Genies, an L.A.-based startup that allows users to create digital avatars, NFT wearables, venues, and experiences for the metaverse, announced this week that it has raised an additional $150 million in funding, bumping the company’s valuation up to $1 billion.
The metaverse is still a nebulous idea, at least to most laypeople. We don’t know a tremendous amount about what it will look like, the hardware or software involved, or who will control what. We do know, however, that the visual experience and effect of the metaverse is that of a personalized, interactive animated world.
Where is the money coming from? Genies’ latest $150 million Series C funding round was led by private equity group Silver Lake. Existing investors Bond, NEA, and Tamarack Global also participated in this funding round. The round follows a $65 million Series B raised last May.
How will the money be used? According to the company, the funding will expedite its plan to roll out avatar creator tools which help users make their own avatars and avatar fashion collections. The company also said the funding would be used for hiring new employees. An experienced group of animation artists who have worked at Disney, Blue Sky, Weta, and Psyop, among other studios, is already employed at Genies.
Wait, former Disney CEO and chairman Bob Iger is mixed up in this? Iger, who ended his historic run as head of The Walt Disney Company at the end of last year, has joined the board of directors of this five-year-old startup. When he made the announcement last month, he explained Genies’ mission as empowering “humans to create the ‘mobile apps of web3’: avatar ecosystems.”
Genies CEO Akash Nigam, 29, explained in a Yahoo Finance interview shortly thereafter that he’d been speaking with Iger for quite a while. “[Iger] has insatiable curiosity,” Nigam said. “I think any good product pioneer and thinker does. So, he decided to join the board and we couldn’t be more excited to have him.”
Ok, take a step back. What does Genies do again? Nigam’s own description of Genies, lofty as it may be, is as “the decentralized Apple of Web3.” Genies wants to provide the tools that “empower individuals to manifest their own creations, ideas, and businesses as avatar ecosystems.” Right now, that essentially means that you can buy, sell, and create cg clothing to dress your personalized cg character.
What makes Genies different from its peers? There are already several other places celebs and creators can go to get into the metaverse NFT ecosystem. Epic Games, for example, offers celebrity skins through its in-game Icons Series in the battle royal game Fortnite. Nigam says the key distinction with Genies is “decentralization and ownership.”. With Genie, all users, creators, and talent own their avatars and own all their creations and can commercialize it, or not, as they see fit, across any metaverse platform.
How profitable is the NFT-metaverse marketplace today? Genies recently launched The Warehouse, a marketplace for NFTs to buy, sell, and trade avatar creations. Nigam is unwilling to offer specific numbers, but he say that the company was pleased with the several dozen wearable NFT drops it had done so far.
Is this a positive development for creators? Whether or not the metaverse will be profitable for individual creators is another question completely. It was reported earlier this week that Meta Platforms, formerly Facebook, intends to charge a nearly 50% cut from the sale of digital assets in its emerging metaverse. From that perspective, Genies’ five per cent cut is much more creator-friendly, though as the industry matures, Genies will almost certainly become more aggressive in what it charges users.
Who else is involved? Genies’ investors include NBA Top Shot parent company Dapper Labs and Coinbase Ventures, the investment arm of Coinbase Global. It also has partnerships with Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Celebrity investors include Camila Cabello, Paris Hilton, and Priyanka Chopra, while the likes of Rhianna, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Sia, Jaden Smith, and Cardi B have their own Genies avatars and accompanying lines of digital goods. According to Nigam, many celebrities are using their avatars to sell fashion lines which memorialize major moments including song and video releases.