*OPINION: Miami Great for Millennial Entrepreneurs

Zach Martin, growth and customer success lead, Joule.ai

OCSN: How long were you in OC and how long did you work at The Vine? (an Irvine Company building housing office space and co-working space in University Research Park)

Zach: I’ve lived in Southern California all my life, as I was born there and went to high school at Newport Harbor. I ended up going to college in Santa Barbara and then transferred to the University of Miami, where I graduated in May 2015. I then went straight to Draper University, (a for-profit entrepreneurial school in San Mateo founded by VC luminary Tim Draper) and after graduating from there I moved back to OC to begin working for The Irvine Company in September 2015. I worked at The Vine for almost exactly 2 years.

OCSN: Tell me about the startup you started here in OC

Zach: Loil officially had its first paying customer in November 2016 (friends and family launch) but we officially launched to the public in January 2017. We were approached with a potential acquisition offer around April 2017, but that ended up not going through. I then decided to shut Loil down around July 2017 for various reasons. It was an amazing experience and I think one day it could come back, but right now my focus is elsewhere. It was also an honor to be nominated for the Orange County Business Journal Innovator of the Year in 2017.

OCSN: What were your thoughts about the OC ecosystem at the time?

Zach: The OC entrepreneurial ecosystem is interesting. For larger companies like Acorns, Cylance, Houzz, etc. it’s great. The quality of life, weather and access to top talent, among other things, is some of the best anywhere.

Although, for startups I think it’s just fine, not great. It doesn’t compare to the heavy hitters like Silicon Valley. I think the main thing lacking in the OC ecosystem is seed/angel capital. When I was in Silicon Valley, I could set up daily meetings with investors who were eager to write checks. That doesn’t really happen in OC. The series A and B capital, etc.,  is there but you need the seed/angel capital to have any chance of competing as a main startup powerhouse.

It’s also a very interesting place to launch a startup in terms of demographic and people’s eagerness to be early adopters. I think people in the OC environment can be reluctant to try new startups, for various reasons. No knock on the people there (the majority of my family is there). It’s just different when it comes to early product/service adoption compared to say, Silicon Valley.

Can you imagine if Uber or Airbnb launched in OC? My prediction is they would have failed. The amount of people on the supply side of the marketplace would be too scarce and reluctant.

“I’m not letting a stranger into my car!”

“I’m not letting a stranger into my house!”

You can’t have those sentiments when you’re trying to launch a company to paying customers. Unless you’re building software and can permeate borders, or location doesn’t matter for launch, it can be tough.

Bring more seed/angel investing to the area and see what happens. It’s all a numbers game…just like how VC’s operate. All it takes is one big outlier to crush it.

OCSN: Where were you living and what amount of rent were you paying?

Zach: I was living at home, so $0 (technically). Thank you mom!

OCSN: What inspired you to move to Florida?

Zach: I was inspired to move back to Miami in January because of the lifestyle. I simply love it here. It’s unlike any place in the world. The amount of interesting places, people, restaurants, beaches, etc. is endless. I had an innate urge to go back and live in an amazingly beautiful and diverse location.

I’ve lived here before when I was in college so I knew what I was getting myself into. Plus, Newport is too quiet for a 25 year old. It seems like a retirement community to me at times. It’s time to explore! Now let’s see if I ever leave…Maybe back to Santa Barbara when I retire 🙂

OCSN: What are you doing there?

I am working at and building a startup called Joule. We provide a simple, user-friendly way to get tech and web tasks done quickly. We’re going after the freelance marketplace. There are too many business owners, website owners, etc. who have websites but don’t know where to go to edit them or even set them up. We provide a solution to all of that, without all the typical hassle (Our competitors include Upwork, with HQ in Mountain View, and Fiverr, with HQ in Israel.) We are part of Rokk3r Labs, which actually just went public (see news report here). Rokk3r is a technology incubator and venture capital fund, Rokk3r Fuel,  based in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. It created a platform where entrepreneurs partner with strategists, creatives, and engineers to co-build and launch companies.

OCSN: What are your thoughts about the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale startup ecosystem?

I think it’s interesting as well! There are a lot of great things happening down here actually. 500 Startups, an early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator with HQ in Silicon Valley, just recently announced their move down here which is huge. (500 Startups is establishing its presence in downtown Miami. See here for more info.))…..MagicLeap is here (in Plantation, Fla. – the company is working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display, called Magic Leap One) and JetSmarter, (a members-only mobile marketplace for shared and private charter flights), is also here, to name a few.

Then there’s Rokk3r Labs, which has a huge presence here and is doing amazing things. The proximity to LATAM, (an airline based in Chile and one of the founders of LATAM Airlines Group, Latin America’s largest airline holding company) and Europe is very appealing for a lot of these companies and investors.

OCSN: Which location do you think is a better place for millennial entrepreneurs and why?

Zach: I think they’re both great places, all things considered. Actually, some of the best places on the planet in my opinion. I think for millennial entrepreneurs, I would choose Miami over OC. That’s just my opinion and it’s personal for me. I just think the lifestyle is better here for a young person (millennial). Not to mention, the cost of rent is probably slightly cheaper in Miami for what you can get.

I think in the end it all comes down to personal preference. Choosing one place over another won’t make or break you. I do think there’s a little more opportunity here in Miami though because of the amount of people you can meet who are connected to the greater world. It just seems more diverse and globally connected here. You might run into someone on a business trip from London or Colombia and you never know what may come of that. Go have a drink (or coffee) in the business district in Miami and I’d say you’re better off to gain from it than the same thing in the business district in OC. Again, these are just my experiences and opinions. I like to get out, meet people and make connections. Someone may have a totally different reality in each place.

OCSN: What part of Miami do you live in and how much is the rent there?

Zach: I work in an area called Wynwood (I would compare it to Venice Beach in terms of design and creativity) and live in Miami Beach. This is only about a 10-15 minute commute. I pay around $1,500 and live on the water, among other things.

OCSN: Any other comments on the two ecosystems and how they compare/contrast?

I think they’re both great and neither is really a crazy powerhouse (yet) when it comes to entrepreneurial ecosystems, but I would have to give the edge to Miami. I use Silicon Valley as the barometer, but I think with big companies such as Rokk3r Labs and 500 Startups here, Miami will run away with the competition in the future.

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