Chris Raih wanted to settle somewhere funky and hip with ready access to creative talent when he was scouting a Southern California location in 2006 for his about-to-launch ad agency Zambezi. A view of the Pacific Ocean and the possibility of surfing at lunchtime wouldn’t suck either.
He found his way to the nascent Silicon Beach, a multimile stretch of Los Angeles that grew from iconic Venice Beach to Santa Monica, Marina del Rey and surrounding seaside burgs. The quickly gentrifying area, near the buzzy heart of Hollywood, earned its name for attracting tech startups, budding e-commerce, digital ad shops, and cutting-edge media and entertainment companies.
“This area is an inspiration to us everyday,” notes Raih, founder of Zambezi with his ecd Brian Ford. “It’s progressive, bohemian, smart. It’s completely plugged into trends. And the natural beauty of the beach is another hemisphere of influence.”
Raih’s 70-person agency is in heavy-hitting company. Google, Snapchat, Hulu, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s Beats Electronics, business incubators like Amplify and hundreds of emerging technology firms now populate the area. They’re shoulder to shoulder with an eclectic mix of youth hostels, pot dispensaries, bong shops, hot new restaurants and fashion-forward boutiques.
Microsoft moved in about six months ago, and Intel is currently looking for local digs. Facebook outgrew its first office, moving slightly inland to Playa Vista, near YouTube, TMZ and ad agency 72andSunny. Prolific movie producer Joel Silver is renovating the Art Deco 1930s-era Venice Post Office for his production house, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is considering opening an office on artsy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which GQ magazine has dubbed the “coolest block in America.”
Silicon Beach has become so popular, in fact, that prices have skyrocketed, much more so than in L.A.’s larger real estate market. And with a limited amount of space—buildings don’t reach over 35 feet, and there are no high-rises—anyone not already planted there may have a tough time finding an affordable roof and four walls. “The demand is high and the supply is nil,” says David Thind, a local Coldwell Banker real estate broker. “Sales prices are over $1,000 a foot, some approaching $1,500 a foot. That’s unheard of.”
Thind gets more than a dozen calls a day from tech, media, advertising and other businesses hoping to put their feet in the sand where, he notes, desirable lots can cost “$2 million for a teardown.”
Paul Bricault, a former William Morris agent and managing partner in Amplify, explains that a “startup ecosystem” has burgeoned in and around Silicon Beach. Among the moving pieces: an explosion of angel investors and a steady stream of talent coming from USC, UCLA and other local schools that now foster entrepreneurship. “There’s an influx of capital, lots of recruiting potential, the rise of startup accelerators,” Bricault says, “and it all seemed to happen without orchestration. It was organic.”
After hopscotching from smaller to larger spots in the last seven years, Raih, a Wieden + Kennedy, Portland alum, has situated his agency in a refurbished aqua-green building that’s “shaped like a guitar pick,” one of many quirky architectural gems in Venice. It has storage space for surfboards, bikes and wet suits and a rooftop party deck.
He says the area has lived up to his expectations for strong talent, a sense of community and everyday trendspotting.
“All you have to do is go outside and see what people are wearing, how they’re talking to each other,” says Raih, whose client roster includes 2K Sports, Champs Sports and Popchips. “It puts us right next to the cool kids, and it informs our work.”