Upfront and the Power of Startup Community in LA

I’m finally home after three solid weeks on the road which included Austin, Dallas, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. It’s delightful to sit in my green zebra chair in Amy’s upstairs office, with a cup of tea, the Diana Krall channel playing on Pandora, and just catch up on stuff.

The extra points from my trip was getting to spend some face time with close friends and family that I haven’t seen in a while. Amy joined me in LA and we had dinner with Fred and Joanne Wilson and then went art shopping with Fred on Sunday. I spent a weekend in Dallas with my parents and went to Dairy Queen for Blizzard’s three times with my dad (my mom tagged along and even had a Blizzard one night.) I had dinner with my Uncle Charlie, Aunt Cindy, Cousin Jon, and his son Jack. You get the picture – even though the travel was intense I got some time with humans I love and don’t get to smell as often as I’d like to.

At the end of the trip, I spent two days at the Upfront Summit in LA. This comes on the heals of Upfront managing director Mark Suster’s great post titled Embracing Your Community as a Strategy which I encourage you to read as it is magnificent.

I have a long relationship with LA. In my first company (Feld Technologies) my first large client was in LA (Bellflower Dental Group). While the company – a large 100 person dental practice – was based in Bellflower, the dentist that owned it lived in Mandeville Canyon and I usually stayed at his house when I was in LA (he was the step-father of a fraternity brother, which is how we got connected in the first place.) I drove a lot in LA and learned things like how the 10 connects to the 5 to the 605, or the 405 to the 605. I learned that if you left at the right time, each route was only 30 minutes, but if you left at the wrong time, it was over two hours. I heard about Wolfgang Puck before he was in airports everywhere. I enjoyed the non-meat dishes at Hamburger Heaven, went to The Palm when there was only one location, and hung out in Santa Monica before it was techie cool and the only thing around was Peter Norton.

Today, our current investments in LA include OblongNix Hydra, and recently Two Bit Circus. In the last five years, there has been an explosion of startup activity in LA that continues to be exciting as the startup community grows and evolves. Mark and his gang at Upfront Ventures are in the middle of it and are having a huge positive impact on things.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve attended and hosted many VC annual meetings. I’m an investor in many early stage VC funds and, while I’m not a rigorous annual meeting attender, will go if one of the GPs asks me to. I always offer to be part of the content of whatever meeting / summit / dinner they do if it’s useful to them.

Since I was already in LA on Monday, I told Mark I’d stick around for the Summit if he thought it’d be useful to him and the team. He immediately programmed me into the content for Wednesday (LP/GP day) and Thursday (entrepreneur day). Mark also invited me to the Upfront annual meeting given (a) our Next strategy and (b) my new partner Lindel Eakman being a prior investor in Upfront when he was at UTIMCO.

The annual meeting was solid and consistent with high quality annual meetings. But the Summit on the follow two days was easily the best VC-driven summit that I’ve ever attended. The content was incredibly high quality, diverse, and stimulating. There was plenty of networking time organized around the content. The venues were awesome. The coordination and organization was first class. The attendee list was dynamite. My understanding is that Mark / Upfront are going to post the content online and I’d encourage you to watch many of the videos when this happens.

It being LA, the special bonus things I got to do, like the one pictured below, was about as good as it gets. Yes, Kevin Spacey is extremely smart, interesting, and extremely articulate – as I expected, but there’s nothing like getting to spend a few minutes with someone you admire (he’s always been one of my favorite actors), but have never met.

Kevin Spacey with Fanboys

Mark, Greg, Stuart, and gang – thank you for including me in this. You are doing amazing things in the LA startup community.

  • Pioneers in Skirts

    Welcome back home Brad! Thanks for the tip to watch the Upfront Summit online when they post it. It’s of great interest to many of us at Pioneers.

    [Oh — and always remember, if you’re in LA we’d LOVE to see you!]

    • Next trip. This one was maxed out.

  • C.P. Spencer

    LA startup community going places…..MS in the heart of it !!

  • David Waxman

    Totally agree. That was a great Summit. It must’ve been a staggering amount of work to put on, but hugely beneficial to our community. Thanks again to everyone at Upfront and thanks for coming, Brad.

    • Great seeing you and hanging out after a long time apart.

  • Yup, LA really is growing, and it’s utilizing a lot of it’s core strengths that already existed to build community. Pretty neat.

    • Ali Hamed

      what are the core strengths you think Chicago should be taking advantage of? I grew up in LA so am more familiar with LA/less familiar with Chicago

      • Interesting you ask. At the very first ever HPA meeting, someone asked what we would invest in. I said, “what Chicago is good at”. Chicago has a pretty diverse economy. That means logistics, medical equipment and software, B2B manufacturing, Agriculture, B2B sales, consumer products, and probably the largest sector, Financial services. Companies I have invested in that have done the best were in these sectors. There are ready customers, and mentors around that know the industry.

        • Ali Hamed

          awesome, do you guys only invest in Chicago? When should I be sending you stuff?

          • A days drive. Angels do better when they invest close to home. Think the old Big 10 conference and you have the geography

  • Awesome trip.
    You didn’t mention that you kept a pretty consistent jogging & sushi schedule through it too 😉

  • I live in LA – love it!

  • Lee P. South

    I am a California native from the north bay area, Santa Rosa, though i now reside east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Caught your piece this morning, really enjoyed it and plan to read more of your stuff in the future, Thanks. Hope you do not mind but I even went so far as to mention your article, on my own blog at TriVention,com.

  • This is a very great article and I want to work on the translation of the Arabic language and published in my own site: http://www.kol7sry.com

    I’m not spam

  • knotmott

    Brad, I noticed your investment in 3DR. In the last couple of months they have closed their manufacturing, did away with most of their developers, stopped their marketing blitz, failed to attend CES and the Founder (Jordi) is also gone.
    Now they are reportedly trying to “close” the open source (for Qualcomm) that they built their entire company on.
    You previously mentioned sales were off the charts. Can you be candid with us and give us some of the true story. I have heard many parts of it direct from the (gagged) 3DR employees but it would be nice to have something honest from those whose money is/was involved.
    They are also trying to raise more money for some future ideas – again, reportedly because they ran out of your and other money.
    It would be great to have some real information – but then again I understand that many in the investment community don’t like to talk about things which don’t go well.

  • Tim Schigel

    Excellent Summit! Mark and the Upfront team never fail to impress. Thanks for chatting Brad!