Retail Revolution   /   March 15, 2019

Los Angeles is attracting more tech talent thanks to swath of e-commerce startups

Los Angeles has evolved from a celebrity-adjacent startup hub to a hotbed for San Francisco and New York transplants, as its e-commerce scene diversifies.

Today, the region’s hottest companies include marketplaces like GOAT Group, which received a $100 million investment from Foot Locker earlier this year, direct-to-consumer companies like vitamin purveyor Ritual and Unilever-owned Dollar Shave Club, consumer goods powerhouses like the Honest Company, and e-commerce platform startups like Stack Commerce and Magento, which was acquired by Adobe last year.

As a result, commerce startups say it’s easier to recruit talent, and find Los Angeles-based investors and mentors with experience in the sector than it was 10 years ago.

Tracy DiNunzio, the founder and CEO of peer-to-peer resale marketplace Tradesy, said that when she officially launched the company in 2012, it was the “generation of Beachmint.” Many of the commerce companies that popped up around 2010 were, “marrying a celebrity with some sort of product,” according to Andrew Blackmon, the co-founder and CEO of The Black Tux. That included Beachmint, which designed apparel lines in partnership with celebrities like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Rachel Bilson, as well as TechStyle Fashion Group, which launched Fabletics with Kate Hudson and acquired Kim Kardashian and Kimora Lee Simmons’ ShoeDazzle. The most well-known exit by an e-commerce startup at the time was HauteLook, which was acquired by Nordstrom for $180 million in 2011.

“When<span style=”font-weight: 400;”> I started Tradesy, we were a bunch of totally inexperienced, very ambitious people. And it was just hard to find people who had experience. There was some commerce experience, but there was effectively no marketplaces experience,” DiNunzio said. “</span><span style=”font-weight: 400;”>So we did some recruiting from [Silicon Valley] and from New York, but it’s always hard when you have to relocate people to make those hires and to make them when you need them.”</span>

Los Angeles did have some experienced technical talent in other areas — Greg Bettinelli, the former chief marketing officer at Haute Look and now a partner with Los Angeles’ Upfront Ventures, said that the early success of MySpace and CarsDirect turned Los Angeles into the “SEO capital of the world,” in the early to late 2000s.

“We’ve always had people here who’ve understood organic traffic acquisition,” Bettinelli said.

Now, DiNunzio said it has, in particular, become easier to find senior-level engineering talent — in part because the engineers who started at companies like Tradesy 10 years ago are now experienced engineers. DiNunzio says that she’s recruited a lot of engineers from TrueCar, a Los Angeles-based auto-pricing marketplace platform founded in 2011.

Other experienced senior-level talent, like Bettinelli, are becoming investors, ensuring that the next generation of Los Angeles commerce founders have access to more early-stage capital to start their business. Though DiNunzio and Blackmon said that they’ve never had a problem raising funding in Los Angeles — partially because investors from New York and San Francisco have always proven willing to make frequent trips to the area — they seem to be visiting more frequently in recent years.

Additionally, what Los Angeles has always had is a surplus of creative talent. Blackmon said that when he and his co-founder, Patrick Coyne, were starting The Black Tux, they had to decide between Los Angeles (where Blackmon lived), New York (where Coyne lived) or San Francisco. Los Angeles got the edge because of its influx of creative talent. They also liked the fact that Los Angeles’ e-commerce scene was younger, and that there were a lot of founders working on companies at a similar stage as The Black Tux.

“Anything from a creative director to a copywriter to a designer, to a web designer, Los Angeles has so much talent in that space,” Blackmon said.

The proximity to entertainment means a more diverse talent set.

“Here, you got a lot of people who worked in entertainment or video production, so we’ve found that we get a lot of good Swiss army knife creative thinkers,” DiNunzio said, in contrast to “some of the more traditional product marketing and design people,” in places like San Francisco, where career tracks follow the Stanford MBA-to-startup trajectories.

Los Angeles’ reputation as a creative hub has also cemented it as a good place to live in job applicants’ minds, particularly those hailing from San Francisco. Both Blackmon and DiNunzio say they’ve seen an uptick in recent years about job applicants from San Francisco and the Bay Area, who want to move to Los Angeles to get out of a city that’s so dominated by tech and is getting increasingly expensive to live in. The Black Tux recently hired Thad Hwang, formerly the director of product management at Lyft, to be its chief product officer, for example.

And DiNunzio said that she’s now seeing companies like Facebook and Google — who also have companies in Los Angeles — recruit from the same talent pool they are. Bettinelli said that he’s also seeing more second- and third-time entrepreneurs moving to Los Angeles than in recent years, typically from New York or San Francisco.

That competition for talent is only going to get tougher, as companies like The Black Tux, which has taken on more than $60 million in venture capital funding, and GOAT Group feel increased pressure to grow quickly and deliver the necessary returns to their investors. Additionally, more alumni of these consumer companies started in 2010 or later are starting their own ventures — an Honest Company alum recently raised $8 million for a natural perfume startup, while Tradesy’s former director of engineering recently started his own company, a child care provider platform called WeeCare. Now, they’ll have a better launching pad than the generation of commerce founders before them.

“I’m always very bullish. I think we’re still in the very early innings of Los Angeles’ success,” Bettinelli said.

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