L.A. isn’t just a mecca for film and video game studios. In the past three years, the Los Angeles tech scene has evolved from a small cadre of social media-happy party animals to a legitimate and sustainable tech community to rival Silicon Valley.
“Los Angeles is a town that spins a million stories every day,” says local technophile Sean Percival. “It’s the perfect backdrop for a techie looking to tell his or her own story.”
Percival is at once a gossip and a godfather in the community. A MySpace exec, he and his wife, Laurie, also became loved and feared in earlier days for their hilarious interpretations of L.A. tech life on Lalawag, a colorful blog about the local scene. Percival now characterizes the current SoCal vibe as “a lot more company-building and a lot fewer poolside mixers.”
Back in 2008, the L.A. tech scene was in its party-filled, boozy heyday. Every night of the week, Twitter advocates and wannapreneurs could be found gathering at an array of networking events. The town was crawling with social media enthusiasts, but the scene wasn’t yet the kind of primordial soup that leads to healthy young startups.
“After some big hits like Overture during the first dot-com boom,” says Percival, “the space had been somewhat dormant. At this point, we were mostly using new technologies like Twitter to help build the community and find one another. Lots of ideas were being tossed around and connections made, but not much building.”
Even so, tech in L.A. circa 2007 and 2008 was more than just empty enthusiasm. The area had MySpace going for it (and back then, it was still a strong contender among social networks). Huge entertainment companies were beginning to look toward the web more, and they were tapping local digital experts for help. A handful of thought leaders were also working on projects like Twiistup, a homebrewed startup competition.
But what’s going on in Los Angeles today is a far cry from what was happening there four or five years ago. The parties have died down, and angel investors and smart business minds are getting to work.
The city’s tech scene is a few years more mature, more realistic, more productive — and it’s making headlines for its entrepreneurial atmosphere. Meet the new face of L.A. tech.
Why Entrepreneurs Love L.A.
Paige Craig, L.A. entrepreneur & investor
One of the most prominent figures in — and advocates for — the new school of L.A.-based entrepreneurship is Paige Craig. A former Marine from the East Coast with a background in defense contracting, Craig now runs startup BetterWorks and typifies the “Silicon Beach” CEO: In the de rigeur uniform of hoodies, shorts, and flip-flops, he brims with sun-drenched charisma.
“We’re a diverse lot,” he says of L.A.’s tech scene, “but more than San Francisco/Silicon Valley startups, we have a very healthy work-hard-play-hard balance.”
Joey Flores is the dreadlocked co-founder of Earbits, a Y Combinator startup that’s making its mark on the music industry. “I love L.A. as an entrepreneur,” he tells us, “because I think it’s incredibly important to create work-life balance, and you can’t beat Los Angeles for that.
“My partners and I work extremely hard, but every other day [Earbits EVP] Yotam [Rosenbaum] and I discuss work as we walk to the beach and get some sun on the boardwalk,” Flores says. “When I’ve had a rough day, I can hit Main Street and go to one of a dozen bars, where I often run into other entrepreneurs I know. If I want to go see world-class music or stand-up comedy, I can do it on any night of the week.”
Beyond the colorful nightlife and perfect weather, Craig defines what is, for him, the crux of Los Angeles’ entrepreneurial community: a connection to average consumers’ needs and the all-important hustle.
“There’s a very ‘real’ culture here,” Craig says. “Most of us are building businesses that solve real problems and drive real revenues. We don’t have the luxury of a tech bubble down here, so we all have to figure our business models out quickly, deliver value and make the bucks.
“We’re a city of hustlers… We know how to sell, and we can put sizzle on the burger.”
Grubwithus co-founder Eddy Lu, who spent time in the Bay Area as a UC Berkeley student, echoes these sentiments, saying, “We chose to be located where our customers are (and where the sun is!). Also, we’re going to be an operations heavy company, so why compete with Facebook, Google, Zynga, Twitter, etc. for ops talent when we can have L.A. all to ourselves?”
Craig says that since he moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2008, he’s seen a tenfold increase in the number of startups in the area. He also noted “the emergence of early and successful founders investing in and advising the new crop of companies.”