LA Biz: Q&A with Silicon Beach LA Founder

LA Biz recently interviewed Robert Lambert, the founder of the website Silicon Beach LA. He discussed how his company has helped connect LA's growing tech industry.


What inspired you to start Silicon Beach LA?

I started the company toward the end of 2012, and it was basically in response to my own frustrations as an L.A. founder. A lot of first-time founders have the same problems, especially in L.A., connecting with people and finding mentors, finding investors—all of the relevant kinds of projects and hassles for first-time founders. And in L.A. especially because it’s such a fragmented city, having a really comprehensive online resource for the next wave of local founders I thought was definitely really important. It was just basically working with all the relevant investors—co-working spaces, government organizations and local universities, as well as our network—to create just a really comprehensive [site] that includes all the elements that go into a community: a social network section of the site, a directory of all the startups so you can see what kinds of companies there are in L.A., as well as links to all the investors in town, a community calendar so you can see all of the relevant events that are happening in the L.A. tech and startup communities.

How many members does the site have?

We have about 10,000 active folks in the community across the universities, the investors, the founders, as well as folks who are just looking to get started in the community. The social site officially opened two weeks ago. With any technology, you obviously find little bugs and want to make sure the user experience is maintained and improved, so we’re just kind of rolling it out in sections. So at the moment we’ve opened it up to about 500 of the local founders and investors.

Tell me about Silicon Beach LA Surfers.

About a year and a half ago now, a few months after we launched the website for Silicon Beach LA, I found as a founder I was basically stuck in meetings and working on the project all the time, so I was giving myself an excuse to kind of find that work-life balance and get exercise. … People when they think about Silicon Beach think everybody lives on the beach, everybody surfs. And so I thought it was kind of a fun addition to the community site that not only is part of the mental picture for people in terms of branding, but there is a big group of people who surf in the area as well. … Normally [when] you have meetings, you have to book time at a café or at their office. With surf group, they come down for a surf and we can have the chat while we’re both surfing.

[The surfer site is] a private membership model, so people apply and they go through a one-month trial. That group is now 225 members. We get about five applications a week, and we’re getting people from local startups, the big investment groups, wealth managers, people from the different music labels locally, the different talent agencies locally.

But that’s not a massive part of the community. The community [has to encompass] everything, so one of the things we’re developing now in the back end [is for] people who are new to town, if they’re looking for introductions, they’re looking for things to be involved with, we have the entire comprehensive list of all the different groups and organizations relevant to the startup community in L.A.—the inside-only ones, the private ones. … The Silicon Beach Surfers is just one of the hundreds in the L.A. area. It’s just a passion project for us because it’s the one we run.

What is the state of the Silicon Beach industry? Why is the area attractive to tech companies and people?

It’s the synergy of a number of things. The general lifestyle of L.A.—it’s the entertainment capital of the world. As of 2009, a lot of the investors who make money in film and music and the entertainment side in L.A., who historically invested in property-type investments as part of their fund … as of 2009, a lot of those individuals started to look to diversify. Because they weren’t seeing the returns traditionally they were getting on the property side, they started looking at startups as a relevant asset class to add to their portfolios. Plus a lot of the folks that are on the entertainment side are starting to see that with digital disrupting their industry, there’s a lot of opportunity for them to not only potentially look at startups as an investment, but also is it relevant for them to start a startup to kind of defend against that.

And then there have been a number of capital sources that have created a number of infrastructure elements that are needed in the community on the incubator side. So you have these accelerators where people can apply for a set amount of funding, and at the moment in L.A. there’s seven relevant incubators, so every six months there’s 16 new companies, startups entering the market looking for additional funding or finding revenue right out of the gate. Having a number of incubators; having a number of coworking spaces; having this kind of global effect where people are realizing they don’t need to be in San Francisco to have a startup anymore—they can do it from whatever city they’re in; the cost of startups being really cheap to start these days. It’s a number of all of these issues all coming together to create a really interesting nucleus here in L.A.

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