This is the fifth 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.
The tech leaders of LA had a dream: A private social club of their own. Somewhere fun with a secret back room, somewhere they could bump into each other to talk venture capital over cocktails and somewhere the celebrities were founders, not pop stars.
But when I looked for it in LA recently, I was too late.
“Don’t go to 41 Ocean. It’s already over,” said one of the 41 Ocean founders, Josh Berman, who runs the e-commerce company Beachmint. “Like, it would be a little embarrassing. We’re starting a new thing, actually.”
This entertainment industry town has magnet spots for moguls and celebrities — The Ivy, Soho House, Nobu Malibu. So why is building a tech club in LA so hard?
Over fish tacos, carnitas, guacamole and rosé at Bungalow in Santa Monica, Berman, who was co-founder of Myspace and a leader within the tech community, explained the difficulty.
“You have to understand,” Berman said. “The Silicon Beach social circuit is not necessarily built around successful companies. Evan [Spiegel], I’ve never seen out. There’s the party scene, and then there are companies.”
And what community there is has fractured as it has grown: “We used to have tech dinners in Beverly Hills, and everyone would come,” Berman said. “Now, I’m not so sure that would happen.”
So could you take me to 41 Ocean?
“What about Shorebar?” Berman suggested.
41 Ocean, please.
“We had a vision. We wanted to install plugs, we wanted to make it a place to work and meet,” Berman said. “The guy running it just wanted it to be a nightclub.”
The falling-out was over chargers?
“Basically. And what chargers represent,” Berman said. “It was complicated.”
Others I interviewed agreed. One prominent founding member told me 41 Ocean was all “strippers and shit” in back. Another said that he had been convinced to join with promises of a “Westside Soho House.” A venture capitalist told me that “there are people who will tell you 41 Ocean is great, and that’s because they own it, but the world does not revolve around 41 Ocean.”
After opening in February 2013, 41 Ocean was all but abandoned — but, like LA tech, it may be coming back. The original owner, Jeremy Umland, has bought everyone out and is rebuilding the place.
“We need places to run into each other. Whatever it is,” said Jamie Kantrowitz, managing director at Mesa Global digital media and entertainment advisers. “It has to be easier for us to network.”
The atomized LA tech population has had a hard time building a cohesive community. The city is spread out. The startups are wildly diverse. Often coming from fields other than computer science, the LA tech entrepreneurs might not run into each other as naturally as the relatively homogenous Silicon Valley techies do.
Case in point: An incubator called Launchpad LA had a party for its entrepreneurs, where I met Lee Greene, a 28-year-old former model working on an “Airbnb for clothes” (her agency, she said, was extremely supportive). Adam Meyer worked in digital media and interned for a rapper before starting Monospace, a social media-based customer-support system. Ariel Kaye worked in video production before starting Parachute, a direct-to-consumer high-end bedding company.
And yet parties are a huge and important part of LA culture.
“For all the trouble [Silicon] Valley people might give us, they all come down for our parties,” Kantrowitz said. “Who wouldn’t?”
Indeed. At one entrepreneur’s birthday party, Selena Gomez was there, and somehow I found myself wedged between her and some founders in a selfie. The Winklevoss twins of Facebook infamy — the Winklevii — and Troy Carter both have excellent parties, many people said. And almost everyone agreed that Elon Musk has the best parties. He recently bused partygoers half an hour outside LA for a Renaissance party.
“Costumes, jousting, fireworks, lambs on spits, he loves it,” one attendee told me. “Nobody has topped that.”
But 41 Ocean was an explicitly tech space. It had promise. Exhausted from trying to get a time to go, I just took myself there one night. I talked my way in past the public restaurant, and into the hidden walled garden and bar.
And the place was gorgeous.
There was a fountain in the dimly lit outdoor patio. Adobe bricks. Vintage worn-leather couches. I decided I needed to find whoever owned it now.
Jeremy Umland, the original co-founder and a career restauranteur, was having white wine.
“I had an initial group of tech investors who came in guns blazing,” he said, naming Brad Brooks and Andrew Brooks, Josh Berman and Paul Bricault.
The bartender lit a sprig of rosemary in the fire, then dropped it into a glass of whiskey. Umland noted that the fire alarm goes off around once a month because of this drink.
“It was about eight of us, led by Josh [Berman], and kind of as a parallel to tech startups, there is maneuvering and bumping,” Umland said.
Max Russo, who also manages rehab facilities, was running the club.
“It absolutely didn’t work out,” Umland said. “Russo was thinking Hollywood club. We were thinking member’s club.”
After buying everyone out, Umland has been building the club back up — with a little less flash and a little less promotion.
Robyn Ward, who works for New Media Ventures at United Talent Agency, said that before 41 Ocean, there wasn’t really anywhere for corporate parties.
“We all used to meet at a coffee shop on Second and Santa Monica, but it’s loud at Starbucks,” she said. “When 41 Ocean opened, all of a sudden this is where everyone would come for their meetings.”
Leura Spielman, the founder of online interior design firm Laurel & Wolf, said she liked the idea that entrepreneurs could have their own hangout — “You could literally come in a ball gown or a bikini.”
Umland leaned in.
“Dude, we should throw that party.”
Spielman was meeting a new friend, Kelsey Dorey, who just closed her second round for Vow to be Chic, a bridal-dress-rental play.
“We just met through our mutual investor,” Dorey said. “We’re literally comparing CFO quotes.”
That night, Jason Nazar, the CEO of DocStoc, was hanging out in back.
“All the tech folks come here,” he said, gesturing around the room. “Mostly.”
Umland watched from the side: “I was just talking to Josh about him coming back.”