LA Tech Week: NFT Cocktails, Sushi and Networking
Photos by Drew Fiouz

LA Tech Week: NFT Cocktails, Sushi and Networking

Roughly 13 hours after venture capital kingmaker Andreessen Horowitz announced plans to invest $350 million into WeWork founder Adam Neumann’s new residential real estate company, a handful of fedoras are floating through a room of mostly 20-something startup founders, influencers and tech people hoping to rub shoulders with their angel. I’m at L.A. Tech Week’s opening night mixer at Famecast’s creator brand accelerator studio in Santa Monica.

The event—which is hosted by Zeal Reserve, 99 Ventures and Moonshots Capital, among others—is one of the final get-togethers in a day packed with nearly 40 others. Some of which included: an investor breakfast at Hermès, a lunch and fireside chat about the state of the climate hosted by venture capital investment company Blue Bear Capital, a number of crypto-centered happy hours and a yacht cruise.

Upon entering the Famecast studio, 400-some-odd guests step onto a red carpet where they pose for photos in front of a white background littered with names of the companies hosting one of L.A. Tech Week’s notoriously-difficult-to-get-into events: The running joke on Twitter is that L.A. Tech Week events are “harder to get into than Harvard.” Which, based on the number of people at the cafe meetup earlier in the day, who tell me their registration was either denied or “pending approval,” appears, at least anecdotally, to be true.

Inside Famecast’s West L.A. warehouse space, neon lights bounce off red brick walls. In the front of the house a few startup founders and people who are “looking for a side hustle,” are sitting in chairs suspended to the ceiling and huddled around a floating conference table covered in yellow, purple and red cans of rosé. To the left, an installation of sorts featuring forward-facing chrome, human-shaped heads wearing headphones. Between the make-shift sushi bar and the bathroom, a woman is selling Bluetooth audio sunglasses for $100 less than the glasses typically retail.

As you make your way to the back of the warehouse, a DJ with shortly cropped bleach hair wearing white sunglasses is spinning records in front of a projector screen illuminated with a miasma of familiar NFT characters. Yes, there’s an ape. And yes, it’s of the Yacht-Club variety. Throughout the night, I’ll hear people tell me that the project they’re working on is either an NFT or “like an NFT.”

One such individual is Alec Joseph, a musical artist and the co-creator of Conscious Cups which brands itself as, “a society of used coffee cups, awoken by radioactive mycelia in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The project appears, to me at least, to be a clever way for Joseph to promote his upcoming single “Conscious Cups.” The way it works is that people who purchase one of Joseph’s NFTs will have access to an exclusive Discord channel where they can connect and contribute to the project. Per Conscious Cups’ LinkedIn profile, holders of Conscious Cups NFTs will have the opportunity to get their profile pictures featured in one of Joseph’s upcoming music videos.

For better or worse, however, the room isn’t exclusively made up of web3 people. Ann Chan, a former product manager at Meta is the founder of Berry, a frictionless drop-in audio chat app for remote teams that need to discuss and resolve issues. Chan, who I met earlier at the L.A. Tech Week cafe meetup, is at the mixer to network and meet other founders who might be interested in using Berry as they test and develop the product. When I run into her towards the end of the evening, she tells me she’s struggled to meet founders with large enough teams—which is something she needs since her app is geared toward teams that have enough people to be naturally plagued by conflicts in their schedules.

Yet another non-web3 project is Roman and John Cresto’s Empire ECommerce — a one-stop, automated service provider for marketplace e-commerce stores. In layman's terms, they use machine learning to help people set up and automate their Amazon stores. When I ask Empire’s CEO Roman Cresto to give me his thoughts about the mixer he seems satisfied with the turnout before adding, “apparently Addison Rae’s dad is here.”

According to Ace Westwick, chief marketing officer at Zeal Reserve — an algorithmically powered crypto investment fund—the idea behind the mixer was to create an environment where investors, founders and people in tech can come together and have a good time. It helps, he quips, that they have enough booze to keep the “400-person crowd fully sedated for the entire night.” To his credit, several other people who I meet echo Westwick’s sentiment. They tell me that unlike Silicon Valley networking events, where everyone is just exchanging business cards and trying to differentiate between the posers and the money people, this L.A. Tech Week event is more like a party.

Sam Borghese, CEO and co-founder of Zeal Reserve and a professor at UCLA introduces me to Mack Abbott who works in public relations. “This is Mack,” he says. “She wants to be famous.” Borghese, who’s been featured in Bloomberg asks Abbott, what he needs to do to be featured in Forbes 30 under 30. According to Abott, there are two different ways: 1) Go to a bunch of tech conferences and schmooze with reporters, editors and expert judges who decide on these sorts of things. 2) Write a check for $30,000. Neither avenue appears to appeal to Borghese.

As the evening winds down in Santa Monica and the first day of L.A. Tech Week is almost nearly in the books, there’s an undeniable enthusiasm for the promises of an entire week of networking opportunities. With most of L.A. Tech Week’s events all but full, there’s no doubt that as the week progresses, attendees are sure to add to their list of Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections. I’ve made a handful of new LinkedIn connections myself.

While I watch waves of attendees wait for the Ubers that will take them to their hotels or their homes, I’m struck by the words of the bouncer at the beginning of the night. I asked him, while he was scanning my QR code, why he was using two different phones. First, he said something about iPhones and Androids before he stopped himself, laughed, shook his head and told me, “Technology is weird these days. But it’s cool.”

Can’t argue with that.

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Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
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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.