ExpertDojo: Investing in Startups from LA to the World

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.

Hi folks,

My name is Minh Do, and I’m helping out interviewing and writing articles about founders, investors, and builders in LA. If you want to be featured or know folks who want to be featured, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn. This week, we talked to Brian Mac Mahon from ExpertDojo. It’s a really fun interview, digging into Brian’s thinking and what ExpertDojo is up to. Keep an eye out on their newsletter for more updates coming from them soon!

🏃♀️ Quick hits

The Founder: Brian Mac Mahonis a well-traveled Irishman who has managed to find himself domiciled in Los Angeles. He is an experienced founder and investor as the self-titled head honcho of ExpertDojo.

The Company: ExpertDojo has invested in over 250 companies worldwide, mainly in pre-seed and seed. Most startups are minority and female founded technology companies but are opportunistic in terms of industry.

Tip: ExpertDojo regularly hosts events across a wide spectrum, so keep a look out. It also offers programs for young startups to get them to growth and revenue.

How did Brian Mac Mahon make it from Dublin, Ireland all the way to Los Angeles, California - building companies along the way, including one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems in ExpertDojo?

Brian comes off with a straightforward, opinionated, and spirited candor that is rare in soft-hearted California. His strong opinions hail from a lifetime of entrepreneurship that spans the globe and has observed the rise and fall of waves of companies. He’s lived in over 40 countries, including all over the United States.

It’s Brian’s perspective on Los Angeles, entrepreneurship, and innovation that are really telling about the kinds of startups he wants to see in the world and what he has an eye for, and ultimately, what kinds of startups he wants to see at ExpertDojo. When asked about what is unique about startups in Los Angeles, Brian got passionate:

“Right now, startup is moving back to its core, as it’s forced to with every recession. I think really great companies build phenomenal products based on a really good story, right? And so storyline without a good product is highly likely to fail, and a good product with a poor storyline may not fail but it's much harder to be successful. Now, a great product with a super story line, it's gonna do amazing things. And LA, without question, is the uncontested champion of the world when it comes to stories.”

And this, for Brian, is in contradiction to what we see in other tech-heavy cities.

“People go and stay in cities for different reasons and what that does is it crafts who they become and what they're able to create. People come to LA because they felt that they had the ability to be able to achieve the thing that they'd always imagined was unachievable or they had the ability to be on the screen. The stories here are glorious. They’re beautiful. They’re about human emotion. It’s very hard to do that outside of LA because VC’s outside LA are glorified accountants. And when have you heard a glorified accountant tell a good joke?”

For that reason, he thinks that LA has “the ability to be the center of entrepreneurship in America” and by contrast he thinks “the oversupply of capital in Silicon Valley is an abomination. It’s a cancer in America.”

At first, this sounds like a strong opinion, but Brian goes on to say that he isn’t “saying anything that everybody doesn’t know.” After all, we’ve seen the rise and fall of WeWork, Theranos, and more, right? The overheating of capital has led to oversubscribed hype rounds in companies that lacked a business model or failed to ultimately deliver on their promises to users while inflating their offerings to the demise of entire industries (we’re seeing that play out with the strike in the wake of the rise of streaming).

“It’s a cancer in America. But it’s not the people, okay. What's happened is: it's not that venture capital is bad. It’s what we’ve allowed to happen to it. Once you have multi-billion dollar funds, you have the ability for VCs to put a hundred million dollars in a Series A. Once that happens, terrible companies can temporarily win against great innovation. So what we've done is we have smothered all of the great entrepreneurs for 15 years. Look, anybody can raise seed, my mom can raise seed. Seed is irrelevant when the next round is a hundred million dollars. It's about A. So who’s raising A? Nobody. Only the unbelievably exceptional companies.”

This sentiment is very powerful. Seed startups are very crowded, but the real difficulty in raising is Series A, and you have to be a real legit business to raise A. This line of thinking gets precisely into Brian’s theses with ExpertDojo:

“Recessions are wonderful times. I dream of recessions like this. I mean, I have roughly 270 startups at ExpertDojo and when any one of my founders moans about a recession, I tell them to stop being a f***** idiot and just go out there and build a proper business.”

In sum, Brian’s thinking is that recessions force entrepreneurs to focus on the fundamentals of business. This is why Brian pushes his current cohort of entrepreneurs, it’s not about raising money or branding, etc. The most important factor is growth.

“The only thing founders should care about is growing. They just don't know it yet. They think what they care about is investment, but they should only care about growing, so you have to help them grow. And we can’t help them grow for only 12 weeks. It's too little time. We have to help them for at least a two-year period and preferably a four year period. So we have interaction every single week with them for years, much of it one-on-one, with a strong focus on go-to market, and the execution of sales and marketing tactics that will move the needle.”

Therefore this is a great time to build and see what the next generation of innovation will be. Part of this thinking is Brian’s interest in supporting the larger ecosystem of startups in Los Angeles and worldwide. ExpertDojo doesn’t only invest in Los Angeles, but in companies from all around the world, as long as they align with the thesis of growth.

On the back of this growth, Expert Dojo has decided to do what any good investor would do, further support those businesses with more capital to fuel continued growth. These successes have been the impetus for Expert Dojo to grow itself beyond their flagship accelerator, and are now in the process of raising a $50Million fund, part of which will be invested into the strongest of the accelerator's alumni.

Brian and his team continue to push the envelope and plant their unique VC flag in the Santa Monica soil. “At Expert Dojo we are a fund for the people and by the people. If any investor or founder wants to be involved with us, we welcome them to join as an LP or apply to be a portfolio company. After all, what good is it for a lad from Ireland to live the American Dream, if he can’t pay it forward to the future builders of this great nation.”

For those interested to learn more about Expert Dojo please contact Brandon@expertdojo.com

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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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