One highly successful NYC family spills their best tips


For one New York City family, entrepreneurship is genetic. At least, that's how it seems.

Three generations of Levy men — grandfather Victor, 92, son Paul, 61, and grandson Eric, 29 — are all entrepreneurs, each starting a business unique to his generation.

Paul Levy, with father Victor and son Eric.
Courtesy Levy Family

In 1956, Victor and his brother, Bernard, started their own garment company, Counterparts. The company made women's skirts, and eventually pants, to keep up with the changing times. Victor's father was also an entrepreneur in the garment business.

"Maybe it was in my blood," Victor said in June, sitting at the Redeye Grill in Manhattan, where he is currently an investor. "I just wanted to be in business for myself."

The business grew into a $100 million operation in its heyday, selling in retailers across the country, including Macy's. "We had the best pants in the city," Victor said. "We had buyers crying when they couldn't have delivery."

The data clearly indicates there is a genetic component to success.
Adeo Ressi
CEO, The Founder Institute

It wasn't long before his son started coming to work with Victor to learn the ropes. "My dad put me to work right away and actually wanted me to see what it was like to earn a paycheck and be your own boss, to learn from the bottom up," Paul said.

What Paul saw stuck with him as he went on to launch Lazer Park with a partner in Times Square in 1990. The 12,000-square-foot facility had numerous games, and featured a 4,500 square-foot laser tag arena.

Lazer Park became a destination for tourists and even celebrities. Paul recounts Brad Pitt's visit to the arena as one of the highlights of his career.

"I didn't believe it at first," Paul said of Pitt's visit with son Maddox, in a June interview. "He had heard about us through the concierge for the hotel he was staying at. While Angelina was filming, he was looking to fill time."

Laser Park in Times Square.
Courtesy Levy Family

After 10 years, Paul opted to sublet Lazer Park's real estate to another entertainment company, after weighing the financial implications of increasing rent and competition. The amusement center ended its lease and Paul has since returned to the finance industry.

But the streak now continues with Eric, who launched his tech start-up, YourNeighborhood, in 2012. It's a Yelp-style platform that provides real estate data, listings and tips for New York City.

"We thought we could fill a big void in the marketplace," Eric told CNBC in June. "We provide overviews from local writers and bloggers about what the area is like, as well as local tips. We have all of the neighborhood data in terms of pricing, transportation, landmarks and other background info. Users can post their reviews of what the area is like and who it is and isn't good for."

YourNeighborhood is now working with 10 of New York City's biggest real estate brokers to offer more rental and sales listings.

Billing itself as the world's largest training and start-up launch program, The Founder Institute tests for whether success can actually be found in the genes.

The Institute has probed more than 25,000 people in the past few years with its Entrepreneur DNA Test, CEO Adeo Ressi said in a June interview. They do a battery of social science tests, and then test scores against success rates of those who have been through the program.

Factors that make for good entrepreneurs, according to the test, are high fluid intelligence, openness and moderate agreeableness.

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"The data clearly indicates there is a genetic component to success," Ressi said. "Genetics don't determine everything, but they give you a real competitive advantage over someone else that doesn't have that same makeup."

The Levy men certainly believe in the theory. "I knew I wanted to do this for myself at some point," Eric said. "Based on the family track record, I thought I would have a good chance of doing it and being able to be successful at it too."

Victor summed it up well and added, "It's nice to be on your own." His advice to entrepreneurs? Don't give up.

CNBC.com's Marguerite Ward contributed to this report.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the spelling of Adeo Ressi's last name.