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In Los Angeles—like the startup environment at large—venture funding and valuations skyrocketed in 2021, even as the coronavirus pandemic continued to surge and supply chain issues rattled the economy. The result was a startup ecosystem that continued to build on its momentum, with no shortage of companies raising private capital at billion-dollar-plus unicorn valuations.
In order to gauge the local startup scene and who’s leading the proverbial pack, we asked more than 30 leading L.A.-based investors for their take on the hottest firms in the region. They responded with more than two dozen venture-backed companies; three startups, in particular, rose above the rest as repeat nominees, while we've organized the rest by their amount of capital raised as of January, according to data from PitchBook. (We also asked VCs not to pick any of their own portfolio companies, and vetted the list to ensure they stuck to that rule.)
Without further ado, here are the 26 L.A. startups that VCs have their eyes on in 2022.
Whatnot was the name most often on the minds of L.A. venture investors—understandably, given its prolific fundraising year. Whatnot raised some $220 million across three separate funding rounds in 2021, on the way to a $1.5 billion valuation.
The Marina del Rey-based livestream shopping platform was founded by former GOAT product manager Logan Head and ex-Googler Grant LaFontaine. The startup made its name by providing a live auction platform for buying and selling collectables like rare Pokémon cards, and has since expanded into sports memorabilia, sneakers and apparel.
Boulevard’s backers include Santa Monica-based early-stage VC firm Bonfire Ventures, which focuses on B2B software startups. The Downtown-based company fits nicely within that thesis; Boulevard builds booking and payment software for salons and spas. The firm has worked with prominent brands such as Toni & Guy and HeyDay.
GOAT launched in 2015 as a marketplace to help sneakerheads authenticate used Air Jordans and other collectible shoes. It has since grown at a prolific rate, expanding into apparel and accessories and exceeding $2 billion in merchandise sales in 2020. The startup sealed a $195 million funding round last summer that more than doubled its valuation, to $3.7 billion.
The Best of the Rest
Nielsen competitor VideoAmp gathers data on who's watching what across streaming services, traditional TV and social apps like YouTube. The company positions itself as an alternative to so-called "legacy" systems like Nielsen, which it says are "fragmented, riddled with complexity and inaccurate." In addition to venture funding, its total funding figure includes more than $165 million in debt financing.
Seizing on the NFT craze, Mythical Games is building a platform that powers the growing realm of “play-to-earn games.” Backed by NBA legend Michael Jordan and Andreessen Horowitz, the Sherman Oaks-based startup’s partners include game publishers Abstraction, Creative Mobile and CCG Lab.
FloQast founder Michael Whitmire says he got a “no” from more than 100 investors in the process of raising a seed round. Today, the accounting software company is considered a unicorn.
Nacelle produces docuseries, books, comedy albums and podcasts. The media company’s efforts include the Netflix travel series “Down To Earth with Zac Efron.”
A platform for virtual concerts, Wave has hosted performances by artists including Justin Bieber, Tinashe and The Weeknd. The company says it has raised $66 million to date from the likes of Warner Music and Tencent.
Sherman Oaks-based Papaya looks to make it easier to pay “any” bill—from hospital bills to parking tickets—via its mobile app.
Based in Marina del Rey, LeaseLock says it’s on a mission to eliminate security deposits for apartment renters.
Emotive sells text message-focused marketing tools to ecommerce firms like underwear brand Parade and men's grooming company Beardbrand.
Based in Long Beach, Dray says its mission is to “modernize the logistics and trucking industry.” Its partners include Danish shipping company Maersk and toy maker Mattel.
Coco makes small pink robots on wheels (you may have seen them around town) that deliver food via a remote pilot. Its investors include Y Combinator and Silicon Valley Bank.
HiveWatch develops physical security software. Its investors include former Twitter executive Dick Costollo and NBA star Steph Curry’s Penny Jar Capital.
Whatnot competitor Popshop is betting that live-shopping is the future of ecommerce. The West Hollywood-based firm focuses on collectables such as trading cards and anime merchandise.
Founded by former SpaceX engineer Karan Talati, First Resonance runs a software platform for makers of electric cars and aerospace technology. Its clients include Santa Cruz-based air taxi company Joby Aviation and Alameda-based rocket company Astra.
Founded by Crowdstrike and Microsoft alums, Open Raven aims to protect user data. The cybersecurity firm’s investors include Kleiner Perkins and Upfront Ventures.
When an actor faces the camera and speaks directly to the audience, it’s known as “breaking the fourth wall.” Named after the trope, Venice-based Fourthwall offers a website builder that’s designed for content creators.
The Non Fungible Token Company creates NFTs for musicians under the name Unblocked. Its investors include Jay Z’s Marcy Venture Partners and Shawn Mendez.
Backed by Mayo Clinic Ventures, Safe Health develops telehealth software and offers tools for enterprises to launch their own health care apps.
Intro’s app lets you book video calls with experts—from celebrity stylists, to astrologists, to investors.
With the tagline “Land the package, not the plane,” DASH Systems is a Hawthorne-based shipping company that builds hardware and software for automated airdrops.
With a focus on sustainability, Ettitude is a direct-to-consumer brand that sells bedding, bathroom textiles and sleepwear.
Along similar lines as Unblocked, Afterparty creates NFTs for artists and content creators such as Clay Perry and Tropix.
Heart to Heart is an audio-focused dating app that “lets you listen to the story behind the pictures in a profile.” Precursor Ventures led the pre-seed funding round.
Frigg makes hair and beauty products that contain cannabinoids such as CBD. The Valley Village-based company raised an undisclosed seed round in August.
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Pictures and text only do so much. If you really want to get to know someone you gotta hear them talk. That's what Joshua Ogundu thought when he created Heart to Heart, a dating app that offers what Tinder, Bumble and Hinge hadn't.
"You can't really catch a person's vibe off of a text. Can't really catch a vibe off of just seeing their pictures," he said.
The former product and operations lead for TikTok, Ogundu came up with the idea for the audio app early this year after listening into Clubhouse app's "shoot your shot" rooms where individuals would have a speed dating like experience.
After a few months of fleshing out his ideas, the social media savvy entrepreneur took to Twitter to find iOS engineers to help make his idea become a reality.
Looks like it's time for me to start talking to engineering folks about my audio dating app idea
— Josh (@JoshuaOgundu) February 13, 2021
His call out on Twitter gained the attention of Arihant Jain and Komal Shrivastava. The connection led to a Zoom call; Now, Heart to Heart is one step closer to becoming a reality.
The company is in stealth mode, but has raised $750,000 in pre-seed funding led by Charles Hudson at Precursor Ventures. The money will be used for product development and testing user acquisition channels. But on Monday, Hinge threw a wrench in the plan by announcing that it would offer an audio feature.
The launch date for Heart to Heart is not set but a beta version should be available by the end of the year for iOS users.
The app aims to provide the dating community with authenticity and not just people who put their most polished self forward.
Once the user creates a profile, they will be prompted to upload a photo and click record similarly to the iPhone record button where the person will then share a story or explain the photo in more detail. Each person's profile will be a mix of photos and prompts accompanied by a voice recording.
Heart to Heart, like all dating apps, has the matching function. Once matched, you will be directed to the other person's inbox where you can send voice messages to each other like iMessage. Similarly, once you've listened to the message, you can no longer go back and re-listen.
"Just because you can't always go back to messages that people leave you in real life, so why have it cluttering the inbox," Ogundu said.
In his free time, he's caught creating satirical videos on TikTok, reading books about the working class or the ultra rich, or watching anime.
Even though Heart to Heart is a dating app, Ogundu wanted this app to "encapsulate all of what we're really looking to do, which is to build intentional, intimate connections between humans."
Heart to Heart founder Joshua Ogundu.
Dating apps have never been more popular than during the COVID-19 era. It's estimated 30% of U.S. adults have now used online dating according to Pew Research.
Overall, a majority of online daters have had a positive experience, but women in particular report being the target of rude or harassing behavior while on these platforms. Pew Research estimates 53% of Americans still agree that dating sites and apps are a safe way to meet people.
Ogundu understands that the digital space can bring about trust and safety issues. Dating apps like Grindr and Tinder have a reputation for being a "hook up" app. Many women who have used dating sites or apps have been harassed or sent explicit messages.
"Early stage founders, especially folks who are in the stage that I'm at, don't think about that. They just think about all the value it provides, but not about the harms that it could cause," Ogundu said. "At Heart to Heart, we're thinking about potential harms from the onset.
This story has been updated to add news about Hinge's new audio feature.
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