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First Brewed Tech realized, you know, we should have our own original content but focus on other news, the way doing a little bit deeper dives on companies that help and support the entrepreneur and the company themselves. Usually that’s showcasing their differentiated culture, showcasing their founding story, and kind of their big vision. And that doesn’t have to be purely around you know, they raise $10 million today.
Jay Clouse 0:23
The startup investment landscape is changing, and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them, and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.
Jay Clouse 0:51
Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the Upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse, and I’m accompanied by my cohost, Mr. Old Old Wooden Ship himself, Eric Hornung.
Eric Hornung 1:03
You know, I’ve seen that movie no less than 50 times.
Jay Clouse 1:08
Eric Hornung 1:09
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Jay Clouse 1:14
Of course, we are talking about my favorite movie, Anchorman, which we also referenced in the Matt Cordio interview about Milwaukee. I am just talking a lot about Will Ferrell lately. He was on the Conan O’Brien podcast, which is maybe part of it.
Eric Hornung 1:29
What do you think about that interview on the Conan O’Brien podcast with Will Ferrell?
Jay Clouse 1:32
I thought it was good. Will Ferrell is one of the most interesting people in show business to me because the myth of Will Ferrell even extends to the people in the industry. Everyone’s just like, Will Ferrell is the nicest guy who just doesn’t seem to have any type of vice. The most interesting aspect of that interview was when he was talking about Sweden, Sweden, right? I think his wife is Swedish, and he was talking about this story of a Swedish King, who was just like so brash, he wanted to have this giant sailboat made, and the people who were making the sailboat were like, that’s not going to work. And the king was like, make it anyway. And it like took so long that went through, not even the original maker, but his kid. And then it failed, just like they expected. And now it has like an impact on their culture, the way, the way that he tells it. Anyway, yes, I was speaking about Anchorman, Eric, because today we are talking about San Diego.
Eric Hornung 2:28
Why are we going down this route? I have a fun fact about Sweden.
Jay Clouse 2:32
Okay, hit me.
Eric Hornung 2:33
Did you know that Eric of the Catholic Church is from Sweden?
Jay Clouse 2:37
Ah, well, there’s the Segway we were looking for.
Eric Hornung 2:40
Yeah, but you just jumped. You just went for it?
Jay Clouse 2:42
Well, I was, I was excited. Just like I’m excited to talk with Neal Bloom, the founder of Fresh Brewed Tech in San Diego. Fresh Brewd Tech is bringing awareness to the San Diego tech community through blogs, podcasts, and all other ways you consume your tech news. He also hosts the Tacos & Tech podcast about the San Diego ecosystem. We got connected to Neal on Twitter, I believe, looking for people doing media in different parts of the country. Is that right, Eric?
Eric Hornung 3:12
That’s right. It’s amazing how underutilized Twitter still is. I think we’re going to rant about it on this podcast a lot over the coming years. But we just were chatting on Twitter about media and all of a sudden someone popped up. And they said, you got to check out San Diego and we said, Are you the guy? And he said, Yep. And now we’re talking to him.
Jay Clouse 3:30
You’re very good at making those connections for us on Twitter. You made this bridge to Neal and then promptly decided that you’re just not going to join in the interview.
Eric Hornung 3:39
I had a conversation with him on Twitter. I figured you could have a conversation with him in real life. We all have our strengths, Jay.
Jay Clouse 3:46
This will be an interview just between Neal and I, not because Eric didn’t want to join but because sometimes scheduling between three remote people is difficult.
Eric Hornung 3:55
Well, we’re lucky that I am not in Stockholm, because then it would be even harder.
Jay Clouse 3:59
Fresh Brewed Tech was founded in 2018, based in San Diego, as you can guess,. We’re gonna talk about all things San Diego startup ecosystem, I’m sure we’re going to nerd out a little bit, as Neal and I seem to have similar backgrounds. So looking forward to this conversation. As we go through it you can tweet at us @upsidefm or email us firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you. And we’ll get to that interview right after this.
Eric Hornung 4:25
Jay, this summer, we had some fantastic interns, but we were spoiled, because we didn’t have to do as much work. So if we wanted to hire someone, I don’t even know what we would do.
Jay Clouse 4:35
It would be really hard to find the quality of interns who really just came to us this summer. I’m already thinking how are we going to find interns like this again, if we ever want to hire a full time employee, Eric. How are we going to find somebody that high quality?
Eric Hornung 4:48
You know, there’s probably nothing out there, to be honest.
Jay Clouse 4:50
I think you’re wrong because our friends at Integrity Power Search and help hire the best talent for your startup. They’re the number one, full stack, high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts, partnering with venture capitalists, private equity groups, and CEOs to build amazing teams.
Eric Hornung 5:04
That’s right, since 2012, they’ve successfully executed over 600 searches and they’re on track for 200 in 2019. Their clients have collectively raised over 2.5 billion with a B in venture funding, and that’s still going, still counting Jay. They’re experts in all types of areas, including SAS, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, big data, you name it, they’re there. If it’s between the coasts.
Jay Clouse 5:29
Basically, if you’re hiring integrity, power search is your go to, they are the plug, Eric. And so here’s the plug for them. Go to upside.fm/integrity, and learn more about how Integrity Power Search can help you with your hiring needs.
Jay Clouse 5:50
Neal, welcome to the show.
Neal Bloom 5:52
Thanks for having me.
Jay Clouse 5:53
On upside, we like to start with the history of our guests. So can you talk to us about the history of Neal?
Neal Bloom 5:59
Yeah, I’m a Los Angeleno, born and raised and went to school in San Diego for mechanical engineering. And thought that was the path of my life. Went into aerospace, worked on the space program for a bit, loved it. But also started to realize that within engineers in general, there’s, we’re not all the same, obviously, some are great engineers, some are better a little bit of marketing themselves. And so when the space business kind of had a bit of a downturn, I started looking at how could I help my fellow engineers market themselves for their next job. And that embarked me on a path of HR technologies, I would say, I really got into the idea of kind of LinkedIn networks, niche networks, and started my first software company, helping people brand themselves using visual ways for their skill set. So kind of a visual resume. Time wise, it’s about 2013 or so, 2012, 2013, and became a startup founder for the first time. Really had no business doing, but that’s the path of an entrepreneur, I guess.
Jay Clouse 7:02
Right, who does?
Neal Bloom 7:03
Yeah, exactly. And started applying for incubators and accelerators to kind of help support and grow what we were doing, me and my co-founder. And so we were in Los Angeles at the time, we applied to a few and got into a San Diego incubator and quit our jobs the next day. And were all in on that. And so that kind of was how I jumped and dived into the startup world, per se.
Jay Clouse 7:27
So that is the bridge between Los Angeles and San Diego. What happened then with this company, and what was it called?
Neal Bloom 7:34
Company was called Portfolium, it ended up, as we’re doing our customer development really, we started to realize that a visual tool to help people find wat their marketable skills are is really good for people who don’t have a lot of work experience. And so it started going down a path of a early career, new grad kind of population, and we started selling into schools. So first we thought students are gonna love this. They’re going to jump on, use this to get their first job. And companies will pay to access that talent pool. That was the original premise. And we had to really sell into schools to get the student population to use the tool. And so quickly became an edtech platform, being a tool that universities would pay to help students organize the work that they’re most proud of, almost in a sense, kind of tricking them into building a resume before they really cared about a job or a career. And the company grew on that basis, on selling into universities. And it actually sold this year. So the company was sold to a public edtech company called Instructure.
Jay Clouse 8:39
That’s awesome. Congrats.
Eric Hornung 8:40
Yeah, thanks. I wasn’t with the business all the way through sale. So I was there the first three years and then me and my cofounder had a split on kind of strategy of where we wanted to go. I was really interested still in that HR tech space. And so I went on to do a few other HR tech focused, really on filling jobs, fill in roles, filling, helping people find that job, that career and passion. And so that’s what I did the last three years helping other companies in that vein.
Jay Clouse 9:09
Why did you decide to stay in San Diego after the split versus returned to your native Los Angeles?
Eric Hornung 9:15
That’s a good question. And my family’s all still in LA. But once you experience the magic of San Diego, it is hard to leave, like no one really ever leaves here. And so it’s a beach town, it’s lots, it’s a series of beach towns, there’s about 70 miles of coastline with tons of cool little beach towns every five miles or so. And so because the, because of that kind of beach quality of life mixed with being able to do tech, you know, a mile from the beach or even on the beach in many places, it pulls a special kind of person to that for sure. It also pulls an interesting kind of, because of the makeup of San Diego’s industries, it also pulls a more technical kind of engineer to town. Interestingly enough, there’s there’s a heavy defense build up here as well as telecom and cyber security. And so you get this mixture of, you know, deep tech alongside the beach. And so you have a really interesting kind of makeup of technical leaders in town, and people who are actually really entrepreneurial in that vein too. And so with that, I was really, really just fascinated with many other entrepreneurs in town, especially ones who welcomed me as a brand new entrepreneur saying, Hey, you know, you come from aerospace, now you’re doing software, what’s that about? Let me help you. There’s a lot of this give before you get mentality that really drew me in here. And I’ve just fallen in love and continue to be in love with the San Diego tech ecosystem ever since.
Jay Clouse 10:42
We recently interviewed a venture capitalist in Los Angeles talking about the growth of the tech scene there. Since you had a front row seat to that as well, for us who aren’t familiar with California or Los Angeles at all, you mentioned San Diego being on the beach and it has a tech background. For my limited perspective, LA, it does too. So how would you draw some of the similarities and differences between LA and San Diego?
Neal Bloom 11:05
Yeah, so la also draws upon its deep roots in its own history, which are a lot of entertainment, a lot of consumer focus tech, whereas San Diego’s a lot of business focus tech. And so I would say pretty much, San Diego’s a b2b town and LA is a b2c town. So that’s a big difference, as well as the kind of brands. You know, there’s more name brands in LA and very much kind of your Intel Inside kind of brands, the things that are powering the things we don’t even know about in San Diego. That’s a big difference between the two. Now, LA has a great aerospace history as well. I mean, you still have SpaceX, you know, a name brand space company there too. So not to take away from that at all, but you get a lot more like brand, like name brand gaming companies and name brand kind of media tech, and you know, Snapchat and stuff like that, whereas you don’t know a lot of the brands in San Diego. So that’s a big difference. You know, certain people are drawn to wanting to work for a big brand name and other people, it’s not as big to them and they want to work on impactful things. One other piece of San Diego that’s a little bit different is biotech. And so there’s a mega mega biotech community in San Diego also kind of behind the radar that you don’t really know about. And so that definitely draws in a certain kind of engineer who wants to work on kind of big data of big bio, and you don’t see that as much in LA. The difference though, in LA is the capital availability. So LA has had exits in their software world that are, that are spitting back and refilling the funnel and, and funding a lot of new startups. I’d say San Diego hasn’t had a lot of those big exits yet. And so because of that, companies grow a little slower. I’d say we’re kind of four years back in time almost, which is kind of interesting to drive two to three hours and feel like you’re in a time machine a little bit. You’re like oh, we could, we could be Santa Monica maybe in four years from now. So that’s kind of really interesting to be able to do that from such close cities to each other.
Jay Clouse 13:00
Because you have that proximity to both LA and a little bit to the valley, how painful is that difference of local capital feeling? You know, on one hand, like, I’m sure it’s painful, because it’s not right there. But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem super far away. What’s, what does that feel like when you’re on the ground in San Diego?
Neal Bloom 13:18
Yeah, it’s, it’s at a multitude of steps based on what stage you’re at as a company. So first of all, you have to be okay with knowing your going to travel for capital. That’s, that’s a given. Right, but it’s actually more pleasant to fly to San Francisco one hour flight than to drive through our satellite. So that’s something worthwhile. But the difference is that capital is really starting to come to San Diego. And so, there’s a big effort by a group called Connect by San Diego venture group that brings venture capitalists to town about four times a year, about 60 to 70 VCs, and kind of does a bit of a road show for a lot of venture fundable companies. So that’s a big part of it, is having to bring the capital here, having to do the work to show them hey, it’s worthwhile coming down. So that’s part of the the VC scene. Now the angel scene, which usually you want entrepreneurs funding other entrepreneurs, like I said, we’re a little still early in having a lot of those exits. So it’s still early days, but that is available for, to find, you know, your first 200 to 500k, you still can find some of it local, but sometimes you have to fill it out with people in other parts of southern California. So it’s still a drive. And that still is a drag for, for entrepreneurs who are, you know, the CEO is there full time fundraising, you have to travel for that, that definitely is a pain. You know, I think we just have to look at LA and say, Okay, this will happen in a few years. We just got to keep building good companies, good companies will have liquidity events. And that will come back to us in turn. It’s just not today yet.
Jay Clouse 14:48
You mentioned the industries of defense, telecom, cyber security, biotech. Are there large corporations that are focused in those areas, and that’s why there is that density or where do you think those focuses come from?
Neal Bloom 15:01
Yeah, in Telecom, Qualcomm is the, the, the huge big gravity pull to that, you know, 30,000 people just in that company alone, which is spun out tons of sub industries supporting the chip business, you know, around that. And it’s spun out a lot of other sub industries as well in terms of like IoT, and, you know, devices in many other things. So that’s, that’s definitely we can trace our roots back to that, for the telecom side. For the defense, just the military presence here, I think it’slargest naval presence on the west coast. And so you get a lot of innovation labs from the Navy that spin up around capturing and bottling up a lot of the, the defense engineering talent around that. And so that’s a big part two, is that you get because we have naval Marine, and I think it’s just Navy and Marine, you just get a lot of density around people contractors who are working on that kind of stuff. With that, you also have Northrop Grumman and General Atomics which are building pretty large scale drones. So you also get a lot of spin out of engineers building their own little sub-drone kind of companies to. And then cyber is also the same. The Navy has a huge cyber warfare center here, about 3000 engineers focused just on that alone. And so, that also has spun out engineers who want to go and build a consumer brand, or at least a commercial brand of something that some lab that has started up in the Navy’s backyard.
Jay Clouse 16:25
Super interesting. Okay, so we left off your story. You stayed in San Diego, you love the town, you didn’t want to leave. And now you’re doing Fresh Brewed Tech. So talk to me about the inception of that business, why it happened and what it is today?
Neal Bloom 16:40
Sure. So right before Fresh Brewed Tech, I was with a company called Hired.cm, and Hired is based in San Francisco. And it is a platform for matching tech talent to tech companies. And so I traveled North America helping support our 12 markets. From an awareness standpoint. I was kind of an evangelist, if you will say. And so, I really got to know and compare top 10 to top 15 tech metros in North America. So I say North America, it was Toronto was our lone Canadian city alongside the major US cities. And you know, I was spending a lot of time on the road but living in San Diego. And San Diego’s one of the cities I was helping grow, but really comparing, you know, like, what’s the difference between Boston to Austin to Denver to Seattle and understanding talent flow-where are they coming from? Are they moving to town? Are they coming straight out of school, are they coming from local, big companies? Where’s the VC dollar flowing? Because we all know VC dollars turns into talent, right? We hire people when we, when we raise funds. And so just comparing all that I said look like we’ve got a lot of the ingredients in San Diego locally but there’s not an awareness when I go to any other market that San Diego should be playing at this level. Should it have the same venture flow as Austin and Seattle? And it does, yet there’s not an awareness that this city is on anyone’s radar outside of the Southern California area. And so, I left Hired and went to work on, working on kind of a promotion marketing engine of our community. And that started really as just like getting out meeting more people, blogging about it, and podcasting about it. And very quickly, that turned into an email newsletter with a following. People realized, Hey, I have a bit of a pulse of what’s going on, I’m disseminating it in little, bite sized chunks. And I’m aggregating a lot of other information. I really felt that, hey, there’s locally, we’re writing a lot; people, companies, journalists, they’re putting out information like the Local Business Journal, and our local newspaper, but it’s not really getting eyeballs. And so I was going to kind of help be that hype and promotion engine. And so that was the basis of Fresh Brewerd Tech was realizing, hey, we’re just, there’s a lot going on, there’s no one who’s aggregating and disseminating from one central force. And that was the beginnings of it, just in early 2018.
Jay Clouse 18:56
And how has that grown to today? What’s, what’s changed, what’s still the same? What’s the current state of Fresh Brewed Tech?
Neal Bloom 19:02
A few things have have changed. One, we’ve realized that, you know, there’s a lot of news stories around who got, who raised money today. And that tends to be what we all chase. First of all, a lot of entrepreneurs know, like, when that news story hits, that’s kind of old news, you know, like we’ve usually raised a few months ago, but we finally just got our PR act together to actually tell a reporter about it. And so for us, Fresh Brewed Tech, you know, we should have our own original content, but focus on other news, the way doing a little bit deeper dives on companies that help and support the entrepreneur and the company themselves. Usually that’s showcasing their differentiated culture, showcasing their founding story, and kind of their big vision. And that doesn’t have to be purely around you know, they raised $10 million today. And so, we just have learned that we, we also can be storytellers, and not just aggregators of content. And so how we do that is in a few ways. We’ve got some really interesting blog series that, we go way back in time, look at successful companies, look at the founders of them, and kind of key players. And we go back and find them, and we say, Where are you now? And we’ll tell a multi part story that says, you know, here are some interesting roots of San Diego that people didn’t know. And so one thing we’ve done is the early web analytics roots of San Diego. So Google Analytics was actually started in San Diego by a company called Urchin Analytics. So if anyone uses Google Analytics, you usually get a code that is UA and a long string of numbers, and that is Urchan Analytics and a number.
Jay Clouse 20:30
Whoa. Yeah, I’ve seen that.
Neal Bloom 20:32
Yep. So started in San Diego in the late 90s, acquired by Google in 2004. The team moved, all moved up to the Bay. And, you know, that’s an interesting story that we now have gone on to say, Where are those four founders now? We’ve told part one, part two of that story. Aother early web analytics company called websites story, we told the four part series how Adobe bought them and now they’ve since started two different unicorns in San Diego, the founders called Sirtona and Telia. So, we’ve called this our own tech mafia, kind of borrowed off the PayPal mafia story, you know, like, Where’s San Diego’s roots? Where are we from? Where are we going? And it pulls back in those original key players back into the community. Being like, oh, stories being told, this is great, like, Hey, here’s some other people you should interview. They were right alongside us for the ride, and they’ve started these companies. And so we’re doing a bit of a kind of cool family tree of a lot of San Diego’s tech history that we’ve really enjoyed doing a lot. We’ve also dove into some other industries like cannabis that has become a bit of a scene in San Diego from our agtech roots and our biotech. And we’ve started tell a little bit of our impact, our impact route as well, which we’ve got, GoFundMe was founded here, and so was a number of kind of nonprofit tech. And so that’s another piece that we’re starting to tell stories of as well, too. So that’s a big part of what we’re doing now is original storytelling.
Jay Clouse 21:57
Yeah, sounds like a lot of progress and momentum since, you said 2018 is when you started this?
Neal Bloom 22:02
Jay Clouse 22:03
I tuned into my first episode of Tacos & Tech this morning, and you’ve settled a debate that I’ve had since watching Anchorman for the first time. San Diegans is what you refer to people in San Diego. Not San Diego-ens, not San Diegons. San Diegans.
Neal Bloom 22:18
Jay Clouse 22:20
So is Fresh Brewed Tech a full time effort for you right now, Neal?
Neal Bloom 22:24
It is. So Fresh Brewed Tech has grown some legs in certain ways. So one, we’ve realized we’re storytellers, we’re not just content aggregators. And so a few things have come. We’ve gotten funding through kind of sponsorship of what we do. People want to be around kind of our brand, which we’re absolutely honored to have those brands alongside us. And then two other veins have happened alongside it. So other companies and actually city governments have asked us, How can you help tell our stories, and so we’ve kind of white labeled Fresh Brewed Tech in a certain vein, the way that we aggregate and write content and distribute it. So we do that for a lot of city governments to help them talk about their economic development and business communities. So we have a team kind of behind the scenes that are content marketers that are learning how to tell entrepreneurs’ stories, and get them out to a community, whether it’s under our own brand and media company or for a city government, which is really interesting to us. And so alongside that, we also have done some other cities. We’ve added to not just San Diego, we’ve been invited to other Southern California communities to help tell their story as well. So we’re doing an Orange County now. And we’re looking toward Santa Barbara, Inland Empire, and Riverside, which are very under the radar almost, I would say, under LA’sshadow, but have robust university communities and talent and tech companies. And they get lumped into many times the LA, Greater LA region, and really they want to be their own differentiated communities. So for us, we’re learning how to storytell, and we’re doing it kind of in our backyard, but I could see a expanding beyond Southern California.
Jay Clouse 24:01
Yeah. So what motivates you? What motivates you to decide whether, you know, we’re doubling down? I’m going to like double, triple down on being the tech ambassador for San Diego versus I want to help other communities tell their stories? How, how do you see your own motivation?
Neal Bloom 24:18
For me, first, I love meeting other entrepreneurs, right? It’s so that feeling that, hey, we’re in the trenches, we’re doing this. I’ve been doing it for a while. That’s number one. So I’m driven to just meet other people like, like me. But not just entrepreneurs, community leaders in that regard. So finding an entrepreneur who’s not just, Hey, I want to build company after company, but I really want to build my ecosystem. I’m really driven to find those other people, and then help empower them, like what’s your community need? I feel like I’ve written a bit of a playbook on what des San Diego need, and it can be utilized in other communities without having to go 5-10 years again around figuring out how do we pull all the orgs in town, you know, to be on the same page. So for me, I’m constant looking For an entrepreneur who is community builder, probably has some altruistic being behind them. And then I asked how can I empower you? What can I do to connect you? What can we help even, you know, do you need to up your brand a little bit? Because that’s something I feel like we could be applying our playbook to. It doesn’t need to be me in another market. It could be us telling, helping someone else tell their story and tell their community story using the content marketing, content aggregation playbook. So that’s for us, definitely, we’re looking for, is to just find that entrepreneur community leader.
Jay Clouse 25:30
Can you outline a little bit more of that playbook for people who are listening and maybe in a community, you know, on the east coast and saying, you know what, San Diego sounds a little bit like my community, we need more here. Where would you recommend they start?
Neal Bloom 25:42
Yeah, first you got to meet, you just got to get down, get boots on the ground, meet some people that are bridge builders. There are a lot of organizations in a community, and many are nonprofits and so they have to be funded in one way or another. And many times, you’ll find organizations siloing themselves, saying we are the Oregon town, you have to come to us, because they’re built on that, you know, but their funding dictates that they are the one all and be all. And we’ve found that for a entrepreneurial community to really grow, you have to be better together, you have to people who lean in and say we’re good at certain things, we’re not good at all things, we may not be able to take an entrepreneur all the way from start to finish. And so we look for those organizations that really say, hey, like, we’re really good at just helping people get from seed to series A, but we need to find how, how do we inspire entrepreneurs to take the leap, just start the company. And so let’s find that organization that’s really good at mentorship and inspiring people to be an entrepreneur. So for one, it’s that, it’s that inclusive bridge building organizations. Those are step one, finding those people. And it takes a while because there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. People want to say they’re part of the entrepreneurship game, but you know, they’re, they’re pulling, they’re saying it’s just about ss. And it’s not. It’s always about the entrepreneur. And people who put the entrepreneur on the pedestal get that. Honestly, organizations run by entrepreneurs and are for entrepreneurs are usually a good place to start for sure. So yeah, that’s a lot of the, I would say, the early pieces of the playbook to start looking for.
Jay Clouse 27:16
And what is the role of content and storytelling in this? You find these bridge building organizations, you find people that want to lean in and be better together. Then how does content layer on to that to help grow the ecosystem?
Neal Bloom 27:28
Sure. So the whole point with this economic development, we need to show that all of our efforts are successful, right? We can all spend a lot of our time and energy, which is our currency, on helping grow the ecosystem, grow companies. But if we’re not moving the needle and helping, helping companies grow, get better, have liquidity events, train talent, then, you know, it’s all for nothing. So I think a big piece of that is helping to say, here’s where companies started, here’s how people help them, and here’s where they are next. And the journey is not over. So here’s how you can help continue growing this company. So I think a lot of is that, which is a lot similar to an entrepreneur, how they have to pitch themselves for funding, right? You have to say, we started here, we did some things, we got us to here. With a little more capital, we can get to here, right. And so a lot of it is is kind of milestone, showing that it’s worthwhile to move to town, because there’s not just one company here, there’s hundreds, that not just any one company is great for you, but this is the right one for your company culture. And so, you know, telling the story to attract talent is really big. Because we haven’t had successful exits, we need to import the talent that has done that already, right? It will help our companies grow faster if we bring experts in, not just people who have worked in tech, but haven’t actually charted the path that we’re trying to chart. So a lot of that is around storytelling, right, saying, here’s our big vision, here’s where I want to go, here’s why you need to come join us. So talents is one piece, capital is the other. And then, on top of that, getting kind of government behind it as well, because I think everyone’s trying for local governments attention from any industry locally. But to get attention more on how to help tech community, we also need to prove that we’re not just here to make a quick buck; we really want to impact our communities, and we’re here for the long haul, like, sure, company number one in maybe 10 years, but then we’re going to work on next company. And so I think you have to constant cell local government around that as well, too.
Jay Clouse 29:27
When you’re creating a story about a company in San Diego, how do you think about who the story is written for? Like, do you try to serve all of those audiences you just listed off and every story, or do you target a certain audience with each piece of content you create?
Neal Bloom 29:42
Our audience is varied, for sure. We’ve got entrepreneurs, we have investors, we have service providers, and we have tech talent. And not everyone is going to want to hear he founder of a company every time, think, for tech talent. They need to hear a little bit of that, like hey, there’s inspiring people I want to go work for. But they also need to feel like, hey, there’s people like me, we need to do that too. And so we actually do change it around. We do love to interview kind of that all pieces of our audience, we want to make sure we’re talking to that; just, we can’t do it all at once. So it’s it is actually really important that we look at that. Many times will look at, you know, a technical leader, not just the CEO, and we’ll say, you know, what’s so special about technical talent in San Diego, what have you been able to do here? And then we’ll switch it up in an interview an investor as well, too. So I think it’s really kind of that round robin to showcase, these are the elements of an ecosystem, it takes entrepreneurs, it takes capital, it takes talent, and it takes our service providers. And so I think, yeah, showcasing that and being transparent that, hey, this is our whole audience. We’re all in this together, we’re all gonna run into each other at networking events. And I think it’s really important to be transparent about who our audiences for that fact.
Jay Clouse 30:50
Your background was in aerospace and engineering, and now you’re running a media company. How did you quickly come up to speed on how to best run a media company?
Neal Bloom 31:02
Yeah, learning every day. I think what I’ve learned is that one, it’s okay to get a job to learn, to go get paid to get an education. And so I’ve, even as I’ve started a company, I then went worked for a larger tech company, and I wasn’t ashamed of that at all. I really thought that I want to learn from the experts and the pros. And that would short circuit my, my learnings for sure, not spending so much time trying to figure it out on my own. So that’s one way, for sure. I also look towards, even while I’m doing it every day, I look at, you know, social media streams of who I could be a pilot fish, copying and just learning from. So Twitter, how we met, by the way, is a great place to see how others are doing it and being, you know, a watcher in that sense, I get to follow along. That’s another way. And then mentorship. I really look towards people I am not afraid to ask and say hey, I’m not there yet, you are, could you help me out. And obviously I got to provide a little value back. So I am constant looking for how is a give-and-take relationship built off of that. But yeah, I think mentorship is a big one. And it’s easy for entrepreneurs to, who are already on their way saying, you know, I’m just going to figure it out, brute force it. But asking for help is okay. I’m not afraid of that.
Jay Clouse 32:17
Who are some of the individuals or other media organizations that you look to as a model for doing this well in their communities?
Neal Bloom 32:26
You know, there’s a few for tech, aggregation and content, I would say it’s not done as much geographically. I look at how the business journals and local newspapers have been doing it, and that helps me understand some older models that may have been around it. But I look at things like the the Hustle, which is a great content aggregation with a great voice around how are they disseminating information in a short manner. I also look at the Skimm, as that as well to, who have really understood a specific audience. So yeah, those are, those are areas that I look at. But specific to, to tech news aggregation geographically, I think it’s still early days. I think it’s very easy to look and say TechCrunch is the one. But you know, it’s not as geo-specific. It’s really chasing kind of a hot news in SF and other bigger brand names. So I’d love to meet more people. I’d love to hopefully, people come out of the woodwork and say, we’re doing this locally, let’s share notes. So call to action. Come find me at Neal Bloom.
Jay Clouse 33:25
Love that. I think that’s probably how we actually got connected on Twitter, because we were looking for some of the same organizations. We were saying, who is, who is doing local startup coverage well? And yeah, I would agree we’ve had a hard time finding some those organizations as well. I want to spend a little bit of time here talking about Startup San Diego, where I believe you serve as chair. Can you talk about that organization and what it seeks to do in San Diego?
Neal Bloom 33:47
Yeah, so Startup San Diego is a, now it’s a nonprofit. I don’t think many of us knew what that meant when we started it, the nonprofit title. So six years ago, a bunch of entrepreneurs were working on their own respective software companies, and we said, we could use a little community, we could use some, some cathartic shared love. And so we started just a three day event where we said, Hey, meetups that are already happening, find them on this day. Let’s just take a break from our desks and let’s get together. And that was Startup Week in 2013. And that was about 200 people that joined in that this, you know, said, Hey, we’re founders, let’s, let’s learn from each other. And fast forward, we’re 3,000 to 3,500 people a year that come together for an entrepreneurship-inspired conference. And so how we’ve grown that over the years is a few things. One we’ve always looked at, we are by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, that we are providing content, education, and promotion of founding companies and startups, specifically, hyper growth, mentality companies. We also have added content for tech employees as well too. We realize that you’re starting a company you may be a one or two person show, but very quickly, you’re going to hire people and they need to be growing at you, at the same company, at the same time, right? You all need to be rolling together. And so now we bring conversations around design, development, sales and marketing throughout the week that help enrich anyone who works at a startup so that we’re all kind of enriching ourselves. And so that, that’s really what Startup San Diego does year round is work on that conference. We incorporated as a nonprofit in 2016 and didn’t have any employees until just a year ago. And really, it’s volunteer driven. So the volunteers work year round to curate the conference in terms of planning about 300 panels and events over a five day period. And this year, we did something interesting where we went kind of on the road within our own region. And so we did a kickoff night in Tijuana, which is 20 minutes from our downtown. And actually the TJ tech scene is its own differentiated tech scene but also really linked to us. There’s a really strong engineering dev community in TJ, that amasses right at the border so that they can quickly come over the border and work at companies in Southern California, both from an outsource perspective and companies have TJ offices of engineers and data scientists. So we feel very much linked to them. And so we do a whole talk throughout the week on what’s it like to work as a bi-national company. And so we start, we kicked off the year in T, did a few days downtown, and then moved up to our north county area about 45 minutes north to Carlesbad area, which is another little density of tech and biotech, and did a day there. And so we realized that we really want to come to where the people are. It’s tough for you to take, you know, days off work, especially if you’re a tech employee. And so Startup San Diego’s is that inclusive model of, Hey, let’s celebrate entrepreneurship and startups throughout the week. But let’s also do it in a way that’s, you know, easy for as many people to come to. We really want to be accessible. We have low ticket prices for students, for Veterans, things like that. And we have talks around diversity, inclusion, and accessibility as well, too. So it’s a big celebration of entrepreneurship throughout the week.
Jay Clouse 37:08
I think Columbus here had a similar timeline of doing our first Startup Week. And we have not kept pace with the amount of growth that you just described there. So what has, what has enabled you in the Startup San Diego team to empower a group of motivated volunteers to work year round to do this? Can you talk a little bit more about the team structure or the size of the team?
Neal Bloom 37:34
Yeah, and I will say, like, our team, in the beginning, it was, it was have a team, burn them out for six months, lose the team, recruit a whole new team who would work on it next year. So that definitely was not planned. But that’s how we ran the first few years. And the original kind of founders stuck around. So at least there was some tribal knowledge be passed on. But no, it was very hard to keep the same people working on next yearhic, wh means you had to learn a lot of things from scratch. And that was tough for us. And I think our growth really came once we realized, one, there’s other industries we should be pulling in. Our craft beer industry is one that is growing so fast that it does resemble a startup at many times because of the kind of growth capital and growth in general that they need to go through. And so we actually pulled them in and said, let’s have conversations about how to grow a craft beverage company. And now we still have that, and it’s not just beer, it’s actually craft juice, craft kombucha, wine, distilling. It’s all become a really strong industry in San Diego. And so we’ve kept that as part of a vein and that pulls in a whole new audience as well. And we’ve also pulled in more of the biotech community, too. Wven though that’s a bit more mature industry in San Diego for us, there still is the aspect of how do you start a biotech company if you’ve never done it before. And that’s the same education around entrepreneurship that doesn’t need to be, you know, in a box separate from yech. It can be biotech, it can be anything, too. So for us, it’s just, like, leaning in saying, What are San Diego’s industries? What, who else should be here at the table learning while we’re putting out this content? And then like I mentioned, the employee pool adding in kind of skillset enrichmeent, as well, has helped that a lot. But honestly, our biggest driver that helped us grow was hiring our very first executive director a year ago. And just having the funds to do that was a big deal, because the volunteers could finally look and say, Here’s someone to answer to, here’s someone who’s documenting our processes. And will, will hold on to these processes for next year. And so I would say we’re still in the early stages of seeing what that did. But so far, we’ve seen so many of our organizers from 2019 conference last May say, next day, say let’s start working on 2020, which we’ve never had before. Usually, it’s like I’ll see you in six months, but really never see you again.
Jay Clouse 39:47
Yeah, super familiar with that cycle.
Neal Bloom 39:50
Yeah, it’s a consistency piece, right, that people need to feel familiar with for sure.
Jay Clouse 39:55
How was that executive director funded?
Neal Bloom 39:58
So we are entirely funded through the sponsorship of our conference to be honest. And so we make some money off of the conference itself from ticket sales, we raise money by sponsors, which are inevitably, most of our sponsors are local tech companies who want to differentiate their brand at the conference and hire talent, as well as say, here’s our founding story and really tell their own story, too. So what’s really cool is how much it’s tech company funded. So our, it was funded through extra funds we had at the end of the conference in 2018. We did start applying for grants. And so we got city and county grants in 2018, which was a big deal for us. We were a nonprofit, so we were able to do that. But we didn’t, it took us two years to even realize how to, how to apply for grants. And even one thing we really learned is because we’re conference driven, the grants are usually around demographics of your attendees and your audience. And we realized that we weren’t collecting a lot of that data, we need to. So we learned that aspect. You know, survey people before and after, well, who attended and who didn’t attend? Who came last year and why didn’t they come this year? Those are really interesting data points for us. And that’s enabled us to put that data back in the grants that, you know, city governments are proud to say, Hey, we’re supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in our city. And so yeah, I think we’re 30% funded now through local grants on top of our conference revenues. And so for us, we’re actually hiring a new executive director now, we may have burned out our first one. And that’s, that’s a good learning point for us as well. He’s still around helping us out. But yeah, we are looking for a new executive director right now. We’ve got 700+ applications that came in, which is awesome, in a month.
Jay Clouse 41:43
Neal Bloom 41:44
And we’re in the interview process. What’s really cool this time around, though, is that a lot of the volunteers, the leading volunteers who organize this year’s conference around, and they’re playing a bigger part in interviewing and saying, hey, maybe I want to lead and take this role, too, which we didn’t have before. We kind of just threw out a job rec and just let random jobs applications come in. This time, we are obviously, we’re showing there’s a lot more interest because we showed, one, here’s what the role is someone did it, they did it successfully, here’s what you could do differently and take us to the next level, too.
Jay Clouse 42:14
So I think I heard 3,000 to 3,500 attendees, 300 events?
Neal Bloom 42:19
Yep. Panels, mostly panels and like individual speakers.
Jay Clouse 42:23
How big would you estimate the volunteer pool to be for an event?
Neal Bloom 42:28
So leading up to it, probably 25 to 50 really key core volunteers that are working on different veis of this, whether they’re working on the content curation, so planning the tracks of the conference and organizing that application series. Then there’s a whole operations team that are working on venues, food, ticketing, pricing, a sponsorship team, and the marketing team, too. So that’s a core 25 to 50 that are now, I used to say six months to a year, but it’s year round. And then week of and kind of leading up few weeks before, it elevates to a few hundred kind of day-of volunteers that help us start printing name badges, checking people in, orienting people where to go, things like that. What about Columbus, is it similar in volunteer size to put on an event like that?
Jay Clouse 43:14
Definitely in terms of, like, key organizers. I think the team has…we went through a little bit of a wave of expand and contract a little bit lately because we had a similar six month burnout cycle of the organizing team. We’ve never had, we’ve never had an executive director. We started out of, we’re…Columbus was one of the pilot cities for Startup Week globally, where we had Chase as a national sponsor,.Chase no longer is a sponsor of Startup Week at the national level. And so this year, we also lost quite a bit of funding that we didn’t compensate for. So a little bit of a down year in terms of attendees and momentum. And so I’ve personally been trying to get a little bit more involved for the coming year of saying, Okay, let’s lift this back up because it is such an important part of the community and what’s happening here.
Neal Bloom 44:02
Yeah, yeah, I can totally relate to that. We had a, I would say, actually 2018 was a bigger year in terms of total attendance size for us. And so after this year, we looked at, you know, okay, we were down with on attendance, but actually ticket revenue was up, it went a little higher on price tickets.
Jay Clouse 44:18
This is the first year we had tickets priced. We had the Chase funding, did you guys have chase money initially? I thought you did, but maybe I maybe I’m thinking of Tampa Bay. That allowed us to make the event free, which was great for you in the community to come out and having a lot of people in the seats. This year, we had to do ticket sales to make the conference work. I don’t think there’s a problem with that. It’s just the first year we had to do it. And with a lag in marketing plus now the added barrier of ticket sales, I did a talk and it was just not very well attended. And I thought man, this is, this is a bummer, you know, to the point where now I’m trying to get back off the sidelines and say, okay, I took a couple years off because I was in that group of people that got burned out after six months. Let’s, let’s try to pick this back up. We’re going a little bit long here. So I want to ask one more question about San Diego. What is one of the most misunderstood or just not known aspects of the San Diego tech community?
Neal Bloom 45:13
Hard to ask a San Diegan that, right, we’re in it every day. But as I’ve traveled around, I think there’s two veins of that. So a lot of people know San Diego as like a vacation hub. People come to play and then they leave. Or they came for a conference, at our conference center, maybe ComicCon and they left. So one is that there is a vibrant tech community here, there are people who move here for life who work on technology, and not just service the tourist and vacation industry. People who dive a little bit deeper than that, usually know, maybe know, likes the industry’s, think of San Diego as just a defense in biotech town. And so I would say, I would push back and say, we are just as much software and hardware driven. A lot of the biotech talent has come over to, you know, your consumer, or at least your commercial hardware world as well, too. And capital now is spilling into both worlds where you can say big bio using these, these kind of genomic interpretations, but you’re using data science behind it, which is the same data science that’s powering, you know, any of your apps. So I think those are some misnomers that I hope we get the word out that there is a vibrant tech and software community in San Diego.
Jay Clouse 46:21
If listeners after the show, want to learn more about you, or Fresh Brewed Tech or check out your podcast, Tacos & Tech, where should they go?
Neal Bloom 46:28
Start with on Twitter. That’s where we’re most active, @NealBloom, @FreshBrewedTech, as we really find a lot of that info, @StartupSD, another place to find out about more of the events that are happening, networking events and the conference itself. And we would love to host you in our city, as well. Come out next May, late May 26th to the 30th is Startup Week 2020. And we would absolutely love to have anyone from anywhere in the world come join us, including you.
Jay Clouse 46:59
Hey listener! Have you ever wanted to get a message in front of the Upside audience but weren’t sure how to sponsor the show or weren’t able to do a long term sponsorship? Well, now you can just go to upside.fm/classifieds and let our audience know anything that’s going on in your world, whether it’s an event and application, a special coupon or deal, or just letting them know who you are, what your company does, all you have to do is go to upside.fm/slash classifieds, and you can place an ad on this show. That’s upside.fm/classifieds.
Eric Hornung 47:39
Alright, Jay, we just spoke with Neal from San Diego. And this deal memo, or this outro, this debrief, if you will, is going to be a little bit different because it’s going to be the Jay Clouse show. You’re going to run this one for us and let me know what you guys talked about. I didn’t get a chance to sit on the interview and I have not had a chance to listen yet.
Jay Clouse 47:58
Isn’t it always the Jay Clouse Show?
Eric Hornung 48:00
I think it’s called Upside, Jay, you egomaniac.
Jay Clouse 48:05
Unique New York. The arsonist has oddly shaped feet. The human torch was denied a bank loan.
Eric Hornung 48:11
How now brown cow.
Jay Clouse 48:13
Enjoyed this conversation with Neal And my hottest takes is that he laid to rest the ancient question, it is San Diegans, according to Neil in the way that he introduces the podcast. San Diegans, not San Diegon, not San Diegoens. San Diegans. And now we know.
Eric Hornung 48:33
I said Columbusians I think on a trip to Louisville with the Craig Columbus commission. And people snapped back saying that’s not what it is. And then no one settled on what it actually is. So I think a lot of cities have this problem.
Jay Clouse 48:46
Yeah, Columbusoans. It’s not Colombians, that’s, that would be conflicting. Anyway, I really enjoyed this conversation because, other than the fact of Neal is running an interesting company here that in a lot of ways has parallels to what we’re doing at upside just with a very geographic focus, it’s encouraging to see somebody create a modern media company that seems to be working. And not only working financially in a self sustaining way, but one that serves a community and doesn’t just thrive off of anger and intense reactions. You know, most, and I’m talking about just like most media, most media is incentivized to evoke negative reactions and fear, in a lot of ways, and get you to click and learn because of that. But everything that Neal’s doing is for the benefit of the San Diego ecosystem. And it’s working, which I think is just very encouraging for a future of journalism.
Eric Hornung 49:41
Yeah, I think making people happy and excited and optimistic is just a better long term play. Maybe not as good short term, but in the long term, I think that’s what you want.
Jay Clouse 49:50
I still question–and maybe having a media company is the answer–I question how communities can keep guys like Neal happy and committed in doing that work over the long term. You know, like having somebody like Neal who’s documenting this and who has such historical context and will have so much historical context of the ecosystem. A lot of times those people finally get burned out and move on to other places. Maybe being in charge of a media company that sustains and compensates you for that effort is one of the solutions for getting those community builders to stick around and continue building the community. I’m not sure. But he mentioned that he has a playbook to help move this model into other cities, which is great. The question is, does he build his company into all those cities himself or him or kind of open source it?
Eric Hornung 50:43
Are you seeing this as an extension of your idea for community based platform?
Jay Clouse 50:49
Maybe. I think he has a good ethos for it. But, for the listener who may not be familiar with the article I wrote and the update issue one, we spoke with Stephanie Manning of Lerer Hippeau, who informed me, anyway, of what a platform role inside of a venture firm looks like. And that immediately start connecting dots for me of, why can’t the community builders be running a quote-on-quote ‘platform role’ in their communities and connect to each other. And something like this seems to have infrastructure that might lend to that? I don’t know. But it’s, it’s a really inspiring starting point. That’s great to hear. He and I geeked out on Startup San Diego, and their San Diego Startup Week that they’ve been running for several years now. That was at the end of the interview. And that was really fascinating for me to hear how much growth they’ve seen, because these startup, Startup Week events are amazing resources, awesome things to run for your community and have such a high rate of burnout for the volunteers running it, which he addressed and they’ve also experienced but that have gotten beyond. It was it was very much like therapy for me listening through, like, the problems that they faced and how they addressed it, how they overcame it, and really found a model to staff an executive director who can be in charge of it, which seems to be a turning point for so many nonprofits, is just getting the funding to staff an executive director, paying somebody to make it their full time focus to make this thing awesome, because the risky run, like he said, you often have these events that are coordinated by volunteers, their huge, those volunteers are just, like, pouring everything they have into it for a matter of a couple of months, they get burned out, they don’t want to start over for the next year, for another like three to six months after it ends. And by that time, you’re behind the ball again already. So I hope the community builders listening to this who may volunteer and run events in their local communities got the sense that, Okay, let’s start the cycle early, even if it is painful, in year one, because we just finished–or year two–because we just finished year one. It can really make a difference for succession planning and the success of those events.
Eric Hornung 52:54
So leaving this interview, Jay, are you more or less bullish on the San Diego ecosystem then when you came in?
Jay Clouse 53:01
Of course I’m more bullish, just because I had more information. I knew almost nothing about San Diego other than some of the beach towns that are along the coast there. A geographical interest to me was that it’s a one hour flight to San Francisco from San Diego, but a three hour drive to LA. Really interesting how logistics and travel times like that and seemingly close cities actually play out and what that means for those cities. He also talked about the industries of note in San Diego which are defense, telecommunications, and cyber security, unique industries that we haven’t crossed a lot of on the podcast, growing out of the naval innovation labs there. So I think that’s a really big benefit for the San Diego Community because a lot of community we talk to are like, Yeah, we do enterprise really well, we do financial services, healthcare. There’s a handful of those now. So how do you stand out as the community for that? And maybe you don’t have to. But I at least have not, have not heard as much in the realm of defense, telecommunications or cyber security.
Eric Hornung 53:59
Sounds very similar to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. If you’re familiar with the Silicon Valley startup story, which happens in the 60s, it was almost all out of the military industrial complex defense and need for information transfer and the silicon chips that were being produced there. So very similar kind of startup industry in San Diego as the Bay Area.
Jay Clouse 54:26
Well, dear listener, I’d love to hear what you think about this interview or what you thought during the interview. And so as always, you can tweet at us @upsidefm or email us Hello@upside.fm. We’d love to hear from you. ‘Till then, we’ll talk to you next week.
Interview starts: 5:50
Debrief starts: 47:39
Neal Bloom is the founder of Fresh Brewed Tech and the host of the podcast, Tacos & Tech.
Fresh Brewed Tech is a media company dedicated to raising awareness of local tech ecosystems in local areas through storytelling. Having started as a way to connect tech-focused San Diegans, Fresh Brewed Tech is currently expanding and starting to aid other regions by creating local unified tech ecosystems. His podcast, Tacos & Tech, has the same goal as the Fresh Brewed Tech brand.
Neal began his entrepreneurial work with Portfolium. He also currently serves that a chair for Startup San Diego.
- Ad: Finding experienced employees for your new business with Integrity Power Search (4:25)
- Neal’s story: from aerospace engineering to HR technology and Portfolium (6:00)
- Los Angeles vs. San Diego ecosystems, needs, and assets (10:42)
- San Diego’s aggregation of defense, telecom, cyber security, and biotech companies (14:48)
- Fresh Brewed Tech synopsis, highlights, and changes since its beginnings (16:40)
- San Diegans (22:03)
- How Fresh Brewed Tech has become a full-time effort (22:20)
- Storytelling as a way to strengthen and empower startup communities (24:01)
- Fresh Brewed Tech’s audience (29:27)
- Learning to run a media company (30:50)
- Startup San Diego. Finding funding, motivation, volunteers, and an executive director (33:35)
Learn more about Fresh Brewed Tech: https://freshbrewedtech.com/
Subscribe to Tacos & Tech: https://plinkhq.com/i/1374814595?to=page
Follow Neal on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NealBloom
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This episode is sponsored by Integrity Power Search, the #1 full stack high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disrupting companies.
Learn more about or get in touch with Integrity Power Search: https://upside.fm/integrity