Why I owe my success to LA’s tech community

In a few weeks, I will co-host the 10th Annual Digital Family Reunion, which celebrates the richly diverse community of technology professionals in Los Angeles. In honor of the occasion, I thought it was important to share some historical perspective on the technology community in Los Angeles, going back some 24 years.

It all began for me with a Wall Street Journal article by Jared Sandberg in 1993. His message about how hypertext markup language would soon bring the world together through images, sound and video across Internet’s World Wide Web stirred something in me that I will never forget and immediately caused me to turn all of my energy toward a career in digital marketing.

I was captivated by the potential the Web represented, and I knew if I wanted to capitalize on it professionally I needed to learn everything and meet everyone I could who knew anything about the Web, which led me to seek out others who were doing the same. My search led me to participate in several networking organizations, which over time became the foundation for the technology industry community we have here in Los Angeles today.

At the time, I was transitioning out of my entertainment PR account executive role under legendary Hollywood publicist Phil Paladino. When Phil became ill and the company ended, I  got the chance to sell under Murphy O’Brien partner (and later X-Drive CEO) Brett O’Brien.  But I  wanted to get closer to the  Web.  With the help of Andy Nelson (not from LA), I landed a director of marketing and sales role at CD-ROM game developer Viridis Corp. I applied my communications background and a budding interest in sales and marketing there under Lee Barnes and Christopher Thompson.

To help put Viridis on the map in 1994 and connect my role there to the community that was making the transition from CD-ROM to the Web, we sponsored a meetup in the atrium of the Westwood Gateway building off the 405 and Santa Monica Blvd. I was so jazzed about the success of that event – I felt like I was part of something transformative, and the energy that was building around everyone’s shared desire to learn and collaborate was palpable. People were sharing business ideas, which led to investment, which led to jobs and the eventual spark of LA’s part in the dot-com boom.

My first exposure to LA’s tech community was at a local chapter meeting of the International Interactive Communications Society (IICS) in Hollywood.  Through that community, I met Jeannine Parker, Joey Tamer, Sue Marrone and Hal Josephson, at that time the producer of Motorola’s Interactive Media Festival at Digital World. At about the same time  I met Seth Shapiro (aka @Zebcom) – we would spend long hours on the phone discussing the technical inner workings of the Web and its potential in business.  And there was Ben Mendelson, whose Learning Annex class about the World Wide Web turned into a long professional friendship.

Later I would find my now lifelong friends Joe Andrieu and Christian Gray at the Association of Internet Professionals (AIP), and soon thereafter met the true don of the digital media industry in Los Angeles, Jim Jonassen. Along with producer Molly Lavik, Jim’s LA New Media Roundtable (LAwNMoweR) events were the happening digital scene between 1994 and ‘97.

Jim and Co. would eventually parlay that momentum into the creation of the Digital Coast Roundtable, along with Mayor Richard Riordan, David Hankin, Rocky Delgadillo and others. Along with executive director Conchetta Fabares, the group created the Digital Coast moniker to brand the region from Santa Barbara to San Diego in hopes of attracting more investment from the Bay Area into the converging entertainment and technology industries (often referred to as Silliwood).

During those years I chaired the DCR’s Industry Relations Committee, which brought together community leaders from across the region to collaborate, share information and host a holiday networking party (not unlike the Digital Family Reunion model of today). Our biggest and most successful was in 1998, when Gary Baker of IBM helped us underwrite a huge gathering at the California Science Museum.   Other IRC members at that time included the LA Venture Association, Internet Developers Association, Tech Coast Alliance and  VIC – ah yes, VIC.

Brad Nye and Larry Roth started the Venice Interactive Community around a coffee table at the Firehouse Café in Venice in 1995. Along with Fran Pomerantz, Spence Bovee and Mariana Danilovic, I was among the founding board members of  what would grow to become the biggest and most important social network in the converging technology, media and entertainment industries throughout the late ‘90s. Our monthly parties migrated to James Beach and the World Café before landing at the Victorian, where “VIC at the Victorian” became the place to see and be seen for anyone in tech (or as we said in those days, “interactive” or “digital media”). The VIC stories encompassed  millions of dollars, thousands of participants, hundreds of deals, companies forged and fortunes created. .

That same year I co-founded InterActive Agency, Inc. (aka iAgency), the world’s first Internet PR firm and one of the first full-service interactive agencies.  VIC is where I got my deal flow, feeding our 15-person team up until the dot-com crash. The relationships I made there continue to be  invaluable.  The stories around iAgency are  too numerous to cite and the amazing clients too many to thank, but I would be remiss if I did not mention Stuart Halperin, Steve Katinsky and the team at Hollywood Online for writing the first check to iAgency, and Mark Jeffrey (The Palace), Jim Moloshok (Warner Bros. Online) and Steve Bradbury and Jeff Liebowitz (Engage Games Online) for believing in us early on.

Along with my partner, Alan Wallace, our first employee, Tracy Bagatelle, Will Akerlof, Matt Paladino, Sharon Boyajian and the rest of our crew, and office mates Dan Dickenson, Richard Titus, Stephen Anspach and may others, we made community happen every day. And the relationships I made then continue today; those people are still part of my network and part of the community, each of them willing to help me in any way they can, as I would do for them.

It’s that spirt of networking and helping each other along that is at the heart of our character as a technology community in Los Angeles. Ask anyone who comes to Silicon Beach from New York or San Francisco and they will tell you the community here is generally more willing to take a meeting and network with one another to help facilitate the introductions and forge the relationships needed to advance our respective businesses and careers. I believe that attitude and culture in the LA tech community of today goes back to “the VIC days,” if not earlier.

And then the dot-com bust, ugh.

Again, hundreds of more stories to tell.  DEN, PointCast, Pixelon (my personal), eToys  — I could go on. Gone were the dot-com parties, IPOs, paper millionaires and jobs, not to mention some amazing technologies – poof! What followed in its wake, besides a dose of sound business fundamentals, was a dearth of community and networking. There was nothing going on in LA.

Enter Kurt Daradics.

It was the summer of 2008, and young KurtyD parachuted into the industry and into our lives. He was making his own transition to tech, so I could relate to his enthusiasm and respect that he was having meetings with all the right people around town. He had also started his own curated networking group Meeting of the Minds (aka MOTM) to serve as a catalyst for his discovery of the industry.

We decided to meet for dinner with Brad Nye at Kate Mantilini in Woodland Hills. As we chatted about Web 2.0, social media and the younger generation of professionals that was breathing life back into tech in LA, an idea came to us – what if we hosted a party to connect our Web 1.0 community with this younger set? After all, we’re all connected, we’re all family – and thus the Digital Family Reunion was born. We needed a fiscal sponsor, which led us to David Leighton, CEO of Women in Technology International, who has managed the finances, registration and our Web presence over the years.

What happened on that December night in 2008 was nothing short of magical. The best part was that everywhere you looked around Ahmanson Hall at the Skirball Cultural Center, people could be seen greeting and embracing friends and colleagues they had not seen in years – they were beaming! It gave me such pleasure to know I had a hand in creating so much joy. But there was more to it. That familiarity, combined with the mingling of the two generations of tech workers — 800 of them — being introduced for the first time was electric. There was instant camaraderie and a sense of pay-it-forward mentality happening all over.

There were dozens of new exhibiting companies to see, senior executives to meet and high-profile speakers such as Jason Calacanis and Ryan Scott to learn from – and I got to present our first DFR Outstanding Achievement Honor to Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. Add in the good vibes from DJ Loomer, visual stimulation from Annmarie and Chris Penny’s infinity mirror and a life-sized sculpture made up entirely of business cards from the 1990s, and it was one helluva good networking event. We have since turned it into an annual holiday tradition for LA’s tech industry, fueled by more than 50 community partner organizations who promote it to their members.

Over the past decade, LA’s technology industry and related social scene has exploded. In recent years, Thursday Nights connected entrepreneur CEOs with the venture community while giving back to the Girls and Boys Club of Santa Monica. Ken Rutkowski’s METal group started in 2000 and continues to thrive. Kevin Winston has dominated the scene in recent years with Digital LA and Silicon Beach Fest. Rachel Horning and Zach Sekar’s Startups in the Sky is rallying around the vibrant tech community in DTLA. Along with my pals KW Low and Nicole Jordan, we host a few LA AdTech meetups and educational panels each year. Kudos to Susan Franceschini of ThinkLA for truly serving the advertising and marketing community across the region. Alon Goren and Gary Livingston’s 805 Startups has rallied the community where I live in the Conejo Valley. Ash Kumra’s YOUNGRY is inspiring young entrepreneurs in Orange County and elsewhere. Stephen Meade pulls together a consistently high quality and eclectic crowd for the Beverly Hills Breakfast Club. The Tech Council of Southern California, now part of SIIA, is rebooting under the direction of Rhianna Collier and Jenn Carl. Mark Jeffrey and Ken Brook created Crypto Beach to address the burgeoning blockchain community. And newcomer Built In LA is on the rise with its publishing and events model catering to hiring companies.

Incubators and accelerators are also creating community. I’ve been especially impressed by Heidi Hubbeling and the team at Stubbs, Alderton and Markiles’ Preccelerator Program, were I’m currently a mentor. Paul Bricault and Oded Noy have done phenomenally well with the community. And LA’s original incubator, Idealab, has been going strong since 1996.

There are at least 100 other local networking organizations and professional associations actively giving professionals a place to connect and thrive in and around LA tech. I have tremendous respect for what their leaders have done to foster the growth of our community and I know firsthand that it is quite literally the lifeblood of our industry.

Community is everywhere, and it’s what you make of it. Whether you start your own meetup or simply show up at one that interests you, one cannot help but to be thrust in the path of opportunity. The tech community in LA has fed the growth of my career and has been the foundation of countless industry friendships and connections, for which I will be forever grateful.

I’m proud that our DFR meetup in 2008 was special enough to become an annual holiday event. I don’t take our strong community for granted, and I hope others will appreciate the importance of being in the room on Wed. Dec.  6 in DTLA to celebrate what we’ve created together and envision what we can do over the next 10 to 20 years. Whether or not you’ve attended DFR before, if you are working in tech in LA, we’re having a party in your honor and I hope you will come.

Check out for more details and join the conversation at


How Do You Communicate Your Hustle?

Communicating hustle will be the theme of tonight’s Youngry event where my start-up Pepper Bandits, will sponsor the pizza offered for a tasting of Fuegorita, our all-natural hot pepper blend. So, it seemed fitting to reflect on how that topic shows up in my work.

Do you work harder, spreading yourself thinly, double-booking and pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion each day?

Or do you work smarter, remaining hyper-focused on performing only the most essential tasks required to move you closer to your clearly defined objective?

I’m no model citizen when it comes to working efficiently — so “do as I say, not as I do,” — but here are a few things I try to do with my hustle every day.

1) Driven (literally) – I don’t have a choice except to be driven — my success depends on it. So I fill my days accordingly, using every waking moment to attend to my many irons in the fire — even when that means driving all over Los Angeles to get ‘er done.

2) Decisive – I make decisions quickly because I know how critical that is to achieving my ultimate objective.

3) Dialogue – I believe conversation drives progress, so I make a point of having active conversations which drive my next set of actions.

4) Direct – I don’t have time to bullshit you and I certainly don’t have time for yours. I will always give you my honest assessment of where things stand, even if the truth hurts sometimes. I hope you’ll always do the same for me.

5) Discipline – I suck at discipline, but I work to improve my time management skills each day. From saying no, to being respectful of others’ time and managing my own, I work hard each day to keep an earnest focus on the prize.

6) Downtime – I know the importance of downtime and I look forward to yoga, basketball, guitar and family time because I know those are the things that are really most important and recharge my batteries so I can do more of the work I love.

These are the ways I communicate my hustle. How do you communicate yours?


SIIA Digital Marketing Bootcamp Highlights and Insights

Last month I had the pleasure of reconnecting with the SIIA community during its Digital Marketing Bootcamp and picked up a few pieces of information worth passing along.

During my panel, “Using Social Media to Raise Awareness and Drive Change,” I had the opportunity to hear firsthand tips and tactics from one of my favorite performance marketers, Jonathan Dane of KlientBoost.

Jonathan reminded us about the importance of usability in getting to a conversion event – you must minimize the number of clicks and remove friction wherever possible. Testing multiple landing pages is critical for improving performance and knowing with precision the audience you want to reach allows you to spend your available budget with laser focus.

We also discussed the increasing role of video in social media. With 8B videos day posted on Facebook, and 10B on Snapchat, “snackable” video content (10 seconds or less) still works.  And speaking of Facebook, with 1.89B accounts globally, it was mentioned repeatedly how it continues to be an under-utilized platform for B2B marketers.

Using Facebook is also a great way to create “ancillary audiences,” or to find people you didn’t think were your audience. Dane suggested “taking the temperature of your audience” based on how much time they spend with a boosted post. From there you can include/exclude people from audiences for future paid targeting efforts based on an increasing likelihood of their interest.

On Twitter, the most interesting (albeit inauthentic) tactic mentioned was to create multiple twitter accounts to follow, share and stimulate excitement for a campaign.

Throughout the day, I picked up a few other tidbits worth sharing:


On marketing automation
  • Sales and marketing are collapsing
  • A qualified sales lead is when a salesperson is willing to open an opportunity
  • Prospects won’t engage until they’re ready. Marketing’s responsibility is to make sure you are in the consideration set
  • Marketing automation success is based more on design than what tool is selected
  • If you don’t know what you’re spending, you’re not optimizing


On content marketing
  • Talk about what your audience wants to talk about, not what you want to talk about
  • Define success metric up front – there is only one bottom line
  • Make your head of sales sign off on the definition of a qualified lead
  • An editor can make a piece of content more marketable
  • Be a curator of content – share the work of others and they will share back


Above all, quality, crafted content is what truly commands attention and gets results. As one panelist put it, “without content, there is no marketing.”

If you are interested in the SIIA’s plans to revive the Technology Council of Southern California, more information about membership can be found at


Trade Marketing Gets Its Upfront

Each year during upfront season, the networks roll out their new programming line-ups to great fanfare and the sort of pomp only media titans could concoct. By day, executives parade their stars across the stage and debut highlights from upcoming shows for the press; by night they wine-and-dine agencies and brands, courting them for billions in ad placements. They go to such great lengths for publicity, because inventory is limited and for sales efficiency, considering modern-day business still runs on face-to-face meetings and relationships.

On a smaller, yet equally important and growing scale, B2B marketing within the advertising and media industries operates on similar principles. There are only so many event sponsorships, newsletter avails and sponsored content impressions to go around — they really do sell out. In addition, the complexities of trade marketing itself, not to mention the myriad of marketing technologies that have become an integral part of our ecosystem, make the idea for a trade marketing upfront not only a novel idea, but a timely one that is vital to the ongoing growth of our industry.

By way of this post, I’m proud to announce the industry’s first-ever Trade Marketing Upfront will be held on February 23rd from 1:30 to 7 pm at the W Times Square — New York.

The event will bring together senior B2B marketing professionals and solution providers working at the crossroads of media, marketing and technology. Attendance is by invitation only and the event is being entirely underwritten by Marketing 2 Marketers, the new tech-enabled B2B marketing consultancy co-founded by Adam Gelles and me. There is no cost to attend.

At our Upfront, the stars of the show will be the publications, event marketing companies and technology solution providers who act as an important conduit between ad industry marketing executives (our guests) and the brands and agencies they are charged with influencing through their work.

Pulling from the expertise of these sell-side leaders, the focus will be entirely on sharing key insights, trends and best-practices for how trade marketing professionals can more effectively support revenue generation for their organizations. The agenda will include: Content Marketing; Reaching Niche Audiences at Scale; Selecting the Right Marketing Technology and Curating Leads that Drive Business.

For the heads of marketing in attendance, the 2016 Trade Marketing Upfront represents an opportunity to hear firsthand from the solution providers who know intimately the pain points they deal with because they’re already working to resolve those issues for other companies in the space. It will also be a unique forum for B2B marketers to learn from and network with their peers who face similar demands and challenges on a daily basis.

In years to come, we envision publications like MediaPost and Advertising Age, conferences like Digiday and Brand Innovators and platforms like Oracle, Salesforce, Hootsuite and Curata will use the Trade Marketing Upfront as a platform to introduce new products and their slates of events for the year. Further, we foresee a time when the industry dialogue we begin this month will become a vibrant marketplace where news is made, ideas are shared and deals get done, saving everyone countless hours of scheduling, traveling and negotiating deals ad hoc throughout the year.

For our inaugural event, however, our goal is simply to foster a thoughtful dialogue between leading solution providers and the trade marketers they serve through an afternoon of thought leadership and education. If you are a B2B marketing executive in the media and advertising industry, or a service provider who helps them reach agencies and brands, we’d love to see you there.

For information about presenting or to request an invitation to attend, please email



Why the Marketing Industry Craves CES

While the headlines emanating from CES in Las Vegas last week centered on the latest gadgetry in wearables, VR and the Internet of Things, the real news for the marketing industry was happening far from the show floor.

The biggest headline for marketers is who was there. Virtually every major consumer brand and agency was represented at CES, kicking off the 2016 circuit, which, along with SXSW, Cannes, DMEXCO and Advertising Week comprise the “Big Five” confabs where technology, media and marketing executives now meet regularly to learn, network and get deals done.

Buy why do marketers love CES? And why now? It’s not because Michael Kassan (MediaLink/C-Space), Marc Sternberg (Brand Innovators) or Drew Ianni (APPNATION) drag them there, though their events have become the de facto hubs for marketing execs to connect at CES. No, it’s because brands know everything having to do with media, technology and consumer behavior is changing — again.

As Shelly Palmer pointed out during his Innovation Series Breakfast keynote, the real innovation this year wasn’t doorbell apps, cheaper 4K televisions and foldable displays; it was about how technologies that have been there all along are being used in new and creative ways. These iterative changes and the ingenuity of those who coble them together are a potent combination and brands are taking notice.

Brands need and want to understand this nuanced evolution because it impacts where consumers spend their time and attention. Furthermore, the technology can truly empower brands to understand and engage with consumers in new and interesting ways. Nothing could be more important than seeing firsthand the devices upon which a brand’s messages may someday appear, the delivery mechanisms by which they’ll get there and meeting the people who can do the deals required to integrate their messaging into these new platforms, devices and content.

While the biggest news from CES may not appear to have an immediate impact on marketing, take a look one layer beneath the surface of IoT, wearables and VR at CES, and you’ll find plenty of examples of how brands are already thinking about and taking action in these emerging categories.

Internet of Things.

Many pundits agree the Internet of Things is the “next big thing,” however just because something can be connected doesn’t mean it should be — something Altimiter analyst and digital anthropologist Brian Solis jokingly referred to as the “Internet of Shit.” According to IDC analyst Carrie MacGillivray, the most visible expression of IoT is going to be in the home, however better interfaces and a real consumer value proposition are needed before we reach the 30 billion devices IDC predicts will be connected by 2020. Another major issue is interoperability — what’s the OS that will make Samsung’s new Family Hub smart refrigerator communicate with Sengled’s smart light bulb or Google’s Nest? The most creative IoT brand integration I saw at CES (announced in October) was Campbell’s Kitchen App for Amazon Echo, which besides responding to voice commands with your favorite tunes, will answer questions and serve up recipes according to your profile, the weather and what’s trending on its website.

Virtual Reality.

It was no surprise VR was a hot topic at CES. What I didn’t see coming was how it’s also breathing new life into Augmented Reality. At Michael Terpin’s Tech Debut, Halsey Minor gave personal demos of his new Quantum Leap VR camera. With its 16 HD lenses and the ability to render real-time video for live streaming, the system also features an augmented reality layer to allow the insertion of 3D virtual objects and animation into a live stream. Microsoft VP Thom Gruhler showed the Brand Innovators Mega-Trends audience how the company’s HoloLens brings “mixed reality,” or the creative integration of AR and VR, which consumers will soon be able to experience via headsets in Volvo showrooms. VR content and brand experiences are in play, but with only 25 million VR and AR headsets predicted to be sold by 2018, it’s still a bit early for full on advertising media integration.


Far from the visually immersive features of VR, screens on wearables are practically non-existent. So where do brands integrate with a popular emerging technology where there’s no display? According to IDC analyst Karsten Weide, it could be through AR, but fundamentally it’s all about the persistent access to data. Wearables have the potential to know more about us than we do about ourselves — they capture troves of data that create more accurate profiles about us that we could create ourselves, because they report on what we actually do, not what we say about ourselves. With more than 32% of the US population expected to be using wearables by 2018, it may not be about advertising per se, but rather the data that informs advertising strategy, media planning and retail consumption. A few companies mentioned by Mr. Weide as pioneering the frontier of marketing and wearables were FitAd, Mindshare, Tapsense and Undertone.

These are just a few examples of how brands are thinking about consumer technology and only begin to scratch the surface of what was being shown and discussed at CES. Did you see a creative mash-up between marketing and technology worth sharing? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please email me at