Kim Kardashian Joins the Tech Investor World

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
​Kim K surrounded by celeb investors
Andria Moore courtesy of Yahoo News / Late Show with James Corden

Reality star and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian joined the ranks of celebrity tech investors last week when she launched the private equity fund Skky Partners alongside Carlyle Group veteran Jay Sammons. The firm will leverage Kardashian’s branding know-how to help launch and grow the next generation of companies in media, hospitality, luxury, digital and ecommerce, along with Sammons’ experience steering brands like Supreme, Beats by Dre, Vogue, McDonald’s China and Moncler. Kim’s “mom-ager” Kris Jenner is also on board the project as a partner.

Obviously, a lot of startups are desperate for attention and oxygen, and celebrities love free products and need things to discuss on talk shows. So collaborations between tech and gadget companies and notable influencers are nothing new. of the Black Eyed Peas has been a long-time fixture at CES, where he has promoted his own brand of wearable devices, 3D printers and robots. Rapper Chamillionaire of “Ridin’ Dirty” fame has been angel investing for over a decade, and has made enough smart bets in companies like Maker Studios, Cruise and Lyft that he’s since started his own companies and was named the first “entrepreneur in residence” at Upfront Ventures.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen these relationships expand in depth and complexity. Obviously, a celebrity brings their personal brand to a company, and that can help expand its visibility. Traditionally, this might have been arranged along the lines of an endorsement deal; the celebrity agrees to post a few complimentary Instagrams or tweets, maybe shows up to a product launch or two, poses for a billboard and moves on with their lives. But increasingly, stars are asking for not just a fee for their endorsement, but a chunk of ownership in the company itself, and in exchange, they’re providing additional layers of support.

“For every dollar that someone might get paid in an endorsement deal, they can drive $10 worth of enterprise value,” Plus Capital founder and managing partner Adam Lilling said. His company specializes in connecting early-stage companies with celebrities and influencer-slash-investors. “So why aren’t they taking a piece of the upside vs. taking cash? Celebrities are very entrepreneurial. They build their own brand up. The idea of ‘blue people on another planet’ becoming ‘Avatar’ just like disappearing photos becoming Snapchat; they both take imagination and execution and entrepreneurship to make it happen.”

This can mean simply advice or suggestions for the management team, or collaborations around new product launches or announcements, but increasingly it also means the nuts and bolts kind of work that would traditionally be associated with real institutional investors.

“Celebrities partnering with VCs can be an incredible combination when done correctly,” Octane AI co-founder, investor and “Business Envy Podcast” co-host Ben Parr said. “A celebrity can attract deal flow that others can’t, while providing their portfolio companies with an instant audience and very important connections. In my experience, everyone responds when a celebrity introduces you to someone. VCs bring the financial rigor, tech network and institutional knowledge a celebrity may lack.”

Beyond just insight from someone who has already worked with the public and built an audience of their own, having a celebrity investor on board also indicates a level of commitment to the product, as well as authenticity, that a simple endorsement fails to truly communicate.

A number of celebrities recently invested in the Pearpop platform and marketplace, which connects individual creators and brands for collaborative projects and campaigns. It’s a bit like Cameo, but instead of making personal videos for your friends, you hire influencers to collaborate with you, to help grow your own personal audience or expand your company’s footprint. Creators on the service run the gamut from the traditional (such as musicians and craftspeople) to the more unconventional (such as clowns).

The company added $16 million in financing in April, spread out over two rounds, and already claims to have attracted 10,000 creators to the platform. “Stranger Things” star Noah Schnapp, Lil Nas X, Jake Paul, Paris Hilton and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures have all put funds into the company. As influencers, their very presence speaks to a level of awareness of issues that face the creators and personalities likely to use the platform; having them back the company itself improves the product.

“Celebrities are enjoying being venture capitalists,” said Adam Struck, founder and managing partner of Santa Monica’s Struck Capital. “VC is the coolest game on the planet. You’re seeing all these celebrities not only create funds to take advantage of their status, but post-retirement, actually calling themselves venture capitalists. A good example is The Chainsmokers; they started off endorsing different companies, investing here and there, but now they’re full-throttle venture capitalists. It’s definitely taking it up a notch.”

We’ve also seen the rise of so-called “influencer investors” like Canadian teen Josh Richards. After building a large following on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, Richards followed a conventional path to fame, signing with Warner Records in 2020 and recording his own particular blend of Lil Dicky-inspired hip-hop. In 2021 Richards launched the $15 million Animal Capital venture fund with former Goldman Sachs banker Marshall Sandman and fellow TikTok stars Griffin Johnson and Noah Beck. Animal Capital pitches itself to founders and investors as a source for 100 million engaged users, by which they mean tapping Richards’ massive fanbase. These fans can be leveraged as customers, of course, but they’re also just a helpful source of audience information and data.

“A celebrity must put in the work to be a good VC, however,” Parr said. “They can’t just let a VC borrow their brand and do nothing else. The best-performing celebrity investors call their portfolio companies, make intros and ask thoughtful questions about the businesses they’re evaluating.”

The list of stars and notables from other industries coming into the tech world continues to grow, and now includes Snoop Dogg, Serena Williams, Jay-Z, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Sofia Vergara. DiCaprio actually took a stake in Struck Capital in 2020, and actively participates in finding new investments and mentoring founders.

“From [DiCaprio’s] team, we’re seeing a lot more activity than just writing and posting the tweet,” Struck said. “They’re helping us with business development, connecting the dots and leveraging the platform.”

At first, this group leaned heavily male, as a lot of famous women were focusing funds on industries outside of the technology space. (Two of the most famous women celebrity-slash-entrepreneurs – Rihanna and Gwyneth Paltrow – had their greatest success in the beauty and wellness space, inspiring an entire generation of Fenty and GOOP wannabes.) But this early lead has (slowly) started to erode. According to Money UK, as of March 2021, 10 of the 30 most prolific celebrity investors were female.

Kardashian has a fairly lengthy resume at this point as a businesswoman and entrepreneur. Obviously, her family is a reality TV powerhouse. Their latest series, “The Kardashians,” had one of the largest Hulu premieres in history, and a recent report from Samba TV confirms it’s one of the key shows driving new sign-ups for Disney’s streamer. Her shapewear label Skims recently doubled its valuation – now clocking in at $3.2 billion – after raising $240 million in new funding over the summer. She recently relaunched and expanded her make-up brand KKW as a complete line of skincare products, known as SKKN. (The name change also reflects her recent divorce from rapper Kanye West and subsequent change of initials.)

So when Kardashian and Sammons indicate that Skky Partners will leverage their “complementary expertise,” it may not simply be boilerplate business-speak, but a real outline of their working relationship. And if history is any guide, it could be poised to pay off; Ashton Kutcher turned a $30 million fund into $250 million in just six years as an investor thanks to early gambles on Uber and Airbnb. His firm, Sound Ventures, is among the largest celebrity-driven VC groups, with 175 investments across sectors including health, media, entertainment, and security. (Sound’s 2021 investments include the email platform Superhuman and NFT exchange OpenSea.)

“The idea that [Kim Kardashian] would move into private equity is smart because she’s a person of scale,” Lilling said. “As the company gets its escape velocity, you’re able to put gas on a fire. A celebrity…can help when there’s actually a customer base or a user base or awareness. They can help take it to the next level.”

It’s worth noting that Kardashian was also one of the many celebrities who dipped a toe into cryptocurrency recently, and has lived to regret it. She’s one of three celebrities being sued by investors for allegedly making misleading promotional statements. So just like a real VC, she’s already had some bumps in the road, from which to learn.

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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
  •, 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