Matt Skiba helped to build Snap Inc.'s executive team in 2018 and 2019, a period that proved to be the beginning of the Santa Monica-based company's remarkable ascendancy in the public markets. He is now charged with a similar task at L.A.-based digital avatar platform Genies.
The company began primarily as a designer and manager of digital avatars for celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Shawn Mendes to use across social media, but lately is expanding into the consumer market.
"The opportunity to be a part of Genies was a seat on a rocket ship that I couldn't refuse," said Skiba, who most recently was a partner at executive search firm True Search and now becomes Genies' VP of Talent.
Genies launched in 2017 and has since raised over $50 million, according to Crunchbase. Late last year, the company's newly improved graphics were flaunted in New York's Times Square via Justin Bieber's avatar.
"Avatars are a prerequisite to the metaverse," CEO Akash Nigam previously told dot.LA, when Genies announced its new software development kit that is meant to help spread its avatars through users across the web and social media.
Skiba previously spent three and a half years at Snap, where he worked alongside chief executive Evan Spiegel, hiring a handful of executives at a time when Snap's post-IPO prospects looked dim as its stock price languished in single digits. He said the most important lesson he took away from his time at Snap was to be pragmatic but unafraid of being contrarian.
"You see those characteristics come through with the company, especially with Evan," Skiba said. "Akash resembles a lot of those similar characteristics."
Skiba now plans to build out Genies' C-suite and firm up the HR operations at the 50-person company as it embarks on its next chapter.
"Executive recruiting is kind of like dating. You've got to kiss some frogs in order to find your prince or princess," he said.
Skiba views Genies as a vehicle to give people, especially millennials and Gen Z, the power to express themselves on the internet. He sees parallels to Snap's own innovations of centering the camera into how its users communicate.
"Genies has all the same characteristics of being something that is truly impactful for consumers and for society, especially when you start thinking about self-expression and identity," Skiba said.
In addition to looking back toward Snap for lessons, his new company will also be viewing it as a competitor, as Snap has had its own avatar operation since it acquired Bitmoji in 2016.
Skiba thinks there's plenty of room for both, however, particularly in L.A.
"We've got the people, we've got the curiosity, we've got the creativity and we've got the ingenuity," he said. "That's my excitement for where I see L.A. going, and positioning itself as one of the hotbeds for technology and innovation."
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Los Angeles startup PeaTos brands its products as an alternative to "junk food" like Cheetos and it just nabbed a former executive from competitor Frito-Lay, maker of the neon orange puffy chip.
David Johnson, a 19-year veteran of Pepsico's Frito-Lay brand, was named chief growth officer of the Westchester-based brand.
As the startup's first CGO, Johnson will focus on driving retail sales and developing a greater presence in foodservice. The appointment comes after Peatos raised $12.5 million in February from Post Holdings, Inc., known for its hand in building out cereal brands like Honey Bunches of Oats. That came just four months after the company raised a $7 million Series A round.
The snack food brand, which is sold online and at retail outlets, has also picked up a steady stream of online subscribers for its fiber and protein-dense chips. In February, PeaTos CEO Nick Desai told dot.LA that the company grew 50% from 2019 to 2020 and expects 100% growth this year.
The flavored crunchy curls and rings are sold in 4,700 retailers including Vons, Albertsons Safeway, Sprouts and Kroger.
"It will be my pleasure to help ensure that all consumers have a choice of PeaTos while shopping their favorite retailers," Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson most recently served as chief executive of beeline North America, a fashion accessory supplier. His last post at Pepsico was as an executive on the Stacy's Pita Chips team.
It's been a prolific run for Headspace since closing a $93 million round last year. The Santa Monica-based startup inked a series of corporate partnerships and even launched a Netflix special called Headspace Guide to Meditation.
In its latest move to push out the meditation app—and eventually land FDA approval—Headspace has brought on an ex-Hulu executive to lead marketing.
Val Kaplan Zapata, who begins as its chief marketing officer next month, helped double Hulu's subscriber base in under three years, Headspace said in a statement announcing her new role. She's also worked at Instagram and an e-commerce mattress company called Helix Sleep.
In an emailed statement, Zapata said the company's recent partnerships with brands like Sesame Street "bring mindfulness and meditation to consumers in new and creative ways."
She said Headspace sits at the intersection of a few market trends—the consumer's demand for digital content and a new appreciation for mental health and mindfulness.
"I see so much opportunity to continue to meet consumers where they are and leverage useful, relevant content to build even deeper connections and daily habits with Headspace members," she added.
Among the company's pushes for this year will be the release of its second Netflix series, Headspace Guide to Sleep, and an interactive experience.
Subscriptions to venture-backed meditation apps spiked during the pandemic as the world fell into a state of collective anxiety. The company offered free subscription plans to K-12 educators and healthcare professionals and signed deals with Starbucks to offer customers free trials and with Google to produce a video series aimed at young children. Among its other brand partners are Amazon, Apple, Nike and the NBA.
The company has 70 million users in 190 countries, spokesperson Steven Bram said, and downloads were up 20 percent towards the end of 2020 since mid-March.
"It's a strange feeling for the team. We're happy that we're able to reach more people, but we're also aware that that's at the cost of a really difficult year," co-founder Andy Puddicombe told Vulture in January.
The company has also expanded their work with companies looking to offer perks to employees.
The Netflix series are 20-minute sessions that help viewers work through their anxieties. Among the episodes are: How to let go; How to fall in love with life; How to deal with pain.
"Our lives are filled with distraction, filled with stimulation," the narrator begins the first episode of the eight-part series. "But imagine if there was a way to slow things down."
Editor's note: The story has been updated with Zapata's comments.
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