Avatar startup Genies scores $65 million in funding round led by Mary Meeker’s Bond – TechCrunch

by Joseph K. Clark

Over the past several years, I’ve covered my fair share of upstart avatar companies that were all chasing the same dream — building a customizable platform for a digital persona that gained wide adoption across games and digital spaces. A few of those startups I’ve covered are still around. But by netting a string of successful partnerships with celebrity musicians, LA-based Genies has come closer than any startup before it to realizing the full vision of a wide-reaching avatar platform. Today, the company announced closing a $65 million Series B led by Mark Meeker’s firm Bond. NEA, Breyer Capital, Tull Investment Group, NetEase, Dapper Labs, and Coinbase Ventures participated in the deal. Mark Meeker will be joining the Genies board. The company didn’t disclose Genies’ most recent valuation.

 

This funding comes at an inflection point for the eight-year-old company, evidenced by the investments from NBA Top Shot-maker Dapper Labs and crypto giant Coinbase. As announced last week, the company is rolling out an NFT platform on Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain, partnering closely with the startup building out the backend for a Genies avatar accessories storefront. Like Dapper Labs has leveraged its exclusive deals with sports leagues to ship NFTs with official backing, Genies is planning to capitalize on its partnerships with celebrities in its roster, including Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Cardi B, and others, to create a platform for buying and trading avatar accessories en masse.

Mary Meeker

As they’ve rolled out avatar creation to all users through beta mobile apps, Genies has been focusing on one of the more vivid dreams of the avatar companies before it; building out a broad network of avatar users and a broad network of compatible platforms through its SDK. Genies’ business has primarily focused on leveraging high-profile partnerships to give its entertainer clients a digital presence that can spice up what they share on social media and beyond. The company announced a brand partnership with Gucci in October, opening the startup to another ample market opportunity.

“An avatar is a vehicle to showcase more of your authentic self,” Genies CEO Akash Nigam tells TechCrunch. “Real-world constraints do not limit it; it’s an alter-ego personality.” Trends in the NFT world have provided new realms of exploration for Genies, but so have broader pandemic-era trends that have pushed more users to wholly digital spaces where they socialize and connect. “The pandemic accelerated everything,” Nigam says.

Nigam emphasizes that despite the significant opportunity of its upcoming NFT platform, Genies is still an avatar company, first and foremost, not an NFT startup. He has few doubts that the current environment around digital goods helped juice Genies’ funding round, which he says was “6-8X oversubscribed” and was an opportunistic play for the startup, which “could have gone years without having to raise.” However, he does say he believes crypto-backed digital goods will be around for a long time. The company says its crypto marketplace will launch in the coming months, as early as this summer.

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