In a year upended by crisis after crisis — the ongoing pandemic, the climate emergency, an insurrection in the capital — tech startup financing is not just bouncing back but altogether booming, and Los Angeles-based angel investors are a big part of that equation.
Angels usually take a stake in an emerging business using their own funds, before institutional investors are willing to throw more substantial resources behind an idea. Often, they start off as entrepreneurs or engineers themselves.
We surveyed dozens of prominent L.A. investors to find out who they believe to be the top angels in the city, as part of dot.LA's third VC sentiment survey. Then, we tallied the votes. dot.LA had to throw out a couple of top names because one angel no longer lived in Los Angeles and the other didn't appear to be actively investing.
For more from the latest survey, read about who to watch among L.A.'s hottest ecommerce startups.
The investors below are listed based on the number of votes they received. We deferred to alphabetical order when there was a tie. Without further ado, here are Los Angeles' top angels, according to their peers.
List tops this list despite maintaining a low profile compared to the five angels below. He's an early-stage investor whose portfolio includes mobile shopping startup Tapcart, glasses and contacts company Lensabl, as well as Brainbase, Candy Club, Citruslabs and other LA-based firms, per AngelList. His investments range between $25,000 and $100,000, according to his Signal investing page. List is also listed as the chief creative officer at brand studio Gazoozle, per Crunchbase. The agency mentions Uber, TBS and other big names as clients on its website.
When dot.LA reached out for more information about him and his recent investments, List responded via LinkedIn: "im all good man, i dont do any press. thanks though!" Thanks, indeed!
But Paul Bricault, co-founder and managing director of Amplify, who has several co-investments with him, said List really has a discerning eye. "While we have also passed on some things he has sent our way, they are always worth a hard look which is rare."
McInerney got his start as a software engineer at Apple and Sony. His L.A. investments include RentSpree, a tenant screening startup that just announced an $8 million series A; and Bird, the love-it-or-hate-it scooter rental service. Beyond the city, he's a backer of Notion, Segment and Dapper Labs. His exits include Lettuce, which sold to Intuit; and Shopflick, which sold to Popsugar.
Rascoff co-founded Zillow, Hotwire.com, real estate platform Pacaso, startup studio 75 & Sunny and this website, dot.LA. He's a former director of TripAdvisor and Zulily, and is a board member of the controversial data-mining company Palantir. When pressed on whether being a co-founder of dot.LA could have artificially boosted his vote count, Rascoff disagreed:
"I am just a really prolific L.A. based investor," he said. "I think we (75 & Sunny) did like 41 deals last year, of which 25 were in L.A., so that's why. I'm also an investor in many L.A. based venture funds (Crosscut, m13, Upfront, and others) so that helps me have a lot of connectivity to the L.A. tech community, which I'm sure boosts my vote count!"
Lee co-founded LegalZoom, ShoeDazzle and The Honest Company (of Jessica Alba fame), which went public in May and is now valued north of $894 million. "We have been fairly active this past year with 16 investments in total so far, and 8 of them in Los Angeles now," said Lee.
His LA-based investments include The NFT Company, guided breathing app Breathwrk and fantasy sports company Grin Gaming. Lee's exits include the infamous MoviePass (RIP), which sold to Helios and Matheson Analytics; Tapiture, which was bought by Playboy; and Stamped, which was snapped up by Yahoo, per Crunchbase.
O'Neill co-founded boutique candy brand Sugarfina. She also sat on the board of fintech company Happy Money and most recently cofounded early-stage investment fund Pure Imagination Brands in Santa Monica with her partner, Josh Resnick, who also made this list. Previously, O'Neill led marketing for Barbie at Mattel.
Resnick worked as a producer at Activision, the Santa Monica game publisher, before launching his own studio — Pandemic Studios — with backing from his former employer. Pandemic is known for developing Star Wars: Battlefront and later on was acquired by Electronic Arts with another studio in a combined $860 million deal. Resnick also cofounded Sugarfina and Pure Imagination Brands. The investor tells dot.LA that he's "done around a dozen deals so far this year with another 4 in the pipeline currently."
Of the deals he has closed in 2021 to date, he says eight were based in Los Angeles. His investment portfolio includes Culver City-based digital pharmacy Honeybee Health and virtual reality training platform Vantage Point.
Lead art by Candice Navi.
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For Tom McInerney, a Los Angeles-based angel investor who has sunk cash into the likes of Bird, Tala, and Uber, the Coronavirus has changed the way he does business. He's stopped in-person meetings and on Monday pulled his three-year-old out of school for at least two weeks.
The family is on day four of quarantine in their Santa Monica home. And, he's done some basic preparations — buying masks and going to stores for what he's calling "pre-corona" food because it's not handled by humans. "This is extreme, and I know this is extreme," he told dot.LA. McInerney is an entrepreneur before he started investing in startups, and began his career as a software engineer at Apple and Sony.
"It's just a hyperconnected world," he said. "There's 10 times as many flights out of China than there were during SARS." He's also been doing the math and watching COVID-19 closely for months, and he thinks it's smart. "I'm definitely not getting on an airplane. No way."
On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 sank again in trades over COVID-19 fears, firmly in correction territory. The Dow lost more than 3,500 points in the past week. That's the largest selloff in a decade.
McInerney said he doesn't really trust the few reported cases in the U.S. given the numbers of flights coming in to Los Angeles International Airport alone.
Meanwhile, Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz has taken to Twitter with 22 of his last 23 tweets, dedicated to COVID-19 studies, reports and news articles that he captions with "Public Service Announcement."
Gautam Gupta, a San Francisco-based partner at Santa Monica's M13 Ventures, said he suddenly has been getting lots of questions about COVID-19. For now at least, the queries are about how turmoil in financial markets will trickle down to early-stage investing, rather than about how the virus will impact operations.
"I would say it comes up in more than half of conversations with other investors," Gupta said.
Conference organizers for next week's influential Montgomery Summit are taking precautionary measures, including asking guests who have been to China or other areas of outbreak to use discretion and not attend the summit. The spokesperson said the summit will have medical staff "present and available to assess any potential situation that might arise."
Jamie Montgomery, founder and managing director of March Capital Partners, who founded the summit, sent a lengthy email to conference attendees Friday afternoon noting that "we have cancelled overseas registrations from countries with significant exposure, such as China and Korea."
Montgomery said conference planners are aiming to have hand sanitizer stations in every room and are encouraging attendees not to shake hands and to wash their hands several times a day. Hotel staff will be cleaning common surfaces hourly with antiseptic wipes to avoid spread of any potential germs.
Facebook's F8 software developer conference was cancelled entirely.
McInerney at this point has turned his portfolio to basically 80% to 85% cash, but he wishes he'd put "massive out-of-there-money put options two to three weeks ago." A put option reserves the right to sell a stock at a specified price and generally communicates that you think the stock price will drop.
He's been telling every single entrepreneur that he's closed for business and is encouraging founders to watch their spending and to get their next rounds done as quickly as they can — "batten down the hatches." He thinks it will be a very tough year and most folks will likely be risk averse on the investment front.
"Net, all but very few of us are going to lose money on this, and life is going to be worse...I think this can be a Lehman crisis or '99 level correction," McInerney said.
Ben Bergman contributed reporting to this story.
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