LA's Most Impressive Founders, According to the City's VCs

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

LA's Most Impressive Founders, According to the City's VCs

Los Angeles is home to thousands of founders working day and often night to create a startup that's the next breakout hit.

Who are the most impressive L.A. founders? To find out, we asked our cohort of dozens of L.A.'s to VCs top weigh in.

In somewhat of a surprise, given he has less high-profile than many other founders, Andrew Peterson, co-founder of the cybersecurity platform Signal Sciences, topped the list. Last year, he sold his company for $825 million to Fastly, which he joined during the transaction. He now leads the cloud computing giant's security practice.


Unfortunately, the list is lacking in diversity and does not include any females, which is emblematic of problems that continue to plague the industry.

A mere 1% of venture-backed companies are led by Black entrepreneurs. Last year, only a quarter of venture dollars nationwide went to companies with a female founder and L.A. fares especially poorly, ranking fourth for capital invested with female teams.

The complete list is below, in alphabetical order, except for Peterson, who received the most votes. The others were all tied.

Andrew Peterson,  Signal Sciences

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is the co-founder and former chief executive of Signal Sciences, a web application security platform that he founded in 2014 and was acquired in 2020 by Fastly in a $775 million deal. Signal Sciences protects web applications from attacks and data breaches for clients like Duo Security, Under Armor and DoorDash.

Prior to starting Signal Sciences, Peterson worked at Etsy, helping the online marketplace with international growth as a group project manager. Etsy reportedly became one of Signal Sciences's first customers. Peterson has also served stints as health information management officer at the Clinton Foundation and as a senior product specialist at Google.

Ara Mahdessian, ServiceTitan

Ara Mahdessian

Ara Mahdessian is the co-founder of ServiceTitan, a SaaS product for managing a home services business.

The inspiration for ServiceTitan, Mahdessian's first company, came from watching his parents start their own businesses in building and plumbing, only to struggle with the logistics behind keeping them running, he told Inc in 2019. Mahdessian and his co-founder Vahe Kuzoyan met while in college, and worked on several consulting projects before starting ServiceTitan, in hopes of aiding small business owners like their parents.

Evan Spiegel, Snap Inc

Evan Spiegel

Evan Spiegel is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Snap Inc., the Venice-based company known for its app Snapchat. He's also one of the youngest billionaires in the world, launching Snapchat while still an undergraduate at Stanford.

SnapChat, the company's app, has recently been taking on rival TikTok with a new feature and a program meant to attract creators to its platform. And it is been at the center of a larger national debate on the power of big tech.

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff is the founder of several companies, including dot.LA. He started his career as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, later leaving to co-found travel website Hotwire. After serving as vice president of lodging at Expedia, he went on to found Zillow, an online real estate marketplace that went public in 2011.

Rascoff's most recent project is Pacaso, a marketplace for buying, selling and co-owning a second home.

Tim Ellis, Relativity Space

Tim Ellis

Tim Ellis is the co-founder and chief executive of Relativity Space, an autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite constellations. He is the youngest member on the National Space Council Users Advisory Group and serves on the World Economic Forum as a "technology pioneer."

Before founding Relativity Space, Ellis studied aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California and interned at Masten Space Systems and Blue Origin, where he worked after graduation. He was a propulsion engineer and brought metal 3D printing in-house to the company.

Travis Schneider, PatientPop

Travis Schneider

Travis Schneider is the co-founder and co-chief executive of PatientPop, a practice growth platform for healthcare providers. He founded the company with Luke Kervin in 2014.

The two have founded three companies together, including ShopNation, a fashion shopping engine that was later acquired by the Meredith Commerce Network.

Luke Kervin, PatientPop

Luke Kervin

Luke Kervin is the other co-founder and co-chief of PatientPop. He is a serial entrepreneur — his first venture was Starbrand Media, which was acquired by Popsugar in May 2008.

Kervin and Schneider then founded ShopNation, and when it was acquired in 2012, Kervin served as the general manager and vice president at the Meredith Commerce Network for a few years before leaving to found PatientPop.

Kervin had the idea for PatientPop when he and his wife were expecting their first child, he told VoyageLA. They were frustrated with how the healthcare system wasn't focused on the consumers it was meant to serve. So in 2014, he and Schneider created PatientPop.


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How To Startup: Part 5 - Minimum Viable Product

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.

Minimum Viable Product
Image by Master1305/ Shutterstock

When thinking about tech giants like Facebook, Amazon or Google, it’s hard to imagine their weak and humble beginnings. When going from nothing to something, the founders of these companies all had similar startup journeys - they started with a minimum viable product or MVP. In the same way you can’t build a house without laying the foundation, you can’t create a successful product without building an MVP.

The Purpose of MVP

One of the biggest reasons startups fail is because founders design their initial product based on assumptions. As an entrepreneur, you don’t want to put an enormous amount of time, effort and money into a product the market may not even want.

Quibi - yes, that Quibi - is an excellent example of this. After spending upwards of $63 million, Quibi never quite found its footing among TikTok, YouTube and its many streaming competitors. The company never ran an MVP or any experimental public beta to test what kind of content and features resonated well with audiences, and simply built a product that nobody wanted or needed. After raising $1.75 billion in venture capital, the company shut down less than a year after its initial launch. This is why starting with an MVP is so important.

How To Build An MVP

By definition, a minimum viable product is a product with enough features to attract early-adopter customers and validate a product idea early in the development cycle. It allows founders to collect the maximum amount of user feedback with the least amount of effort. When building an MVP, you’ll want to keep the following things in mind:

- Answer the right question. It’s important to determine what your central hypothesis is. When Airbnb’s founders wanted to see if they had a viable idea, they didn’t rent out space or buy new beds. They simply tested the question “Will strangers pay to stay in my apartment?” by providing a free lodging experience in their living room with the promise of networking with like-minded people.

- Decide which metrics matter. Identify what will define the success of your product. Common MVP metrics include churn rate, customer acquisition cost, average revenue per user and lifetime value of a customer. However, the data collected should include both qualitative and quantitative insights about how your product is used and what customers actually think about it.

- Actively measure what you are testing. It is important to continuously test, measure and learn until the product is finalized.

- Build internally if possible. It’s easier to meet internal needs and challenges first. For example, the original Twitter prototype was designed for internal users at (the now closed) Odeo as a way to send messages to other employees and view them on a group level. After initial internal testing and positive feedback, Twitter launched publicly in 2006.

- Do things that don’t scale. In this early stage, you have nothing to lose. Create a great experience for initial users and cater to their needs. Put in the extra amount of effort while you continue to build confidence. Talk with every user and every customer, and do things that would never scale once the company gets bigger. For example, Yelp’s founder Jeremy Stoppelman famously went to every bar in San Francisco to pitch them on Yelp in the early days.

Not Great But Good Enough

When launching Zillow in 2006, we had to decide how good is good enough to launch. The first version of the product had Zestimates on 40 million homes with about a 12% margin of error. When launching, we knew that the Zestimates weren’t going to be entirely accurate and mainly just wanted to see how Americans would react to being able to publicly view valuations and information about homes.

We actually held up the Zillow launch by about two months to avoid angry and upset consumers. We spent this time building out an extra feature called My Estimate that allowed users to modify the estimates of their home with information Zillow didn’t have, such as for things like remodeling or significant changes to square footage. We were worried people might not be happy if the estimate was incorrect and they couldn’t do anything about it, which is why we held off. It was a difficult decision to push back the launch, but worth it in the long run. When striking this balance between our MVP and V1, we knew it didn’t have to be great but just good enough to entice users. Now, 15 years later, Zillow has upwards of 100 million homes with about a 3% margin of error, and the product is much more fully evolved.

Key Takeaway

The key takeaway here is that MVP allows organizations to start small, and slowly build up to the best version of their product. When starting Hotwire, we started by just selling airline tickets from a few carriers. Later we expanded to include more airlines, additional flight options, and eventually hotels, rental cars and cruises. But the early MVP was as stripped down as possible. See below for Hotwire’s beta site in 2000. About as bare-bones as it gets.

Image from HotwireAn MVP of Hotwire sold airline tickets from just a few carriers.Image from Hotwire

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At VidCon, Investors Are Still ‘Betting Big’ on the Creator Economy

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Vidcon 2022
Photo by Kristin Snyder

The creator economy is the bedrock of this week’s VidCon convention, which is drawing creators, companies, investors and fans alike to Anaheim to discuss the rapidly growing realm of digital content and entertainment.

To discuss how investors, in particular, are viewing the booming creator landscape, Thursday’s “Betting Big on the Creator Economy” panel featured the likes of MaC Venture Capital partner Zhenni Liu, Investcorp managing director Anand Radhakrishnan, Team8 Fintech managing partner Yuval Tal and Paladin co-founder and CEO James Creech.

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Netflix Lays Off Another 300 People

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Netflix Lays Off Another 300 People
Photo by DCL "650" on Unsplash

Netflix has imposed its second round of layoffs in less than a month, cutting another 300 people from its staff.

“Today we sadly let go of around 300 employees,” a Netflix spokesperson confirmed to dot.LA. “While we continue to invest significantly in the business, we made these adjustments so that our costs are growing in line with our slower revenue growth.”

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