Elevator Labs: an L.A. start-up building L.A. start-ups
Elevator Labs is one of a growing numbers of start-ups in Los Angeles hoping to raise the profile of L.A.'s tech scene.
But this start-up isn't making any one specific product. Rather, Elevator Labs is in business of building start-ups.
With $20 million in funding to feed Elevator Labs, the new firm is an incubator looking to start L.A. companies based off of ideas thought up by its founders, two former Virgin Digital executives, Zack Zalon and Brendon Cassidy.
The first idea to make it to market and available to the public is Hello Music, an online marketplace that offers musicians discounts on recording and performance gear and studio time.
Hello Music's discounts are offered directly from manufacturers and studio owners and on a limited basis. It's not an online storefront that regularly stocks anything, but rather a deals site aimed at unsigned artists who'd normally be left out of such discounts, Zalon said.
For more than a decade, Zalon and Cassidy have been working together, first at Virgin Digital for more than seven years and for the last five years, running a company of their own called Wilshire Media Group that focuses on product design and development for the entertainment industry.
Elevator Labs, unlike Wilshire, is focused on bringing the ideas Zalon and Cassidy come up with to life.
"What Virgin, and Richard Branson in particular, is incredibly good at is taking ideas that other people have and executing them very well," Zalon said. "Ideas are really great but it's execution that really makes the difference. That's the big thing we learned while working at Virgin and we've been primarily doing the same thing with Wilshire Media Group.
"Now, we're investing in ourselves. Hello music is the first but we have other projects coming and we're working to build, incubate, fund and execute and launch L.A. companies."
Although the ideas behind the companies will originate from Zalon and Cassidy, the two entrepreneurs won't be running every company that comes out of Elevator Labs.
"We literately are starting the companies from nothing but an idea, putting the right people in place and we're hands-on effectively operating the companies until they are ready to go and be launched to the public," he said. "Ultimately, we have a team of entrepreneurs that we're working with to hand the company over to so they can operate the company on their own. And if a company can't run on its own, we won't launch it."
Instead, he pointed to Bill Gross' Idealab in Pasadena and Applied Minds in Glendale as examples of companies that create companies in-house, outside of a more traditional incubator model that welcomes and educates a rotating cast of entrepreneurs.
"If an L.A. entrepreneur sent me an email I'd definitely want to find a good place to point them," Zalon said. "But we're not a venture capital firm and we're not a start-up accelerator.
"Elevator Labs likely won't even impact a lot of consumers, but what were hoping we can do is impact the community of entrepreneurs here in L.A. by working on our ideas and making them successful here in L.A. and contributing to the success of L.A. as a city where innovation takes place. The success that we have will hopefully attract more funds, more entrepreneurs to Los Angeles."
The next business Elevator Labs hopes to launch is FatCloud, which Zalon calls a "supercharger for Microsoft.net," a set of software tools that is looking to simplify creating and managing applications built by developers using PCs.
A start-up factory isn't a new idea, but that's not the point, he said.
"Really, what makes Elevator Labs different is Los Angeles itself," Zalon said. "I believe there is a culture in Los Angeles that gets embedded in the products that are developed in Los Angeles. If we don't show off the talent that is here in L.A., the creativity, the entrepreneurs here, they're going to keep taking off to the Bay Area or New York to start their companies.
"And while there is a huge amount of creative activity around technology, interactive, et cetera in Los Angeles, most of that action is taking place in the traditional space of film and entertainment. We want to be one of the companies that shows that L.A. can also be innovative in the other sides of the tech industry."
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Screen shot of Hello Music, a deals site for musicians. Credit: Hello Music/Elevator Labs