LA Businesses Racing to Adapt

LA Businesses Racing to Adapt
Erik Huberman (right) and Drew Leahy (left) spun Hawke Ventures out of their marketing agency Hawke Media.

At a time when businesses across Los Angeles are learning to navigate in a work-from-home world, Erik Huberman is trying to adapt in a big way.

The chief executive of Sawtelle-based data-driven marketing firm Hawke Media is planning a daylong virtual conference for 5,000 people on April 7. The idea was hatched soon after Covid-19 took hold in the United States, but well before Los Angeles implemented strict restrictions on businesses.

Huberman’s company is setting up panel discussions on topics such as marketing strategies and remote-working technologies, and expects to use teleconference capabilities developed by Zoom Video Communications Inc. to connect simultaneously with thousands of attendees.

“A lot of people are scared and shutting down, but a lot of people are trying to figure out how to adapt,” Huberman said. “We wanted to do something to adapt to (the lockdown) and try to make the fun, educational event very relevant to the times.”

Hawke Media is just one of the companies in Los Angeles County finding new ways to conduct business since March 19 when state and local officials issued rules designed to combat the spread of Covid-19.

With all but essential businesses and services in the county ordered to shutter offices and other facilities, many local companies have shifted operations to virtual mode.

Long Beach-based Free Conferencing Corp., known as, is playing a key role for companies adjusting to the new reality.

“The world and the U.S. have really turned to us at this time,” said Bill Swain, vice president of marketing at Free Conferencing Corp.

Conference calls surge

The number of paid users worldwide for services hosted by during the first 23 days of March was 16 times greater than during the same period in 2019, according to Swain.

The Long Beach-based company, founded in 2001, provides conference call capabilities around the world. Registered users can initiate conference calls for as many as 10,000 people.

The company asks users to pay what they can, but payment is not required. When users decide to make a contribution, Swain said, the most common amount is $6 per user, per month. The company declined to disclose the exact number of paid users.

While customers can organize conference calls for free, charges fees for add-on features such as screen sharing and drawing tools.

The biggest portion of the company’s income in the United States comes from payments by phone carriers such as T-Mobile and AT&T for connecting their users to the network.

“When people choose to use FreeConferenceCall, in the U.S., they’re helping us generate the revenue required to build the infrastructure that allows the world access to these free communications,” Swain said. “We hope they feel good knowing that they’re playing an active role and helping the rest of the world connect, as well.”

Short-video platform TikTok Inc., with U.S. operations based in Culver City, is also looking for creative approaches to serve its audience. The company launched the livestream series #HappyAtHome: LIVE! on March 23. The primetime programming block — featuring celebrities, influencers and TikTok creators — covers topics ranging from cooking classes to yoga instruction.

Another local company adjusting to life during lockdown is Venice-based startup Joolies, which produces sweet snacks using dates from its farm in Coachella.

Chief Executive Mark Masten said Joolies has turned to ecommerce to offset the loss triggered by the shutdowns of physical stores.

Masten said the company’s online sales have picked up “exponentially” as people seek foods they can keep in their pantry for a while.

“We see this as an opportunity to grow really deep into our current distribution, make our retail partners happy and develop loyal customers through ecommerce platforms,” Masten said in an email.

Jeremy Adams, founder of El Segundo- based beverage startup Kinderfarms, said sales volume for his company’s products listed on Inc. has taken off since early March.

Kinderfarms sells the electrolyte beverage, which, according to Adams, helps people stay hydrated.

“We’re on a lot of the pandemic survival checklists. People are stocking up to make sure that they have these types of products available to them. I think that’s been another factor that’s really driven the increase in sales,” he said.

Adams said Kinderfarms’ staff is working around the clock to meet the increasing demand. “We’re a small, nimble team, and we feel fortunate to be able to work really effectively remotely using tools like Zoom for conference calls and Slack for regular communication,” he said.

Virtual workouts

Even gyms are going virtual. San Ramon-based 24 Hour Fitness USA Inc. is trying to attract new members and maintain customer loyalty in the face of the mandated shutdown of its 110 gyms in Los Angeles.

The company took down the paywall for premium content on its mobile app, 24GO, to reach current and potential members with classes hosted by celebrity trainers and to offer workout-related videos.

The company also rolled out a photo identification tool on the app, which will allow gym members to check in without touching any buttons once its facilities are reopened.

For Huberman and Hawke Media, in addition to prepping for the virtual conference, work continues thanks to remote tools such as Slack and Google Hangouts.

When the shutdown was announced, Hawke team members grabbed their laptops and headed home. “The place was empty within half an hour,” Huberman said.

The transition has been relatively painless because the team was already accustomed to working remotely, he added.

“But a lot of businesses aren’t as fortunate as we are,” he said.

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