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 Oblong, Nix 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.
Mark, Greg, Stuart, and gang – thank you for including me in this. You are doing amazing things in the LA startup community.
I’m not a big city guy, so one of my favorite things to do when I find myself in a big city is get up early, before the city wakes up, and go for a run. There’s something about the silence echoing throughout a vast developed physical space such as LA that calms me down and builds up some reserves for me for the day.
I was in LA all day yesterday – starting with a Fireside Chat organized by David C Murphy. It was a full room of entrepreneurs and what I hope was a stimulating and useful conversation for them. I got in an Uber and traveled across town to Nix Hydra, a company run by two remarkable young women that we recently invested in. I got in another Uber and returned to Santa Monica where I attended the Innovators Collective Dinner, hung out with some old friends, and met a few new ones. Today I’m at the Disney Accelerator and tomorrow I’m at Oblong.
At dinner, I sat with my long time friend Matt McCall. Matt and I were on the FeedBurner board together and he’s got a powerful connection between LA and Chicago – another city with an incredibly thriving startup community. Matt’s part of Pritzker Group Venture Capital which has offices in Chicago and LA as a result of where JB Pritzker and Tony Pritzker call home (Chicago and LA respectively). While they invest nationally, they have deep roots in both cities and are key players in the respective startup communities, along with the cities at large.
As I was talking to Matt, it rolled around in my head that there are a lot of similarities in the growth of both the Chicago and LA startup communities. Our engagement with each is similar – we have Techstars programs in each (Techstars Chicago and Disney Accelerator), we’ve made investments in each over the years, and they are each cities that I have personal affinity for and have spent a lot of time in, even though I’m not a big city kid.
I came back to an email in my inbox from Troy Henikoff, the Managing Director of Techstars Chicago, which closed the loop on this thought for me. Troy has been a key part of the development of the Chicago startup community and we’ve been good friends from the moment he first reached out to me about developing an accelerator in Chicago.
Troy reminded me about the Chicago Venture Summit, which is coming up on 10/14 and 10/15. The lineup looks incredible and includes keynotes from folks like Travis Kalanick (Uber), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco Chief Technology & Strategy Officer), Ted Leonsis (Revolution Partners and previous AOL CEO), and Peter Thiel. Not surprising, JB Pritzker is one of the leaders of the event. In the note that Troy sent me, there are confirmed attendees from VC firms such as Founders Fund, DFJ, NEA, GE Ventures, Motorola Ventures, Accel, Revolution, First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. Yes, it’s a serious event worth attending if you can.
Since I started thinking about Startup Communities in 2010, a few years before I wrote the book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, I believed the discussion about entrepreneurship would spread far and wide. If we could have the amazing things going on in Boulder that we were experiencing at the time, there was no reason every major city in the world couldn’t have a vibrant startup community. It’s a joy to see this developing fast, and in a powerful and sustainable way, in cities like Chicago and LA. Sure, there’s always been significant entrepreneurial activities in both cities, but the essence of the startup community in both places feels different – and more powerful – this time around.
In another example of entrepreneurs just doing it and not waiting for anyone to give them permission, a couple of Denver entrepreneurs created the Denver Startup Map. My friends at FullContact blogged about it this morning and explained how it works. It’s simple – if you are a startup – just go to the map and put your information on the shared Google map. 60 seconds – done.
While you are at it, I encourage you to go enter your startups information into CrunchBase. I’ve been working on a mapping project with Ross Carlson (our IT guy) and Ian Kuliasha (Silicon Flatirons) that we plan to roll out shortly. It’s based on CrunchBase data and the open source Represent-map project that was the basis for Represent.LA map of the LA startup ecosystem that Alex Benzer of SocialEngine created.
We’ve got a nice twist on this that leverages CrunchBase data, will be applicable to any geography, and will be open sourced so get ahead of us and get your data in. We’ll be rolling it out as part of Startup Revolution.
And – while you are at it, if you are a Denver startup, get on the map.
I was in LA for the past three days hanging out at Oblong, meeting with a bunch of entrepreneurs I know, then spending time at MuckerLabs, giving a talk at SCVStartup, and finishing up my trip with a half day at LaunchPad LA followed by a dinner that LaunchPad LA and Mark Suster put on. Even though I still felt fried from my 50 mile run, I had a great time and I’m sure I fed off of the energy of all the people I spent time with.
At the dinner I gave a short talk on Startup Communities and then answered some questions. The first question was “what do I think of the phrase ‘Silicon Beach’ for the LA startup community.” I responded that I thought it was stupid. I hate Silicon Whatever. LA should be LA. When I was in downtown LA at Oblong I didn’t notice a beach. Before I could go on a rant about why you should not call things “Silicon Blah” I got a round of applause.
In the late 90’s a wave of “Silicon Blah” appeared. Silicon Alley, Silicon Mountain, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Slopes, Silicon Gulch, Silicon Bayou, and on, and on, and on. The rallying cry was “we are going to be the next Silicon Valley.” Whatever. At the time, my opinion as someone who disliked generic marketing was that this was the worst branding ever. I feel even more strongly about this today.
If you are going to create a startup community, build your own identity. People now talk about “New York” and “Boulder” as amazing startup communities. They don’t talk about Silicon Alley and Silicon Flatirons. Well – I suppose some do, but I don’t hear it anymore (or at least my brain doesn’t process it) – I just hear New York and Boulder. And when someone says “Do you like living in Denver?”, I say “I live and work in Boulder.” Sure – Denver has a startup community also, but it’s distinct from Boulder.
Even within a city like LA there are startup neighborhoods. I made this point when I spent a month in Cambridge, MA in January. Sure, you’ve got Cambridge, Boston, Waltham, and Hopkinton. But you’ve also got Kendall Square, Central Square, the Leather District, and the Innovation District. In New York you’ve got Union Square, and Brooklyn’s DUMBO. These are the “neighborhoods” – high density areas of entrepreneurs and their startups. And, in a small town like Boulder, you’ve got – well – Boulder.
LA is huge. The startup community in LA isn’t “Silicon Beach.” It’s downtown, Santa Monica, and I’m sure a few other neighborhoods that I don’t know the name of. Brand the neighborhoods locally so the entrepreneurs know where to go, since you want them clustered together. Then brand your city (LA) which should be an easy one. And dump the Silicon Blah.
I’m totally wiped out after a full day in LA that included a board meeting at Oblong, a 75 minute interview on This Week in VC, strange drinks at Volcano Tea with some LA entrepreneurs, another interview on TechZulu before the Launchpad LA event, and then a Launchpad LA event. Mark Suster – who is everywhere on the LA entrepreneurial scene – was my gracious host, interviewer, and master of ceremonies for the day. I predict he sleeps well tonight.
I’ve got nothing left to say since I’ve already said it at least twice today. So – I’ll leave you with the This Week in VC interview.