Zedge Expands Into LA, Looking to Grow Short-form Storytelling

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

Zedge Expands Into LA, Looking to Grow Short-form Storytelling
Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

New York-based Zedge may be best known for helping people personalize their mobile phones with ringtones and wallpapers. But it has recently expanded into storytelling as well. Now, it's strengthening its Los Angeles ties in hopes of broadening its reach in the entertainment industry.

The company announced Thursday that L.A. attorney and entrepreneur Greg Suess is joining the board.

Suess is currently a partner and co-founder of L.A.-based Activist Artists Management.

"They have some interesting ideas they want to put to work in entertainment and tech, and they viewed me with my background of family offices and working in film, TV, music and digital media as a good match," Suess told dot.LA.

L.A. attorney and entrepreneur Greg Suess is joining Zedge's board.

Suess was mentored early on by Michael Milken, who steered him toward joining one of L.A.'s leading entertainment law firms, where he took over the tech practice as a young lawyer. Over his career he has worked with big family offices from the likes of Tony Khan (co-owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars) and Las Vegas magnate Kirk Kerkorian.

In 2019, Zedge launched Shortz, an app that serves up short-form stories told as a series of text messages between characters. It will soon release Shortcastz to deliver bite-sized series via podcast.

The company's 30 million monthly active users and 400 million installs could help entice content-producers to join Zedge, Suess said.

"If you can tap into 30 million people to accelerate the launch of what you're doing, and have an engineering powerhouse behind you, I think that's a pretty attractive selling proposition," he said. He likened Zedge to a "SPAC with benefits," referring to the special purpose acquisition company structure that has lately become an increasingly popular vehicle to take companies public.

Suess said Zedge's acquisition targets could include content libraries, intellectual property, distribution technologies, and other assets they think could complement their business. And he believes they will be able to make appealing offers.

"I think they could be a tremendous acquirer of businesses," he said.

Zedge is one of several companies spun off from New Jersey-based IDT Corporation, a key piece of the business empire of telecom tycoon Howard Jonas and his son Michael, who are Zedge's primary shareholders.

Suess called the Jonases "savvy media investors on a macro scale" and said he anticipates they and Zedge CEO Jonathan Reich will be looking to make deals in L.A.

Other companies that have spun out of IDT include Straight Path Communications, which Verizon acquired for $3.1 billion; Net2Phone, in which AT&T invested $1.1 billion; and IDT Entertainment, which Liberty Media acquired for $500 million.

"They're really open and entrepreneurial – that's one thing I've noticed about the Jonas family," said Suess. He is intrigued that there's "this billionaire practically no one's heard of, who's been described as the best investor you've never heard of...doing more in L.A. with Zedge and content and podcasting and short-form stories."

Zedge's announcement Thursday underscored the recent success of serialized short-form narrative content, including Radish's fundraise of $63.2 million earlier this week from Softbank and Kako, as well as recent raises by Unrd and Yarn.

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LA Venture: Emilio Diez Barroso On Why Everyone Isn’t Cut Out To Be A Founder

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
LA Venture: Emilio Diez Barroso On Why Everyone Isn’t Cut Out To Be A Founder
Photo: provided by LAV

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Bold Capital Partner Emilio Diez Barroso talks about his entrepreneurial journey, what led him to become an investor and shares the qualities he looks for when investing in companies.

Bold Capital is a Series A fund that primarily focuses its investments in deep tech and biotech companies. But, like other funds, they make excuses to invest in other companies every now and then.

“We're always interested in things that have the potential to truly transform how things are done and uplift humanity,” he said.

In his experience with investing in early stage startups, Diez Barroso said “humility and vulnerability are assets and qualities in the journey, and you don’t feel like you have to have it all together with your investors.”

Which is why he looks for people who have “this capacity to take full responsibility for how they show up and they have a vision and they have the willingness to go and execute it.”

In addition to his work at Bold Capital, Diez Barroso also runs two family offices which provide him with a surplus of knowledge in the investment space.

“I wear two very different hats,” he said, “and I invest very differently when I'm investing for myself, when I'm investing for my family, and when I'm investing for LP’s.”

But before becoming an investor, Diez Barroso got his entrepreneurial start when he arrived in Los Angeles. He admits that he failed plenty of times because unlike in Mexico, where Diez Barroso grew up, he didn’t have the same access to the contacts or resources of his family business.

“I would say yes to every opportunity that came my way,” he said, “I had started or partnered with someone and co-founded and most of them I had no idea what I was doing, so most of them really failed and a few got lucky enough to succeed.”

After learning how these startups worked and investing his own capital into several companies, he soon realized he was a much better investor than an operator.

“I think we're not all cut out for the journey,” he said, “and I don't think we should all be cut out for that journey. I think that it takes a very different character to start something from scratch.”

Throughout his own journey, Diez Barroso acknowledged that he struggled with his own identity and need to feel like the smartest person in the room. Once he better understood his own motivations, Diez Barroso was able to see that he was chasing the next reward, the next carrot.

“It's fun to close the deal and it's fun to grow the business,” Diez Barroso said. “But what I hadn't been in contact with is how much of my fuel was derived from trying to outrun the idea of not feeling good enough.”

Of course, he’s not alone. “I see a lot of entrepreneurs, activists all across fields and I can tell the difference when they're running from this fuel that is sort of very quick burning because there is an anxiety that oftentimes makes us narrow minded,” Diez Barroso said. “We are so attached to what we think should happen that we leave very little space for the possibilities.”

dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

This podcast is produced by L.A. Venture. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Xos Receives Multi-Million Dollar Order for Armored EVs

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Xos Receives Multi-Million Dollar Order for Armored EVs
Xos/Loomis
The United States transportation sector is rapidly adopting electric vehicle technologies at every level. From aircrafts, to tractor trailers, to sedans and bicycles, no means of locomotion is off limits…even armored trucks.
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