There is a common credo in tech that one should work 20 years as an operator before switching over to the VC side. The young investors you are about to meet flip that assumption on its head as they bet big on everything from livestream shopping to online therapy services.
We asked the region's top VCs in our dot.LA sentiment survey to identify the top investors under 30. Their picks include former investment bankers, consultants and entrepreneurs. Some of the investors are native to Los Angeles while others hail from the Midwest and abroad. All have a vision of Los Angeles as a center of tech.
Among the top talent was Abha Nath, a 25 year-old investor at Wonder Ventures, who invested early in WhatNot, a social ecommerce company that aims to change the way users shop through live video. She's a big believer in the L.A. tech scene.
"This market is well-positioned for success because of its diversity in industry and diversity in thought – something that is demonstrated by the composition of L.A.'s population," said Nath.
Eric Pakravan, a 29 year-old investor at TenOneTen, first got acquainted with L.A.'s tech scene working at the mobile game unicorn Scopely. He has his eye on industries traditionally "underserved by tech, namely hospitality, wholesale and logistics."
Almost all the investors said they're not just looking for the right idea, but for the right founder.
"I hope to increase early stage funding access to startups founded by BIPOC in Los Angeles," said Jawhara Tariq, 28, an investor at M13. (Black, Latino and Latina founders have received just 2.6% of all venture capital funding in 2020, according to a Crunchbase report.)
Below are the top ranked investors, ordered by the number of mentions they received from the VCs we spoke to:
Abha Nath, Wonder Ventures
Abha Nath is a 25-year-old investor at Wonder Ventures, rounding out seed firm's nimble two person team. She started her career in the Disney Accelerator Program, investing in later-stage companies, including Epic Games, Kahoot!, Brit+Co, and Hoodline. "I largely attribute my break to great timing and luck," she said. She met Dustin Rosen, managing partner of Wonder Ventures, several years ago and the two kept in touch before she joined in 2018. Nath says she is most excited about Whatnot, a social commerce company that is changing the way users shop through live video.
Eric Pakravan, TenOneTen
Eric Pakravan is a 29-year-old investor at the software focused TenOneTen. His experience working at Scopely during its early days piqued his curiosity about what made successful seed companies."That experience opened my eyes to the emerging tech scene that was beginning to take shape in LA.," he said. "I very quickly knew that I wanted to be a part of it. And the greatest perk was that it meant I could build a career in tech, and do it in L.A." The experience also inspired him to start LavaLab, a student-led incubator at USC. The LA-native, joined TenOneTen Ventures last year. He invests in sectors he considers have mostly been underserved by tech – namely hospitality, wholesale, and logistics. His investments include Selfbook, a booking experience for hotels, as well as Candid Wholesale and Optimal Dynamics.
Adriana Saman, Clocktower Technology
Adriana Saman is a 28-year-old investor at Clocktower Technology Ventures, which focuses on early Fintech startups. Saman started her career as an Investment Banker at JP Morgan. Originally from Ecuador, she is focused on increasing global access to financial services through fintech and other instruments. "I aspire to make a meaningful difference in the democratization of financial services in Latin America – we've started strong with a dedicated vehicle, but there's still lots to get done," she said. She said her values have led her down this path. "I think the prior steps I took in my career, pursuing a genuine interest to make a difference in global access to financial services, made it easier to bond with the Clocktower team, as they shared a similar vision", says Saman.
Brittany Walker, CRV
Brittany Walker is a 28-year-old investor at CRV, which invests in enterprise, consumer and biotech. A former Deloitte consultant, Walker holds an MBA from the Wharton School, where she sourced investments for the Dorm Room Fund. Tackling gender parity has been a priority for Walker. She co-created Interchange, the first free job board focused solely on L.A. startups. Its aim is to make the industry more accessible to diverse candidates. "I'm trying to get more female founders funded in enterprise and help more women start enterprise companies," said Walker. Among her investments is Storyboard, a platform for privately sharing podcasts and audio.
Alaina Hartley, Greycroft
Alaina Hartley is a 25-year-old investor at Greycroft. She says she landed the job without connections. "I didn't have existing networks in venture capital – I actually first connected with Greycroft by sending a cold LinkedIn message requesting an informational interview," she said. She came from Bain & Company, where she consulted across private equity, technology and media and retail practices. Previously, she worked on brand strategy initiatives for Snap Inc.'s first hardware product, Spectacles."My objective is to identify emerging leaders in the consumer and consumerized enterprise spaces and to provide them with actionable insights and support to accelerate the realization of their visions," she said. Hartley is excited about one of her recent investments, Haystack, an intranet platform that centralizes company communications.
Connor Sundberg, Amplify
Connor Sundberg is a 26-year-old investor at Amplify. He says his move from Chicago to L.A. was motivated by seeing the success of Ring, Snap, Scopely, and Dollar Shave Club. Previously, he worked in banking, but decided he was more interested in VC. "I've always believed in paying attention to where the people you respect are spending their time, and all roads kept leading to the LA startup ecosystem- from friends bootstrapping projects of their own, to others joining companies," he said. His investments include startups that could change how care is coordinated, delivered, and paid for such as: Advkekit, Honeybee, and SafeRide. Sundberg hopes to make Amplify a first-check platform that works for L.A. companies, specifically by creating a support system beyond capital and building founders up.
Jawhara Tariq, M13
Jawhara Tariq, a 28-year-old investor at consumer-focused venture firm M13. She began her career working in nonprofits and philanthropy before she decided she wanted to try making an impact through capitalism. Previously, she was a venture capital associate at Moonshots Capital, where her investment profile included: Nok, Steereo, and Copper Labs.
"I am looking for founders who are unstoppable forces; the entrepreneurs who have the audacity to dream up a world that looks, feels, and operates differently than the one we live in today."
The L.A. native hopes to facilitate access to funding for BIPOC-led startups and continue to back LA's rising entrepreneurs.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated to reflect that one of the investors recently moved out of L.A.
Lead image by Ian Hurley
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Funding for Southern California startups has stalled as some of the region's biggest investors spread money outside the region.
In 2010, roughly one in every 10 startup dollars deployed nationally funded tech companies in Southern California. A decade later, that share has remained stubbornly static, even as the total sum invested in local startups ballooned from $4 billion in 2010 to $14 billion in 2019. That's according to a new report commissioned by Alliance for SoCal Innovation, a nonprofit advocating for the local tech scene.
"The good news is the pie has gotten bigger, but our slice of it has stayed more or less the same," said Andy Wilson, the executive director of the Alliance.
A major reason why the share has not budged is that most local startups are still in their infancy, raising smaller rounds. That brings down total investment dollars. Southern California startups raising Series B or later funding accounts for 64% of total investment, compared to 68% for New York and 80% for the Bay Area.
"We really haven't done particularly well in late-stage funding," Wilson said.
The data — which encompasses San Diego, Orange County and L.A. — was compiled late last year by Boston Consulting Group and is now being made public.
It also found fewer venture dollars are staying local. In 2013, about 30% of dollars stayed in Southern California versus fewer than 10% last year, a direct consequence of firms like B Capital, Fifth Wall, and Sinai Ventures raising larger funds that are geographically agnostic.
"These bigger guys don't really seem to be focused on taking advantage of the local market opportunity," Wilson said.
Upfront Ventures has invested in the most local companies in the last three years with 58, followed by Greycroft, which has backed 45 startups. Of VCs not based here, NEA and Sequoia Capital led the way with 24 and 23 startups, respectively.
The report counted 3,750 startups in Southern California, which is about half the number in the Bay Area, and fewer than New York's 5,100 startups.
Despite a reputation for consumer tech, Southern California is the most well-diversified across industries among the country's top three innovation hubs, with an even split with software and tech, health and media companies.
"Most of the world thinks of us as king of the consumer Internet and media – Netflix and Snapchat – but SpaceX is here and Relativity Space and all the electric car companies are here," said Wilson.
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The pandemic may have accelerated consumers' shift online, but don't expect Americans to forgo theaters permanently for streaming or stop shopping at the grocery store. Concerts and conferences will eventually come back, but the post-pandemic future will likely be very different.
Those are some of the insights from Atom Tickets co-founder Matthew Bakal and Greycroft's Elaine Russell, who spoke in a dot.LA Summit panel moderated by KPMG audit partner Charity Manley on Wednesday. Atom Tickets is a digital movie ticketing service and Greycroft is a venture firm which focuses, in part, on retail.
Though many are staying home, Americans are still spending money, Russell said, and ecommerce is doing much better than many predicted.
"We went through an acceleration during this pandemic that we thought would take five to 10 years," she added. "And we just achieved that digital acceleration over the last nine months. And I think it's only going to continue."
The turn to ecommerce was a trend long in the making, one that is reflected in the decline of shoppers flocking to malls and stores on Black Friday in recent years and the increased numbers of online purchases on Cyber Monday.
"Black Friday will not be what it used to be. Cyber Monday is where it will be at," she said. "We've already seen that trend over the past few years."
One of the most dramatic shifts online has been in the grocery industry. Pre-pandemic, about 2% to 3% of all sales were made online through apps like Instacart or grocers' own apps and websites.
"Right now, it's closer to 10 to 15%. We think that in the next five years, that'll increase to 20-plus percent of all grocery spending," she said.
In both the event and retail spaces, Bakal and Russell believe consumers will emerge from the pandemic used a hybrid shopping experience. People will prefer shopping at brick-and-mortar stores or seeing events in person. They'll rely on ecommerce for convenience, they predicted.
"Post pandemic, [people] will go back to some sort of mixed behavior where they will go to the grocery store for some things, but a lot of other things and their traditional sort of staples, they'll buy online, and have delivered," said Bakal.
Movie theaters have slowly opened in many parts of the country and people are returning to the cinema, but the movies haven't followed. Still, Bakal is optimistic.
People are "going to movies, going to restaurants in the country at a lower, but a growing rate," he said. "So for us, it's been about shrinking down to the right size, and focusing on the future to make sure that we're here at the other end of this."
While streaming will still be a big part of people's lives, Bakal believes people will still go to the theatre or drive-in — another form of movie-viewing that has surged during the pandemic — for an in-person experience.
"I think movie theaters, movies will be back earlier than concerts and live sporting events, perhaps because it's just the amount of people in the crowd control," said Bakal. "The planning it takes to deal with those types of venues is different and takes a little more lead time."
In many ways, theaters are facing the same dilemma that restaurants are, as would-be diners begin creating their own traditions at home. That doesn't mean there isn't a space for dine-in restaurants, it means there is an opening for creating new versions of that.
"There is a shift towards these home-cooked meals and towards family and health and all these different markets," said Russell, adding they "kind of roll up in the same thesis — that there's a lot of room for innovation around this, a lot in this space and a lot of opportunity."
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