Silicon Beach Attracts a Tidal Wave of Tech Talent

The City of Angels has long held a good-humored rivalry with its Nor Cal counterpart, with each city fiercely proud of its signature personalities and the industries that reflected them. While entertainment has been the hallmark of the capricious south, tried-and-true technology has exemplified the more grounded spirit of San Francisco and the Bay Area. But that dynamic may soon be flipped on its head as the cultures of both halves of California melds into one in the region of LA that has come to be known as Silicon Beach.

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A combination of LA’s laidback vibe and San Fran’s entrepreneurship, the burgeoning startup community that is centered in Santa Monica is attracting top tech talent through its focus on work-life balance, rather than six-figure salaries. “We have tattoos, we wear flip-flops to the office,” says Kate Shaw, director of marketing for Urban Remedy, an online juice and health-food company that recently moved its offices from San Rafael to Santa Monica Boulevard and Second Street. “We like the finer things in life, and I don’t mean caviar. I’m talking lunchtime access to the beach, microbrews in the fridge, and permission to leave early for yoga. Top talent wants a great life balance, and Santa Monica startups embrace and nurture this.”

This untraditional take on a work environment is further reflected in the co-working spaces favored by many tech startups. ROC, Cross Campus, and Coloft offer not only inexpensive office space but also an environment that fosters idea-sharing. FilmBreak, a company that seeks to bridge the gap between filmmakers and fans, saw an increase in productivity when it moved offices from Hollywood to Cross Campus. “The way the space is designed, being surrounded by so many energetic people – it instantly gelled our team,” says Taylor McPartland, co-founder and president of FilmBreak. “It’s helped our productivity – and well-being.”

Co-working spaces also tend to host community-oriented events, enabling networking and further blurring the line between workspace and community. Taking the concept of co-working a step further is the idea of co-living. “Tech people work crazy long hours,” says Lolo Siderman, founder of Gypsywing Media, a branding, PR, and marketing agency with a focus on tech and beauty. “One of my clients bought a house together and they stay up all night coding.”

For many startups, long hours are the norm, but in Silicon Beach, this work ethic is born out of passion more than corporate edict. “LA entrepreneurs tend to be more passionate,” says Kevin Winston, founder of Digital LA, which organizes weekly networking events ranging from the popular Weekly Unwind happy hours to the ever-growing Silicon Beach Fest. “We care about the product and community, not just the quick buck.”

A focus on content has also been a deciding factor in helping the growth of Silicon Beach. In a city where entertainment plays a starring role, content comes as second nature. “LA understands content and how that can help build your brand,” says Winston. The city also has another key asset: celebrity. Says Winston, “If you align with a celebrity, they can help market it.” He cites partnerships between Shoedazzle and Kim Kardashian, as well as BeachMint’s partnerships with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Brooke Burke, and Justin Timberlake as examples of startups leveraging the city’s abundant supply of celebrity resources.

And even though the cost of doing business in Los Angeles, and the Westside in particular, may be considered steep compared to the rest of the country, it’s still a bargain when compared to what a company might spend up north in Silicon Valley, where prices can be two to three times higher.

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Add to that a government that understands the value that tech startup companies bring to the city and Silicon Beach looks even more attractive to VCs and accelerators. Jory Wolf, Santa Monica’s very own Chief Information Officer, lists a number of developments the city has and is working on, including numerous Wi-Fi hotspots, online e-permitting, and – his proudest achievement – affordable rate structures for ISPs, which benefit both businesses and residents. And, through the Growth, Development, and Technology sub-committee of the Santa Monica Alliance, businesses can seek help with matters that range from changing the maximum time allotted on parking meters outside their office to assistance with updating antiquated sections of the municipal code – as when eHarmony picked up stakes in Pasadena and headed for the shore.

But when it comes down to it, Silicon Beach’s most enticing factor is the community, a theme that every entrepreneur mentions when asked what differentiates this region from its northern rival.

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“We are not stiff. We’re not New York. We’re not button-down,” says Shaw. “We’re here to help each other. When you go to a networking event, it’s a bunch of brilliant people trying to help each other. We’re all out for each other’s success.” Sure, there are the occasional cutthroats, she admits, but they’re a minority in the otherwise welcoming community. Her advice to newcomers: “Everything in Silicon Beach is a brainstorm. Be friendly and use it.”