Spencer Rascoff is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire and dot.LA, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. He is currently executive chairman of dot.LA and a board member at Zillow and TripAdvisor. In fall 2019, Spencer was a Visiting Executive Professor at Harvard Business School where he co-taught the "Managing Tech Ventures" course. In 2015, Spencer co-wrote and published his first book, the New York Times' Best Seller "Zillow Talk: Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate." Spencer is the host of "Office Hours," a monthly podcast on dot.LA featuring candid conversations between prominent executives on leadership, diversity and inclusion, and startups.
by Spencer Rascoff, Co-Founder
Four years ago, I moved back to Los Angeles, my hometown. I'd spent the previous 15 years running a startup in Seattle (Zillow) and the five years before that at my prior startup in San Francisco (Hotwire). After almost 20 years away, it was time to come home.
Both San Francisco and Seattle have well-deserved, global reputations for innovation. Their tech scenes are robust, and I was proud to have played an active role in each of them as a founder, angel investor, mentor to other startups, and tech exec. But L.A.?
When I came back to L.A. in 2016, I was blown away by all the innovation that was happening here. We had great companies here: Snap, Tinder, Bird, Cloud Kitchens, and many more. But the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit was much more widespread than I suspected. After I moved back, I reconnected with many old friends and started to plug into the tech and startup scene. I advised entrepreneurs, met with VCs and invested in some companies, which gave me incredible insight to the diversity of companies being started here, and the spirit of the people innovating here.
I found that L.A. has all the ingredients necessary for a vibrant tech and startup ecosystem: angel investors, early- and late-stage VCs, private equity, unicorns, big exits, public companies, and great universities. In short, there was much more going on in L.A. tech than I expected.
The tech and startup scene in L.A. is geographically spread out (from Venice and Santa Monica to the west, to downtown L.A. and Silver Lake to the east; from the north San Fernando Valley to El Segundo to the South), and is spread across so many industries (aerospace, gaming, ecommerce, AdTech, FoodTech, media, and more). Because of its breadth and diversity, no one seemed to have a good handle on the size and scope of the overall LA tech scene. There was no town crier to unify the community and to shine a light on it. In short, the missing ingredient was journalism.
That's where dot.LA comes in. We are a news and events company with a mission of shining a light on the innovation in the L.A. startup and tech community.
We're inspired by Geekwire in Seattle and TechCrunch in the Bay Area -- both fantastic sources of journalism and essential parts of their communities. We're also inspired by the great outlets that cover the entertainment industry. In fact, our editor-in-chief comes to dot.LA from Variety.
I can't think of a better time to launch dot.LA. The 2020s are going to be an explosive decade for our city and its business community. I predict that in 2030, we'll look back and say the 20s were to L.A. as the 00s were to San Francisco: a decade that changed everything, and redefined how people across the world look at our city. We are already home to companies operating at the fascinating intersections of tech, fashion, entertainment, pop culture and media. That's distinctly LA, and it's only going to grow. One of the first tasks of the editorial team at dot.LA was to conduct a census of the size and scope of the tech scene here, and we were impressed by what we found. We identified over hundreds of tech companies and startups covering dozens of subsectors of tech, with hundreds of thousands of employees across Los Angeles. As I said, there's more here than most people realize!
dot.LA will be here to chronicle it all. Our newsroom is already staffed with 7 incredible reporters from places like The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and NPR. With more reporters dedicated to covering Los Angeles startups and entrepreneurship than any other news outlet, dot.LA's reporting team will tell the stories of great L.A. startups and tech companies.
I hope dot.LA can play another important role as we enter this new decade. At this moment, L.A. has a distinct advantage. We can go into this decade with our eyes wide open, and we can make intentional decisions about our values. We can create a shared culture that will see us through and beyond that explosive growth. We can learn from the other start-ups hubs that came before us, and ensure we don't make the same mistakes. We can -- and should -- prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion at the beginning of our growth, when it can become ingrained into how we run our businesses.
L.A. is hungry for dot.LA. When my co-founder and dot.LA CEO Sam Adams started to fundraise for the project, the interest was immediate. Around 100 people and companies in the L.A. tech scene have invested in our $4 million seed round. We have funding from traditional VCs, but also from a diverse base of companies and individuals. The L.A. Dodgers and Snap, Inc., are investors, as are entrepreneurs and executives from dozens of leading L.A. tech companies. You can see a full list here.
We are at the beginning of an incredible story. I'm happy that dot.LA will be here to cover it.
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It's never been a better time to "murder your thirst."
Seven months after raising more than $9 million in Series A funding, Santa Monica-based canned water startup Liquid Death has raised $23 million in Series B funding.
The round was led by an unnamed consumer-focused family office and participated in by Convivialité Ventures, Fat Mike (NOFX), Pat McAfee, existing investor in Velvet Sea Ventures and others.
Eliminating battery waste, developing new hair growth therapy, fixing carbon dioxide. These are among some of the ambitious problems that companies are trying to solve at the First Look SoCal Innovation Showcase beginning Tuesday.
Hosted by nonprofit Alliance for SoCal Innovation, the online event connects early-stage tech and life science companies with investors and serial entrepreneurs.
BioZen Batteries Aims to Solve Our Energy Storage Issues<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0Nzg5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTg3OTYyNn0.y9dSMjovB1GtsQ1SZhKiPTIJY3VW0XOE2YXd-JN1xYU/image.jpg?width=980" id="95064" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3ad9197ad70005802e6d34d6da3c29d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Left to right: BioZen Batteries' co-founders Zach Rengert, Nate Kirchhofer and Eric Brigham.<p>Nate Kirchhofer, co-founder and CEO of <a href="https://biozenbatteries.com/" target="_blank">BioZen Batteries</a>, wants to make batteries that will outlive him.</p><p>Santa Barbara-based BioZen creates organic electrolytes, the active material inside a specific type of battery called a "redox flow battery." It's a different type of technology that differs from the lithium batteries often used in mobile applications like cars and phones. Only 5% of those get recycled.</p><p>BioZen's batteries are well suited for green, large-scale energy storage, Kirchhofer said. For example, batteries that help solar panels connect to the grid or provide backup during disasters when the power goes out.</p><p>Kirchhofer, an electrochemist, founded the company in June of 2019 with Zach Rengert, a materials chemist, and Eric Brigham, the company's CFO. Kirchhofer and Rengert met while getting their doctorate at UC Santa Barbara.</p><p>There hasn't yet been a push for sustainable batteries because it isn't economically incentivized, Kirchhofer told dot.LA. He said that his batteries are cheaper than competitors.</p><p>Kirchhofer's product fits into a growing renewable energy market and a social movement in which individuals want to do their part. He's worked for four startups but says this one is poised to make the biggest impact.</p><p>"If it's not our generation that solves climate change, there's not another chance. There's not another Earth." he said. "If we can make these batteries happen, we can truly integrate renewable energy and stop the petroleum-dominated energy paradigm we're part of."</p>
Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus
Amplifica Treats Baldness with Mole Molecules<p>Back in 2013, Amplifica's founder Dr. Maksim Plikus began studying hairy moles. Though some find the growths unsightly, his work showed promise for baldness treatment.</p><p>He, along with colleagues at UC Irvine, discovered that molecules from moles that grow excessive hair can induce follicle growth when administered anywhere on the skin.</p><p>"As long as you can tease it out and replicate it in the form of purified molecules, you can achieve essentially what we think would be a novel, revolutionary solution to baldness," Plikus told dot.LA.</p><p>Plikus said his company is the first to solve hair loss by replicating cells from hairy moles to stimulate hair growth. At the moment, hair follicle research has emerged as a leading experimental model for studying stem cells.</p><p>By 2025, hair-loss products are projected to surpass $12 billion, Plikus said. But only two drugs are FDA approved and require daily treatment in the form of pills, which he said come with long-term side effects.</p><p>Amplifica says it's poised to put a more effective and convenient solution on the market. Pinkus' proposed product is a topical solution requiring less frequent application, like getting Botox injections a few times per year.</p>
FixingCO2 Aims to Recycle Fuel from the Air<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDI0ODM4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA1ODA4MH0.9RqwD9zUN1et1kor8zNPj8WH2kOX6SrysdpRDFT5QMc/image.jpg?width=980" id="daa89" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9851b177139c4b5e06bd9c96fb395083" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
FixingCO2's team. CEO Eldar Akhmetgaliyev is at right.<p><a href="https://fixingco2.com/" target="_blank">FixingCO2</a> got its start on Mars. Like the name says, the company aims to fix the global carbon problem that's fueling climate change.</p><p>In 2018, co-founder Alma Zhanaidarova's professor and research group at UC San Diego received a grant from NASA to build out a reactor that makes renewable fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide, often a byproduct of industrial waste. The technology was being developed in anticipation of a one-day human mission to Mars, where 95% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide.</p><p>Now, the San Diego-based startup is commercializing their product for earthlings.</p><p>"It's a different application but the same core technology," co-founder Eldar Akhmetgaliyev told dot.LA. "Instead of making fuels from oil or any other fossil sources, we can make them essentially from air."</p><p>The team is developing the hardware to capture industrial emissions blamed for much of the Earth's warming. The product has significant application for the aviation industry, where planes are built to burn jet fuel that produces carbon emissions.</p><p>"These kinds of technologies provide them a pathway to decarbonization," he said. "They can use fuels made from CO2 so they're not contributing to climate change."</p><p>As fires burn through California and the Pacific Northwest, Akhmetgaliyev said there's urgency for innovators in the carbon tech market. "We're pretty much turning our planet into Mars," he said.</p><p>He said that by 2050, about 14% of overall carbon reduction will come from carbon capture and utilization (CCUS) technology like his.</p><p>"The market hasn't met its opportunity and with the effects of climate change being seen everyday, there's going to be more drive towards these low carbon technologies."</p>
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