A relatively new tech startup by the name of HiOperator has laid claim to upwards of 25,000 square feet of office space in downtown Buffalo, signaling that the “waters are warm” for others to potentially follow.
CEO Elizabeth Tsai told me that the company’s move into two floors of Priam Enterprises’ Roblin Building will allow the rapidly growing company to build out a headquarters that will ideally suit the needs of their “hundreds of employees.”
“We moved to Buffalo in early 2019, after being one of the runner-ups in a 43North competition (see pitch video below),” Tsai explained. “The company started in San Francisco, but because most of our clients were on the east coast, and one of our largest investors was in Manhattan, we decided that we needed to be on the east coast, and moved to Manhattan. When we decided that it was time to bring our operations in-house, we felt that Manhattan was not the place to do that. We heard about 43North, which put Buffalo on our radar. At the time, we didn’t know anything about Buffalo and thought that it must be close to NYC. Then, we started to learn more about the city, [knowing that] the metrics and data would show us the way.”
Tsai told me that while winning the $500,000 via 43North was nice, they had not been actively fundraising at the time. She said that the competition was a useful exercise at that stage of the company’s evolution. But even more than that, they needed a place to call “home,” and a new headquarters where they could grow the company – a place with a low cost of living and a healthy employee pool. When they first set up shop at 43 North’s incubator in Seneca One Tower, they had 24 employees. Two years later, they needed to find offices large enough to accommodate hundreds of employees, built to their specs, with room to grow.
HiOperator provides customer service as-a-service.
As for the operational aspect of HiOperator, Tsai’s background is in engineering, and she excels in logistics and optimization. In 2016, her team came up with software that would better automate the communication components behind customer service (a scaleable customer service agent). While this does not remove the human aspect, it provides a better roadmap for humans to flawlessly navigate the communication process (largely non-voice, text-based). Ultimately this makes HiOperator’s customer agents more efficient, and the customers happier with the end results. While mega companies are able to come up with their own solutions, HiOperator’s machine learning and “super agent” services are coming in handy for other businesses that are unhappy with outsourcing overseas and/or tired of training their own customer service agents. These companies also find that in the process of dealing with customer service issues, they are wasting time and money, while losing valuable customers in the process. HiOperator is essentially “an outsourced assembly line for customer service.”
Now that Tsai has identified HiOperator’s new headquarters (looking to move in this summer), she’s interested in learning more about her new home – the history, and the recent developments. She’s intrigued by the underdog story, the days of industry, and the bumpy road that led us to “come out on the other side.” It’s a fascinating story for those that are not aware of it. I also don’t think that Tsai is acutely aware about her role as a downtown corporate pioneer – as someone who left San Francisco and Manhattan, to happily set up shop in a city that she says has all of the resources that she requires to build a company on the move, by planting roots in a city that is rooting for her.
“It’s fascinating to watch downtown change,” she said. “We’re lucky to be a part of it.”