Less than 24 hours before dot.LA launched a year ago today, I was coming back into cell service after a hike in Mandeville Canyon when I received a flurry of texts and push notifications: Kobe Bryant had died.
Like many who had grown up watching the Black Mamba tear through global basketball, the sudden loss of such an immortal figure shook me. Since moving from the floor to the rafters at Staples Center, Kobe had plunged into the startup world with his typical ferocity and excellence. He became an influential tech investor as a partner at Bryant Stibel.
Our nascent newsroom in short order produced a tribute to his legacy as an investor and an innovator that led our new site on its first day. It was a small contribution to the memory of someone who loomed so large in our city's imagination, but it was one I was proud of and one I think showcased what dot.LA could provide: drawing the connections between the rapidly growing local tech startup scene and institutions that have been here for decades.
And so began our launch into a year that brought our city and our world hardships and challenges like never before. It was a year that summoned so many of the better angels of community, ingenuity and trustworthy information that dot.LA strives to highlight.
Our first year forced us, like everyone else, to adapt to new and unforeseen restrictions: abandoning our new offices only six weeks after our launch, finding ways to cohere as a team through Zoom screens and trying to shine a light on and bring together L.A.'s tech and startup community while everyone was stuck at home.
We at dot.LA are proud of the work that we have done to chronicle a slice of this city and we hope in some ways, even help catalyze changes that will come in 2021 and beyond.
Over thousands of hours of phone calls, interviews and Zoom meetings our news organization has found new ways to cover the startup community. We have written about how tech has influenced everything from COVID to cannabis to cars.
We've published over 1,200 articles showcasing some of the most interesting people and companies in LA. We've hosted dozens of virtual events and community meetups to connect and inform our audience. We have created digital communities, podcasts, videos, maps and more that reach an incredible audience in the hundreds of thousands. In October, we convened our inaugural dot.LA Summit -- live from Venice Beach -- bringing together 650 top innovators from around the city and the world for two days and over 25 sessions that set a towering bar for our centerpiece events (hopefully in-person soon!) in years to come.
Year one of any startup is inevitably filled with a gauntlet of new challenges from unexpected places. That's a big part of the draw for those crazy enough to start something new. It's a lot like what I imagine having a newborn for the first time to be like: the sporadic sleep schedule, the tending to of many mini-crises and the pervasive anxiety about whether you are doing everything you can to let your new bundle thrive in the world.
Blessedly, I've been able to navigate these obstacles with my co-founder and dot.LA's executive chairman Spencer Rascoff, a seasoned and proven entrepreneur whose vision and guidance made everything seem so much less daunting.
When Spencer reached out to me through mutual friends in May 2019 about his idea to create a publication that would expose all the inspiring innovation happening in our shared hometown, I was thrilled by the prospect of creating a local tech journalism startup. Without him none of this would've been possible.
Our city was able to find ways to survive and thrive in this strange pandemic that has tested so many of us. Despite hardships, new companies are getting founded and funded, innovators and seekers are relocating to our sunny hub; heck, even the Dodgers and Lakers became champions once again.
We will continue to shine a light on those who are changing the way we live - so many of whom want to make the world a better place. We will continue to encourage L.A. as it grows into the most diverse startup hub in the world. We will introduce new channels and coverage to best serve our audience from our vantage point as a startup covering startups.
Thank you to those who have visited the site, who have followed us on social media and signed up for our newsletter. Thank you to those who have joined our events and our community, and who believe in Los Angeles as a place where world-changing companies are built.
Most of America knew Kobe Bryant as an NBA superstar, a shooting guard who led the Los Angeles Lakers to countless championships. Jeff Stibel knew him off the court.
In an emotional Instagram message, Stibel broke his silence and lamented about "what was ahead" for Bryant. The duo struck up a friendship, and later a venture capital firm baring their names, as Bryant was plotting his retirement from professional sports. Venture capital — and just being an entrepreneur — was the hoop star's second act.
"My dear friend, this isn't possible. We both knew what was ahead and it was so special," Stibel wrote on Instagram. "The next chapter in the decades to come were going to change everything. People keep talking about what you did, but all I keep thinking about was what was ahead."
The Bryant Stibel website late Thursday changed over to a black-and-white photo of Bryant.
Alongside, a written ode to its co-founder: "Kobe Bryant was more than a founding partner at Bryant Stibel. He was a founding visionary who quickly became an accomplished entrepreneur and investor."
View this post on InstagramMy dear friend, this isn't possible. We both knew what was ahead and it was so special. The next chapter in the decades to come were going to change everything. People keep talking about what you did, but all I keep thinking about was what was ahead. Your legacy will continue to unfold and grow in the achievements of the people you have touched. My heart breaks for Gigi, it aches for Vanessa and the girls. I refuse to believe you are gone—you will always be with us and we will live up to your impossible standards. I love you my friend.
A post shared by Jeff Stibel (@jstibel) on Jan 29, 2020 at 6:22pm PST
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In his first public remarks about the death of Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer called the NBA superstar's death "a tragedy of tragedies" at a gathering of venture capital investors in Pasadena.
"It's obviously a tragedy anytime someone dies that young let alone the number of people who passed away," Ballmer said, before adding that Clippers players have been personally affected.
Ballmer said he first got to know Bryant not through basketball but because of Bryant's interest in investing. He said he considers Bryant "one of the top players ever."
Ballmer, 63, bought the Clippers in 2014 after he stepped down from Microsoft, which he led as CEO from 2000-2014. With $60 billion in assets, Forbes ranks him as the 19th richest person in the world.
He was speaking on the first day of the Upfront Summit, an invitation-only gathering of venture capital investors that is being held at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The irony is that Microsoft is famous for building the software giant with very little VC money, part of the reason Ballmer and co-founder Bill Gates amassed among the richest fortunes on earth. Ballmer also doesn't invest in early stage companies or even individual equities, aside from his estimated $10 billion Microsoft stake.
"All we do is S&P  index funds," said Ballmer.
Steve Ballmer spoke on the first day of the Upfront Summit, an invitation-only gathering of venture capital investors that is being held at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Photos by AirCam
One time when Ballmer would appear to have been less conservative is when he paid $2 billion for the Clippers, a sum most people saw as outlandish since the previous highest amount paid for an NBA franchise was $550 million (for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014.) Ballmer said Wednesday he had been trying to buy an NBA team for a long time and he would have increased his offer if necessary.
"I had a boundary about how high it was going to go," Ballmer said. "I told the lawyer [for the Clippers] what that boundary was. I said 'don't take advantage of me.' The truth is I probably would have gone higher."
Since then, sports valuations have ballooned as the NBA struck a new $24 billion TV rights deal and the Clippers doubled their own local cable deal. The $2 billion purchase price has been vindicated and now Ballmer is focused on constructing a new 18,500 seat arena for the Clippers in Inglewood scheduled to open in 2024.
Ballmer said arenas are expensive – this one, like others in L.A., is privately financed and not receiving public subsidies. As a result, on a strictly financial basis, building the new stadium does not make sense. But he thinks it is vital to move away from the shadow of the Lakers.
"I feel sorry for the Chargers," Ballmer said, alluding to the fact that the NFL team will be a tenant in the massive new stadium Rams owner Stan Kroenke is building in Inglewood. "Everyone calls it Rams stadium."
Owning the Clippers and running Microsoft are not as different as it would appear, according to Ballmer.
Just as Microsoft would update its Windows operating system twice a year, the Clippers "update" their roster every summer through the draft and free agency. He also compared the talent in both situations.
"Engineers are treated very, very well," Ballmer said. "Basketball players are also treated very, very well."
Ballmer said he thought software was a less competitive industry than the NBA.
"What tech business do you know where you can have 30 competitors a year?" he asked, referring to the number of NBA teams. He added that L.A. is especially tough, because of the affinity for the Lakers.
"It's weird to have two teams in a market," he said.
The Upfront Summit is expected to attract more than 1,200 attendees flocking to the Rose Bowl Jan. 29-30. The invite-only event brings together a diverse mix of entrepreneurs networking with venture players armed with billions of dollars in capital, and headlined by presentations from business leaders including Ballmer, Quibi Chief Executive Meg Whitman, Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson, and Idealab founder Bill Gross.
Links to the conference agenda and the livestream can be found here.
Upfront Ventures holds a non-controlling, minority interest in dot.LA