Havin’ A Sunny Beach Of A Time In Tech

The beautiful and sunny beach at Santa Monica, Calif.

I just read a long sequence of comments about why Los Angeles hasn’t reached rock star status like Silicon Valley in the tech world.

Here’s my quick response: It ain’t gonna happen…and we don’t care!

It’s the same reason L.A. doesn’t have a pro football team. We have other passions, like where’s the best sushi joint or beach party.

The stereotype is true. We here in L.A. are simply laid back. We love our beaches, our mountains and desert and, very important, we have much better weather. Shorts in December? You betcha!

We don’t need to be like them to feel special, to make us believe that somehow we finally made it big.

I can say this with some authority. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve been a technology reporter in L.A. for 25 years.

On the subject of why L.A. is no Silicon Valley, the truth is there are many tech firms here, plenty of them. It’s not noticeable to the outsider because we don’t have an Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel, Cisco, or Hewlett-Packard. And we really don’t think of it all that much.

We’ve had our moments in the Sun. I’ve seen a lot of sizeable tech firms come and go. The L.A. area, including Orange County, was home to some big PC and workstation companies, software firms, chip firms and disk drive companies, Internet firms and mobile developers. Many faded out, went bankrupt or were acquired. Then we mutate into something else cool, whatever suits our fancy.

Los Angeles

The reason those firms went kaput still exist. Among them: L.A. is so spread out. Go to the Griffith Observatory on a clear night and you’ll see glistening lights that stretch to infinity. As such, L.A. lacks a concentration of companies to maintain a long-term watering hole, where tech geeks can feel like they really belong.

That is starting to occur to some extent in West L.A., home to Venice and Santa Monica, where I have lived for the past 15 years, and where Yahoo and Google have a large presence, lucky them.

But overall L.A. is missing an entrepreneurial critical mass that makes venture capital firms salivate and seed. As one local economist once told me, “Nobody seems to have the fire in the belly to start a company and really make it big.”

Instead of fire in the belly, they’ll take a Stella instead.

L.A. also has two major universities in USC and UCLA, both within a 50-caliber rifle shot of each other. Sadly, they have not fostered the sort of partnership with private industry in the way that Stanford has with Silicon Valley.

It’s hard to walk that path in flip-flops.

There’s another reason L.A. has failed to emerge as a tech giant. We spend too much time having fun. Here’s an illustration: In 2007 the story emerged from court documents about the CEO of a Fortune 500 chip firm in Orange County who allegedly had a network of tunnels and rooms underneath his estate, which his wife knew nothing about. It enabled this CEO to indulge his appetite for illegal drugs and sex with prostitutes. He resigned in 2008 and was later cleared of the charges. True or not, you get the picture.

Oh, to live and die in L.A.

We have nothing to be ashamed of, though. L.A. really does have a thriving tech scene. And if someone here wants to make it really big, they can go up north and do it there.

We do have one serious claim to fame that no one can match. L.A. is the undisputed porn capital of the world.

Funny how that works.

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3 Responses to Havin’ A Sunny Beach Of A Time In Tech

  1. Michelle Reingold says:

    As a 4th Generation San Franciscan, (so rare I have a spot on the endangered species list.) I have to say, this blog is 100% right. Here are two quotes from LA story that sums it all up.

    Sara: Roland thinks L.A. is a place for the brain-dead. He says, if you turned off the sprinklers, it would turn into a desert. But I think – I don’t know, it’s not what I expected. It’s a place where they’ve taken a desert and turned it into their dreams. I’ve seen a lot of L.A. and I think it’s also a place of secrets: secret houses, secret lives, secret pleasures. And no one is looking to the outside for verification that what they’re doing is all right. So what do you say, Roland?
    Roland: I still say it’s a place for the brain-dead.

    Sara: What did you have in mind?
    Harris: Well, I was thinking of taking you on a cultural tour of L.A.
    Sara: That’s the first fifteen minutes, then what?
    Harris: All right, a cynic. First stop is six blocks from here.
    Sara: Why don’t we walk?
    Harris: Walk? A walk in L.A.?

    Thanks for sharing Brian, always good to get the South side of the story.

  2. I’m always innately suspicious of generalizations like this Brian. As a native New Yorker, where you can practically change countries by riding two subway stops, I’ve always been impressed by how diverse Los Angeles is. It’s not really one big om-mani-padme-om spa, the way it seems when I lived on the Westside. Now that I’m in Hollywood, and actually go to other eastern neighborhoods, it seems to me that L.A. has great diversity.

    So, I’m not sure that I buy all of the generalizations here. That having been said, I always felt that the Bay Area was a great median between NYC and LA — in terms of attitude. Of course, it’s more of a small town than either, and that may account for much of the difference in attitude that you talk about.

    As a side note, I am sure that you are aware that USC has recently been pumping up its USC Stevens Institute which is an incubator-like department for USC projects. It is run by Krisztina “Z” Holly, (official title — Vice Provost for Innovation) from MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.

  3. Mark Landay says:

    Brian,
    Nice post. The key ingredients to build an great tech firm and eco -system. Is the patron company, (also referred to as the academy company) great academic institutions, serial entrepreneurs, a culture for risk, you need geographic concentration, and sources for capital. LA has gained most of these. LA needs a patron company to catapult it forward. Hopefully, a by product of that will be the sources of capital. It is nice to have some VC funds in town and a handful of angel investors. It would be even better to have some google gonzillionaires, microsoft millionaires, and paypal mafia in town to help get some of these entrepreneurs to a point that local VC firms or the sand hill road crew would happily invest. In addition to Dynamic Synergy, I am lead http://www.LACEOs.com and education and support group for CEOs and founding executives to help support the eco system. I look forward to all contributing to further the eco system.

    Respectfully,

    Mark J. Landay
    Dynamic Synergy
    mark@dynamicsynergy.com
    Executive Recruitment

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