I am quite bullish on SaaS solutions for the SMB market. Here’s one that is doing well.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s go back to the very beginning. Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Brandon Levey: I was born and raised in Michigan. My family has a long history of entrepreneurship—from my great grandparents to my dad and his siblings. I started driving to work with my dad when I was five years old. He would pay me $5 a day to just sit with him on certain weekdays to visit clients. I started working in his sheet metal shop on Saturdays when I was nine. I wasn’t allowed to use all of the tools because I was only nine. I started working full-time for him over the summers between eighth grade and ninth grade. I worked as a commercial installer. Before I could drive, he would drop me off and pick me up at six at night. He made sure that others didn’t treat me like the boss’ son, which was nice.
I have a family of many parents, brothers, and sisters between all of the different marriages and divorces. All of us were involved in many different things. I played football and ran track. Almost all of us got good grades in school too. That was a really important thing.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you go for college?
Brandon Levey: Both for undergraduate and graduate school, I went to the University of Michigan.
Sramana Mitra: What did you study?
Brandon Levey: My focus in undergrad was general electrical engineering. In grad school, I focused on MEM and circuits. Just given the context of this conversation, I’ll tell you a little story. I flunked a lot in my freshman and sophomore year in college. I assumed that college would be easy, which wasn’t true. Michigan is a good engineering school. My grades suffered because of that. I started getting involved in research in college.
My girlfriend’s family was very scientific. That’s where I got involved. In my junior year, I started working for this professor in his lab. It was really fun. I had some really great experiences there and also got internship at Sandia National Laboratories. I worked on a program called LIGA. It’s the German acronym for high aspect ratio microstructure.
When I applied for grad school at Michigan, I was actually denied. I remember receiving the denial letter and moping over it a little bit. I scheduled a meeting with a professor who sent the letter—Amir Mortazawi. I remember preparing all this stuff prior to the meeting. If you close your eyes and think of a cluttered engineering office, it’s that with millions of people everywhere. I said, “Thank you for taking the time to meet. I really appreciate this. I wanted to schedule a meeting with you because I know you signed my denial letter, but I think I deserve to be here.” He said, “I appreciate you taking the time, but I don’t think you do.” The next 15 minutes, I went through my grades. I had my first publication by then. Only about 10% of interns at Sandia are invited back and I was invited back. By the end of that meeting, he sat back in his chair and said, “You’ve convinced me.” I remember just being flabbergasted. I said, “What now?” He said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” A couple of days later, I got my acceptance letter. I did well in grad school and had a number of other publications.