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On this episode of Behind Her Empire podcast, hear from serial entrepreneur and investor Prerna Gupta. After being at the helm of many successful startups, Gupta is now the CEO and founder of Hooked, an app that is redefining fiction for the Snapchat generation. Hooked has over 100 million viewers across social media, a short form video streaming app called Hooked TV, and has received funding from Ashton Kutcher, Mariah Carey, LeBron James and Jamie Foxx, to name a few.
- Gupta grew up in the small town of Shawnee, Oklahoma, where she was acutely aware of her differences; she was a dark-skinned Indian girl with immigrant parents. Eventually, she embraced her differences as her strengths. Having a different vision is what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
- Inspired by Facebook, her first entrepreneurial venture was to start a social media networking site in India called Yaari. Eventually, Facebook entered India, and Yaari closed.
- Then, with her husband, Parag Chordia, Gupta started the company Khush, which developed apps including the successful LaDiDa and Songify.
- Khush was acquired by Smule in 2011, which left Gupta and her husband wealthy executives living in a tony part of the Bay Area. But Gupta and her husband were left unsatisfied as they got their joy and creativity from building companies. So, they quit and moved to Costa Rica to figure out their next step.
- Gupta was inspired by the book "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries. Its basic premise is to build the simplest, most viable product and iterate on it with user data. This is the process she used for Hooked, her latest startup.
"I strongly encourage anybody...to just explore different options and to not get sucked into this idea that the only way to do something successful is to go raise money from some prestigious Sandhill Road VCs, because those voices are looking for something very specific and a lot of times money comes with expectations and it can actually oftentimes be detrimental...." -- Prerna Gupta
Prerna Gupta is the CEO of Telepathic Inc., which developed the smartphone app Hooked. She cofounded several startups focused on music, dating and short-stories.
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- CrimeDoor, an immersive augmented reality app launched last week, is straddling the space between mystery entertainment and crowdsourced crime solving.
- The app was conceived by Neil Mandt, a longtime film and TV producer-turned-tech entrepreneur. A true crime enthusiast himself, Mandt said he saw an opportunity to merge the popular genre with immersive reality.
- The AR environments are constructed based on real crime scene photos, police reports and eyewitness accounts.
A new augmented reality app launched this week allows anybody to feel what it's like to explore a murder site as it appeared right after the crime occurred. They may even be able to help crack an unsolved crime.
The app opens onto a map that shows users historic crime scenes in their area, using GPS data. Each crime comes with a case file that includes a list of articles, documents, photos, audio clips and videos curated by crime journalists and researchers that is meant to provide an organized synopsis of "the 5 w's and h."
CrimeDoor was conceived by Neil Mandt, a longtime film and TV producer-turned-tech entrepreneur. A true crime enthusiast, Mandt said he saw an opportunity to merge the popular genre with immersive reality, an industry he's been increasingly involved in over the last few years and which he believes is "on the verge" of explosive growth.
The AR environments are constructed based on real crime scene photos, police reports and eyewitness accounts using CrimeDoor's patent-pending technology and Unity, a gaming engine.
Users can explore the crime scene using their mobile devices at the real, physical location when feasible, or with a joystick navigator from their own home. They'll see the scene as it was reconstructed, and can "pick up" evidence and enlarge it on their screens for closer inspection.
At launch, the app will contain about 500 cases and dozens of virtual doorways, Mandt said. Cases are free, but the app charges $1.99 to enter a door, or a monthly fee of $4.99.
Some of the cases are famous, such as the murder of OJ Simpson's former wife Nicole Brown Simpson or the shooting of John Lennon. But, Mandt said, most will not be as familiar.
One such case is that of Rebecca Zahau, a woman whose 2011 death in Coronado, California was ruled a suicide. The family contested the cause of death and filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Zahau's family has provided CrimeDoor with materials such as court documents and autopsy photos. A perpetrator was charged in a civil trial – not a criminal one – and Mandt said the family wants to bring the case back to light and give the public a chance "to look at it."
Mandt also noted he has heard great feedback from both user test groups and law enforcement agencies.
"The average detective has one hour on a crime scene and later a couple of photos and a matchstick and a hairy sock," Mandt said. "We have shown this to the FBI and law enforcement departments and without exception everyone compared it to DNA. The way DNA changed the game, this will do the same."
According to a company representative, a retired criminal investigator who helped to solve the infamous Golden State Killer case called CrimeDoor "a game changer for cold cases around the world."
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who has studied and written about the intersection of AR/VR and law, told dot.LA that CrimeDoor should be wary of potential issues such as libel or needlessly upsetting a victim's family members. He emphasized, however, that such concerns are no different than those faced by any true crime storyteller, regardless of the medium.
"Generally, there are no legal or ethical problems raised by an AR or VR app as opposed to a documentary or a book," he said.
Mandt, who is self-financing the app, sees partnerships with media companies as a big opportunity for future growth. He said an organization with legacy crime footage, such as "60 Minutes," could partner with CrimeDoor to build out the AR crime portal, re-air the legacy footage on television, then direct viewers to the app and share a cut of the income.
"I'm interested in where the social web goes and how other AR leaders come to us and say here's how we can collaborate," he said. "The tech community, I'm excited to see what kind of creative things they can do with this. And Hollywood – producers will look at this and come to us."
Mandt also hinted at potential expansion by augmenting the user experience with sounds and technology that stimulates a user's sense of touch. He's also considering adding a marketplace to sell merchandise and implementing a credit-earning system to allow for add-on experiences, such as a ride-along in the OJ white Bronco highway chase.
Down the line, CrimeDoor may incorporate advertising, Mandt said. The app may also eventually incorporate premium content, such as access to movies, shows and books related to a given case.
Sam Blake primarily covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA
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UNest, a mobile app that helps parents build college nest eggs for their kids, announced Wednesday it has acquired Littlefund, a similar app that will double UNest's user base to over 60,000 people. The integration will also make it so extended family members and friends can contribute directly to a UNest account on behalf of a child.
"Both are applying a modern, technology-driven approach to making financial solutions more affordable, accessible and user-friendly for a new generation of parents," said Ksenia Yudina, chief executive officer and founder of UNest, in a written statement. "Our teams share the same values and there is a lot of synergy in terms of vision and demographics."
Yudina, who was previously a senior executive at Capital Group, said she got the idea for UNest after seeing that her millennial friends having babies did not know how to invest in college savings plans and were put off by the stacks of paperwork that traditionally have been required.
UNest makes the investing simpler. It charges users a $3 monthly advisory fee for the service that funnels cash into 529 plans, an investment tool that provides tax breaks for college savings. It also offers trust accounts for minors.
The deal comes after UNest closed an oversubscribed $9 million Series A financing in June at a $25 million, post money valuation, according to Pitchbook data. The round was led by Anthos Capital, which also made an introduction to NBA All-Star Baron Davis, who ended up becoming an investor in the company and a brand representative.
UNest, which is headquartered in North Hollywood, launched in February and says it has seen "rapid growth" in users during the pandemic as the savings rate increased and families focused on long-term savings goals.
Following the completion of the acquisition, Littlefund founders Mimi Chan and Isaac Dressman will join UNest as head of experience and head of research and development, respectively. They are currently based in San Francisco but are planning to relocate to L.A. when employees can go back into the office.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
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