Join tens of thousands of other founders, investors, and operators who subscribe to dot.LA for the most important tech news in their inbox 2x a week.
Get access to
Get in the KNOW
on LA Startups & TechX
Join tens of thousands of other founders, investors, and operators who subscribe to dot.LA for the most important tech news in their inbox 2x a week.
Get access to
The year is 2004. Kelly Clarkson just released her hit single “Breakaway,” and you’re listening to it on your 3rd generation iPod Classic. You’re about to head out to catch an evening showing of the original “Anchorman” movie. But before you leave, you check your MySpace account to see how many people commented on your latest photo.The company, which officially launched in 2003, would lay the groundwork for some of the biggest social media sites of the next two decades.
“Users were coming back four to five times a day… we saw this incessant, addictive usage,” said Brett Brewer, co-founder and managing director of Crosscut Ventures. “MySpace was the first time we figured out that people, as it turns out, are pretty fascinated with themselves.”
At its peak in 2008, the site had more than 115 million unique users. But the rapid growth of the Santa Monica-based social media company also signified something more: It was an early marker of the tech hub that Los Angeles would become.And though the MySpace website is practically defunct nearly 20 years after its launch, the people who created one of the pillars of social media technology continue to have an active role in Los Angeles’s ever evolving tech scene.
MySpace wouldn’t have been what it was without the team that built it, said Josh Berman, its co-founder and former COO. Now, as a partner at VC firm Troy Capital, something Berman looks for in companies he invests in is not just a smart and dedicated team, but a multi-talented one.
“You want to have a person on the team that knows technology, you want a product person, you want a team that has the operations know-how, and strategy and marketing, etcetera,” he said.
Along with having a strong team, Josh Brooks, former VP of programming and music at MySpace said being able to rely on expertise from people with experience in your industry can be a game changer. That way, said Brooks, who’s now the EVP of marketing and operations at metaverse gaming studio Plai Labs, “you don't always start from scratch, because you actually have a genuine relationship with a pretty wide variety of people.”
Another important lesson: “infatuation with what the customers wanted,” Berman said. Every product update with MySpace was centered around what customers were asking for.
Like Berman, Chris DeWolfe, MySpace Co-founder and former CEO, said putting user experience first was one of the most important practices he learned.
Following his tenure at MySpace, DeWolfe stayed in the consumer side of tech, spending 12 years building mobile gaming giant Jam City and now leading Plai Labs. In every venture, user experience has remained DeWolfe’s north star. “If you build a great user experience, people will keep coming back and the money will always follow,” he said.
From his days as CEO of MySpace between 2009 and 2011, Mike Jones, who’s currently the CEO of venture firm Science, came to understand what makes a social media company really work. “My understanding of how content moves through social media and how you can work with consumers in the social media space became a big cornerstone for many of the companies that work within Science,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, as a seed stage investor, Brewer often finds himself recalling mistakes he made as a cofounder of MySpace parent company Intermix Media. “A bunch of those seemingly simple rules, like growing too fast or outsourcing technology development, I learned all those as an entrepreneur and tried to bring those to the equation as a venture investor,” he said.
Hindsight’s always 2020. And while there isn’t much that Berman would change, the founding team of DeWolfe, Aber Whitcomb, Tom Anderson and himself had “so much good energy” that one thing he’d have done differently is held onto MySpace a little longer. The founders sold the company to News Corp. for $580 million in 2005.
“We were young and we had a first opportunity to sell and have a nice exit, so we did,” said Berman. “If we would have just focused more on the customer, maybe kept it a little longer, it could have been an interesting, fun experience.”
DeWolfe echoed Berman’s point: If they held onto the company a bit longer, the team might have walked away with a better paycheck. “If we had waited probably two more years to sell, we could have sold it for 10 times what we sold it for,” he added.
From a product perspective, DeWolfe wished the team remained focused on what they were building and kept an emphasis on user experience. Revenue targets set by News Corp., unfortunately, got in the way, he said.
“Our biggest competitors were losing $100 million a year and doing no revenue,” DeWolfe said. “But we were expected to do a billion. It forced us to overload some of our pages with advertising, which hurt the user experience.”
Echoing DeWolfe’s point, Brooks said he always felt that MySpace’s products went “an inch deep and a mile wide,” lacking focus on the communication and connection in an attempt to always offer something new.
“There was a time when there were classifieds, and there was chat, and a Skype integration, dating and games, and even karaoke,” Brooks said. “It almost felt like there's too much. And so the product got a little thin.”
Looking back, money management is one thing Brewer would have changed. “We were constantly nearly running out of money, nearly going bankrupt,” he said. Always having to worry about how we're going to keep the lights on. What ends up happening is so much time and energy and focus is on that, that you don't have as much as you should've building world class products.”
One other regret? Not trying harder to buy Facebook, said Brewer. “Facebook started after MySpace and was a tiny little company that we tried to buy, but in hindsight, I wish we would have tried harder, for obvious reasons.”
Down the line, Facebook proved to be an extremely difficult competitor for MySpace, said Jones. He would have liked if MySpace picked a lane, leaning harder into personal, friend-to-friend connections like other social platforms did rather than trying to have an iron in every fire.
Getting engineers to live in LA in the early 2000’s to work on MySpace wasn’t an easy task, Brewer said. “What was always holding LA back was that we could get companies to a certain size, but you couldn't actually get huge because you couldn't get a critical mass of talent,” said Brewer.
But what gave MySpace the ability to attract the talent it did was its place in the entertainment business, Brooks said. Because MySpace had worked so closely with musicians and artists, the company was able to create a “gravitational pull” of tech workers that were excited about the prospect of bringing creativity into their work, Brooks said. Adding that, “the entertainment aspect and what we were doing with the creative community was a big driver for the tech folks.
And despite its eventual fall, MySpace was proof that a tech company could successfully grow after planting its roots in Los Angeles. In between the launch of MySpace in the early 2000’s and early 2010’s, Silicon Valley-based companies like YouTube, Google and Netflix opened up their first offices in LA, Brewer said.
Startups then began popping up practically by the hundreds, with the number of local startups growing from around 1,000 in 2014 to nearly 4,000 in 2022. After MySpace, companies like Snap, Tinder and Hulu were some of the first startups of that era to flourish and draw the attention of investors.
“You no longer have the concern as a talented engineer of moving here to work for a startup, because if your startup doesn't work, there's 50 other startups that are ready to hire you,” Brewer said.
As companies started placing their roots here, VC dollars followed, said DeWolfe. Back in the day, the MySpace team had to make frequent trips up to Menlo Park to meet with VC firms, DeWolfe said, because “that's where all the money was.”
“Now we're seeing virtually every venture capital firm have a presence in Los Angeles,” he added. “It's gone from being a two VC town to really everyone having an outpost here.”
One very specific factor might continue to accelerate local innovation, Jones said: “the Olympics coming to LA in 2028 and the focus on technology for those Olympics … It's going to be a big win for the startup community in and around LA over the next five years.”
It’s undeniable that LA’s tech scene is booming. But the thing that really makes LA unique is that it has something for everyone, DeWolfe said, with much more diversity of industry than places like Silicon Valley.
“People love LA because it's not just a tech town,” said DeWolfe. “It has tech, it has entertainment. It has an amazing art scene. It's got the beach, it's got the weather. It has everything more so than virtually any other city. These multifaceted traits of LA inspire a wider variety of ideas and creators that are all attracted to the city for different reasons.”
LA is also a city of opportunity, Brooks said. The entertainment hub, access to capital from a now-booming VC community, and landscape filled with companies from all stages of growth give founders the freedom to not be pigeonholed into one sector of tech. “I think there's only a handful of cities that fit that DNA,” he added.
Los Angeles, according to Jones, “has always driven culture and style, and for consumer-focused startups, the LA talent pool provides a lot of strong talent to build disruptive new products and services.”
And as cheesy as it sounds, LA’s tech community “operates like a large family,” Brewer said. In part, Brewer adds, because LA’s tech market was small and scrappy in the early days of MySpace, and founders, executives and investors “had to work together to survive.”
“This would be unheard of in other tech markets,” Brewer said. “This behavior remains today and makes our ecosystem special.”
According to a Forbes report last April, both the viewership and dollars behind women’s sports at a collegiate and professional level are growing.
In 2022, the first 32 games of the NCAA tournament had record attendance levels, breaking records set back in 2004, and largely driven by the new and rapidly growing women’s NCAA tournament. WNBA openers this year saw a 21% spike in attendance, with some teams including the LA Sparks reporting triple-digit ticket sales growth, about 121% over 2022’s total. In 2023, the average size of an LA Sparks crowd swelled to 10,396 people, up from 4,701 people.
Women make up half the population, but “also 50% of the folks that are walking into the stadium at Dodger Stadium, or your NFL fans are just about 50% women,” noted Erin Storck, a panelist and senior analyst at Los Angeles-based Elysian Park Ventures.
Storck added that in heterosexual households, women generally manage most of the family’s money, giving them huge purchasing power, a potential advantage for female-run leagues. “There's an untapped revenue opportunity,” she noted.
In the soccer world, Los Angeles-based women’s soccer team Angel City FC has put in the work to become a household name, not just in LA County but across the nation. At an LA Tech Week panel hosted by Athlete Strategies about investing in sports, Angel City head of strategy and chief of staff Kari Fleischauer said that years before launching the women’s National Women’s Soccer League team, Angel City FC was pounding the pavement letting people know about the excitement ladies soccer can bring. She noted community is key, and that fostering a sense of engagement and safety at the team’s home venue, BMO stadium (formerly Banc of California Stadium), is one reason fans keep coming back.
Adding free metro rides to BMO stadium and private rooms for nursing fans to breastfeed or fans on the spectrum to avoid sensory overload, were just some of the ways ACFC tried to include its community in the concept of its stadium, Fleischauer said. She noted, though, that roughly 46% of Angel City fans are “straight white dudes hanging out with their bros.”
“Particularly [on] the woman's side, I'd like to think we do a better job of making sure that there's spaces for everyone,” Fleischauer told the audience. “One thing we realize is accessibility is a huge thing.”
L.A. Tech Week has brought venture capitalists, founders and entrepreneurs from around the world to the California coast. With so many tech nerds in one place, it's easy to laugh, joke and reminisce about the future of tech in SoCal.
Here's what people are saying about the fifth day of L.A. Tech Week on social:
#LATechWeek has been on 🔥🔥🔥. Yes the events are super cool at amazing venues. But, I’m blown away by the people. I’ve met so many founders building generative AI companies from the ground up. I’m so bullish on LA right now🥳. LA is for builders #longLA
Thanks @rpnickson 📸 pic.twitter.com/B6rT2jJYIs
— Dr. Kelly O'Brien (@Kvo2013) June 8, 2023
Successful LatinxVC Avanza Summit 2023 in LA! It’s been an amazing few days near the beach w great company. Thank you to our panelists & participants.
Huge thanks to our incredible sponsors SVB, Chavez Family Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, PledgeLA, Fenwick & West, Countsy! pic.twitter.com/oVuGIgFurk
— LatinxVC (@LatinxVCs) June 9, 2023
30+ gaming startups presented at the A16z Speedrun Demo Day in LA yesterday. Great thanks to the @a16zGames team for an awesome day of events! #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/DKq8IFo5QZ
— Grace Zhou (@graceminzhou) June 9, 2023
📣🤩 What’s the buzz? It’s #LATechWeek from @TechstarsLA & @TechstarsHealth joint demo day with the #Techstar HC team where our @fyelabs founder/CEO Suvojit Ghosh mentored both cohorts! #TechStars demo day highlighted 12 amazing emerging #startups in #healthtech #innovation. 🩺 pic.twitter.com/0RXClCtfDQ
— FYELABS (@fyelabs) June 9, 2023
Another successful Coffee On Slauson in the books for #LATechWeek.
Special thanks to the good people at Pledge LA, SVB and @GundersonLaw for the ongoing support and the @findyourhilltop staff for providing the space, eats & vibes. ♻️ pic.twitter.com/51cMDoEn30
— Slauson & Co. (@SlausonAndCo) June 9, 2023
The perfect combo to start #LATechWeek Day 5: pastries, coffee, and great convos with industry founders ✨
Fireside chats with @enriquealle, @wp, and @robynpark pic.twitter.com/booYPdekVV
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Of course @designerfund has the most amazing pastries at their event. #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/PjyWlGTQI4
— Jesse Pickard (@jessepickard) June 9, 2023
My favorite event from @Techweek_ has to be "Modern Storytelling & Business Building." Hosted by @STHoward #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/SV1eexMJ4k
— JonnyZeller (@JonnyZeller) June 9, 2023
And the finale of the night was courtesy of the one and only @zedd for an unforgettable end to the "City of Games" party! Hosted by @a16zGames and @100Thieves #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/hliI9yLKse
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Excited to be at the @a16zGames Speedrun Demo Day! Loved the energy and excitement from the companies that pitched there. It was also great to see @Tocelot and @ndrewlee at this amazing #LATechWeek event pic.twitter.com/NfLQO5lR27
— Andy Lee | andypwlee.bit (@andypwlee) June 9, 2023
Thank you to everyone who joined the Sony Venture Fund US team at #LATechWeek for our screening of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Last summer, we started building a presence in LA. Today, it's exciting to host such an event with the @Sony family and the LA VC community. pic.twitter.com/wdDm6qtHdL
— Sony Innovation Fund (@Sony_Innov_Fund) June 9, 2023
Time to eat, connect and build while @remi_rodney provided the vibes. 🙏🏽#LATechWeek @BuildOnBase @developer_dao @WeAreRazorfish pic.twitter.com/QIPh1gjvoA
— Hola Metaverso-Blockchain & New Web Tech Events 🎪 (@holametaverso) June 9, 2023
@Lux_Capital at #LATechWeek advancing the impossible to inevitable, from..
..defense primes partnering with cutting edge defense tech startups, to..
..hardware x LLMs improving mental health.
From the rich and diverse LA ecosystem stems generational companies: pic.twitter.com/v5S5r8JtbU
— Shahin Farshchi (@Farshchi) June 9, 2023
LA Tech Week has been a blast! Met some amazing creators, founders and investors from all over the world! #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/AAh9JFELhe
— Chris Germano (@netslayer) June 9, 2023
Had such a blast at LA Tech Week and hosting events for @brexHQ
Top highlights were collabing with @pulley on an Emerging Managers / Founder mixer at the @poplco House, rooftop event in Venice, creator panel with @thechangj & proper Korean food with in KTown.
Exhausted is an… pic.twitter.com/mGQnSYGPdg
— Τyler Robinson (@TyyRob3) June 9, 2023
Did you have fun at @sophiaamoruso’s launch party for @trustfundvc? #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/gbrbXRQ9Xx
— Kay (@KaySnels) June 9, 2023
y00tilty in every city with @KaylaLor3n & @cryptochrisg813.
Welcome to the LA @y00tsNFT fam! #LATechWeek #3XP week. pic.twitter.com/6wWKlsTacx
— VanG0xH (@CryptoVanGoghs) June 9, 2023
Really enjoyed #LATechWeek. Here are some observations I made 👇
— s.personal.ai (Suman Kanuganti) (@SumanPersonalAI) June 9, 2023
Thank you @TheKofiAmpadu for including me in #demoday with the latest @a16ztxo cohort! It was a real full circle moment to witness the brilliance of both @ChrisLyons & @ZMuse_ & #PledgeLA very own. She’s why we’re #LongLA 🚀💕 #LAtechweek pic.twitter.com/itkKXMxQRb
— Qiana Qiana! (@Q_i_a_n_a) June 9, 2023
@upfrontvc Gaming Founders Podcast #iLOVELA #LATechWeek @Techweek_ @KatiaAmeri @mucker @fikavc @bonfire_vc @TenOne10 @WatertowerGroup @ganasvc @IAmRobRyan @john_at_stonks @eva_ho @dereknorton pic.twitter.com/LCbaGXCoW7
— Sean Goldfaden (@seangoldfaden) June 9, 2023
Hosts Kevin Zhang, Partner at @upfrontvc, and Eden Chen, CEO of @pragmaplatform, interviewed two special guests from @raidbaseinc Stephen Lim, Co-Founder & Product Director, and Trevor Romleski, Co-Founder & Game Director. 🎙 #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/hxHEAoELZ6
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Kicking off @a16zGames @100Thieves City of Games party at #LATechWeek 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/zQcZedG15f
— Jon Lai (@Tocelot) June 9, 2023
Yesterday at @socinnovation I got to have this AWESOME conversation with @iamwill — musician, producer, technology entrepreneur, and Founder & CEO of https://t.co/D60y1e2JOu #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/KBxK6rXyTG
— Anna Barber (@annawbarber) June 9, 2023
I absolutely love this game. Proud moment for the team @investwithatlas. #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/fPZvKXU7TC
— Tobias Francis (@TobiasFrancis) June 9, 2023
Had a blast at LA Tech Week this year with @brexHQ
From hosting & moderating my first creator panel featuring @BlakeMichael14, to a fun rooftop night in Venice, and to attending some amazing events such as Watertower’s emerging manager panel and a VC/founder tennis tournament pic.twitter.com/udjfmLHE0L
— Jonathan Chang (@thechangj) June 8, 2023
At Lowercarbon Capital’s LA Tech Week event Thursday, the synergy between the region’s aerospace industry and greentech startups was clear.
The event sponsored by Lowercarbon, Climate Draft (and the defunct Silicon Valley Bank’s Climate Technology & Sustainability team) brought together a handful of local startups in Hawthorne not far from LAX, and many of the companies shared DNA with arguably the region’s most famous tech resident: SpaceX.
Here’s a look at the greentech startups that pitched during the Tech Week event, and how they think what they’re building could help solve the climate crisis.
Arbor: Based in El Segundo, this year-old startup is working to convert organic waste into energy and fresh water. At the same time, it also uses biomass carbon removal and storage to remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in an attempt to avoid further damaging the earth’s ozone layer. At the Tech Week event Thursday, Arbor CEO Brad Hartwig told a stunned crowd that Arbor aims to remove about five billion tons of organic waste from landfills and turn that into about 6 PWh, or a quarter of the global electricity need, each year. Hartwig is an alumni of SpaceX; he was a manufacturing engineer on the Crew Dragon engines from 2016-2018 and later a flight test engineer at Kitty Hawk.
Antora: Sunnyvale-based Antora Energy was founded in 2017, making it one of the oldest companies on the pitching block during the event. Backed by investors including the National Science Foundation and Los Angeles-based Overture VC, Antora has raised roughly $57 million to date, most recently a $50 million round last February. Chief operating officer Justin Briggs said Antora’s goal is to modernize and popularize thermal energy storage using ultra-hot carbon. Massive heated carbon blocks can give off thermal energy, which Antora’s proprietary batteries then absorb and store as energy. It’s an ambitious goal, but one the world needs at scale to green its energy footprint. According to Briggs, “the biggest challenge is how can we turn back variable intermittent renewable electricity into something that's reliable and on demand, so we can use it to provide energy to everything we need.”
Arc: Hosting the panel was Arc, an electric boating company that’s gained surprising momentum, moving from design to delivering its first e-boats in just two years of existence. Founded in 2021, the company’s already 70 employees strong and has already sold some of its first e-boats to customers willing to pay the luxury price tag, CTO Ryan Cook said Thursday. Cook said that to meet the power needs of a battery-powered speedboat, the Arc team designed the vehicle around the battery pack with the goal of it being competitive with gas boats when compared to range and cost of gas. But on the pricing side, it’s not cheap. Arc’s flagship vessel, the Arc One is expected to cost roughly $300,000. During the panel, Cook compared the boat to being “like an early Tesla Roadster.” To date Arc Boats has raised just over $35 million, according to PitchBook, from investors including Kevin Durant, Will Smith and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Clarity Technology: Carbon removal startup Clarity is based in LA and was founded by Yale graduate and CEO Glen Meyerowitz last year. Clarity is working to make “gigaton solutions for gigaton problems.” Their aim? To remove up to 2,000 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere through direct air capture, a process which uses massive fans to move chemicals that capture CO2. But the challenge, Meyerowitz noted in his speech, is doing this at scale in a way that makes an actual dent in the planet’s emissions while also efficiently using the electricity needed to do so. Meyerowitz spent nearly five years working as an engineer for SpaceX in Texas, and added he’s looking to transfer those learnings into Clarity.
Parallel Systems: Based in Downtown LA’s Arts District, this startup is building zero-emission rail vehicles that are capable of long-haul journeys otherwise done by a trucking company. The estimated $700 billion trucking industry, Parallel Systems CEO Matt Soule said, is ripe for an overhaul and could benefit from moving some of its goods off-road to electric railcars. According to Soule, Parallel’s electric battery-powered rail vehicles use 25% of the energy a semi truck uses, and at a competitive cost. Funded in part by a February 2022 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Parallel Systems has raised about $57 million to date. Its most recent venture funding round was a $49 million Series A led by Santa Monica-based VC Anthos Capital. Local VCs including Riot Ventures and Santa Monica-based Embark Ventures are also backers of Parallel.
Terra Talent: Unlike the rest of the startups pitching at the Tech Week event, Terra Talent was focused on building teams rather than technology. Founder Dolly Singh worked at SpaceX, Oculus and Citadel as a headhunter, and now runs Terra, a talent and advisory firm that helps companies recruit top talent in the greentech space. But, she said, she’s concerned that all the work these startups are doing won’t matter unless we very quickly turn around the current trendlines. “Earth will shake us off like and she will do just fine in 10,000 years,” she said. “It’s our way of living, everything we love is actually here on earth… there’s nothing I love on Mars,” adding that she’s hopeful the startups that pitched during the event will be instrumental in making sure the planet stays habitable for a little while longer.