Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Last night the good people over at Dealmaker Media L.A. hosted the latest installment of their strategy & mixer series last night at the William Morris offices in Beverly Hills. The event centered around a panel discussion moderated by Rich Wolpert, Managing Director of The Mailroom Fund discussing the similarities and differences between the start up and investment communities in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. The panel was a good mix of investors (both angel and institutional) and entrepreneurs -- Mike Jones, newly minted COO of MySpace and former CEO of Tsavo Media, Joey Carson, President & CEO of Hollywood Interactive Group, Jason Oberfest, SVP, Business Development at MySpace and Mark Suster, Partner at GRP Partners.

Here are some of my take-aways from the event:

* In general, L.A.-based start ups are more monetization oriented while Silicon Valley start ups tend to place more emphasis on product development and technology.

* Due in part to geographical differences between the two areas, the L.A. start up and venture scene is more disparate and, save for Santa Monica, has no real nerve center (a la Sand Hill Road up north). And as an extension of this reality, there is also a common perception that L.A. does not have the depth and breadth of technology talent that Silicon Valley has, although there are members of the L.A. community (including the L.A. CTO Forum) that are actively working to change this perception.

* Those working in the start up community in Silicon Valley are much more pre-occupied with the equity portion of compensation packages than those in L.A., with one theory being that so many of them know and/or have heard of many others in their position making millions of dollars off of their options - which in turn leads to something along the lines of a sense of entitlement.

The topic of this event was of particular interest to me because I've spent the greater part of the last few months traveling to and from Silicon Valley and L.A. meeting with countless start ups and venture capitalists in both cities - in large part to get a sense of the general business and investment climate in both areas as I try and figure out what I want to do when I grow up. The main difference that I've noticed so far is that Silicon Valley operates in a micro-climate "bubble" environment that almost doesn't care or pay attention to the macro conditions that exist in the world (in this case the horrid economy). Entrepreneurship, progress and innovation are embedded in the fabric of the Valley - and that fabric is extremely strong and resilient.

While that's not to say that some of that doesn't exist here in L.A., the reality is that much of the climate is driven by the entertainment & media industry. And that industry is very much aware of, and adversely impacted by, the current economic conditions, not to mention the ongoing struggles many media companies are still having with figuring out how they are going to thrive in this new digital media ecosystem. And that fear and trepidation can't help but trickle down to the start ups and investors in the area, especially those whose businesses and investments are based in and around content. And from what I've heard from my friends and colleagues on the East Coast, this same dynamic exists between New York and Boston -- so at least we're not alone!

The good news is that L.A., despite its geographical challenges and ties to the entertainment industry tides, has a ton of great people across the business spectrum -- entrepreneurs, technologists, monetization experts and investors, and the sentiment coming out of last night is that the gap between L.A. and Silicon Valley - real or perceived - is closing every day.