The Case for Triller: The TikTok Competitor Approaching Unicorn Status, And Getting Big Breaks

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

The Case for Triller: The TikTok Competitor Approaching Unicorn Status, And Getting Big Breaks

Fresh off of closing a $50 million round that valued the company at $300 million, Triller – headquartered in L.A. and with offices in New York, London and Paris – is now seeking $250 million at a valuation of $1.25 billion, according to executive chairman Bobby Sarnevesht. The short-form, user-generated video sharing app's momentum has picked up lately thanks to increased usage during the pandemic and the troubles of TikTok.


"The numbers look crazy recently," said Anis Uzzaman, chief executive of Pegasus Tech Ventures, which invested several million dollars in the $50 million round. Those numbers include 120 million total downloads and 60 million monthly active users, Sarnevesht told dot.LA.

Triller's user count is now close to what Musical.ly's (now TikTok) was back when it was acquired by Chinese conglomerate ByteDance in 2017, and as TikTok comes under more regulatory scrutiny, Uzzaman predicts that Triller will become "the American TikTok."

How Could It Get There?

Triller executive chairman Bobby Sarnevesht.

One clue lies in India. When Narendra Modi banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps in June amid escalating military tensions between the two countries, Triller's usage "went through the roof," Sarnevesht said. In early July, Triller CEO Mike Lu wrote that his company had become the top iOS app in India "without spending a dime."

"We're seeing (Indian) users say they prefer Triller to TikTok, but just didn't know about it," Sarnevesht said.

To Uzzaman, Triller's ability to handle the surge of Indian users proved the strength of the platform's underlying technology. "I'm sure many other platforms would have choked with the new volume of clients," he said. With the "possibility of the same thing happening in the U.S.," Uzzaman feels confident that Triller would be ready for another upswing.

Pegasus Tech Ventures chief executive Anis Uzzaman

Anis Uzzaman

TikTok, which is reportedly the subject of preliminary discussions for a sell-off, has a big head start. According to analytics firm SensorTower, it has been downloaded over 2 billion times. TikTok's global user count is estimated at over 800 million. And a recent Reuters piece pegged its valuation around $50 billion.

If TikTok is banned in the U.S. that would obviously put Triller in a place to pick up some ground. Four factors stand out that could shift the balance in Triller's favor.

Privacy & Security

The government isn't the only one concerned about privacy and security concerns, Uzzaman said.

"The market is getting more concerned about security and privacy," he said. "People are getting more vocal." Having Triller's teams based in "the top democracies in the world...definitely makes a huge difference."

Sarnevesht emphasized that Triller "treat(s) the face as an object – we don't map the face. Data is secure. We don't track geo-locations on where users are."

Concerns around whether TikTok shares data with the Chinese government, meanwhile, have been well documented.



Music First, Social Second

"Our business is music. It's in our DNA," said Sarnevesht. Uzzaman said this confers two key advantages.

One is Triller's product mix. Uzzaman pointed to Triller's "Step Up Challenge," a music battle where competitors can win prizes, and the TrillerFest virtual music festival, which attracted over 5 million viewers and participants this April.

"We have a music-centric, music-first app that has amazing creator tools," Sarnevesht said. "Amazing events. Concert series coming out in different locations and different genres. It's a very different destination for content users and producers and watchers."

That musical foundation has lately sprouted other kinds of content. "We're starting to see a tremendous influx of content…(like) cooking, practical jokes, and gaming," Sarnevesht added.

Another advantage to being music-first, Uzzaman said, is that musical stars like posting on the app. "Alicia Keys, Cardi B, Marshmello: they're regularly posting music videos in the app – we've never seen that in TikTok," he said. "Regular people can create music videos and have people watch them right next to Eminem…(It makes) people feel like they're celebrities."

"I think artists appreciate the organicness of Triller," Sarnevesht added.

Partnerships

In line with Triller's music origins, it has long-term deals with the big three music labels and numerous music publishers. This enables Triller users to include songs from those rights holders' extensive catalogs without having to worry about copyright issues.

"What differentiates Triller is we've always had music licenses in place," said Sarnevesht. "It gives artists a platform to have their content in a place where it's not being stolen."

Conversely, TikTok has mostly operated via short-term deals with labels and publishers. It does, however, have a long-term deal with Believe, a big independent music company, and it recently forged an agreement with the National Music Publishers' Association. NMPA's President and CEO David Israelite isn't done negotiating; he posted a warning earlier this week on his Instagram that Triller should 'watch out,' later elaborating that the company "must legitimize its business by properly licensing all music on its platform."

Triller also has partnerships with Spotify and Apple Music. Jack Warning of Pegasus Ventures said these help boost user engagement. If a Triller user likes a song on the app, for instance, they can add it to a Spotify or Apple Music playlist. And users can pull songs from Spotify and Apple Music into Triller to make videos.

But "the biggest partnership that really got our attention," Uzzaman said, "was with Billboard." Alongside charts like the Billboard Hot 100, it has begun publishing weekly charts of top songs from the Triller app.

Technology

There is "more technology behind (Triller) than people understand," said Uzzaman, who likened Triller to the earlier days of Google, when it was chasing the heels of Yahoo. He pointed to Triller's AI tools for editing videos, and protocols for helping brands advertise on the platform.

Among other features, Sarnevesht pointed to new, "game-changing" recommendation algorithms, and highlighted how Triller's 2019 acquisition of UK-based MashTraxx came with "13 employees, 11 Ph.D's, all specializing in AI. One of them wrote a thesis on recommendation engines and AI in the short-form video space."

TikTok has no shortage of technology, which it has recently begun to share more openly. But it is currently being sued by Triller for patent infringement, and potentially for antitrust as well.

TikTok has highlighted its relationships with creators as a competitive advantage, which it is hoping to entrench with its recently announced creator fund. But reports have indicated that TikTok creators are beginning to look elsewhere, including to Triller.

Meanwhile, as Facebook builds its own TikTok competitor on Instagram called Reels, it has reportedly offered big deals to entice TikTokkers to defect. TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer has called Reels a copycat product, and pointed out that Facebook's previous "copycat Lasso failed quickly."

"The same thing can happen for Reels," noted Uzzaman. "Until they are playing in the market, there is no guarantee...Triller is already far ahead of anyone else in the U.S. market."

---

Sam Blake primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA

https://twitter.com/hisamblake
samblake@dot.la

🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

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.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

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.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

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.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
Trending