The Rise of Silicon Beach: The Disruptive LA Tech Scene
Silicon Valley is where the big boys play – a high-tech haven that attracts some of the best and brightest minds in the industry. It’s where many of the world’s largest start-ups like Google, Facebook, and Twitter all got their start. Well, what about the rest of us? We want to play, too!
There’s Silicon Alley in New York, Silicon Hills in Texas, and in Los Angeles, you’ve got Silicon Beach, a 3-mile strip stretching from Santa Monica to Venice Beach, that’s home to over 500 up and coming tech start-ups.
In 2012, the aptly named Silicon Beach ranked number two in top locations for tech start-ups, following – of course – Silicon Valley according to Bloomberg. Silicon Beach attracted $1.3 billion in venture capital funding, while Silicon Valley attracted $1.8 billion. That relatively tiny gap in numbers speaks volumes about Silicon Beach’s impact on the tech front. Eddie Park, co-founder and technical Janitor at Smilu said “Right now people still think Silicon Valley is the place to be for start-ups, when places like Los Angeles and Austin are making great strides in being relevant in the start-up world.”
There are already some noteworthy players in the mix that have made names for themselves; start-ups like Grubwithus, a social dining site that allows members to connect over dinner at a local restaurant based on their interests, which has already secured $6.6 million in funding. Docstoc has secured $4 million in funding to provide small businesses with access to free business and legal documents. Viddy, another impressive start-up, has $36 million to play with and lets people capture and share quality videos with the world. According to Scott Lee, who owns the very successful start-up, “There is no better place for a start-up than Silicon Beach”.
Additionally, there are some well-established names taking up beachfront property in this up and coming tech scene, including Hulu, Google, and eHarmony. This isn’t surprising since Silicon Beach has a unique culture that reflects the growing tech influence in the area. “Los Angeles will be a force to be reckoned with in a few years”, said Geoffrey Michener, who worked at LivingSocial in Washington, DC for several years, but, nevertheless, he was missing something. “I loved the startup mentality, but needed a real startup”, he concludes. Southern California and the Bay area are at two completely different ends of the spectrum. Joey Tamer sees the LA tech scene as an evolution. “LA is a creative hub…it is being taken seriously as a hub for technology and not just content,” says Tamer. “I think LA will become an innovation hub for content and tech”.
The climate is new and fresh here, and there’s a laid back atmosphere, making it a great place for start-ups to get in the game. “The start-up environment is getting friendlier” says Amy Smart, founder of SMARTY. Every start is difficult, so newborn companies need all the help and support they can get. Amy was aware of this fact all along. “Ideas can’t grow without feedback and critical thought…keeping it contained…wrong thing to do because your idea can’t be everything it should”.
Tonya Lafontaine, a software developer, has been in the business for 20 years and has seen an evolution among start-up companies, especially those in the IT world. “This industry is fantastic for moms and telecommuting in the IT world is huge, I’m home, my children are a mile away from me.” Modern business is based on mobile and tablet apps, while laptops are starting to become things of history. “If your business has an app for a smartphone or a tablet, that’s where everything is going… and that’s all you need”.
Like the Bay area, they also have the opportunity to recruit fresh talent from top schools like USC, UCLA, and Caltech. Each of these schools has top-notch programs, and their graduates are well prepared for start-up excellence. However, when experience is considered, we come to a complete stop. “USC and UCLA graduates just don’t have the hands on experience” says Daniel Tudo, a recruiter for technology, media and web startups, who has already worked with high growth start-ups, although he claims that Silicon Beach is “incredibly competitive marketing for technical talents”.
Speaking of talent, there are also quite a few celebrities who have endorsed tech start-ups. Kim Kardashian, for example, is the face of ShoeDazzle, which offers personal styling and a retail service that allows members to receive a pair of shoes selected by Hollywood stylists each month. There’s also Honest Company, started by Jessica Alba that gives parents access to high quality, inexpensive family products. And then, there’s BeachMint, cofounded by Josh Berman – also the co-founder of MySpace. The company uses a host of celebrities to endorse their products, including Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Justin Timberlake, and Jessica Simpson.
Besides all of the celebrity buzz, Silicon Beach also offers a chance to directly connect with the community, find mentors, and make a place in the burgeoning tech scene. Amy Smart stresses the importance of community when it comes to start-ups. “Ideas can’t grow without feedback and critical thought…share your ideas with enough people who have different ideas and experiences”. To help facilitate connections, the Silicon Beach Festival, the first ever entertainment and tech start-up fest in LA, was held this past June.
In true start-up fest form, it included a Hackathon, Demo Day, Pitch Day, workshops, and panels. Students even had a chance to join in on the fun and pitch their ideas to win prizes. There were also big opportunities to hear from and connect with industry leaders who spoke at the event, including those from companies like Google, Ustream and Forbes. “As we transition from a manufacturing to a knowledge economy…universities are creators of knowledge and have a bigger role to play in that economy” said Fred, an engineer who has made a complete career change with his start-up. “I realized that I was more interested in the business side”, he concluded. Also, in true LA fashion, there was an entertainment panel that discussed topics like music discovery, hiring an entertainment developer, and broadcast media from those at the GRAMMYS, IMDb, and NBC.
Silicon Beach offers plenty of other methods of support and ways to get mentorship from those already successful in the industry. There are over 25 co-working spaces, like the newly started Hub in downtown Los Angeles, which covers the scene off the beach. CoLoft in Santa Monica, known as LA’s start-up hub, assists local start-ups in achieving their goals, bring them together, and even host their always sold-out Start-up Nights. “We also have numerous events, many of which are member only, and many which are not. Our most popular events are monthly meetups called Start-up Nights, and a quarterly event called Start-up Weekend LA” says Cameron Kashani Rasouli, co-founder of CoLoft, who’s been in the business since 2010. As far as the future is concerned, she is quite optimistic. “People are finally realizing that LA is a tech hotbed, and things are only looking up”. These events allow local entrepreneurs the opportunity to discuss their own projects and include an overnight mission to strategize and turn out cool new start-ups and ideas.
There are also over a dozen very popular Meetup groups for start-ups in the LA area. So support is everywhere – you just have to find it! When you think about the culture, LA certainly has its own distinct brand and value. “I love the city’s diversity and it’s youthfulness as a hub for start-ups. It’s not hard to get noticed here and founders are very friendly and collaborative” says Alex Benzer, who grew up in LA and has already built and sold his first company, before starting SocialEngine. “There’s already a strong ecosystem here in LA with basically everything you need to get your company started”. It’s all about glitz and glam and making things happen. What better place to create a start-up! There is no doubt that LA is great for hubs, entertainment start-ups, and media ventures. “It is easy to have an idea, but there’s a lot of sweat equity involved”, says Johnathan online program manager. Nevertheless, it offers a “big opportunity to market yourself in a social way”, he concludes. Silicon Beach is growing to show the other face of LA. “It has a sense of modesty, which is strange since LA is known for everything but that”, says Geoffrey Michener. Simply put, Silicon Beach is a sweet place to live life as an Internet start-up entrepreneur.