Column: Conference Season Is Here. Are They Worth It?

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Column: Conference Season Is Here. Are They Worth It?
Image by David Ruano

How To Make The Most Of Conferences

Fall is much more than the season of change or when school’s back in session. It’s the beginning of “conference season,” when hundreds of business conferences pop up worldwide, attracting professionals from all industries. The question is, though: are they worth it—especially for busy startup founders and leaders?

Build Your Network

At a startup, time is your most precious resource so spending it at a conference can feel like a waste of time. However, there is something to be gained for everyone who attends a conference, whether it's learning the latest skills in your field, meeting a new business partner or investor, or solidifying that M&A connection. It’s important to be building these types of relationships far earlier than when you may need them—and conferences are a great place to do that.

Optimize Your Time

At a conference where you only have a few days or even 24 hours to fit everything in, don’t waste your time. Start by looking at the list of speakers and attendees in advance on the conference website. Are there investors, potential customers or partners attending that you would love to speak to? Try to contact them and set up a time to speak one-on-one during the conference, especially so they don’t feel ambushed if you ask during the conference. If you don’t want to schedule meet-ups ahead of time, I recommend reaching out to people and offering to exchange cell numbers so you can text to meet up once you’re on site. A lot of conferences make it easy now with apps where you can connect and schedule a meeting ahead of time. Be willing to make the time, even if it’s just 10 minutes, to try meeting someone in person. This will help you build a more personal connection than one over Zoom.

Additionally, use your meals and drinks strategically. This could be a great moment to get one-on-one time with an important person or group that you want to speak with. The actual content of the conference is important, but in my opinion the hallway chats are even more critical. Nevertheless, if you see a particularly interesting topic for your industry's future, make sure to block off that time as well. You could learn something that could completely change how you do business.

Make An Impression

Something that many people overlook is the advantage of using social media during conference season. I always like to live tweet sessions using the conference hashtag and tagging the right people involved. This is a great way to gain followers, build your profile and stay connected with those who you met at the conference. It also gives people who aren’t at the conference insight into what is going on at the event. Afterward, take the 20 minutes to write a blog post about your experience and post it to LinkedIn. It could be the difference between a lost connection and a long-term relationship.

In Summary

So, is it worth it? For the actual conference content: maybe. For the networking opportunities: Absolutely. A conference could be one of the few times you can connect with trailblazers in your industry. While some conferences are pricey and can feel like a waste of time, attending them can be a great business investment. If you plan correctly, you could change the direction of your company for the better. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people you meet there because many if not all conference attendees are open to help.

The dot.LA Summit

If you’re reading this on dot.LA, you’ll probably be interested in the upcoming dot.LA Summit. The summit focuses on the L.A. tech and startup ecosystem, inviting hundreds of the top founders and investors. There will be speakers such as Julia Boorstin from CNBC, Alex Israel from Metropolis Technologies and Brian Lee from BAM Ventures. Plus, there will be a pitch competition for the newer founders looking to impress financers in the L.A. area. Sign up for the 3rd annual dot.LA Summit on October 20th and 21st here.

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

Three Wishes Cereal Co-Founder Margaret Wishingrad on ‘The Power of No’

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Three Wishes Cereal Co-Founder Margaret Wishingrad on ‘The Power of No’
Provided by BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

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If Angelenos Don’t Seize the Curb, They Risk Losing Sidewalk Dining

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Connie Llanos, Jordan Justus and Gene Oh
Justin Janes, Vizeos Media

Three years ago, Los Angeles went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, cities like L.A. are struggling to hold on to pandemic-era transportation and infrastructure changes, like sidewalk dining and slow streets, while managing escalating demand for curb space from rideshare and delivery.

At Curbivore, a conference dedicated to “commerce at the curb” held earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, the topic was “Grading on a Curb: The State of our Streets & Cities in 2023,” a panel moderated by Drew Grant, editorial director for dot.LA.

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