Sandbox Studios’ Jackie Fast on the New Ways Celebrities Are Partnering With Startups

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Sandbox Studios’ Jackie Fast on the New Ways Celebrities Are Partnering With Startups

Jackie Fast doesn’t think celebrities make good entrepreneurs. Instead, they make great assets for young companies.

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, the Sandbox Studios managing partner discusses why many celebrities are exploring startups. Sandbox is a $30 million seed-stage fund that invests in brands that are being built by celebrities.

“The motivation for me is absolutely everything,” Fast said. “Why is this person doing this? Often—I mean, 100 times out of 100—it's not because they care. They want to make more money.”

Fast started her consultancy, Slingshot Sponsorships, at 24, after she was passed over for a role at the organization at which she was working.

“I was very qualified for the role. Even to this day, I still am annoyed about it. I applied and the CEO just said, ‘You're too young. You need more experience’.” She quit soon afterward and by 26, Fast signed Prince as her second client—without realizing that the iconic musician was notoriously uninterested in sponsorships.

“Prince was one of my first clients and—I didn't know this at the time—but the reason we got Prince was because nobody wanted to work with him to do commercial stuff. Because he didn't care. He's all about the music.”

Fast helped launch his album “20Ten” through Spotify and the DailyMail. It was the first time an album had launched on the growing music platform, and the move helped Prince quickly climb the charts.

“That just catapulted me into the music scene,” Fast said.

She took on clients including The Rolling Stones, Duran Duran and One Direction.

“My whole ethos was that social media and digital technology was changing and shaping the way that consumers and fans could engage with the things that they loved,” Fast said.

Slingshot prepared Fast to evaluate celebrity-backed companies and consider how their audiences can help a product thrive.

“A brand fundamentally is trying to ship product. So there are certain times when consumers are more receptive to information. And a lot of that is when they are enjoying themselves, they're having fun, they're in a calm place,” she said. “So any of those kind-of core emotional, humanistic things that connect people with other people—if a brand can insert themselves in the middle of that—that's where the recall comes from. That's where you start associating your own individuality with a brand.”

Celebrities began eyeing equity deals more seriously after George Clooney sold his tequila company, Casamigos, for $1 billion in 2017. Instead of promoting the brand for cash as most celebrities do, Clooney—one of its founders—opted for equity. When the brand eventually sold, he did well.

“When George basically did nothing and made a billion dollars, everybody was like, ‘Oh my goodness, we should be doing this. Why are we taking fees?,” Fast said.

The problem, she added, is that most talent agents make their money through commission and wouldn’t benefit from equity deals. Many of them ignored celebrities’ requests, leading frustrated talent to reach out to startups on their own—sometimes even using DMs to initiate contact. Often the resulting deals were not good ones, Fast said. Large talent agencies including CAA and WME have since set up venture arms for their clients.

Sandbox’s portfolio includes Kylie Cosmetics, Fabletics and Aviation Gin. The fund also invested in the animation studio Invisible Universe, alongside partners including Reddit co-founder and investor Alexis Ohanian. Invisible Universe partners with celebrities to create animated characters and build their following on social media. Once they gain traction, they can become the basis for books, shows, podcasts and other creative ventures.

“With these small animation companies, they can turn around ideas in a day and a half,” Fast said. “They create short form content that goes on Instagram Stories, TikTok [and] Reels, and they build momentum and following through lots of short-form content.”

While Fast invests in products built by celebrities, she said she views them less as entrepreneurs and more as a way for companies to gain instant brand recognition.

“I'm investing in a route-to-market and an asset that most companies don't have access to,” she said. “I don't look at the celebrity as like a person or a founder. I look at the celebrity as the marketing arm or the marketing special dust that you can add to a product.”

dot.LA editorial intern
Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

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.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

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.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.