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Twitter IPO is deal of lifetime for Lockport native Chris Sacca

Silicon Valley investor and Lockport native Chris Sacca had a uniquely Buffalo way of celebrating Twitter’s initial public stock offering, which catapulted the value of his investment in the social network to around $1 billion Thursday.

He was heading off to Los Angeles to watch the Buffalo Sabres play the Kings.

“Okay, I’ll admit it,” Sacca, a Kings season ticket holder, tweeted on Wednesday, the day before Twitter’s wildly successful stock sale. “I’m really anxious about tomorrow. As you know, the Buffalo Sabres play the LA Kings and I’m not sure who to root for.”

The Twitter IPO is the deal of a lifetime for Sacca, a Western New York expatriate who left the area 20 years ago to attend Georgetown University. That led to law school, a high-ranking job at Google and a niche as a prominent player in the Silicon Valley investment world.

It’s a path that brought him into contact with Evan Williams, one of Twitter’s founders, who urged him to become one of the earliest Twitter investors. Sacca already was one of the first people to sign up for Twitter, registering in July 2006 as the service’s 102nd user. It now has 232 million active users.

It was an investment that paid off handsomely on Thursday, when Twitter’s stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The offering valued Twitter at $26 billion, and the stock soared by 73 percent in its first day of trading, adding tens of millions more to the value of the shares held by Sacca and the company’s other big investors. Twitter shares, which were valued at $26 in the IPO, closed their first day of trading at $44.90.

It was the most anticipated stock sale since Facebook went public last year, and captivated investors, even though Twitter has never turned a profit during its seven years of existence. Revenue has been growing, but the company also is investing heavily in more data centers and hiring more employees.

Sacca said Thursday he couldn’t talk with a Buffalo News reporter because of the federally mandated “quiet period” that imposes limits on public comments from executives and major investors in companies that are selling stock. But it didn’t stop Sacca from taking to Twitter.

“Impossible to sum up my gratitude for the Twitter team,” he tweeted. “Can’t imagine life without this thing.”

Sacca, the son of an attorney and a SUNY Buffalo State professor, grew up in Lockport. By the time he was in sixth grade, he showed a proficiency at math, studying in an advanced mathematics program at the University at Buffalo for young students. He also had an early interest in computers. His mother, Katherine, used her college connections to get an early Apple computer. Sacca and his father, Gerald, would use it to write programs on weekends.

When he graduated from Lockport High School in 1993, Sacca was one of 11 classmates honored by the School Board for being on the honor roll for 12 straight marking periods.

From there, Sacca headed to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and then to Georgetown’s law school. But it wasn’t a typical college experience.

At the time, students taking out student loans were sent a check, rather than having the funds go directly to the university. Sacca took his loan money and, at the height of the high-tech stock boom in the late 1990s, started day trading, taking advantage of loopholes in online trading rules that allowed him to highly leverage that cash.

Sacca’s ultra-risky approach initially paid off, and by 2000, he had turned tens of thousands in borrowed money into an investment portfolio worth $12 million. But then the tech boom went bust and Sacca soon was $4 million in debt. Eschewing bankruptcy, he worked out a deal with his creditors that reduced his debt to a little more than $2 million.

After graduating from law school, Sacca took a job with a Silicon Valley law firm, before he lost his job a little more than a year later. Undeterred, he formed his own consulting firm, which he called the Sallinger Group, and started sneaking into Silicon Valley networking events to build contacts and find work.

He landed a job at Google after being introduced to some of the top executives there by Lise Buyer, another Buffalo native and a former high-profile technology analyst who went on to hold a key job at the Internet search giant.

At Google, Sacca was head of special initiatives, a job that gave him responsibility for building data centers and other business development initiatives.

By 2005, his debt was paid off.

“Investing is a great way to make money. Trading is a great way to lose it. Do yourself a favor and hide your “Stocks” app forever,” Sacca tweeted on Thursday.

He left Google in 2007 to join the world of venture capital, forming his own company, Lowercase Capital. There he became one of the earliest investors in Twitter, participating in a $5 million round of fundraising in 2007. His fund also invested in photo-sharing app Instagram, which was acquired by Facebook last year for $1 billion.

“Chris is an example and an inspiration that entrepreneurs can come from anywhere and go anywhere,” said Eric Reich, co-founder of Buffalo-based Campus Lab. “He’s also a really humble and kind guy. Even though he’s had incredible success, he’s never lost sight of where he came from.”

On Thursday night, Sacca, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Truckee, Calif., was planning to be at the Staples Center, with his brother, actor Brian Sacca, wearing a Sabres jersey.

“So Twitter goes public today and he will celebrate by going to the Sabres game in LA,” Reich said. “Does it get any better than that?”