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Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him
A Long Beach company that has taken on SpaceX to become one of the leaders in small satellite launches is set to go public next week.
Rocket Lab will arrive on Wall Street in a deal with a blank-check company that pegs the 15-year old satellite launcher's value at $4.1 billion.
Rocket Lab first announced its plans in March to go public by merging with a blank check company Vector Acquisition Corp., backed by San Francisco-based investment firm Vector Capital. Shareholders on Friday approved the merger. The company will trade on the NASDAQ beginning Aug. 25 under the ticker symbols RKLBW and RKLB.
It couldn't come at a better time, with the market for satellite launches growing and the company mired in debt. Rocket Lab, which has raised $400 million in capital, lost $55 million alone last year, according to filings. That net loss is an increase from 2019, which saw the company lose about $30.4 million. The company declined to comment for this article.
In an investor presentation filed Aug. 18, Rocket Lab revealed just how tough it has been to sustain its reusable rocket, called Electron, and take on SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
"The Company has suffered recurring losses from operations that raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern," auditors noted.
The deal is projected to give Rocket Lab some much-needed funds, nearly $750 million in cash. Vector will contribute the majority of that money but existing Rocket Lab investors BlackRock and Neuberger Berman, which are part of the special purpose acquisition company or SPAC, will also participate.
"This is just like a supercharger – we have all the things we need now to go and do the things that we've dreamed of," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told CNBC when the company announced the plan.
Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.
Over the past four years, the company has launched 21 missions mostly with small payloads, but it wants to be able to catch up to SpaceX, which can launch up to 60 of its own satellites on the huge Falcon 9 rocket.
Rocket Lab plans to commit roughly $200 million to develop a second recyclable craft called Neutron by 2024. Neutron is medium-sized and not as roomy or costly as the Falcon 9 rocket, but it'll help Rocket Lab launch mass satellite launches and pursue human spaceflight, two of Musk's pet projects.
The merger could be a key stepping stone in Rocket Lab's development and provide it with some much-needed cash and give the company a larger foothold in the private space race and challenge SpaceX for dominance.
In its prospectus filed last month, Rocket Lab said it wants to be the go-to company for "cost-effective launch for mega-constellations and human spaceflight."
Musk is using SpaceX to launch thousands of satellites into space in an attempt to create his Starlink constellation of satellites with the goal of providing global high-speed internet. Musk is also vocal about his desire to colonize Mars and increase space tourism, but he's not alone there — Blue Origin founder and former Amazon chief Jeff Bezos day-tripped to space last month, shortly after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson.
According to Rocket Lab, it's one of the only companies besides SpaceX to provide "regular and reliable" access to orbit. Rocket Lab has contracts with NASA to send twin satellites to observe Mars and is one of several contractors working on NASA's Artemis Program, which plans to land the first woman to the moon to establish a base.
After a failed launch in May, Rocket Lab successfully sent a Space Force research satellite into orbit -- its fourth launch this year. It also inked a deal Aug. 18 to send four satellites into orbit for Scottish manufacturer Alba Orbital in the fourth quarter.
Rocket Lab operates facilities in Virginia, New Zealand and Toronto in addition to its Long Beach headquarters. The company will look to break ground on a new factory to create the Neutron in fourth quarter of this year and expects it will be operational by fourth quarter 2022. Like competitor Relativity Space, Rocket Lab uses 3D printing to make rocket parts, including engines.
This story has been updated to reflect the shareholder vote on Friday.
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Activision Blizzard intends to acquire Proletariat, a Boston-based game studio that developed the wizard-themed battle royale game “Spellbreak.”
VentureBeat first reported that the Santa Monica-based publisher was exploring a purchase, noting its ongoing mission to expand the staff working on Blizzard’s hit massively multiplayer online game “World of Warcraft,” which launched in 2004.
Proletariat’s team of roughly 100 people will be merged into Activision’s “World of Warcraft” team to work on its upcoming expansion game. Though there’s no release date as yet for the title, “World of Warcraft: Dragonflight” is expected to debut before the end of this year.
Activision did not immediately return a request for comment. Financial terms of the deal were not available.
This Proletariat deal is Activision's latest push to consolidate its family tree by folding its subsidiary companies in under the Blizzard banner. More than 15 years after it bought out New York-based game developer Vicarious Visions, Activision merged the business into its own last year, ensuring that the studio wouldn’t work on anything but Blizzard titles.
The deal could also have implications for workers at Activision who have looked to unionize. One subsidiary of Activision, Wisconsin-based Raven Software, cast a majority vote to establish its Game Workers Alliance—backed by the nationwide Communications Workers of America union—in May.
Until recently, Activision has remained largely anti-union in the face of its employees organizing—but it could soon not have much of a say in the matter once it finalizes its $69 billion sale to Microsoft, which said publicly it would maintain a “neutral approach” and wouldn’t stand in the way if more employees at Activision expressed interest in unionizing after the deal closes.
Each individual studio under the Activision umbrella would need to have a majority vote in favor of unionizing to join the GWA. Now, Proletariat’s workforce—which, somewhat ironically given its name, isn’t unionized—is another that could make such a decision leading up to the Microsoft deal’s expected closing in 2023.
Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
Snap is officially launching Snapchat Plus, a paid subscription plan on Santa Monica-based social media company’s flagship app.
Snap is now the latest media company to tack a “plus” to the end of its name—announcing Wednesday that the new service will provide users with “exclusive, experimental and pre-release features” for the price of $3.99 a month. The first features available to paying subscribers include the ability to customize the style of app’s icon, pin a “BFF” to the top of their chat history and see which users have rewatched a story, according to The Verge.
The new product arrives after Snap confirmed reports earlier this month that it was testing Snapchat Plus—though the version that it has rolled out does not incorporate the rumored feature that would allow subscribers to view a friend’s whereabouts over the previous 24 hours.
Snapchat Plus will initially be available to users in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While certain features will remain exclusive to Plus users, others will eventually be released across Snapchat’s entire user base, Snap senior vice president of product Jacob Andreou told The Verge. (Disclosure: Snap is an investor in dot.LA.)
The subscription tier introduces a new potential revenue stream for Snap, which experienced a “challenging” first quarter marked by disruptions to its core digital advertising market. However, Andreou told The Verge that the product is not expected to be a “material new revenue source” for the company. He also disputed that Snap was responding to its recent economic headwinds, noting that Snap had been exploring a paid offering since 2016.
Despite charging users, Snapchat Plus does not include the option to turn off ads. “Ads are going to be at the core of our business model for the long term,” Andreou said.Snap is not the first popular social media platform to venture into subscriptions: Both Twitter and Tumblr rolled out paid tiers last year, albeit with mixedresults.
On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Bling Capital’s Kyle Lui talks about why he moved earlier stage in his investing and how investors can best support founders.
Lui joined his friend—and first angel investor—Ben Ling as a general partner at Bling Capital, which focuses on pre-seed and seed-stage funding rounds. The desire to work in earlier funding stages alongside someone he knew well drew him away from his role as a partner at multi-billion-dollar venture firm DCM, where he was part of the team that invested in Musical.ly, now known as TikTok.
Bling primarily focuses on entrepreneurs looking to raise around $1 million to $3 million who are often early in their careers as founders. Lui said Bling evaluates companies on characteristics that go beyond whether they like the founder or feel that the market looks good. Instead, he said they take a hard look at the available company data, and quickly respond.
“And we send it back to them and say, ‘Okay, this is what's working, what's not working’,” Lui said. “And then create the playbook for them on how to find product market fit and get to like, ‘These are the milestones you actually need to hit’.”
When considering companies, Lui said Bling looks at the founder, the market, the company’s current traction and differentiation while asking the founder the questions they would expect to get at Series A and Series B funding rounds.
“One thing that I really admire about what [Ling’s] built with Bling is the consistency and the processes and playbooks— everything from the way that we evaluate deals to the way that we work with our portfolio companies,” Lui said. “Everything is kind of around playbooks and operationalizing things and also iterating to do those processes better.”
As part of its work to support founders, Bling maintains an extensive product council, which connects tech executives with the founders in Bling’s portfolio. Bling also has created numerous self-serve resources for founders so they can easily tap into the fund’s network and shared knowledge.
“We have a bunch of playbooks that we introduce to companies around how to hire efficiently, how to negotiate with counterparties, how to think about the founding team, business development…We just have these different things that we start to train our entrepreneurs on,” Lui said.
dot.LA Editorial Intern Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.