Bitcoin Goes Hollywood: An Interview with Gem COO Ken Miller
A guest interview by Jeff HandlerSilicon Valley has become a symbol of technological innovation and achievement in the digital age – a shining beacon of progress and "disruption." It’s hard to find someone in the Bay Area who isn’t working on some app or technology that promises to change the world forever.As Bitcoin has grown from an obscure, niche technology embraced by a few small, highly technical circles into an actual (though still obscure) "industry," it shouldn’t surprise anyone that San Francisco/Silicon Valley has become the de-facto go-to spot for American Bitcoin companies to set up shop.While the Bay Area is certainly a great spot for a Bitcoin start-up, I invite you to hop on the 101 and travel about 380 miles south to my hometown of Los Angeles (La La Land for you Midwesterners), where a growing group of Bitcoin startups is transforming the City of Angels into a hotbed of digital currency innovation.Known to some as "Silicon Beach," LA is now home to several Bitcoin ventures, including Expresscoin, Tether, Holy Transaction, Ambisafe, Gem, GoCoin, Interwallet, and the company I work for, Netki. (If you work for a Bitcoin company based in LA that I did not mention, I apologize for the omission. And please reach out to me, I’d love to connect!)Known primarily as the entertainment capital of the world, LA is actually a great place for Bitcoin. The monthly Bitcoin meetup, hosted by Gem, has more than 1,000 members, with a waitlist for almost every event. Engaged crowds highlight the real passion and camaraderie that has formed among a growing community that has a strong appetite for Bitcoin growth and adoption in their city.Los Angeles has a massive immigrant population and acts as a hub for digital content creators (YouTube stars, writers, artists, etc.), making it a fantastic testing ground for two of the "killer" use cases that Bitcoiners are most excited about: remittances and micropayments to content producers.To gain more insight into what makes LA such an appealing place to run a Bitcoin business, I spent a recent morning on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach, talking with Gem COO Ken Miller about LA tech, Bitcoin adoption, and the Venice Skate Park (where I have some fond childhood memories).Gem is a secure multi-sig Bitcoin wallet for developers. With Gem’s API, a developer can integrate a fully functional and secure wallet within minutes.For Miller, a key aspect that makes one location better than others is access to talent. It’s no secret that finding talented software engineers in Silicon Valley is easier than say a Little Rock, Arkansas. (Sorry to Razorback fans out there.) But is it really the only place where tech startups can hope to find qualified employees?For Miller, the answer to that question is no, and he points to access to colleges and universities as a key component:“If you’re a tech start-up that needs to start hiring, access to top talent is extremely important," he said. "Good colleges are a huge part of that, and in LA we’ve certainly got them.”It’s no secret that Stanford being located in Palo Alto played a huge role in transforming Silicon Valley into the tech hub that it is today, filling the area with talented, forward-thinking young people who would go on to build, drive and invest in the future of technology.But just as ‘The Valley’ has access to top talent from Stanford and Cal-Berkeley, Silicon Beach has the likes of Cal Tech, UCLA, USC, and the Claremont colleges right in our backyard.With access to a top technical institution (only MIT is ranked above Cal Tech), the most applied-to university in the country (UCLA, also a top-20 ranked university), and two of the best liberal arts colleges (Pomona is No. 5; Claremont McKenna College No. 8), LA companies have access to a large pool of highly intelligent candidates with academically diverse backgrounds. (Rankings per a 2015 U.S. News report.)While most would assume that graduation day brings a mass exodus of “tech” people from LA colleges to jobs and companies in the Bay Area, increasingly, this is not the case.“There’s a growing sentiment amongst these students that the Bay Area tech scene has become saturated, and that it’s a real dog-eat-dog type of environment," Miller said. "A lot of them want to stay in Southern California, and with a growing number of tech companies sprouting up out here, they actually have real opportunities to work and thrive in LA.”
Line for the Gem booth at USC’s career fairIn addition to LA colleges, Miller notes that Gem has received a number of applications from highly qualified computer science majors at universities such as Michigan and MIT who have expressed their desire to become a part of LA’s new tech scene.What’s particularly interesting about this is that these students have expressed a desire to do “something different,” noting that “everyone goes to San Francisco.”In other words, we are now seeing young computer scientists and software engineers who have explored the possibility of life in Silicon Valley and are actively choosing to work in LA instead. While this is not to say that Silicon Beach will replace Silicon Valley as America’s tech or even Bitcoin capitol, these changes are important, and the community should take note.If you’re thinking about starting a Bitcoin company, or your current startup needs a change of scenery, take a look at LA, we’d love for you to become a part of what we’re building (and the weather’s not too bad either).