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On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, Amanda Groves talks about how PLUS Capital advises celebrity investors and why more high-profile individuals are choosing to invest instead of endorse.
As a partner at PLUS, Groves works with over 70 artists and athletes, helping to guide their investment strategies. PLUS advises their talent roster to combine their financial capital with their social capital and focus on five investment areas: the future of work, future of education, health and wellness, the conscious consumer and sustainability.
“The idea is if we can leverage these people who have incredible audiences—and influence over that audience—in the world of venture capital, you'd be able to help make those businesses move forward faster,” Groves said.
PLUS works to create celebrity partnerships by identifying each client’s passions and finding companies that align with them, Groves said. From there, the venture firm can reach out to prospective partners from its many contacts and can help evaluate businesses that approach its clients. Recently, PLUS paired actress Nina Dobrev with the candy company SmartSweets after she had told them about her love for its snacks.
Celebrity entrepreneurship has shifted quite a bit in recent years, Groves said. While celebrities are paid for endorsements, Groves said investing allows them to gain equity from the growth of companies that benefit from their work.
“Like in movies, for example, where they're earning a residual along the way, they thought, ‘You know, if we're going to partner with these brands and create a tremendous amount of enterprise value, we should be able to capture some of the upside that we're generating, too’,” she said.
Partnering in this way also allows her clients to work with a wider range of brands, including small brands that often can’t afford to spend millions on endorsements. Investing allows high-profile individuals to represent brands they care about, Groves said.
“The last piece of the puzzle was a drive towards authenticity,” Groves said. “A lot of these high-profile artists and athletes are not interested, once they've achieved some sort of level of success, in partnering with brands that they don't personally align with.”
dot.LA Editorial Intern Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.
It looks like venture deals are stagnating in Los Angeles.
That’s according to dot.LA’s most recent quarterly VC sentiment survey, in which we asked L.A.-based venture capitalists for their take on the current state of the market. This time, roughly 83% of respondents reported that the number of deals they made in L.A. either stayed the same or declined in the first quarter of 2022 (58% said they stayed the same compared to the fourth quarter of 2021, while 25% said they decreased).
That’s not hugely surprising given the sluggish dynamics gripping the venture capital world at large these days, due to macroeconomic factors including the ongoing stock market correction, inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While startups and VC investors haven’t been hit as hard as public companies, it looks like the ripple effects are beginning to bleed into the private capital markets.
Image courtesy of Hagan Blount
In addition to slowing deal volumes, most investors said they’re seeing startup valuations lose momentum, as well: Roughly 81% said valuations either stayed the same or decreased from the previous quarter, with nearly 39% noting a decline.
Should that sentiment continue moving forward, it could spell bad news for startups as far as raising the money they need for growth, investors said.
“If I was a startup right now, I would be making sure I have plenty of runway,” said Krisztina ‘Z’ Holly, a venture partner at Good Growth Capital. “When it looks like there's some potential challenges ahead in the market, it’s good to fill your war chest.”
Among VC respondents, about 86% said they believed that valuations in the first quarter were too high—one potential reason why deals slowed down in the first quarter, according to TenOneTen Ventures partner Minnie Ingersoll. She noted that L.A.’s growing startup scene features more early-stage ventures, whose valuations haven’t come down the way later-stage startup valuations have.
“I would say we are just more cautious about taking meetings where the valuations are at pre-correction levels,” Ingersoll said. “We didn’t take meetings because their valuations weren’t in line with where we thought the market was.”
While most respondents said the Russia-Ukraine war didn’t have much impact on their investment strategies, some 22% said it did have an effect—with one VC noting they had to pass on a deal in Russia that they liked.
Is There a Flight Out of Los Angeles?
Los Angeles was heralded as the third-largest startup ecosystem in the U.S. at the beginning of the year, behind only San Francisco and New York. Yet nearly one-third (31%) of VC respondents said that at least one of their portfolio companies had left L.A. within the past year. It won’t come as a huge surprise that the city of Austin, Texas has been one of the prime beneficiaries of this shift—with roughly half of those who reported that a portfolio company had left L.A. identifying Austin as the destination.
The tech industry’s much-hyped “exodus” from California has been widely reported on, especially as more companies have embraced the work-from-home lifestyle and also opted to move their operations to lower-cost cities and states. Most notably, Elon Musk has recently moved two of his companies, electric automaker Tesla and tunnel infrastructure startup The Boring Company, from California to Texas (with both of those firms moving in and around Austin).
“In today's competitive market with lots of capital to invest, we think the next generation of successful VCs are going to be diverse in markets (not just Silicon Valley)... [and] have access to undiscovered founders from everywhere,” said one survey respondent.
NFTs Aren’t Popular With VCs—But Web 3 Is
“It’s the future,” according to one respondent. “Buckle up and get on board.”
More than 71% of VC survey respondents said they were bullish on Web3—the new blockchain-enabled iteration of the internet, which promises decentralization and a whole range of applications involving cryptocurrencies, NFTs, DeFi and more. It’s the same sentiment informing Santa Monica-based VC firm M13’s new $400 million fund, which considers Web3 a core piece of its investment thesis.
In Q2 2022, do you expect your portfolio companies to:
L.A. is home to an ever-growing cadre of Web3-focused startups operating across the realms of finance, entertainment and other industries. But while local investors are willing to pour money into blockchain-related ventures, one segment of the space continues to evoke skepticism: Only 18% of respondents would describe NFTs as “a good investment,” while 33% thought they were “bad” investments and 39% said they were unsure.
As in our last survey several months ago, it appears that NFTs continue to divide opinion, with respondents expressing differing perspectives on their value and utility. One referred to them as “get rich quick schemes,” but added that the art pieces and social communities that emerge from them may be valuable. Another said that “NFTs as a digital medium are a legitimate thing”—but noted the vast majority are “awful investments with no intrinsic value.”
Graphics courtesy of Hagan Blount.
In this week’s edition of “Raises”: It was another slow week on the deal front, but one maternal health startup with a mission to fight maternal mortality landed a deal with growth equity business Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, a Los Angeles-based investment firm is launching its 8th digital asset fund of $60 million.
Mahmee, an integrated care delivery platform for maternal and infant health that connects patients, health professionals, and healthcare organizations to increase access to prenatal and postpartum care, raised a $9.2 million Series A funding round led by Goldman Sachs.
FutureProof Technologies, a climate risk analytics platform, raised $6.5 million in capital led by AXIS Digital Ventures along with Innovation Endeavors and MS&AD Ventures.
Anja Health, a doctor-backed cord blood banking company, raised $4.5 million led by Alexis Ohanian's Seven Seven Six.
Wave Financial LLC, a digital asset investment management company, is launching a $60 million fund to deploy capital via cryptocurrency.
Raises is dot.LA’s weekly feature highlighting venture capital funding news across Southern California’s tech and startup ecosystem. Please send fundraising news to Decerry Donato (firstname.lastname@example.org).