Late last week, the LA Tech Summit, hosted by global human resources software-as-a-service technology company Cornerstone OnDemand at the Fairmont in Santa Monica, kicked off with Cornerstone's founder and CEO, Adam Miller, sitting down for a fireside chat with Mayor Eric Garcetti to talk about the future of Los Angeles tech.
The Mayor, introduced to the stage by TrueCar founder, Scott Painter, as Randy Newman's song, "I Love LA" played, focused on advocating for Los Angeles' competitive advantages to other regions like Silicon Valley.
He called Los Angeles "the best platform in the world" to test your ideas, products, and stories among our diverse user base, and emphasized his priority to have LA educate in high-tech classrooms, and retain tech-skilled graduates from the top local universities like USC Medical through post-graduate incubators.
To make LA a cutting-edge mobile city, he touched on current efforts for expanding the Metro Expo line to Santa Monica and Venice through Downtown and Culver City, and being a testing ground for innovations like 'rapid driverless cars' and 'car-trains' to alleviate traffic in LA neighborhoods. It'll take the will of Angelenos to adapt, and he stressed, "our behavior has more of an impact than my ability to build."
Adam Miller closed the fireside with a request to the Mayor, "given how sophisticated you are on this topic, we want you to be an advocate for the LA tech community, driving companies back here, driving funding back here, keeping the students here with the engineering degrees, and helping us build a flourishing ecosystem..." and then the Mayor pointed to Michelle Garakian in the crowd as the local tech liaison to get to know.
After the fireside, I headed downstairs to one of the breakout sessions to catch the Women in LA Tech panel.
Moderated by LA Business Journal technology reporter Natalie Jarvey, the panel featured several leading female executives and founders within the Los Angeles technology community including Cornerstone's own SVP of Client Success, Kristen Helvey above.
Other panelists included Kyla Brennan, founder of Pinterest marketing and technology solutions firm in Santa Monica, HelloSociety, Julie Schoenfeld CEO of Pasadena-based digital publishing software solution company Perfect Market, Jamie Kantrowitz, Partner at startup accelerator by the Santa Monica beach, Launchpad LA, and Dawn Perdew, founder of Marina del Rey-located digital and direct marketing consultancy, The Dumont Project.
Towards the end, each panelist offered a piece of career advice they'd give to other women entrepreneurs and professionals for achieving success, like the kind I just read in The Daily Muse. The one that stuck with me the most came from Dawn Perdew, when she emphasized simply, "Go all in." Being on the fence can hold you back. Other memorable pieces of advice were "you get what you negotiate" and to keep persevering past no's to get to your yes.
After the Women in LA tech panel, I headed back into the main conference room, where TechCrunch Senior Editor, Leena Rao, moderated a "Lessons from the Valley" panel with investors, from left to right: Byron Deeter a partner in global investment group Bessemer Venture's Menlo Park office, Kevin Efrusy General Partner at inception to growth stage-focused global firm Accel Partners, Stacey Bishop Partner at high-growth Saas, Mobile, Cloud, and Internet companies investor Scale VP, and Rob Ward of late-stage tech companies focused Meritech.
Leena Rao raised the question about the importance of one's network, leading in with:
"There's a network in the Valley...you spend a lot of time with these entrepreneurs before a check is ever made...so what advice would you have for any entrepreneurs here who want to now include you in their network, eventually trying to raise money from you?"
Byron Deeter emphasized how entrepreneurs will need to spend some time in the Valley, "it would be irresponsible not to," with the caveat that, "there's a lot to be said about blazing your own path, and one of the many negatives of the Valley is the herd mentality. People fall in line with the sort of collective think far too often...As great as Silicon Valley is, we don't have a monopoly on innovation." Then, he recommended his advice:
"Play to your strengths, take advantage of what is uniquely Southern California, and then, beg, borrow, and steal from great resources, networks etc, from Silicon Valley and otherwise, and assemble your own approach. It is harder to build bridges...when you don't have those casual interactions...naturally overlapping social networks...but it's a very solvable problem."
Next, PandoDaily reporter Michael Carney moderated The State of LA Startups panel, with more VCs, from left to right: 2x entrepreneur turned VC Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures, Bill Gross founder of Pasadena-based incubator Idealab, Dana Settle founding partner of early-stage investor in digital media startups Greycroft Partners, David Travers a partner at local Rustic Canyon Partners, and Jim Andelman a managing partner at SaaS and online marketing technologies investor Rincon VP.
The panel wrapped with Mark Suster clarifying the difference between profits and growth, and why it's important to distinguish.
"The question is not profitability. If you are a fast-growing company growing at a 100%, 200% per year, what your goal is is growth, and that's what all investors value. So, what you'd rather see is take those profits, and you can put them in the bank, or you could hire 50 more people, which by definition will make you unprofitable, so what you want to look at is gross margin. If you're 30, 35% gross margin, you're gonna struggle. We've seen that in e-commerce. That was Fab's problem, Shoedazzle's problem...but if you're at 55, 60% and above gross margin, and you're growing very fast, you don't want profits."He cited famous examples, how Salesforce.com went about 6 years before hitting their first profit, how Twitter is not profitable, and Facebook took years to become profitable. "There are times when profits make sense, but not in a high-growth business. Until you reach a certain scale, at which point profits are useful." The audience laughed out loud.
Without a break, they brought on the next panel. Led by technology reporter, Andrea Chang of the LA Times, the Becoming an E-Commerce Destination panel featured leaders from Los Angeles' top e-commerce companies, from left to right: Adam Bernard founder of Nordstrom-owned Hautelook, Sean Kane Co-founder and COO of safe and eco-friendly baby and home goods startup, The Honest Company, Brian Ree Co-founder and CEO of DailyLook, and Allison Beal Co-founder and CEO of StyleSaint.
I headed back downstairs to catch a few more breakout sessions. Lynn Langit of GigaOm moderated a panel on Transforming Markets with Data, with panel speakers from left to right, including Wes Nichols Co-founder of Marketshare, Gil Elbaz founder and CEO of Factual, Jeff Zwelling Co-founder and CEO of Convertro, and Douglas Merrill founder and CEO of ZestFinance.
Then, I caught part of the What's Happening in Civic Innovation & Entrepreneurship panel, which featured moderator Rick Cole the Deputy Mayor for Innovation for the City of Los Angeles, Jim Gilliam founder and CEO of NationBuilder, Catherine Geanuracos Co-founder of Hack for LA, and Tara Tiger Brown Co-creator of Represent.LA.
For those of you who missed the summit, you can catch videos of all the panels from the main room on Cornerstone's YouTube channel here. You can read more coverage of the event here and here, and tag photos here and here.