Q&A With Geoff Plitt, former Googler, Co-Founder of Laffster

Professional comedian/sketch comic Geoff Plitt is also known as a highly-talented engineer (Google alum) and entrepreneur. We interviewed him to get his insights on the technology and start-up scene in LA.

Fun Fact:  The Internet is the fastest-growing communications tool ever. It took radio broadcasters 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million, television 13 years, and the Internet just 4 years.  reliableplanet.com

There’s been a recent surge of incubators in Los Angeles. Why?

Incubators (aka “accelerators”) offer early-stage startups vital resources (usually including office space, business classes, advisor/investor introductions, strategy, and of course cash) in exchange for a portion of equity. They’re usually pretty selective, and the startups that get in are grouped together in a “class” that becomes remarkably tight-knit through the experience. Startups are by nature small and isolated, so starting out with a strong network of people going through the same thing is huge. Laffster was born out of the excellent incubator MuckerLabs, and I can’t imagine starting a business today without one, I highly recommend it.

You transitioned from engineer to startup CTO; why the move, and how has your experience changed?

I cut my teeth as an engineer at Google and then joined a few startups before starting one of my own. I’m glad I did, because working for other startups prepared me for the exhausting pace and rollercoaster of emotions, and working for Google taught me how to scale websites with cloud computing. I’ve always been a natural teacher and team-builder, so I knew I was looking for something more than just engineering, and Laffster has given me the opportunity to do all of the above.

Why focus on a single vertical (comedy) when creating a product, rather than casting a wide net?

Well, I’m a standup comic with improv/sketch training from Second City, so I’ve always been way into humor. And when I met my business partners, it was clear that we all shared a passion for comedy. But then as we started meeting with comedians’ managers and agents, and building relationships with psychology researchers who specialize in humor, our instincts were validated by experience – there’s a huge discovery problem in comedy (most people can name 100 bands, but fewer than 10 comedians), and it reveals a major opportunity in making it easy for users to find and share comedic content.

What are the newest web technologies you’re excited about, and why?

I think CoffeeScript is awesome because it brings syntax sanity and functional features to Javascript. I love Knockout.js for model/view databinding, it’s a simple framework with incredible power under the surface. Slim/Sass are really cool alternatives to HTML/CSS with syntax inspired by Python and Ruby. And I love MixPanel and DataDog for application metrics.

With so much demand for engineering talent in Los Angeles, what attributes do you look for when you interview a candidate?

I look for a strong computer science background, including knowledge of data structures and algorithms, complexity analysis, and discrete math. I also have candidates submit a code sample or do a coding challenge, and I’m always impressed by solutions with the fewest lines of code – it usually shows an efficient, trained mind. I also like generalists who can do a little design, a little frontend, a little backend, have used every major language. On top of all of that, I look for people with a passion for comedy. Gotta have that culture fit!

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