Adoption challenges

Benzer admitted to concern about adoption, but said he’s confident his service will provide enough incentives to make its use worthwhile.

SocialEngine was co-founded in 2007 by Benzer and Charlotte Genevier. While at the University of Redlands, the duo sold a blogging community site that they started and used the money to launch SocialEngine. This led them to the TechStars accelerator program in Boulder, Colo. Upon completion, Genevier stayed in Boulder to nurture investor relationships and run the technical side; Benzer moved the company to Pasadena to focus on business development. With SocialEngine growing, Benzer relocated the company’s headquarters to a bigger space in Silver Lake four months ago.

Although media and industry attention is largely focused on the beach cities, Benzer, a native of Pasadena, sees Silver Lake as an up-and-coming, untapped tech sector.

“We didn’t just set this up because I live here,” he explained. “I think there’s incredible talent out here and there’s a real need for a hub. That’s what we’ve done here.”

SocialEngine’s offices are built on interaction and reflect Benzer’s laid-back approach to management. There’s a pingpong table, a golden retriever named Barkley, and frequent mixers and events. The offices are also home to a half-dozen other startups with two or three employees each. Benzer opened his doors to local entrepreneurs who work rent free side by side with his SocialEngine’s nine on-site employees. Genevier and another employee are in Boulder.

It looks and feels like an accelerator, except Benzer has no vested interest in his “tenants.” Instead, he offers a free home on L.A.’s east side to his fellow entrepreneurs in the hopes of fostering a collaborative environment of startup founders.

“The main goal is to have people around that I can learn from,” Benzer said. “I’m just trying to be a better CEO; that’s my No. 1. My No. 2 is recruiting. If I can develop at a critical mass out here, and have events people want to come to, have startups, build a network out here, it really helps me recruit. And recruiting is the hardest thing.”