Los Angeles & Tech

Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 12:23 am

Last week Tara and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with Bryce Roberts while he was in town scoping things out. Today he posted some notes about Los Angeles and it’s tech scene(s) that I wanted to follow up on because, well, you know I have a lot to say on the subject. If you haven’t read that post you should do that now, as what I have to say will make much more sense given that context.

So just a bit of credentials for anyone who stumbles across this and isn’t already familiar with my LA dedication – In 2003 I, along with Jason DeFillippo, launched Blogging.LA which was certainly the first group blog specifically about Los Angeles, and arguably one of the first group blogs about anything. (It’s funny because it’s common place now, but in 2003 finding a blog with more than one author was rare.) That would morph into Metroblogging and I spent a lot of time over the following years talking to VCs about funding for it. In 2006 I along with a few friends put on the first Barcamp in Los Angeles because we knew there was a vibrant and active tech community here that we felt didn’t know about each other. It was a massive success and there would be 6 successive Barcamps over the next 4 years before it got too big and fragmented into several smaller and more manageable events. In 2009 I instigated the opening of the first public hackerspace in LA which 3 years later is world renowned, award winning, nearing 100 members and has events almost every night of the week. Last year, along with Alex & Tara I help build Represent.LA to once again try and solidify, or at least put a face to the LA tech scene.

I also have 213 tattooed on my finger and LA on my foot.

Somewhat related, I spent much of 2010 on the other side of the VC table, working closely with Neoteny Labs – a fund led by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman – which gave me a considerable amount of insight about how VCs look at companies, locations, and how they approach deals.

That out of the way – I’m really excited that Bryce has taken an interest in LA. As you can see, I’ve been thinking highly of the place for quite some time. The truth is, the people here in LA know how awesome it is. That’s why we’re here. But most people outside of LA have no idea what is going on here. LA has an image problem in that Hollywood has been really good at making up a fictional version of itself and painting that as LA. I guess people outside of LA don’t understand what fiction is, and assume that the LA they see portrayed on TV and in Movies must be real. It’s not. Hell, Hollywood “the place” doesn’t even have anything to do with Hollywood “the industry.” But, that’s beside the point. Point is if you’ve never spent any time in LA chances are your impression and opinion of the place are dead wrong – but the vast majority of people are happily uninformed. So it’s refreshing to see someone take more than a passing interest.

Bryce spends the first part of his report making LA/NYC comparisons. Which neighborhoods match up and things like that. Which places he thinks are similar is up for debate, but that’s hardly the important part. The gem here is the comprehension that LA is not just one thing. Not just one place. But lots – and I mean a lot – of smaller places with their own personalities all nestled up next to each other. Santa Monica is not LA. Venice is not LA. Hollywood is not LA. Downtown LA is not LA. Silver Lake is not LA. Pasadena is not LA. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This place is giant and every step in every direction is different. This is a good thing and something you have to understand to begin to understand LA.

He notes that there are some great incubators, not a lot of local funding here. Bingo.

This is an excellent observation. In my time hunting for funding for Metblogs I met with a wide variety of both angels and larger VC funds in town – as well as out of town. Not all, but vast majority of VCs and Angels I met with in LA were aggressive, greedy, and very interested in seeing just how many hoops they could get you to jump through. The term sheets I was offered were outright hostile. I met with a lot of people who liked to talk about how much they invested in the local tech scene to try and take credit for anything and everything happening here. Turns out by “investing in the local tech scene” many of these people meant throwing parties or comparing bank accounts with other local investors who valued cashing checks more than investing them.

Needless to say those were not positive experiences. Years later when working with helpful, excited and positive VCs at Neoteny Labs I’d realize just how bad those other deals had been. When I spoke with VCs out of LA I was repeatedly hit with “there’s nothing happening in LA, you’d need to move closer to us before we could consider investing.” Immediate deal breaker.

LA really needs investors who are supportive of both the growing scene and LA itself. There’s a unique atmosphere here that, if nurtured, could produce some incredibly awesome companies. I have no doubt about that at all. Some of the most creative and driven people I’ve met in my entire life have been in LA.

As for the disconnect between Hollywood (the industry) and the LA tech scene, I agree completely that this relationship is underdeveloped. I think a lot of that blame lies on the shoulders of super conservative business advisors, hired by people and companies with expendable income and charged with doing something/anything with that money except losing it. Which makes investing in tech start ups less than attractive. There’s also the thing – when you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. A lot of people in Hollywood (the industry) think the whole world is struggling to be them. So any intermingling with other industries would really just be showing those folks how Hollywood does it. This is where a lot of the content crossover comes from.

That’s not everyone of course, there are some very smart people in Hollywood that have made moves into technology, but largely this has been driven by one person who really gets it, not an industry that understand it. It’s progress, but it’s slow. I think there will need to be some very noteworthy success stories coming from these partnerships to convince others to get their feet wet. I think this will happen, but it won”t be the result of parties, mixers, or networking events. It’ll be because awesome people working on awesome projects get together and do awesome things.

Hollywood (the industry) has the reputation for seeing on failure as a condemnation of an entire theme. If a movie about earthquakes flops, no studio is going to make another one for long time because it can’t be that the movie just sucked, it has to be that people don’t like that theme. And similarly if a movie about zombies does well, you can expect a hundred more zombie movies any minute now – because it can’t be that it was just a good movie, but that people want that theme. We suffer from the same problem in tech. If a site fails – lets say a local product that raised a mountain of cash before even launching a site – then obviously local isn’t viable. It can’t be that it was jut a crappy idea, or poor implementation – it has to be that the theme is bust. And likewise, if something works, get ready for a million copycats. This quickness to accept or reject an idea is harsh on it’s own, but put the two industries together and you get lot of skepticism. Which is why I think when this happens – and I again, I firmly believe it will – it’ll be individual driven. It’s just a question of who those individual will be.

Bryce says that he “can see LA really stepping into it’s own over the next few years” and I think he’s right. I’ve been championing this place for over 10 years now and while I’ve always really liked what was happening here, what I see happening right now is the most exciting it’s ever been. And if people like Bryce and the folks at OATV (among others who have been here recently) are noticing that too, I think it’s more than just local hope.

CMHHTD

Music — Sean Bonner @ 3:47 pm

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in…”

I’ll save you the epic backstory and just say that when I walked away from the music industry in the late 90′s one of the many reasons I chose to do so was because, frankly, it had gotten boring. People (and bands) were just running through the motions. They were executing a prescribed set of actions because that’s just what you do. I missed the days of people doing things because they loved them. Because they thought they were awesome. Because they wanted to be proud of what they were doing. Doing the same thing that you’ve already done, that everyone else has already done, over and over again, isn’t at all fulfilling or interesting to me.

So I left the music world and went to work at this exciting new place, the internet. The music industry had a lot of perks, but it never had lolcats. In the years since then I’ve helped a few friends out with the occasional music project here and there, but I’ve always kept things at arms length because on some level it was the same old thing. It’s was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

These frustrations were echoed in a conversation I had with a few friends last year. We went on to ask ourselves, what does success mean, or even look like if it’s not just living up to someone else’s metric? Obviously if we were going to spend time working on something we want it to be successful, but maybe more importantly we talked about how we wanted it to be something we were proud of working on. If the absolute worst case scenario is that we spend some time working on something we think is awesome, how bad is that? And anything above and beyond that is even better. So, thinking about a music project from that perspective, what would we want to address? What would we want to do differently?

Turns out, a lot. (more…)

Clockwork

Bits and Pieces,Writing & Stories — Sean Bonner @ 4:36 pm

Clockwork Orange bar

“Kelly told Alice that she thinks you are cute”

Stereotypical high school grapevine courting. It happened all the time to everyone. Except it had never happened to me. I’d forever been in the role of passing on this kind of message but had never had it directed towards me. Of course I always dreamed about what would happen when my number finally rolled around. When one of the oh so many girls who I stared at for endless hours in school would finally notice me. One of them, which one I hoped it would be changed often enough that it really could have been any of them, but one of them would realize that right there in front of them was the guy that they were dreaming about when they at home singing smiths songs. I never liked the Smiths mind you, but they all did. It would be like turning on a light in a dark room filled with furniture, suddenly everything would make sense and we’d both know it. We’d instantly know everything about each other and understand every thought the other had. We’d do things that people who were dating did like hang out and go to the mall together. We’d hold hands absentmindedly while doing something else – just for the comfort of knowing the other person was there. We’d snuggle up on a couch and fall asleep next to each other while watching a movie. We’d probably kiss. Then we’d have mountains of sex. We’d live happily ever after. It was just a matter of time before all this came to pass, either that or I’d grow old and die alone. But one of those things was sure to happen. It was just a matter of time.

“Who’s Kelly?” I asked.

She wasn’t one of the girls I currently (or recently) had had my sights on, but no matter because she was one of the girls. This was happening slightly differently that I’d expected, but these were variations I could deal with. It turns out that Kelly was one of the girls who from time to time would sit at table during lunch which meant she was at least a friend of a friend. But let’s be honest here, we’re talking about Bradenton, Florida so anyone who was the least bit weird at some point ended up stuck with the rest of us. You didn’t want to be one of the weird ones in Bradenton. You were supposed to want to fit in, to play sports and have rich parents.

Her name wasn’t even Kelly. I’m not changing it to protect the innocent or anything like that, I just can’t remember it. If I really cared about creating some historically accurate document I suppose I could find a yearbook and look her up, but I don’t really care. That, and I threw out all my old year books a few years ago. So for this her name is Kelly, but really it doesn’t matter. This story isn’t about her name, it’s about her and me and it’s about the events of these few weeks.

The next time I saw her I went out of my way to say Hi and be friendly, without being obvious and without letting on that I’d heard the scandalous rumors that she thought I was cute. That would ruin everything. Besides, I wasn’t the one who thought she was cute so I didn’t have anything to worry about. But she was cute, in a weird kind of way. I’d just never noticed it before. Or maybe now that I had this insider information I looked at her differently. I noticed her anyway, which I hadn’t before, so there’s that. She was smallish, both in stature and weight. Her short bleach blond hair was plastered down to her head with some kind of plastering hair product or matted from unwashed grease, I couldn’t tell which. She touched it and looked away and smiled nervously. Her white T-shirt was at least 4 sizes too big and her arms looked toothpicks sticking out of the sleeves. She wore boys jeans with what was probably her fathers belt. Her super pale skin was harshly contrasted by the dark red lipstick she was wearing, or had worn many hours ago because it had turned black and caked up in the corners of her mouth and edges of her lips. I assumed it was lipstick anyway, it might as well have just been remnants from a lolipop or something. She was awkward on every level, and I thought it was fantastic. How had I not seen her before? (more…)

30 days

Me, Myself, and this blog — Sean Bonner @ 11:57 pm

I really like the idea of 30 day challenges. But then again I really like the idea of self challenges in general, which should be no surprise to anyone reading this. I try, fail, restructure, try again – things all the time, but putting a “30 day” cap on it turns anything into a great bite sized goal that suddenly becomes attainable. Do one new things for 30 days? Simple.

I sent out a link to my email list from a friend who spent January detaching from digital stuff when around family. The TL;DR is that he restricted when he would look at email, restricted how much time he’d spend on it, and completely cut out phone/laptop stuff at home around family (mornings and evenings). To very positive results.

I always have my iphone near by and wonder how that translates for Ripley. His parents are always staring at these little devices. So reading Javaun’s account was relevant to my interests and I may try something similar. His jaunt into the 30 day challenge was so successful that he spent February catching up with old friends/family – each day contacting someone new.

This is another great idea that I would love to try out because I’m really horrible at staying in touch with anyone. Truth – if we’re friends and you don’t see me on a regular basis and we talk at all frequently that is huge. More commonly when I stop seeing people in person regularly they just fall off my immediate radar, but when I do see them again I’m excellent about picking up exactly where we left off. Even if it’s been years, when I see old friends I feel like I saw them just yesterday. Not everyone is like that however which has led to a lot of people who I think of as important to me, and important to my life – being out of touch. Of course, the problem with talking about something like that is if I say “hey for the next month I’m going to make a real effort to call people that are important to me but I haven’t talked to in a while” and then some people who I know but haven’t talked to in a while read it and don’t get a call they will be all WTF OMG and shit. And rightly so. Or they could call me FFS. But whatever.

I like the idea of constantly improving yourself and just deciding that you are going to make a change can be scary. Saying you are going to make a change for a short amount of time is much less scary. A week is too short to see a difference, but a month is just long enough to get in the habit and see some results. At the end of 30 days if you like the results it’s probably easy to keep going, if you don’t it’s no big deal because it was just a 30 day experiment to begin with.

I’ve talked about trying to do things every day before as well, and I can tell you that making it open ended is much more intimidating, and comes with an unavoidable sense of failure because inevitably you will miss a day and then you broke the streak. But if the streak is never ment to be more than 30 days. That’s cake.

So tomorrow is the 1st day of March. A new month. A new 30 days. Well, 31 technically.

What should I try?

A year without Facebook

I quit Facebook – quite publicly – in April of last year. Here’s the article I wrote about it explaining my reasoning. It hasn’t been a full year yet, but this week Douglas Rushkoff announced he’s quitting Facebook and several people have pinged me for thoughts so I thought I’d just put them all here in one place. I’m not going to spend any time on reasoning as I think between the two posts I just linked that is more than covered. What I will talk about is what this decision has been like to live with.

The truth is, I’ve hardly noticed it. That’s not to say I haven’t missed anything, rather I havent missed anything I’ve missed.

I’ll tell you when it has been obvious to me – when I try to sign up for a service or website and the only option they offer is Facebook connect. I’m a self diagnosed web addict and terminal early adopter so I check out and sign up for a *lot* of stuff. And in a years time I can only think of 3, maybe 4 times this issue has come up. This was actually the thing I was most worried about and it’s clearly not the issue I thought it would be at all. And actually, all of those examples have been opportunities to tell the founders (though they haven’t always listened) that only offering one way to sign up for their service, and an unreliable 3rd party option at that, isn’t such a hot idea. One of those products that I couldn’t sign up for was just a few weeks ago, but all the others I’ve never heard about again. I’m not saying that only offering Facebook Connect as the way to sign up for their service was suicide for them, but feel free to make that assumption. I won’t name names out of respect for the dead.

It’s also been a little noticeable when using things like Kickstarter – which I use all the time – I can no longer see what my friends are backing. I miss that, not enough to regret quitting Facebook, just to realize I would like Kickstarter to develop their own way to do this in house.

There have been a handful of things where someone has said “Oh, ________ posted this to Facebook, I know you aren’t on it so I’m forwarding it to you.”

There have been a handful of things where someone has said “I posted it on Facebook” and I’ve said “I’m not on Facebook so I can’t see it” and they’ve said “Oh… I’ll post it somewhere else too, hold on..”

Have I kept in touch with all the people who I was connected to on Facebook? No. Have I missed them? Not really. In 2010 I wrote that Facebook made me feel like a shitty friend, in part because it was maintaining (or recreating) connections with people that under any other circumstance would have fallen out of my life. That kid I sat next to in one class in 10th grade. That girl I had a crush on for a few months in 9th grade. That guy that is friends with one of my cousins that I met one time at a wedding or something. Without Facebook normal people in these situations never would have stayed in touch, with Facebook it was nice to connect but we never really had anything to say to one another other than “oh so nice to reconnect” then just flooding each other with random status updates. 100% of those people that I had very weak ties to I lost touch with. But I also no longer feel bad about not caring about their updates, I don’t feel bad that I don’t have more to say to them, and I don’t feel bad that they aren’t a part of my life. So I’m not convinced those loses are really a bad thing.

I will say that leaving Instagram was tougher. I had a group of people that I really liked and it was a way to connect with them that worked. I’m still in touch with many of them on other services though it’s not the same intimacy or personal kind of connection that Instagram was. Maybe Vine will fill that gap to some extent, maybe not. But leaving Instagram was definitely harder, but I do feel like it was the right choice. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in. Someone had to.

But with Facebook specifically, have I felt the need to go back? Not at all.

Not even once.

Am I any less worried about people relying so much on it? Nope.

Do I wish more people would leave it in the dust? Yep.

Do I think people are starting to figure it out? Still up in the air.

[based on a true story]

Writing & Stories — Sean Bonner @ 9:26 pm

“Someday you will die. Play hard now”

My pretend career as a writer isn’t a new thing, I’ve been not finishing projects for years. I just found the scraps of one of those projects and was reminded of a more idealistic version of myself when I thought I could do anything, because prior to that point I had. At some point I stopped finishing things, I don’t know why and that’s probably a different story all together, but this was happening right during that transition from “ship everything” to “ship almost nothing.” I thought I’d share some of it with you.

So the back story here is that a fellow named Jon Resh, who was not only one of my favorite people in the entire world, but also my first roommate ever, had just self published a book called Amped : Notes from a Go-Nowhere Punk Band. It was the story of SPOKE, a band he’d been in that was now broken up. A band that sort of changed my life – though I’d never tell them that – and if I’m honest it wasn’t just the band, it was the people and the scene and the shows and everything. It was a fleeting moment that will always be magical, and helped shaped my life in so many ways I’ve since.

This was 2001-ish, just after I’d moved to Los Angeles and I thought I’d transition my writing career (which I’d recently morphed from my own zines to columns in magazines) into screen writer. Many years before when I wanted to be an active part of the punk scene, but upon realizing I couldn’t play an instrument and was too self conscious to be a vocalist, I started putting out records of my friends bands. I realized I liked that behind the scenes yet shaping things position. I’d always loved movies and now that I lived in the heart of the movie industry I thought similar logic would apply. My first idea – make a movie out of Amped. I talked to Jon about it and he didn’t seem horrified by the idea. I thought I’d use a bunch of his stuff from the book and add some of my own stories and flat out make some of it up for extra excitement value. I started writing. At some point I stopped. I don’t recall why or when, but the text docs I found today were last edited in early 2003. I read them and smiled, maybe it’s me being nostalgic or maybe there’s something more. After the jump you’ll find a very short summary/treatment idea for the whole movie and the intro that I thought up. There’s a lot more done but this is just a bit of it. These are copied directly from those 10 year old docs and entirely unedited.

Maybe you’ll enjoy them.
(more…)

Tomorrowland

Travel & Adventure,Writing & Stories — Sean Bonner @ 2:47 pm

Tomorrowland

The middle aged asian guy who just sat down at the table across from me has the most painful combover I’ve seen in my entire life. It’s depressing just looking at it. He keeps brushing it over with his hand which makes it that much more obvious. I can’t stop watching him and it’s making me sad. Everything about him makes me sad, the combover was just the first thing I noticed. His shorts don’t match his shirt. His jacket is ill fitting – probably purchased in the 90′s before he put on 50 pounds. His backpack is overstuffed, like he’s trying to anticipate any thing he might possibly need throughout the day but instead of being prepared he’s stuck lugging this heavy thing around all day.

Going to Disneyland is easy for me. I live 30 minutes away and have an annual pass. If I have a few free hours and the desire I can go jump on Space Mountain and then go back to my regular life without any real interruption. I imagine that’s not the case for him. When he’s not looking around self consciously he’s focused on a map of the park. And not just casually looking at it, I’m talking hunched over forehead veins throbbing sweaty brow focused. He’s got a pen and is making some notes on it – plans I imagine.

I start crafting this guys story in my head. He’s traveled from far away for this, maybe even been saving up for it for years. Or waiting to collect enough vacation days to allow him to make the journey. It’s a big deal to him regardless and he doesn’t want to miss anything. I imagine him being a lonely guy, distant from coworkers and neighbors. But he’s used to it. I can see that all over his face, he’s very comfortable being uncomfortable. He’s comfortable being alone because that’s all he’s ever known. He can’t relate to other people. He stopped trying a long time ago.

I think about what that would be like. I travel alone when business requires it and enjoy the peaceful time with just myself that provides, I like being alone with my thoughts to help sort through them, but I can’t imagine this. If I go to the movies by myself half of the motivation is to get away from everyone and escape to some other world, even if only for a few hours. This guys motivation isn’t to get away, it’s to go to Disneyland. Being alone isn’t the goal of his trip, it’s just business as usual. I wonder how long it’s been since his last non-transactional conversation he’s had with another person. I can picture years and years of slogging away to an office and never talking to anyone. The same as his trip here to Disneyland – he’s on his own with all of this activity around him that he’s not a part of.

And he’s hiding out in this corner of the park studying this map to make sure he doesn’t miss a thing.

I try to picture him on a ride. Does he enjoy it? Does he smile? Or is he just crossing things off a list. I want to think he enjoys it. I want it to make sense. I want this to be enjoyable for him. I feel his pain and isolation and I desperately want this trip to the happiest place on earth to have an impact on his life. I want to see him stop fucking with his hair and smile. I want to see him content, I want him to feel that this trip was worth it. That the years he planned and saved to be here weren’t for nothing. I don’t want him to go home, back to his depressing life thinking this dream trip was yet another disappointment. One more thing that didn’t live up to the hype.

And then, my whole story is shattered when his family joins him at the table with a tray of food. His wife, his kids. They speak english. He smiles. They smile. His wife kisses him without even thinking about it, like it’s just this second nature thing. It doesn’t even require a reaction because it’s so common place. He’s loved and he knows it. Nothing I thought about him is true. Visiting Disneyland is as second nature to him as it is to me. He can come here anytime he wants, and his family and friends are easily in tow.

I’m suddenly so happy for him, and at the same time horrified about what all this says about me.

Soundtracking

Me, Myself, and this blog — Sean Bonner @ 11:23 am

Monster

I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in the last 2 months late at night sitting in my living room staring at a blank wordpress text entry field trying to remember even one of those brilliant blog topics I thought of throughout the day. Staring blankly and typing nothing, clicking over to twitter and tumblr hoping for a spark of inspiration and getting nothing, and going back to staring at the empty screen. And then eventually I give up and write nothing and then go to bed feeling all of the failures. I’ve noticed it because I’ve been paying attention to it, but I’ve wrestled with this same thing just playing out at different times and different places all of my life.

I’ve mentioned Steven King’s On Writing before – it’s the greatest book about writing I’ve ever read. In it he talks about his writing sanctuary, a private place he goes to every day to get lost in his work and spends the same X hours every day just writing there. He talks in depth about the requirements of this space and peace and quiet and ‘do not disturb’ are huge cornerstones of it for him. I’ve seen other writers – writers who actually write stuff mind you – talk about similar spaces. I’ve tried to recreate that, again and again to be honest and each one has been a disaster. I don’t really find sanctuary in sanctuary. But I keep trying because I have some twisted perception that it’s what I should be doing.

Which is stupid, and I know it’s stupid. Everyone has their own thing that works for them. What’s even more stupid is that it took me reading this column by Henry Rollins to realize and accept what works for me. I don’t know what I was in such denial, or why I needed someone else to say it was OK for me to be comfortable with it.

The work (and I’m talking about writing here) I’ve been most proud of has never been created in sanctuaries. It’s been spit out at coffee shops and cafes. I find a corner, put on headphones that block the rest of the world out of my ears and blast music that inspires. It’s important, I’ve found anyway, that it can’t be the absolute most favorite music because then I end up just singing along and not getting any work done. If I put on Gorilla Biscuits I’m not going to write shit. But if I put on My Bloody Valentine I turn into a fountain. Seeing the world fly around me, while being protected in my little music bubble is my happy place. It’s my briar patch.

But it really is the combination of the two. Just sitting at a coffee shop trying to write is no good. The sound of the world is too distracting. When I can actually hear what people are saying to each other I get nothing from it. When I block out that reality and put my own soundtrack on the world then I create my own stories to fill those gaps. Like how your brain fills in the blind spots in your field of vision, when I cut out part of the story it’s much easier to force manifestation of some replacement.

This is one of those posts that means more to me than to you, but thanks for sitting through it regardless.

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