⛈ Sensible: The White Knight of Weather

Wil Chockley
WIl Chockley is a partner at 75 & Sunny, where he evaluates potential investment opportunities across sectors and works with founders to build their strategy and execute on their vision.

Picture this: you’ve saved up for months for your dream beach vacation. You’ve cut out restaurant dinners, morning coffees, and those concert tickets you really wanted. You bought your flights and made your hotel reservation. You finally step off the plane in your tropical paradise, only to see that the weather forecast has changed while you were in flight. It’s now supposed to rain for the next 3 days straight…

Source: Peter Cade, The Times of London

Every year, this happens to thousands if not millions of travelers, and, until recently, there was nothing you could do except grit your teeth and “enjoy” sitting in your hotel room reading your mystery novel while your hard earned money evaporates.

Nick Cavanaugh has made it his life’s mission to change that. His company, Sensible, offers the world’s first “Weather Guarantee.” Unfortunately, Sensible can’t literally guarantee the weather will be perfect for your next vacation, but they can insure your trip, such that you get paid a refund if the weather ruins your getaway. Very soon, if it rains on your beach vacation, you can breathe easy because the money you worked so hard to save will go right back into your bank account, and you get a free or discounted vacation to boot.

⛈️ Pre-Sensible

The Sensible story starts in one of the most notoriously rainy places in America: Seattle. Nick Cavanaugh was an outdoorsy kid who loved to ski. Fortunately for him, the Pacific Northwest is full of beautiful ski mountains, but unfortunately for him, the temperatures at many of these mountains hover right around freezing, so rainy skiing was just a fact of life for Nick. Year after year, Nick’s ski trips got rained out, or he skied and got rained on.

Eventually Nick moved out of Seattle to attend the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he studied Engineering, with a minor in Environmental Science. While a student at Penn, he came back to the west coast to intern at the world-renowned UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he found the perfect marriage of his passions for math and the outdoors. He was hooked.

After graduation in 2010, Nick returned to the Scripps Institute and four years later completed his masters and PhD in Atmospheric Dynamics and Physics. Nick then spent another two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (named for Ernest Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s frenemy in the movie). After 10 years in academia with a hyper-specialized degree and set of skills, Nick had a couple options - he could remain in academia and research, he could work in catastrophe insurance, or he could explore an emerging niche segment of Wall Street, weather-focused hedge funds.

Given Nick hadn’t really made money in his adult life, the hedge fund angle seemed pretty interesting, and he moved to New York to join a fund called Cumulus. At Cumulus, he was focused on predicting weather patterns and inferring their effect on energy and commodity prices. During Nick’s time at Cumulus, the scrappy little fund was acquired by mega-fund Citadel, and Nick looked for the exits.

After leaving Citadel, Nick moved to Los Angeles to get back to the sunny weather, surfing, and outdoorsy culture of Southern California while he thought of what to do next. As he was brainstorming, his mind kept coming back to those rainy childhood ski trips. He was one of probably 25 people in the world with deep experience in both advanced weather prediction and complex financial products, so he decided that he just might be the right person to solve his childhood problem.

☀️ Sensible

To make this happen, Nick needed some initial funding. In 2021, he connected with local LA VCs Dustin Rosen from Wonder Ventures and Josh Diamond from Walkabout Ventures who came together to lead Sensible’s Seed Round and get the business off the ground.

Since then, Nick and team have been building the fastest and most accurate local weather prediction engine in the world. Today, Sensible is constantly ingesting hundreds of terabytes of weather data from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts). The craziest aspect of Sensible’s product is not that they are able to ingest the data, but rather that they are able to generate quotes based on a completely personalized, local prediction in less than half a second. Not only can they spit out an individual quote in half a second, but they can spit out more than 60,000 quotes per second across their platform.

So how do you get one of these Sensible Weather Guarantees?

Sensible’s go-to-market strategy thus far has been B2B2C, where the team partners with end merchants (e.g., ski resort Mt. Baldy) as well as infrastructure providers (e.g., ticketing provider Catalate). As a consumer, you find Sensible in the checkout flow of your booking experience, similar to how you find travel insurance in your airline ticket checkout.

For example, when I went to book through Sensible partner Aquarius Boat Rentals, I was shown this screen:

As you can see, adding Sensible’s Weather Guarantee is pretty darn simple - just click yes in the dropdown, and it’s automatically added to your purchase price. Pricing of the policy is algorithmically determined based on the likelihood of rain and a multitude of other complicated factors. Depending on the policy you pay for, you can get a full or partial refund paid out by Sensible’s reinsurance partner (importantly, not the merchant or channel partner).

According to Nick, merchants can benefit from Sensible in two ways: 1. Buyers are more likely to buy if they have peace of mind knowing they will be reimbursed for inclement weather 2. Merchants can mark up the cost of the guarantee and actually make additional revenue from selling the policies.

This all seems like the legendary Michael Scott win-win-win.

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🏰 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

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