It’s 1 p.m. There’s a French bulldog snoring under the table and a couple of inflatable exercise balls scattered around the room. No, this is not a dog-friendly yoga class — instead, this is BuzzMob, an up-and-coming startup based in Irvine, Calif.
“[The environment] has to do with our personalities,” Jeff Jackel, CEO of BuzzMob and USC alumnus said. “We know that the space is fun, and we have to make the office interesting. … We have some idea of what a startup looks like.”
Aside from the five televisions on the second floor, the two motorcycles and the stocked kitchen downstairs, BuzzMob looks like any other office. But despite the energy that’s present in the office, BuzzMob pulls off a relaxed yet productive vibe — one that can be considered few and far between in a region as conservative and corporate-based as Orange County.
These days, most Southern Californian tech startups settle down in an area known as Silicon Beach, the three-mile stretch of Santa Monica and Venice that is home to startups such as Snapchat, Instacanvas and Beachmint.
Though the name “Silicon Beach” is a somewhat pejorative spin-off of the original Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach nevertheless represents a like-mindedness among Angelenos — a collective celebration and appreciation for technology as well as innovation.
BuzzMob is nothing short of innovative, which is what makes this company stand out as one of few startups based in Orange County.
The idea for BuzzMob came from an epiphany at a baseball game.
“It was one of those moments that there was a lull in the game, and [Jeff] looked around and saw that everyone was on their phone doing something and not paying attention to the game,” said Edmond Wong, COO of BuzzMob. “He saw a need for something to connect everybody there and enhance the experience for more than the price of the ticket, be it rich media content or being able to talk to people about plays or share photos.”
At the time, Jackel owned an apparel company and approached Wong with the idea in 2010. The two, who were already friends, shared the desire to start something together, and gave this idea for a real-world social media connection platform a go.
From there, the BuzzMob app was born.
Though Orange County, particularly Irvine, boasts major tech companies, including Broadcom and Blizzard Entertainment, the startup scene there isn’t quite as prevalent due to a lack of willing mentors and venture capitalists as well as accelerators to help grow these smaller companies.
Location and resources, on the other hand, weren’t the first factors that came to mind when the founding BuzzMob members established the company’s headquarters. Jackel and Wong said that they chose their location based on where they already lived.
“One easy answer is that we live here and we’re from around here, and it’s a lot easier to get around,” Wong said.
The team has, however, struggled in one area as an Orange County-based startup: finding talent. “[Talent] is scarce, and it’s hard to grab somebody,” Jackel said. “For mobile development, specifically, someone might be available for three days and then be taken to another company, and it’s becoming more difficult because more companies are moving into Orange County.”
But settling in Orange County turned out to serve a dual purpose. Since BuzzMob works best at events where people can connect and socialize, being close to two major cities also met the needs of their social platform.
“For us, it makes a lot of sense to be in the middle of Los Angeles and San Diego because when we were originally hitting a lot of sports venues and concerts, we were in the middle of two metro areas where a lot of events take place,” Jackel said.
And perhaps this reason alone — to connect with others — is why being based in Orange County makes sense for BuzzMob.
“We’ve had to distill [the app] down to understand what is the connective thread for a good experience,” Jackel said. “But from what we’ve come to understand, BuzzMob should digitally connect communities that already exist and are important to you, but you may not be there.”
In other words, BuzzMob is meant to connect others virtually. If you’re not at a certain event or you don’t live in a certain area, the BuzzMob application allows its users to never miss out on anything. Users can watch the action during a football game or concert unfold on the app even if they couldn’t score tickets to the event.
And like its product, the BuzzMob team, without having to move to Silicon Beach, hasn’t missed a beat in the SoCal startup world. Jackel has spoken at panels during Social Media Week, a bi-annual social and mobile media conference in Los Angeles, and often attends events such as Silicon Beach Fest with his team.
With BuzzMob and a few others leading the pack, the next generation of tech startups in Orange County will crop up in due time. Throw in a couple of startup incubators, recruit more talent and you might see French bulldogs become as common as having motorcycles and exercise balls in the office.
Follow Sara Clayton on Twitter @saraclay15