Watch: Three Gaming Startups Pitch Top Gaming VCs in Our 2nd Startup Pitch Showcase

Annie Burford

Annie Burford is dot.LA's director of events. She's an event marketing pro with over ten years of experience producing innovative corporate events, activations and summits for tech startups to Fortune 500 companies. Annie has produced over 200 programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City working most recently for a China-based investment bank heading the CEC Capital Tech & Media Summit, formally the Siemer Summit.

Our second Virtual Pitch Showcase was devoted to startups in the gaming industry. Founding entrepreneurs from Artie, Squab Gaming and RCT Studio pitched to Peter Levin, managing director at Griffin Gaming Partners and Gregory Milken, managing director at March Capital Partners.


About the Companies

Artie is a platform for next-gen interactive content that is hyper-personalized, exponentially engaging, and can be shared and played instantly inside of popular apps like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch, with no app download or integration needed. Our team includes AI scientists, engineers, and interactive storytellers from Activision/Blizzard, Infinity Ward, Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Snap, Mozilla, and Facebook. Our seed investors include Scooter Braun's Raised in Space, Jeffrey Katzenberg's WndrCo, Founders Fund, Warner Music Group, Shrug Capital, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, angel investor Cyan Bannister, and top executives from Twitter, Amazon, and Square.

rct studio is a next-generation creative studio and interactive entertainment company, harnessing the latest in Artificial Intelligence to offer truly immersive VR experiences. Powered by the company's Morpheus engine, the technology instantly mines millions of data points from a vast repository of storylines and human behaviors to create realistic stories with an almost infinite amount of endings. With the ability to slash production costs and development time, whilst unleashing boundless creativity, rct is revolutionizing the way people tell and consume stories.

Squab Gaming is a marketplace for video game players to hire on-demand gaming partner in 3 clicks. Gamers can easily find their perfect teammates at anytime. Squab Gaming also provides expert players an opportunity to make money from the games they are good at. Squab Gaming essentially fills the gap in the current esports ecosystem and makes it more sustainable.

About the Judges

Gregory Milken

Gregory Milken is a Managing Director at March Capital Partners, where he focuses on investments in gaming. Gregory has led March Capital's investments in broadcasting solution Genvid Technologies, esports organization Immortals Gaming Club and game developers Nifty Games, Dorian and Knock Knock.

Prior to March, Gregory was an active angel investor for companies such as Viagogo and Small Giant Games. Gregory has over 15 years of entrepreneurial and operational experience. He was the co-founder and COO of AltEgo, a cloud-based technology and gaming company. Prior to his work in technology, he worked in strategy and operations for Knowledge Universe Education, new business development at Warner Bros. in Hong Kong and London, and at Twentieth Century Fox.

Actively involved in philanthropy, Gregory currently serves on the Board of Overseers for Penn's Graduate School of Education as well as on the boards of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation.

Gregory received his M.B.A. and M.A. in International Policy Studies from Stanford University, as well as a B.A. in Asian Studies and a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.

Peter Y. Levin

Peter serves as Managing Director at Griffin Gaming Partners, an early and late stage investment vehicle singularly focused on the video game sector.

Prior to Griffin, Levin served as President of Interactive Ventures, Games & Digital Strategy at Lionsgate.

He is the former CEO & Co-founder of Nerdist Industries, a multi-platform creator of genre and popular-culture content, as well as the former Co-President of Digital Strategy at Legendary Entertainment.

Nerdist Industries was acquired by Legendary Entertainment in July of 2012. Levin serves as Chairman of Immortals Gaming Club and serves on the Board of Directors of N3TWORK, Wizard Labs and Next Games. He also serves on the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission Board of Directors.

Previously, Levin was founder and co-owner of the 2006 World Champion Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League. He was also a minority partner in and strategic advisor to Strikeforce, a mixed martial arts promotional entity, that sold to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2011. In June 2009, Levin served as the exclusive representative of Deadline.com in its sale to PMC. Levin is the founder of Course of the Force, an annual Olympic torch-style lightsaber relay in partnership with Lucasfilm Ltd. that led up to San Diego Comic Con International and benefitted the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

He also serves on the Board of Governors at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles and co-teaches a competitive gaming course at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

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Three New LA-Based Beverage Brands, Three Different NFT Experiments

Perrin Davidson
Perrin Davidson is the publisher of⁣ LAeats, an L.A.-based food community covering the food industry, food entertainment and food tech.
Image courtesy of Bored Breakfast Club

While you can’t drink an NFT, that isn’t stopping some beverage startups from looking to capitalize on the blockchain-enabled craze.

Non-fungible tokens have gained traction in the art world, where artists and creators are using the digital assets to create closer connections with fans and collectors.

The idea of building a creative community around a product is not unfamiliar to beverage brands. After all, generations of beverage aficionados gave us the concept of the bar, the tea house and the coffee joint.

As brands increasingly take to the digital world to increase their exposure, many beverage companies are now experimenting with NFT technology to build interest around their products. Budweiser, for instance, recently signed a deal to mint collectible tokens, as have Bacardi, Fountain Hard Seltzer and the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Three new L.A.-based beverage brands–Bored Breakfast Club, Yerb and Leisure Project–are also using the blockchain to build their companies and engage with customers in different ways. Each is using NFTs to kickstart their direct-to-consumer businesses and build interest in their brands.

The goal is to use the transparency and equity inherent in blockchain technology to attract early adopters—giving them an opportunity to test ideas and products before they’re finalized—and encourage them to invest in a community built around their drinks.

Time will tell if each brand can deliver on that promise.

Bored Breakfast Club Bored Breakfast Club's NFT tokens feature the Bored Ape characters and serve as a subscription membership.

Bored Breakfast Club

One L.A.-based effort, Bored Breakfast Club, has looked to leverage the popularity of Bored Ape collectible NFTs to help jump start a new coffee subscription service.

Frogtown-based marketing agency Kley is leading the effort to use Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) intellectual property to build direct-to-consumer coffee subscription memberships that are sold as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokens themselves feature a breakfast scene that include BAYC and MAYC characters, and each functions as a coffee subscription membership.

BAYC and MAYC are considered two of the most popular and expensive NFT collections, according to OpenSea, a secondary NFT marketplace that also tracks their value. BYAC NFTs are valued at approximately 74.69 ETH ($244,041) on the platform.

Kley co-founder Brad Klemmer said the idea was to parlay the success of the Bored Apes brand into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Owners of the NFTs get four free coffee shipments and the possibility of more, if the project is a success.

Klemmer said the idea is to build a regular clientele for his coffee brand by shipping it directly to consumers, rather than relying on them to go to a coffee shop or grocery store. “You need a brand and community that puts their product on [consumers’] doorstep on a weekly basis,” he said.

Bored Breakfast Club launched the project on Jan. 10, offering 5,000 NFTs for .08 ETH (approx. $250) each, and promising token holders they would receive a 12-ounce bag of a different variety of coffee for each of four NFT sales thresholds the company surpassed. The NFTs have since sold out, meaning that the project will ship four bags of coffee to each token holder by the end of the month. The company has also created a “community coffee wallet” that could entitle token holders to still more coffee.

Bored Breakfast Club A graphic explains Bored Breakfast Club's "wallet" concept.

That’s because the “wallet“ collects funds from a 5% royalty on its NFTs that are bought and sold on the secondary market. Once it collects enough funds, the company will send additional blends to its 5,000 token holders. (Klemmer said they’re waiting to get data from their initial shipments to determine how much it will cost to ship additional bags). That communal “wallet“ will also pay to produce extra bags of coffee and Bored Breakfast Club merchandise to sell to non-NFT holders.

Klemmer said he sees the NFT offerings as a “fun way to buy coffee.” Also, there were “similarities around NFT communities engaging with each other and what the DTC subscription model is trying to be.”

Bored Breakfast Club works with Yes Plz Coffee, which sources, roasts, packages and delivers the coffee to NFT holders.

Yerb yerba mate drink

Yerb

Yerb was born out of entrepreneur Brett Fink's habit of drinking yerba mate with friends, many of them creatives who were looking for a coffee alternative. The traditional South American drink is said to provide a calmer caffeine-imbibing experience than coffee.

Like Bored Breakfast Club, Fink is hoping to use NFTs to drum up interest in his business early on. But instead of relying on the popularity of a particular NFT brand, Fink sees an opportunity to use the blockchain to heighten awareness of his own brand and, hopefully, develop buy-in for its first product.

Fink, who has past experience building and growing consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, including cannabis brands, thinks NFTs can help build a creative community around a product.

“If you believe what we believe, and want to create a product for the creative process, you can benefit from it, as there is a massive untapped opportunity in NFT and CPG projects,” Fink said. “You need to get people to believe what you believe, then have them be involved and take ownership of that product.”

Yerb’s first yerba mate drink will be bottled in 12-ounce cans but sold through NFTs that cost 0.039 ETH (approx. $77 USD). The company started offering the tokens in February of last year; each entitles the holder to six cans of Yerb’s first release, as well as an additional six-pack of cans every year that they hold the NFT. Yerb is hoping that the offer will help it identify early adopters who will buy-in to the brand as repeat customers.

Non-NFT holders will be able to purchase the drinks once token holders receive the first shipment. Yerb is targeting April 2022 for that release after hitting supply chain issues last year.

Leisure Project

Leisure Project

Venice-based Leisure Project is taking a similar approach to Yerb by targeting creatives with an emphasis on community development.

The startup, which bills itself as “the world’s first co-created beverage brand,” hopes to market a kind of natural Gatorade for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.

Leisure Project was started by former NCAA Division I athletes and brothers Steve Michaelsen, who works at Nike LA, and Alex Michaelsen, who works at TikTok marketing agency GO Ventures in Beverly Hills. The brothers, who have been bootstrapping the project themselves, have spent almost two years creating the brand’s first three flavors.

In December, the Michaelsens announced plans to experiment with minting NFTs that would provide token holders with the first run of their beverages, cheaper pricing on additional flavors and the opportunity to pitch new products. Leisure Project has been sampling its drinks at local NFT events to drum up publicity.

Down the line, the company hopes to use the blockchain to give token holders access to a yet-to-be-defined “creator database” of potential partners and grants.

Leisure Project is in its early stages, but its founders hope establishing buy-in through NFTs and social platforms like Discord will help build an authentic community for their brand, and give them a potentially vital advantage over more-established competitors. “Big brands can’t go backwards and do something community-orientated after the fact,” Steve Michaelson said.

Office Hours: JibJab CEO Paul Hanges on Creating Viral Joy

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 75 companies and is incubating several more.

Image courtesy of JibJab

Even if people don't know the brand by name, JibJab CEO Paul Hanges is happy to see the company's greeting cards resonate and its mission to make people laugh continue to thrive.

On this episode of Office Hours, Hanges talks about JibJab, a pioneer of internet comedy that has evolved into a subscription platform for exchanging ecards, as well as a studio that produces video shorts and commercials for clients including Sony, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, NBC in Disney. JibJab was acquired by Catapult Capital in 2019.

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Santa Monica EV Infrastructure Firm InCharge Sold to Swiss Tech Giant ABB

Pat Maio
Pat Maio has held various reporting and editorial management positions over the past 25 years, having specialized in business and government reporting. He has held reporting jobs with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, Dow Jones News and other newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of InCharge Energy

Santa Monica-based fleet electrification company InCharge Energy has sold a majority stake in its business to Swiss robotics giant ABB, the companies announced Thursday.

The deal gives ABB a 60% controlling interest in InCharge, which builds electric vehicle charging systems for commercial fleet operators including ride-share operators, school districts and municipalities. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The Swiss firm initially acquired a 10% stake in the startup through its Series A funding round in 2020, which ABB led alongside Macquarie Capital.

While InCharge will be folded into ABB’s e-mobility division, it will maintain its management team, including co-founders Cameron Funk and Terry O’Day, as well as its “tech neutrality,” the company said in a press release.

Founded in 2018, InCharge manages fleet electrification projects for commercial customers including truck rental company Ryder, truck and bus manufacturer Navistar and GM BrightDrop, which is developing electric-powered vans for commercial delivery firms. BrightDrop is part of GM’s larger initiative to have an all-electric lineup of vehicles by 2035; its first customer is FedEx, which placed an initial order for 500 EV600 vehicles.

InCharge currently employs around 50 people. As part of its plans to expand nationally, the Santa Monica startup has a four-year goal to hire hundreds of field technicians to support and service its charging systems across the country.

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