Jacob Layani never had plans to call Brooklyn his home.
Seven years ago, he moved to from France to Crown Heights to go to a Lubavitch rabbinical school and then got his finance degree at Touro College, a Jewish-oriented college near the Flatiron District. When he walked across the stage at graduation, he said it was then that he decided he wasn’t going to pack up and leave. He had much bigger plans for himself, here, in Brooklyn.
Since he was a kid, Layani, now 26, had watched his father, Jean-Pierre Layani, build his business, CrownTV, a digital signage software company. Headquartered in Lyon, CrownTV works with businesses like banks, doctor offices and restaurants.
— CROWN TV (@ItsCrownTV) July 28, 2016
After he graduated, Layani called his father and declared, “I’m bringing CrownTV to Brooklyn.”
The way Layani tells it, his father was thrilled because he, too, saw the potential of having a U.S. presence and tapping into the huge market. So he made the young Layani a cofounder and the head of U.S. operations.
Brooklyn, Layani said, was a no brainer when it came time to picking a spot for the U.S. headquarters. He grew attached to the borough’s culture and energy. He often had to travel to Manhattan for business meetings but didn’t want to base CrownTV there because of the traffic and high real estate prices. That’s how, three years ago, he became one of the first tenants of the 1000 Dean St. building in Crown Heights, a historic building that’s become a hub for the Brooklyn creative community. He’s just one of the French expats running businesses in Brooklyn.
Cool backstory alert: CrownTV’s tie to Crown Heights dates back to before Layani moved to the area. In 1989, Layani’s father visited Crown Heights to see Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as “The Rebbe,” who was well known for giving advice and benedictions, Layani said.
“So when my father had his business plan all set up he brought it to the rabbi and got a benediction for a successful business,” he wrote in an email. “When he left the neighborhood, he decided that because he got a benediction from the rabbi in Crown Heights, he’d name the business after the neighborhood.”
He called the company Crown Heights Group and that’s why CrownTV bears the name today.
CrownTV employs 60 between New York and France, though Layani declined to share how many people are based in New York. From a cursory search on LinkedIn, it seems to be a lean operation with fewer than ten employees based in NYC, mainly focused on sales and marketing and led by head of marketing, Elena Lathrop.
Layani said he’s liked watching the area develop. His go-to office escape is taking a walk around the neighborhood and eyeballing the new construction popping up every day.
“I’ve seen so much expansion in the area since we’ve opened up our office,” he said. “There was nothing around us and now there are condos and coffee shops and a Starbucks a block away.” (His coffee-break drink is a latte with kosher milk, btw.)
He likes the density of creatives and entrepreneurs in the 1000 Dean St. building.
“It’s a good feeling because when you start a business, you want to be around other startups and small companies,” he said. “It’s easier to ask for advice.”
CrownTV does have a Manhattan marketing office at WeWork, but Layani is devoted to Brooklyn, even if it’s far from his hometown in France. He often travels back to visit his family.
“It’s not easy not to have your family around you for holidays,” he said. “But I just got used to living in the U.S and will never go back.”-30-
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