‘I Think the Truth Will Come Out’: Investor Pegasus Tech Ventures Sees Quibi’s Legal Woes as Proof of Future Success

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

‘I Think the Truth Will Come Out’: Investor Pegasus Tech Ventures Sees Quibi’s Legal Woes as Proof of Future Success
Image courtesy\u00a0of Quibi

It's been nearly a month since Quibi launched into the fog of a pandemic. Chief Executive Meg Whitman and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg both expressed early approval at the mobile streaming app's 1.7 million downloads in its first week and another million the next.

But the high-profile startup, which raised $1.75 billion before any consumer had used its product, has faced criticism. Subscriber growth has slowed, with some reports showing that Quibi has fallen from among the most downloaded apps in the U.S. to outside the top 250.


Two marketing executives left in April, reports emerged of a duplicitous user-email leak, and an ongoing patent infringement lawsuit has intensified as investment firm Eliot Management has taken a stake in the plaintiff's case.

All this before anyone has even had to pay for the service, which offered free 90-day trials to April signups and free 2-week trials to anyone who's signed up since.

With so much to sort out, dot.LA wanted to hear the perspective of a Quibi investor. Anis Uzzaman runs Pegasus Tech Ventures, a Silicon Valley firm with $1.5 billion under management. In conjunction with corporate partner Asahi Broadcasting Group, Pegasus invested $35 million into Quibi's second round of funding earlier this year, which totaled $750 million.

Uzzaman talks about his firm's decision to invest in Quibi, his reaction to Quibi's first month, and expectations about the firm's future.

dot.LA: How did Pegasus end up investing in Quibi?

Uzzaman: We liked the company from the get-go. It's a perfect blend of technology and entertainment. The co-founders definitely caught our eye. We also liked that professionally made short content was something that was missing from the domain. There are famous platforms like TikTok, Vine, Instagram, and YouTube but none of them provide professionally made content like Quibi. The domain they were trying to address was empty.

The pitch that the Quibi team made to us was that they're going to play in a new domain where there is no direct competition. And that made sense. The pitch was also that some of the greatest personalities of the entertainment industry have already committed. It is not that easy to pull together a group of people like Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Steven Spielberg and so on and get a commitment from them for an upcoming new platform, so that was really attractive from an investor point of view. The other part that was interesting was that the advertisers were piling up. I think every single first-tier advertising slot was fully sold out before even the launch.

Anis Uzzaman runs Pegasus Tech Ventures, a Silicon Valley firm with $1.5 billion under management.

What was your valuation process and how did you make your decision?

We compared Quibi with several groups of relatively similar platforms who — not directly, but indirectly — can be competition. We looked at the last 10-plus years of YouTube, and also mapped Quibi against other short-content platforms like Vine, Instagram, and TikTok. We saw how those individual platforms have grown from their launch dates to today, and we looked at the people behind those platforms, their funding and their support infrastructure.

And then looking at Quibi, we relied heavily on the track record of the founders, and the other people working for the team. Did they have the right experience? Had they done it before? Had they experienced this kind of struggle? That was our number one point. Number two was funding, which got the green light because they already had some of the biggest investors on the planet. Then it was very important for us to see whether they had enough support infrastructure to be able to procure this content for the years ahead. And they had enough partnerships in place that gave us confidence. Plus, we had seen they had sold out their advertising slate — and you can guess that's a lot of money we're talking about there. So that's why we took a big risk.

What do you think motivated the major studios to invest in Quibi?

If you look at most of the studios, they have always created content for the big screen. If you look at the trends of the world, though, all the younger generations are not watching content on the TV anymore. All the data show that people who are watching TV for hours are 65 years old while young people are increasingly watching content on their mobile device. So all the big content makers who've targeted the big screen, they're also thinking, 'How can I be viable from here on, for the next century, for the new generations?' They are looking very carefully at all the new platforms that are coming out. And when Quibi was coming out I'm sure that all of the big content makers wanted to make sure they're part of this mobile platform that is becoming the main thing, where people are spending most of their time. And advertisers are also focusing most of their money there. So it is very important for the big content makers to be a part of this.

What did you think about Quibi's decision to stick with the April 6th launch date?

It was a little bit of an unusual situation because the app was made for on-the-go consumption. It was a challenging time. But hey, any startup should be ready for such challenges. COVID-19 is going to separate out the strongest startups from the weak ones and only the strong and most effective ones will survive. So I think it is a good test for Quibi to prove that they can survive. So far they have bypassed three million downloads, which is basically what we are expecting as investors.

If you look at some of the criticism, most of the complaints were, 'Why can't we watch this great content on a bigger screen?' Everybody was pushing Quibi hard to be able to do Airplay, because everybody's at home. So the launch has also helped Quibi to understand consumer demand, in this case being able to see the content on a bigger screen as well. They already had it in the plan and the process was made urgent because of the COVID-19 situation. Otherwise maybe that demand wouldn't have come into the pipeline that fast.

If you look at major pandemics from the past, most pandemics are anywhere from 12 to 18 months long. That's pretty long. And if you look at startup cycles — that is, the average time between funding rounds — they are also 12 to 18 months long. So if Quibi had waited it out, they would have had to wait a long time. Could they have waited it out another one and a half years? I think time is money and you never know what the competition is thinking. So in some sense, did they have any other option? I would say maybe they didn't.

Jeffrey Katzenberg | Jeffrey Katzenberg speaking at the 2014… | Flickrc1.staticflickr.com

Do you think accelerating the availability on bigger screens dilutes Quibi's competitive position?

The issue with many other platforms today is that the mobile version is not good enough to be seen on a mobile device, whereas Quibi has been created for mobile. So it doesn't dilute the original purpose because the picture quality of those videos are made for mobile. It has not diluted the original value of being able to see it on-the-go. But it has given some people the option to watch it while sitting on the couch.

What's your impression of Quibi's performance so far?

The numbers could be better but I would say they are pretty much in the ballpark, considering the overall situation of the market. Maybe they are a little short of where they should be if you're talking about a fast track company, but we feel we also need to consider the overall macroeconomic situation of the market.

In terms of the growth rate, I feel that it is gradual, which is what I like, rather than a quick spike. YouTube and Netflix did the same thing. Their growth was gradual. And Disney+ is not a great comparison — it has unique characteristics. So I will not be very worried. I will wait for the new content coming out. Top titles will probably drive traffic, because it's not actually about Quibi; it is the titles that will make the difference in the life cycle of this platform.

From the investor point of view, I think everything's fine as of now and we want them to keep up the current growth rate as much as possible.

Could you describe your outlook looking forward?

I'm sure that we will see an international expansion coming down the line, and that is going to also pull up their numbers quite a bit. Most of the top executives in entertainment and high-tech outside of the U.S. are watching the situation very closely and are very interested in having it in their countries as well.

The pandemic will likely slow international expansion, though, because you need local partners to launch in a new country. And none of the partners are able to operate at 100% at this point. Until content makers can operate 100%, it will be tough for anybody to do anything big and launch in a different country in a comfortable way.

Image courtesy of Quibi

To what extent does Quibi's patent infringement lawsuit concern you as an investor?

We are watching the situation very closely. We strongly believe the accusation is not true, because we know that both of the co-founders of Quibi have very high integrity and dignity. That's why they're so successful. It looks more to me that it's a financial game for the claimants and they're trying to make a big deal out of it. And seeing that some of the hedge funds are supporting it also sounds to me like it's a financial game. I think the truth will come out. I'm sure all investors are closely watching the situation, but does it put any doubt in our mind about the Quibi team? Absolutely not.

How open was Quibi to discussing the case with you as you were considering investing?

The case was pretty open from the get-go and it has been kept in a very open state in front of us by the Quibi team. We knew about it. We knew this very openly from the get-go and we still decided to invest.

Did it raise your eyebrows when you saw Elliot Management get involved?

Not really. I feel that the financial game could also be that people are looking for a short-term settlement — it's no secret that Quibi raised a lot of money. I don't know what the hedge fund's goal is but they might have similar motivation for a short-term gain. Does it concern us? It definitely tells me that the management team has to address it properly and I'm sure they're working very hard on it. But I strongly believe that it is a false accusation. In some sense I would say it's proof that Quibi is going to dominate this domain; people are already starting to take shots at it and trying to make some financial gain from it.

What's your stance on Quibi's reported plan to spend $1 billion in year one?

There are two ways that startups can grow. One is in a kind of a stingy way, where they're counting every single dollar, and they hire only if they really need to. We've seen those models more in very heavy high-tech industries, things like quantum computing and pharma, where you need to go slow and steady.

The other way is you move fast before anybody else can come up with something similar. The media and entertainment industry does that. Quibi's setting up a platform; they're the first one of its type in the market, so I think moving fast and grabbing the market is not a bad idea. I would have done it the same way if I was the CEO of the company.

(The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity)

---

Sam Blake covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA

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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
  • AI.fashion, 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

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