Silicon Beach Festival

Silicon Beach La

‘Silicon Beach’ loosely refers to the Westside of Los Angeles — mainly Santa Monica and Venice Beach, where a pile of tech startups, incubators and accelerators are based. With LA being so spread out it more accurately references the Los Angeles tech economy as a whole (here’s a map of LA’s startup scene). Silicon Beach is also a term used to describe the Australian startup ecosystem, which Deloitte breaks down in research released this month titled Silicon Beach: A study of the Australian Startup Ecosystem.

This post, though, is about LA’s recent Silicon Beach Festival. I was at the festival earlier this month - it was an awesome series of panels and parties for startup accelerators, venture capitalists, startup CEO, entrepreneurs, agencies, developers and designers presented by Digital LA. My highlights:

LA Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti opened the festival with ‘What LA City Can Do For LA Tech’, an inspiring talk about how LA city can support the booming digital economy. Despite being home to the best storytellers in the world, Garcetti believes the greatest barrier to LA’s growth as a tech city has been its ability to tell its own story. Digital LA’s goal is for LA to become the second-best tech city in the world and Garcetti believes the key to achieving this goal is telling a powerful story about LA as a city and weaving digital success into the story. To bring people to LA, the city needs to “create cool neighbourhoods” which starts with “acts of urban acupuncture”; creating cool pockets of activity around the city and combining these to ultimately form neighbourhoods. The summary is that apps and free wifi and all that stuff is useful but it won’t make people move to LA. A great city with a well told story will make people move to LA.

The ‘What Accelerators Want’ panel was the standout for me. 8 from 10 of Launchpad’s recent graduates raised $1.5m+ (which in part demonstrates for the value of accelerators). Respected digital training company General Assembly recently moved into Launchpad’s building, which enhanced Launchpad’s credibility. Amplify’s Jeff Solomon discussed how there are “so many people building stuff” and “it’s kinda easy to build stuff”. Amplify’s more interested in the problems people are solving, how a startup will get people using their product and “get it out there”  and looks for clever customer acquisition. Similarly, Mucklerlab says engineers are important, but to go to market with less than $150k, customer acquisition expertise is really important. Muckerlab prioritises startups they can help instead of startups that might be a hit; William Hsu says they’re “trainers not betters”. Talk of “the team not the product”, lean startup philosophy and a build, measure, learn approach was ubiquitous.

Meet the Junior VCs’ provided hints on what venture capitalists look for. Jon Bassett of DFJ Frontiers made the point that “defensibility is a priority”. Products can be figured out with time and money but long-term partnerships are more defensible. Partnerships can be made early in the product stage to firm up a market. Generally, traction and progress are attractive to the VCs on the panel and investors hate missing deals, so demonstrating momentum and knocking over milestones is a good hook for investment. Customer acquisition costs and models are attractive to VCs; these guys love a good data model.

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