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Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to email@example.com and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him
West Hollywood-based electric bicycle-sharing startup Wheels has agreed to sell its business to micromobility firm Helbiz, the companies announced Tuesday.
Helbiz said it has signed a letter of intent to acquire Wheels for an undisclosed sum, with the transaction expected to close by the end of this year.
Wheels was launched in 2018 by brothers Jonathan and Joshua Viner, the former co-founders of dog-walking startup Wag. The dockless e-bike provider, which has raised roughly $100 million in funding to date, has 8,000 vehicles deployed across 12 markets including Los Angeles, New York, Austin and Honolulu.
Wheels has particularly built up its presence in its hometown; the company says it is the “only operator across the four permitted markets of metropolitan Los Angeles”—those being the cities of L.A., Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Culver City.
New York-based Helbiz currently operates in more than 35 cities across the U.S. and Italy, according to its website, with plans to expand to France and Serbia. Helbiz—which manages a fleet of electric scooters, bicycles and mopeds—was launched in 2015 by Italian-American entrepreneur Salvatore Palella and went public in a SPAC deal last August.
The merger comes after Wheels inked a deal with Helbiz in January to supply the company with 2,500 of its sit-down e-bikes in the U.S. and Italy.
“From a strategic perspective, this acquisition is expected to double [Helbiz’s] revenue, expand the cities served, enhance margins and reduce costs,” Palella said in a statement. “Our focus is to adapt and grow with profitability at the core of every decision. This acquisition makes us even more confident in our ability to achieve that goal in the next 18 months.”
Helbiz reported net losses exceeding $19 million in the quarter ended March 31, on revenues of just $3.3 million.
“Our businesses are complementary in really powerful ways,” Wheels CEO Marco McCottry said in a statement. “There is minimal overlap of city permits, and we believe the combination of our businesses can create a uniquely diversified mobility offering that generates compelling synergies across a large footprint.”
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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.
Similar programs are common in the startup world and in the creator economy. For example, social media companies can use accelerator programs not only to support rising stars but to lure those creators—and their audiences—to the company’s platforms. Genies believes avatars will be a crucial part of the internet’s future and is similarly using its program to encourage creators to launch brands using Genies’ platform.
“I think us being able to work hands on with this next era—this next generation of designers and entrepreneurs—not only gets us a chance to understand how people want to use our platform and tools, but also allows us to nurture those types of creators that are going to exist and continue to build within our ecosystem,” said Allison Sturges, Genies’ head of strategic partnerships.
DIY Collective’s initial cohort will include roughly 15 people, Sturges said. They will spend three weeks at the Genies headquarters, participating in workshops and hearing from CEOs, fashion designers, tattoo artists and speakers from other industries, she added. Genies will provide creatives with funding to build brands and audiences, though Sturges declined to share how much. By the end of the program, participants will be able to sell digital goods through the company’s NFT marketplace, The Warehouse. There, people can buy, sell and trade avatar creations, such as wearable items.
Genies will accept applications for the debut program until Aug. 1. It will kick off on Aug. 8, and previous experience in digital fashion and 3D art development is not required.
Sturges said that the program will teach people “about the tools and capabilities that they will have” through Genies’ platform, as well as “how to think about building their own avatar ecosystem brands and even their own audience.”
Image courtesy of Genies
Founded in 2017, Genies established itself by making avatars for celebrities from Rihanna to Russell Westbrook, who have used the online lookalikes for social media and sponsorship opportunities. The 150-person company, which has raised at least $250 million to date, has secured partnerships with Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group to make avatars for each music label’s entire roster of artists. Former Disney boss Bob Iger joined the company’s board in March.
The company wants to extend avatars to everyone else. Avatars—digital figures that represent an individual—may be the way people interact with each other in the 3D virtual worlds of the metaverse, the much-hyped iteration of the internet where users may one day work, shop and socialize. A company spokesperson previously told dot.LA that Genies has been beta testing avatar creator tools with invite-only users and gives creators “full ownership and commercialization rights” over their creations collecting a 5% transaction fee each time an avatar NFT is sold.
“It's an opportunity for people to build their most expressive and authentic self within this digital era,” Sturges said of avatars.
The company’s call for creators could be a sign that Genies is close to rolling out the Warehouse and its tools publicly. Asked what these avatar tools might look like, the startup went somewhat quiet again.
Allison Sturges said, “I think that's probably something that I'll hold off on sharing. We will be rolling some of this out soon.”
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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.
DoorDash’s Founding Story: Stanley Tang, a cofounder and chief product officer of delivery giant DoorDash, speaks with Pear VC's founding managing partner, Pejman Nozad. They'll discuss how to grow a tech company from seed stage all the way to an initial public offering. Aug. 19 at 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Santa Monica.
The Founders Guide to LA: A presentation from dot.LA cofounder and executive chairman Spencer Rascoff, who co-founded Zillow and served as the real estate marketplace firm’s CEO. Aug. 16 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Brentwood.
Time To Build: Los Angeles: Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) hosts a discussion on how L.A. can maintain its momentum as one of the fastest-growing tech hubs in the U.S. Featured speakers include a16z general partners Connie Chan and Andrew Chen, as well as Grant Lafontaine, the cofounder and CEO of shopping marketplace Whatnot. Aug. 19 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Santa Monica.
How to Build Successful Startups in Difficult Industries: Leaders from Southern California’s healthcare and aerospace startups gather for panels and networking opportunities. Hosted by TechStars, the event includes speakers from the U.S. Space Force, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, Applied VR and University of California Irvine. Aug. 15 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Culver City.
LA Tech Week Demo Day: Early stage startups from the L.A. area pitch a panel of judges including a16z’s Andrew Chen and Nikita Bier, who co-founded the Facebook-acquired social media app tbh. Inside a room of 100 tech leaders in a Beverly Hills mansion, the pitch contest is run by demo day events platform Stonks and live-in accelerator Launch House. Aug. 17 from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Beverly Hills.
Registration information and a full list of LA Tech Week events can be found here.
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RYZ Labs wants to be a one-stop shop for startups looking to scale up and add new talent.
California natives Jordan Metzner and Sam Nadler created RYZ Labs, and their résumés make it clear they’ve got the knowledge and experience necessary to help others hit the ground running. In 2006, the pair launched California Burrito Co., a chain restaurant with international reach; in 2013, they founded the “Uber for Laundry,” Washio. Add in Metzner’s five years at Amazon and Nadler’s time at Lyft, and you have a potent combination of industry savvy and entrepreneurial flair.
Metzner and Nadler bring that collective knowledge to bear in RYZ Labs, which calls itself a “hybrid startup studio.” That means RYZ is ready to help with two of the more daunting challenges any growing venture faces: Refining a startup’s vision and building the kind of staff needed to execute that vision—on a budget, if necessary. RYZ Labs’ official announcement is succinct: They want to “help existing startups scale fast and spend less.”
In an interview, Jordan Metzner tells dot.LA his time with Amazon played a significant role in returning to entrepreneurship. “I was able to work on entrepreneurial projects pretty much like the whole time,” he says, “And I basically was able to come up and generate new ideas and turn them from ideas into little startups at Amazon….”
Metzner also says that in his position, he got to "see both sides and how projects are able to set their value within the organization, how impactful they must be.”
Metzner’s final Amazon project helped turn him back toward the startup world. He invented Amazon’s Ring Drone, and after that, Metzner says, “I just knew that… creating things from scratch is still really where my passion was.”
“So yeah,” he says, “I had dreamed of building a startup studio for years.” According to Metzner, that takes “not just the desire to do it, but probably a collection of career experiences that have brought me to this place.”
Digital mock up for OffsiteIO, a startup helped by RYZ Labs Assets by Ryz Labs
Thanks partly to Metzner’s and Nadler’s connections in Latin America (California Burrito Co. started in Argentina before expanding to six other Central and South American countries), RYZ Labs has international ambitions. As Metzner says in the launch announcement, RYZ combines two of his passions: “Latin America and business creation. Having lived and worked in Latin America for many years, I love the people and truly believe in the region’s tech prowess and potential.”
As experts on the Latin American market, Metzner and Nadler have the advantage of being able to identify the region’s top engineers. However, there are many other reasons for RYZ Labs to encourage founders to look beyond North America, including pandemic-inspired normalization of remote work, economic instability in the U.S., an untapped reserve of talented engineers, and more practical, simple advantages such as time zones lining up.
Expanding on the COVID-19-inspired advantages of distributed teams, Metzner tells dot.LA "that probably leads to part of the human capital side of our business.”
He notes that it has “been easier and easier to add additional teammates that may not be sitting in the same room as you. And as long as you speak the same language and you're in the same time zones, you know, it can be a super easy way to communicate and to build.”
RYZ Labs was in “stealth mode” for a year and, in that time, launched startups like HipTrain, a wellness coaching marketplace, and Offsiteio, which handles planning corporate offsite meetings. Asked if the nature of the startups he and Nadler work with has changed, Metzner notes that HipTrain is a “business that probably only could have been built due to the pandemic” thanks to the videoconferencing boom.
Regarding Offsiteio, Metzner says, "of course, companies always used to get together,” but “the idea of getting together was maybe like a summer picnic or something.”
“And now that the teams are, you know, in different places,” he continues, “getting together as a team is more important, and it's a shift from spending it on properly planned equipment and office space and spending it on experiences to bring your team together and create bonds to create a culture within your organization.”
RYZ’s development and staffing process is relatively straightforward. After incubating ideas and creating a workable—and saleable—version of a product or service, they move on to hiring leaders, then setting the stage for outside investors. After that, the “Human Capital” part of the equation kicks in, focusing on finding Latin American talent.
Asked if he has general advice for anyone in the earliest stages of conceiving a startup, Metzner keeps it simple: “Best place to start is to buy a domain name and get started,” he says.
“I mean, there's been more and more online tools to help build everything from websites to web applications, to communication with your customers. There's a lot of no code tools that even we use sometimes that are great intermediaries as you're building product.”
One clear thing that comes across when speaking with Metzner is that he’s happy about launching RYZ Labs in his hometown. “I was born in Los Angeles,” he says, “My mother was born in Los Angeles. Her parents were born in Los Angeles. I've lived in LA my entire life. I've moved around but came back.”
“I love Los Angeles, and I think it's a great place to build,” Metzner concludes, “I think it has such an entrepreneurial spirit based off of Hollywood films and the fact that every Hollywood movie is almost like a new business. It's an awesome place to build a company.”
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