Our Most-Read LA Startup and Tech Stories of 2020
This year was filled with pivots, pauses and restarts for L.A.'s tech and startup world. In our first year of chronicling it (we officially launched in late January), our most-read stories reflect the strangeness of 2020, and go some way in predicting some big questions for 2021. From gaming to biotech, movies to music, and transportation to education, the shifts have been dramatic. Where will we be when the dust settles from this year? As we head into our second year, we'll keep a close eye on the trends that have transformed some of L.A.'s core industries.
The early days of the pandemic, as companies scrambled to shore up cash and preserve their business, provided a number of examples of how to handle a crisis. L.A.-based scooter unicorn Bird, sadly, provided the world a lesson in how not to do it, calling over 400 employees into a glitchy virtual chat and summarily dismissing them all in a two-minute, no-question call that left employees feeling baffled, humiliated and betrayed. In a post that went viral, dot.LA spoke with employees and obtained a recording of the call.
"When you're older you get discredited and when you're younger you get discredited." Our virtual discussion on how ageism affects women in the workplace struck a nerve with readers. Inclusology founder Cheryl Ingram, PhD and Cue Career founder Heather Wetzler discussed strategies for women to employ at every stage of their careers, and tools that companies can use to combat workplace discrimination.
Interest in our profile on Fred Turner, the 25-year-old college dropout who founded of Curative Inc., gathered over the course of the year, as more people became personally familiar with the testing system he helped deploy at Dodger Stadium and throughout the city (and, eventually, the country). "We are a strange company because our goal is to essentially put ourselves out of business," Turner told dot.LA at the time. Sadly, his startup has only grown since we published the story.
The killing of a well-connected Russian investor and the missteps of the twenty-something U.S. executives he hired to run his $164 million cannabis empire made for one of the most compelling stories we published this year. dot.LA spoke to dozens of former employees, as well as state and national law enforcement, to bring readers this 5-part series on the collapse of the Genius Fund.
In 2020, CEO Steven Galanis moved from Chicago to L.A. with a number of his Cameo cohorts. The app has increasingly found itself at the intersection of two mega-trends: the growth of gig work and the rise of the influencer economy. Social media stars have been leveraging their massive audiences and forcing the advertising industry — so often fixated on TV, film and sports celebrities — to take notice. Our profile of Galanis and his company revealed a world of celebrities eager to take hold of their audiences — and monetize them.
When the pandemic brought the economy to a standstill in March, many L.A. entrepreneurs found themselves staring down a frightening future. But investors were still spending. Inspired by a LinkedIn post from Luma Launch partner Laurent Grill, dot.LA published a list of local investors still looking to fund great ideas. The resulting post took off and so did the dealmaking.
Among the trends that have reshaped L.A. during the pandemic has been the rapid rise of streaming services and the equally stunning shift in audience habits for movies and TV. As the world emerges from the pandemic in 2021, it will find Netflix, Google and other FAANG companies have gobbled up real estate — especially on the Westside, where Netflix alone is poised to occupy 10% of commercial real estate by 2023.
In 2020, Sketchy Medical grew from a cult startup that helped medical students efficiently memorize clusters of information into an edtech darling, with big raises, a new CEO lured from Disney and plans to leverage its foothold in education technology into a full-blown media empire that aims to make remote learning more effective and far more entertaining. Its story parallels the incredible disruption taking place in schools and homes globally, as parents, teachers and school districts confront the pandemic and rethink how education can happen.
dot.LA got the scoop on luxury electric car company Karma's moves to go public via SPAC, but it was far from the only SoCal electric vehicle startup to do so. In the wake of Tesla's turbocharged stock market rise, Canoo, Fisker, Xos, Envoy and many others sought their own IPOs or raised massive rounds. It's a trend we'll be watching closely as California ramps up its plans to go fossil fuel free by 2035.
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
Los Angeles is home to thousands of founders working day and often night to create a startup that's the next breakout hit.
Who are the most impressive L.A. founders? To find out, we asked our cohort of dozens of L.A.'s to VCs top weigh in.
Andrew Peterson<p>Andrew Peterson is the co-founder and former chief executive of Signal Sciences, a web application security platform that he founded in 2014 and <a href="https://dot.la/signal-science-snapped-up-for-775m-in-big-l-a-saas-exit-2647256430.html" target="_self">was acquired in 2020 by Fastly in a $775 million deal</a>. Signal Sciences protects web applications from attacks and data breaches for clients like Duo Security, Under Armor and DoorDash.</p><p>Prior to starting Signal Sciences, Peterson worked at Etsy, helping the online marketplace with international growth as a group project manager. Etsy <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/3056900/how-three-ex-etsy-employees-turned-their-old-employer-into-a-consumer" target="_blank">reportedly became </a>one of Signal Sciences's first customers. Peterson has also served stints as health information management officer at the Clinton Foundation and as a senior product specialist at Google.</p>
Ara Mahdessian<p>Ara Mahdessian is the co-founder of ServiceTitan, a SaaS product for managing a home services business.</p><p>The inspiration for ServiceTitan, Mahdessian's first company, came from watching his parents start their own businesses in building and plumbing, only to struggle with the logistics behind keeping them running, he <a href="https://www.inc.com/magazine/201906/emily-canal/servicetitan-immigrant-inclusion-diversity-best-workplaces-2019.html" target="_blank">told Inc in 2019</a>. Mahdessian and his co-founder Vahe Kuzoyan met while in college, and worked on several consulting projects before starting ServiceTitan, in hopes of aiding small business owners like their parents.</p>
Evan Spiegel<p>Evan Spiegel is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Snap Inc., the Venice-based company known for its app Snapchat. He's also one of the youngest billionaires in the world, launching Snapchat while still an undergraduate at Stanford. </p><p>SnapChat, the company's app, has recently been taking on rival TikTok <a href="https://dot.la/snap-spotlight-2649022645.html" data-linked-post="2649022645" target="_blank">with a new feature</a> and a program meant to attract creators to its platform. And it is been at the center of a larger national debate on the power of big tech. </p>
Spencer Rascoff<p>Spencer Rascoff is the founder of several companies, including dot.LA. He started his career as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, later leaving to co-found travel website Hotwire. After serving as vice president of lodging at Expedia, he went on to found Zillow, an online real estate marketplace that went public in 2011.</p><p>Rascoff's most recent project is Pacaso, a marketplace for buying, selling and co-owning a second home.</p>
Tim Ellis<p>Tim Ellis is the co-founder and chief executive of Relativity Space, an autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite constellations. He is the youngest member on the National Space Council Users Advisory Group and serves on the World Economic Forum as a "technology pioneer."</p><p>Before founding Relativity Space, Ellis studied aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California and interned at Masten Space Systems and Blue Origin, where he worked after graduation. He was a propulsion engineer and brought metal 3D printing in-house to the company.</p>
Travis Schneider<p>Travis Schneider is the co-founder and co-chief executive of PatientPop, a practice growth platform for healthcare providers. He founded the company with Luke Kervin in 2014. <br><br>The two have founded three companies together, including ShopNation, a fashion shopping engine that was later acquired by the Meredith Commerce Network.</p>
Luke Kervin<p>Luke Kervin is the other co-founder and co-chief of PatientPop. He is a serial entrepreneur — his first venture was Starbrand Media, which was acquired by Popsugar in May 2008. <br><br>Kervin and Schneider then founded ShopNation, and when it was acquired in 2012, Kervin served as the general manager and vice president at the Meredith Commerce Network for a few years before leaving to found PatientPop.</p><p>Kervin had the idea for PatientPop when he and his wife were expecting their first child, he told <a href="http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-luke-kervin-patientpop-santa-monica/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">VoyageLA</a>. They were frustrated with how the healthcare system wasn't focused on the consumers it was meant to serve. So in 2014, he and Schneider created PatientPop.</p>
- The Angelenos in Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z's 'Entrepreneur' - dot.LA ›
- Entrepreneur of the Year: Shivani Siroya - dot.LA ›
- Los Angeles' Tech and Startup Scene is Growing. - dot.LA ›
On this week's episode of Office Hours, you'll hear from Steven Galanis, founder and CEO of Cameo, which offers a marketplace of celebrities that will record a custom-crafted message for a fee.
- Watch: Our Virtual Fireside Chat with Cameo Founder and CEO ... ›
- Office Hours Podcast: Bill Gurley On Startups, Venture Capital and ... ›
- Cameo's CEO On How He Plans to Disrupt Hollywood - dot.LA ›