There are a whole assortment of tech events from The Bay to LA. However, since The Bay has a strong tech focus, the events up there tend to be better. I live in LA, so I put in a huge effort to make it out to events related to tech because they don’t necessarily happen all the time (or as often as they do up North). I used to go to ones that had interesting & engaging titles “Make products people love”, “Fireside chat discussing the top 5 tech trends”, etc.. Although, when I do make it out to these events, it’s usually bombarded with founders just trying to sell you on their products and the speaking content is typically something you can find in a 3 min read on Medium or Quora. Despite the pollution, it’s not necessarily all bad, I’ve met a lot of people and had insightful discussions with many event organizers. It seems more difficult to get experienced speakers to speak at many of these events in LA. Better Speakers = Better Content = Better Events. I almost gave up on going to events altogether in LA because I felt the content being covered never justified the 2–3 hours spent on me being there (not including the traffic). Two — three hours where I could have been focusing on building my company. This seemed to be the case, that all events in SoCal would more likely be a waste of time, that is until I received tickets to Startup Grind SoCal.
Startup Grind SoCal
Last week, I attended Startup Grind SoCal (thanks for the tickets Patrick Maloney) and I can say with full enthusiasm that this has been the best tech event I’ve been to in LA, hands down. I’ll tell you why:
- Better Speakers:
- Brian Lee, CEO of The Honest Company
- John Tabis, CEO of The Bouqs
- Miguel Mckelvey, Cofounder of WeWork
- Tracy Chou, Cofounder of Project Include, early employee at Pinterest
- Susan Lyne, Founder & President of BBG Ventures
- Leura Fine, CEO of Laurel & Wolf
- Jim Scheinman, Founder of Maven Ventures
- Tobi Bauckhage, CEO of Moviepilot
- Gunnar Lovelace, Co-CEO of Thrive Market
- Andrei Marinescu, Partner at 500 Startups
- Troy Carter, CEO of Atom Factory
- Erik Rannala, Co-founder of Mucker Capital
- Shay Mitchell, Actress
- +Many More
2. Intimate Sessions
- Even though there were more than 200 people attending the event, I never really felt disconnected from the conversation. The combination of mixing up fireside chats and presentations dependent on the topic of discussion definitely helped with the flow. Also the addition of adding two stages — Main stage and breakout sessions — made the whole conference an interactive conversation. It felt like this was my ticket to a one-on-one sit down with experienced founders and investors of the tech world.
3. Startup Grind Values
- One thing I really admired about Startup Grind is that all the staff (organizers + volunteers) were heavily invested and actively engaging to providing value to startups. They were all incredibly friendly, outgoing, and really pushed for the attendees to make relationships with the speakers, other attendees, and featured startups in their program; they made it feel natural.
- Above all, their value of “Give first, Make friends not contacts, Help others before yourself” resonated with me. Most events I go to, the attendees tend to be other founders, which is cool! However, I noticed that the conversations they have with you tend to be superficial — more about “How can this person, I’m talking to, help me somehow”, they’re not really listening when you talk and just searching if you’re a person of “value”. I get that they’re trying to make the most out of their time at the conference by trying to get a key connection that can help them reach their business goals. To me, it feels ingenuine and forced — I did see some of that going on at Startup Socal, but it was on a significantly lesser scale than other SoCal events.
Here are some highlights from a few of the fireside chats I went to:
Tracy Chou — Fixing Diversity in Tech
Tracy Chou is famously known for creating a Github repository collecting data on women in engineering, which sparked a movement that promoted data disclosures by the biggest tech companies to track diversity in engineering. Did I also mention that she was one of the first employees at Quora and Pinterest as well? She is now a cofounder of an organization that promotes diversity in tech: Project Include (www.projectinclude.org).
Most people in tech mistake the diversity issue as “there aren’t enough women in engineering” dilemma, but Tracy emphasized that the diversity issue is not just limited to gender, but also race and ethnicity. She highlighted data collected from startups and other big name companies that suggest overall company performance increases as the diversity in the organization increases.
I asked her a question relating to how a company can increase diversity without disrupting company culture. She responded saying that when you hire people and look for culture fit, they should align with your company values and their unique background and perspective will add more to your current culture.
I really enjoyed her fireside chat and Q+A, it provided a unique perspective on how my startup can approach hiring and help diversify tech.
Troy Carter — The Future of Tech in Los Angeles
Troy Carter is one of the most illustrious investors in both LA and Silicon Valley. He is notable for investing in both Uber and Lyft during their early years. He recently started a new accelerator called Smashd Labs that focuses on tech in entertainment and culture (smashdlabs.co).
One word that describes Troy: Foresight.
He talked about how his beginnings in artist management sculpted him into the ultimate startup guru. By managing new musicians early in his career, he understood that getting these artists to become big names took a level of intense entrepreneurial spirit — taking each unknown artist with potential and making them into a household-name superstar. Traversing that process to tech became natural — seeing potential in a team & product and helping that company become a superstar in the tech industry.
He also spoke about how he has been observing a tech trend that is happening in LA. As housing and living costs are becoming an all-time high in the Bay, more and more entrepreneurs are moving to Los Angeles to settle their startups here. With Snapchat, Dollar Shave Club, Hulu, and many more big tech companies already here, he’s very bullish about Los Angeles becoming a tech hub as big as SF in the next 5–6 years.
Gunnar Lovelace — Social Entrepreneurship
Gunnar Lovelace is the Co-CEO of Thrive Market — think Costco meets Whole Foods with a social mission similar to Tom’s Shoes. His mission is to make healthy food affordable and accessible to the masses. When you buy a membership on Thrive Market, you get access to a whole assortment of healthy and organic food at an affordable price, delivered to your doorstep. With each membership bought, they give a membership to a low-income family for free. Thrive Market recently finished a $111 million Series B round.
I’m glad I stayed for his fireside chat because he has become my entrepreneur idol. The passion and drive he has for his company is contagious and tremendously encaptivating. His enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship comes off natural and energetic.
His latest mission, for his company, is to allow food stamps to be accepted online. Currently, they’re only allowed at select brick-and-mortar grocery chains and restaurants. Within 90 days, after he started this mission to push for online food stamps, they’ve pushed legislation to accelerate the process — within the next year, it’ll be accepted on Thrive Market.
Erik Rannala — Startups are a Process
Erik Rannala is a Cofounder and Partner of Mucker Capital and Muckerlabs based in Santa Monica. His accelerator, Muckerlabs, has been rated the #1 accelerator program in Los Angeles and is pretty well-known throughout the tech industry.
Erik’s presentation heavily focused on how startups aren’t a single event you wait for, but something you progressively pursue. At every stage of running a company you should be having fun and relentlessly obsessed with the building process. That’s ultimately the philosophy of his accelerator and seed fund — inspired by Thomas Edison’s Muckers, every team they fund has to have that itch within them — a problem they obsess over.
One particular trait I admire about Erik and his co-founder, William Hsu, is that they genuinely care about the LA Startup Ecosystem and are willing to help and give advice to any startup based out in the LA area.
It might seem obvious, but speakers make an insanely huge difference for events and I encourage that there be more paid events in LA just like Startup Grind!
Thank you, Derek Andersen, Joe Famalette, and Karlie Krieger for organizing the event! Looking forward to the next one in LA. Startup Grind Global Conference will be Feb. 21–22, 2017 in SF. Here’s more info about Startup Grind: https://www.startupgrind.com/. Vator Splash LA is happening on October 13, be sure to catch that event as well!