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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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Once the home of Frank Sinatra's vinyl recordings, Warner Music Group has ventured into the virtual entertainment world. The company announced it will partner with a virtual concert provider and invest in a tech company that plans to develop avatars and create NFTs for the label's artists.
Monday's announcement that Warner will enter into a content and investment partnership with Los Angeles-based Wave followed a similar announcement Friday that the venerable music label will partner with Genies, a tech company that will help develop a virtual presence for Warner artists and NFTs for their artwork and music.
"The commercial opportunity in the metaverse has exploded in the last several years, with the past few months seeing a tipping point for mainstream adoption of immersive social experiences and virtual communities," Oana Ruxandra, EVP, business development and chief digital officer at WMG, said in a news release.
Wave, a virtual concerts platform, uses its technology to transform artists into digital avatars through which they can perform livestreamed concerts for fans. It has recently released performances from artists such as The Weeknd and John Legend.
"Wave is indisputably a leader in the interactive virtual entertainment space and the right partner to help us grow WMG's efforts," Ruxandra added. "Our artists and their fans will be getting best-in-class experiences, as we pioneer new forms of consumption and monetization."
The agreement will allow Warner to develop virtual performances, experiences and monetization opportunities for its line-up of artists across its labels, including "new forms of ticketing, sponsorship and in-show interactions for fans," the company said.
In the past few months, Warner has announced it has invested in social gaming platform Roblox and experimental virtual artist record label Spirit Bomb, "enabling artists to power their creative visions and engage fans in new ways," the company said.
Warner did not release financial details of its investment in Wave.
In addition to the digital avatars for live performances, Wave offers live chats, virtual gifting and voting, as well as real-time audience appearances during artists' performances.
"WMG has an incredible history of being a trailblazer in the music industry. They share our vision for pulling the future forward using new technologies that benefit artists and fans alike," said Adam Arrigo, CEO and co-founder of Wave. "We're excited to partner with them to create interactive events that are unlike any other virtual concerts ever experienced."
The deal with Warner is one of Wave's biggest partnerships to date. It has also teamed up with Tencent Music Entertainment as well as investment from Justin Bieber, J. Balvin, The Weeknd, Scooter Braun, Top Dawg Entertainment, Maveron and Griffing Gaming.
Wave has so far hosted more than 50 events for popstars, DJs and artists.
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Culver City-based Maestro, a platform used by pop star Billie Eilish and other entertainers to stream their performances, has landed $15 million in a Series B round.
It was backed by industry heavyweights from Sony Music Entertainment to Twitch's co-founder Kevin Lin, who are eying digital concerts and live streamed shopping as future revenue hot spots.
The interactive video platform lets creators like Eilish make money from ticket sales, subscriptions and even streamed ecommerce events. The company touts a long list of artist and industry partners, including Epic Games, Shopify, Microsoft, Adweek and Universal Music Group.
Tuesday's announcement comes after a year of steady growth for Maestro. The company said in a statement that revenue tripled in 2020. In the past six months, its team has grown five times over.
And since May, when the company launched its monetization features, creators on the platform have secured "millions of dollars."
Maestro's interactive video platform lets creators make money from ticket sales, subscriptions and even streamed ecommerce events.
Especially during COVID-19, platforms like Maestro have opened up new streams of business for celebrities. Music streaming companies like Wave, Mandolin, Veeps and Looped Live have become more attractive to investors as creators find new ways to tour virtually. But it's unclear whether these sites will hold onto viewers post-pandemic.
"Maestro gives artists greater flexibility and control to build the most engaging and customized events for their fans, allowing creators at any stage of their career to put together a world class live stream event," Sony Music Entertainment's Dennis Krooker said in a press release.
"We serve the creator as a partner in their journey and the achievement of their dreams," founder and CEO Ari Evans added.
The Series B bumps Maestro's total funding to $22 million. NetEase, Acronym Venture Capital and Michael and Amy Morhaime, former executives at Blizzard, contributed to the round.
A list of existing investors — SeventySix Capital, The Strand Partners, Stadia Ventures, Hersh Interactive Group, and Transcend Fund, and early Zoom employees Richard Gatchalian and Aaron Lewis — also participated.
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