Lil Miquela anyone?

January 15, 2019

As synthetic superstars like Lil Miquela gain more followers, the companies that made them are gaining attention from VC firms.
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Investors pour $20m+ into virtual influencers like Lil Miquela

Lil Miquela is a star by today’s standards: She has roughly 1.5m followers on IG and, thanks to new financing, the company that owns her is about to be worth at least $125m.

Brud, the company that created Lil Miquela, is currently closing a round between $20m and $30m to continue developing her and some of its other flagship stars (Miquela may have even hinted about the news herself).

To clear up any confusion, Lil Miquela is what they call in the biz, an “avastar” — meaning she’s not real, but her fans certainly are, and investors are smellin’ the potential.

Synthetic celebs hit the mainstream

Per TechCrunch, characters like the Damon Albarn assembled supergroup, the Gorillaz, and the vocal-synthesizer-turned-cyber-celeb Hatsune Miku were some of the original avastars of our time.

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Of course, that was far before AI became a d*mn-near living, breathing organism, and before entertainment value was measured by “likes” and “subscribes.”

Now the attention from venture firms is showing creators just how important virtual characters could actually become.

Humans come and go, but IP lives forever

The potential of avastardom goes far beyond its characters: Betaworks, a NY-based investment firm that invested in SuperPlastic, a designer toy company turned digital agency for synthetic celebrities, is interested in exploring the role that AI and new technology platforms could play in rethinking entertainment and social media as a whole.  

Companies are learning that human influencers have an expiration date to their potential, where virtual IP can be extended — world’s will be built, interactive games will be created, and trends influenced by characters like Lil Miquela will become a way of life.

Does that mean Logan Paul’s gonna disappear?

That’s a big ol’ TBD, Ghost Rider, but with Brud’s new funding round (on top of the $6m it landed from Sequoia Capital last year), and other companies like SuperPlastic and Toonstar catching the eye of investors, the movement’s picking up steam.

And Investors believe a new kind of studio system is upon us — one more controllable and curated than the personalities and controversies that created a generation of social media influencers.

   @ Me Anything
Wes Schlagenhauf, News Writer at The Hustle

In the distant future, virtual influencers could be the social sheriff to run human influencers out of town. But when one trash lid closes a new one’s bound to open… i.e. a Logan Paul avastar.
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PG&E shares fell 50% yesterday after the utility announced it will file for bankruptcy

Shares of PG&E, the largest utility company in California, fell 50%+ yesterday after PG&E announced it will file for bankruptcy protection.

Just months ago, PG&E was a hot investment. But regulators are holding PG&E responsible for several deadly California fires, and now it’s struggling to pay the billion-dollar bills.

It costs a lot to upgrade old equipment…

But, as it turns out, it costs even more to rebuild scorched cities. The past 10 years have been the driest in California history, making PG&E’s old, spark-prone wires more dangerous than ever.

While PG&E has spent millions trying to upgrade its equipment, it hasn’t been able to keep up: PG&E equipment was responsible for 1,550 fires between 2014 and 2017.

Since California state law makes utilities responsible for fires started by their equipment, the increase in damaging wildfires has resulted in an increase in financial fires at PG&E.

Fires spread fast

According to analysts, PG&E’s liabilities could exceed $30B, while the company’s entire market value is just $9.12B.

PG&E’s disaster happened quickly: Several hedge funds invested money in the utility just a few months ago in the 3rd quarter of 2018.

But since October, the company’s market value fell from $25.32B to $9.12B today. Today, a 2015 investment in the utility (which would have been seen as a very safe bet at the time) delivers a -80% return. 

» PG&E got fired

PayPal has stayed on top of the payment pile for 2 decades by paying big bucks for users

PayPal, the granddaddy of the digital payments industry, has still got it: The company’s stock is up more than 100% since the start of 2017, and it still has a 61% market share.

PayPal may be a product of the first dotcom boom, but it’s still on top of the digital payments world, thanks to its acquisition strategy.

The mafia moved on, but PayPal didn’t go anywhere

PayPal’s early members famously left to build other mega-businesses: Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX), Peter Thiel (Palantir, Founder’s Fund), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Jawed Karim (YouTube), and Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp) were all part of the PayPal mafia.

But, 21-year-old PayPal remained successful: Today, PayPal’s $100B market cap is more than 100x when it went public in 2002, and its market share is roughly 3x larger than any competitor.

Much of PayPal’s success rests on a few strategic acquisitions: PayPal acquired Venmo (as a part of Braintree) in 2013 and European payment giant iZettle in 2018, giving its user base a big boost.

PayPal will pay for users

Despite its popularity, Venmo itself still loses hundreds of millions of dollars — but its users are invaluable. 

It took PayPal 12 years to grow from 50m to 200m users. After buying Venmo, its new users grew from 200m to 250m in 18 months.

Now, PayPal plans to keep buying users: The company has a $10.5B pile of cash on hand for when it finds the next Venmo.

» Will Pay 4 Pals

Look Ma, no code! Low-code platform Quick Base sells majority stake for $1B

Vista Equity Partners will buy a majority stake in Quick Base Inc., a software company that provides people with no coding experience the tools to build internal software platforms.

Vista will acquire the stake from Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe for over $1B, while the latter will keep a minority stake.

Slow and steady for Quick Base  

Founded in 1999, Quick Base was one of the 3 business units sold by software maker Intuit back in 2016, along with software units Demandforce and Quicken. 

According to the WSJ, the total sale was likely worth about $500m at the time (meaning Quick Base alone was worth even less).

But since then, coding for the layman has taken off: Quick Base has upped its annual revenue by at least 20% to more than $125m, and bagged high-profile customers like Southwest Airlines, Google, and Sprint.

The rise of coding for dummies

Over the last few years, DIY-coding platforms like Google’s App Maker program and Microsoft’s PowerApps have gained popularity. 

Now, Quick Base joins its competitor Airtable in the unicorn coding software club. (Like Quick Base, Airtable saw its revenue increase 400% in 2018 with a total of 80k companies now using the company’s software.)

» What’s the code, Quick Base?!

This startup is expanding into Nordstrom, and that’s good news for groomsmen everywhere

This wedding season, The Black Tux will be saving you 1) time 2) money and 3) the shame of wearing a baggy, poorly-fitted tux in front of your high school ex. 

And now that they’re in 30 cities across the country, it’s easier than ever to be the slick sunufagun in the perfectly-fitted tux or suit who just made the mother of the bride faint. 

We like the sound of that.

5 minutes for the perfect, show-stopping fit

We dress plenty comfortable at The Hustle HQ, but even the most hoodie-loving of us know that when groomsman or even — gasp — groom duty calls, you gotta level up your fashion sense. 

With The Black Tux, all it takes is a few quick questions online (or an appointment at Nordstrom) to find the perfect suit for you and all your co-conspirators.

It removes all the stress from wedding season, so you can focus on the good stuff, like mentally preparing for an open bar. 

Right now, you can get $20 off a rental with code HUSTLE20. And if that wasn’t enough, grooms get their rental free when they reserve six or more party looks.

See you on the dance floor. 

Look smart, rent smarter → things you should…

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How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

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Data shows where markets are headed.

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