Here Are the LA Seed Startups Top VCs Wish They'd Invested In

Ben Bergman

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.

Here Are the LA Seed Startups Top VCs Wish They'd Invested In

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 logo


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.

clash logo

Clash App Inc.

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 logo


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 logo

Freck Beauty

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 logo

The Skills

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.

mapped logo


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.

dataplor logo


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.

Grow Credit logo

Grow Credit 

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.

outer logo


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 logo

Shop LatinX 

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.

First Resonance logo

First Resonance 

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 logo


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.

pocketwatch logo


Former Disney executive Chris Williams founded the studio that produces family-focused content from YouTube stars. This year it launched, 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.

pocketlist logo


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.

Quilt logo


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.

tonebase logo


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, and other undisclosed last May.

Second Spectrum logo

Second Spectrum

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.

Toucan logo


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.

Serve Automation logo

Serve Automation

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.

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A Ride Along With the Only Rideshare Company Treating Its Drivers As Employees

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

A Ride Along With the Only Rideshare Company Treating Its Drivers As Employees
Courtesy of Alto

Since dot.LA covered its launch two years ago, Santa Monica-based rideshare company Alto has hired 300 staff members to join its growing team of drivers. But unlike its competitors, Alto classifies every driver as a W-2 employee.

“They're not gig economy workers that show up whenever they feel,” general manager Sevag Konialian tells dot.LA, “they have hours that correlate with the schedule they signed up with.”

Applicants that are interested in joining the Alto family, as Konialian puts it, must fill out a form online with their desired schedule. Once the application is complete, an Alto member reaches out to the applicant for a remote interview. After the interview, the potential driver will receive a driver training course list that they must complete.

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This Week In ‘Raises’: Product Science Lands $18M, Preveta Gains $6.2M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week In ‘Raises’: Product Science Lands $18M, Preveta Gains $6.2M

Los Angeles-based mobile performance management platform Product Science was co-founded by David, Daniil, Anna and Maria Liberman. The startup raised fresh funding to fuel its growth, obtain key hires and refine their proprietary AI algorithm.

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Digital Ad Execs On Why Political Ad Campaigns Don’t Work on Twitter

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
Digital Ad Execs On Why Political Ad Campaigns Don’t Work on Twitter

Twitter kicked off the New Year by announcing it would relax a controversial ban on political ads and other promotions pushing specific causes. The move is only the latest effort by CEO Elon Musk to boost the platform’s struggling ad business — which took a hit last year after a number of advertisers left due to the chief’s volatile statements on the platform. Some companies have since returned.

But digital agencies who have worked on LA-based advocacy and political campaigns don’t think clients will make Twitter a major part of their ad strategy. Ad execs say the platform’s lack of specific microtargeting tools — along with the fact that it has a much smaller user base than ad giants Meta and Google — makes it less attractive than its competitors. Not to mention that since the 2019 ban went into effect, many clients have pivoted to other new ways of reaching voters, such as paying influencers on TikTok or ads on streaming platforms.

“Twitter has always been more of a niche product, very well suited to reaching people who are very engaged in the process and following the news closely,” said Jamie Patton, the director of digital agency Uplift — which counts the congressional campaign for Rep. Katie Porter (CA-45) as one of its clients, along with candidates for LA City Council and LA City Attorney.

In other words, Twitter users aren’t exactly the general public — a 2019 Pew poll found that Twitter’s audience is younger, more educated, higher income and more likely to identify with Democrats than the nation overall. Such an uneven sampling is why Twitter hype doesn’t always translate to real world hype. And why the platform can be a poor predictor of box office success, elections and the stock market.

“Twitter requires a specific and unique marketing approach to succeed,” said Erik Rose, a partner at public affairs agency EKA. “You can’t approach it the way you would your Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube marketing. And also can’t simply cross-promote your existing content.”

According to Patton, Twitter ads have primarily been effective in cases where a campaign needs access to a niche audience. “We ran political ads on the platform for years, more often ‘advocacy’ content designed to reach a more engaged audience, with very good results,” said Patton.

But such rough targeting paled in comparison to those offered by Google and Meta-owned platforms, which include Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger. Patton says Twitter’s targeting capabilities are “pretty limited” for someone who wants to target a broad demographic. Which is to say, if your goal is to appeal to a swath of persuadable voters, you’re probably not going to spend your ad dollars on Twitter.

If Twitter does get the formula right—Patton said she’d like to see the company offer more one-on-one targeting, release more data on audience reach and provide more transparency on ad frequency—political campaigns could help boost its sinking ad revenue. According to digital ad analytics firm AdImpact, opponents and advocates of California’s sports betting ballot initiative Proposition 27 spent a combined $21.5 million on Facebook and Google ads in 2022. In fact, the initiative had the second largest political digital ad spend of 2022, just behind Georgia’s Senate campaigns. While such a campaign was only a drop in the bucket for Twitter’s competitors (Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said political ads account for less than one percent of Facebook’s revenue), it is revenue that Twitter can’t afford to lose.

That said, Twitter will have an even a tougher time breaking through, considering Apple’s 2021 privacy changes that allow iPhone users to opt out of tracking. Twitter, along with Meta, Snap and Pinterest have lost billions in market value since the change went to effect. Meanwhile, digital ads on TikTok, Amazon, streaming platforms and retail companies like Etsy and Walmart are using new approaches to ads (such as relying on purchasing history) and shaving away Facebook and Google’s share of the online ad business.

Still, Rose said he doesn’t think Twitter should try to imitate its competitors. He plans on advising his clients to focus on what they want from Twitter: It could merely serve as a less serious version of the TV and radio ad space, where campaigns can have fun and experiment with pop culture.

“Every platform can’t be everything to everyone,” Rose added. And while Twitter’s 259.4 million active users certainly aren’t everyone – its undeniably large role in public discourse means the political sphere can’t ignore it. But it’s unlikely that attention will translate to more money for Twitter considering posting is still free.