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.
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.