Genies, the virtual avatar company that makes digital cartoon-style versions of celebrities, can now count Camila Cabello, Paris Hilton and Priyanka Chopra as its latest investors, the company tells Rolling Stone.
The three women are part of Genies’ previously closed $65 million funding round led by venture capitalist Mary Meeker, and Genies CEO and founder Akash Nigam says they represent a portion of the round earmarked for female investors, as Genies looks to be more inclusive in both its investment and company makeup. (Nigam declined to disclose how much the three individually invested.)
Cabello, Hilton and Chopra signed on quickly as the funding round closed within two weeks, and Nigam says Hilton in particular gravitated toward Genies, given her focus on the crypto space and Genies’ place within selling NFTs. All three will have their own Genies developed as well.
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Genies develops digital avatars that have artists’ likenesses — and those avatars help advertise and sell digital wearables and collectables fans can buy, typically as crypto-backed NFTs. To date, the company has made avatars for artists including Migos, Shawn Mendes, J Balvin, Justin Bieber, 24KGoldn, Young Thug and Gunna. Genies will also soon be developing avatars for a wider slate of music artists, after it closed a deal earlier this year with Warner Music Group to develop avatars and NFTs for the label’s artists.
The demand for digital merchandise has skyrocketed in recent years — most prominently through video games like Fortnite — where players want to use digital clothes and flares to customize the characters they play. NFTs have the potential to put more value on those types of digital goods since they’re scarce and re-sellable. Digital and collectables will ultimately show their true value as people get more immersed online and metaverses — digital online universes where people can congregate, buy products, play games and do other activities they can do in person now — get more immersive. Music in particular has been an early case study of metaverses’ potential, as artists like Travis Scott and Lil Nas X take to Fortnite and Roblox (companies that both have shown interest in the metaverse) to perform virtual online concerts.
Right now, Genies develops avatars for celebrities to evangelize the product, but further down the line, the goal is for anyone to have their own Genie and be able to sell their own user-generated NFT products. Nigam also wants his Genies to be able to go into metaverses.
Genies is currently readying the launch of its own marketplace and app in partnership with investor Dapper Labs, the blockchain company behind popular pro basketball NFT marketplace NBA Top Shot. That will launch later in the fall or winter.
NFTs have been a buzzy finance story of 2021, thanks to music artists like 3LAU alongside visual artists such as Beeple making millions of dollars selling them. The format quickly spawned a gold rush, but the market has grown saturated as more looked to cash in, and sales have waned in recent months. Even though the boom has stopped, Nigam says, the recent trend has introduced NFTs to a wide swath of users and laid the groundwork to evangelizing them more.
“Most people who learned about NFTs most recently see them as art pieces but that isn’t it, it’s a concept of authenticating true ownership on the internet,” he says. “If you believe we’re going to be more immersed on the internet, you see the value in that. I’d say most people would get a bit of a gut check if they didn’t think we were going heavier online. [The past few months] gave exposure to this world and lifted people’s heads to a space that’s occurring and could be powerful.”
Nigam says that as his company is growing, it’s pushing to shift from being a 60 percent male company to having a majority-women workforce, including at the senior executive level, which Genies is currently hiring for. “We believe that females run culture, and for a product like avatars, that require people to have a pulse on what’s going on in the world and on consumer behaviors, we want to be a predominantly female company,” he says. “That ranges from the VP and executive level to our cap table, which is where Priyanka, Camila and Paris come in. Avatars are about inclusivity, and the ability for diversity in culture to have an impact on product for consumers is important to us.”
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