Southern Charm: Is the Future of Tech in Silicon Beach?

With companies like Snapchat, Hulu and Tinder based in SoCal, emerging tech companies look to Los Angeles for a talent pool of creativity and innovation.

Having lived in San Francisco for the last four years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact Silicon Valley has had on the city … the gentrification, morning and afternoon shuttle buses to Apple, Facebook and Google and a shifting age demographic that’s increasingly young and mobile. The aforementioned tech industry leaders, and plenty of smaller, hungry startups, certainly dominate the Bay Area’s economical and cultural landscape today. But lately, I’ve seen more and more of the talent moving south to Los Angeles, a place they usually revile for its endless traffic and smog. As an LA native, I’d argue the nasty commute from SF to Menlo Park is equally as frustrating at rush hour. The smog? Well, no one is perfect.

Perhaps the big SoCal success story that’s generating the most buzz is Venice-based Snapchat, who went public in March. So what’s so uniquely LA about the multi-billion-dollar company? According to a story published by LA Magazine, it’s a mix of “stylishness, moving images and fleeting newness that are in the region’s blood.”

“At a more fundamental level, Snapchat is like other members of the LA tech sector in that it embodies content, commerce, and communication—what entrepreneur-financier Mark Suster refers to as the ‘three things you do on the internet. We buy stuff. We want to be entertained…and we want to reach out and touch other humans.’ Suster is a general partner at Upfront Ventures, the biggest and oldest venture capital firm in the city. What really unites these companies is how they’re converting information into experience. That’s very Hollywood. That’s very LA. Can you see it? It’s a log line on a movie poster: ‘Information IS Experience.’ Starring everybody with a smartphone.”

It’s that marriage of Hollywood and tech that has many in the industry excited for the future enterprise in Los Angeles.

“‘You have to accept that the future of the internet is a video platform,’ Shuster says. ‘That’s why the rise of video on Facebook. That’s why Twitter is investing so much in video. That’s why the rise of Snapchat. If you accept video is the future of the internet, then you have to accept that Los Angeles is going to be one of the core centers of the internet in the future, and I think that’s why Silicon Valley VC has spent so much time in Los Angeles.’”

Right now the tech landscape in Los Angeles, especially for the early players, seems mostly condensed to the Westside beach communities like Santa Monica, Venice and Playa Del Rey, thus the name Silicon Beach. But start-ups are seeking new, affordable territory and changing that map rapidly.

“Everything: video sites, data storage, record keeping, wine disruptors, marketing solutions, commerce sites, agile software, fixed-gear bicycles, bespoke pornography, mobility, and a bunch of other potential LinkedIns and Ubers for fields not yet dominated. The wave curves northeast from Santa Monica along Sunset Boulevard, spilling down Wilshire and along the 101 into the San Fernando Valley, pooling in the ancient industrial spaces of downtown and perpetually renewing in the technological reservoir of Pasadena. Eleven hundred start-ups—1,600 companies total when you consider investors, consultants, incubators and accelerators.”

And unlike the Bay Area, which many considered overrun by an “insular-mindset,” a spread-out tech landscape across the city might just be better for Los Angeles culture, the cost of living and overall lifestyle in the long run.

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