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What Are LA’s Hottest Startups of 2022? See Who VCs Picked in dot.LA’s Annual Survey
05:00 AM | January 31, 2022
In Los Angeles—like the startup environment at large—venture funding and valuations skyrocketed in 2021, even as the coronavirus pandemic continued to surge and supply chain issues rattled the economy. The result was a startup ecosystem that continued to build on its momentum, with no shortage of companies raising private capital at billion-dollar-plus unicorn valuations.
In order to gauge the local startup scene and who’s leading the proverbial pack, we asked more than 30 leading L.A.-based investors for their take on the hottest firms in the region. They responded with more than two dozen venture-backed companies; three startups, in particular, rose above the rest as repeat nominees, while we've organized the rest by their amount of capital raised as of January, according to data from PitchBook. (We also asked VCs not to pick any of their own portfolio companies, and vetted the list to ensure they stuck to that rule.)
Without further ado, here are the 26 L.A. startups that VCs have their eyes on in 2022.
Whatnot was the name most often on the minds of L.A. venture investors—understandably, given its prolific fundraising year. Whatnot raised some $220 million across three separate funding rounds in 2021, on the way to a $1.5 billion valuation.
The Marina del Rey-based livestream shopping platform was founded by former GOAT product manager Logan Head and ex-Googler Grant LaFontaine. The startup made its name by providing a live auction platform for buying and selling collectables like rare Pokémon cards, and has since expanded into sports memorabilia, sneakers and apparel.
Boulevard’s backers include Santa Monica-based early-stage VC firm Bonfire Ventures, which focuses on B2B software startups. The Downtown-based company fits nicely within that thesis; Boulevard builds booking and payment software for salons and spas. The firm has worked with prominent brands such as Toni & Guy and HeyDay.
GOAT launched in 2015 as a marketplace to help sneakerheads authenticate used Air Jordans and other collectible shoes. It has since grown at a prolific rate, expanding into apparel and accessories and exceeding $2 billion in merchandise sales in 2020. The startup sealed a $195 million funding round last summer that more than doubled its valuation, to $3.7 billion.
The Best of the Rest
Nielsen competitor VideoAmp gathers data on who's watching what across streaming services, traditional TV and social apps like YouTube. The company positions itself as an alternative to so-called "legacy" systems like Nielsen, which it says are "fragmented, riddled with complexity and inaccurate." In addition to venture funding, its total funding figure includes more than $165 million in debt financing.
Seizing on the NFT craze, Mythical Games is building a platform that powers the growing realm of “play-to-earn games.” Backed by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Andreessen Horowitz, the Sherman Oaks-based startup’s partners include game publishers Abstraction, Creative Mobile and CCG Lab.
FloQast founder Michael Whitmire says he got a “no” from more than 100 investors in the process of raising a seed round. Today, the accounting software company is considered a unicorn.
Nacelle produces docuseries, books, comedy albums and podcasts. The media company’s efforts include the Netflix travel series “Down To Earth with Zac Efron.”
A platform for virtual concerts, Wave has hosted performances by artists including Justin Bieber, Tinashe and The Weeknd. The company says it has raised $66 million to date from the likes of Warner Music and Tencent.
Sherman Oaks-based Papaya looks to make it easier to pay “any” bill—from hospital bills to parking tickets—via its mobile app.
Based in Marina del Rey, LeaseLock says it’s on a mission to eliminate security deposits for apartment renters.
Emotive sells text message-focused marketing tools to ecommerce firms like underwear brand Parade and men's grooming company Beardbrand.
Based in Long Beach, Dray says its mission is to “modernize the logistics and trucking industry.” Its partners include Danish shipping company Maersk and toy maker Mattel.
Coco makes small pink robots on wheels (you may have seen them around town) that deliver food via a remote pilot. Its investors include Y Combinator and Silicon Valley Bank.
HiveWatch develops physical security software. Its investors include former Twitter executive Dick Costollo and NBA star Steph Curry’s Penny Jar Capital.
Whatnot competitor Popshop is betting that live-shopping is the future of ecommerce. The West Hollywood-based firm focuses on collectables such as trading cards and anime merchandise.
Founded by former SpaceX engineer Karan Talati, First Resonance runs a software platform for makers of electric cars and aerospace technology. Its clients include Santa Cruz-based air taxi company Joby Aviation and Alameda-based rocket company Astra.
Founded by Crowdstrike and Microsoft alums, Open Raven aims to protect user data. The cybersecurity firm’s investors include Kleiner Perkins and Upfront Ventures.
When an actor faces the camera and speaks directly to the audience, it’s known as “breaking the fourth wall.” Named after the trope, Venice-based Fourthwall offers a website builder that’s designed for content creators.
The Non Fungible Token Company creates NFTs for musicians under the name Unblocked. Its investors include Jay Z’s Marcy Venture Partners and Shawn Mendez.
Backed by Mayo Clinic Ventures, Safe Health develops telehealth software and offers tools for enterprises to launch their own health care apps.
Intro’s app lets you book video calls with experts—from celebrity stylists, to astrologists, to investors.
With the tagline “Land the package, not the plane,” DASH Systems is a Hawthorne-based shipping company that builds hardware and software for automated airdrops.
With a focus on sustainability, Ettitude is a direct-to-consumer brand that sells bedding, bathroom textiles and sleepwear.
Along similar lines as Unblocked, Afterparty creates NFTs for artists and content creators such as Clay Perry and Tropix.
Heart to Heart is an audio-focused dating app that “lets you listen to the story behind the pictures in a profile.” Precursor Ventures led the pre-seed funding round.
Frigg makes hair and beauty products that contain cannabinoids such as CBD. The Valley Village-based company raised an undisclosed seed round in August.
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11:04 AM | October 13, 2020
Minutes into filling out my absentee ballot last week, I was momentarily distracted by my dog Seamus. A moment later, I realized in horror that I was filling in the wrong bubble — accidentally voting "no" on a ballot measure that I meant to vote "yes" on.
It was only a few ink marks, but it was noticeable enough. Trying to fix my mistake, I darkly and fully filled in the correct circle and then, as if testifying to an error on a check, put my initials next to the one I wanted.
Then I worried. As a reporter who has previously covered election security for years, I went on a mini-quest trying to understand how a small mistake can have larger repercussions.
As Los Angeles County's 5.6 million registered voters all receive ballots at home for the first time, I knew my experience could not be unique. But I wondered, would my vote count? Or would my entire ballot now be discarded?
There are reasons enough to worry about mail-in-ballots counting, even without the appearance of fake ballot boxes and the unfounded rhetoric that has filled the nation's airwaves over the last months. After all, much of the information I found online told me to notify a poll worker if I made an error. Alas, no poll worker at home.
"I don't think your experience is unique, and it's exacerbated by how big L.A. is," said Eddie Perez, election administration and technology expert with the nonpartisan, nonprofit OSET Institute. "These experiences are happening across the country [as] many voters are voting by mail the first time and they don't know what to do. It's a microcosm of all of this change."
Part of the problem was that I didn't receive my sample ballot beforehand and so didn't engage in the practice round I typically do. Worse though, the instructions that came with my ballot said nothing about what to do if you accidentally make the wrong choice. The only advice is to call a phone number or go online and request a new ballot. Does that mean the whole thing won't count? But it was such a small mistake.
"That's a failing right there, the fact that they didn't include it on the instruction sheet," said Perez, who previously worked for Hart Intercivic, voting technology company, and has made thousands of ballots in his career. He noted that in Colorado, the instructions for how to correct a mistake are on the ballot instructions.
I called the phone number, but couldn't get through to a person. I then sent an email to a recommended public address asking if my ballot was "spoilt" and if I needed a new one.
Then, for hours into the night and through early the next morning I searched the vastness of the internet for an answer.
My distractingly sweet dog, Seamus.
Photo by Tami Abdollah
Someone asked about whether you could use whiteout to blot out the mistaken choice. The consensus online seemed to be "no" that the ballot could seem tampered with. One Washington Post opinion article from 2018 argued that any efforts to rectify a ballot should invalidate it entirely. Another recent article by KQED said that you should put a line or X through the wrong choice and that would be fine. Sadly, I'd already made a different mark by the proper choice. I read stray marks can also be a problem and invalidate the ballot. Are initials considered stray marks?
Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, empathized, noting that "vote by mail shifts the responsibility of getting it right from poll worker to a voter, and that's a big change. It's not insignificant" or easy, and the rules usually differ between counties.
The next morning I called the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's helpline and was connected to a worker whose garbled voice seemed to match my emotions. I presented my dilemma.
"Hmmm it doesn't say anything about that here," the worker told me. "I'll have to put you on hold."
After several more minutes of terrible hold music, she told me her connection was bad because she was working from home, and she would call me back. It didn't happen.
When I called the registrar's office back, I was told there was a 35 minute wait for a human being.
The worker who called me back told me that the specific measure I improperly filled out would not get counted, but the remainder of my votes should. I asked if my initials would present as stray marks and invalidate my ballot, and she said it shouldn't.
Over the course of those two days, I wondered if it was best to get the ballot sent in early even if one measure didn't count, or if I should just go vote early in-person.
Because Los Angeles County ballots go through an optical scanner, I wondered whether a human being would review the ballot or if any discrepancy is tossed. There is little reporting about how the county handles mail-in ballots, especially at scale. Is there a human being who reviews the process? A bipartisan team? How technically savvy is the scanner and what exactly can it differentiate?
The registrar's office never replied to repeated official calls and emails for answers to those questions.
Perez, the elections expert, told me that in his experience a mistake should not invalidate the entire ballot and that most modern digital scanning technology "should flag contests with questionable marks and present them to human reviewers" who can discern the voter's intent and make sure it's properly recorded.
Both Perez and Alexander also introduced another potential wrinkle I had not even thought about: In some states having personally identifiable information on a ballot — possibly like my initials — could invalidate the ballot because state laws could see that personal information as a violation of the secrecy of the ballot. Ack!
Perez said part of the problem with mail-in ballots is that unlike the traditional Election Day infrastructure, unless election officials make proactive efforts to provide more details, there is less knowledge about how votes are processed and counted when they are mailed in.
"It places a really big burden on the election officials [to] have resources to answer all these questions," Perez said. "How are you ensuring you have good factual information and you're passing it to all the worker bees you just hired?"
Neither Perez nor Alexander could say for sure what would happen with my initials on the ballot. Both thought it should probably be fine, but perhaps it would violate vote secrecy.
"You stumped the band," said Alexander, who added she was considering updating their own FAQ for voters.
My sadly imperfect ballot.Photo by Tami Abdollah
There are many more ways to make a mistake when mailing in your ballot, in one fashion or another. The Associated Press reported this summer that "more than 100,000 mail-in ballots were rejected by California election officials during the March presidential primary." Among those were 27,525 which didn't have a signature or didn't have a signature match the one on record. A friend of mine was one of those, and she trekked out to vote early and in-person because she couldn't recall what her on-file signature looked like.
I had no issues with my signature, it's been the same for decades, but I felt a little bereft over my supremely non high-tech problem. I continued to cull through the interwebs.
It was only much later, after searching diligently online by various keywords, that I stumbled upon a seemingly definitive answer in the latest version of California's Uniform Vote Counting Standards. It turns out, whiteout, check marks, X marks and even writing "no" or "yes" can help confirm the vote you meant to cast. It's unclear what the optical scanner can do or whether the county has a human involved in the process though. And there was, sadly, nothing about whether initialing a choice would invalidate the secrecy of my ballot or be considered an invalid "random marking."
My angst was alleviated when the decision was taken out of my hands. The registrar's office emailed me back, and without answering my question about if the ballot would have been counted, they told me a new one would arrive in five days.
The reply did open up a whole new line of unanswered questions. I mean, is the existence of a second ballot invalidating? I emailed back: "What happens to my old ballot? How do I get rid of it?"
(The first ballot is automatically suspended to issue a second one, I later learned. And you can tear it up or put it through a paper shredder.)
And still, the question remains — what if I had mailed in that ballot.
Alexander also went down the rabbit hole with me, emailing me on a Saturday morning that she "woke up annoyed by our collective inability to answer" the question. She dug around and found that a 2011 California law known as the "Doodle Law" would have likely been applied in my case. It states that rather than reject a ballot that is marked in a way to identify a voter, that election workers separate and duplicate the ballot (without the problematic identifier) like for other defective ballots, before running it through the scanner.
So there it is, my vote would have probably counted if I had mailed in my ballot. But now I'll be sending a brand new on instead. In the end, it's clear that the state and local authorities have tried and are trying their best to ensure that all mail-in ballots count regardless of very normal human mistakes (see this sidebar on how to up those chances).
But my takeaway lesson from all this is that it's probably best not to make a mistake in the first place when voting by mail, oh, and maybe put your dog in a separate room while you vote.
Hit me up if you have any other election and voting-related questions. My DMs are open on Twitter @latams You can also email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my contact on Signal, for more secure and private communications.
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Tami Abdollah was dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.
03:30 PM | October 11, 2022
Photo courtesy of Joby Aviation
Delta Airlines invested $60 million in Santa Cruz-based electric aircraft startup Joby Aviation Tuesday as the major airline begins to seriously consider using electric air taxis as a way to shuttle people to and from their airport destinations.
The deal sees Delta investing $60 million in exchange for a 2% stake and a seat on Joby’s board, but it could be worth much more.
Delta is dangling a golden carrot in front of the electric aircraft firm, and promised its investment could swell to a total $200 million if Joby hits certain “substantive milestones on the development and delivery of the service” – though it didn’t specify what those milestones would be, and Joby and Delta didn’t immediately return dot.LA’s requests for comment.
Delta plans to integrate Joby’s air taxi services into its network of services to give passengers access to short-range flights to and from city airports starting with Los Angeles and New York. Joby previously stated it plans to open air taxi travel to the public as soon as 2024, though it’s unclear if that’s exactly the same timeline Delta is targeting for its flights.
In May, Joby received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin its testing of commercial air taxi services, but currently holds only one of the three certifications it’d need to be sanctioned for widespread use (it still needs to certify its production and aircraft).
According to Joby, the Delta deal is mutually exclusive in the U.S. and U.K. for the first five years following Joby’s commercial launch. This means neither party can seek alternate deals with competitors, a sign that Delta is certainly serious about exploring the air taxi space as part of its long-term business plans. Delta CEO Ed Bastian told reporters the deal is a good one for Delta, since it will rely on Joby to be the operator and figure out the tech, while all Delta has to do is cut checks, ready the airport infrastructure and, theoretically, wait for the cash to flow in.
Joby Aviation CEO JoeBen Bevirt told The Verge Tuesday that he predicted his service could drastically reduce friction in getting to the airport, claiming that a normally 50-minute trip from Manhattan to JFK International Airport outside Queens could be shaved down to just 10 minutes with one of Joby’s air taxis. This is partly because Joby’s aircrafts are designed for electric, vertical takeoff and landing (nicknamed eVTOL), which means they don’t need a full runway.
“Delta has invested billions of dollars in airport infrastructure and has really deep and important relationships with the airports in both New York and L.A.,” Bevirt told TechCrunch.
Still, Delta isn’t the first household name to back Joby since its launch in 2009 – the company also received investments from Toyota and has a deal with Uber. Uber first invested $50 million in Joby’s Series C round in January 2020 and contributed another $75 million in December 2020. Joby also bought Uber Elevate, Uber’s floundering attempt at an air taxi service launched in 2016, which didn’t work out. Joby said it had plans to revamp it, with the goal to “integrate their respective services into each other’s apps, enabling seamless integration between ground and air travel for future customers.”
In September, as part of a similar arrangement, United Airlines announced that it invested $15 million in Brazilian startup Eve Air Mobility, and also placed an order for 200 of Eve’s electric air taxis.
As such, Joby faces stiff competition in the burgeoning air taxi industry. One such, well-funded startup in California is San Francisco-based Archer Aviation. The Joby competitor is also backed by United Airlines, which paid $1 billion to order 200 of its aircraft last year.
Like Joby, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange through a blank-check merger last August at a $4.5 billion valuation, Archer Aviation was on a similar track and went public last July. But Joby’s SPAC deal was criticized by some, including analysts at Bleecker Street Capital, a hedge fund, which argued in a lengthy report that Joby was over-inflating its ability to produce enough aircraft to hit its 2024 targets.
“Unfortunately, as much as we hate traffic, we believe Joby has severely overstated what it can do,” the report noted. “We believe Joby is publicly overstating how many planes it can produce… We believe the project will be massively delayed and miss timelines by years.”
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Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to email@example.com and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.
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