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Techs on the Beach

Forget Silicon Valley—L.A.’s startup culture is booming on the westside

“L.A. has been the home of dreamers since the 1800s,” muses Mike Jones, CEO of Science Inc, a technology studio located two blocks from the Santa Monica Pier that acquires and builds technology startups. “From gold to oil to Hollywood, entrepreneurs have always flocked to Los Angeles.” He speaks the truth: While Silicon Alley and Wall Street may rule the East Coast, Los Angeles is home to a new breed of innovative entrepreneurs with a sharper focus on the everyday lives of people. They’re defining the tech community in Los Angeles between Venice and Malibu, dubbed Silicon Beach, and distinguishing it from Bay Area, where business-to-business and tech infrastructure companies rule. Here are six companies worth your notice.

Tracy DiNunzio

In 2008, shortly after getting married, then-painter Tracy DiNunzio realized that insanely inflated prices around nuptials made an affordable wedding alternative an obvious startup opportunity. With no technology experience, she started RecycledBride, a wedding dress and décor resale site, only to find that her own marriage was a startup on the bubble. “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the irony of becoming a wedding expert while going through a divorce,” she says. The company was a success (and her ex-husband is now a friend and trusted advisor) and in true Hollywood fashion, she’s launched a spin-off, Tradesy. The women’s resale site includes wedding dresses as well as over $500 million in inventory, ranging from gently worn Gucci frocks to Balmain tops to Balenciaga minis—and they even take returns. DiNunzio, who just celebrated Tradesy’s first birthday, wouldn’t trade L.A for any other city. Sitting on the back deck of her Santa Monica offices, a converted loft which ekes out an ocean view between a condo and a hotel, she sums up the neighborhood: “The convergence of entertainment, technology and fashion that happens in Southern California gives us a unique perspective.”

Any dog owner can attest to the fact that traveling with a pooch is not always feasible or fun. And you can only ask that friendly neighbor to walk, feed and scoop so many times before you’re just a burden. Enter DogVacay, the site that matches traveling dog owners with vetted and insured dog-loving pet sitters. Los Angeles was the first location for this growing company, which now boasts over 10,000 hosts across the U.S. and Canada. When founder Aaron Hirschhorn was looking for a location, he thought of all the species in his office. “Our office is steps away from the beach in Santa Monica, making the location great for our team and our office dogs to enjoy,” he says.

Kyla Brennan

In Hollywood, agents sit at the top of the talent food chain. And so it’s no surprise that the premier agents for pinners (yes, that’s the correct terminology for tech-savvy Pinterest fanatics) would be in Los Angeles. HelloSociety is a tech platform that represents the most influential and most-followed pinners and implements campaigns for them on the innovative network. Founder Kyla Brennan has connected her clients with brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Martha Stewart, Buick, Bourbon & Boots, Net-A-Porter, Fab, and One Kings Lane. As for basing her operations in Santa Monica, she explains, “I think the combination of the laid-back SoCal beach lifestyle with the fast-paced tech world makes for an inspiring atmosphere.” She adds, “We’re lucky enough to have an amazing ocean view.” (Note to self: get a job at a tech company in L.A. Apparently they all have ocean views.)

Michael Dubin

“L.A. has a huge and expert talent pool in the areas we find most critical to our success,” explains Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, the web-based men’s lifestyle company that ships grooming products like razors and shave butter to guys around the country. And when he talks about talent, he’s looking not only at engineers and web designers, but ways to make his story go viral. To launch his brand, he shot a commercial with the hot comedy team Paulilu. The video, “Our Blades are F—ing Great” went live in March 2012. The video garnered the company 12,000 subscriptions in the first 48 hours and went on to accumulate more than 12 million views. By the way, Dubin just raised another $10 million.

Perhaps no L.A. company addresses the Silicon Beach vs. Alley dilemma quite as directly as Surf Air, the all-you-can-fly membership service that’s making first-class flights slightly more affordable, with the bulk of their routes between L.A. and San Francisco. Booking flights is easy and flying in the BMW-designed interiors is hardly shabby. “Santa Monica and Hollywood have been growing closer to Silicon Valley over the last few years and that gave us a ripe target set to nurture our development,” says Wade Eyerly, founder and CEO of Surf Air.

Eric Rannala, co-founder and managing partner of MuckerLab, a startup incubator which helped fund Surf Air, has spent plenty of time in the Bay: he relocated from northern California to build Mucker. “We saw a tremendous opportunity in this specific market. The best entrepreneurs here are just as good as in Silicon Valley,” he explains. MuckerLab provides funds, office space, mentors and other support to startups with potential. And you don’t even has to ask—yes, his office has an ocean view.

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