Watch: Our Virtual Fireside Chat with Cameo Founder and CEO Steven Galanis

On Thursday, July 9th, dot.LA entertainment reporter Sam Blake hosted a one-on-one video interview with Steven Galanis, founder and CEO of Cameo, the thriving video platform featuring celebrities and influencers.

"From our estimation we believe that there are two million people in the world that are qualified influencers," said Cameo Founder and CEO Steven Galanis in a conversation with dot.LA's Sam Blake. "And probably more than in any other city on Earth, those people are in Los Angeles."


The website allows celebrities to send personalized video messages to paying fans. Cameo recruits big names, usually through social media. Other times, celebrities are referred by their friends — like the time Snoop Dogg popped in on Ice T's video.

"He ended up Face-timing me later that day and joining the platform," Galanis said. Later, he said, Snoop Dogg became an investor. These scenarios, where celebrities join by referral, make up about 55% of all Cameo bookings. To date, the company has collected over 40,000 influencers.

But how? What's in it for the celebrity? The platform acts almost as a marketplace for talent. Mainstream and niche performers alike can build their following.

"The value prop of the Cameo is that talent is getting paid to become more popular," Galanis said. "The person who receives a Cameo from you literally becomes a bigger fan of you than they ever were."

Right before Mother's Day, one customer wrote to Galanis on LinkedIn to tell him the video he bought for his wife was "the best Cameo that's ever been made." Naturally, Galanis was intrigued; the four-year-old startup has churned out over a million of these videos.

Galanis confirmed: it was the best Cameo he'd ever seen. He booked the same artist, Michael Fronti, to make one for his mom. She became an instant fan of a singer she'd never heard of. Her Facebook friends love him now, too.

Virtual Fireside Chat with Cameo Founder & CEO Steven Galanis www.youtube.com

Cameo CEO Steven Galanis


Cameo
has emerged as the world's leading marketplace for personalized video shoutouts recently cementing roots in Los Angeles. Cameo has raised over $65 million to date; most recently a mid-2019 $50 million Series B led by Kleiner Perkins, with participation from Playa Vista-based The Chernin Group.

dot.LA entertainment reporter Sam Blake will host an in depth video discussion with Cameo's CEO on how he plans to disrupt the entertainment world and more!

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California is the world's largest legal pot market, generating nearly $3.1 billion in spending in the Golden State alone. But cannabis-related businesses in the U.S. live in a legal-limbo, operating in this strange gray area between federal laws that make marijuana illegal and states that have decriminalized its use and sale entirely. This has led to sometimes difficult choices, workarounds and issues with which the cannabis and cannabis-linked companies are forced to contend.

dot.LA dove into this tenuous landscape during a virtual panel discussion on Tuesday with experts in cannabis compliance and legal issues, asking them: Is the green rush over? The consensus seemed to be that no, it isn't, but this first wave of "reckless money," likely is.

Tuesday's conversation on the current state and future of California's marijuana marketplace capped off the conclusion of dot.LA's five-part investigative series examining the rapid rise and rapid fall of L.A.-based Genius Fund, a one-time $164 million cannabis company. Today that money is gone and their Russian oligarch investor is dead.

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Valence is trying to be more than just a LinkedIn for Black professionals. It's trying to narrow the wealth gap, with help from algorithms.

The social networking platform for Black professionals launched last year and has already attracted 10,000 members. It just got a $5.25 million boost from a Series A round led by GGV Capital.

It's now aiming to get to 100,000 members over the course of the year. Part of that effort will mean hiring engineers and developers who can help refine its database and allow members to make meaningful connections beyond their alma maters, locations and shared employers.

Valence is developing a "customization engine for people in their career journey," said CEO Guy Primus, who took the helm in June.

"We want to take the data a level further and be able to customize again the reason for the interactions, as opposed to just a first level connection or a geography or a school," he said.

"We want to be able to have some type of algorithm for why people connect and not just, you know, the superficial reasons that most people connect."

The former chief executive of the Virtual Reality Company said he is looking at how Valence can use its existing data set to build out a platform that connects people along their lines of interest and other factors that aren't always clear from the kind of standard resume fare found on LinkedIn.

Valence is positioning itself as a tool for corporations looking to diversify their ranks, but it's also establishing itself as a platform for founders.

Last month, the company launched a funding network that connects investors with rising Black founders, curating investment opportunities for pre-seed stage entrepreneurs.

The effort dovetails with its mission to narrow the wealth gap and open up opportunities.

Valence points out that only 3% of Silicon Valley's workforce population is Black, there are 3 Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, and just 1% of venture-funded startup founders are Black.

That helps explain why Black Americans make up nearly 13% of the population, but have only 3% of its wealth.

Sean Mendy, a founding partner at Concrete Rose Capital in the Bay Area, helped facilitate many of those funding connections for Valence. What surprised him was just how early entrepreneurs were in their company development, but he said it made perfect sense given the lack of capital access Black Americans had.

"Traditionally it's been difficult for Black professionals to take the lead in starting companies because of the lack of capital," he said.

Fuller, a general partner for Upfront Ventures, which participated in the round and helped incubate the company, co-founded Valence out of frustration with the lack of networks startups and others had to black talent.

"The goal of creating a fluid bridge between Black Talent and economic opportunity and development couldn't be more important in today's world," said co-founder Kobie Fuller in announcing the round.

Hours before Dmitry Bosov, or "Dima," died alone in a Moscow suburb on May 6, allegedly of suicide or an accident, he chatted with family members over video. Even as his former cannabis company was sold to a new owner and he was overtaken by concerns about the novel coronavirus pandemic in Russia, he still seemed happy to family members, who wrote about his demeanor the night of his death in an online tribute.

The Russian coal magnate had gambled on Genius Fund, an ambitious Culver City-based cannabis startup that had plans to dominate the industry. But after investing roughly $164 million, he appeared to have walked away, at least temporarily, from the dream of a viable U.S. cannabis company.

When his former Genius Fund associates learned of Bosov's death shortly afterward, they were all "shocked," according to former employees interviewed by dot.LA.

Bosov's son called Genius Fund executive Ari Stiegler the next day crying. "It was super sad," Stiegler said.

A string of bad investments, power struggles and lavish spending had nearly brought Genius Fund to its knees. A lawsuit filed against Bosov and his company alleges funds were "commingled," that there was a lack of "any coherent business plan" and that the investor "concealed and misrepresented" his ownership, raising questions about what his investment intentions were.

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