Santa Monica's Silicon Beach Fest Shows Off L.A.'s Thriving Tech Scene
At Silicon Beach Fest, the woman seated in front of me was wearing 5-inch stiletto heels -- not something generally seen at a festival to celebrate the startup tech scene in Los Angeles. Fashion startups are just part of the ecosystem that makes the L.A. scene tick, and last week, hundreds of developers, investors and tech-seekers convened at the confab to gab, meet and strategize.
The organizers estimated 3,000 people would attend some part of the weekend. The fest, now in its second year, was inspired by a trip that Digital LA's Kevin Winston took to South by Southwest. He wanted to connect some of the companies that were "rocking out here in L.A." This year, the fest has grown about 50 percent in size from last year.
So why choose L.A. to start a tech company, instead of that better-known silicon region to the north? Adam Miller, the CEO of Cornerstone on Demand, a cloud-based talent management company, put it this way: "There's a tremendous advantage in not being part of the daily churn," he said in his keynote address Thursday morning.
"There's a joke that Silicon Valley thinks it's the center of the world, and New York City thinks it's the center of the universe," he added. "That leads to some provincial attitudes." Being in Los Angeles, which is developing alongside other lesser-known tech hubs like Boulder and Boston, can give a company the breathing room to "step back and think a little longer-term," Miller told the audience.
There are also practical advantages: weather here is amazing. And while there's a smaller pool of employees, there's also a lot less competition for that pool. Poaching talented developers is very common in Silicon Valley, but Miller says he's been able to keep 98 percent of his work force while the company grew over the past 13 years.
That smaller pool can also make for a better community. Miller said it's easier to know people here, and to get support -- even if that just means getting an Internet service provider to answer a call.
And because much of the startup scene is centered around fashion, e-commerce, and media, Los Angeles is far ahead of the competition in those industries. "This is the home of storytelling, and we're hungry for content," said David King Lassman of Vyclone, a company that helps people co-create videos from shows and other experiences. He explained that with the proliferation of screens, more content is needed -- as well as creative ways to deliver that content.
International companies are also increasingly drawn to southern California. King Lassman was part of a panel on Thursday afternoon highlighted some of the work being done by companies moving here from abroad like Dynamite Network Solutions, a Canadian company that specializes in video spokesperson technology, and Soap Creative, a digital advertising agency with offices in Australia and L.A.
Part of the festival was held in the Real Office Spaces building, which itself reflects trends in the local tech scene. The building used to house Google (which has moved to the "Binoculars Building" in Venice) but now is a co-working space for startups. One thing that L.A. could improve on? King Lassman says that the city could do more to connect business schools at USC and UCLA into the technology scene, as they do in Silicon Valley.
While Silicon Beach is still up and coming in the tech world, the panelists agreed they'd rather base their companies here than anywhere else. "It's very much a happy medium between Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley," said Jeff Musson of Dynamite Network Solutions. Plus, from what I saw, people here wear much higher heels and sport better biceps.