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Global company discovers space to grow on Buffalo's waterfront

At technology companies in Western New York, 2011 promises to bring change and creativity -- and maybe even continued growth, perhaps in some fresh and unexpected directions.

Walk around Synacor, a global technology company employing 240 staffers, almost all of whom work out of a spacious office suite on La Riviere Drive on Buffalo's waterfront, and you can see it in the foosball table, the rolling seats that double as file cabinets, the white boards, and the overall emphasis on group collaboration.

Not to mention the beanbags.


" 'Play hard, work hard' is our theme," said Julia Culkin, vice president of human resources at the nearly 10-year-old technology company, which works with clients across the United States and internationally.

Culkin and other company executives recently showed off Synacor's brand new workplace model, which debuted in September, and pointed to the work areas that replace cubicles with open desks and chairs that allow for workers to interact all day long.

"It's modeled on Facebook," Culkin said of the company's new physical plan for workspace productivity.

"We're trying to bring that to Buffalo as much as we can," she said, "in terms of culture."

Synacor, which was founded in Buffalo in 2001, partners with Internet providers around the world to enable these companies -- media outlets, advertisers, Internet service providers -- to offer their customers quality experiences and innovative products and services.

The company, internal and outside data shows, serves more than 14.8 million active users, sends and receives 1 billion e-mail messages a month, and hosts 654 million page views per month.

The foosball table, Xbox station, snacks and soda machines -- where everything costs 25 cents and no more -- and comfy couches make Synacor look a little bit like a cross between a regular work environment and a nice, rather upscale college dormitory.

But don't let appearances fool you.

Synacor is asking a lot of its employees, as the company plunges into a year that will see it working with a slate of new clients -- Toshiba, the international electronics manufacturer, is one of them -- as well as pushing to grow its business into previously untapped areas.

For an example of the latter, take "TV Everywhere."

It's a fledgling service the company is developing that will allow its cable company clients to provide customers with one-stop television experiences that will use the cable companies' websites as portals for people to manage their own TV watching, when and how they see fit.

"It's like a DVR, as if all episodes of a show had been DVR'd for you. You don't have to remember to DVR it or watch it," said Jim Brandt, director of TV and video for Synacor. "The cable companies are saying, 'How do we get this content on the Web?' Because you're already paying for it, as a cable customer."

It's a far cry from the little company that began in downtown Buffalo offices -- on Main Street and at Fountain Plaza, among other locations -- with a handful of people, and that had to downsize a little bit in its first years. In the early days, some staffers worked at card tables. There was a lot of hope -- and not much else.

But, after 2005, company executives noted, the company just took off, doubling its workforce in that single year, said Culkin.

"That year was like the floodgates opened," said Culkin.

In the past couple of years, Synacor hired two top-level executives from outside the Buffalo area -- a chief operating officer from Philadelphia and an IT specialist from San Diego.

In 2010, 40 percent of the hires the company made were from outside Western New York, said Culkin, who said recruitment locally can be a challenge.

"I never have less than 30 jobs open at a time," said Culkin, who maintains job lists on the company's website, "It's just never stopped growing. We're doing things that are really exciting, really cutting-edge."

Today, Synacor is really in competition more on a national and global level than a local one, said Bill Lindquist, vice president of marketing at the company.

The business operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said.

"We certainly have the expertise to offer solutions to any size company," said Lindquist, who has been with Synacor for two years. "But it's very much national now. We're all over."

"And there's never a downtime," Lindquist said.