On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, sit down with Daniel Leff, the founder and managing partner of Luminari Capital, as well as the co-founder and managing partner of his latest fund, Waverley Capital.
Leff has spent 22 years investing in media space. Both Waverley Capital and Luminari Capital are focused on investing in digital media disruptors and innovators.
In this conversation, Leff shared some insights on his work with Waverley co-founder Edgar Bronfman Jr., the CEO of Warner Music Group and former CEO of Universal Studios.
Leff says he and Bronfman see their fund's mission as "trying to find invest in and help build what we call category defining media companies."
Leff has devoted his career to this mission; he was the second institutional investor in Roku. Today, his portfolio includes Headspace, Wondery, FuboTV, Matterport and The Athletic.
He says media is a unique industry, especially in L.A.
"In the media industry, it's a different path to be disruptive," he says. "Business is done differently. It's almost never that a very young person can come into the market and rail against the establishment and expect to be successful."
He argues it's important for both startups and enterprise companies to not "chase the past" and to recognize that you cannot "put Disney out of business. You can't put Comcast out of business. You can't put Viacom out of business… but you can disrupt them."
In the rest of this episode, Daniel shared about how he got established in media, his connection with Roku founder Anthony Wood and his plans for moving forward.
Daniel Leff is the the founder and managing partner of Luminari Capital, and the co-founder and managing partner of Waverley Capital.
"People say content wants to be free. No it doesn't. Great content requires a lot of investment."—Daniel Leff
dot.LA Engagement Intern Colleen Tufts contributed to this post.
Los Angeles-based Goodpods launched at the start of the pandemic in the hopes of answering the question "What podcast should I listen to?"
As the podcast market has become more saturated, more and more companies are trying to make discovery easier. Google's Podcast app relies on AI-powered suggestions to lure listeners. Other podcasting platforms like Breaker take an approach more like that of social media.
"So many podcasts are being created every single day. And so the vast universe of podcasts that you can listen to is just getting bigger and bigger," said JJ Ramberg, co-founder of Goodpods. "Discovery is getting harder and harder."
Ramberg, the former host of MSNBC's weekend business program "Your Business" and "Been There Built That" podcast, came up with the idea for Goodpods after she found herself stalling her daily jog so she could search for a good podcast. She realized there was likely a more efficient way to ask her friends for podcast recommendations.
So she co-founded Goodpods with her brother, Ken Ramberg, as a way to stay connected with friends about what they were listening to in the podcast world. Both Rambergs are investors in dot.LA.
Breaker was recently bought by L.A.-based Maple Media.
"Rotten Tomatoes does it for movies. Yelp does it for restaurants, Goodreads did it for books," said Ken Ramberg. "There was no really social network or discovery platform for good podcasts, really."
Over half of Americans have listened to a podcast and about a quarter listen to a podcast at least once a week, according to a recent survey by Edison Research, which examines trends in digital media consumer behavior.
Breaker, a social podcasting app similar to Goodpods, has also been trying to make it easier for listeners to find podcasts they love. Maple Media, run by Michael Ritter, recently bought the platform and its social media handles after Twitter absorbed their staff. He thinks the problem is that all this content was created without a well-thought-out infrastructure that could channel it to consumers.
"Podcast discovery trails other media formats, such as video," Ritter said. "YouTube executes very well with a robust recommendation system that has been refined over the past 15 years and TikTok is innovating in this area as well. Podcasting does not have this infrastructure, but new shows and audiences are both growing very quickly."
Goodpods launched at the start 2020, and has averaged over 1,000 downloads monthly since, according to Apple app store data. Since March, the Los Angeles-based app has attracted attention from celebrities including Kim Kardashian West, who offered to follow back the first 10 people who followed her on the app — a move that was not a paid partnership in any way, said JJ Ramberg.
Other notable users include journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell, actor and producer Alyssa Milano and journalist and host Katie Couric.
Among the groups that have popped up on the app's recently released feature are "Gen Z College Podcasters," university students who are sharing the podcasts they've made with each other; "History Lovers," podcast listeners who share their favorite podcasts; and "Slopeside Pod Club," whose description reads "Pods for dog walks."
Podcast creators can also use the app to see how many listens their own podcasts are getting and they can interact directly with their audiences, enabling them to crowdsource opinions and ideas for later content.
Goodpods aims to make it easier for listeners to find podcasts they love.
Podcasts have long had trouble gaining new audiences, so there is a market for companies like Goodpods if they can successfully create a revenue model.
"Podcast discoverability isn't a business in itself," said Colin Maclay, a research professor of communication at USC and executive director of USC Annenberg's Innovation Lab. "It may be a feature, but it is not a business by itself. But if you imagine a mixture of a social network with that, then you maybe [can] build toward a business."
Maclay is optimistic that larger players in the podcasting world like Amazon, who recently acquired Wondery, Spotify and Apple, won't crowd out smaller companies like Goodpods. He points to Twitter, which started as a podcasting app, and eventually grew into a much more general social media site.
Ritter, who now runs Breaker, said the advantage companies like his have is that larger players have been more focused on exclusive content rather than the social aspects of podcasting such as sharing and listening — both key to discovery.
"We believe social podcasting platforms continue to have plenty of room to innovate and create unique sharing and listening experiences in the future," said Ritter.
As for the Rambergs, this is not their first venture together. In 2005 they founded Goodshop, an online shopping coupon code site that donates a portion of each sale to charity. It's raised $13 million since it launched, donating to causes from local schools and dog shelters to the American Cancer Society. Ken Ramberg also co-founded JOBTRAK, a college job site which was acquired by Monster.com in 2000.
When asked what Goodpods' plans are moving forward, JJ Ramberg said: "We're still early days. It's not even been a year yet. So we are 100% focused on the user experience and fulfilling the promise that users find great new podcasts, and podcasters find new users."
LA Tech Updates: Apple Podcast Vet Joins QCODE, Amazon Reportedly in Talks to Buy Wondery, Pharrell's New Black Ambition Incubator
- Apple Podcast Veteran Steve Wilson Joins Startup QCODE
- Amazon in Exclusive Talks to Buy Podcast Studio Wondery, Wall Street Journal Reports
- Pharrell Launches Black Ambition Incubator
Apple Podcast Veteran Joins Startup QCODEwww.sonos.com
QCODE, a Los Angeles podcast startup run by a former Creative Artists Agency talent agent, snagged longtime Apple podcast executive Steve Wilson. The 15-year veteran will become QCODE's chief strategy officer.
QCODE, which last month raised $6.4 million in a Series A round led by Sono, is positioning itself as a funnel for Hollywood.
Founded by Rob Herting, a former agent who had represented largely writers and filmmakers, the company has produced eight shows since 2019. Several have been auctioned for film and television, including "Dirty Diana." Amazon picked up the 6-part erotic drama for a TV series.Wilson, who most recently ran marketing for Apple Podcasts, brings insights from the behemoth platform as the industry sees revenues soar. Advertising brought in near $1 billion this year, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau's podcast report prepared by PwC.
Amazon Reportedly in Exclusive Talks to Buy WonderyHernan Lopez started Wondery with the belief that in-depth, narrative audio stories were poised to bloom.
Amazon is in "exclusive talks" to buy podcast company Wondery and subsume its 30 hit shows and over 8 million monthly listeners into its empire, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
The talks reportedly value Wondery above $300 million, in line with previous estimates from analysts, when Apple and Sony were said to have expressed interest.
Wondery has produced dozens of original series including "Dr. Death" and "Business Wars," and has 19 shows currently in development to become television series.
The company does not publicly disclose its financials, but chief executive Hernan Lopez has previously said the company is profitable. About three-quarters of Wondery's revenue comes from advertising, but Lopez has said the company's revenue share from content licensing is growing (Wondery owns the intellectual property for all of its originals). It also launched a subscription service, Wondery Plus, in June and is currently looking to expand its international footprint.
Wondery, the West Hollywood-based company with the largest audience of any independent podcast producer, has been the subject of swirling rumors that several suitors are interested in acquiring it.
After a pandemic-induced decline that struck much of the podcasting industry, Wondery's audience has surpassed its pre-COVID levels. Its Q3 revenue was about double year-on-year and its Q4 performance has been strong, Lopez previously told dot.LA.
Podcasting overall now attracts over 100 million monthly listeners, according to Edison Research. The Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcasting revenues to exceed $1 billion by 2021.
That growth has spurred somewhat of an arms race, most evident in Spotify's spending spree, which also has helped that company diversify from its reliance on streaming. Amazon Music is one of Spotify's biggest competitors along with Apple Music, and recently expanded into podcasts as well.
Acquiring Wondery would give Amazon more content to slide into Amazon Music, a scaled-down version of which is free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Combining that content with its Alexa smart speaker also could empower the company to capture more eyes and ears in the increasingly competitive attention economy.
The talks are reportedly ongoing and no deal has been confirmed.
Rapper and producer Pharrell Williams released "Entrepreneur" with Jay-Z earlier this summer, a song that became an anthem for Black ambition. Now, Williams is launching an incubator to put money behind his message.
Called Black Ambition, the nonprofit aims to invest in Black and Latino startup founders, and it's beginning by creating two prize competitions set to close in July 2021. The effort backed by Adidas, Chanel and philanthropic organizations including The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Silicon Valley startup investor Ron Conway and Buzzfeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti also contributed.
The first competition will award up to $250,000 to current students or recent alumni from a historically Black college developing or in the seed stage of a company. Smaller prizes will be awarded to at least nine additional teams.
The second competition, called the Black Ambition Prize, will give $1 million in seed money to an early-stage company focused on tech, design, healthcare or consumer products and services. Another nine teams will get smaller prizes. Finalists will be connected with and mentored by a network venture capitalists and angel investors.
"Because we don't have enough of the market share, our kids end up having issues with disproportionate access to healthcare, disproportionate access to education and as a culture, we have disproportionate access as it pertains to legislation and representation," Williams said in a video announcing the news.
Williams was inspired to pool talent from historically Black colleges and universities and build a new pipeline of investment and resources to young people.
"We want to lift our HBCUs. They lift so many of us. They deserve to be in lights," Williams said. "We think it's high time that we own more companies.
In August, Williams published a piece in Time Magazine that accompanied a cover spread on "The New American Revolution." It coincided with his release of "Entrepreneur," the song and music video he produced with Jay-Z as a tribute to Black founders across the nation.
"Recent events and tragedies have illustrated the always existent stark divisions in the American experience, and while entrepreneurship has long been a tenet of the American dream, marginalized people have faced long-standing barriers to success," Williams said in a statement.
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