In the last, you know, so I’ve been really investing since I’ve been angel investing with my time since I was 22. Right? Because while even when I was at Trillium, I would go to guys and I’d be like, hey, look, Julian is doing a deals right now. I’ll help you give me some equity, feed me dinner, give me some of your product. I got one guy in zelinsky, who used to pay me in options and muesli, which is like granola, because he owns a granola company. Right? I can’t tell you how much free stuff again, which is, which is great, right? Because that’s, that’s what I do with my time. And my thing is, you know, I won’t, I typically don’t cut like massive jets, either half dozen investments that are probably more than the value of my house. And the other 65, 70 of them are more like the price of a car. Maybe not the nicest car, right? So. But, you know, like, my whole thing is I want to impact in purpose, I will also happily take my money out of a company, regardless of return, if I can use those dollars to get more going on. So it’s like, my waters like are my money’s, like my watering can. And I do care about what it is because I’m 37. I’m Sicilian. Even though I live a crappy lifestyle, we live a long time. So I mean, if I’m going to be doing this till I’m 80,around 90, I don’t plan on start another unicorn, although you never know, I wasn’t planning on doing originally either. So I got to make sure this last, I don’t believe in inherited wealth. So my son doesn’t have to deal with this, because there is a burden associated with it. But I make my investments like both my time and my money, because those are my you know, and my energy goes across both of them. But that’s what I control, I make my investments like I’m someday going to be judged on what I did with what I had. So that doesn’t mean I give money to good people, you know, you got to be a good person in order to get it right. That is one of my defining characteristics. If I would not let you hold my child, you will not get an investment for me, period. And I’ve missed out on new companies because of that, but that’s fine. You know, I take this, this impact approach this mission oriented approach to saying, I want to make sure that when I die, there’s a forest here, not just one victory.
Jay Clouse 34:47
Do you ever get asked by the City of Buffalo or the region generally to kind of be a spokesperson and spend a lot of your time just kind of like rubbing elbows or representing politically. How’s that look?
Jack Greco 35:01
I got way too much of a sailor mouth for there for them to let me like anything political. So yes and no, right 43North sucks up a lot of the oxygen when it comes to the political side, which I love. Because I hate politics. I do. Not a big fan of them. I think that they are, you know, they add to the viscosity of things and slow things down pretty pretty significantly. No, but like, I don’t know if you guys get my Buffalo Bridge newsletter, but like, I kind of just take shots on things. Yeah, I’ve got another guy come all that helps me like pull all the articles and research. He’s a young founder. Right. So I’m also using that as like, an incubated like, mentorship opportunity to work with him on something because I think that’s the best way to mentor is to work hands on. But you know, I just try and take shots on things that I think are helpful. And I honestly don’t give a shit what anybody thinks about it. Right? I mean, you can show up if you want. And if you’re a bad actor, I was in a fraternity. I was president fraternity you are, I have no problem for somebody to ask me something. If they’re not like playing by the rules. But no, I mean, the city, and they’ve been extremely supportive. But I’ve not tried to push into that, nor have I requested it. You know, I spend my time in the sewers. Whenever Wales is dancing around above ground. We can operate on different planes. And I’m totally fine with that. It does not matter if anybody knows who I am when I’m dead. It matters that I felt like the impact I made was big.
Eric Hornung 36:24
What has been some of the kind of unexpected outcomes of launching the buffalo bridge newsletter?
Jack Greco 36:29
Well, so Buffalo Bridge for people that haven’t seen it, right? Like, we started this during the pandemic, because we were doing a coffee club, we started a coffee club in June of 2019. There were like 15 people that showed up the first one. There’s an amazing hack, which is you can just invite people to an event on Gmail, and they have to respond and it doesn’t get caught of spam. And I was literally inviting my entire Rolodex, which at this point is 8000 people, right? Like literally every email I’ve ever gotten. So you know, that started like 10 people from June of 2019 until Coronavirus, at the beginning of March. It went from like 10, 15 people a week, we had pushed almost 2000 unique people through there and we’re getting 150 people every single week, one hour 7:30, 8:30 in the morning, nobody sponsored it. Nobody was a keynote. Nobody could sell except for founders, they were allowed to pitch whatever they wanted. And it was basically it was a it was a networking event. It was like a happy hour with no booze and in the morning, because I didn’t think that, you know, we we had kind of as a community been like, well, at some point, we need some different. And then when that’s sunsetted you know, all these people was like, okay, we built a village, right, like, all the corn died, but everybody needs to eat. So I guess we’re going fishing and like the bridge was going fishing. So it created it. We tried to keep this like connectedness together, the grim byproducts of it are, you know, at this point, you know, we get between 15 102,000 people to open it every single week. And it’s not the same people every week. You know, I usually try and write a for some reason. I don’t know if it I mean, when Coronavirus first hit, I started drinking all the expensive booze people have given me that was saving for God knows what. And so out of that, I thought, Oh, what a cool idea to like, break up song lyrics and write something in the middle of about humanity and start the thing. And people really love that, you know, and I don’t take credit for it. Anybody could write it, you know, I have to write them for bridge. But it’s just like, the thing I care about is like it was a platform that you can that you can get people to realize it’s okay, to be vulnerable, to be hurt to feel like you were fought over to feel like it’s hard to start over. Because like those are everything with a startup is the same thing as life. Right? I mean, like you have good relationships and bad relationships, things work or they don’t work. And then when they work out, they work out in different ways than you think and opportunities, doors open and shut and everything. And that’s what bridge tries to like, encapsulate, one of the funny byproducts of it is I actually, it’s a really cool way to show off people. So like, I would love if you guys are on brunch, I’d be like, Hey, give me a 62nd video of like, literally, if you if you do a professional not gonna play, it’s got to be crude. It’s got to be original content, you know, and the number of people that are actually willing, like, every single week, I think we’ve done I think 60 I actually keep them numbered, because there’s a song for each one. I think someday I’ll make like a CD set, you know, burn it on my because my computer is old enough to syllabus. And like give it away to people and be like, Oh, you can listen to these right? This is the soundtrack the bridge. But no, I mean people like I’m really surprised, like, I’ll open up MailChimp. And I’ll call somebody and be like, why did you open this 245 times? And they say, I sent to my old company. I was like, Really? I was like, What in it did you like and it’s always something different. It’s like the video was cool, or I liked the intro or I just wanted to show people it’s okay to do something that other people might think is stupid. Right? The formatting average looks like a 12 year old made in like 1996 right? No knock on come all right, then. It’s me, but I think people really love I think they love that it’s real.
Eric Hornung 40:04
Jay how many newsletter creators that you know, this is much more your space, go to their MailChimp and call their subscribers.
Jay Clouse 40:11
I’ve never heard it. I mean, people will note, you know, like, why did this get opened so many times, and most people won’t realize it’s because you sent the same be forwarded on and people click that from their own independent inboxes. But now I’ve never heard that story before.
Jack Greco 40:24
So it gets even worse if people unsubscribe, I call them. And I’ll say, hey, Eric, how are you? How are things going? How’d you son? Why do you unsubscribe from bridge? And they’re like, I’m like, it’s okay. I just want to know, is it me? Or is it you? Is it me, is it you? And then you see him like, meekly? resubscribe and I’m like, I really look forward to writing content that you’ll enjoy. So I’ll keep an eye on how often you’re opening. Now that’s like a little like overbearing, but the truth is, I’m telling people, I’m like, you call me and ask me about jobs like job openings. I put it in bridge, you call me and ask me about good founders. They’re Enbridge. So if you want to take a 30 minute meeting with me, and you haven’t read the last 10 bridges, go pound sand, like I’m trying to give as much as I can to everybody. And that’s one of the interesting things is like, people will come and be like, I want 30 minutes of your time. And I go for what I’m going to tell you about what I’m doing, then email me, I’ll read it. Do you read my bridge? Because I’ll read your email. I mean, I’ll reciprocated for every single person that reads it. Trust me, my inbox gets very, its belly gets very big very quickly. But yeah, I mean, the The reason is, is because it bridges in mind, right? It’s something that for the community, if it was, if it was Jack Greco, you know, consulting, I wouldn’t give a shit, I would never do that. But I’m like, Do you care about buffalo? Because if you do, you should care about this.
Eric Hornung 41:45
You’ve talked about this idea of a forest a couple times. Now. It’s what you want to build, not just one tree, but a large forest. Give me some context around that. What does a What does the version of a forest you want to leave behind look like?
Jack Greco 41:57
So I don’t want to build it, I want to protect it, right? Because it for us will draw on the road, right? If mankind got wiped out a Thanos like event, it was a little more effective, you know, the forest would all come back, right? So you just have to create a beachhead in space for it to breathe. Because humans suck up a lot more oxygen than trees, push it out. What do I want to look like, I want to look like a place where people are happy. I want to look, I want it to be a place where anybody can do what they want to do, like, like not do what they want to do. But I want to be a place where people can take chances, and they’re celebrated. Right? Where everybody doesn’t have like the scarcity, but this abundance mentality, right? I mean, a bird in a tree in a forest doesn’t really give a shit about what it has. And what it doesn’t have, I mean, literally makes us ness out of crap that’s dead. It’s laying on the ground. I mean, you want to talk about an abundance mentality, like watch a bird, right? Watch anything that isn’t a human being. So to me a little bit about this forest concept is like, at some point, humanity kind of like took a hard turn, right? And got, you know, I wrote about it last week and bridge, right, like this concept of want, right. And in a forest, you’re in a place where you have everything you need, because we already have everything we need. Like, there should be everything in Buffalo for you to be able to start a successful impact of disruptive companies to change the world. It should all be here, right? There should be a place in Buffalo where anybody who if they want to get off their ass can give themselves a better life. Right. And I think if we all just try and take this, not I don’t have a global view. But like, I don’t have the volume, to be able to jump into the ocean raise tides everywhere, like maybe I got enough girth to get in this little pond we call Buffalo and make the water go up a little bit, right? Just a little bit. Right. And so all those blades of grass don’t have to reach as far to drink, you know, straw the water. So, you know, I mean, to me, a forest is just a place where everything kind of works together. I would rather there was honestly I would rather there was 1000 good startups in Buffalo than five unicorns. You know, same number of people employed but like, when a big tree falls, it’s dead. And it takes out a lot of little trees when it falls. But when the little ones fall, it just kind of way life.
Jay Clouse 44:15
This has been awesome, Jack. If people want to learn more about you or support what you’re doing in Buffalo, where should they go after the show?
Jack Greco 44:22
Well, I pick up trash a lot on the east side of Buffalo so you can just look for kind of a very hairy Italian man over there. I’ll send you guys the link for Buffalo Bridge. Just so you know bridge is a two way street. It’s a bridge, not a one way bridge. And I’m not the troll on it, which is what somebody called me once they go You’re the troll on the bridge. I go I’m not the troll on the bridge. I’m the mason on the bridge. Okay, totally different. And if you have, especially for founders, if you’re hiring or you want to be highlighted, or you want to just write an op ed piece and show it to the world and not figure out how to do it, like you’ll have my email just send it to me. Like literally it’s a smorgasbord of things. That’s pretty much it.
Jay Clouse 45:04
Hey, listener, have you ever wanted to get a message in front of the Upside audience but weren’t sure how to sponsor the show or weren’t able to do a long term sponsorship? Well, now you can just go to upside.fm/classifieds. And let our audience know anything that’s going on in your world, whether it’s an event, an application, a special coupon, or deal, or just letting them know who you are, what your company does, all you have to do is go to upside.fm/classifieds. And you can place an ad on this show. That’s upside.fm/classifieds.
Alright, Eric, we just spoke with a 37 year old single dad living in Buffalo. Where do you wanna start this conversation?
Eric Hornung 45:48
Connection, man, bridge, there’s a good metaphor out there just for his ability to connect and connect people quickly. Buffalo Bridge is all about connection. The listeners won’t know this, but he made about eight introductions. Within about 20 minutes of getting off of the mic. He sent us his portfolio. He said, anybody you want to meet, I make connections. That’s what I do. I’m a connector. I am a bridge. I am the Buffalo Bridge. Jack is a connector.
Jay Clouse 46:14
And the reason that I introduced him as I did is because that’s how he introduced himself. You know, someone who is a co founder of Buffalo’s first Tech unicorn, someone who is well known in that ecosystem, who is the Buffalo Bridge. He thinks of himself as a 30 year old, 37 year old single dad living in Buffalo. And I think that is indicative of his character. And the person that he is, which I appreciate.
Eric Hornung 46:35
He’s very much who he is, right? He’s not trying to be anybody else.
Jay Clouse 46:39
What do you think his favorite Finger Lake is?
Eric Hornung 46:41
Jay Clouse 46:43
It’s fun to say. I loved hearing his story about the start of ACV Auctions. It sounded like he and his co founders were just in a space where they burned the boats. And they said, Look, I’m having a kid, I’m going to whole ass ACV Auctions, I’m not going to have asset, they buckled down, they worked really hard. They basically said this is our ticket. This is what we need to do to make a life for ourselves and our family. And boy did they whole asset.
Eric Hornung 47:12
With someone like him up in Buffalo, I have to imagine the amount of time and effort he’s putting in to the founders up in Buffalo is going to pay some long run dividends. He’s the kind of person like communities need. And I don’t know that they always want them, right, depending on who’s, who’s making who’s, who talked to. But I think that they’re, they’re the type of people they’re the people who are the connectors who are creating community, in the community. And he has the added benefit, which a lot of community connectors don’t have of having a big success. A lot of times, I feel like the most successful founders, the most successful companies, you kind of do it and then you disappear because you feel like everybody wants something from you. And he kind of went the other way on that. And he’s like, I want to give everything to everybody.
Jay Clouse 48:03
Totally, he has that added benefit of some financial peace of mind, frankly, so that he can spend his time however he wants to spend it connecting people giving back to the community. I love the story of the breakfast that he was doing in Buffalo that eventually became Buffalo Bridge. These people are so necessary and so underappreciated in growing ecosystems. I mean, it’s not that they’re not appreciated. It’s just that the return that is generated by somebody like him, is not appreciated enough for the amount of effort that goes into that. Even the intros that he sent to us. Intros take some time to write. Hosting these breakfasts takes time writing this newsletter takes time, none of it is lucrative, it’s very altruistic to have somebody doing this. And it’s great for an ecosystem to have somebody like jack who can really lean in and dedicate a lot of time to it, not only time, but he has the hard earned experience and insight that you can only get by starting a company and going through a tough seed round that took a long time to raise, they sold their first car in 2015. The company has obviously grown a lot since then. But it was not easy in the beginning. And so you can really relate to these founders.
Eric Hornung 49:11
If you have someone who is a connector playing the long game that kind of falls into this bucket of Jay, I think someone once called you the Walmart greeter of Columbus, you’re moving away from that title. But the if you know someone like that, in a city outside of Silicon Valley, shoot us a note, let us know who that is. We love talking to these people who kind of have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in a given city, or state. We don’t discriminate between geographic size or location.
Jay Clouse 49:40
And maybe that’s you, maybe you are that person and you want to talk to us or you want to start your own podcast on the Upside Podcast Network. That could be interesting. You might want to email us email@example.com and give us a give us a heads up. We’ll talk to you about it. Otherwise, thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week. That’s all for this week. Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear what think about this episode so tweet at us @upsideFM or email us firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. You can learn more about us and browse our entire back catalogue of email@example.com. And if you love our show, please leave a review on Apple podcasts that goes a long way in helping us bring high quality guests to the show.
Interview Begins : 7:37
Jack Greco is the co-founder of ACV auctions.
ACV auctions is an online marketplace for used cars. As of November 2019, the company was valued at more than $1.5 billion.
Jack has built a reputation for supporting other founders in the Buffalo area as one of the most active angels and advisors in the region. He created Buffalo Bridge, a weekly curation of resources, opinions and insights from Western New York startup founders. Long Live Buffalo.
- ACV Auctions 12:15
- 43North 15:11
- Relationship with the Community? 20:06
- Bad Attention 23:06
- Buffalo’s Ecosystem 26:33
- Views on Angel Investing 30:48
- Representing Buffalo Politically 34:47
- Launching Buffalo Bridge 36:24
- Building a Forest 41:45
ACV auctions was founded in 2014 in Buffalo, New York.
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