Eric Pakravan — TenOneTen

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Eric and I work together at TenOneTen!  We talk about our partners, Lava Lab, AmplifyLA, Scopely, marketplaces and the sort of companies that thrive in LA.

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Eric Pakravan knows everything about every startup and every investor in LA. He’s a principal at TenOneTen. And before joining us, he was seven years at AmplifyLA. six or seven years, something like that.

Before Amplify, Eric was the founder of USC’s Lava Lab and one of the earliest employees at Scopely.

Eric, what’s up? Hey, happy to be here.

Yes, so give me give me kind of the short version of your background. 

Yes, so I went to USC the most interesting thing I did was interning as an intern there when it was still about 20 people, I grew to like 50 people by the time I left, but I didn’t know what a startup was before that. And I went in and I was blown away. I mean, I’ve always been a tech, but just at the company side of it was something I never really dealt with before.

And Scopely actually had on their mobile game publishers that the right summary.

Yeah, I think the grand vision of this at the time was to almost be the Warner Brother of gaming, where they’re going to work with a bunch of different studios from the studios own, you know, in part of the games. But just to own all the distribution and gaming works differently than movies. It’s not exactly apples to apples, but. That generally worked. Now they own more of their titles and it’s a lot more of, from what I’ve seen from the outside, partnerships, so partnerships with people that own IP and turning that IP into games versus just really, really clever small indie game studios and broadcasting them less of that, more of the you know, let’s bring Scrabble to the masses on mobile and be the distribution arm and monetization arm for, you know, mobile Scrabble.


And that must have been sort of seven years ago or something that you were there when it was 20 people. And now what is it?

It’s probably valued at a billion plus.

We have to ask Eytan is that I think it’s about two billion but Eytan would know.

Right? Well, I know. I just I mean, it’s it’s got to be one of the more successful and interesting startups in L.A., especially to us.

And we have connections there.

And tell me about Lava Lab and maybe you could also put it in.

Well, tell me about Lava Lab, but I will ask you also if you can explain USC and the different you know, the there’s the launch, the Blackstone launch pad and the different entrepreneurship endeavors that go on, because I’m always trying to sort out which ones, which and which one, you know, to get to know better.

Well, USC is ever changing. And there’s all there’s the way that US is set up is that there is, I want to say, 14 different schools. I think more. And each school basically doesn’t like to share. And so almost every school has their own little entrepreneur, at least not the time to develop. But almost every single school now has its own little entrepreneurial division. So the business school has one of the engineers who has a lot of communications, who has on the film school has one, some have multiple, and then there are student driven initiatives.

And then there’s hybrid’s of student driven initiatives and stuff, and then there’s university driven initiative. So it’s all over the board. But what that means is that there’s just a lot of resources on campus everywhere you look for students, and that’s just been growing over the last ten years. And so Lava Lab, I just wanted to fill a void that I saw on campus, which is why I was I, you know, a couple of years into school and not even having a discussion about a startup, even though I was in the engineering program and and the the business school and the business school, we didn’t talk about startups.

The engineering school is where we need to go to Microsoft. And and what I thought was the most impactful thing on campus was some of these new organizations that were mimicking what it’s like. So let’s say be a consultant, but you’re just a consultant for the community.

So the whole premise is, you know, we pick students from all across the University of Business, engineering, design, film wherever, put them in teams of four with the goal of just. Giving students the opportunity to try getting something off the ground, working with others, see what type of people they want to work with, and then also seeing that it’s not scary to start something, the company doesn’t need to go anywhere. I mean, there are companies that have gone on and joined a science incubator and Y Combinator and some have raised several million in funding.

That’s not the point. Most don’t really go anywhere. The point is to learn in a sandbox, so to speak, so that you’re not afraid to start things. And then there’s also a lot of Lava alums in in the industry. So here in L.A. is an avalanche, is not a great craft.

Ibos and lobola. She’s not Wunder Ventures. I feel like I’m forgetting a few people, but this is why I say, you know, everyone in every startup in L.A., it’s awesome.

And then you’re going to Amplify and we had Paul Bricault on the L.A. Venture podcast.

He said that it’s sort of morphed over time from being an accelerator to preseed with benefits, which I still find amusing.

But yeah, maybe you can tell me a little bit about what you guys were offering when you were an accelerator and sort of how Amplify has evolved going back to 2011, L.A. was was not what it is today. Again, you could be Scopely and raise a seed round. And you’re one of the most well-known companies in L.A. because there weren’t really companies raising multimillion dollar rounds just happened. But it was it was a little bit more rare. So, again, the goal is to catalyze LA tech, be a bridge between, you know, capital from outside the city, talent inside the city, advisers in the city and just this hub and I think I was was largely successful, so successful to the point that it’s outgrown the need to necessarily write a 50 K check just to bring someone to the market.

I think you’ve told me that Amplify was doing 250 K for 10 percent was kind of like a standard term. Maybe this is a number of years ago.

Yeah, I kept it. It always gradually changed just to respond to the market. The first first check. I remember like 50k for five percent, you know, that was like twenty thirteen timeframe and and now the amplifiers leading a million and a half, sometimes two million all around.

Interesting and then on top of that, you also housed all of our earliest stage companies. So, yeah, they’re also building things. They’re all collaborating with each other. My favorite moment was whenever you saw one Amplify CEO and another CEO in a breakout room whiteboarding together. There was a lot of collaboration there, and now you’re at 10 one ten, which is fantastic. But it’s interesting I said this to you on email the other day. I was sending you a pitch deck saying, what do you think of this one? And then you said, yeah, it looks interesting. I said, I can never predict what you’re going to find interesting.

So I’m still struggling with that.

But can you tell me now where you see your areas of focus or what you do find him? Can you explain this in here? I’m not even sure I will say that. About 50, 60 percent of the time when I when I see a deck, yeah, I’ll start getting excited because, you know, they’re explaining the point and I’m like, yeah, like I think I know where they’re going.

And then they’ll go in a totally different direction, know. And then I’ll lose interest. But when when the pain point and the solution align, I get really excited because I’m like, OK, I believe there’s an opportunity here.

OK, when you read a deck, I usually just flip through like I skipped the first like five slides. Like I skip most of the pain point. Usually the I’ve learn not to do that. I used to do that. I used to do that. I used to just skip to the end, see the good part and then come back to the beginning if I’m interested and try to read through it. But, founders spend so much, though not all founders.

Hopefully it’s got a lot of time on their deck and and they want to guide you through a story, and I will often realize that I’ve misinterpreted what they’re trying to tell me if I go out. Hmm, yeah, I do often.

Yep, I do that, um. Well, let me rephrase my question.

What are the areas that you think you are most articulate about that would be interesting for us to discuss on this podcast, for us to discuss in the podcast?

Well, the ones that I think I’ve spent a lot of time really trying to understand the mechanics and why they succeed and not are our marketplaces commerce and SaaS just because I feel like their bread and butter industries that you just see a lot of. And, you know, I want to be opinionated there. What am I.

Let’s talk about those. Tell me about Marketplaces part of why I’m more excited about marketplaces is I just feel like if you’re going to build a. A marketplace, especially a consumer facing marketplace. L.A. is a city to launch them. There are only so many cities that look like Manhattan and downtown San Francisco. Most other cities, at least domestically, look like L.A. and L.A. is the biggest version of it where it’s just, you know, wide, expansive city with maybe a small corner. And, you know, how can you build a consumer facing marketplace with that sort of density?

You know, I just feel like you build the playbook in L.A. and then you can take it anywhere.

And would you say that consumer marketplaces are still interesting to you, even though, as you said, they’re it’s they’re so sort of prominent. You see so many of them right now?

Yeah, I think they’re interesting. And I think they’re interesting because the way I see it, it’s like commerce to some extent, is this idea of taking consumer products that have always existed and now selling those products via the Internet. And in many ways, a lot of these marketplaces that are in my mind are getting funded, are really taking and what our services that you might otherwise be buying in an analog world and figuring out a way to deliver them more efficiently using the Internet.

Yeah, OK.

Right. And so for these services marketplaces, there’s often is this a true statement?

There’s often sort of a SAAS component or you get a lot of lock in because the person who’s providing the supply side often will have a SaaS component in addition to to sort of having the the marketplace.

Actually, Crexi in our portfolio was a good example of that.

Yeah. And I think in many ways you’re starting to actually see a blurring of the lines to some extent between SAAS and the marketplaces. It’s odd, but they kind of meet in the middle of something of like a managed marketplace. More on the consumer side or vertical source, more on the south side, WeeCare is is a great example of another company that’s a marketplace or vertical SAAS, depending on how you want to define it.

They’re giving software to daycares, but they’re also, you know, have a front facing side that deals with the the daycare customers, parents or something because they care and want to be able to interact with the day care and all that sort of stuff and pay.

So, yeah, now you’re often educating me on like, oh, that looks more like what did you say the other day, like SAAS with lead gen as opposed to SAAS with the marketplace. Right. There’s a lot of subtleties there I mean, you have a lot of thoughts on marketplaces, why they should be in L.A., you know, is the same apply to all other types of businesses there are very few companies that you can’t build in L.A. and they’re actually in many ways, there are very few companies you can’t build anywhere. Yeah, it’s going to be a little bit harder in one place or another. But, I mean, you can be an e-commerce company today without a CTO because you’re using Shopify and every other software that’s selling into e-commerce that enables you to essentially, in many ways deliver a product, you know, and act like a technology company without actually building your own technology.

And I think that you’re starting to see that paradigm go deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper. So e-commerce is first, but then it’s starting to move in some marketplaces. You can start to build the services business with with mostly off the shelf technology, maybe some orchestration tech. And I think that’ll just that trend will continue to move on. And L.A. is perfect because you have the largest industry in L.A., only eight percent of the economy. That’s entertainment.

Entertainment, only eight percent of the L.A. economy, is that what you just said?

That’s not surprising to me, actually, still. You just said something else that was interesting to me.

Was it orchestrated?

I didn’t actually know what that was. What is orchestration tech? Maybe it’s a term I made up in my own, but I’ve seen it with companies, which is I like there’s a there’s a company that delivers physical service to to the home and they’re covered by insurance. And it’s a great, great marketplace.

They don’t they’ve built some tech. Most of their tech is off the shelf, but they’ve just built technology that allows this off the shelf, you know, tech to work with itself. And so I called arbitrage tech. Maybe it’s a term, maybe it’s not.

I can make a blog post and then it’ll be a thing. Here’s the piece that I actually that I meant to pick up on it. Here’s the piece that I that I think is still most missing, maybe in L.A. or that I notice, I think senior product people who build products to sell into enterprise customers.

I think that actually requires you can’t just cobble together the Shopify and the other pieces together.

Yeah, there’s a few areas that I think San Francisco, by a wide margin, still still is is has the edge. One of them is that they’re on they’re all related to enterprise type companies or one of them is just, you know, enterprise product people. The other one is enterprise marketing people. And then the other one is, is senior level enterprise sales leaders know you have the, you know, ex Oracle, ex Salesforce and then X every other company.

Then what? They’re after people in the area with their Rolodexes and and, you know, and it it it’s so much easier to hire for an enterprise company in the Bay Area. That’s not to say that it can’t be done in a LA, FlowCast is a great company. Blackline is their biggest competitor. They’re both in Sherman Oaks and the of the Valley. And, you know, Black Line is public for billions of dollars. And I saw on a list somewhere that flow cost is a soonicorn soon for the unicorn.

Oh,no, I’ve actually been surprised that the engineering talent almost feels slightly more accessible, hireable in L.A. but that but yeah, those enterprise functions, I think might be a little harder.

Do you think that e commerce benefits from a lot of the Hollywood I don’t want to just call it Hollywood, but sort of the the DNA around connecting with consumers, building brands, building engagement, or do you think it’s there’s less to that?

Well, it certainly benefits from it. 

Obviously the networks here. And so it’s easy to do. But I do think that that’s a smaller part of a much bigger reason as to why L.A. is better. I don’t think it’s the only reason. I mean, one of them is just like manufacturing is here. So if you’re in apparel company, it’s a lot easier to do in L.A. than the most of the cities in the country.

Shipping, same thing.

Yeah, I am actually realized that most a lot of cities don’t really have manufacturing capabilities. Is that a true statement?

Well, specifically in apparel, that’s an area where L.A. just historically has always had, you know, manufacturing base far less now than the 80s, like NAFTA after a lot of that has just just just moved overseas, particularly China.

Your dad your father is in is an apparel manufacturing, is that right? Buttons buttons. Did I remember this correctly? Yes.

My dad had a factory called the Button Depot and I was a kid and it was a ton of fun. I used to go there and it was like City of Industry, Vernon area and he had a full warehouse full of like button makers and just basically buttons and and a lot of that has moved to China.

So now you have just a lot of import exporters using the same warehouse space, maybe not manufacturing as much because it’s not economically viable. But they’re there historically has been a lot of that in L.A. and a lot of the infrastructure around that still exists. I remember a while ago talking to a company called Lumi that just packaging. And, you know, when I was on the phone with the founder, she was literally sitting there in a warehouse in the city of industry.

And she’s like, we are here and this is where we’re shipping everything out of. And this is where we have all of our inventory. And all the e-commerce companies like me is the client. And and I feel like that’s only something you would really see in L.A.. Yeah.

And also because we’ve got all the shipping, right. I mean, so I guess you go from the button warehouse down to the port, right?

I mean, you can not only import everything to the port of Long Beach is, I believe, the largest port by container volume in North America. And then the second largest is the port of L.A. and functionally the same port. They’re just on opposite sides of the city line. So together they’re just a mega port. And and it’s just a lot easier to to ship internationally, to source internationally, you know, maybe do some assembly here, some light repackaging and then sell it or else.

Well, sometime we should take a field trip. That sounds very interesting.

Maybe what else in L.A.. So do you still follow gaming?

So obviously you were early at Scopely, which is how you know Eytan, our partner, you know. Do you think gaming is just are we all going to live in our metaverse? Is in the future? Why bother go outside when we can just live online all the time?

Or what do you follow in gaming? I hope not.

I hope that’s not our future. But I do see a future where there is a little bit of a hybrid and you’re starting to see that already. I mean, our social media personas are different than us. They’re connected to us. They’re different from us. And I think that that trend will continue and they’re just going to be new ways to express ourselves. New new mediums, new new. It’s kind of just Instagram this week. Introducing all the Tik-Tok features is just another way to express yourself inside of Instagram is just basically in my mind, I’m adopting kind of the new language of how a new generation is speaking and connecting online.

So here’s here’s what I’ll say about gaming. Gaming is this weird hybrid between a media content business and a startup. It’s it’s driven, but it’s also your brain. You know, there’s a lot of engineering that goes into a game. You know, you need teams. You know, the kind of the a lot of the work behind the scenes looks like building a software company. But the actual final product has a lot of in common with a film in that one game might totally flop, but the next game becomes fortnight.

And you don’t know exactly, you know, after millions of dollars of investment into a game, you don’t really know necessarily. But this one is going to be a fortnight and this one is just totally going to be a forgotten game that never going to get traction. And so I think it makes it’s always a tricky one for VC because, you know, like this U.S. will never fund the movie. And so thinking about the type of gaming company that if you see my investment is always tricky.

And in my mind, there’s there’s really one answer that at least I would consider. And it’s is there are some new emerging platform.

And can you be one of the winners on that platform early in a way where you’re kind of betting on gaming existing on that platform and just kind of building up distribution, maybe getting a distribution player versus investing in a single title and, you know, and then and so few great examples are obviously mobile. There’s an explosion. So, you know, it’s going to be in Zynga or some of the winners in that in that world. There’s a company called Volly that does it for voice.

And they were like early to the to the platform. Little ABB’s attempted to do that for for the watch. I don’t think people are playing that many games on the watch. But but the the largest gaming platform on the Apple Watch there is another company I met a long time ago called called Game Cake that was hoping to be that for the Apple TV. And it’s kind of unclear if and when there’s going to be another platform. I think you could probably make the case that VR is a winning platform for just going to ask.

We just did a VR investment. I mean, we kind of just invested in a game, did we not? Well, we invested in a company that wants to build a bunch of fitness driven games for a new and emerging platform like boxing is is their first title.

And yet here you are at tenoneten. And I would say that the thing that you have sort of pushed us on many things, but actually I think you’ve pushed us to be nerdier what I love about TenOneTen is that our team, again, your you started a company. You have a technical background. David started three companies with a technical background. Gill has started two companies with a technical background. I I’m trying to think of another fund in L.A. where the whole team just has a technical background and is able to relate and resonate with both the engineering team, but also the management operations CEO type team person. And even more so when that person is a single person.

And I think that that gives us a very unique edge.

Yeah, I, I didn’t tell you I was going to ask you this. What surprised you about David Waxman? A lot of things surprised me about this. Me, too. He says he’s a quirky dude. No, he’s not as OK. Once you get to know him, you realize how quirky he isn’t.

That that was what surprised me the most, because because you meet him at a big social event and I think in a very short time frame, he gives off a quirky vibe. But the minute you sit down for a longer conversation, the quirkiness disappears.

He’s kind of like a family guy. Three kids goes on to three kids. Super professional.

Yeah. And and that’s the opposite of what you get when you meet up for two minutes. I love it. I’m keeping that in there. How about I’m on a roll?

How about Gil? Gil? Gil.

So I’ve known Eytan obviously since 2012 because he was a co-founder of Scopely and I in a weird way thought that Eytan would be exactly like Gil would be exactly like Eytan and he’s not, he’s totally different.

Who else in the ecosystem who are some other people in the ecosystem that you think are our real pillars of of the community here or thought leaders you look up to?

I think there’s a growing number. I mean, I’m a very like I admire Paul Bricault greatly, partially because he’s been my mentor and my introduction to the L.A. tech scene more than anyone else. And and I think, you know, just just the virtue side of yes, he’s started, you know, Amplify, you know, as a business. But also he’s extremely mission driven and has figured out a way to do both. And so so I like that.

Right. Who else in L.A. do I do?

I mean, I admire a lot of people in L.A.

Are there any, like news sources or people you follow who you, you know, may or may not actually know, but, you know, you read the StrictlyVC newsletter or whatever.

It’s kind of a boring one. I was devastated that day. Marc Andreessen deleted all his tweets.

Not only not only was he a great tweeter because he’s he’s reading books and articles and finding the most interesting facts and then knows what’s actually interesting and tweeted and sharing those.

He started tweeting again, although it’s gone and the saying so I’m sad that that’s not there anymore.

Who do I this one’s not really related.

It’s all related. But I check Urbanize L.A. every morning and I’ve been reading it since it was a blog spot on blogger called Building L.A., I think like ten years ago. And, you know, if you’re curious to see how the city is physically shaping, you know, they are surfacing every new potential and ongoing development architecturally in the city. And actually, a lot more of that has become tech related. They keep covering the new Netflix studio or Scopely’s new building in Century City.

There’s I think I think you can tell that the L.A. startup scene and the L.A. tech scene is really here because now it’s, you know, tech companies that are getting the coverage in real estate news.

I actually thought one of our more interesting podcasts, we had all the podcasts. I loved them equally, but I thought Brandon Wallace was pretty interesting on just how he’s built Fifth Wall from zero to whatever. He said one point something billion in three years. He and team any other. You listen to not all of the podcasts.

You listen to some of the podcasts, any any guest that stood out or things you learned there.

Just to ask about my own podcast, one of the first ones I listened to was Michael Palank and ah hearing his thoughts on where consumer tech is headed was really interesting because he had opinions that I’ve never heard anyone say before. And and and in ways that I thought were actually. Surprising, but also on point, so I would highly recommend listening to Mike. I mean, I find that about you, actually, which is not only do you have opinions that no one else has, you come up with, like orchestration tech, you come up with terms.

I don’t no one else knows.

I don’t know if I made that up. I use OK, I might have heard it somewhere.

What are some other opinions? What’s an opinion you have that no one else knows has?

Oh no. Here’s another here’s another term that I made up. So productize content. I’m pretty sure I made that one up.

And I and I kind of use it to bucket all the companies that are somewhat of a hybrid between selling you content, but also kind of giving it to you in a product form. So like Headspace and Calm, but also Pro Guides, which is is like a master class for eSports learning. And then there’s there’s videos. But there is you can collaborate with other, you know, players and learn from them. You know, the same thing is true with Activ.

It’s a workout app. And I just I see the world as all being related to each other without a name. Maybe there is a name if someone is curious.

No, I like that because, I mean, it’s kind of what you were talking about, which is you don’t want to bet on the writer or some group of two writers or something who are people who are producing the content. You want to bet on the productize content. OK, one more personal question about you, Eric.

How do you describe yourself? How do I describe myself? I don’t know. How do your friends describe you? I’m definitely quirky, I’m the quickest one of all my friend groups, I think, which is part of why I think we should lean into being the nerdy fund in L.A. And I like that we’re all kind of nerdy and quirky in our way.

A lot of people describe me as a walking encyclopedia. I just was going to say get intellectual game facts. Yep. Yeah, you do.

You do. You’re kind of intellectual, too. You read books, do you? I read books, yes.

That makes you intellectual. I have a low bar for intellectual ism.

I don’t read the tech books though, which is. Yeah, I’m constantly talking to other friends I have in tech industry and they’re reading like every other book that every other person is reading. 

What’s a good one? I recently finished reading this book called Generations, that was written 1990, and it just talks about kind of how different generations collaborated and how that affected. It basically is a generation, my generation history book of the United States since the 1500s. I’m really glad I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have you on the podcast and have it sound authentic, but I. I always really enjoyed our conversation. So anyways, thanks for sort of agreeing to do this.

Thanks for having me. And it’s been there and I haven’t seen you in five months, but it’s been a blast working together.

And I just my like, my fear is. I’m like being an ambassador, I guess, for four. I think it’s spoke well, yeah, I know.

You mean I know the problem was it’s a little it’s a little unnatural for me to ask too much of like, tell me why you joined 10, 110 and why were so great, you know what I mean? Like, it just it’s a little.

But anyways, I think there might be some stuff in the amplified part that I can cut out that just makes it a little shorter. Yeah, it just became more concise is the thing I was thinking.

Yeah. Cool.

I thought it was actually I mean not that I’m surprised, but I actually think it was really good.

I mean that like oh I’m kind of surprised now. OK, here’s the bad part. I feel good about it now. Right. And I hate hearing my own voice. And so just the list. I have to listen to it.

Yeah, no, it’s hard to have to listen to it. But the good news is it’s not so bad to listen to yourself when you actually sound really smart like it. It’s harder when it’s like when it’s a worse interview or whatever, like oh that one. I said some stupid things.

Let me wrap up again because I didn’t like my my ending was too silly.

Eric, it’s great chatting with you today. Thanks so much for coming on. I’ll venture. Now, whatever, it doesn’t matter, I’m not eating, that is what I think.

Yeah, no, you can take my text from last time I thought what I said last time was good. It’s just your voice is timeless. Yeah, I thought it was great. I think we covered a lot of interesting. You just have a lot of facts in there which is good.

Or opinions or opinion. Facts. Yes. Cool.

Well, that was been talking about a lot of consumer, which is bizarre because, like, we don’t really do much consumer.

But I you know, I never can exactly script these things. And maybe I should have just, like, picked up on the SARS thing and asked me about SARS that.

But I actually do have more consumer opinions because. We talked about Marketplace SACE combo stuff. Yeah, hopefully you get more vertical fast companies. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And now we just need to convince David to come on. Yeah. Oh my gosh.

Actually, your stuff about David and Gil was pretty good. I kind of liked your comments there.

I just I hope I didn’t offend them.

That’s my only I think I was offensive, but I don’t think so.

I know I feel like at this point. I know David really well, like, really well, because I just spend so much and he’s kind of what you said, which is he’s I think you said sort of like he’s professional or something. He’s unflappable to like he’s fully adult in all ways, like small little things like, you know, he doesn’t he doesn’t get slapped by the small stuff. So, like, there’s no way you could say something like what you said and he’d have any take any offense at it.

Gil, I just don’t know as well.

Yeah, me neither. And I was like when I said opposite, I was like but like I was just so complimentary.

I can always like I’ll listen to the transcript and see how it all sounds. And just please, President, because I will I’m going to yeah.

What I’ll do is I’ll get the one I get because you’re part of ten minutes is easy.

When I get the rough cut back from Michael, we can both listen to it and then decide, you know, if it sounds good, but it’s easy. Michael’s fully he’s we’ve gone in a good rhythm, so it’s really easy when I get the rough cut back to just request changes if we want anything like that. Sounds good.