You’ve probably heard that my home town of Los Angeles has startup fever. There is no doubt that the LA tech scene is heating up. But is high-tech a trend, or can “Silicon Beach” really make a dent in the culture of a town where “the industry” refers to entertainment and not technology?
Silicon Beach has a culture all its own
PandoDaily recently described the scene in a way that I found both appealingly familiar (as a native Los Angelean beach kid), and suspiciously self-conscious.
“Hip, edgy Silicon Beach offices scream the work-all-day-surf-for-lunch entrepreneurial lifestyle the LA scene is trying to hard to prove its ecosystem can support. There’s always a lazy surfboard leaning in the corner of these offices. Everyone alternates between ‘stoked’ and ‘bummed.’”
Wow, sounds like where I grew up. The smarty-pants skeptic in me had to talk the starry-eyed Bruin-for-life ex-actress off the plane to LAX. I could actually have a career I love and live close to my family and friends (many of whom will never venture further than east than Sepulveda or north of the Getty Museum)!
But can a town that has this much fun really compete with the Bay Area’s awesomely inspiring nerdy vibe?
LA has talent and space
Big players like Google are making big bets, driven by a need for more talent and real estate than the Bay Area can affordably supply. “Silicon Beach” is getting both more entrenched in the tech ecosystem and more expensive. But even more encouraging is that incubators, startups, and investors are popping up all over the map.
Some of Silicon Valley’s best have relocated (SV Angel’s David Lee cited family reasons, which struck a cord for me). Angel investor Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital is so bullish on LA that he launched a dedicated fund.
“I think the opportunities in LA are incredible,” Sacca said. “It’s the heart of the entertainment community, and you’ve also got all these entrepreneurs who are sticking around after they graduate from UCLA and USC and Caltech.”
“The Industry” mindset makes appealing to consumers second nature
Angel investor Gary Vaynerchuk has even said that Los Angeles will eventually surpass New York and Silicon Valley as the tech capital of the world. Why?
“Los Angeles understands people,“ Vaynerchuk says.
Vaynerchuk thinks L.A.’s understanding of what’s cool and what’s not and how to promote people and products will put them ahead of the pack in the long term.
Well that’s true. LA’s entertainment industry attracts, selects, and rewards people who are great at captivating an audience, creating admirers, and setting trends. It’s no surprise that most of the companies being founded in Los Angeles focus on video, e-commerce or fashion.
Audience appeal is an LA survival skill that’s been strengthened over the generations. People move to LA to get famous – the brightest stars from every high school drama department in America end up there. That’s why every bar is filled with beautiful people who know how to provoke a reaction. It’s a stereotype, but it’s also real. The average Los Angelean is just hotter than the average San Franciscan. Why? Working anywhere near the entertainment industry puts tremendous pressure on you to be beautiful, look young, and stay thin (this is why I left acting!). The sunny, mild year-round weather and beaches (and incumbent unrelenting need to wear a bathing suit) make physical fitness a natural part of daily life. And no matter where you’re born, if you’re born beautiful and expressive and you love an audience then you’re that much more likely to end up in LA and make babies.)
It’s part of what we Nor-Cal nerds find despicable about LA. The high value placed on beauty, audience appeal, and fame helps create LA’s uniquely marketing-focused culture. It could also be why LA startups seem to focus on making (but not gambling) money:
“LA startups are 58% more likely than in Silicon Valley to focus on consumers as their primary market….and have a generally lower risk tolerance[than their Bay Area counterparts]”
LA’s startup scene will be about the convergence of Entertainment and Technology
Two massive technological trends are bringing the worlds of Silicon Valley and Hollywood in course for collision. The entertainment industry is ripe for disruption (and dude, does it need a shake up). This structural shift is placing LA entrepreneurs in a great market position, and shifting the balance of power further down the coast to Southern California.
io/LA (the new Hollywood-based incubator, coworking space, and cafe) was created to become the breeding ground for this convergence:
“Technology is allowing two specific things in Hollywood right now:One is the cost of production is going way down. That’s been enabled directly through technology — cheaper cameras, cheaper editing tools, and cheaper facilities. That’s breaking down huge barriers for content creators.
“On other side, there’s distribution of this content. That’s being enabled by all of these connected devices — iPhones, iPads, Internet-connected TVs, and your desktop computer. When we look at convergence, what I think about most is enabling new distribution methods,” said Whitcomb.
io/LA is headed up by Aber Whitcomb, co-founder of i/o Ventures in San Francisco, co-founder of MySpace, and former CTO of social gaming platform MindJolt. (Aber was also a friend of mine from studying abroad in college. Aber and I would sometimes do math problems together for fun over much chianti – mostly him giving me problems to do and sitting there amused at how I painstakingly “showed my work.” He was much better at it than I was.)
Is there a future for me back in LA?
I would LOVE to move back down south to be close to family, but there is so much we’d miss about the Bay Area: our amazing friends, our social and professional networks, the weather, the outdoors, and most importantly, THE CULTURE. Then there’s the all important question of jobs. My husband is a lawyer at Zynga and I work at a startup doing mostly design strategy and product marketing. So a vibrant, sustainable tech scene feels like a must for our dual-career lifestyle.
For now, I’m happy living in SF and working in Palo Alto. I love that my best friends have strong, educated opinions about the future and that mobile UX is great party small talk. But I’d also love to be part of the next big thing, and to contribute to the industry I was born in. I’d love for my son to grow up close to his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I’d love to take weekend trips to Palm Springs. And I’d love to return to some parts of the life I grew up with, where I had sand between my toes and tar stuck to the arches of my feet while I typed happily away on my Mac while sipping an ice blended and letting my salty hair air dry in the ocean breeze.
What do you think? Will there be enough opportunity in LA to last a lifetime? To be continued….