A Tale of Two Tech Cities – Silicon Valley vs. Los Angeles

Nov 23, 2008 33 Comments by

Is there a difference between tech startups in Silicon Valley vs. Los Angeles? Most emphatically, Yes!

I’ve spent the last year running a tech company based in Santa Monica, CA and I’ve spent countless weeks in the Bay meeting with hundreds of tech founders. As unreliable as stereotypes may be, these are my generalizations.

Bay area founders are amazing technologists. They build obsessively user focused products, do a fantastic job at virally driving a ton of traffic, but usually have their head up their ass when it comes to making money.

Los Angles founders are hustlers and deal makers. They are more focused on the bottom line and care more about their P&L than their products, which tend to be messy.

At parties in the Bay people talk about Twitter, Friend Feed, what’s being written on Valleywag and Techcrunch, and kickball games between VC’s and entrepreneurs.

At parties in Los Angeles people talk about a media deal they’re “closing”, what TV star is at the party, and some “gray hat” spam-like technique that made them an extra 100K last month.

Folks in the Bay are generally way more obsessive about their products, work harder/longer, can be a bit snobby about their accomplishments and tend to be clique-ish.

Folks in Los Angeles are shrewder business people, have better interpersonal skills, but are more full of shit and two faced, and struggle to build products that get virally adopted.

Some of the Entrepreneurs in the Bay I’ve learned the most from are:
Greg Tseng – smartest person I’ve ever met about user viral marketing and A/B testing
Michael Arrington – undeniably the hardest worker, obsessive about his product and content
Mark Zuckerberg & Reid Hoffman – hands down built the two best consumer internet applications on the web
Raj Kapoor – a hawk about understanding the metrics that drive the growth of online communities

Some of the Entrepreneurs in Los Angeles I’ve learned the most from are:
Kamran Pourzanjani – best deal maker and negotiator in the web space I’ve met
Matt Coffin – guru at scalable revenue models and identifying and exploiting profit centers
Peter Pham – best networker / connector in web 2.0
Jason Calacanis – master promoter of online buzz / controversy
Michael Jones – most intuitively curious and overall talented web entrepreneur in LA

Other than just trying to piss a bunch of people off for hyper-generalizing, there is an important take-away.

The next few years will be an economic apocalypse the likes of which most of us have never lived through before. Many are going to get washed away in the storm, while others will show their true colors and rise to the cream of the crop.

In order to succeed in the future, web entrepreneurs will have to learn how to incorporate the DNA of both Silicon Valley and Los Angeles.

The goal is to be monetization masters who are focused on consumers and build viral, capital efficient products, and to leave behind the full of shit, spam artists who are snobby about not making money.

Business, docstoc, Featured

About the author

Jason is the Co-Founder and CEO of Docstoc.com, the premier destination to start and grow businesses, offering the best selection of documents and content resources. Jason is also the creator of Startups Uncensored the long running and most widely attended tech mixer in Southern California. Before starting Docstoc, he was a partner in a venture consulting firm in Los Angeles where he worked with dozens of startups. Jason holds a BA from UCSB and his JD/MBA from Pepperdine University, where he was the Student Body President of both Universities.

33 Responses to “A Tale of Two Tech Cities – Silicon Valley vs. Los Angeles”

  1. Tony Adam says:

    Interesting article Jason! What I love about LA is everything you mentioned in here! :)

  2. debbie landa says:

    Jason, well done I completely agree. Having a dual citizenship myself, i’ve experienced the exact same observation from the people who come to our Dealmaker events in both cities.

  3. sean percival says:

    You forget, LA folks are usually better looking, smarter and of course more modest.

  4. Dan says:

    I’ve also heard a great analogy —

    San Francisco web entrepreneurs connect a bunch of pipes together in complex ways. Los Angeles entrepreneurs provide the water (i.e. content). Hypothesis? LA will get a larger web entrepreneurship community to be closer to the water plants!

  5. Greg Cohn says:

    As someone who divides his time between both cities — and who thinks LA is consistently underrated — I appreciate this post and agree with much of it.

    That said, there are plenty of folks in SF who you don’t see at all the web2.0 parties because they are busy closing real business. . . .

  6. Benjamin Kuo’s Blog » Blog Archive » Docstoc’s Nazar Weighs in on Silicon Valley vs. LA says:

    [...] company–has weighed in on the “Silicon Valley versus Los Angeles” debate with a blog post last night, [...]

  7. Zipper Von Telly says:

    Dude, nice post. But two HUGE grammar errors that , unfortunately, make you look like an ass and destroy any credibility of your post:

    1) “click-ish” , unless you mean they make “clicking” noises, the term you want is “clique-ish”
    2) “a media deal their “closing”,” – dude, the word is “they’re” as in “they are”.

    You’re very close to losing your license, amigo.

  8. Jason Nazar says:

    “Zipper Von Telly” – thanks for the editing – corrected

  9. Chris Yeh says:

    Spot on analysis, Jason. But I will note that we (Silicon Valley) have stolen Peter Pham and moved him up here!

  10. Jeffrey Henderson says:

    I’m with Sean, us LA folks are much more attractive and hip.

  11. Dan Uyemura says:

    Having been born and raised in the Bay Area and moved (and stuck) in LA since college, I’m glad to say, I must have the brains of a bay area person and the beauty of an LA person. Yay for me.

  12. Andy Waschick says:

    I passed on the west coast lifestyle a long time ago. In 1994 I had a pulse and a rudimentary knowledge of HTML, so I could have quit college and gotten a huge paycheck. Instead I decided (correctly) that all of you people were full of shit.

    I stuck around the midwest to focus on truth and beauty. Bully for me, I guess, but that does not stop you guys from prancing around like you are the center of the goddamn universe. Personally, I’m more interested in the California versus Saint Louis, Missouri dialectic. It goes like this:

    - Californians are ADD kids who apparently believe that if it doesn’t happen in LA or San Francisco, it is irrelevant. And, I guess, people working in NYC and Boston get to be honorary Californians. They all profit from perpetuating this myopic perspective because it narrows the field of competitors.

    - People doing technology work in Saint Louis (and places like it) are friendly and have realistic expectations of profiting from doing actual work– work which nobody cares about because it happens to be occurring somewhere other than the Bay, LA, NYC, or Boston.

    Interesting how on the Internet where geography is supposed to not matter, it can still count for so much when peoples’ egos are involved.

  13. Deborah Tomlinson says:

    Coming from several generations of Santa Monicans, I have seen a tremendous change in the values of the population of Santa Monica. I believe that the majority of Santa Monican business owners care nothing about people or the environment. Santa Monica was once a truly progressive town with good leadership. Now, we claim to be progressive- ‘We’re Geen’, ‘Best Schools’, ‘Rent Control, etc. But, in fact, the best things about Santa Monica are quickly eroding away due to the influx of business’s & home owners who value money status above all else. They want the ‘Santa Monica’ address on their letterhead to appear well financed & progressive but in reality care for nothing more than the bottom line. R u one of those?

  14. Deborah Tomlinson says:

    Coming from several generations of Santa Monicans, I have seen a tremendous change in the values of the population of Santa Monica. I believe that the majority of Santa Monican business owners care nothing about people or the environment. Santa Monica was once a truly progressive town with good leadership. Now, we claim to be progressive- ‘We’re Green’, ‘Best Schools’, ‘Rent Control, etc. But, in fact, the best things about Santa Monica are quickly eroding away due to the influx of business’s & home owners who value money status above all else. They want the ‘Santa Monica’ address on their letterhead to appear well financed & progressive but in reality care for nothing more than the bottom line. R u one of those?

  15. Rich Rosen says:

    I moved to LA from Seattle in 2000 and love it here. That said: LA = MySpace; SV = Facebook. LA = CitySearch; SV = Yelp. LA = Yahoo (almost); SV = Google ” LA = Pets.com, DEN and Amp’d Mobile.

    Culturally, LA evolved from the studio system and its *controlling at all costs* management style. I completely agree w/ the goal: “…build viral, capital efficient products, and to leave behind the full of shit, spam artists who are snobby about not making money.”

  16. Manoj Ranaweera says:

    Great comparison Jason. As usual, a great blog post. Did not realise that LA concentrates on the bottom line. Thought that was the East Coast. Wonder whether I ought to do a similar post on London vs. Manchester. Great inspiration – thanks

    Best regards
    Manoj
    CEO – edocr.com

  17. Shira Lazar says:

    I think there’s something the Valley and LA can learn from each other. It’s true- both worlds can have its cliques and be closed off to the other. However, with the economic landscape being what it is, it’s time for us to bring our minds together and create the best possible product.

    I have to say though- it’s refreshing having a tech scene here. It’s a nice change from the typical Hollywood community and proves that there are brains and innovators in this crazy town!

  18. Shira Lazar says:

    [...] My friend and Docstoc Founder Jason Nazar wrote a really interesting blog looking at the tech scene in Los Angeles vs. Silicon Valley. [...]

  19. Michelle says:

    Well put, and in my experience (moving from SF to LA but staying in tech) very accurate. It’s a pity that a lot of folks up north aren’t necessarily tuned in to what’s going on down here, because I agree that the skill sets are complementary.

  20. spelling_editor says:

    Is there a difference between tech startups in Silicon Valley vs. Los Angles?

    “Los Angles” misspelled

  21. Brandon J. Collins says:

    I think New York is a nice mix of what you describe for both L.A. and the Valley ;)

  22. Jason Nazar’s Blog » Blog Archive » Los Angeles December Technology Events says:

    [...] The playboy pic is just for random sensationalism.  But it does also go to show how Los Angeles is different than Silicon Valley. [...]

  23. Lindor Bullhorn says:

    SF is about how smart you think you are, LA is about doing actual shit. You just have to subtract the posers who are incredibly easy to spot and who aren’t taken seriously anyway (is that called being snobby?). These people have an equivalent in SF, its the fanboys. Those dweebs who actually watch Diggnation and think Kevin Rose is some kind of hero.

    The ultimate irony about SF snobbery is that they are snobby about LA people being snobby. I’ve heard it so many times, some SF hipster wanna-be going off about how snobby people are in LA. Is irony lost on these people? You simply can’t hang. That’s your problem, not LA’s. You wouldn’t be able to hang in NY either, fool.

    Maybe if SF people developed a modicum of social skills and learned how to dress in something other than tshirts, people in LA would take them a bit more seriously. Software development skills do not a company make. In SF those people think they have a company. Outside the bubble, not so much. In a place where people need to communicate and present themselves to others, not acting like a 12 year old anymore is just the way things are done. It’s called being an adult.

    Probably less tech chops here in LA, certainly per capita if not in overall numbers. Way, way more experience here in LA when it comes to developing properties, things that live beyond the life cycle of a typical software package or more recently, web 2.0 self-congratulatory, group-masturbatory ‘social platform’. Really, people, Twitter is not a business. Its a feature of other, real products that actually do things a lot of people find useful, people other than those in the bubble, sitting in front of their computers all day wishing they had girlfriends.

    And my god what is with the women in SF? It’s like there was an explosion in a dog factory and all the parts got reassembled by a retard.

    I don’t believe I took the bait and responded to this.

  24. Bryan says:

    “And my god what is with the women in SF? It’s like there was an explosion in a dog factory and all the parts got reassembled by a retard.”

    Amen

  25. Nima David Shar says:

    Spot on. To me it seems LA entrepreneurs create more of the new media content, SF entrepreneurs create innovative new media delivery methods. Good point about the importance of monetization.

  26. LLH says:

    Sounds like you’re not getting invited to the right LA parties.

  27. Reid Dammann says:

    Your analysis is right on. Having lived and worked in both places, it would be nice to see L.A. catch up on the depth and variety of start up companies like that in the Silicon Valley. I am sure that time will come.

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