VC for Those Who Eschew VC, 'The Fund' Launches in Los Angeles

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

VC for Those Who Eschew VC, 'The Fund' Launches in Los Angeles

Every venture capital fund likes to insist that they are unique even though they usually all operate from the same playbook. The Fund, which quietly launched in Los Angeles earlier this year — two years after starting in New York — is actually different.

It is a venture fund for those who eschew venture funds. No professional investors are allowed, there is no full-time staff, and it charges a reduced management fee.


Instead of traditional limited partners (LPs), The Fund gets capital from dozens of what it calls "community members" who are all successful founders and operators who invest starting at just $25,000. It aims to have a 1:1 ratio of investors to founders so that founders can get as much mentorship as they need starting their young companies.

"People really want to keep capital here," said Anna Barber, a member of the investment committee who also serves as managing director of the Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator. "We see that more than in other places. We see founders who have had success in L.A. want to support L.A."

Anchor members include Kevin Datoo of Dollar Shave Club, Chad DePue of Snap, Susan Paley of Droplabs, Carolyn Becher of HopSkipDrive, Robyn Ward of Founderforward, Dan Gould of Tinder, and Tony Wang of Agora. (Spencer Rascoff, executive chairman of dot.LA, is also a member.)

The cohort is deliberately spread across different industries. "We want to bring together different parts of the L.A. ecosystem," said Barber. "We have access to knowledge about what is happening and the ability to help companies we've made investments in."

The Fund has already backed two startups – it won't disclose which ones yet – and committed to two more. The goal is to make 50 investments in L.A. over the next two years, with checks in the $50,000 range. It aims to raise $3 million, which is tiny for a venture fund, but Barber sees potential in going smaller as other seed funds write progressively larger checks.

"While there's been growth in early stage investment, we think there's a really big opportunity in pre-seed and early seed," said Barber.

It might seem like a daunting time to be starting a new fund. However, The Fund is hoping there will now be more opportunities at lower valuations and says most of its decisions were made remotely even before the pandemic.

"We really run everything through Slack," said said Raina Kumra, another member of the investment committee and CEO of Juggernaut, a marketing agency. "We're getting pretty good at FaceTime and Zoom. It's not that much of a leap."

If a member sees a deal they like, they post it in Slack. If there is buy-in from the membership, the idea then goes to the investment committee – which also includes Austin Murray, founder of JAMDAT Mobile and Josh Jones, founder of Dreamhost – who meet every week via videoconference and quickly render a decision.

"We want to be respectful of founders' time," said Kumra, who added: "Founders want to be funded by other founders."

Barber says it is intentional that the investment committee is 50% women in an industry dominated by men. Their goal is to invest in a diverse range of founders and companies to build the next generation of great L.A. tech companies.

"People are not as jaded in L.A.," said Barber. "People genuinely want to support entrepreneurship to build a tech community."

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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