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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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Ecommerce companies are some of Los Angeles hottest startups.
Companies like GOAT, an online marketplace for sneakerheads, are reeling in cash in a white-hot market. GOAT raised $195 million in a late-stage funding round in June, more than doubling its valuation to $3.7 billion. Tapcart, a Shopify-based mobile app, raised $50 million in a Series B funding round also in June. Popshop Live, a livestream shopping platform, announced a Series A round of funding in July that valued the company at $100 million. Italic, an online retailer that sells luxury goods at cost, had a $26.9 million infusion of cash through an early stage funding round in April.
Venture capitalists poured $384 million into ecommerce companies so far this year, according to PitchBook data, with more money being spent so far in 2021 than all of 2020.
In Los Angeles, where there has always been a healthy amount of ecommerce startups, there's an emerging new evolution with more innovation in the marketplace, investors say.
We asked the region's top VCs in our dot.LA sentiment survey to identify the top L.A.-based ecommerce companies. Here's what they told us, ordered by how often each was mentioned.
Founded in 2015, GOAT has ascended the ranks of L.A.'s startup scene. GOAT hit unicorn status in late 2020, and just about doubled its valuation to $3.7 billion by June this year.
The marketplace platform lets shoe collectors sell and resell shoes and other luxury items. The company sold over $2 billion in merchandise in 2020.
Started by a pair of sneakerheads from UCLA, the company has become a leader in the rising industry of sneaker sales that is projected to rise from $2 billion in global worth to around $30 billion by 2030.
Founded in 2017, Santa Monica-based Tapcart is hoping to ride the wave of online and mobile ecommerce. Its software allows companies to transition Shopify-based stores into mobile apps, and boasts features that drive customer retention.
Tapcart raised $50 million in June. Founded by Eric Netsch and Sina Mobasser, apps created using the SaaS-based service processed over $1.2 billion in sales over the past year.
"The pandemic really just reassured the path that the world was already on," Netsch has told dot.LA. "We knew that mobile was taking the world by storm far before the pandemic happened."
A sudden shift in pandemic-related restrictions lured companies to Popshop's livestreaming platform, allowing Popshop to reach a $100 million valuation by July.
Popshop's app allows stores to livestream from their websites and promote their product. Sales are made directly through the app. The company took inspiration from the Chinese market, where livestream vending platforms was successful, and is hoping the model translates to the U.S. market.
Petra Griffith, managing director of Wedbush Ventures, said she named Popshop Live as one of the most interesting ecommerce companies (that she does not invest in) because of its dynamic founder, Danielle Li.
"I think a lot about commerce and the future of commerce," she said. "You see the popularity in Asia, [where you] have influencers and video and live interaction, kind of like a live QVC that you can interact with is I think is really compelling."
Launched in 2014 as an online-only, direct-to-consumer brand, Parachute began as a high-end bedding company. Since then it has expanded into other home goods products and has opened brick-and-mortar stores across the U.S., including one in Venice and another in Silver Lake.
Ariel Kaye, founder and CEO, launched Parachute's first mattress line in 2019, and the company has created a following among millennials with its bedding and bath linens made from high-quality materials.
Kaye said Parachute's home goods products fared "extremely well" during the pandemic as people spent money to "refresh" or redecorate their living spaces or moved into new homes.
"As a digitally native brand, we were able to meet our customers where they are. We have been very lucky to connect with new and existing customers to offer products as well as services designed to help them enjoy their home," Kaye said in an email.
Founded in 2018, Italic is a subscription based, direct-from-manufacturer company. The Los Angeles-based startup partners with manufacturers that work with big-name luxury brands to offer the same type of goods without the cost of branding.
CEO Jeremy Cai said he doesn't see Italic as a traditional ecommerce company because it takes nearly no inventory risk, but rather makes money when customers buy products, using that to pay the manufacturer and taking a cut of it. He said the business is more oriented toward technology, operations and product development, rather than sales and marketing.
"I think the excitement around our business is that we're fundamentally doing something different from a business standpoint and that we have pretty deep customer loyalty," Cai said.
While Italic is membership based, Cai said the company plans to allow customers who aren't members to make purchases later this year.
"In my mind, the future is really like a bifurcation of value-driven shopping and branded shopping," he said. "What we're mostly focused on is driving value on the product side to the customer."
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As the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed small businesses, some struggling companies turned to livestreaming-based ecommerce business Popshop Live to stay afloat.
Now, Popshop Live wants to prove that ecommerce via live streaming is here to stay.
Valued at $100 million, the company announced a Series A round of funding Thursday. Popshop declined to disclose how much it raised in the funding round, though TechCrunch reported the funding was around $20 million.
The round was led by Benchmark and included TQ Ventures, Mantis VC and Access Industries.
Popshop Live also hired former Instagram and Instacart executive Bangaly Kaba to lead platform growth and former head of Uber Eats Jason Droege to lead expansion, the company announced.
Founded in 2019, Popshop is one of several Los Angeles-based startups competing in the emerging livestreaming ecommerce world that includes talkshoplive, a streaming service for celebrities, and Whatnot, a streaming service for collectibles.
"Livestream commerce is not just a trend in China and through the pandemic," said Popshop Live board member Matt Cohler in announcing the raise. "It is an emerging multi-billion-dollar phenomenon whose growth is accelerating every day."
The company sees itself as a combination of online commerce with the experience of in-person shopping. Customers can scroll through live feeds of merchants selling items, interact with sellers and purchase items through Popshop's app. The startup claims that traditional brick-and-mortar sellers are shifting their focus to its platform, after seeing higher sales and rates of customer convergence.
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