Beyond Silicon Beach: LA's Ever Evolving Tech Scene

December 4, 2014



Suited in a black v-neck and jeans, Tolga stands tall in Thunderbolt’s minimalist office, his Eastern European accent reverberating through its four walls. “Every industry has the potential for innovation through the technology of apps ­– there is no question.” Tolga’s matter-of-fact air demonstrates his passion for taking hold of the city’s seeds to be sown, and serves as a palpable indicator of the type of show he’s running. The sleek black and white space, dotted with colorful geometric pieces, houses the breeding ground for fusing design and technology, solidifying partnerships, and most importantly, incubating ideas into revolutionizers sans the rough edges and excess – hard-lined, quality technology with illuminating differentiators are created here.


Tolga originally came to the States as one of the first Turkish NCAA football players, but his path took a turn as his drive to digitalize the formerly un-digitized grew insatiable. His first stint as a partner for the groundbreaking mobile valet service app, Curbstand, led him to start Thunderbolt Studios ­­– a company with cred including Grassp, OurHouse, Speeji, and Masoo, all spearheading firsts in their respective industries.


The company emerged with projects for Beats by Dre and Verizon, led by dynamic partner Shaun Westbook, an LA native digital advertiser; his past projects such as the interactive campaigns for Harry Potter and Dark Knight Rises helped him curate an eye for consumer centric appeal. The start-up has since moved on to building custom apps in cohorts with top creatives. Westbrook’s dynamic ad foundation marries with Tolga’s vision for the tech of the future to provide the full development experience for app generators – they adopt an all-hands-on-deck approach, to be frank.


Thunderbolt is fueling innovation in the LA scene with the same sentiment by which Apple sparked innovation in personal devices (if they do say so themselves); with the personalization factor that is essential to creating technological advances that can last longer than a Candy Crush game. “We build technologies that build business; before Curbstand, the valet service experience still operated in the 80’s.” Now with over 200 locations utilizing the app nationwide, Curbstand has jumpstarted the valet industry into the digital age – a service catered to customers that is extremely useful in places teeming with cars like Los Angeles.


With their own hashtag, #Digital90210, the tightknit team is curating a 360 experience and a brand; they’re thinking outside of the tech start-up box and therefore out of the confines of the sandy Silicon Beach scene. Instead, Thunderbolt calls the heart of Beverly Hills home, an area not lacking in potential investors and future industry leaders. But the start-up knows this doesn’t equal success. Tolga’s chair squeaks forward as he grabs his bare ankle fitted with a leather oxford and laments, “Money doesn’t translate into good business.”


Thanks to an endless supply of revolutionary ideas and a unique entrepreneurial culture, the LA tech scene is finally coming of age. From April to June of this year, twenty-five Los Angeles start-ups raked in more than $330 million and started trends like bridging tech with entertainment and diversifying the investment crowd. There’s a wide-open market for the taking – small to medium sized businesses need the digital and the mobile. This capability is not-so-slowly becoming more than a way of staying a step ahead of the competition, but is now on the cusp of being a requirement for survival.


The LA market has hit the ground running, but San Francisco is still ahead of the game with 44% of investor capital versus LA’s 6%, and therefore is more conducive to investor hunting. Even so, it’s a grab bag – here, you get the immersed experience. “Finding an investor is like dating,” Tolga jokes as he glances over at his wall collection of oversized, round-edged apps, “there are a handful of duds, but there are also a few perfect matches to be found.”


Although Los Angeles is just beginning to crawl, the increasing demand for mobilization for businesses and the city’s laidback, breathe-easy culture is making it a serious contender – in third place, it’s nipping at the heels of Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. The city is setting records every year, with a capital investment of $2.08 billion just two years ago and compounding potential to surpass Silicon Valley’s $10.86 billion – and Thunderbolt is traveling upwards and onwards with those numbers. The team is executing a level of entrepreneurship otherwise lacking in the city; Tolga’s eye for creativity has taken LA roots and flourished, as his work for EA in coding, programming, and design set him up to chart unknown technological territory. “We don’t create “do and consume” technologies – we partner with creative minds, not merely to piggyback their ideas, but to build custom, never-before made tech that build apps up to be as consumer-friendly as possible, without losing the vision of the creative talent.”


Thunderbolt’s way of doing things calls for an ongoing process. Thanks to their multiple partners all around the world, they’re developing partnerships across time and space. “That’s not the MO of most companies here,” Tolga smirks. Many similar tech companies have a good thing going, but they’re swimming in shallow waters. The start up’s business model is a method proven: their production force has grown exponentially in the year since it’s inception and continues to work with LA’s most forward-thinking minds.


Design, technological architecture, and innovation are Thunderbolt’s caveats; not one-dimensional interfaces to save the day, but apps built to last. With a pioneering technology in the medical field in the works, Tolga is hell-bent on casting a wide net. With the knowledge that every corner of LA business is malleable and capable of elevation, Thunderbolt is currently on the lookout for projects that reshape industries.


“Any business that we can take out of the shadows of the un-digitized realm is of interest – better yet, we’re looking to affect more than just mobile experiences, but positively impacting the community by arming users with knowledge. It’s tough trekking this terrain,” Tolga chuckles as he gazes out of the office windows. The hills of Ladera Heights hide the white noise of Silicon Beach; here, Thunderbolt’s storm of ventures brew and thrive freely.

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