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Ten Tech Entrepreneurs Who Are Putting LA on the Map

For one reason or another, people in this country tend to look down on LA. If a person from outside Los Angeles is a fan of the city, dig a little and you’ll probably find that they like it for the celebrities, Hollywood not LA.

When New Yorkers talk about Los Angeles they discuss its sprawling smog and characterize it (as Woody Allen does in “Annie Hall”) as a city “where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.” Residents of Northern California (everyone north of Bakersfield) don’t understand how we do it, constantly touting Palo Alto’s tech scene.

Well, they’re all wrong, and Los Angeles is about to prove it.

LA is a special place right now. Tech startup accelerators dot the landscape, feeding investments into the waiting arms of the nation’s most intelligent and driven entrepreneurs. The rich and famous of this country flock to LA, looking for any opportunity to prolong their prime. Northern California has gotten too crowded, and the innovators, driven from the fertile soil of Palo Alto and San Francisco, have come here to the dust and the sun to strike it rich or go back to grad school.

What does this all mean? It means LA is going to change the world soon. Here are 10 people I think will be leading the charge.

10. Brandon Beck – Riot Games

You might not want to believe it, but eSports are here to stay. The top five tournaments for “StarCraft 2″ in the month of June 2012 had combined prize-pools of over $150,000. StarCraft 2 might be the most played eSport currently, but Riot Games’ “League of Legends” is garnering prize pools in the millions. This October, “League of Legends” is having its second World Championship hosted in LA. The prize? $3 million to the first place team. If NFL-sized payouts don’t prove the medium’s longevity, I don’t know what will convince you.

Brandon Beck and Riot Games had a simple dream: Take the most popular sub-game from Blizzard’s “WarCraft 3, Defense of the Ancients” (DoTA), and make it a stand alone. They raised some money, stole some guys from Blizzard, and released the game for free.

Is it the most influential free game available? I’d say yes. Is Brandon Beck a genius? Yes, again. Has he changed the world? You betcha.

9. Adam Miller – Cornerstone OnDemand

Founder and CEO since starting the company back in 1999, Miller has led Cornerstone through 11 years of consecutive growth. Adam Miller transformed his company into one of the world’s leading software-as-a-service companies, specifically in the HR world. Cornerstone has been recognized as one of the nation’s fastest growing companies by Deloitte, Inc. magazine and the LA Business Journal. Miller was even honored as an Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” for 2011. His IPO clocked in around 200 million and he has over 5 million subscribers, making Miller a corporate juggernaut in the LA area.

8. Adam Goldenberg – JustFab

Guess how many people think $39.95 is a good monthly investment? If you said 6 million (as of April 2012), you’d be close, because JustFab is growing by nearly to 500,000 members a month. Adam Goldenberg’s JustFab is one of the new heavy-hitting membership fashion sites. Even though their business model was tweaked a little while ago to give customers additional leniency, the business is still expecting to break $100 million in revenue this year, up from $25 million in 2010.

In a recent interview, Goldenberg stated that the online apparel market was a “bigger than $100 billion” business and that his company and others like it were poised to “take market share from traditional retailers”. Goldenberg thinks the membership program will hit its stride in three or four years, but I think that now is as good a time as any. Given Goldenberg’s Internet marketing prowess, I’m sure JustFab will continue to shape online retail for years to come.

7. Brian Lee – LegalZoom, ShoeDazzle

Graduating Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Econ/Business from UCLA and with a JD from UCLA Law, Brian Lee was a talented attorney. Lee could have stayed in the law business and become quite successful, but Lee had a dream. Lee wanted to create startups that would redefine what a startup could do.

His first company, LegalZoom was founded with Robert Shapiro, part of the team that successfully exonerated OJ Simpson, instantly giving his company credibility unheard of in the start up community. In 2011, Business Insider ranked Legal Zoom No. 27 on the list of Most Valuable Startups. His second big project, ShoeDazzle, ranked No. 59 on the same list, and was founded with Shapiro again, and TV peronsality Kim Kardashian. In 2012, ShoeDazzle jumped from 3 to 13 million members. If that’s not enough, ShoeDazzle runs charity shoe programs, making the company good for your closet and the country.

6. Richard Rosenblatt – Demand Media

A SoCal native and graduate of both UCLA and USC, Richard Rosenblatt led the growth of MySpace from an unknown to a household name. Most recently, Rosenblatt cofounded Demand Media, launching in 2006 with $120 million in equity and the acquisition of eHow.com. You might know Demand Media better as the people behind Cracked, DailyPuppy, and GolfLink.

In total, Demand Media owns 20 media networks in the US alone and is one of the best reasons why Paul Graham believes Hollywood is dead. On the other hand, Rosenblatt is one of the biggest reasons why I think Silicon Beach is the future of the entertainment industry in the United States.

5. Matt Coffin – LowerMyBills.com

There are a couple of names that pop up all over the Southern California entrepreneurship community. Matt Coffin, President and founder of LowerMyBills.com and SoCal “Entrepreneur of the Year” for 2006, has an absolutely ubiquitous presence in LA. Coffin sold LowerMyBills.com in 2005 for 300 million and took that money into the Los Angeles startup sector. Coffin has personally invested in Machinima, Mahalo.com, Demand Media, Rubicon, Docstoc, ShoeDazzle, Deal Quad (sold to Beachmint), and many others. It seems like every successful company in the LA area has Coffin’s signature scrawled on it.

4. Sky Dayton – Earthlink, eCompanies, Boingo

Sky is a guy that could easily go No. 1 on this list. When he was 23 years old in 1993, Sky heard about the Internet and realized that it was the future, not the next wave, not a “passing trend”.

Following Earthlink’s incredible success, Sky founded eCompanies, an accelerator that helped spawn LowerMyBills.com, JAMDAT Mobile, and business.com. Then Sky went on to found Boingo, a worldwide wi-fi aggregator and one of the largest wi-fi providers on the planet. Every time you want to use the Internet at an airport, you have to go through this man. Hell, if it weren’t for him, we might not have the same Internet we have today.

3. Gil Elbaz – Factual

Here’s a man with all the brains of a Silicon Valley engineer and all the big ideas and known-how of an LA entrepreneur. In an alternate universe, Elbaz would be a super-villain á la Lex Luthor (so much intelligence it’s scary), but here he’s poised to become the country’s most important inventor and entrepreneur. In fact, The New York Times said he might be “the most influential inventor in the booming business of data collection and analysis”.

Elbaz is the cofounder of Oingo, which launched AdSense in 2000 and changed their name to Applied Semantics. Google quickly bought AdSense in 2003 and Elbaz’s AS team became Google Santa Monica. Elbaz’ AdSense accounted for 28 percent of Google’s total revenue, or more than $2 billion. Now, Elbaz has turned his attention to Factual in an attempt to harness data.

2. Bill Gross – Idealab

There are some people who have entrepreneurship running through their veins. Gross started off selling candy bars in middle school, stepped up to selling solar power engine sets during the energy crisis of the 70s, and then moved into the software business when just out of Cal Tech.

Since 1996, Gross has been running Idealab. Close to 100 companies have come and gone through Gross’ doors, 35 of which have gone public. Yes, that means a number have failed, but his successes are too important to ignore. Picasa, CitySearch and ESolar have all gone through Bill Gross and without his steady hands, the companies, and Los Angeles, wouldn’t be the same.

1. Elon Musk – SpaceX, Tesla Motors, PayPal

What would this list be without Elon Musk? South African born, Musk bought his first computer in grade school and learned how to code, selling his first piece of software at 12. Musk pointed his big brain towards three questions: “One was the Internet; one was clean energy; and one was space,” said Musk.

Elon Musk began with PayPal (neé X.com), grown virally and bought by eBay for $1.5 billion in shares. His second venture was Tesla Motors, creating the first production electric car of the modern era. Finally, and probably his best-known company, SpaceX is Musk’s third hyper-successful business. When NASA privatized the space race, Musk was there with his rockets, Falcon 1 and 9, and the spacecraft, Dragon, to take up the burden. SpaceX’s rockets and spacecraft were the first privately designed and built craft to put a satellite into Earth and dock with the International Space Station.

If there’s anyone poised to take over the world, its Musk. And frankly, I’m okay with that.