From Spectacles to Pixy: Snap's History of Shelved Tech Ventures

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

From Spectacles to Pixy: Snap's History of Shelved Tech Ventures
Evan Xie

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Snap Inc.’s new My AI feature that lets users chat with an AI powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology is gaining steam. After initially releasing the feature to some three million paid Snapchat+ subscribers, the Santa Monica-based social tech company decided to open it to all its users for free last week.


While it’s a bit early to tell how many people are actually using the AI chatbot for texting and images, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel implied at Snap’s partner summit last week that it’s accelerated demand for the $3.99 monthly service. Spiegel told Time, “we definitely saw some nice momentum with My AI.”

Snap spokesperson Liz Markman told dot.LA, “as we’ve been rolling out My AI, the vast majority of people with early access have been enjoying playing with it — sending millions of chat messages per day to learn more about movies, sports, pets, and the world around them.” Markman added that Snap plans to use preliminary feedback on My AI to “continue improving” the feature and noted that, “as with all AI chatbots, My AI can occasionally give inaccurate responses - including those that sound plausible but are impossible or unrelated to the given context.”

But not everyone is thrilled about My AI. This week the Snapchat app got a slew of one-star reviews since the My AI launch, with many users annoyed that the AI showed up in their chat tab unannounced and couldn’t be blocked or removed without paying for Snapchat+ to hide it.

That said, the early traction to My AI, and by extension the Snapchat+ subscription, is clearly encouraging to Spiegel. And for a company that’s still not profitable, having a new tool that’s going to drive people to the app and boost user count is key.

But in the past, Spiegel and Snap’s bets on technology haven’t always panned out. Let’s take a look at some of the company’s other ventures prior to My AI, and how they fared.

Apps and Games

Snap first got into gaming in April 2019 with Snap Games, and really accelerated its gaming programming during the coronavirus pandemic, with the goal of attracting more users to the app. The plan was to turn Snapchat into a mobile gaming powerhouse; both producing its own games and acting as a publisher for other studios’ content.

Initially, there was quite a demand for Snap’s games. In June 2020 the company said it had 100 million players since its launch.

But by February 2023, Snap abruptly shut down its gaming division in a cost-cutting bid. The company said in response to a disgruntled user’s tweet two months ago, “we'll be bringing more focus to other Snapchat products and features that will be beneficial to creators and content viewers.”

Pixy

The camera drone was announced last April and was supposed to be a compact flying device that can take off and land from a user’s hand. While in the air, it could film footage and transmit it back to the Snapchat app to share. Snap underestimated demand for Pixy, however, which led to months-long shipping delays.

At the time, drone footage was all the rage and Snap wanted to prove it could develop a reliable flying craft that could entertain camera enthusiasts while also showing off its technical prowess. But within four months it was shelved, with Spiegel telling staff in August 2022 to stop development.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the cancellation, said Snap will continue to sell the existing iterations of Pixy for $230, but won’t make any new ones. Though it’s possible down the line Spiegel will revive the drone: He told The Verge last year, “maybe we would make more with version two if people love the original product.”

Spectacles

First introduced in 2016, Snap’s camera glasses were designed to be augmented reality shades that can capture photos and videos of augmented reality interactions around you and beam it back to the Snapchat app. Spiegel hoped that AR specs would be the fashion of the future, but they still haven’t hit the mainstream.

The glasses are still sold today – the Spectacles 3 that launched in 2019 retails for $380. But the fourth generation of the product, announced in May 2021, still isn’t available to consumers. Instead, as the Verge reported, the augmented reality glasses are being given to an uncertain number of creators who applied for access online.

Snap Lab, the division of the company making Spectacles, is quite secretive about their progress. What we do know is the people allowed to use the current-gen Spectacles have created some pretty cool stuff, including a virtual Super Mario Bros. course. According to Markman, Snap is still “fully committed to Spectacles and [are] narrowing our investment scope to focus on highly differentiated long-term research and development efforts.”

Original Content

Snap was previously heavily invested in creating original content, and at one point the company said one of its most popular shows, “The Dead Girls Detective Agency,” had 20 million unique viewers on the app.

The company created a number of shows to be watched on the Snapchat app, but by August 2022 Spiegel said Snap would stop production in a bid to pare back spending. At the time, the company announced it would cut 20% of its workforce, many of whom were on the content teams. Snap estimated that it would save $50 million annually in fixed content costs by axing Snap Originals. Snap hasn’t produced any original content since March 2022. - Samson Amore.

Editorial disclosure: Snap is an investor in dot.LA.

Editor’s note: This newsletter has been updated with comments from Snap.

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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