Humble beginnings make heavy hitters: The founding stories behind 5 LA tech companies

by Alton Zenon III
April 9, 2019

“Started from the bottom, now we’re here.”

That was the chorus from the 2013 eponymous Drake song, which was immensely popular for quite some time, but like all great, culturally relevant tastes of the moment, eventually faded from relevance. But we’re pleased to report the foundational sentiment has not lost its significance — not by a long shot. 

We spoke to five founders and C-suite staff at LA tech companies to hear the stories of how their businesses grew from very humble beginnings to the successful, rap lyric-embodying entities they are today.

 

Centerfield co-founders
photo via centerfield

Using big data-driven tools such as real time biddable media and automated call routing, Centerfield provides enterprise companies with marketing and sales solutions. Co-founder and co-CEO Jason Cohen said an initial relationship created by conflict eventually led to a business created by friendship.

 

What’s one thing people might not know about how your company was founded? 

I co-founded the company with Brett Cravatt, and what most people don’t know is that we originally got to know each other over a business disagreement between our competing media agencies. We gained a lot of respect for each other during that process and became friends.  We decided to invest in a few ventures together and ultimately founded Centerfield.

I am a born-and-bred New Yorker, and Brett is a Californian through and through. We quickly realized that starting a business cross-country was never going to work and so I decided to move out to Los Angeles. One thing I didn’t realize was how strong the creative and technology mindset and talent is in LA, which really suited the kind of digital media company we wanted to build.

We see a lot of growth ahead for us, and have already expanded our office space in Playa Vista this year to keep up with demand from our clients.”

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Centerfield started as a digital marketing company that sold prospects, or leads, via paid search. We just celebrated our eighth anniversary, and looking back through the years we’ve evolved in three very deliberate ways. 

First, we believed that a technology-first approach to digital marketing would provide the most value to brands, and invested in building a proprietary measurement and optimization platform called Dugout that runs all of our marketing. Second, we expanded our offerings to both marketing and sales solutions, and we now deliver millions of new sales each year to some of the biggest brands in the world.

Third, and most recently, we’ve invested in building or acquiring consumer guides like BroadbandNow. We see a lot of growth ahead for us, and have already expanded our office space in Playa Vista this year to keep up with demand from our clients.

 

Inspire Senior Vice President Sales and Member Experience Zac Lowder
photo via inspire

Inspire purchases Renewable Energy Certificates from wind farms nationwide to provide the public with sourced clean energy they can use to power their homes. Senior Vice President of Sales and Member Experience Zac Lowder said the company honed in on its ability to focus and hit its ideal targets, much like Avengers staple Hawkeye.

 

What’s one thing people might not know about how your company was founded? 

As an early-stage startup back in 2014, the challenge we faced was: how do we find a way to establish ourselves as a challenger brand in a market with massive, low-tech companies, while also being perceived as stable, trustworthy and credible? Our response was to build a relationship with members at the leadership level. Myself, our CEO Patrick Maloney, and some of our first team members talked to our members every day on the phone. We were able to get early insights directly from our members and better understand what was working and where we could improve. Of course, we realized this wouldn’t be sustainable as we grew, so decided to have a little fun with it and created our first customer support persona, Kale Reed who we used to respond to emails. 

Myself, our CEO Patrick Maloney, and some of our first team members talked to our members every day on the phone.”

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Inspire has grown exponentially since the first year or two, accelerating everything from the number of employees — who we call Avengers — to members, revenue, and our environmental impact. Equally as important, has been our culture and unwavering commitment to maintaining it as we grow. Inspire's culture has been shaped by all of our employees and it’s been incredible to see how each new Avenger has added his or her own unique superpower.

One of the most impactful changes that I’ve seen is our ability to focus, work cross-functionally, and accelerate our results. When we were first starting out, there were so many opportunities and directions that we could pursue — we were constantly prioritizing and re-prioritizing. Now, we move boldly and intentionally, often working in concert across many, if not all, areas of the business to reach our goals. We are highly focused on the outcomes we seek to achieve.

 

Well Health team in outdoor group photo
photo via well health

Well Health is a communications tool used by healthcare organizations, allowing them to reach patients via text, phone and email through automated and personalized messages. CEO Gui De Zwirek said he conjured the company’s initial direction on a very tense night from inside a very cold car.

 

What’s one thing people might not know about how your company was founded? 

I had the idea for Well and talked about it all the time, but never did anything to make it happen. Then, one day, my wife and I were in the middle of an argument, and she said “You keep saying you’re starting a company, but you haven’t actually done anything but talk about it.” I stormed out and slept in the car that night — where it was absolutely freezing — but I had my laptop and I wrote a business plan right then and there. 

I’m out of the freezing car and we now have a 14,000-square-foot office with heating.”

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Well, for one thing, I’m out of the freezing car and we now have a 14,000-square-foot office with heating. We’ve grown from a two-person team to a staff of over 60. And my wife doesn’t tell me I’m not fulfilling a dream — now I actually hear that I spend too much time with the company!

In all seriousness, there’s this mythical SaaS metric called T2D3 which implies that once you hit your first million in revenue, if you triple twice and double three times, you have a billion dollar company within five years. The trick is building an organization to support this aggressive growth while improving product quality and delivering more value to our customers along the way. We’re close to halfway through that balancing act, and on track to become a billion-dollar business. Going forward, that’s where our focus will be. 

 

CREXi founder and CEO Mike DeGiorgio
photo via CREXi

CREXi is a dual-facing commercial real estate platform. It lets industry professionals list and manage properties and provides potential business owners and developers with available property listings. Founder and CEO Mike DeGiorgio said the company has come a long way since the days of over a dozen friends operating the business in close quarters from inside a home in Venice. 

 

What’s one thing people might not know about how your company was founded? 

The company was originally named CREX, but that web domain cost approximately $50,000 and the web domain for CREXi was $75. We were a newly-formed startup with a limited budget and concluded that the ‘i’ spoke nicely to the digital world and that the additional syllable gave the name a better ring. So with our newfound name we launched with only four properties in our marketplace. Today we have over 215,000 properties across sales and leasing representing a total of over 4.2 billion square feet of space, and the CREXi name has stuck.

In the early days, the company was located in a house in Venice next to the canals; there were 15 people crammed in there with extremely limited room.”

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

In the early days, the company was located in a house in Venice next to the canals; there were 15 people crammed in there with extremely limited room. Given the friendships and deep roots of the early employees, our team was mostly from Chicago with people from very similar, and in many instances overlapping, company backgrounds. We are now located in an 8,000-square-foot office in Marina del Rey and have over 50 team members with diverse cultural and geographical backgrounds. As we continue to grow, we will look to maintain our culture as a company, celebrating the wins together.

 

Jumpcut neon sign that says "bad ideas welcome"
photo via jumpcut

Jumpcut is a provider of online business courses in topics like entrepreneurship, marketing and launching a product. Co-founder and CEO Kong Pham shares how company evolved from its point of origin in a Hollywood studio apartment to having a massive international reach.

 

What’s one thing people might not know about how your company was founded? 

Jumpcut's first office was a small studio apartment. I was living in a studio in Hollywood at the time and we decided to rent out the apartment next door as our office space. We managed to grow the team to about a dozen before it got too cramped.

“I was living in a studio in Hollywood at the time and we decided to rent out the apartment next door as our office space.”

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

To date, we are active in 81 countries and have over 2 million users. Over the next few years, we will be significantly growing our course offerings. We've come a long way from that studio apartment and we still have a way to go before we realize our goal of building the most innovative business school in the world. But we're bringing on the best and brightest minds to help us tackle the challenge.

 

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