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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    🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

    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.

    🔦 Spotlight

    In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

    Image Source: Disney

    Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

    For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

    🤝 Venture Deals

    LA Companies

    • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
    • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
    • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
    • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
    • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
    • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
    • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
    • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
    • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

    LA Venture Funds

    Actively Raising

    • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
    • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
    • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
    • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
    • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

    If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

    Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

    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.

    Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

    Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

    Image Source: Anduril

    Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

    Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

    The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

    Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

    Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

    Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

    CB Insights

    LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

    While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

    🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

    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.

    Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

    🔦 Spotlight

    Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

    Image Source: SpaceX webcast

    What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

    • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
    • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
    • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
    • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
    • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

    Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

    Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

    🤝 Venture Deals

    Just Announced

    Check back next week!

    LA Exits

    • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
    • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

    Actively Raising

    • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
    • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
    • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
    • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
    • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

    If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

    📅 LA Tech Calendar

    Sunday, January 7th

    Wednesday, January 10th

    • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
    • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

    Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

    📙 What We’re Reading

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