Entrepreneur of the Week: Jay Levy

December 23, 2014

by Gary Whitehall

Jay Levy is a staple within the New York City entrepreneur community. From starting an early social network out of his dorm room in the late 90's to now co-founding an early stage venture capital firm, Jay has amassed the knowledge and insight that every entrepreneur strives to achieve.

1) When did you begin your entrepreneurial journey?

The entrepreneurial bug was instilled in me by my grandfather whom from the day he left the army never worked for anyone again. He was a jack of all trades and would try to make one mans's garbage another's treasure (literally). Growing up I got to spend time around his plastic films factory and as I got older I started working in the office helping him with marketing and billing. In high school after spending a few weeks working at a bagel shop and realizing getting up at 5am to bus tables wasn't for me I started A Net Site which provided website design services. My first client was The Singing Machine.

2) What do you like about New York City's entrepreneurial community that has kept you here?

I live in New York City and think its the perfect place for me. I tend to always need to be doing something and busy and this is the perfect place for it. Whatever time of day, whatever day of week there are things to do. The energy mixed with the no BS mentality of NYC makes the entrepreneurial community great for me and a great place to start a company.

3) What businesses have your previously been involved with?

What was the outcome? What was the best learning lesson(s)?

In college I helped to launch UConnections a web portal for college students. This was back in 1999 where the concept of launching an minimal viable product didn't exist. We built and launched a behemoth of a website. Ultimately the company failed but I saw the birth, life and death of a company from my dorm room, it was incredibly valuable. The company grew to over 500 employees around the country and while I learned many skills what stuck with me was the learning how to ride the roller coaster ride of the startup world.

4) What are you currently involved with and how did you get started with it?

I'm currently involved with two companies, Zelkova Ventures & Uproot Wines. Zelkova Ventures is a NYC based early stage fund focused on the B2B, Commerce and Social, but like any other early stage fund we do things outside of those spaces. I launched Zelkova five years ago as there was a shortage of early stage money in NYC. It was a very hard place to raise your first million or two, obviously that has changed and I'd like to think we have had a small part in that.

Uproot Wines is a new Napa Winery that is trying to reimagine winemaking to create something fresh, modern and full of energy. Over the past two years myself a a close friend, Greg Scheinfeld, have been working on launching Uproot. We are bringing together Greg's winemaking skills, my tech knowledge and the Zelkova companies to create a new wine for the fastest generation of wine drinkers.

While Uproot and Zelkova sound completely different they actually are very synergistic and each benefits the other. Zelkova gets to be use the companies we invest which makes me a better investor as my feedback is from a different perspective than most. Uproot benefits from Zelkova thru access to bleeding edge technology and people.

5) What one piece of advice do you have for newly minted entrepreneurs?

FOCUS. As an entrepreneur you are going to have tons of great ideas but focusing on the one that you are passionate is important, don't get distracted, but at the same time be self-aware and make sure you are on the right path.

6) What was the best advice that you ever received?

Nothing Venture Nothing Gained. Take Risks. Don't be afraid of failure.

7) If you could have one dream job, what would it be?

Professional Golfer (a good one).

8) What’s your favorite sport? Favorite sports team?

Golf. Favorite Golfer is Phil Michelson. He is a great mix of talent, class and showmanship.

9) If you had one superpower when building a company, what would it be, and why?

Manipulate Time. Whether it be having enough time to accomplish your goal or being in the market at the right time, time is a critical factor for success for a startup.

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