Billionaire Business Empire Brings on LA Board Member, Ready to Make Deals
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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When the founders who lead the ten young startups selected for the 2020 Techstars LA class begin their three month accelerator program Monday, they won't be gathering in the Mid-Wilshire office and shaking hands as every other class has done. Like the rest of us, they will be working at home because of the coronavirus. Dinners, meetings, socializing, and mentoring sessions will all be online.
"A big part of the magic of the program is the relationships that are from proximity and from everyone working together in the same space and so what we're doing is we're endeavoring to create as much as that connection in the virtual world as possible," said Anna Barber, managing director of Techstars LA.
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- Founded in 2018 by veterans of the digital music business, the company's customers include iHeartMedia, Sonos, Peloton and Octave Music Group
- Its leaders envision a new audio listening experience — where everyone has a personalized, curated playlist, with artful, AI-generated sequences and layers of music, voice clips (e.g. news and podcasts), and branded messaging that drives new revenues to the music industry
Before the beat from "Baby Got Back" that underpins Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" fades to silence at the song's end, a sound clip pops up, right on rhythm and with a similar energy, telling the listener what streaming service they're listening to. A new track seamlessly takes the baton from the Minaj song before the brief branded message concludes, and continues the upbeat mood as a music bed for a rapid sequence of audio clips – first a voice imploring listeners to get hyped, then a word from Kanye about his interview with Beyoncé, a snippet from that interview, and another in-the-spirit advert – before blending into the intro of the next song, Kanye's "Stronger": all of it interwoven as if it were a single track produced in a recording studio.
Super Hi-Fi's customers include iHeartMedia,