This is a sidebar to the second story in a Re/code Special Series about the Los Angeles tech scene. In these LA Stories, we’ll take you behind the scenes of a playful, powerful and potentially game-changing tech boom taking place across the Southland.
During my visits around LA tech offices for this LA Stories series, I would always ask something about Silicon Beach, because it turns out to be a very controversial nickname for the Southland’s tech scene.
Most people laughed or scoffed, but seemed generally resigned to it. Some suggested that the moniker would disappear as the tech scene matured (few people call New York tech “Silicon Alley” anymore).
The argument reached a fever pitch when the LA tech brass came together in March exclusively to talk Silicon Beach.
The conversation continues:
“The Silicon Beach thing’s always been a little weird,” said Courtney Holt of Maker Studios. “I just say we work in Culver City. I’ve been to the beach in Hawaii more than I’ve been to the beach in LA.”
“Silicon Beach? It’s condescending,” said Demand Media co-founder Richard Rosenblatt. “The word ‘beach’ is how people characterize LA, which means they’re not that smart and they’re just hanging out.”
David Murphy, who until recently ran a tech resource called the Silicon Beach Agenda, said he’d gotten used to it: “I used to hate the term Silicon Beach, and finally, after reading so many New York Times articles, I kind of gave up. I do want to encourage the tech community to take advantage of the beach here.” A few weeks after we met, he renamed his Silicon Beach Agenda. Now it’s the L.A. Tech Agenda.
Bill Gross, the founder of Idealab, didn’t like that the nickname made LA seem jealous: “It conveys maybe too much Silicon Valley envy that is not appropriate.”
And Chris DeWolfe, the co-founder of Myspace, said the metaphor is strange: “Silicon’s kind of an outdated term, isn’t it? And doesn’t have much to do with LA.”
The Los Angeles mayor’s office recently hired its first chief innovation tech officer, Peter Marx, who thinks the term is vaguely useful.
“My personal opinion is, we don’t want to kill the term Silicon Beach. We need a Los Angeles identity that includes tech and extends past Hollywood, the beaches, the traffic, the palm trees,” Marx said. “I grew up here as part of a slightly invisible community of academics and entrepreneurial folks, and Silicon Beach represents a certain community quite nicely.”
When Mayor Eric Garcetti added the hashtag #SiliconBeach to a tweet, Marx said he got an email “a half-second later” from “a very prominent VC,” who said he was extremely disappointed.
Some, like media mogul Peter Chernin, are mostly perplexed by the term: “I’m not sure I understand what Silicon Beach is.”
Felicia Day, who runs video-production company Geek & Sundry, said the term “sounded a little douchey” when she heard people actually say it, but said she was otherwise apathetic to it.
Sean Rad, the co-founder of Tinder, was a little more sure of his feelings: “I think the fact they’re deciding to get rid of the term shows we’re growing up. I mean … I fucking hate it.”