Zedge Expands Into LA, Looking to Grow Short-form Storytelling
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
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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Their Russian investor was dead.
On a late Tuesday night in early May, the billionaire Russian coal tycoon, Dmitry "Dima" Bosov stopped answering phone calls and messages. When his wife, Katerina, arrived at their mansion in the suburbs of Moscow, she found her 52-year old husband locked in the family's home gym, dead from an apparent gunshot wound to the head.
Editor's Note<p><em></em><em>The story is pieced together from interviews with more than 40 former employees and business associates, active and retired county officials, as well as federal and county law enforcement; state court records, arbitration, arrest and corporate records in the U.S. and Canada; other public records in six California counties; Genius Fund corporate records and emails. Some former employees and business associates spoke to dot.LA on condition that their names not be mentioned out of fear of reprisals.</em></p><p>This is first story in our "Green Rush" series. Read more:</p><p><a href="https://dot.la/genius-fund-cannabis-startup-2646866270" target="_self">Part 2: Growing Pains in Plumas County</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/cannabis-products-genius-fund-2646866366.html" target="_self">Part 3: A Line of Failed Products</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/green-rush-genius-fund-2646866354.html" target="_blank">Part 4: What Went Down in Adelanto</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/dmitry-bosov-genius-fund-2646866356.html" target="_self">Part 5: The Sudden Death of Dmitry Bosov And His Dream of a California Cannabis Empire</a></p>
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"The time for inaction is over."
Such was the through-line in dot.LA's Thursday panel discussion on "Measurably Increasing Diversity in the Workplace."
Joining dot.LA host Kelly O'Grady was Oona King, VP of diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) at Snap and a member of the UK House of Lords, and Kobie Fuller, partner at Upfront Ventures. The conversation centered on what organizations must do to ensure that this moment of acute awareness of the societal issues around DEI does not go to waste.
"I am grateful that white people have woken up," said King, who has also worked in diversity and inclusion at the UK's Channel 4 and YouTube. "But my gratitude will turn back to rage if they go back to sleep."
Kobie Fuller, Partner, Upfront Ventures<p><strong><br></strong></p><p>Kobie joined Upfront in June 2016, bringing deep expertise in enterprise SaaS and emerging technologies including VR and AR. Over his career he has invested early in notable companies including Exact Target (sold to Salesforce for $2.5B) and Oculus (sold to Facebook for $2B). Prior to Upfront, Kobie was an investor at Accel and, earlier, was the chief marketing officer at L.A.-based REVOLVE, one of the largest global fashion e-commerce players. Earlier in his career, Kobie helped found OpenView Venture Partners and was an investor at Insight Venture Partners. Kobie graduated from Harvard College.</p>
Oona King, VP of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Snap Inc.<p>Oona King is the VP of diversity, equity & inclusion at Snap Inc. Previously, Oona was Google's director of diversity strategy, YouTube's director of diverse marketing, and before that chief diversity officer for British broadcaster Channel 4. Oona is a member of the House of Lords (a life-time appointment as Baroness King in January 2011), and former senior policy advisor & speechwriter to the prime minister at 10 Downing Street. </p><p>Oona became a member of the House of Commons at 29, the second woman of color, and 200th woman of any color elected to the British Parliament. She became parliamentary private secretary to the minister for e-commerce, and secretary of state for trade and industry. Oona was voted by other MPs as "the MP most likely to change society." In the Lords, Oona's front bench roles included shadow education minister, shadow minister for the digital economy, and shadow minister for equalities.</p>
Chief Host & Correspondent and Head of Video Strategy at dot.LA
Chief Host & Correspondent and Head of Video Strategy at dot.LA<p>Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, New England's premier sports network, she also served on Disney's Corporate Strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.</p>
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