Mike Jones on Ditching La La Land for Silicon Beach
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As someone who's been straddling the world of entertainment and tech for nearly a decade from Los Angeles, it's incredible to see how much my own backyard has matured. La La Land is now a legitimate hub for accelerators, venture capitalists, startups and some of the web's biggest companies like Google and Facebook who each have a presence here. We even now have our own moniker -- Silicon Beach.
I originally met one of its players Mike Jones while he was CEO of Tsavo Media which eventually got sold to Cyberplex for a reported $75 million dollars. He then made a surprising and brief attempt at relaunching and rebranding Myspace as CEO of the troubled social network before launching his latest venture, an incubator in LA called Science. With $10 million in backing from former Googler Eric Schmidt, among others, Science aims to fuel the LA tech scene -- offering to support those who see the value in Hollywood and its talents beyond the entertainment industry.
I spoke with Jones recently about Science, what he looks for in startups to invest in and how the new valley will surprise all the haters. Here is an edited version of that conversation:
Q: What was the turning point where Silicon Valley started taking LA seriously -- or does it?
A: I don't believe there was a turning point. LA simply offers a different ecosystem than the valley. We have different DNA, and the businesses built in LA -- like New York City or Chicago -- are different than typical valley businesses.
Q: Which companies are standing out in LA's tech scene and why?
A: I am biased toward the companies we are building here at Science, we have publicly released five companies since November, Wittlebee, Eventup, DogVacay, DollarShaveClub and Uncovet. The innovation we have seen with commerce startups like DollarShaveClub.com for razors, or children's clothing through Wittlebee.com is remarkable. These companies are both technology and consumer good businesses.
Q: What kinds of startups would you want to invest in?
A: In November we setup our first year's focus on businesses that leverage social data, provide peer to peer marketplaces, create business opportunities for influencers and disruptive ecommerce services. That thesis has proved strong with the businesses we have invested and co-founded. We will revisit this thesis at the end of the year and determine if we need to refine our focus.
Q: Given your background in building networks and communities around content, how would you advise young entrepreneurs to use social media to build traffic, engagement and sales?
A: Social media, in particular platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest represent a new breath of opportunity to entrepreneurs. I have not heard of a business building for "seo" in the past year. The ways we previously generated consumer interest in our businesses have changed, and, today, social is the most meaningful tool businesses can leverage to expand their target market and engage with customers.
Q: What's your view of mobile? Does every brand need to address it in their business plan?
A: Brands need to evaluate how customers interact and how important mobile is for them. For some businesses it may represent the majority of their sales, for others, a small portion. Just as with social tactics, this is not a "one size fits all" strategy.
Q: Where do you see LA's startup culture headed in the next five years? What do we need to do to be taken seriously by "the valley"?
A: I believe we will see an impressive amount of new businesses launch and see long-term success out of Los Angeles. And with that success, we will continue to attract the interest of global investors. The best thing we can do is build winning category-killer companies. In time, we will elevate the start-up and technology ecosystem here in LA, which will grow more successful businesses and bring more jobs and revenue back to Los Angeles.
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