Column: A Year Together and Apart
Less than 24 hours before dot.LA launched a year ago today, I was coming back into cell service after a hike in Mandeville Canyon when I received a flurry of texts and push notifications: Kobe Bryant had died.
Like many who had grown up watching the Black Mamba tear through global basketball, the sudden loss of such an immortal figure shook me. Since moving from the floor to the rafters at Staples Center, Kobe had plunged into the startup world with his typical ferocity and excellence. He became an influential tech investor as a partner at Bryant Stibel.
Our nascent newsroom in short order produced a tribute to his legacy as an investor and an innovator that led our new site on its first day. It was a small contribution to the memory of someone who loomed so large in our city's imagination, but it was one I was proud of and one I think showcased what dot.LA could provide: drawing the connections between the rapidly growing local tech startup scene and institutions that have been here for decades.
And so began our launch into a year that brought our city and our world hardships and challenges like never before. It was a year that summoned so many of the better angels of community, ingenuity and trustworthy information that dot.LA strives to highlight.
Our first year forced us, like everyone else, to adapt to new and unforeseen restrictions: abandoning our new offices only six weeks after our launch, finding ways to cohere as a team through Zoom screens and trying to shine a light on and bring together L.A.'s tech and startup community while everyone was stuck at home.
We at dot.LA are proud of the work that we have done to chronicle a slice of this city and we hope in some ways, even help catalyze changes that will come in 2021 and beyond.
Over thousands of hours of phone calls, interviews and Zoom meetings our news organization has found new ways to cover the startup community. We have written about how tech has influenced everything from COVID to cannabis to cars.
We've published over 1,200 articles showcasing some of the most interesting people and companies in LA. We've hosted dozens of virtual events and community meetups to connect and inform our audience. We have created digital communities, podcasts, videos, maps and more that reach an incredible audience in the hundreds of thousands. In October, we convened our inaugural dot.LA Summit -- live from Venice Beach -- bringing together 650 top innovators from around the city and the world for two days and over 25 sessions that set a towering bar for our centerpiece events (hopefully in-person soon!) in years to come.
Year one of any startup is inevitably filled with a gauntlet of new challenges from unexpected places. That's a big part of the draw for those crazy enough to start something new. It's a lot like what I imagine having a newborn for the first time to be like: the sporadic sleep schedule, the tending to of many mini-crises and the pervasive anxiety about whether you are doing everything you can to let your new bundle thrive in the world.
Blessedly, I've been able to navigate these obstacles with my co-founder and dot.LA's executive chairman Spencer Rascoff, a seasoned and proven entrepreneur whose vision and guidance made everything seem so much less daunting.
When Spencer reached out to me through mutual friends in May 2019 about his idea to create a publication that would expose all the inspiring innovation happening in our shared hometown, I was thrilled by the prospect of creating a local tech journalism startup. Without him none of this would've been possible.
Our city was able to find ways to survive and thrive in this strange pandemic that has tested so many of us. Despite hardships, new companies are getting founded and funded, innovators and seekers are relocating to our sunny hub; heck, even the Dodgers and Lakers became champions once again.
We will continue to shine a light on those who are changing the way we live - so many of whom want to make the world a better place. We will continue to encourage L.A. as it grows into the most diverse startup hub in the world. We will introduce new channels and coverage to best serve our audience from our vantage point as a startup covering startups.
Thank you to those who have visited the site, who have followed us on social media and signed up for our newsletter. Thank you to those who have joined our events and our community, and who believe in Los Angeles as a place where world-changing companies are built.
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
Los Angeles is home to around 5,000 startups, the majority of which are in their young, formative years.
Which of those thousands are poised for a breakout in 2021? We asked dozens of L.A.'s top VCs to weigh in. We wanted to know which companies they would have invested in if they could go back and do it all over again.
Yesterday, our investors picked their favorite Series-A or later startups, and not surprisingly there was more consensus, with familiar names like PopShop Live and Scopely leading the way.
But the most lucrative returns come from identifying companies in their infancy, as recent blockbuster IPOs vividly demonstrate. For instance, Sequoia's $600,000 seed check to Airbnb in 2009 accounted for 70% of its shares in the company and helped it get into competitive later rounds. When the vacation rental service went public last month, Sequoia's stake was worth $4.8 billion.
What will be the next breakout? The complete list is below and is ranked in random order except for the first three, which stood out by virtue of getting multiple votes: Pipe enables companies with recurring revenues to tap into their deferred cash flows with an instant cash advance. Clash App, Inc., is a TikTok alternative launched by a former employee of the social network in August. And XCLAIM allows bankruptcy claims to be digitally traded.
Pipe provides financial services to help cloud service companies tap into their deferred cash flows, allowing them to continue growing without taking on debt or giving up ownership. For subscription-based businesses, this makes it "as if all of your customers converted to annual plans overnight," according to the company.
Founded by Harry Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia, the company raised $66 million of seed funding earlier this year in a deal led by Craft Ventures and Fin Venture Capital.
Created by former Vine-r Brendon McNerney and entrepreneur and marketing expert P.J. Leimgruber, Clash App is a short form video platform similar to TikTok, but without built-in sound libraries. It's geared toward empowering creators with innovative monetization options and inclusive communities.
XCLAIM has created an electronic platform where bankruptcy claims that take a notoriously long time to process can be digitally traded. Founded in 2018 by Matthew Sedigh, who has operated in the corporate restructuring field for more than a decade, the company says "rather than wait years for the bankruptcy court process to issue payment distributions, creditors can now access immediate liquidity by selling their claim to interested buyers." Earlier this year, it raised a $4 million seed round led from Luma Launch, First Round Capital and Freestyle Capital.
Freck Beauty manufactures beauty products intended to make the user feel seen. Remi Brixton, the company's chief executive officer, founded the startup in 2015 when she was in search of a freckle makeup product. When she couldn't find one, she launched her own, the FRECK OG. The East Los Angeles-based company raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding in a deal led by KarpReilly and Stage 1 Fund earlier this year.
The Skills wants to be the master class on sports and life. The Los Angeles-based startup launched two months ago and offers classes from gold medal Olympians — including swimmer Michael Phelps and volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings — and Grand Slam tennis Champion Maria Sharapova. In December, it closed a $5 million seed round backed by Boston-based Will Ventures, Global Founders Capital, 8VC, Maveron, Hack VC and Correlation VC.
Founded by Shaun Cooley, former chief technology officer of Cisco's Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Industries division, Mapped provides IoT services in El Segundo.
The company raised $3 million of seed funding in a deal led by Greycroft earlier this year, putting its pre-money valuation at $9 million.
Created in 2016 by Geoffrey Michener, Dataplor indexes micro-businesses in Mexico (and will soon be expanding to other countries in Central and South America) and sells the data to larger companies.The company relies on contractors in those countries to collect the information from local businesses. It raised $4 million from ff Venture Capital, Quest Venture Partners and Space Capital earlier this year and expects to use it to expand into more Latin American countries.
Launched by serial entrepreneur Joe Bayen, Grow Credit helps customers improve their credit score by providing credit for subscription services like Netflix and Spotify. Their MasterCard can help consumers with thin or damaged credit scores and the small line of credit can be upgraded for a fee. The company closed a $2 million seed round earlier this year with participation from Mucker Labs.
The two-year-old Santa Monica-based company has seen business boom during the pandemic as retail stores shut down and online orders surged. The direct-to-consumer outdoor furniture brand uses backyards as showrooms and raised $4.3 million in a seed round earlier this year led by Mucker Capital. Founded by Jake Liu and Terry Lin, a former designer at Pottery Barn, Outer aims to appeal to Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn shoppers.
A livestreaming reseller of collectibles like FunkoPop vinyl figurines, Pokémon cards and sports cards, WhatNot taps into a growing retail trend and promises that the collectibles are verified, much like sneaker reseller GOAT.
The startup secured $4 million in seed funding this month from Scribble Ventures, Wonder Ventures, Operator Partners, Y Combinator, Liquid 2 Ventures, Twenty Two Ventures and other investors. The company plans to use the funds to expand into video games, comics books, designer toys and vintage fashion.
Fourthwall is the developer of an internet platform that helps content creators launch fully-branded websites focused on interacting with fans. Their website tag phrase is "Make a living doing what you love," which is complemented by their model, which provides creators 100% ownership of their website and brand.
Founded by Walker Williams and Will Baumann, the company has raised $4 million to date, from investors Defy Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Initialized Capital Management.
Shop LatinX calls itself the "leading beauty, fashion, and lifestyle ecommerce designed by and made for Latinas." The brainchild of two Los-Angeles-based Latinas, Brittany Chavez and Raquel Garcia launched their website before Black Friday in 2016. It features more than 200 brands.
Founded by former SpaceX software engineer Karan Talati and Neal Sarraf, First Resonance promises to ease the workflow for manufactures with software intended to provide greater visibility into production and test product development lifecycle. The company raised $1.75 million of seed funding last year from Wavemaker Partners, Stage Venture Partners and PLG Ventures, among clothes.
Vurbl offers curated, one-stop-shop of what it calls the best audio on the internet, which can include podcasts but also goes well beyond that from religious sermons to court arguments. The new platform founded by CEO Audra Gold is being built with the $1.3 million pre-seed round Vurbl closed in September led by AlphaEdison with participation from Halogen Ventures and Ten13.
Former Disney executive Chris Williams founded the studio that produces family-focused content from YouTube stars. This year it launched clock.work, an advertising agency designed to help major brands reach kids. Investors include Viacom, Greycroft, Third Wave Digital and United Talent Agency, along with strategic angels including Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Landau.
The app allows renters to see and share apartments that will soon be available before they're listed — reducing the time properties sit vacant and potentially heating up competition among apartment hunters. It launched earlier this year. The company has $2.8 million in seed funding led by David Sacks' Craft Ventures along with Abstract VC, Wonder Ventures and angel investor Spencer Rascoff, co-founder of Zillow and dot.LA.
The audio-based social platform promises to be the spot for "live, supportive, feel good conversations—just like hopping on the phone with a friend when you need it most." It lets people start a conversation around any topic or join by listening. Quilt raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding from Freestyle Capital in 2019.
Founded by Abhi Nayar, Chris Garwood and Igor Licthmann, Tonebase provides high-level music education online. Yale School of Music alumnus Garwood and Lichtman told their alma mater that it built with the idea that it was "a way for people everywhere to learn from the very best musicians around the world — individuals who, due to their busy performing and teaching careers, are traditionally accessible to only a select few." The company has raised an undisclosed amount from Launch fund, e.ventures and other undisclosed last May.
Launched in 2013 by Jeff Su, Yu-Han Chang and Rajiv Maheswaran, Second Spectrum already has deals with the NBA and English Premier League. This year it scored another one with Major League Soccer to use its optical tracking system to evaluate and analyze performance.
Second Spectrum puts their tracking cameras inside the stadium. Machine learning and AI-powered analytics provide detailed data that helps coaches and others better understand the game from player speed and deceleration to shot velocity in near real time. That technology can also be used on broadcast platforms to give fans more insight. The company raised about $20 million backed by CAA Ventures, Raine Ventures and The Chernin Group in 2018.
Founded by CEO Taylor Nieman, Shaun Merritt and Brandon Dietz, Toucan is a Chrome browser extension that lets people learn a new language. It scans websites you visit and translates some words into the language you want to learn. The Santa Monica-based company most recently raised a $3 million round backed by GSV Ventures, Amplifyher Ventures, and Wonder Ventures, among others.
Created by former SpaceX engineers, Serve Automation aims to change the way foods get delivered. It has secured $7 million in a seed round and is operating in stealth mode.
Lead art by Candice Navi.
- Meet 3 Early Stage Science Startups at First Look's Showcase - dot.LA ›
- What Early Stage Startups Should Be Thinking About COVID-19 ... ›
- First Resonance Lands $3.5M, Looks to Future of Aerospace - dot.LA ›
- Whatnot Joins Livestream Shopping Craze with $20M Boost - dot.LA ›
- Holistic Health App Kenshō Raises $3.5 Million - dot.LA ›
- 2021 Is a Good Year to Be a Young Startups in Los Angeles - dot.LA ›
- Like Etsy, But for Latinos. Shop Latinx Makes a Debut - dot.LA ›
- What to Expect When Breaking Into Tech Startups - dot.LA ›
Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.
While you can’t drink an NFT, that isn’t stopping some beverage startups from looking to capitalize on the blockchain-enabled craze.
Non-fungible tokens have gained traction in the art world, where artists and creators are using the digital assets to create closer connections with fans and collectors.
The idea of building a creative community around a product is not unfamiliar to beverage brands. After all, generations of beverage aficionados gave us the concept of the bar, the tea house and the coffee joint.
As brands increasingly take to the digital world to increase their exposure, many beverage companies are now experimenting with NFT technology to build interest around their products. Budweiser, for instance, recently signed a deal to mint collectible tokens, as have Bacardi, Fountain Hard Seltzer and the Robert Mondavi Winery.
Three new L.A.-based beverage brands–Bored Breakfast Club, Yerb and Leisure Project–are also using the blockchain to build their companies and engage with customers in different ways. Each is using NFTs to kickstart their direct-to-consumer businesses and build interest in their brands.
The goal is to use the transparency and equity inherent in blockchain technology to attract early adopters—giving them an opportunity to test ideas and products before they’re finalized—and encourage them to invest in a community built around their drinks.
Time will tell if each brand can deliver on that promise.
Bored Breakfast Club's NFT tokens feature the Bored Ape characters and serve as a subscription membership.
Bored Breakfast Club
One L.A.-based effort, Bored Breakfast Club, has looked to leverage the popularity of Bored Ape collectible NFTs to help jump start a new coffee subscription service.
Frogtown-based marketing agency Kley is leading the effort to use Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) intellectual property to build direct-to-consumer coffee subscription memberships that are sold as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokens themselves feature a breakfast scene that include BAYC and MAYC characters, and each functions as a coffee subscription membership.
BAYC and MAYC are considered two of the most popular and expensive NFT collections, according to OpenSea, a secondary NFT marketplace that also tracks their value. BYAC NFTs are valued at approximately 74.69 ETH ($244,041) on the platform.
Kley co-founder Brad Klemmer said the idea was to parlay the success of the Bored Apes brand into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Owners of the NFTs get four free coffee shipments and the possibility of more, if the project is a success.
Klemmer said the idea is to build a regular clientele for his coffee brand by shipping it directly to consumers, rather than relying on them to go to a coffee shop or grocery store. “You need a brand and community that puts their product on [consumers’] doorstep on a weekly basis,” he said.
Bored Breakfast Club launched the project on Jan. 10, offering 5,000 NFTs for .08 ETH (approx. $250) each, and promising token holders they would receive a 12-ounce bag of a different variety of coffee for each of four NFT sales thresholds the company surpassed. The NFTs have since sold out, meaning that the project will ship four bags of coffee to each token holder by the end of the month. The company has also created a “community coffee wallet” that could entitle token holders to still more coffee.
A graphic explains Bored Breakfast Club's "wallet" concept.
That’s because the “wallet“ collects funds from a 5% royalty on its NFTs that are bought and sold on the secondary market. Once it collects enough funds, the company will send additional blends to its 5,000 token holders. (Klemmer said they’re waiting to get data from their initial shipments to determine how much it will cost to ship additional bags). That communal “wallet“ will also pay to produce extra bags of coffee and Bored Breakfast Club merchandise to sell to non-NFT holders.
Klemmer said he sees the NFT offerings as a “fun way to buy coffee.” Also, there were “similarities around NFT communities engaging with each other and what the DTC subscription model is trying to be.”
Bored Breakfast Club works with Yes Plz Coffee, which sources, roasts, packages and delivers the coffee to NFT holders.
Yerb was born out of entrepreneur Brett Fink's habit of drinking yerba mate with friends, many of them creatives who were looking for a coffee alternative. The traditional South American drink is said to provide a calmer caffeine-imbibing experience than coffee.
Like Bored Breakfast Club, Fink is hoping to use NFTs to drum up interest in his business early on. But instead of relying on the popularity of a particular NFT brand, Fink sees an opportunity to use the blockchain to heighten awareness of his own brand and, hopefully, develop buy-in for its first product.
Fink, who has past experience building and growing consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, including cannabis brands, thinks NFTs can help build a creative community around a product.
“If you believe what we believe, and want to create a product for the creative process, you can benefit from it, as there is a massive untapped opportunity in NFT and CPG projects,” Fink said. “You need to get people to believe what you believe, then have them be involved and take ownership of that product.”
Yerb’s first yerba mate drink will be bottled in 12-ounce cans but sold through NFTs that cost 0.039 ETH (approx. $77 USD). The company started offering the tokens in February of last year; each entitles the holder to six cans of Yerb’s first release, as well as an additional six-pack of cans every year that they hold the NFT. Yerb is hoping that the offer will help it identify early adopters who will buy-in to the brand as repeat customers.
Non-NFT holders will be able to purchase the drinks once token holders receive the first shipment. Yerb is targeting April 2022 for that release after hitting supply chain issues last year.
Venice-based Leisure Project is taking a similar approach to Yerb by targeting creatives with an emphasis on community development.
The startup, which bills itself as “the world’s first co-created beverage brand,” hopes to market a kind of natural Gatorade for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.
Leisure Project was started by former NCAA Division I athletes and brothers Steve Michaelsen, who works at Nike LA, and Alex Michaelsen, who works at TikTok marketing agency GO Ventures in Beverly Hills. The brothers, who have been bootstrapping the project themselves, have spent almost two years creating the brand’s first three flavors.
In December, the Michaelsens announced plans to experiment with minting NFTs that would provide token holders with the first run of their beverages, cheaper pricing on additional flavors and the opportunity to pitch new products. Leisure Project has been sampling its drinks at local NFT events to drum up publicity.
Down the line, the company hopes to use the blockchain to give token holders access to a yet-to-be-defined “creator database” of potential partners and grants.
Leisure Project is in its early stages, but its founders hope establishing buy-in through NFTs and social platforms like Discord will help build an authentic community for their brand, and give them a potentially vital advantage over more-established competitors. “Big brands can’t go backwards and do something community-orientated after the fact,” Steve Michaelson said.
- Soylent Liquid Food Rebrands as a Supplement - dot.LA ›
- Inside Barcode, the New Kyle Kuzma-Backed Sports Drink - dot.LA ›
- Wine Subscription Company Winc Postpones IPO ›