LA Tech Updates: Apple Podcast Vet Joins QCODE, Amazon Reportedly in Talks to Buy Wondery, Pharrell's New Black Ambition Incubator

LA Tech Updates: Apple Podcast Vet Joins QCODE, Amazon Reportedly in Talks to Buy Wondery, Pharrell's New Black Ambition Incubator

Here are the latest updates on news affecting Los Angeles' startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for more.

Today:

  • Apple Podcast Veteran Steve Wilson Joins Startup QCODE
  • Amazon in Exclusive Talks to Buy Podcast Studio Wondery, Wall Street Journal Reports
  • Pharrell Launches Black Ambition Incubator

      Apple Podcast Veteran Joins Startup QCODE

      qcodewww.sonos.com

      QCODE, a Los Angeles podcast startup run by a former Creative Artists Agency talent agent, snagged longtime Apple podcast executive Steve Wilson. The 15-year veteran will become QCODE's chief strategy officer.

      QCODE, which last month raised $6.4 million in a Series A round led by Sono, is positioning itself as a funnel for Hollywood.

      Founded by Rob Herting, a former agent who had represented largely writers and filmmakers, the company has produced eight shows since 2019. Several have been auctioned for film and television, including "Dirty Diana." Amazon picked up the 6-part erotic drama for a TV series.

      Wilson, who most recently ran marketing for Apple Podcasts, brings insights from the behemoth platform as the industry sees revenues soar. Advertising brought in near $1 billion this year, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau's podcast report prepared by PwC.

      Amazon Reportedly in Exclusive Talks to Buy Wondery

      Hernan LopezHernan Lopez started Wondery with the belief that in-depth, narrative audio stories were poised to bloom.

      Amazon is in "exclusive talks" to buy podcast company Wondery and subsume its 30 hit shows and over 8 million monthly listeners into its empire, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

      The talks reportedly value Wondery above $300 million, in line with previous estimates from analysts, when Apple and Sony were said to have expressed interest.

      Wondery has produced dozens of original series including "Dr. Death" and "Business Wars," and has 19 shows currently in development to become television series.

      The company does not publicly disclose its financials, but chief executive Hernan Lopez has previously said the company is profitable. About three-quarters of Wondery's revenue comes from advertising, but Lopez has said the company's revenue share from content licensing is growing (Wondery owns the intellectual property for all of its originals). It also launched a subscription service, Wondery Plus, in June and is currently looking to expand its international footprint.

      Wondery, the West Hollywood-based company with the largest audience of any independent podcast producer, has been the subject of swirling rumors that several suitors are interested in acquiring it.

      After a pandemic-induced decline that struck much of the podcasting industry, Wondery's audience has surpassed its pre-COVID levels. Its Q3 revenue was about double year-on-year and its Q4 performance has been strong, Lopez previously told dot.LA.

      Podcasting overall now attracts over 100 million monthly listeners, according to Edison Research. The Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcasting revenues to exceed $1 billion by 2021.

      That growth has spurred somewhat of an arms race, most evident in Spotify's spending spree, which also has helped that company diversify from its reliance on streaming. Amazon Music is one of Spotify's biggest competitors along with Apple Music, and recently expanded into podcasts as well.

      Acquiring Wondery would give Amazon more content to slide into Amazon Music, a scaled-down version of which is free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Combining that content with its Alexa smart speaker also could empower the company to capture more eyes and ears in the increasingly competitive attention economy.

      The talks are reportedly ongoing and no deal has been confirmed.

      Pharrell Launches Black Ambition Incubator

      Pharrell WilliamsPharrell Williams Launches Black Ambition Incubator

      Rapper and producer Pharrell Williams released "Entrepreneur" with Jay-Z earlier this summer, a song that became an anthem for Black ambition. Now, Williams is launching an incubator to put money behind his message.

      Called Black Ambition, the nonprofit aims to invest in Black and Latino startup founders, and it's beginning by creating two prize competitions set to close in July 2021. The effort backed by Adidas, Chanel and philanthropic organizations including The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Silicon Valley startup investor Ron Conway and Buzzfeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti also contributed.


      The first competition will award up to $250,000 to current students or recent alumni from a historically Black college developing or in the seed stage of a company. Smaller prizes will be awarded to at least nine additional teams.

      The second competition, called the Black Ambition Prize, will give $1 million in seed money to an early-stage company focused on tech, design, healthcare or consumer products and services. Another nine teams will get smaller prizes. Finalists will be connected with and mentored by a network venture capitalists and angel investors.

      "Because we don't have enough of the market share, our kids end up having issues with disproportionate access to healthcare, disproportionate access to education and as a culture, we have disproportionate access as it pertains to legislation and representation," Williams said in a video announcing the news.

      Williams was inspired to pool talent from historically Black colleges and universities and build a new pipeline of investment and resources to young people.

      "We want to lift our HBCUs. They lift so many of us. They deserve to be in lights," Williams said. "We think it's high time that we own more companies.

      In August, Williams published a piece in Time Magazine that accompanied a cover spread on "The New American Revolution." It coincided with his release of "Entrepreneur," the song and music video he produced with Jay-Z as a tribute to Black founders across the nation.

      "Recent events and tragedies have illustrated the always existent stark divisions in the American experience, and while entrepreneurship has long been a tenet of the American dream, marginalized people have faced long-standing barriers to success," Williams said in a statement.


      🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
      Image Source: Joby Aviation

      🔦 Spotlight

      Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

      For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

      Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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      Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
      Image Source: Discover LA

      In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

      Pickleball

      Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

      Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

      Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


      Escape Room

      Image Source: The Escape Game

      Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

      Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


      Day Trip to Catalina Island

      Image Source: Love Catalina

      Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

      Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


      Top Golf

      Image Source: Topgolf

      Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

      Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


      SoFi Stadium Tour

      Image Source: Discover LA

      A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

      Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


      Corporate Volunteering

      Image Source: L.A. Works

      Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

      Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


      Corporate Improv Sessions

      Image Source: Improv for the People

      A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

      Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

      🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
      Image Source: Paramount

      Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

      🔦 Spotlight

      Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

      Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

      The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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