LA-Based Genies Partners with Gucci, Drops SDK as Celebrity Culture Goes Virtual

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

LA-Based Genies Partners with Gucci, Drops SDK as Celebrity Culture Goes Virtual
  • L.A.-based Genies is expanding beyond creating and managing avatars for celebrities; consumers can now create their own avatars on partner platforms that use Genies' software development kit.
  • Initial partners are Gucci and Giphy, with more expected in the coming months.
  • Genies' pivot is an effort to capitalize on the 'digital goods economy' and the ascendance of the metaverse.

Justin Bieber made Crocs cool again earlier this month, when he partnered with the footwear company, known more for function than fashion, to release a limited edition pair that reportedly sold out in 90 minutes.

Imagine now that those shoes were meant to be worn not on human feet, but on the pixels of a consumer's digital avatar.

This is the vision of L.A.-based Genies, which announced Tuesday it is now integrating its avatar-creation technology into other companies' digital platforms via an updated software development kit (SDK).


To Genies chief executive Akash Nigam, the goal is to create new marketplaces where users can design their own avatars and adorn them with purchased digital goods.

Genies' two initial SDK partners are luxury fashion brand Gucci and Giphy, a visual tool and resource owned by Facebook that allows users to find, create and share short, looping videos.

Luxury fashion brand Gucci is one of one of Genies' initial SDK partners.Courtesy Genies

To date, Genies has worked primarily with celebrities. The company runs an agency to deploy the avatars it has created for over 2,000 celebs, including musicians Shawn Mendes, Rihanna and Justin Bieber. Clients have employed their avatars for tasks like announcing newly released songs and albums on their social media accounts, as well as to endorse brands. A company representative said the avatars have been deployed "thousands of times" and have generated "millions" of dollars.

Genies is now allowing consumers to build their own avatars for the first time. And, by integrating with other platforms, the company is doubling down on digital goods.

"Our big bet is on the digital goods economy," Nigam told dot.LA. "If it works well, we'd want it to be 99.9% [of our revenues]."

Those who are skeptical that anybody would want to purchase a digital umbrella, spacesuit or pair of sandals may want to look at "Fortnite," Epic Games' increasingly popular virtual world where people go both to play games and to socialize. Although Fortnite is free to play, in 2018 and 2019 it generated over $1 billion from in-game purchases of cosmetic upgrades to players' virtual characters – on mobile platforms alone. Fortnite is also available on computers and gaming consoles, which also generate substantial revenue from selling digital-goods.

Gucci, for its part, has increasingly turned to tech as a useful complement to high-end fashion in the 21st century. It has previously partnered with Genies to tap the company's celebrity avatar agency, used augmented reality (AR) to allow potential buyers to "try before they buy" and already begun developing items exclusively for digital use.

Genies CEO Akash Nigam.

Courtesy of Genies

It's a natural partner for Genies' SDK, which will allow users of Gucci's digital platform to "attire their avatars in the latest Gucci apparel...while adding a revenue generator through the sale of digital goods," according to a statement from Genies.

Genies' SDK relies primarily on a revenue split, with Genies and the hosting platform each taking a portion of the transaction income.

More partnerships are in the works.

"We've been having tons of conversations with other large partners that we will make public over the coming months," Nigam said, adding that Genies plans to encourage its celebrity network to sell digital goods on these partner platforms. In those cases, the celebrity (and/or their rights holders) will earn a percentage, too.

In advance of today's announcement, Genies has been growing its technical team. At the start of the pandemic, Nigam said the company had 16 employees in Los Angeles. It now has 50, 40 of whom are technical workers. Another 15 or so work outside of L.A., he said.

The team has been working on upgrading the look of Genies' avatars. As of today, those characters can be deployed in 3D, affording 360-degree views and allowing them to live in AR and VR worlds. They are also more expressive, with more detailed physiognomy.

Genies has raised $38.8 million to date. The company would not disclose its valuation nor share whether it is profitable.

Today begins its transition from focusing on tastemakers to preparing for a new age of virtual characters running around digital worlds.

"Over time, these SDK partnerships will create a digital identity ecosystem where consumers can transport their avatar from platform to platform," the company said in a statement.

"Avatars are a prerequisite for the metaverse," Nigam said, referring to the parallel virtual world some expect will combine of gaming, social networking and ecommerce, and which some have described as the next iteration of the internet.

    It remains to be seen, of course, whether metaverse avatars will opt to wear Crocs.

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    Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

    Christian Hetrick

    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.

    Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

    When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

    The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

    Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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    Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

    Christian Hetrick

    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.

    Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

    LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

    The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

    From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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    Inflation Reduction Act Officially Passes the Senate, Revamping Electric Vehicle Pricing

    David Shultz

    David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

    The Capitol at Sunset
    Courtesy of Mike Stoll via Unsplash

    Over the weekend Senate Democrats officially passed the Inflation Reduction Act in what amounts to President Biden’s biggest legislative win so far. The bill includes a host of broad-spectrum economic policy changes and completely reworks the subsidies for electric vehicle purchases. The law still has to get through the House, but this should be a much smaller hurdle.

    dot.LA covered the bill in depth as it neared the goal line at the end of July, and the final iteration doesn’t change much. To recap:

    1. The rebate total stays $7,500 but is broken into two $3,750 chunks tied to how much of the car and its battery are made in the US.

    2. The manufacturer caps are eliminated, meaning even EV companies that have sold more than 20,000 vehicles are once again eligible.

    3. Rebates will now only apply to cars priced below $55,000 and trucks/SUVs below $80,000

    With the new system placing a renewed emphasis on American manufacturing and assembly, the calculus of which vehicles cost how much is still being worked out. The most comprehensive (but unofficial!) list I’ve seen has come from Reddit user u/Mad691.

    In addition to the EV rebate program, the bill also includes a number of economic incentives aimed at curbing emissions and accelerating the country’s transition to electric vehicles.

    There’s $20 billion earmarked for the construction of new clean vehicle manufacturing facilities and $3 billion will go help electrify the USPS delivery fleet. Another $3 billion will go to electrifying the nation’s ports. Then there’s $1 billion for zero-emission trucks and buses.

    Now that the bill is about to be codified into law, VC investment in the sector might heat up in response to the new money flowing in.

    “I do anticipate more climate funds standing up to invest in EV infrastructure,” says Taj Ahmad Eldridge, a partner at Include Ventures and the director at CREST an ARES Foundation initiative with JFF/WRI that aims to provide training for people in the new green economy. “However, we do see funds being a little more thoughtful on diligence and taking their time to fund the right investment.”

    The sentiment seems to be shared across Southern California. ChargeNet CEO and Co-Founder Tosh Dutt says the Inflation Reduction Act “super charges” the company’s effort to build infrastructure across the country.

    “This investment accelerates the transition to renewable energy and gives companies like ChargeNet Stations the confidence to expand more rapidly, especially in underserved communities,” says Dutt.

    For Rivian, the bill’s passage has left would-be customers in a sort of limbo. Because many of their models will exceed the $80,000 cap for trucks and SUVs after options, customers who’ve preordered are scrambling to sign buyers’ agreements to take advantage of the current EV rebate scheme which doesn’t include price caps. As I noted in the previous article, if you buy an EV before the bill is signed, you’re eligible for the current rebate system even if the vehicle isn’t delivered until 2023. Any existing contracts under the current system will remain valid.

    With the legislation seemingly on the fast track to become law, it’s unclear whether or not Rivian will expedite the purchasing process to allow customers to sign the buyers’ agreement before the new rebate program becomes the law of the land. Tick tock!

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