It may not be love, but this fund made its first match.
A Gen-Z dating app hinged on short-form videos closed its first round of funding last month with backing from the California Crescent Fund, a new student-run venture capital firm focused on Southern California.
Lolly, the dating app, lets users upload videos into a feed and scroll through them for potential matches. Instead of swiping left or right, users hit "clap" on videos and later "crush" on the user — what the company calls a "non-binary matching model."
"Not ready to fully commit to a potential match? Send some claps instead," reads a January statement from California Crescent Fund announcing the investment.
The student VCs only invest in startups that evolve on college campuses. The group did not disclose how much funding it has raised, but its first LP is Carey Ransom, founder and president of Orange County-based Operate. The venture studio is serving as co-general partner with California Crescent Fund in its first fund.
Managing partner Keyan Kazemian said the goal is to raise $1 million from SoCal university alumni and local investors and to eventually invest an average of $40,000 in 24 startups over the next two years.
"The point we're trying to make is that there's a lot more than Silicon Valley," said Kazemian, a senior at UC Irvine studying computer science and engineering.
He started building California Crescent Fund last summer with five co-founders and student entrepreneurs across the region who later led a "fundraising cold email frenzy" to find money and mentors. The fund's roster of advisors now includes Ransom and CRV investor Olivia Moore, who launched a student-run accelerator while enrolled at Stanford.
Their fund was modeled loosely after organizations like Dorm Room Fund, a student-operated VC firm created in 2012 by First Round Capital, focused on student entrepreneurs in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston and San Francisco. There's also Rough Draft Ventures, a similar firm funded by General Catalyst.
Kazemian said he noticed a gap in capital distributed to college founders between Santa Barbara and San Diego.
"This geography is pretty uncommon when it comes to technical talent from universities," Kazemian said. "They don't have the same access to capital as students on the East Coast or in the Bay. VCs are obviously looking at Wharton and Berkeley before they will come down here."
The fund's student partners come from USC, UCLA, UCSB, UCSD, UCI, Caltech and Harvey Mudd.
In January, the TikTok-meets-Tinder dating app closed a $1.1 million seed round — $40,000 of which came from the California Crescent Fund. Other investors included Ron Conway's SV Angel, Next Coast Ventures and Sequoia Capital Scouts.
NYU grad Sacha Schermerhorn (left) and Marc Baghadijian are the co-founders of Lolly, a new dating app aimed at the TikTok generation.
It was founded by 21-year-old Marc Baghadijian and NYU grad Sacha Schermerhorn, who turned down a PhD in neuroscience to pursue the app. It went live in December.
"Tinder and Bumble first came out as a way to make dating easier, but almost 10 years later, they haven't drastically changed much, even though their targeted users drastically have," said Baghadijian, a senior at Babson College.
TikTok has changed how Gen-Z users interact with social media, Baghadijian said. They've come to expect video. On a dating app, a video-sharing feature opens up a new way for users to share different parts of their personalities.
"The thesis is that it's really hard to sell yourself with just pictures," Baghadijian said. "Not everyone can be a 10 out of 10."
"The same way TikTok made Instagram boring, we would like to make Tinder boring."
- Open Raven Adds Three Cloud and Security Veterans to its Team
- Tinder Tests Video Feature for Pandemic Dating
Open Raven Adds Three Cloud and Security Veterans to its Team
Open Raven, a Los Angeles-based company that offers a cloud data security platform, said Thursday that it has expanded its leadership team to include three new cloud and security industry veterans. The move comes weeks after the company announced its second major round of funding.
Rob Markovich joins the company as its new chief marketing officer from his prior role as chief marketing officer at Wavefront. Alan Buckley has been hired as the senior vice president of sales, finance and operations, from his prior role as the business operations lead at Tanium. Bill Hau will be the new vice president of customer success. Hau has more than 20 years of offensive and defensive cybersecurity operations experience and previously worked at companies including Cylance, Mandiant/FireEye, IBM and McAfee.
Their hire follows Open Raven's raise of a $15 million Series A round this June — four months after it emerged from stealth to announce seed funding. The round was led by Kleiner Perkins as well as existing investors like Upfront Ventures, bringing its total capital raised to $19.1 million.__
Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my Signal.
Tinder Tests Video Feature for Pandemic Dating
As COVID puts a pause on dating for many singles, Tinder has rolled out a new video chat feature. The dating app announced Wednesday that users in 13 countries, including four U.S. states, can now try out "Face to Face."
This is part of Tinder's big sell on a feature Bumble launched last year that has become popular. The video calls "prioritize control and comfort" by prompting users to agree to a set of ground rules (keeping the interaction PG) and letting them disable the video feature at any point. You're also able to leave a report once the video ends.
"We're looking to better understand how video chat fits in with the overall journey of getting to know someone new," Tinder spokesperson Evan Bonnstetter explained in an email.
Users in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and Colorado can meet their matches face-to-face. But the feeling has to be mutual — both parties need to opt-in before the chat switches to a split-screen video call.
Like Snapchat, the appeal of talking on dating apps lies in anonymity, for some. Plus, chatting on an app relieves the stress of giving out personal information.
As stay-at-home orders remain in place, virtual dates have become default. Will this last? A Tinder survey of users found that over half of its U.S. users have used the video date function with a match in the past month. Plus, 40% of Gen Z members surveyed who tried video dating said they'd continue using the feature "as a way to decide whether to meet IRL (in real life) in the future — even once their favorite date spot is open again."
Launched in 2012, Tinder, now boasting over 60 million subscribers, is available in 190 countries and over 40 languages.
- Open Raven Raises $15M to Keep Data Secure in the Cloud - dot.LA ›
- Open Raven Data Security Firm Raises $4.1 Million - dot.LA ›
If you think someone is attractive, swipe right. If you don't, swipe left and you never see them again. That's how Tinder and its scores of imitators have defined online dating for the last eight years. But for those looking for a deeper connection, S'More, which stands for "Something More," expands to Los Angeles Wednesday, bringing what it bills an "anti-superficial" dating app to a city with a reputation for superficiality.
Users receive recommended profiles each day based on common interests, similar to Coffee Meets Bagels. However, on this app the pictures are blurred out. As you start to chat more with someone, their pictures come into focus. The idea is to get people to interact rather than just quickly swiping through photos. The process has drawn comparisons to the Netflix hit, "Love is Blind," though S'More launched last year, before the show premiered in February.
There have been signs of dating app fatigue, though Bumble and Tinder both saw large upticks in usage when people were confined to their homes during stay at home orders. For those who do not want to meet in-person, S'More also allows users to initiate a video chat where during the first two minutes, both sides are blurred. If both decide they want to see each other, the blurring goes away.
"With video dating, women often express feeling uncomfortable with existing technology because it feels too invasive and unsafe," said Adam Cohen Aslatei, CEO of S'More. "S'More completely changes the experience, removes the risk, and makes the process fun and exciting. If a user isn't enjoying the conversation, they can end it before ever seeing (or being seen) by the other person. Blurred videos also encourage longer conversations, and provide an added sense of security."
The company says it already has a waiting list of thousands in L.A., which will be its fifth market, after New York, Boston, Washington DC, and Chicago.
Aslatei is former managing director of Chappy, Bumble's gay dating app. S'More has backing from Benson Oak Ventures, Social Discovery Ventures, and power angels Josh Black (Apollo Management), and Mark Rosner (App Lovin).