John (Jack) Greco is a father, community challenger, and executive director of Techstars' Economic Development program across WNY. He co-founded ACV Auctions, Cupule Ventures, and One Link Ventures, and has supported dozens of companies as a VC, angel, founder, and executive.
He serves on the boards of several startups, as well as for the Monroe Community Hospital Foundation, the Beta Phi Alumni Association of DKE, University Heights Tool Library, Olmsted Center for Sight, and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
Alongside a deep list of other community leaders, mentors, executives, and advisors, he has made himself available for anyone who would like to speak with him at Open Office Time. Additional free resources for investors and entrepreneurs are available at Techstars and Launch NY.
He spoke with UpstartNY about the COVID-19 pandemic from his varied viewpoints, and how he is able to stay so positive. (Hint: It’s a list.)
How many people are you talking to?
I’m talking to between 100-150 unique people per week about something, whether it’s raising money, hiring, firing, a new business idea, or they’re looking to get hired. Whatever their situation, people want to talk.
How do you look at things right now in the startup and investment world?
This [pandemic and the economic crisis] is not like someone destroyed the gameboard—it’s more like someone flipped it upside down. We’re still in the “scramble” period: first everyone gets tossed, then we start to find our balance, and then we can assess.
What’s your general attitude?
I’m pragmatic on the good and bad side of the aisle.
I’m in a little bubble—I have no loved ones who have been truly affected by the coronavirus, and I’m not running a business. So I can be a bit like a voyeur who floats in and helps. The crisis makes everybody a lot more open to communicating; that’s typical in a dispersion event like this.
If you take the death toll side out of this, this is a great opportunity for startups. The crises will kill a bunch of startups, and some will come out far on top.
A couple of people I’ve talked to recently have experienced the upside: Off the Muck Farm [Market], in Syracuse, has grown by 45 times in the last two months. They went from sub-million, to now making money and being able to invest. United Concierge Medicine in Albany has seen 30 times growth. These companies don’t think that business is going to go back down.
This type of potential for positive propulsion has been unseen from any recent events. When someone blew up the World Trade Center, not a lot of businesses benefited, and a lot went under. This is more like somebody dropping a boulder in a pond. When the water rises, it eliminates some businesses on lower ground, and those on higher ground can handle it. There’s a ripple effect, too; it’s kind of a shuffling of the chips, which can be a great thing.
Do you think things are at their worst?
No. As a community, we’ve taken the “body blow,” but not the haymaker yet. The first day that we can all go out, let’s say, July 1, will be a day of reckoning. Paid employees will be gone. If I was making $40,000 a year, which is considered a low but living wage, my income went from $800 a week to $400 plus the pandemic boost. Right now, there’s a safety net, and the unemployment enhancement. But that will end. What will people do?
For the community, there’s this three-tier process that’s happening. Step one, everything closed. Step 2: PPP runs out. Step 3, later this year, we’ll have an election and unemployment assistance will end. I think it’s going to be a tough Independence Day and a really cold Christmas for employees.
What about for startups?
Some will have positive news, we’re already seeing that with Circuit Clinical, Clean Slate. Look at Squire, it’s an app for barbershops. They were not getting anywhere. But when things open up, there will be an advancement and adoption of new technology, big and small. [All kinds of companies and sectors] will have to adapt at a rapid pace. Things like mechanical butchers in slaughterhouses—they can’t get sick. Service companies will realize that they can do with fewer employees.
A lot of people won’t have jobs for a long time. Think about it: This period could be like a sponsored scholarship. You know you’re getting paid [by unemployment] for the next X weeks. People will start thinking: “I don’t know if I will have a job…I’d better do something on my own.” In the tech world we say “fertile minds and idle time (and not needing to work for someone else) create good earth to grow startups.” Etsy will see a boom, so will Upwork.
What about for Buffalo and the region in general?
This is an opportunity for us, as a city, community, region—I’m hearing from expats who’ve been considering coming home. People may not want to live in a high-rise in NYC any more. This “extended winter” of stay-at-home is making people appreciate the things they do and don’t have. We can take this to our advantage.
And are people actually starting companies?
People are tackling the first steps. Everyone has an idea to start a company. We are here to direct you in the right ways. We’re offering webinars, giving talks, and our sessions are being well-attended. You can look at this as an opportunity to learn so much; it’s like the beginning of freshman semester. People are educating themselves.
And from the investor side?
I’ve been talking to investors, like Launch NY, where I am actually a donor to their nonprofit seed fund, and asking what we have to do to get more money out to the right people. We should be doing more
People are trying to bootstrap things too. Money is time compressed—it buys people’s time. And now, people have more time than money, they are doing things like learning how to code themselves. So their outcomes won’t depend on someone else as much. Solopreneurs are like a one-person band…they’re practicing playing the drum and the harmonica and tooting the horn. When this is over, they’ll have a better understanding of the different roles and how they work together.
What makes you able to stay so positive?
First of all, someone
needs to be positive.
My second persona would say there’s a ton of opportunity right now. The talent is available, and the cost is low. If I can get a junior developer for equity only, as a founder, that’s a good thing. It’s a great time for angel investors, with great prices and great teams. And you don’t have to worry about how they’ll handle challenges. This is a bucket of cold water dumped on us.
Thirdly, as a community member, I am seeing that mankind is kind, resilient, responsive, supporting, and giving. These times show everyone’s true colors.
In times of chaos beautiful things happen. Stars are born out of supernovas. It’s not a pretty process.
Any last thoughts?
Yes. This is a unique time; people who found a business now will be starting in a cohort of peers which you can give to and get from in ways not possible before. Going through the same intense experience of this unifying event can bring benefits for everyone. Especially now, being a founder in Buffalo, you don’t have to be alone.