We love LA: 5 founders from around the world talk about what makes the local tech scene special

John Siegel

With its collection of neighborhoods and cultures, Los Angeles is known as one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. As Silicon Beach builds its global reputation as the new go-to place for startups, we spoke with LA-based founders from five countries about why they decided to move to LA and what the city has done to keep them here.

 

CUJO CEO Einaras Gravrock moved to the U.S. from Lithuania to attend USC back in 2004. Since then, he has co-founded three successful startups, become a U.S. citizen and established himself as one of the shining examples of LA’s diversity.

Favorite LA-centric activity

Hiking with my kids at the Portuguese Canyon in Palos Verdes. Best views in LA. Minutes from the city yet feels like miles away from civilization.

Favorite bar or restaurant

Roma Aroma Italian coffee shop in South Redondo Beach. Best latte in South Bay.

When did you first move to the US? What were the circumstances of the move?

I moved in 2004 to attend USC. I graduated in 2008 with a bachelor of science in business and never had any thoughts about leaving. I fell in love with the city, the beach, the people and our lifestyle. 

What made LA the right place to start a business?

Its huge ecosystem for tech, a critical mass of experts in just about any industry, access to world-class talent and its proximity to San Francisco.

If you could pitch Los Angeles to investors from another country, how would you do so?

LA has always been a leader in entertainment, social, real estate, health care and international trade. If you want to find the next big trend in those areas, follow the startup community in LA. In other words, don't expect Silicon-Valley-like high-tech, but you will find disruptive approaches to industries that LA is known for and is the best at.

 

Oded Vakrat, CEO and co-founder of Santa Monica-based Earny, first moved from Israel to Silicon Valley as he and his co-founders began work on their startup. An opportunity to work with Mike Jones and the Science Inc. team lured them to the City of Angels, and he hasn’t looked back.

Favorite LA-centric activity

If it's windy — kitesurfing. Otherwise, I like to work out at the Santa Monica Stairs.

Favorite bar or restaurant

I really enjoy the Funnel Mill on Broadway and 9th. When it comes to food and art, I have an affinity for high-quality, handmade things. Their coffee is also top-notch.

When did you first move to the U.S.? What were the circumstances of the move?

I moved from Israel in mid-2015. Together with my co-founders, we decided to build the company here in order to stay close to the market, the customers, investors and all of the opportunities LA has to offer.

What made LA the right place to start a business?

We started Earny and raised our seed round in San Francisco. Last year, we decided to partner with Science Inc. and relocate the company to Santa Monica. Based on the talented team we have built since moving to LA, it’s safe to say we made the right decision.

If you could pitch Los Angeles to investors from another country, how would you do so?

LA feels like the U.S. version of Tel Aviv. So many great companies, tons of local talent and an innovative spirit.

 

Mark Shedletsky, a native of the Great White North, moved to LA from San Francisco following the acquisition of a startup he founded in the mid-2000s. In 2013, he co-founded Vertical Mass, a data startup that helps businesses collect and store data on their most dedicated fans so that they can create hyper-specific consumer profiles. For Shedletsky, LA has a little bit of everything.

Favorite LA-centric activity 

Going to an LA Kings game with my kids — you can take the Canadian out of Canada, but you can't take the hockey. I also enjoy going to SoulCycle with our team, because nothing says we’re in it together like a bunch of sweaty riders.

Favorite bar or restaurant

I have a few. First, Soho House WeHo, for the view of the city. Also, the fusilli pasta at Jon & Vinny's is to die for, and the burger at the Doghaus in Burbank is the most underrated burger in all of Los Angeles.

After leaving Toronto, you eventually found your way to the Bay Area. What were the circumstances of your move to LA? 

We sold our last startup to an entertainment company in Los Angeles about six years ago and moved the team here to work closely with our new partners. It was a great decision to move the team from the Bay Area to join the growing community of startups in LA. 

What made LA the right place to start a business?

Once we had the bare bones for Vertical Mass, LA was the obvious answer for location. We're the handshake between tech and entertainment. There's no other city that could compete with LA in entertainment, coupled with some of the best tech startups and talent in the world, plus an ecosystem designed to foster creativity and collaboration, it was really a no-brainer. 

If you could pitch Los Angeles to investors from another country, how would you do so?

Imagine a place where it's warm year-round, where you can hit the surf and then play hockey, where you can eat Mexican and sushi next door to each other — and know they're both legit — and where you can work in an industry where everyone’s out to help each other instead of tearing each other down. #longLA.

 

InvolveSoft co-founder and CEO Gaurav Bhattacharya moved to the U.S. to attend college after co-founding a successful healthtech startup in India just after graduating high school. Initially, Bhattacharya and his co-founder Saumya Bhatnagar started the business — which connects companies with nonprofits to improve their employees’ satisfaction — in San Diego, but a call from Mucker Capital brought the team to Santa Monica. 

Favorite LA-centric activity

I love going bowling and walking down the beach because it’s right outside our office! 

Favorite bar or restaurant

I would have to say M Street Kitchen. They have the best sangria in LA. 

When did you first move to the U.S.? What were the circumstances of the move?

I moved to the U.S. after selling my first startup, which I started when I was 17. I wanted to challenge myself and came to the U.S. to study aerospace engineering so that I could develop electric aircraft. Following completion of my degree, I began to realize I wanted to change the world in a positive way and make a bigger impact, so I left my corporate job to start InvolveSoft. 

What made LA the right place to start a business?

We had started InvolveSoft in San Diego. We moved after Mucker Capital offered us office space to make our dream into a reality, and we absolutely love it here! 

If you could pitch Los Angeles to investors from another country, how would you do so?

Los Angeles has everything a startup needs to be successful. Access to large enterprises like Disney, Wells Fargo and Fox.; access to talent through universities like UCLA and USC, and ready access to capital from accelerators and VC funds. The valuations are not inflated compared to Silicon Valley — investors should invest in LA-based companies to see a bigger ROI. 

 

Washos co-founder and CEO Bertrand Patriarca came to the U.S. with his team as part of French Accelerator, a program that connects France-based startups with the LA startup ecosystem. The company hit the ground running, and in the past few months, the team has expanded the operations of the on-demand car detailing service to new markets, but business wasn’t the only reason the Parisian decided to relocate to LA. 

Favorite LA-centric activity

My favorite LA activity is to swim and surf at Point Dume.

Favorite bar or restaurant

Belle Vie Food & Wine on Wilshire. It’s a French bistro run by a man named Vincent, a French owner who worked at my favorite place in Paris, Derriere.

When did you first move to the U.S.? What were the circumstances of the move?

I arrived in November 2014 after having sold my previous company in Paris. I moved here to launch Washos based on the idea I had when I came earlier in 2014. LA was the obvious choice for Washos, but also for our new life with my wife and newborn son.

What made LA the right place to start a business?

LA is a car-culture city, and Washos is a tech startup that helps people keep them shining, but at their convenience. This city is getting denser — and time is always at a premium — so finding a place that can wash a car in a timely, efficient manner is really hard. We truly are a solution to an enormous challenge in an industry that needed disrupting. I love LA. It’s an exciting city, and the tech scene is really thriving. Here, we’re surrounded by amazing companies and entrepreneurs from a lot of different industries.

If you could pitch Los Angeles to investors from another country, how would you do so?

Los Angeles is not a single city — it's a conglomerate of dozens of neighborhoods, each with its own lifestyle, spirit and influence. LA is a place where you can meet the world and discover the richness of hundreds of different cultures. Don't be afraid of distance, because LA is a constant journey.

 

Images via featured companies and social media. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

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