Launch House Brings Its Unique Approach to Startups to Cities Beyond SoCal
Jacob Peters, the co-founder of a live-in Beverly Hills accelerator-like program, likes to think of himself as a tech community builder.
In his teens, he moderated internet community boards. After graduating college and moving to New York to work for J.P. Morgan, he ran a community for data science and AI professionals. And even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he found a way to do the same for the Los Angeles tech community.
Last year, Peters established Launch House, a creator mansion for startups much like those used for TikTok stars. The concept is about to get a bigger audience.
With $3 million in seed funding secured, the company plans to expand beyond Southern California.
Launch House hosts four-week programs where a group of around 25 tech startup founders live and work out of a Beverly Hills mansion. There, they mingle with other founders and meet potential funders – a round-the-clock networking session.
Launch House is planning to expand to New York and other locations this fall, testing his dorm-like approach to startups. The startup also has plans to start more online programs this fall aimed at entrepreneurs along with in-person sessions tailored to specific industries like cryptocurrency.
Jacobs sees this as a natural extension of his life's work.
"I guess the common thread throughout my entire life and career has been that of community building," he said.
Launch House's position in the L.A. area is uniquely positioned to let companies collaborate with social media influencers, Peters said, who are known to drop by the house.
Ashton Keys, the co-founder of the Detroit-based startup Athytic, said he typically wakes up early and spends most of the morning on calls on the House's outdoor balcony that overlooks Downtown LA. By around 5, most people typically stop working and meet up at one of the House's scheduled events, he said.
"It was really a game changer to be able to get feedback from a group of people that were extremely smart about challenges that I was having as a company, get feedback on my product, different UI updates that I can make," said Keys, whose company partners with student athletes under new NCAA rules that let student athletes profit off of their image. "And that was like my second day here."
Keys, for instance, said he was able to meet with student athletes from UCLA.
Several companies have had some level of success after finishing Launch House. Showtime, a social network for NFTs, closed a $7.6 million round of seed funding in May. Wonbo, an app that uses AI to create fake videos of celebrities singing, closed a $6 million round of seed funding in June.
Unlike typical accelerator programs, Launch House charges a flat membership fee that typically costs a few thousand dollars and member companies do not have to surrender equity in their companies. After finishing, participants have access to facilities and other programs run by Launch House.
"You basically get the chance to pitch your company in a very safe space to 15 other super smart people that all have a vested interest in helping you because they know that you're going to return the favor," Peters said. "That's sort of the culture that we've that we've built."
Amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, Peters said Launch House's approach to COVID-19 is "pretty rock solid": participants are required to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and guests also have to show proof of vaccination and take a rapid COVID-19 test before entering.
Launch House's round of seed funding was led by Flybridge Capital Partners and included Day One Ventures, Graph Ventures and over 100 angel investors.
Beyond simply forming business relationships, Peters said he wants to focus on making sure participants get something out of the experience. Ultimately, he wants Launch House to rival prestigious Ivy League universities in terms of its ability to churn out talent and is hoping to make the jump this year.
"We're saying, 'Hey, the first year was basically one giant experiment: we figured out what works, what didn't, we ironed out the kinks with our model,'" he said. "Our community is primed to grow."
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Pejman Nozad, a founding managing partner at Pear VC, joins this episode of LA Venture to discuss Pear VC's current initiatives, including its accelerator and fellowships. He's seen as one of the most successful angel investors in the area, and for good reason: he has made more than 300 investments in his lifetime.
"I'm a child of revolution and war and difficult times," said Nozad of his upbringing in Iran during the revolution.
Nozad went to college before dropping out. That's when his brother told him about his dream to go to America. After his brother was denied a visa multiple times, Nozad went himself to the embassy and got lucky; the woman in charge of the process liked him enough to approve him.
"When you're in [your] early twenties, you don't analyze much of the future. And then your risk-takers. I came to America in 1992 with $700 and I didn't speak any word of English," said Nozad.
Nozad went from working at a carwash, then a yogurt shop, to a (now famous) Persian rug store in Palo Alto. Many of his clients happened to be CEOs and venture capitalists; Nozad wanted to be part of that community.
"I was very lucky because I had access to people who normally nobody can see them, but I was hanging out with them at Sunday barbecues while selling carpets," said Nozad.
In his early days as an investor, Nozad bet on companies that included Dropbox and DoorDash. He said he took inspiration as a venture capitalist in lessons he learned from his time playing professional soccer in Iran.
"In soccer, you can score minute one, or you can score at minute 90. Both of them [are] one goal and you can win the game. So, when you go to fundraise, don't get disappointed if you hear a lot of nos, because the yes could be the last meeting after the whole two months," he said.
dot.LA Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
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In a year upended by crisis after crisis — the ongoing pandemic, the climate emergency, an insurrection in the capital — tech startup financing is not just bouncing back but altogether booming, and Los Angeles-based angel investors are a big part of that equation.
Angels usually take a stake in an emerging business using their own funds, before institutional investors are willing to throw more substantial resources behind an idea. Often, they start off as entrepreneurs or engineers themselves.
We surveyed dozens of prominent L.A. investors to find out who they believe to be the top angels in the city, as part of dot.LA's third VC sentiment survey. Then, we tallied the votes. dot.LA had to throw out a couple of top names because one angel no longer lived in Los Angeles and the other didn't appear to be actively investing.
For more from the latest survey, read about who to watch among L.A.'s hottest ecommerce startups.
The investors below are listed based on the number of votes they received. We deferred to alphabetical order when there was a tie. Without further ado, here are Los Angeles' top angels, according to their peers.
List tops this list despite maintaining a low profile compared to the five angels below. He's an early-stage investor whose portfolio includes mobile shopping startup Tapcart, glasses and contacts company Lensabl, as well as Brainbase, Candy Club, Citruslabs and other LA-based firms, per AngelList. His investments range between $25,000 and $100,000, according to his Signal investing page. List is also listed as the chief creative officer at brand studio Gazoozle, per Crunchbase. The agency mentions Uber, TBS and other big names as clients on its website.
When dot.LA reached out for more information about him and his recent investments, List responded via LinkedIn: "im all good man, i dont do any press. thanks though!" Thanks, indeed!
But Paul Bricault, co-founder and managing director of Amplify, who has several co-investments with him, said List really has a discerning eye. "While we have also passed on some things he has sent our way, they are always worth a hard look which is rare."
McInerney got his start as a software engineer at Apple and Sony. His L.A. investments include RentSpree, a tenant screening startup that just announced an $8 million series A; and Bird, the love-it-or-hate-it scooter rental service. Beyond the city, he's a backer of Notion, Segment and Dapper Labs. His exits include Lettuce, which sold to Intuit; and Shopflick, which sold to Popsugar.
Rascoff co-founded Zillow, Hotwire.com, real estate platform Pacaso, startup studio 75 & Sunny and this website, dot.LA. He's a former director of TripAdvisor and Zulily, and is a board member of the controversial data-mining company Palantir. When pressed on whether being a co-founder of dot.LA could have artificially boosted his vote count, Rascoff disagreed:
"I am just a really prolific L.A. based investor," he said. "I think we (75 & Sunny) did like 41 deals last year, of which 25 were in L.A., so that's why. I'm also an investor in many L.A. based venture funds (Crosscut, m13, Upfront, and others) so that helps me have a lot of connectivity to the L.A. tech community, which I'm sure boosts my vote count!"
Lee co-founded LegalZoom, ShoeDazzle and The Honest Company (of Jessica Alba fame), which went public in May and is now valued north of $894 million. "We have been fairly active this past year with 16 investments in total so far, and 8 of them in Los Angeles now," said Lee.
His LA-based investments include The NFT Company, guided breathing app Breathwrk and fantasy sports company Grin Gaming. Lee's exits include the infamous MoviePass (RIP), which sold to Helios and Matheson Analytics; Tapiture, which was bought by Playboy; and Stamped, which was snapped up by Yahoo, per Crunchbase.
O'Neill co-founded boutique candy brand Sugarfina. She also sat on the board of fintech company Happy Money and most recently cofounded early-stage investment fund Pure Imagination Brands in Santa Monica with her partner, Josh Resnick, who also made this list. Previously, O'Neill led marketing for Barbie at Mattel.
Resnick worked as a producer at Activision, the Santa Monica game publisher, before launching his own studio — Pandemic Studios — with backing from his former employer. Pandemic is known for developing Star Wars: Battlefront and later on was acquired by Electronic Arts with another studio in a combined $860 million deal. Resnick also cofounded Sugarfina and Pure Imagination Brands. The investor tells dot.LA that he's "done around a dozen deals so far this year with another 4 in the pipeline currently."
Of the deals he has closed in 2021 to date, he says eight were based in Los Angeles. His investment portfolio includes Culver City-based digital pharmacy Honeybee Health and virtual reality training platform Vantage Point.
Lead art by Candice Navi.
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Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to email@example.com.