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Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
GoodRx earned dot.LA's top 2020 Startup award on Wednesday, beating out the popular sneaker reseller GOAT, the meditation application Headspace, mobile gamer Scopely and viral-video app TikTok.
"GoodRx started in Los Angeles, and will always be a Los Angeles-based company," said co-CEO Doug Hirsch. "We're so excited about the support we've received over the last decade from both entrepreneurs and investors and just incredible people that make up the ecosystem here in California and specifically in Los Angeles."
GoodRx was the first Los Angeles tech company to go public this year. It's mission to lower the prices of prescription drugs for Americans has made it one of the most-downloaded medical apps in the country.
"We're excited for the future and we appreciate the recognition," he said.
dot.LA wrapped up its inaugural Summit with the 2020 Startup Awards that honor the ingenuity and creativity propelling the startup scene in Southern California. More than 120 nominations were received from dot.LA's audience. The winners were chosen by a blue ribbon panel of judges, along with more than votes from the public.
Other winners included Entrepreneur of the Year, Tala CEO Shivani Siroya, Curative for Pivot of the Year, Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaun for Rising Entrepreneur, Openpath for Rising Startup and Social Justice Award went to Act One Ventures partner Alejandro Guerrero.
"We wanted to use this opportunity to shine a light on some of the most exciting, most driven and most world-changing people in companies in our world today," said dot.LA CEO Sam Adams.
Pivot of the Year: Curative Inc.
Curative was founded earlier this year by Fred Turner, an Oxford dropout. His company was then based in the Bay Area and tested for sepsis before it pivoted to provide COVID testing. As the pandemic emerged, he established a lab in San Dimas with the help of local venture capitalists that would eventually become Curative's home base. The company's saliva- based tests now account for about 10% of all testing nationally and Curative has an exclusive deal with the city of Los Angeles to provide testing.
"On behalf of our CEO Fred Turner and everyone who just want to thank you," said Curative spokesman Pasqualle Gianna. As you know, we pivoted from sepsis testing to COVID testing."
Quantgene: The company typically offers AI-powered blood test systems for early cancer detection but now provides COVID testing and logistics for those going back to work.
Swoop: The startup focused on group transportation but developed software that limousine charter operators and their suppliers, could utilize during the pandemic as regular business dried up.
PRISM Bags: This company planned to launch their signature product, a woman's work bag but as the pandemic beared down created one suited that included mask pockets.
WELL Health Inc.: Funded and engineered the Rapid Release Program in March '20, which allowed health systems to manage urgent COVID-19 patient communications at scale.
Social Justice Award: Alejandro Guerrero
More than 20 VCs have signed onto to Act One Ventures partner Alejandro Guerrero's Diversity Rider Initiative.
The firms have pledged to add language in term sheets submitted to startups that they will make their "commercial best efforts to offer and make every attempt to include as a co-investor in the financing" at least one Black check writer or other underrepresented group."
Guerrero is the child of Mexican immigrants who said he often found he was the only person of color in the room when investment deals north of six figures were being made. He said he was inspired by the George Floyd protests and the push the industry to recognize long-standing inequities.
Candace Walker, Co-Founder of Just US app: Created a hands-free voice control app that notifies your designated contacts when you've been stopped by police.
Derek Smith, Founder of Plug-In South LA: Created a tech startup community and accelerator program for entrepreneurs from under-represented backgrounds; produced the Urban Tech Connect conference.
Lolita Taub, Co-Founder and GP at The Community Fund: First-generation Latinx operator and investor that launched a $5 million early-stage fund to invest in community-driven companies.
Miki Reynolds, Executive Director, Grid110: Leads a no-equity, LA-based accelerator for underrepresented founders
Rising Entrepreneur: Morgan DeBaun
Morgan DeBaun is the founder and CEO of Blavity Inc., a leading news company and media brand for Black millennials and Gen Z. The outlet has been a leading voice for diversity. She launched Blavity in 2014; it now reaches over 30 million millennials a month.
Cristina de la Peña, CEO & founder of Synapbox
Jessica Nouhavandi, co-CEO of Honeybee Health
Ksenia Yudina, CEO of UNest
Robert Luo, CEO & founder of Mi Terro
Rising Startup: Openpath
The property-tech firm provides s touchless-entry activated by one's mobile device to doors, gates, elevators and lobby check-ins.
James Segil and Alex Kazerani co-founded Openpath in 2016 along with Chief Technology Officer Rob Peters, Chief Security Officer Samy Kamkar, and Chief Revenue Officer Phil Goldsmith.
The company recently raised $35 million and has seen their value proposition become all the more useful in the post-pandemic era.
"I'm incredibly honored and humbled to be here amongst so many great entrepreneurs and great companies here in L.A.," Kazerani said. "On behalf of about 450,000 Openpath users and our entire team, we really want to thank dot.la"
Pipe: A platform that offers non-dilutive financing to SaaS companies through an instant cash advance against the full annual value of software subscriptions.
PlayVS: Connects online games with official school administration and branding, elevating Esports from hobby to school-sponsored activity.
Outer: A direct to consumer outdoor furniture brand.
Wave: An entertainment technology company that turns performers into digital avatars and puts them on virtual stages.
Entrepreneur of the Year: Shivani Siroya
Shivani Siroya is the CEO and founder at Tala, a fintech company that offers microloans to people that often don't have a formal credit history. The company has extended $1 billion in microloans to 4 million customers in emerging markets and was last valued at $700 million. Siroya has been named one of Forbes' "40 under 40."
Alex Canter, CEO and co-founder of software company Ordermark
Andrew Peterson, CEO and co-founder of Signal Sciences
Doug Hirsch and Trevor Bezdek, co-founders and co-CEOs of GoodRx
Imran Khan, fo-founder and CEO of Verishop
Startup of the Year: GoodRx
The prescription-discount app GoodRx became one of the first Los Angeles tech companies to go public this year.
Co-founded by former Facebook executive Doug Hirsch and Trevor Bezdek, the Santa Monica company makes money by collecting fees from pharmacy benefits managers.
GoodRx is the most downloaded medical app in the United States and boasts 70,000 pharmacies on its platform. It's also profitable. The company earned $54 million in profit for the first six months ending in June, up from $31 million over the same time last year.
The company expanded into telehealth with the purchase of Heydoctor in 2019.
GOAT: Fast-growing global luxury shoe and apparel retailer.
Headspace: A meditation app that recently raised $100 million in debt and equity.
Scopely: A mobile video game company that acquired FoxNextGames from Disney in January.
TikTok: The video-sharing platform was the top grossing app on iOS App Store globally in Q2 2020.
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Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
Snap is officially launching Snapchat Plus, a paid subscription plan on Santa Monica-based social media company’s flagship app.
Snap is now the latest media company to tack a “plus” to the end of its name—announcing Wednesday that the new service will provide users with “exclusive, experimental and pre-release features” for the price of $3.99 a month. The first features available to paying subscribers include the ability to customize the style of app’s icon, pin a “BFF” to the top of their chat history and see which users have rewatched a story, according to The Verge.
The new product arrives after Snap confirmed reports earlier this month that it was testing Snapchat Plus—though the version that it has rolled out does not incorporate the rumored feature that would allow subscribers to view a friend’s whereabouts over the previous 24 hours.
Snapchat Plus will initially be available to users in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While certain features will remain exclusive to Plus users, others will eventually be released across Snapchat’s entire user base, Snap senior vice president of product Jacob Andreou told The Verge. (Disclosure: Snap is an investor in dot.LA.)
The subscription tier introduces a new potential revenue stream for Snap, which experienced a “challenging” first quarter marked by disruptions to its core digital advertising market. However, Andreou told The Verge that the product is not expected to be a “material new revenue source” for the company. He also disputed that Snap was responding to its recent economic headwinds, noting that Snap had been exploring a paid offering since 2016.
Despite charging users, Snapchat Plus does not include the option to turn off ads. “Ads are going to be at the core of our business model for the long term,” Andreou said.Snap is not the first popular social media platform to venture into subscriptions: Both Twitter and Tumblr rolled out paid tiers last year, albeit with mixedresults.
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Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui talks about why he moved earlier stage in his investing and how investors can best support founders.
Lui joined his friend—and first angel investor—Ben Ling as a general partner at Bling Capital, which focuses on pre-seed and seed-stage funding rounds. The desire to work in earlier funding stages alongside someone he knew well drew him away from his role as a partner at multi-billion-dollar venture firm DCM, where he was part of the team that invested in Musical.ly, now known as TikTok.
Bling primarily focuses on entrepreneurs looking to raise around $1 million to $3 million who are often early in their careers as founders. Lui said Bling evaluates companies on characteristics that go beyond whether they like the founder or feel that the market looks good. Instead, he said they take a hard look at the available company data, and quickly respond.
“And we send it back to them and say, ‘Okay, this is what's working, what's not working’,” Lui said. “And then create the playbook for them on how to find product market fit and get to like, ‘These are the milestones you actually need to hit’.”
When considering companies, Lui said Bling looks at the founder, the market, the company’s current traction and differentiation while asking the founder the questions they would expect to get at Series A and Series B funding rounds.
“One thing that I really admire about what [Ling’s] built with Bling is the consistency and the processes and playbooks— everything from the way that we evaluate deals to the way that we work with our portfolio companies,” Lui said. “Everything is kind of around playbooks and operationalizing things and also iterating to do those processes better.”
As part of its work to support founders, Bling maintains an extensive product council, which connects tech executives with the founders in Bling’s portfolio. Bling also has created numerous self-serve resources for founders so they can easily tap into the fund’s network and shared knowledge.
“We have a bunch of playbooks that we introduce to companies around how to hire efficiently, how to negotiate with counterparties, how to think about the founding team, business development…We just have these different things that we start to train our entrepreneurs on,” Lui said.
dot.LA Editorial Intern Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.
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.
“I urge you to learn a new language,” the model has told her fans, noting how locals in the foreign countries she has visited appreciate the effort. “It’s essential to be able to connect with people as much as possible while I travel,” she wrote in another post last month. Johnson, a former contestant on the TV show “Joe Millionaire,” has repeatedly suggested one particular way to study a new language: HeyPal, a one-year-old language-learning app.
A photo from Johnson's Instagram account, which she's used to promote HeyPal.
Photo courtesy of HeyPal
“Today I wanted to work on some Arabic slang, so I literally can pull out the phone and use the app anywhere, anytime!” read a caption to one photo of Johnson sitting near the Indian Ocean with a smartphone in her hands and a cocktail nearby.
At first glance, her casual endorsements may look like mere tips from a travel expert. But the Instagram posts, sprinkled between photos of the model posing in exotic tropical locations, are part of a paid campaign by HeyPal, which is owned by Beverly Hills-based digital app developer ClickStream.
HeyPal—which promises to help users learn new languages through social media posts and online chats with native speakers—has made content creators like Johnson a key part of its marketing and growth strategy. The app is currently paying three influencers, including Johnson, to spread the gospel by showcasing glamorous real-life examples of how people can benefit from the platform.
HeyPal, which has racked up more than 1 million downloads since going live last June, is hardly the only brand turning to influencers. Spending on influencer marketing has exploded in recent years, jumping from only $1.7 billion in 2016 to $16.4 billion this year, according to research from Influencer Marketing Hub.
In some ways, influencer marketing is not much different from traditional celebrity endorsements where actors, artists and athletes hawk products in advertisements. But online influencers often forge deep relationships with their fans, making their endorsements more effective, according to experts. That’s especially true if the products or services they’re marketing naturally fit with the content they’re creating—such as Johnson highlighting a language-learning app as a travel blogger.
“At the end of the day, influencer marketing works because the audience trusts the creator,” Brad Hoos, CEO of influencer marketing agency The Outloud Group, told dot.LA. Hoos noted that customers acquired through influencers tend to stick with brands longer than those lured by other campaigns.
Launched in 2020, HeyPal aims to help people learn new languages by conversing with native speakers through social media features like chats, posts, comments and media uploads. HeyPal offers both free and paid versions of the app; the latter is available in two subscription tiers ($9.99 or $14.99 per month) and includes additional features like unlimited translations on posts and a “PenPal” feature that matches users who can teach each other new languages.
HeyPal CEO Jonathan Maxim, a marketing veteran who ClickStream hired for the role last year, told dot.LA that Johnson and the app’s other influencers bring credibility to the platform. Those other influencers include Jessica Killings, an actress, model and angel investor who, like Johnson, has a large Instagram following.
HeyPal CEO Jonathan Maxim. Photo courtesy of HeyPal
HeyPal has worked with roughly 20 influencers to date, though it has only struck paid partnership deals with three, according to Maxim. (“The other 20 or so are just enthusiasts of the mission,” he noted.) The company declined to share how much it pays influencers to market its app.
In addition to boosting the brand’s visibility, HeyPal’s influencers are able to steer people to the app or channels like its Instagram account, through which the company can later retarget them with ads or push notifications, Maxim said. HeyPal can measure reach, click-through rates and number of app downloads by influencer, and can optimize its ads accordingly.
“Influencer marketing serves the top of the funnel for us,” Maxim said. “Katy creates engaging content, brings people to the middle of the funnel, and then we retarget them and bring them to the bottom of the funnel—which is conversion and engagement in the app.”
Johnson’s Instagram endorsements don’t dig into the details of the app, but they subtly suggest the perks of learning a new language. An Instagram Reels video she made in March shows Johnson dancing and posing for selfies with people around the world—activities presumably made possible by her ability to speak different languages.
“These types of posts help people dream—to see a country and the beauty, the food, the people,” said Jamie Gutfreund, chief marketing officer for Los Angeles-based Whalar, a creator economy company that works with influencers and brands. “They can imagine what their experience could be, especially if they have learned the language.”
Creators have to tread carefully when it comes to corporate partnerships, however. Although brand deals may provide more stable income than platform ad revenue, creators have to ensure they don’t harm their authenticity by constantly promoting products, experts said. About 13% of fans say they have unfollowed a creator because they included too many ads in their content, according to a recent survey.
Johnson is keenly aware of that balancing act: She said she sends just a few promotional posts per month and doesn’t endorse anything on Instagram “unless I really believe in it.” Asked how she makes her promotional posts seem authentic, Johnson said she doesn’t need to.
“I don't really make it look like anything—it is authentic,” she told dot.LA, pointing to videos she shared of her playing with children in Kenya or receiving some help putting on a hijab in Egypt.
“Those are all real moments that I've had,” she added. “And some of these moments can be helped when I'm learning language from language apps.”
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