A New York VC Spotlight: Jay Levy



Jay Levy is no stranger to startups and the entrepreneurial spirit. Having his “jack of all trades” grandfather for inspiration, Levy started his first enterprise – A Net Site which provided website design services – while still in high school. While at Rutgers for his undergraduate degree, he launched UConnections, a portal that enabled easier communications and integration between the students and college administration.

Talking to VentureBeat about his experience with UConnections, Levy had this to say: “We were pushed by our investors to expand quickly and win the market. In doing this, we moved from being profitable to burning considerable cash.”

His next job was developing software platforms for Morgan Stanley, which was followed by a stint at consultancy firm, MPI, as one of its earliest employees. Soon after Levy co-founded Zelkova Ventures, based in New York, which looks to invest in early-stage and pre-revenue companies, using the team’s personal experiences and expertise to help guide entrepreneurs through the hurdles of the startup world.

The firm’s portfolio includes over 35 companies, from innovators working with mobile software enhancements to SEO innovators to employment networking platforms. Levy annually invests about $100,000 each in 10 or so startups.

In early 2013, after years in the venture capital world, the entrepreneurial bug bit Levy once more. He launched Uproot, an ecommerce wine company. Based out of Napa Valley, California, Uproot targets the “younger generation of wine drinkers who have the extra income and want to learn about wine without feeling that they’re being taught,” Levy said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Levy holds undergraduate degrees in Finance and Political Science from Rutgers University. In 2007, he was named one of Crain’s Top 5 Entrepreneurs to Watch in New York. He also a member of associations, including the Rutgers Business Ethics Society and iBreakfast.

VC Firm:

Zelkova Ventures, principal and co-founder.


Software-as-a-service, Internet media and green tech space.


The Simon Cancer Foundation
Crimson Hexagon, board observer
Mobile Commons, board observer
Fynanz, board observer
Encoding.com, board observer
Klout, board observer
LiveFyre, board observer


Startups, corporate growth, financial services, affluent and college markets.

Selected Investments:

Creative Market, Klout, Dispatch, Rapportive, BlackJet, Space Monkey, ThinkNear, Fab.com, Appbistro, Livefyre, Foodspotting (Part of OpenTable), Kapost, Favo.rs, TechStars, FullContact, Lettuce, Veri, Postmaster, JIBE, Help Scout, BrandYourself, Plancast, Encoding.com, Altruik, Livefyre, Fynanz, Spring Metrics, GameChanger, Ribbit, GreenGoose!, NutshellMail, Crimson Hexagon, Locus Energy, Mobile Commons, My Damn Channel, News Basis, ReTel Technologies, COLOURlovers, Kohort, RedRover, Ambassador, RJ Metrics, Reachli, Customer.io


Ribbit acquired by BT for $105 million
NutshellMail acquired by Constant Contact
ReTel Technologies acquired by ShopperTrak
Plancast acquired by Active Network
Rapportive acquired by LinkedIn for approximately $15million
Appbistro acquired by InMobi
ThinkNear acquired by Telenav for $22.5million



Blogs, Twitter and website:


Memorable Quotes:

On advice for new entrepreneurs:
“FOCUS. As an entrepreneur, you are going to have tons of great ideas, but focusing on the one that you are passionate about is important. Don’t get distracted, but at the same time, be self-aware and make sure you are on the right path.”

On a superpower he wished he had when building a company:

“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.”

On hiring:

“Don’t hire someone till you have interviewed at least ten people for that position. Don’t fall in love with anything, and stay objective. Get to know potential co-founders quite well before bringing them on to the team. In all the times I’ve seen companies fall apart due to co-founder issues, it was in young founders who didn’t clearly specify roles and expectations, and they really didn’t get to know each other.”

On foregoing simplicity:

“Young founders tend to complicate things too much, from structuring partnership agreements, financing, leases, etc. This is not a place to be creative; keep it simple, follow the norms and be transparent so everyone is on the same page.”

About the author: Kamakshi Ayyar

Kamakshi Ayyar is a freelance journalist based in New York. She studied law at Mumbai University, India and received her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. She has written for Business India, Roosevelt Island’s Main Street Wire and The Villager.

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