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West Hollywood-based video game studio Gamefam has raised a $25 million Series A round to fuel its business of linking Roblox game developers to brands looking to advertise to Generation Z audiences.
Konvoy Ventures, a VC firm based in Denver, led the round and was joined by investors Play Ventures, Makers Fund, Bessemer Venture Partners and Galaxy Interactive.
Since launching in 2019, Gamefam has released more than 30 live games on the popular Roblox platform, and now claims an audience of 6.5 million daily users in the U.S. and 15 million worldwide. The studio said the new funding has helped grow its headcount to more than 100 employees.
A key part of Gamefam’s model is allowing major companies like Disney and Mattel, as well as larger game publishers like Sony and Ubisoft, to integrate their brands into advertising experiences that fit within a game. These so-called “custom branded experiences” are becoming more popular in the gaming world, especially as platforms like Roblox promise a more immersive metaverse experience for users.
Branded experiences in video games also tend to focus less on the traditional, hardcore gaming crowd and more on a wider general audience drawn to virtual entertainment experiences. Music experiences, in particular, have proven particularly viable; rapper Travis Scott’s live virtual concert in “Fortnite” reached over 12 million viewers, while a Roblox performance by rapper Lil Nas X drew 36 million attendees. Sony’s music division inked a deal with Roblox last year to bring more of its artists onto the platform.
Gamefam CEO Joe Ferencz noted that although the company makes money from brand partnerships, it is still focused on serving individual creators looking to publish games on third-party platforms like Roblox.
“Gamefam is a company started by creators to support creators,” Ferencz said in a statement. “We have been able to bring together experts from AAA gaming as well as some of Roblox's top native talent to drive successful revenue growth for our games, create opportunities for brands, and build new franchises.”
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Riot Games has invested in virtual shooting range developer Statespace, accelerating the Los Angeles video game publisher’s efforts to dominate the mobile gaming space.
Riot did not disclose terms of the investment but told dot.LA it took a “minority stake” in New York-based Statespace.
Statespace’s main product is a platform called Aim Lab, a free-to-play virtual shooting range that first-person shooter gamers can use to warm up their skills before heading into a competitive match. Statespace CEO Wayne Mackey told the Washington Post that the plan is to leverage its relationship with Riot to bring Aim Lab onto mobile platforms—a transition that he said is “imminent” and could happen as soon as next month.
Riot, in turn, wants to integrate Aim Lab as part of its growing base of titles with hardcore fan bases, like its first-person shooter game “Valorant” or its multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game “League of Legends: Wild Rift.” The idea is that esports players could use Aim Lab to warm up with weapons used in the actual games, and also for a postmortem on a match that they lost by giving them a chance to review footage of their defeat and figure out how to improve, Mackey said.
“We look forward to collaborating with Statespace on developing innovative training and coaching tools for Valorant and MOBA players around the world to improve their skills at every level,” Jake Perlman-Garr, Riot’s global head of corporate development, said in a statement Thursday.
Riot has been doubling down on mobile gaming in recent years. The publisher has released three mobile games in the last two years—including “Wild Rift,” its most popular mobile title—and has invested in mobile gaming companies like Double Loop Games and Bunch. That focus has come as mobile gaming has emerged as one of the industry’s fastest-growing sectors.
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Yet some startups, like Hawthorne-based Surf Air Mobility, are looking to the electrification of air travel as a possible solution. On Wednesday, Surf Air announced it will go public by merging with blank-check company Tuscan Holdings Corp and Florida-based commuter airline Southern Airways, in a deal that values the combined company at $1.42 billion. The transaction is expected to raise up to $467 million, giving Surf Air much-needed capital to expand its vision for a fully electric airline.
Co-founded by CEO Sudhin Shahani and Chief Brand Officer Liam Fayed in 2012, Surf Air is a charter flight service with an electrified twist. Its single-engine, eight-seater Pilatus PC-12 aircraft is capable of a 2,150-mile flight range and a max speed of 330 miles. While that’s not as long nor as fast as most major commercial airplanes, it suits the carrier’s regional flights between local airports across the country, which are available to members who pay a starting rate of $199 per month.
Surf Air has stacked a notable slate of investors and advisors in recent years. Chairman Carl Albert is an airline industry veteran; he was CEO of turboprop charter airline Wings West before it was acquired by American Airlines and also ran manufacturing outfit Fairchild Aircraft for a decade. Other notable investors include billionaire businessman and Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, banking heir Alexandre de Rothschild and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, as well as local venture firms M13, Plus Capital and TenOneTen Ventures.
Though Surf Air has been eyeing an IPO since 2020, Shahani told Bloomberg that the startup’s business really took off during the pandemic, when many travelers who could afford charter flights were eager to skip larger, more crowded planes and airports. The newly merged company expects to generate roughly $100 million in revenue across all of its business units in 2022, it said Wednesday. “We’ve grown 50% last year to this year,” Shahani told Bloomberg.
The company aims to electrify all of its regional flights through the development of both an original hybrid and electric powertrain, which it can use to retrofit turboprop aircraft like its fleet of Cessna Grand Caravans and create fully electric planes. It also hopes to expand to more terminals—something that will be aided by the merger with Southern Airways, which serviced 39 cities and 300,000 customers last year.
Surf Air says that if it achieves that vision, it’ll be able to completely neutralize its emissions while reducing operating costs by half. Right now, Surf Air says its hybrid planes in action are producing half the emissions of a standard flight while saving about a quarter of the cost. The company doesn’t have a deadline on when its fully electric powertrain will be ready, but announced a deal Thursday with aircraft developer AeroTEC and propulsion firm Magnix to make more hybrid electric powertrains for its Cessnas, which could speed up the timeline.
Surf Air’s competitors in the realm of flight electrification include Textron, Cape Air and NASA, which started testing electric planes two years ago. Another airline, Hawaiian Air, is invested in a company that makes electric sea gliders, while Boeing is also testing electric planes. According to a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there are 170 similar projects underway.
“We believe deploying hybrid electric propulsion technology on existing aircraft at scale will be the most significant step we can take toward decarbonization of aviation in this decade,” Shahani said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re at a moment when the increasing consumer demand for faster, affordable, and cleaner regional travel will be met with [Surf Air]’s electrification ecosystem to accelerate the industry’s adoption of green flying.”
Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.
Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.
On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Michelle Ranavat talks about how pregnancy and traditional ayurvedic remedies inspired her to start her skincare company, and how she grew it without relying on outside funding.
Ranavat started her company at 35, after giving birth to two kids. Her maternity leave allowed her to step back from the day-to-day worries of life at work. She found herself diving into Ayurvedic postpartum rituals. Around the same time, she noticed some of her hair started falling out and was paying attention to the ways her skin was changing. That inspired her to do something about it.
“I think I was in the frame of mind that I was discovering and thinking about, ‘Oh, that's kind of an interesting idea’, or ‘Why isn't there a product?’ and I had the time, in many ways, and the clarity because I wasn't in a day to day job,” she said.
Ranavat began working on a product, and used her last name for her fledgling company. Its first big launch brought positive feedback from prospective customers, but she didn't want to stop there. Instead, she said, she looked closely at what people said could make the product better.
“I think the product was good. I think that I just got better at formulating [it],” she said. “And so I didn't feel bad about letting go. Because I knew I was working towards something better.”
Ranavat was one of the first companies to bring Ayurvedic practices to skincare, focusing first on a variety of hydrating masks and mists.
“Early on, I didn't have amazing packaging [or] a great brand story, but I think the brand story and the concept and the area in which we were trying to educate and push in the whitespace that existed was massive,” said Ranavat.
Out of the gate, Ranavat got interest from Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Credo Beauty, among other big retailers. At the time, the brand didn’t have much of a social media following or a cadre or influencers to boost it. But its unique story got it some early press, and that helped it build a following – even from some in the South Asian community who may not be accustomed to paying for a product they’re used to making themselves, Ranavat said.
“I think it's a hard sell, honestly, to a South Asian community. Because they're like, ‘Oh, I make it at home’, or ‘I don't really typically spend this much on my beauty’,” she said. “But we actually had an amazing response. And a lot of the responses were like, ‘Man, I don't usually spend this much. But let me tell you, this works‘.”
Ranavat said the rise of her company didn’t happen without some mistakes along the way. But she reminds herself that feeling is only finite and that nothing needs to be perfect.
“I don't think anyone really is making a mistake unless they are feeling like they're stuck in their ways and they can't evolve,” she said.
dot.LA Audience Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.