Ebay 2.0? Whatnot's $50M Bid To Take Auction Excitement to Livestream Video

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

Ebay 2.0? Whatnot's $50M Bid To Take Auction Excitement to Livestream Video

A few years ago, you went to eBay to bid on limited edition sports cards or out-of-print comic books. Then, livestreaming came to town.

Two weeks ago, one Pokemon collector dropped $17,500 on a Skyridge Charizard Holo card during a broadcasted event streamed live on Whatnot.

What began as a social app for collectors to swap stories and photos has ballooned into a digital stage for live auctions and unboxing videos. Since January, the Los Angeles tech startup has hired some 40 employees and leased a 10,000 square-foot office space in the Marina Arts District.

And on Tuesday — just a few months since its last big boost — the startup closed a $50 million Series B round.

Whatnot appWhatnot recently closed a $50 million Series B round.

"It's probably one of the fastest growing marketplaces we've ever seen," said Y Combinator's Anu Hariharan, who led the round.

It's been over a year since consumers moved online in droves and investors are still sinking millions into retail technology —livestream shopping especially.

L.A.-based Popshop Live was valued at $100 million last fall after an investor bidding war to lead its Series A. Talkshoplive, which hosts celebrities livestreaming about their memoirs and latest albums, scored seed capital in February from a venture firm backed by eBay's founder.

Pokemon  1st Edition Shining Charizard card

One Pokemon collector dropped $17,500 on a 1st Edition Shining Charizard card during a broadcasted event streamed live on Whatnot.

What gives? Hariharan said U.S. ecommerce has only embraced video in the last three to five years, and now it's everywhere. Even retailers like Home Depot introduced livestream demos and workshops during the pandemic.

Grant Lafontaine, the CEO and co-founder of Whatnot, brought the technology to a niche, well-connected community of online shoppers. He founded the company in 2019 with Logan Head, a former product manager at the online sneaker marketplace GOAT.

Their users are 18 to 32-year-old collectors who spend hours browsing eBay listings but crave something more interactive.

"They're on eBay because they're buying the collectibles, they're on Instagram to show them off," Lafontaine said. "They come to Whatnot because they can do both."

The company got its start as a social platform and marketplace — sans video livestreaming. That function came later, after a steady pool of users made checking Whatnot a daily habit.

"I was the first person to go live," Lafontaine said. "I sold out $5,000 worth of collectibles in two-and-a-half hours. The experience kind of spoke for itself. Anyone who saw it wanted to use it."

Other investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Animal Capital, musicians Ryan Tedder and DJ Skee with Min 10 and NFL players DeAndre Hopkins, Bobby Wagner and Jeremy Padawer. The company has raised $75 million to date.

Whatnot now boasts 15 categories of collectibles, from FunkoPops to sports cards (the most popular category on the app) to a few newer experimental verticals like vintage clothing. Within the next year, Lafontaine said he hopes to hit 30.

"For a young startup, it's always important to start with one or two categories, not with everything," said Hariharan. "What Whatnot has done really well in collectives will help them scale pretty much any product."

The app, she said, is on its way to becoming "eBay 2.0."

A previous version of this story stated Whatnot closed a $40 million Series B Round. The correct amount is $50 million.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

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.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

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.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.