Wikia's arrival, Ring funding and Locent tweet storm are among week's L.A. tech highlights

Wikia is the latest media start-up to set up a video production studio in Los Angeles -- and the latest to join the crowded field covering pop culture topics.

Earlier this year, Wikia launched entertainment website Fandom to carry a mix of stories and videos from professionals and amateurs about the latest in TV, movies and games. Now, an office off the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica will be a hub for producing videos for the website and connecting with Hollywood. New media companies like Mashable, Moviepilot, Buzzfeed and Vox have opened similar facilities in Los Angeles.

“As Wikia has evolved to become the ultimate hub for passionate pop culture fans, we knew we needed to be in the center of the action,” Wikia Chief Executive Craig Palmer said in a prepared statement.

Wikia might not be a well-known brand name. But the company’s software underlies popular gaming and entertainment websites, where fans go deep into the lore of games like “League of Legends” and the details of topics like the fantasy foods in “Harry Potter.” Wikia generates revenue by placing ads on 360,000 fan community sites.

Fandom is aimed at more mainstream audiences, with a goal of attracting some new viewers to the enthusiast pages.

To be sure, some Wikia websites have nothing to do with entertainment. One in Poland is focused on exposing corrupt government officials, and another in San Francisco is all about the homeless population.

Entertainment is the big driver of its 190 million monthly viewers, though, so Wikia wants to do more to connect those fans to Hollywood stars, whether through video chats anchored at the new office or by flying fans out for events in the area, said Eric Moro, Wikia’s head of content. The company also is considering starting some online video series.

Wikia’s name is strikingly similar to Wikipedia because they share a co-founder, Jimmy Wales. He launched Wikia in 2006 after finding that the online encyclopaedia wasn’t robust enough to host deep discussions about entertainment topics.

Fandom’s 150 amateur contributors are not paid. But venture-capital-funded Wikia does have 16 employees on its content team. The Santa Monica office will house about 10.

The funding and IPO slowdown

Though final numbers are still a couple of weeks away, early data show a tapering off of both venture capital investment in the U.S. and initial public offerings across the globe. There were 512 investment deals in the U.S. in January and February combined for a total sum of $7.9 billion, according to research firm CB Insights. That’s down from 597 deals and $8.1 billion in investment during the first two of months of last year, and significantly less than the 670 investment deals back in 2014.

On the IPO front, there have been just 167 new stocks listed worldwide this year, raising just over $12 billion, according to consulting firm Ernst & Young, which called the last three months the slowest first quarter since 2009. The number of IPOs represents a 39% drop from a year ago.

“With increased volatility in the markets and the uncertainty surrounding oil prices, interest rates and U.S. elections, we expected a stop-start year for IPO activities,” EY Americas IPO leader Jackie Kelley said in a report issued Monday.

This year’s 29 technology IPOs -- none of which have been in the U.S. -- amount to a 24% decline from last year’s first quarter.

Two get money

Despite the headwinds, there is still some money flowing. Santa Monica-based online retailer BeautyCounter raised at least $13 million during a recent offering, according to a regulatory filing.

And video-camera-enabled doorbell maker Ring, also from Santa Monica, announced raising $61 million in a funding round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the large Silicon Valley venture capital firm. The new cash is pegged for developing new products and expanding sales internationally.

Funding and diversity

Los Angeles entrepreneur Matt Joseph, who is black, unloaded in a series of 30 Twitter posts his frustrations trying to raise money from mostly white and Asian venture capitalists.

Joseph echoed what many minority entrepreneurs and corporate diversity experts have said before: People usually invest in founders who look like them. He wants to have frank discussions about race when investors meet with him about his company Locent, which makes software for businesses to exchange text messages with customers.

“Locent didn't start when I filed incorporation docs. It started 22 [years] ago when I was the only black kid in a class full of white kids,” he wrote. “Get to know the people of color you're friends with/working with/investing in/advising. There's way more to the story than you realize.”

Despite his struggles, Joseph said he remains optimistic.

“I'm not saying it's impossible to succeed as a minority,” he wrote. “There are a few beacons in our community who have done it at the highest level.”

In case you missed it

SolarReserve, a Santa Monica company, recently completed what it touts as a first-of-its-kind solar power plant that stores electricity using salt.

Though start-ups including Heal and Pager are trying, some are wary of scaling up the model of in-home doctor visits for everyone when there's a limited supply of physicians.

The trend doesn’t seem to have hit in Los Angeles, but in places like San Francisco people are paying a premium to live in a house with as many as 16 other people. Call it “co-living.”

Snapchat’s new vice president of product comes from Pandora.

UberEats is launching in Los Angeles, but will its vast supply of cash be enough to succeed in food delivery on a big scale?

Elsewhere on the Web

Advertisers like Taco Bell and media companies like Seventeen are turning to Wishbone, a polling app developed by Santa Monica start-up studio Science Inc., to get young consumers’ opinions on new products and cultural topics, according to Ad Age.

Low-budget movies starring YouTube stars can bring in around $15 million in revenue even though they rarely make it into theaters, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The stars themselves sometimes take half the profit, though.

Dysh, an app for rating individual menu items, has signed several YouTube stars as promoters, according to Variety. Toast Labs, based in El Segundo, developed the app. Honest Co. Chief Executive Brian Lee is the company’s lead investor.

Virtuix, which develops the Omni treadmill-like device for moving around while wearing a virtual reality headset, is planning to sell shares in the company and raise funds in the process through crowdfunding, according to VRWorld.

Glendale has hired a consultant to launch a six-month study of how to bring more tech companies to the city, according to the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.

Manhattan Beach has formed a committee to study how to attract more tech companies to the city, according to the L.A. Daily News.

paresh.dave@latimes.com

Twitter: @peard33

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°