Welcome to Live Work Oakland

Live Work Oakland is your go-to resource about the growing local innovation economy in Oakland, California.

Live Work Oakland is the home of the Oakland Tech Ecosystem map and database, offering a comprehensive list of tech-related entities in Oakland’s burgeoning and diverse tech community.

Live Work Oakland also features guides to getting started doing business in the Town, and profiles and articles about local innovators and leaders.

Live Work Oakland was created by Oakland Local with partnership support from The Kapor Center for Social Impact.

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    Use your Winter Break to Retool your Pitch

    By Isaac “Yitz” Applbaum and Dan Cohen

    We are often in meetings with talented entrepreneurs who have great ideas but also have a hard time communicating them. This isn’t uncommon. Founders often have great vision, but are so deep in the weeds of solutions and jargon that they struggle to make their vision accessible to angel investors or journalists who don’t share the expertise.

    With 2015 looming, now is a great time to take stock of how you are talking about your product, your company, or your vision. You can take a moment to challenge yourself to think about whether the way YOU want to communicate about your idea truly recognizes that there is someone on the other side of the conversation that you are trying to engage . . . and whether you are reaching them in a way that will drive action.

    Great communicators are humble. They recognize it’s never about what they want to say. Instead, it’s about what the person on the other side of the conversation needs to hear in order for them to do what you want them to do.

    Here are some suggestions on how to use the winter break to up your game.


    Tell a story. 

    Imagine sitting with a talented entrepreneur, one with a game changing idea and boundless energy, but who takes thirty minutes to walk through the opportunity she sees.  Sound familiar?

    What if, instead, she could share a quick story to describe the opportunity ahead? It makes a world of difference. Telling a powerful and granular story can take a complicated set of technology tools and instead place them squarely in the realm of the everyday.

    Here are some leading questions to consider.

    • Do you have a story about how your product or service can uniquely solve a billion dollar problem
    • Could you put a personal face on that?
    • Have you turned one of your customers into an internal superstar by revolutionizing their results?
    • Is this a replicable model?
    • Finally, is there a granular fact that is memorable?


    Use plain language.  

    While your service or product might be a complex technology solution, perhaps think first about whether your audience is ready to dive down into the weeds with you.  A rule of thumb could be that if you aren’t talking to an industry veteran of 10 years, try to use plain language like you are talking to a friend over a beer.  Instead of “demand centered lead generation,” maybe consider “we help people use technology to sell products to big companies at the moment they are ready to buy.”

    What entrepreneurs are doing can be so powerful and transformative. However, in speaking to potential investors, the idea gets lost in industry jargon.

    One solution can be to consider replacing some of your lingo with plain-speak.  You will have thousands of conversations each week.  Try to use each one to balance your tech-talk with compelling and easy-to-understand language.  Remember, one thing you want the investor or strategic partner to be able to do is communicate what you want them to take away from the conversation long after you have engaged them.

    There is one caveat.  Often there are “hot” buzzwords that can connect your idea to a larger movement or trend.  It is a good idea that if you are going to connect your idea to a buzzword (like “Big Data”), that you can quickly and plainly articulate your unique connection. It will be a very crowded landscape.


    What is your 7 year vision?

    Entrepreneurs can often achieve overnight success . . . but after seven years of hard work. It is a very fine line to balance the immediacy of the opportunity you present to an investor or customer, with the picture of a long-term and stable partner.  A few ways to challenge yourself may include:

    • How can you transport an investor 5-7 years into the future and paint the most vivid portrait of what success looks like?  Is it a compelling vision?
    • What validators do you have that agree with you that you can cite or quote?


    Bonus thought:

    In the technology space, everyone is in a rush or at least acting urgently.  Money is oxygen and time is the true enemy.  Coach John Wooden of UCLA used to say to “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”  Adding a sense of urgency, while bathing it in your confidence to achieve the vision, may be a great place to start.  And if you aren’t sure if it is working, test it out at your next holiday party.


    Isaac “Yitz” Applbaum is an Angel Investor (and Chief Evangelist for Radius). Dan Cohen is Founder of Full Court Press Communications, a full service strategic communications firm.

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    Oakland Design studio tour: FATHOM

    “Our overhead costs are higher in Oakland than they could be in other places, but we stay because we love it here. Our team lives in Oakland.” — Elizabeth Griffin, Marketing Manager of FATHOM

    Oakland-based 3D printing studio FATHOM doesn’t bother with taking typical employee team photos. Instead, its office boasts a collection of 2” tall 3D printed busts of each and every employee, achieved by scanning and then printing each person’s likeness in an opaque photopolymer.

    It’s a small detail that represents the innovation and quirkiness inherent to working at one of the country’s leading 3D printing studios, which in recent years has grown so quickly that FATHOM first expanded from its original location at 315 Jefferson Street into an adjoining office space at 329 Jefferson, then expanded its second office location in Seattle into a large new location last year. In 2013, FATHOM was ranked #369 on Inc.com’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., with total revenue at $5.7 million (up from $1.3 million in 2010). This year, FATHOM made the Inc.com list for the second time, coming in at #1,312.

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    Oakland Design Studio Tour: Because We Can

    “The community here in Oakland is fantastic. From just a half mile of where we are right now, I can think of at least a half dozen fabrication shops that we can turn to for help. If we need something, we know exactly who we can go and talk to. And we really believe in the future of Oakland as a manufacturing place and as a place where people can do really interesting things with technology.” — Jeffrey McGrew, Co-founder and Co-owner of Because We Can

    Because We Can is a West Oakland-based design studio, and it’s so named because of its unofficial studio slogan, “We do these things because we can.”

    Led by husband-and-wife team Jeffrey McGrew and Jillian Northrup, Because We Can is more specifically an architectural design-build studio — a full-service studio made up of a small but mighty staff of six makers with backgrounds in architecture, product design, interior design, graphic design, and building/tinkering.

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    Why Oakland’s a tech start-up game changer

    Oakland-based Mindblown Labs put gaming into education and garnered the largest Kickstarter campaign for any mobile game ever. E-commerce site Mayvenn found an unserved market and is growing 40 to 60 percent a month in revenues, and GroupFlix is already being described as another Netflix, prelaunch.

    These tech start-ups are all in Oakland. And they were all started by African Americans.

    There’s a burgeoning tech industry in Oakland, with a host of startups joining a dozen midsize tech companies and Oakland’s two technology giants, Pandora and Ask.  Oakland is becoming a place where tech happens, not on the scale of San Francisco or Silicon Valley, but enough to be a contender when startups figure out where to locate.

    What’s more, and a potential game changer in technology, is that Oakland’s tech industry appears to be more diverse than the largely white male and Asian male tech industries across the bay and down the peninsula, based on the concentration of start-ups by people of color and women in the small tech eco-sphere here.  SleekGeek was started by a Latina, XEO Designs by a woman, 2Locos by a team finding that their Latino lifestyle tastes are unanswered on e-commerce sites.

    Also, start-ups here in Oakland are often driven by a social mission. Mindblown Labs aims to teach youth about financial literacy. GoldieBlox, started by women, hopes to inspire young girls to become engineers. Qeyno Labs, started by another African American, is a career discovery game for underserved kids needing mentors. Solar Mosaic is making solar electricity affordable for regular people and non-profits. Impact HUB Oakland is providing a collaboration and innovation workspace for multi-cultural tech endeavors. Sleek-geek hopes to get kids more engaged in learning science through mobile apps.

    “You see a lot of education start-ups planting roots here and some other social impact oriented start-ups, so you have a differentiating number here,” said Jason Young, co-founder of Mindblown Labs as well as the Hidden Genius Project, which teaches coding to young African Americans.  “It doesn’t hurt that we have Kapor Capital and New Schools Venture Fund,” two venture capital firms interested in funding initiatives that widen opportunity.

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    Oakland’s Bedrock Analytics and enterprise start-ups help Bay Area businesses

    When you think of “start-ups,” you might think of  coders in garages, trendy apps, and acquisitions. You might not think of a software company like Bedrock Analytics, a new data visualization tool stationed in Jack London Square. They aren’t making a flashy app, baiting clicks, or necessarily selling a big idea.  They’re what’s called an enterprise start-up, a business making technology for businesses, not us.  What Bedrock wants to do is to be a time-saver, get competitive, and grow–right here in Oakland.

    Bedrock specifically helps consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. CPGs are basically anything that gets on and off the shelves quickly like processed foods, over-the-counter drugs, or clothing. Over the past few months, Bedrock’s trial clients have shown off this diversity in product and revenue, ranging from salty snack foods, to chia seeds and coconut oil, from vodka and stout, to all-natural cough syrup.

    Since the 1980s, with the introduction of  point-of-sales systems and computers at the end of checkout lines, stores selling CPGs have been able to log sales data,  how much of what kind of good is being rung up. This data, if broken down, can help tell complicated stories that back up statements like, “Quinoa is really exploding in the Midwest!”

    Bedrock Analytics is peerless in this story-telling department. While a few middleman companies broker data, the numbers often reside in stale reports, with no analysis, no “why.”  Bedrock’s visualizations, multi-level charts and graphs, compresses all the data, a year’s worth or within a specific industry, and gives it some life,  generating  narratives by picking out trends and outliers.

    Bredrock Analytics

    Before Chief Executive Officer William Salcido helped launch Bedrock with Chief Technology Officer Nestor Toro, he was working  as an analyst with CPG titans like Nestle, Ghirardelli, and Lindt in the “competitive chocolate” sector. He says he noticed these companies racked by inefficiencies, talent and technology not working at full-capacity.  He gives one example, a co-worker, Ann, who was a sharp, hard-selling marketer but lagged in computer literacy and struggled to learn something new.

    When it comes to working with new software Salcido says, “Somehow, you’re supposed to just know.”

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    Oakland’s Enlisted Design changes the studio biz model

    “We’ve had many opportunities to leave Oakland, but we love Oakland. Every designer we have, with the exception of maybe one, lives in the East Bay. What we’re betting on and investing in is that Oakland is going to be the new design scene.” — Beau Oyler, Principal and Co-Founder of Enlisted Design

    Enlisted Design makes a bold statement upon entry into its office from the building’s narrow marble stairwell: an entryway opens onto an open, minimalist white room that spans the entire second floor. The room is furnished with long white work tables, flat-screen monitors, a beanbag chair in the corner, and a dog bed complete with dog (Peanut, the studio’s hostess). A bank of windows overlooks the heart of Uptown Oakland. In the space where one might expect senior managers’ offices, there is instead a ping pong table.

    The non-hierarchical nature of the office space is reflected in every aspect of Enlisted Design’s work. Billing itself as a design cooperative, Enlisted prides itself on its intensely collaborative relationship with its clients. (As a point of clarification, Enlisted is not worker-owned.) In speaking about their client relationship philosophy, Principal and Co-Founder Beau Oyler refers often to the “old model” of design work, in which there is a strict boundary between the client and design studio: Client sends in a scope of work, design studio sends back a proposal, client accepts, design studio creates a product or brand strategy in isolation and then presents it back to the client x amount of months later as a finished product.

    “I think that’s a broken model, and that’s a model that all of the large and established design studios use — and I know that because I used to be a lead designer at one of those design studios,” Oyler said. “They do amazing work, don’t get me wrong. The problem that I see [with that model] is this: Your team is brilliant, my team is brilliant. What if we broke those walls down and we work together and we co-create a product so that, in the end, it’s not MY product that I’m giving to you and it’s not YOUR product that you’ve demanded I make; we’ve co-created it together.”

    It’s a collaborative model that demands a greater level of client participation than in the traditional model, to be sure, but Oyler is proud of the successful and long-standing relationships they’ve built with their clients as a result. To date, the studio’s portfolio includes rebranding for AMES Tools and Merrick; industrial and product design for Netgear, Timbuk2, and Williams-Sonoma; and the studio’s most successful endeavor yet, a full strategy/product design/branding/packaging project that launched Urbio, the award-winning vertical indoor gardening and home organization product line.

    Ultimately, Oyler says, their work is about allowing ideas to rise to the top until, together with their partners, they reach what Oyler calls “the glorious poof” — the vista and clouds at the top of the long climb, the one sketch or idea that makes one’s mouth drop and shout, “Oh my gosh, that’s it!”

    Enlisted Design, in brief:

    FOUNDED: 2008
    LOCATION: Uptown Oakland
    OFFICE VIBE: Fun, happy, collaborative, transparent
    WHAT THEY DO, IN ONE SENTENCE: “We collaborate to co-create products that change people’s lives.” —Beau Oyler
    SERVICES OFFERED: Strategy and market research, branding, packaging, web design, product design and development














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