How 5 LA Tech Leaders Stand Out in Their Industries

by Alton Zenon III
October 22, 2019

Think about the products and brands you love most — perhaps it's your Nintendo Switch, Amazon Alexa or your Apple MacBook. What separates this gadget from its competitors, and why do you keep coming back for more? 

We might not ask ourselves this question often, but it’s something that keeps entrepreneurs up at night. We spoke with leaders at five LA tech companies about how they crafted distinctive products — from an at-home car repair service to an underwear subscription model — that keep making splashes in their markets. 

 

Pluto TV team members on a boat
pluto tv

Being a free online TV broadcasting service that has an entire channel dedicated to James Bond is pretty, well, unique. These two elements are just a couple of the differentiators Pluto TV’s CEO and Co-founder Tom Ryan said are baked into the company's DNA. Ryan said he wants the company to break the rules of the media industry, very similar to the way 007 likes to operate.

 

What strategies has your company implemented to stand out from others in your industry?

Pluto TV was born out of a contrarian idea. During a time when content appeared to be moving toward being short-form, ad-free, and on-demand, we believed that there was still an engaged audience who preferred a relaxed, curated and premium experience for free.

We have successfully grown our platform to now stream over 200 live, linear channels, including Pluto TV 007 — a channel dedicated to round-the-clock James Bond films. We also recently introduced a new vertical on the platform, Pluto TV Latino, which is home to 22 Spanish-speaking channels and over 4,000 hours of premium programming.

Being a company that stems from both tech and media, we saw an opportunity to innovate distribution by developing a deeply embedded solution that integrates Pluto TV as a built-in solution on Samsung and Vizio televisions. Launched in 2018, with the simple click of the input button, we were able to deliver free television to entirely new audiences.

Humility is the greatest tool in your arsenal and can pave the way to even greater success.”

 

What advice would you offer to startup founders to help them differentiate their companies?

Never be afraid to take a chance and go against the grain. Follow your gut, pursue ideas that are completely original, or reimagine those from past and thrive in an ever-evolving landscape. Don’t get hung up on the details, allow your passion to lead the way, use data to measure your success and be willing to fail before you succeed. Sometimes, humility is the greatest tool in your arsenal and can pave the way to even greater success. 

From a Pluto TV perspective, standing firm on our contrarian belief is what motivated us to succeed and proved that instincts can be as powerful as the business model itself.

 

Renew Health team members working in a conference room
renew health

Renew Health’s Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Matt Mouradian said putting the patient first is the foundation of everything they do. The leader at the medication management solution provider said empathizing with end users and working to solve their challenges is what led to the company’s success. It’s also what aspiring founders should aim to do. 

 

What strategies has your company implemented to stand out from others in your industry?

Our mission is to improve our patients’ health by making medicine more accessible, effective and affordable. To do so, we’re building a business based on a simple and powerful guiding principle: put patients at the center of every product we build and decision we make. All of our differentiating strategies — from building a next-generation technology infrastructure, to developing a medication-oriented clinical model — stem from this commitment.

We’re building a business based on a simple and powerful guiding principle: put patients at the center of every product we build.”

 

What advice would you offer to startup founders to help them differentiate their companies?

Having a strong product-market fit is a fundamental ingredient for startup success, and differentiation should be the result of that rather than the overall goal. I would encourage any entrepreneur to work backward from a perceived customer pain point and rigorously validate its extent, depth and addressability. Formulating a hypothesis about how to solve that pain point, testing and refining that hypothesis through iteration, and selecting the right metrics to evaluate your success are the keys to building an amazing product with traction — one that is, by definition, differentiated.

 

MeUndies team members posing at formal event
MeUndies

MeUndies’ Founder and CEO Jonathan Shokrian warns founders against flying too close to the sun. The leader at the underwear and loungewear company emphasized that pushing for smart, slow-burn scaling over white-hot, blazing growth is the more manageable way to go. 

 

What strategies has your company implemented to stand out from others in your industry?

Our goal in everything we do has always been to take a unique approach; whether it’s our matching membership model, which was an industry first, or our return policy that was unheard of at the time, or our team rallying to launch more than 52 original prints per year. We are constantly pushing the envelope and innovating a stale industry that, for far too long, has glorified false ideals of what ‘aspirational’ means. I’m proud of our team for constantly thinking of ways to be creative with our process, create opportunities for our customers’ self-expression, and one-up the status quo.

Many startups focus on quick, hockey-stick growth and forego sound, scalable economics.”

 

What advice would you offer to startup founders to help them differentiate their companies?

Many startups focus on quick, hockey-stick growth and forego sound, scalable economics. That approach almost always proves to be a mistake, many times over. Conscious growth and profitability put you in control of your destiny, help you stay true to your founding purpose and create better company culture.

 

RepairSmith team members at the beach
RepairSmith

RepairSmith CEO Joel Milne said a key part of a company’s success is building something they love so much, they want to brag about it. Simple, right? It’s something the car repair service aimed to do, but Milne said getting to that point required diligent planning and effort to execute.

 

What strategies has your company implemented to stand out from others in your industry?

You know that awesome, hole-in-the-wall pizza place that’s guaranteed to have a line out the door and fanatics repeatedly coming back? They understand the number one rule when it comes to differentiation: creating something people love.

We know car repair and maintenance is something people typically hate. So, we did the market research, found the key pain points and tested different solutions until we got it right — a service that has customers loving the entire experience.

Nothing really matters if you’re not alleviating a real pain point for consumers with an awesome experience from start to finish.”

 

What advice would you offer to startup founders to help them differentiate their companies?

Consumers today want to solve their problems by pressing a button. Give them what they want — fast, simple solutions — but don’t be lured by shortcuts along the way.

Building a product people love, one that makes them want to rave to their friends, requires time, research, testing and a strategic approach to growth. You can read about best practices and growth hacks until you’re blue in the face, but nothing really matters if you’re not alleviating a real pain point for consumers with an awesome experience from start to finish. Do this right and the results will follow.

 

Cie team members playing Tug of War
cie

Sometimes the hardest part of having money is knowing how to spend it. Justin Choi is the co-founder and head of product strategy at the enterprise and growth-stage company accelerator Cie. Sometimes, Choi said founders allocate resources to things that may not promote future growth, and this can be detrimental to their businesses. Knowing when and where to devote energy and capital is a key part of creating a successful company.

 

What strategies has your company implemented to stand out from others in your industry?

When you’re in a developing category, regularly keeping an eye out for what your competitors do — what products they launch and how they position themselves — can be an insightful learning exercise. It allows you to see the different angles the other guys are trying and more interestingly, how the market responds. For example, Cie employees regularly surface notable activity by similar companies, which helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the industry. 

It’s also important not to get caught up in the ‘now’ and lose sight of what’s ahead. You need to stay focused on your customers and fulfilling their evolving needs, and the best way to stay plugged in is to talk with them directly. I’m constantly meeting with startup founders and entrepreneurs as well as the heads-up digital innovation branches at larger enterprises. That consistent market exposure grounds my ideas for unique approaches to solving problems. Not everyone has this direct line of feedback, so after meetings I communicate learnings and insights across our organization to ensure others are also able to connect their day-to-day responsibilities with solving client problems.

Successful founders keep their resources maniacally focused on driving forward the things that matter most.”

 

What advice would you offer to startup founders to help them differentiate their companies?

For newer founders, the biggest challenge is often, “How should I spend my time?” Unfortunately, a lot of startup energy and money gets wasted on things that don’t actually drive startups forward. Successful founders keep their resources maniacally focused on driving forward the things that matter most. It sounds simple enough, but it’s hard to do. 

To succeed, you have to know the following: what’s most impactful, which is best learned by spending a lot of time with customers; the right time to raise more money to ramp resources; and how to make sure execution quality is high. This means finding and hiring your own ‘dream team’ consistently motivating them with your mission, and eliminating non-value-add movement.

 

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