Mobile Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Movie App Whatifi is Looking For Scripts

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

Mobile Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Movie App Whatifi is Looking For Scripts
Courtesy of Whatifi

The movie ends with the mother's severed head in the refrigerator. And it's in there because of the choices you made.

But you can return to the beginning, make new choices along the way and produce a different ending on Whatifi, a new, choose-your-own-adventure storytelling mobile app.

Mobile-first storytelling isn't exactly new. Nor is choose-your-own-adventure. But Whatifi founder Jaanus Juss believes his game plan to combine quality content, interactivity and socialization will make his app a hit, particularly with younger crowds.

"It's a new entertainment category that defines how the next generation will entertain themselves," he says.


Following a $10 million funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, this L.A. and Estonia-based startup launched on iOS last week with two "branching story" titles. Adding the app to Android is one part of a "long product roadmap," the founders say.

"Anatomy of a Decision" follows 30 years of a man's life, starting with his parents' visit to a fertility clinic, and proceeds along 64 possible story permutations based on the seven different decisions viewers make along the way.

In "As Dead as it Gets," viewers make four decisions to determine which of 16 fates will befall the main character, who is on the verge of death and wants to return to the land of the living.

Although Whatifi's founders think these 80 storylines will keep their viewers busy for the time being, they are calling for writers and directors to help them build out their content library.

"Anatomy of a Decision" and "As Dead as it Gets" are the two movies available to watch in the newly released app.Courtesy of Whatifi


What If I Want to Watch?

Juss' background puts him and his team in a strong position to provide advice to creators.

As chief executive and founder of Creator City, an Estonian creative network, Juss and some experimental colleagues began exploring how to introduce interactive storytelling into live theater. At first the crowds were too shy.

"Estonians are introverted," he explains. "Then we gave them shots a half-hour before the show, and it worked great, but that obviously wasn't a sustainable model. So we injected technology."

The idea took off. Juss and his team ran over 1,000 interactive shows. Around the time he and his eventual co-founder Hardi Meybaum began discussing the possibility of bringing the format to film, Netflix released Bandersnatch, a choose-your-own-adventure format from the creators of Black Mirror. That was enough validation for Meybaum, who'd formerly been an entrepreneur, to leave his venture capital gig in Silicon Valley and join in on the Whatifi journey about a year ago.

"I thought this was a unique opportunity to build a large consumer company," he says.

While testing the product in New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden, the team watched to see whether users who finished one storyline would return to the beginning to try another route.

"If they don't do that then the whole premise of branching stories isn't successful," Juss says.

One decision point of "Anatomy of a Decision"

Courtesy of Whatifi

In those test markets they saw that 90% of users went back for another go, the founders say. And in the first week since launching in the U.S., that number has risen even higher.

Whatifi is targeted at a younger audience. They are more "native" to mobile, Juss says, and they were the audience segment who seemed to most enjoy the experience back in the live-theater version.

In addition to providing unique stories, Whatifi incorporates a social element. When users boot up the app, they enter a waiting room, where they can invite friends to join them in a viewing party. As the stories reach decision points, the movies pause and all the friends must vote. The story only continues if there's a consensus. Until then, friends must deliberate on which path to choose.

A key learning Juss took from the theater experiments was that the deliberation was often the part that was most fun.

And there's plenty more to explore.

"What we have so far is the simplest version that we've done in the theater," Juss says. "We can go much more complicated for telling the stories, but we'll ease into that."

Meybaum is enthralled by the possibilities.

"What makes Whatifi so cool and rewarding to work on is that, for us, there's content, social, the platform – it's all tightly coupled," he says. "When we are talking about the changes to come, they involve how to create content, the user experience, and also the social elements. It's the whole experience."

What if I Want to Participate?

July 7th is the pitch deadline. The company expects to receive applications primarily from "young and upcoming" screenwriters and directors, but Meybaum tells dot.LA that anyone can apply.

"You never know where the best ideas come from. We're excited to make it public," he says.

The contest has two parallel tracks: one for scripts only, and one for full productions. To help applicants get started, Whatifi provides a sample pitch, a story-mapping tool and a script template.

Up to 20 applicants will win $2,000 and qualify for the final round, for which they'll need to submit a full script – with a helping hand from Whatifi and its team of advisors.

Five winners of the full-production prize will receive $200,000 to turn their submissions into films for the Whatifi platform. Winners of the script-only prize will each receive $35,000, and the possibility that Whatifi will find a director to make the movie. The new films are scheduled to be completed by October 15.

Juss highlights one advantage the format provides to filmmakers: They need not suffer the pressures of having to make every decision themselves. That can be outsourced to the audience.

"Many writers probably wonder where their stories might have led, had they taken a different turn at a crucial point," says Johannes Veski, writer and director of "Anatomy of a Decision."

"The chance to see where all those potential paths lead should whet the appetites of screenwriters and filmmakers across genres."

Courtesy of Whatifi

Juss acknowledges that writing a script with multiple permutations can be a challenge. Veski agrees.

"Maintaining coherence is hard enough when writing one story," Veski says. "I aimed at 64 paths and outcomes that all begin at a single point. I had to make sure they'd all logically lead back to the beginning and still make sense in relation to each other. It felt like like building a house of cards and changing the laws of physics on the way."

But both Juss and Veski think the learning curve isn't too steep.

"We've seen that filmmakers can really get their heads around it," Juss says. "And once it's written it's not that different from a filming standpoint."

"Life is a single track of guesswork, projection, regret, and relief," Veski adds. "I'm intrigued by life as not one, but many possible paths. I see 'Anatomy of a Decision' as a mere mortal's chance to trick fate and try on all the couldas and shouldas."

---

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

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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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