For Joey Primiani, designing a new NFT marketplace is just the latest stop in what’s been a long and fascinating trip through the world of tech.
After stints at Google and Cortex and a gig developing Lady Gaga’s online fan community, Primiani, together with business partner Mirko Kiefer, unveiled his latest venture this week: Folio, a social network that offers artists a platform and tools to showcase their NFT creations.
Billing itself as the “first mobile NFT marketplace and social network,” Los Angeles-based Folio is an invite-only community allowing artists to promote their work, collaborate with other artists and connect with NFT collectors. The platform, which is accessible via iOS app or web browser, is meant to act as both a digital portfolio for artists and a tool allowing collectors to search and discover digital art. Artists decide what price they want to sell their art for, and Folio takes a cut of every work sold.
Primiani told dot.LA that the idea was motivated by the difficulties those in the NFT art community can face when accessing various online platforms, such as setting up and logging in through digital wallets like MetaMask.
“The onboarding experience is a pain point for a lot of artists that we really want to solve,” he said. “We want to make that an easier experience so that more people can use it.”
Primiani first interned at Google in 2009, where he helped design the Silicon Valley giant’s search products, and later worked as a designer at the Google Labs tech incubator. From there, he went on to work with Lady Gaga to create LittleMonsters.com, a social network for the singer’s devoted fan following. It was his work with the renowned entertainer that turned Primiani onto the idea of creating a marketplace of his own—particularly one focused on showcasing LGBTQ+ and underrepresented artists, which is a focus of Folio’s.
“The big problem in the art world previously was that a lot of people were making art for the galleries, and now they're actually making it directly for the fans and the consumers,” he said.
Primiani’s dream came closer to fruition after he connected via Twitter with Mirko Kiefer, an engineer and blockchain entrepreneur. After some workshopping, they officially—and quietly—created Folio in 2020. The platform was in private beta testing in recent months, during which time the founders were completing a Web3-focused residency at L.A.’s Launch House accelerator. (Creatives such as Pol Kurucz, Zigor, and Marc Hemeon had access to the beta product.)
“We really wanted to be one of the first to really nail that experience, because it's so new and platforms couldn't handle a lot of the demand that was happening,” Primiani said.
Folio and its small five-person team is still in its pre-seed stages and has bootstrapped all of its funding to this point. Primiani said any new funding will go toward hiring both in L.A. and remotely, and to grow and scale the company.
“I think we're only at like 5% of what's possible,” Primiani said of the blockchain-enabled internet known as Web3. “It kind of feels like the internet in the ‘90s, where it's like the wild West and anything's possible.”
Unlike the famed Hype House—where a collective of social media influencers cram into a single space to collaborate on content—Launch House charges entrepreneurs and engineers for month-long stays and access to its community. The cost of joining reportedly ranges between $4,000 and $5,500.
The Los Angeles-based company was founded during the pandemic and secured $3 million in August to expand to New York as well as online, in part via the video-chat platform Gather. Launch House came under scrutiny last year after a “wild party” reportedly led to a coronavirus outbreak.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its plans.
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Taking their lead from social media entrepreneurs who are creating content from mansions, a new breed of startup incubators and collectives are cropping up across Los Angeles. Their programs were built largely by young entrepreneurs trying to bridge the creator and startup worlds, speak to a generation that has grown up alongside social media.
Some are inspired by other co-living incubators or from founders who wanted to capture the creative energy those houses spawned.
In the Hollywood Hills, a collective started by two twenty-seven year-old entrepreneurs is helping seed-stage companies land funds and build up their products. Across town, a roving launch house focuses on building biotech entrepreneurs. Another is trying to foster breakthrough products in augmented reality.
Here's a run down of some of the most promising co-living concepts, along with their founders and the projects they're incubating.
Launch House formed last year after one of its founders tweeted about an experimental gathering of entrepreneurs in Tulum, Mexico. Located in a sprawling Beverly Hills mansion, the hub puts a heavy emphasis on social media and influencer-driven business ideas and runs monthly cohorts of about 20 founders each, connecting them with creators to build up their social media game. Potential participants must apply and then pay an annual membership fee, which includes the four-week live-in residency program and access and introduction to investors and advisors. Participants have to be 18 years of age or older.
"Many creators want access to startup investing opportunities but either don't have a way into top deals, or get pitched so often they can't easily decipher what's a good investment," said co-founder Brett Goldstein, "On the reverse side of things, many founders see collaborating with creators as a great way to reach new target audiences because distribution is a hugely scarce resource."
Several Launch House residents have gone on to raise successful rounds from staid investors including Sequoia and Y Combinator, though a Business Insider report about a COVID outbreak after a recent party raised questions about the culture at the home.
Inspired by other launch houses, the two PhDs wanted to create the first biotech hub in Los Angeles that combines the region's creator economy with its budding scientists and entrepreneurs.
"Part of our goal is to make it one of the top biotech hubs through us being here. As BioscienceLA Chief Executive Officer Dave Whelan would say, 'we're long L.A.'," said Carbonell, "Most companies need to also become media companies to stay relevant, and where better than Los Angeles for that?"
Four startups were accepted in the first round of what Brazen Bio is calling its 'BRZN1 cohort. The program started last month and runs through December. It's replete with a full line up of founder dinners and mixers, access to Bio Labs' equipment and weekly office hours. The founders aren't yet making seed investments but will be establishing a fund for 2022.
Carbonell said they are trying to find ways to promote Brazen through Discord and social media to Gen-Z entrepreneurs and encourage a new generation to enter the STEM field.
The 27-year-old co-founders Robbie Figueroa and Luciano Arango moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, where they saw a maturing tech scene they thought could be a good place to build startups. The two convinced their tech friends to make the trip down to the Hollywood Hills, where they created a collective and early-stage fund called House.ai.
House.ai doesn't offer a full-time residency like Launch House. Instead, it sees itself as a place where founders can gather to co-work. Figueroa, a general manager for DoorDash in Puerto Rico, and Arango, a co-founder of San Francisco-based ScopeAI, both live in the house. There's no formal application for House.ai — instead, Arango and Figuero select premiere founders and operators to join them.
In the past year, House.ai has provided co-working space for 37 founders. The program connects them with early-stage venture capital and helps them recruit talent and connect to engineers. Figuero and Arango have so far invested in six of the companies — including cannabis wholesaler Nabis, a Y-Combinator-backed company.
Figuero considers House.Ai an industry-agnostic incubator, though its startups tend to gravitate towards fintech, fulfillment and delivery services, along with some consumer and business-to-business companies.
The AR House was born out of a tweet from augmented reality developer Aidan Wolf: "anyone organizing a house for snapchat lens creators? Would love to do something like that here in LA."
The response was overwhelming. Among those who reached out was AR creator Lucas Rizzotto.
The team quickly coalesced around the idea of a house dedicated specifically to AR creators and developers. L.A., home to AR juggernaut Snapchat, had more than enough talent. Within a week, the two had met their funding goal, much of it coming from the AR community.
Creators must be 18 years old or older to apply. AR House's founders don't take equity in the companies they help launch, but they do help provide participants with AR hardware to support their projects.
The cohorts will have access to a four-week session complete with dinners for founders, meet-and-greets with investors and other programming. The house doubles as an exhibition space for augmented reality projects, too. AR's first cohort started on October 5 and they signed a six-month lease to their Hollywood Hills house.
Bay Area native and consumer tech founder Katia Ameri and YouTuber Elijah Daniel bootstrapped Rocketship House in November 2020. The house, based in the Hollywood Hills, boasts a stunning view of Los Angeles and an acre-long vineyard where participants are encouraged to collaboratively contribute to projects focused on the creator economy.
Ameri brings a hard-tech background. She raised $2.2 million for her telehealth platform, Mirra, an at-home allergy diagnosis service, before the pandemic started. Daniel brings social media savvy and a knack for making viral videos. The two say they are focused on projects that help creators develop content distribution and revenue streams.
Daniel and Ameri aren't interested in taking equity. Instead, the pair said the want to focus on building a community of creators and tech entrepreneurs. There's no formal application, though interested founders and creators can reach out to Ameri via Twitter to join. The two say they are flexible about how long creators or founders can stay in the house. After experimenting with co-living, Rocketship House's founders said they're pivoting toward a model that will instead seek to foster a digital community and provide a physical workspace.
Advntr House was created by the co-founders of a college party app Dive.Chat, Michelle Fang and Kyle Brastrom. Its Gen-Z cohorts have served as founders of a wide variety of consumer, healthcare, fintech and media startups.
"A majority of the people that have entered ADVNTR House have either quit their full-time job, ended a relationship of over a year or dropped out of college," Brastrom said, "People kind of come into the house and then realize 'wow, there's so much opportunity out there'."
Participants live in ADVNTR's Melrose home, but the group also travels to destinations like Big Bear, California and Arizona. Every cohort shares the expenses and collectively develops the group's activities. There's a formal application and interview process to join ADVNTR. The cohort program lasts about eight weeks.
Fang and Brastrom organized L.A. Tech Week, a collaboration with other tech houses including House.ai, Launch House and Together Casa, a real estate startup organizes co-living houses for tech entrepreneurs, creators and other interest-focused communities.
Know of other startup houses around Southern California? Let us know!
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