A TikTok Mansion for Startup Founders. Launch House Isn’t What it Looks Like.

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

Launch  House
Photo by Eray Alan

Kristen Anderson was four-and-a-half months pregnant when she got a private message on Twitter about a new self-proclaimed "creator house for entrepreneurs" in Los Angeles.

"We've rented out a $35 million mansion in Beverly Hills and have brought in some amazing founders to live together," the message read.

Anderson is no stranger to the world of venture capital and startup accelerators. She landed $8.1 million in funding for her company after finishing Y Combinator, a program that helped launch big names like Instacart and Airbnb.


But after a year of lockdown and stay-at-home orders, the job got lonely. So in February, just two weeks after learning about it, she booked a flight from Boston to Los Angeles to join Launch House, a live-in accelerator where mostly twentysomethings build their dream tech companies while chronicling it all for TikTok and Instagram.

And they're doing it from a 12,000 square-foot property they say was last rented by Paris Hilton.

In the living room, a whiteboard calendar lists upcoming events like "How to think about the future" and "hackathon presentations." One night, Anderson and her co-founder ordered pizza for the house in exchange for a brainstorm session.

"We just want to be with really smart, talented young people who are building amazing things," she said. "That helps us maintain energy."

The idea came from former Airbnb and Uber product manager Michael Houck, Google alum Brett Goldstein and Commsor co-founder Jacob Peters. The trio sees traditional startup incubators as a relic of the past.

Their goal is to recreate the basements and dorm rooms where the minds behind Google, Amazon and Apple began their empires. Only in their version, it's in a palatial setting replete with a waterfall and hot tub overlooking Los Angeles.

"Universities are no longer going to be the aggregators of great talent," said Peters, who's started to invest his own money — he won't say how much — in Launch House residents. "It's going to be small, niche communities that start in houses."

Perched on a hill in the 90210 zip code, the house reads part co-working space, part dorm-room with the pace of a reality show. Competition to get in is fierce. To secure a spot, applicants fill out an online questionnaire. For those who make the cut, an interview with the founders comes next.

Everyone pays rent, but they call it "membership."

"It's kind of syntax but it matters," Goldstein said. "This is a club and a community, and the physical living experience is just a small component."

Launch HouseCommsor co-founder Jacob Peters, Airbnb and Uber product manager Michael Houck and Google alum Brett Goldstein.Photo by Eray Alan

The vision captures a very specific — and opportune — moment in L.A. The sway of TikTok celebrities and influencers has crashed into VC money. It's at this meeting point where socially-native entrepreneurs hope to make a name for themselves and their nascent companies.

Just take 21-year-old Marc Baghadjian, a senior at Babson College who wakes up for 5 a.m. Zoom classes some mornings before working on his startup late into the night. Earlier this month — right before moving in — Baghadjian landed $1.1 million for his TikTok-style dating app, Lolly. Baghadjian has used the house as a networking opportunity and it helped him land more investors. Recently he secured another $2.5 million in new commitments and his company's valuation tripled.

Influencers drop by almost every other day, Baghadjian said. In February, Lolly posted an ad on TikTok featuring 19-year-old Milo Manheim, a Disney Channel actor and "Dancing with the Stars" competitor.

(Jacobs said the house maintains a "very strict policy" when it comes to visitors and socializing. Guests are required to test negative for COVID-19 at the door, using self-administered rapid tests.)

But unlike veteran accelerators like Y Combinator, Launch House doesn't promise entrepreneurs any investment. The draw is something else — schmoozing, advice and social media exposure.

As the line between advertisement and content creation blurs, it's changing the way companies find both investors and consumers.

"What on Instagram is marketing and what is entertainment?" said Olav Sorenson, a professor specializing in entrepreneurship at UCLA's business school.

"People are no longer thinking about buying ad space as the way to market a product. They're thinking about how we generate word of mouth through connecting to influencers."

L.A. is "on the forefront of this," said Sorenson. "Entertainment itself is often very entrepreneurial."

'Let's Pretend This Is a TikTok Creator House'

Photo by Eray Alan

At almost all hours of the day, entrepreneurs at Launch House work from slender white desks and office chairs scattered across the living room, decorated with sparkly art they say Hilton left behind. Others choose to work outside, on lounge chairs lining the pool.

"I spend a lot of time in the laundry room," said Kathryn Cross, a 22-year-old from Manhattan Beach. "That's a pretty big room and you can lock the door. I'll take calls from my car or in the garage."

Cross is a model, runs a Gen Z consultancy firm called Bridge Strategy and streams herself playing chess on Twitch for extra cash. She was worried about the lack of privacy before moving in, but said space and noise aren't issues. Even weekends are work days.

"At 2 a.m. on a Saturday, there will be someone sitting in a corner coding," she said.

And Cross doesn't want to leave. While Launch House was designed to bring on a new cohort of founders every month, many stay longer.

The concept for a live-in accelerator was born last summer, when some tech companies closed their offices and even dropped pricey leases. Fashioning themselves as "digital nomads," young entrepreneurs across the country took off for remote work spots. Their offices could suddenly be anywhere.

@launch_house

Reply to @alyssaasf - were a creator house for #startups #tech #fyp

Houck picked Tulum, Mexico. He already knew Goldstein and Jacobs through On Deck, a fellowship program for entrepreneurs cooking up new startup ideas, and asked them to tag along.

"On the way down, we got this cheeky idea," Goldstein said. "Let's pretend this is TikTok creator house."

The first version of Launch House was born there, in an AirBnb villa blocks from the beach, as a "co-living, co-working experiment," Peters said. It was set up like an upscale college campus for about 18 entrepreneurs to build software and apps. A big facet of that experiment was documenting it online.

"We made a website, an Instagram page and a TikTok," said Peters. "Our social accounts got immediate buzz. No one had ever really lifted that veil of mystique that often surrounds early-stage startup founders."

But, as Goldstein put it, the infrastructure in Mexico was "not there for us to give the right experience."

COVID-19 cases were still soaring last fall. There was a small outbreak at the house. Then, in October, Tulum was issued a warning when Hurricane Delta ripped through the Gulf of Mexico and into Louisiana.

"There were leaks in our place," he said. "The grocery store was closed because there was a hurricane. It was just kind of hot. We couldn't Instacart orders."

Joining LA's Influencer Buzz

The three relocated to L.A., a city clad with venture capitalists they already knew. And inside other extravagant houses across the city, young content creators were churning out TikToks and Instagram posts, signing deals with big name companies for advertisements.

"Paris Hilton moved out literally a week before we moved in," Peters said. "We turned a celebrity mansion into a hacker house," said Peters.

Hilton's PR agency did not respond to questions about whether she rented the house prior, but a few TikTok posts look to be filmed inside. Launch House has no ties to M13 Ventures, the firm founded by Hilton's fiancé, Carter Reum, according to M13 partner Christine Choi.

If the common areas resemble a glamorous WeWork, the seven bedrooms read more like dorms. Grey metal bunk beds, piles of laundry, books written by successful entrepreneurs.

Those are parts rarely seen on Launch House's social media accounts.

The goofy yet focused atmosphere inside the house — along with the success of those living there — are what the public sees.

Faraaz Nishtar, a software engineer, ended his lease in San Francisco to join Launch House. It's there he met Brendon Davis, a 23-year-old stunt YouTuber who films videos with members of Sway House, a buzzy TikTok house in Bel Air home to a group of young influencers. At least once a week, Davis drives to Launch House to brainstorm with Nishtar on pitching his app to content creators.

His startup, Alias, archives a user's digital footprint, which Nishtar hopes will become a "global directory" of online content. He scored half a million from investors like Balaji S. Srinivasan, a former general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and later attracted a few new angel investors when he moved in. Peters included.

"Last night, we stayed up talking from midnight until 2 a.m. about the future of media," Nishtar said. "In college, people are dicking around and lounging. There's not much of that happening here."

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

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.

Read moreShow less

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.

Read moreShow less

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!

RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending