Why This Monk-Turned-Entrepreneur Is Betting His NFT Lounge Can Survive the FTX Fallout

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Why This Monk-Turned-Entrepreneur Is Betting His NFT Lounge Can Survive the FTX Fallout
Photo: Rafi Lounge

Set in the foothills of Eastern Malibu across the street from Robert de Niro’s Nobu, the Rafi Lounge, a NFT-powered wellness center and coworking space, somehow looks like both a beachfront country club and a swank monastery. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island across the ocean. The sign above the entrance says, “Welcome, please allow us to reintroduce you to yourself.”


Pushing through the braided rope entryway and passing a tranquil stone Buddha head waterfall, I arrived just after a yoga class former playboy model-turned “Dancing With the Stars” host Brooke Burke finished. The central open space that usually houses yoga mats or stationary bikes has been cleared off, and the giant projection screen behind the small stage is playing a tranquil plant video – an hour earlier, a larger-than-life Burke was on it helping clients “booty burn.”

The building – which used to belong to a venture capital firm – has been totally transformed to look like nature’s reclaimed it, dotted with lemon trees and cloaked in ornamental faux grass carpeting. Buddha statues are in every corner, some larger than five feet. On the way to one yoga room, there’s a small shop selling pricey essential oils, Rafi Lounge merch, and CBD gummies. On the wall of the shop hang three breathtakingly detailed portraits of indigenous peoples made by the founder with charcoal. There’s some construction ongoing, as they’re converting former corner offices into hot yoga saunas and a spa.

On the day of my visit, the place is bustling with staff who are lugging boxes of Himalayan salt panels to install in the hot yoga room. Israeli-born Kung-Fu master and former monk Rafi Anteby, the founder of the eponymously named space, tells me that after our chat he plans to paint them all black to match the walls. No detail is too small to notice, something evident in his Mandala work.

Rafi Lounge founder, Rafi Anteby, pictured here with his Mandala and sand collections. Photo: Rafi Lounge

The Rafi Lounge opened last year on November 10—the day before crypto exchange FTX went bankrupt. “Everyone said Rafi, go into a shutdown, don’t do it,” Anteby said. “I said I can't, because I pre-sold to members and I promised them [the launch is] what will happen.”

Still, Anteby felt he couldn’t renege on his promise to open the lounge to those who did buy in, so he forged ahead. So, what do NFTs have to do with a wellness center?

Each, according to Anteby, corresponds to a level of access. The least expensive, Unity, is the lowest tier and gives holders access to virtual classes. The second tier, Mindful, encompasses physical and virtual access to the Lounge. And the highest tier selling for $5,500, Awakened, are the ones Rafi is selling individually that act as an all-access pass to the Lounge and its benefits and events (including, Anteby said, “spiritual yacht parties”). Both Mindful and Awakened NFTs are lifetime memberships to Rafi Lounge, and include free access to annual retreats it hosts.

But facing the changing seasons of the crypto market and unwilling to sacrifice his brand by letting the Rafi Lounge tokens be resold to oblivion on public markets, Anteby took the drastic step to control his NFT inventory – buying up the remainder a mere day after the minting.

Anteby admitted he “lost a quarter of a million dollars” between creating and buying the NFTs back. But he said it was worth it: “I'm going to take each because I want to control who's coming to my lounge. I want to know that they will be my advocates as well.”

A view of the Rafi Lounge in the afternoon, before a yoga class. Photo: Rafi Lounge

Currently, there are 100 members, 55 of which are lifetime NFT holders. The 6,000 square-foot rooftop lounge is also open to the public. Which is to say, anyone can buy a 10-day pass for $250, pay the $40 fee for individual classes or come to public events. One of those people is Amie Yaniak who was diagnosed with stage four cancer last May that has since metastasized into her bones.

“I’ve never been anywhere like this. This was the first class I’ve done since the cancer, and it was just so cleansing,” Yaniak says. While she’s not a member, Yaniak told me she was interested in returning for more classes.

In addition to people like Yaniak, Anteby is also curating a more select crowd of well-to-do celebrities that can act as brand ambassadors for the lounge. He said he wants it to be a sort of more laid-back SoHo house, where top minds converge on the Pacific Ocean to make deals and network. Some of the names dropped during my tour of the property included Jamie Foxx (who Anteby calls a good friend), Chris Noth, Gladys Knight, and Equinox co-founder Lavinia Errico, whom I actually briefly met, since she’s a member of the Lounge’s advisory board.

The lounge's entryway and check-in. Photo: Samson Amore

As Tame Impala wafts from the lounge’s speakers, Anteby tells me stories of getting Taoist monks drunk at karaoke bars and studying medical qigong and tai chi in China. Anteby hung the intricate mandalas on the walls of a yoga room and he says they take around two years to complete as he carefully places individual grains of sand and uses tree sap to preserve their form. The mandalas are meant to be a contemplation of man’s relationship with nature, which is partly why Anteby designed the NFT versions of them to resemble a sort of elemental fusion that combines water, fire and earth.

Owning an NFT also corresponds to owning a fraction of the Malibu Mandala Rafi made that hangs in the lounge.

Anteby, right, speaks with a partner at his lounge in Malibu.Photo: Samson Amore

While Anteby admits the launch hasn’t netted him any profits yet and said he’s out around $1 million launching the place, he’s determined to turn the Rafi Lounge into a franchise and has plans to open future locations in other cities big into tech and wellness like Miami, Scottsdale, Ariz., Newport Beach, and Austin.

Besides the obvious cases like Yaniak’s, Anteby said he thinks the larger tech community needs a breather. “They all have digital burnout,” he said. “It's more than just me helping you to breathe. You need to take care of yourself, and here people do that all the time.”

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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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