April 12, 2019 • By Christine Byrd
Jon Rettinger, FEMBA ’11, launched the world’s largest independent consumer electronics portal somewhat by accident.
Back in 2007, to learn how to use his new video camera, he shot some footage of himself reviewing tech gadgets and posted them to YouTube. At that time, when cat videos reigned supreme, his content was novel. Within months, he had 8,000 subscribers and was earning as much on YouTube as he was in his day job.
So Rettinger quit his job in software marketing right in the middle of the Great Recession.
“I’ll always remember telling my mother-in-law that in the middle of a horrible economy, I was leaving a job to make videos,” he says.
But when Rettinger took his business plan to a UCI fast pitch event with the nation’s largest angel investor group, the Tech Coast Angels, they laughed at him. Out loud. To his face. Afterward, Rettinger sought out the person who laughed the hardest and asked what he could do better. The answer was “Go to business school.”
Rettinger, who grew up in Orange County, chose the Merage School because of UCI’s outstanding reputation as a world-class research university. But without any background in economics or business, Rettinger quickly discovered he had a lot to learn.
“I didn’t understand the basics of business, and didn’t know that was something I even needed,” Rettinger says.
“What I learned on Monday, I used on Tuesday,” Rettinger adds. “My livelihood relied on this business being a success, not on reading case studies, and the professors understood that.”
One class that stood out was Marketing on the Internet with Raymond Pirouz. “He understood the future and how to create digital business plans and leverage digital. It was the most helpful course I took throughout the entire program,” Rettinger says. In fact, he kept coming back to the class for years even after he graduated.
“The MBA program provided me with tremendous support,” he says. “If I had a legal question or anything related to what I was facing with the business, I could ask a professor.”
Despite that support, building a successful online business was not all smooth sailing. In 2009, Rettinger bootstrapped $40,000 to launch TechnoBuffalo, an online portal featuring video reviews of the latest tech gadgets. Within 60 seconds of its first launch, the site crashed. It took three months to rebuild.
“There were a lot of times when I wasn’t sure this business was going to succeed, and a lot of second guessing,” he says.
At his lowest point, when TechnoBuffalo was almost out of money, Rettinger received an email from an angel investor halfway around the world. The infusion of capital helped TechnoBuffalo achieve a new level of success and profitability. It now gets 22 million views per month, and goes head-to-head with sites owned by media giants AOL, Vox and CBS.
As TechnoBuffalo grew, Rettinger expanded his portfolio, launching TheNerdy to focus on geek culture, purchasing domains like Batman-news.com, focusing on popular comic books and movies.
To Rettinger, internet entrepreneurship is not entirely different from a company that produces widgets. “You still have a product, which is digital content, and you still have a customer, which is your audience, so you can see normal business workflow and bottlenecks,” he says.
While managing multiple websites and producing more than 4,000 videos for TechnoBuffalo, Rettinger felt himself becoming a bottleneck, and being spread thin. So in late 2018, he sold off several pieces of his portfolio, including TechnoBuffalo, to focus on what his true passion: creating eminently consumable video content.
Today, with 1.5 million subscribers on his Jon4Lakers YouTube channel, tech companies think nothing of offering him five-figures to make a video about their cool new product.
With two young children and a third on the way, the decision to sell TechnoBuffalo was both personal and professional. It’s not true, Rettinger argues, that internet entrepreneurs have to be like Elon Musk and work 23 hours a day. “Home and life balance is really important to me,” he says.
With TechnoBuffalo off his plate, Rettinger has time to focus on his YouTube channel, and explore other opportunities ranging from writing a book to doing a reality TV show. He especially enjoys being a commentator on CNBC.
“It’s still startling to me as a geek who loves technology, to be able to talk about technology for a living,” he says. “And having worked in a job I hated, I don’t take this for granted.”