With the ever-growing startup culture of Southern California’s Silicon Beach, startups across Los Angeles continue to expand.
On September 27th, TechDay hosted their 3rd annual TechDay LA event at The Reef on South Broadway in Downtown to promote the growth of startups in Los Angeles by bringing together over 250 startups and 7,500 registered attendees.
UXPALA was kind enough to send me to my first Techday LA where I had the opportunity to attend the TechdayTalks where key figures in the Tech industry shared advice on various topics from entrepreneurship to communication with government.
While much of my day consisted of attending these TechdayTalks, I did have an hour or two to roam about this awesome conference.
Pitching on the Radio
As I wandered around, I came across this area set up by KTLA 5 where organizations could pitch themselves over the radio.
It was awesome to see small organizations have the opportunity to promote themselves.
Stepping into the Ring
Expert Dojo brought the Ultimate Pitching Championship to Techday LA where they announced that they will be investing $1,000,000 total to startups worldwide.
At Techday LA they brought a panel of judges to choose the top candidate who will later compete with the winner form Techday London for an investment of at least $50,000 to launch the idea.
Techday LA set up the ring shown above to have founders “fight” for their organizations.
Most of my day consisted of attending 12 very informative Techday Talks and I felt that a lot of the advice that these speakers were sharing with us was applicable not just to each specific scenario, but holistically on a larger level for designers as well.
The Lay of Your Land, the Office Experience in LA
Speaking about the expansion of tech in LA, Senior Associate at CBRE David Freitag spoke about the state of the tech environment in LA.
The tech scene is rapidly growing in LA as the overall work culture is rapidly changing. In this evolution of working environments each individual at a company has an impact and in that way they are actively designing it.
“When we as a company moved downtown, we were drastically changing the way we designed space,” Freitag said. “Out were the executive offices with closed doors and in their place were six man desks, open office spaces, and even a zen garden. Teams were formed to address everything from purely design aesthetics, wellness, and even snacks.”
As technology further integrates with our lives, so too do these workspaces change. We become further plugged in to our work and it becomes increasingly difficult to disconnect as the line between work and life further blur. The value of a more enjoyable working environment becomes necessary.
“Culture is cultivated, not created,” Freitag said. “A simple thing like location can make a lasting impact. Workspace is constantly evolving and now moving to something dynamic and inspiring.”
Fostering a Better Working Relationship between Local Government and Tech
Aria Safar, the Economic Policy Manager at the Mayor’s Office, spoke on how “government sees tech as reckless… And tech sees government as slow” and what we could do to bridge that divide to nurture a better working relationship.
Safar emphasizes that storytelling and how we construct these conversations is key to fostering a better working relationship.
Essentially, successful storytelling is practicing empathy and understanding how we can anticipate and work with the wants and needs of the other party which is in this case the government.
“Try to couch your conversation on how you’re benefiting government,” Safar said. “How are you making our jobs easier?”
To nurture a successful relationship with government, we have to understand what impact they are looking for and what type of data can we deliver to prove it to the government.
Safar’s advice applies to stakeholders and other team members as well.
What type of impact does a stakeholder need to sign off on a design? Which KPIs should we measure to display that impact?
What does a developer need delivered to them? Is it low-fidelity mockups to just get the idea across?
What I learned from Safar’s speech is to practice empathy to anticipate the wants and needs of coworkers by putting myself in their position.
Do’s and Don’ts of Disruption in Startups
Vivek Bedi, VP of Digital Product at Northwestern and Head of Product at LearnVest, shared 5 key things he learned from working at both a growing startup and Northwestern Mutual.
Be Bold, but have Empathy
“Your idea is probably amazing, but make sure you are being empathetic and talk it through to who you need to talk to.”
Bedi makes the point that when LearnVest was acquired by Northwestern, they could have acted like they knew better.
They took action, but understood that both sides had something to offer.
Obsess about your critics
“It’s always easy to gravitate to folks that love your idea.”
On his third week on the job, one of highest producing advisors at Northwestern Mutual told Bedi that “your digital experience sucks” and that his changes would make the product horrible.
Instead of shirking that feedback, Bedi worked closely with that advisor’s team and he built a product specialist team that spoke to 8,000 advisors to receive feedback.
Bedi mentioned that when he recently asked that same advisor to join a panel he was running, he replied, “Yeah, the digital experience is awesome, of course I’d like to join.”
The lesson here is that people that may seem like obstacles can be allies in waiting.
Put on a Show
“Within ten minutes of listening to something, somebody’s brain immediately switches off.”
Talk or presentation, Bedi emphasizes that we have to put on a show.
Personally I found this especially important because in design we are not the ones making the final decision so the better the show we put on when presenting our design decisions, the better the final decision.
Get people to think like you do
“We got them moving, we got them up, it wasn’t a boring meeting anymore. We got them to think the way startups think.”
Bedi is very upfront that it is not a simple task to get people to think like you do.
He framed activities like persona reviews with sticky notes and drawing black & whites on investment reviews as “creative labs.”
These creative labs were focused on collaboration and bringing everybody together to participate.
As a result, the company started holding their own creative labs.
Don’t get married to your product
“What you’re working on you’re probably not using it for yourself! You’re actually building it for somebody else”
Bedi calls employees in product to “put their passion aside” for a bit. He emphasizes obsessing on how customers react to the product.
I wholly agree with Bedi here and even as a designer, it is all too easy to fall in love with a product that I’ve been working on for a while. Practicing user-centered design by periodically checking in with users is a way to avoid this trap.
No conference would be complete without conference swag! I managed to pick up an odd mix of goodies including dairy-free yogurt, a rose, and a lightsaber!
Techday LA was a wonderful experience and reflecting back onto the Techday Talks, much of the advice shared is applicable personally and professionally.
We are able to consciously create our own environments, we can foster better social relationships with empathy, and we can cultivate support for new activities by actively bringing people onboard by doing.