Buffalo’s attraction for tech startups and remote workforce remains strong

John Jahnke is an original investor in, and now CEO of Tackle, which was founded in 2017 to simplify the process of selling enterprise software in the cloud. Born and bred in Buffalo, he always wanted to live and work here, but left for the tech jobs he sought in the Bay Area and Boston/New York. With Tackle, and its strategy to be a remote-only company, Jahnke has been able John Jahnke, CEO of Tackle, says Buffalo is a great location for remote companies. to come home.


This idea jibes with some trends we’d already identified in the “before times”—trends that the Buffalo and Western New York region are poised to take advantage of.


Those ideas—1. That Buffalo is a hotspot for small and startup tech companies, and 2. That the region is an ideal location for the remote workforces that huge online companies need—were already beginning to bear fruit.


According to Invest Buffalo Niagara’s recent economic guide, “Buffalo Niagara is a low cost alternative for insurance companies, back office operations, and technology design and development firms…due to the low cost of operating and a large pool of talented labor. ….[O]ur local colleges and universities provide employers with the workforce they need at affordable wages. Data centers are…attracted to Buffalo Niagara for its temperate climate, fiber network, and low cost energy.”


And now, despite the one-two punch of the unabating global pandemic and economic downturn, the trends are continuing, albeit more slowly and with the brakes applied to some things like hiring and packing into brick-and-mortar offices right away.


The region is still attractive to both startups and entrepreneurs seeking lower cost lifestyles and amenities for their far-flung staff, and large established companies (Amazon, Google…) that want to grow stateside remote support workforces for their online services.


When a company independently decides to locate some or all of their offline activities here (without winning a startup competition like 43North, for example), it’s often because of the efforts of a Buffalo cheerleader in the mix. And sometimes, the Buffalonian in the room just keeps their mouth shut, and lets the region do the talking—the research bears out the Buffalo hype.


Jahnke says that Tackle now has 50 employees across the country; its co-founders, who are from Boise, had a similar experience to Jahnke, in that they found themselves moving away from “home” for the jobs they wanted. As a “100% remote company,” Tackle now has people in Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, plus Boise and Buffalo (six here so far).


“I love the four-season life that’s possible in this region—we boat in the summer, ski in the winter,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to do something in Buffalo, and now it’s possible. At Tackle, we took the time to watch our own evolution. We realized we could live our best lives where we choose to be. We can also foster those who choose to move around, digital nomads.”


This, says Jahnke, is a new way of operating that has to be done mindfully. (For their model, Jahnke points to GitLab, which “wrote a playbook for remote.”)


“This approach allows companies to find the best people—wherever they are. Our entire leadership team is distributed. We don’t have an official ‘headquarters’ or location,” he says. “We are building communication intentionally, to foster digital collaboration that won’t happen physically.”


“When you’re forming a remote culture, you are sort of on the outside of the local geographical ‘ecosystem,’ ” he says. “Though we don’t geolocate hiring, you do end up naturally clustering team members, since as you grow, the company becomes known in the community. We had just started hiring in Buffalo in January. And we were actively looking for space, when the pandemic hit.”


Ryan Francis, who is chief of staff for Bangkok-based Kyklo, had a slightly different path to his homecoming, though the result is familiar.


Similar to Tackle, Kyklo, founded in 2015 by two Frenchmen, is intended to make it easier for an already established B2B category to function. It was created to modernize the massive global electromagnetic market; it’s a platform where companies of all sizes, including mega groups like Schneider Electric Global and ABB, can go to more quickly buy and sell the technical products and equipment they need, versus the slower, old-school methods (e.g., paper catalogs) that are still widely in use throughout the industry.


Francis, who’s had a lifelong affinity for travel, says that he’s smitten with Buffalo but never thought he could live here long term, both after having visited and lived in so many other places, and uncertainty about whether he could find a suitable job.


“I loved Buffalo; I love to be in nature, and the people. It’s ‘home,’” says Francis. “I also have this deep thirst for travel. I’ve been to Australia, New Zealand, London. When I graduated high school in 2001, Buffalo was not attractive. And the lack of jobs…”


Francis had been working for Kyklo in Thailand, and he knew he’d stay with the company. “The founders started thinking about the U.S. market about two years ago, and decided the time was right,” he says. “When we first started looking for a location, Buffalo was not on the radar.”


Traveling back and forth though, Francis started to realize that things were looking up for his hometown.


“When I was in town, a friend would say let’s meet …here. I wouldn’t know where they were talking about—it was all new and different,” he says. “I felt a lot of pride; Buffalo had not been an easy place to live, and it was great to see that there were positive things happening. Buffalo deserves it.”


Throughout Kyklo’s research, Francis says, he and the founders realized a few crucial elements for where they should choose their American headquarters.


“Cost was a concern; we needed place that would be welcoming for a startup without a lot of funds,” he says. “We also observed that most of our customers reacted much more positively to a Midwestern persona—a lot of them are based in smaller and less populated cities, like Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis. We don’t need anything fancy.”


Plus, adds Francis, they did some geo-pinning, and in addition to being conveniently located two hours from Toronto, the domestic customer base was within a good range. “We took a heat map of hundreds of potential customers,” he explains. “If we were located in Buffalo, we could reach more than half of them within a five-hour radius.”


Jahnke agrees that this area could become a destination for remote workers because of its “big city bones and resources, combined with a small-town vibe.”


Kyklo has set up a Buffalo office, and, adds Francis, they’re keeping a close eye on the effects of the pandemic. “We have five team members here so far, and we want to grow locally to around 25,” he says. “We really didn’t choose Buffalo because I’m from here. But when the selection was announced, I did have tears in my eyes.”

Read more articles by Jana Eisenberg.

Jana Eisenberg is a Buffalo-based freelance writer/editor. In October, 2019, she was named managing editor of UpstartNY. She grew up in Los Angeles, called NYC home for 20 years, and now enjoys telling the stories of life in Western New York.
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