Silicon Beach is back

Over one week in June, thousands of product owners, investors, and founders choose their own adventure from over 300 (mostly) free panels, sessions, and parties that make up LA Tech Week. This was my first year attending, and it was fantastic. 

Not too many years ago, the tech scene in Los Angeles was called “Silicon Beach.” Companies like Snap, Hulu, and Postmates were pushing digital frontiers with a killer view of the Pacific. But it always felt like a second-class industry in LA, like a derivative of Big Media or Hollywood. Everyone was doing user experience or interface design for something large, like a Marvel Experience or Disney+.

Then the crypt-wave crashed into the scene whereupon everyone became obsessed with crypto stock-tickers and lounging Simian NFTs. Until the pandemic arrived. That (plus recession fears) drove everybody underground. 

But now, people are ready to emerge from their hibernation. They’re ready to build, experiment, and talk. I met so many sophisticated product owners who pivoted from other industries, including a badass Product Management Lead who reminded me that no matter how hard the water hits, a savvy surfer will be prepared for any wave.

I felt a much more ambitious environment, one where big risks weren’t sullied with the taint of a rollercoaster portfolio (or the “rug-pull” of a failed NFT collection). Silicon Beach is back.

Biggest takeaway

Everyone’s hot for AI. The tech has reinvigorated the scene, and people are excited again. I don’t think we’ve seen this level of excitement since Crypto. There’s nothing like a collective sense that things are changing really fast. It’s as if we were in the Stone Age in AI this January, and we’ve already gotten to the Bronze Age this summer. 

I don’t think a lot of people want to say it, but between rising interest rates and tech layoffs (with Amazon being the first, but not the last, to shed talent), there were a lot of people I met that were hungry for something optimistic and positive. AI is the panacea. It’s something new, disruptive, and potentially hopeful in the industry. 

It’s a relief from the general malaise around blockchain and cryptocurrencies. A lot of people I talked to share the same passion. We’re in this business to help everyone get to a more utopian state. And finally, we have something that’s not doom and gloom. It was like people guzzling water in an oasis.

Favorite source of AI news

Also, one of my favorite YouTube channels came up in conversation more than a few times. The channel is AI Explained, and you should definitely check it out. Deep but accessible, and neatly covers a lot of news succinctly.

The product everybody was talking about

There was also a lot of talk about all the things coming out of Apple WWDC 2023, especially Vision Pro.

And frankly, it’s awesome. I’ve heard a lot of folks scoff, especially at the price point. But are you kidding me? Apple just came out with a brand new product. We haven’t seen that since the Apple Watch. That’s Apple’s style: don’t worry about first to market if you can be best to market. The hardware and accompanying software experiences will set a new watermark for every hardware manufacturer and create a new ecosystem.

The price point ($3,499) is geared toward Apple’s early adopters, very similar to Tesla. I think that’s a smart way to go because that generation, like the first iPhone users, will make a serious investment (and a serious show of faith) in a product that will come down in price over time. It’s going to edge out anybody trying to make cheap knockoff products. It takes a serious effort to put something this heavy out there to challenge Oculus Rift (Meta), Playstation (Sony), and Steam’s VR products.

Those early adopters will provide pretty serious product feedback. I’m just excited that Apple is releasing something that everyone can play within the field. This feels like we’re truly at a 1.0 goggle experience. Even if it’s clunky, slow, or heavy, I’m down. You’ve got to put boats on the water to catch fish.

The best party vibe

“AI + Enterprise: Happy Hour by the Beach” presented by Whitecap AI was amazing. The panelists were knowledgeable, though the noise of the crowd nearly overwhelmed them, and the organizers hosted a chill vibe at NeueHouse

The Product and Tech Happy Hour meetup was especially cool. Hosted at The Brig in Venice, it was a lit venue, a historic icon that’s quintessential California down the hipster Abbot Kinney boulevard. As an open session, anybody in tech was welcome. That ease of access created such a fun space. I’d way rather be there than at a party in the Hollywood Hills.

A suggestion for LA Tech Week 2024

I was a little surprised at how gated everything was. It felt like it was going to be really big and open, and you could do a ton of different things. But events (and thus people) felt siloed. Every time I’d try to get into something, there were three layers of protocol to overcome.

For some of the events I went to, the registrations filled up very quickly. Even if there were seats available, they would still check on who you were to see if you should be in or not, which seemed governed by marketing and experiential concerns.

Exclusivity ruled. And it felt so weird. I’m a 20-year veteran in this space representing a digital agency (and built a smart contract or two.) But if my street cred doesn’t suffice, whose does? Perhaps fewer barriers (or more flexible guest lists) next year?

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