Dave Whelan: Strategy consultant. Business builder. Advisor. Confidant. Entrepreneur. LA, NY, SF. Father (x2), husband (x1), foodie, and photographer, in my spare time. Building businesses & inspiring entrepreneurs at the intersection of technology, health, and wellness.
What’s your historical Los Angeles and New York connection?
Both LA and NY are adopted but important homes in my life. I grew up in the small town of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (look it up, it really exists) to parents from the NY Metro Area (well, New Jersey), so NY was a place that we visited from time to time growing up.
I ended up in the Bay Area for college and in the years after, but I never spent much time in LA. When it was time for business school, the dotcom world had just crashed, so LA seemed like a nice change of pace. I figured I would return to SF after two years, but over 14 years later, I’m still in LA. I met my LA-native wife here. We had two children here. I’ve made some great friends and business contacts here. I’ve now lived in LA longer than any other place in my life, and it feels like home.
Several years ago, a good friend from SF returned to NY, and I started to visit her more often. A few years later, she hooked me up with a short consulting gig that evolved into a nearly-three-year effort to plan, develop, and launch New York Genome Center. Before I knew it, I was spending nearly half my time in NY. I saw more people there than in LA. I joined a gym there. I had an apartment there (oh, how I miss having an apartment in NY!). While my involvement with NYGC ended two years ago, I’ve continued to work with related clients there, and I try to spend as much time there as I can. San Francisco is where I grew up (let’s forget Pennsylvania), Los Angeles is my home, and New York is a place I am happy to have made a second home.
Describe your experience in LA and your experience in NYC
Cliche as it may sound, LA really is about spending time in one’s car. Everything is 20 minutes away, unless there is traffic. For a small town boy turned San Francisco resident, moving to LA was a shock. For a few years, I avoided the freeways at all costs, and I still tend to play with surface street shortcuts when I can. That’s when you realize that LA is more about the side streets than the thoroughfares.
It might look Hollywood shiny to the casual observer, but the real life is often just a block or two away. It could take a lifetime to explore and understand all of the nuances and character of LA, so I imagine I am here to stay. What I’ve also learned from all of that driving is that LA and the greater area is big. I’ve had jobs and clients in Ventura County, City of Industry, and Seal Beach, which means that I tend to spend a lot of time on the road. But I’m happiest in the car when I am headed to LAX, because that means I am bound for NY (or, more recently, someplace more exotic like Buffalo).
In contrast, NY is about spending time in the subway. Everything is 20 minutes away, unless you get lost. And I get lost a lot. I treat NY like any new city — and I still consider it new after all these years. If I have the time, I would rather walk than take the subway or a taxi. If LA is best explored by driving those side streets, NY is best explore by just hoofing it between subway stops. And that’s when I realize that NY and LA are a lot alike. Most tourists and even many residents go from major attraction to major attraction, but the real substance is everything in between.
What was the biggest challenge of moving from NYC to LA?
During my New York Genome Center stint, the biggest challenge was compartmentalizing my life. For well over a year, each week I spent three nights in LA, three nights in NY, and one night on Delta (thankfully back when they provided upgrades on that route). I swapped a “normal” suburban NY or LA weekly commute of 10-15 hours per week with my own version, divided into two big chunks, with someone else doing most of the driving. In some ways I got the best of both worlds. I got to live a “carefree bachelor” life in NY, enjoying some of the best food I’ve had in my life (and that’s saying a lot for a foodie who played a small part in launching the still popular Foreign Cinema in SF), and I got to live my “serious husband and father” life in LA. Honestly, spending time away from the family was really challenging, but that experience also helped me to appreciate all that I have back home. Now, whether I travel to NY for a few days or Asia for a couple of weeks, I recognize how blessed I am to have an amazing and loving family back in LA.
How can NYC and LA best engage with each other?
Having lived in SF for years, I have a strong appreciation for the startup ecosystem there. Both NY and LA are behind the curve, kind of like Avis used to be with that “We’re #2 But We Try Harder” slogan.
That said, both NY and LA have an opportunity to continue to build their respective entrepreneurial communities. I think what excites me most about NY and LA is that both are based on so much more than technology. From heavy industry to food, aerospace to entertainment, finance to media, both NY and LA have been designing, building, and selling more kinds of stuff for far longer than the Bay Area. That gives both of these cities an advantage and an opportunity to collaborate. We need more people like us getting on planes to seed ideas back and forth. We need more conferences that look east of the 405 or west of Hoboken for speakers and participants. We need best practices and ideas that will help both of these communities create their own versions of the future. I’m willing to help out here, if you are too!
Favorite LA secret spot
The Valley. Yes, I married a Valley Girl, so I am biased, but after living in the Valley for several years now, I love it. Yet, sadly, the entire area is off-limits to so many Angelenos. We have more gastropubs than you can shake a microbrew at (current fave: The Woodman). We have the best hole-in-the-wall sushi joints here (come here for the original classy Katsu-Ya locations). Ventura Blvd. is a time warp to another era. And, from Encino, I can get to meetings in Brentwood or Westwood in less time than it would take from Silicon Beach.
Favorite NYC secret spot
Northern Spy Food Company is a hidden farm-to-table gem in Alphabet City that I try to visit as often as I can. I first learned of it through a woman that I met via Twitter following a Foursquare Mayor Battle over Uber. Try to top that! The only place I eat more often is the Breslin at the Ace Hotel, but neither the Breslin nor my love of the Ace is a secret. Not far from the Ace is a favorite cafe, Birch Coffee. I once wrote, “The salt roasted beet salad changed my life. And the iced cappuccino made me feel like that life would last forever.” And I stand by those words. Further downtown, I dig the original Miss Lily’s & Melvin’s Juice Box, which combines a bakery with a sandwich shop with a juice bar with a record store and radio station. If Nick Hornby were Jamaican, this would have been his setting for “High Fidelity.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t working on what you are?
If I were not the vaguely undefined renaissance man that I am, I’d be an architect. With role models like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mike Brady, how can you go wrong?
Inflight Entertainment: tell us what song/album, TV show, podcast, or web videos you’ve been watching lately.
With two kids, I don’t get to see many movies. So when I am on a plane, I go right for the mindless guilty pleasures of whatever Delta’s crack team of cultural anthropologists has in store for me. I swear I watched “Snowpiercer” only once, but I feel like I have watched and rewatched “The Sitter” and “Fun Size” more times than I care to admit. I do try to balance my Hollywood fix with technology podcasts (Horace Dediu’s “The Critical Path” and “Asymcar,” John Gruber’s “The Talk Show.” And, recently, as my four-year-old son gear’s up for a year of “Star Wars,” I have the music of Episodes IV-VI on constant rotation.
From the 2462 Miles newsletter: connecting NEW YORK CITY + LOS ANGELES