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Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.
When Apple changed its privacy rules in April 2021 to require that companies get permission before collecting user data online, retailers and digital brands were left scrambling to find new avenues to amass information about shoppers.
The answer may lie in online surveys.
Prodege, a market research and consumer polling startup, attained unicorn status last month thanks to a service that rewards users for completing questionnaires and making purchases on its apps and websites like Swagbucks and MyPoints. The El Segundo-based company then sells information about shoppers’ habits and preferences back to market research firms and retail clients such as Walmart, Clorox and DoorDash.
“We get the member—the consumer—to give us their permission to have a quid pro quo,” said Prodege Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Davis, who was named CEO in 2014 and previously held the same role at movie ticket retailer Fandango and ecommerce website Shopzilla.
Founded in 2005 as a charity donation platform, the startup pivoted a year later to launching search engines for entertainers and sports teams. In exchange for using the search engines, consumers were entered in raffles to win merchandise. In 2008, Prodege introduced its first rewards site, Swagbucks, which gives cash back to members for filling out surveys, buying gift cards, and shopping at some 1,500 partner retailers. The company has since acquired six similar platforms, and has doled out a total of $1.8 billion in rewards to an audience of 120 million registered members.
Recent years have seen Prodege go on a buying spree as it has looked to grow its audience footprint. In 2020, it bought Massachusetts-based Upromise, a platform for cash-back rewards in the form of a 529 college savings plan. Earlier that year, it snapped up the Santa Monica-based coupon-cutter company Coupon Cause, which works with retailers like Target and Amazon. YSense, which it acquired in 2019, compensates users for testing new services and watching product videos.
In December, the company announced a “major” investment from Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners. Though both Great Hill and Prodege declined to disclose details of the transaction, sources with knowledge of the deal confirmed that it valued Prodege at north of $1 billion.
“More and more, there’s recognition from consumers that their data and their attention and time is worth something,” said Prodege founder and President Josef Gorowitz. “There are trillion-dollar companies built off of it and [consumers] now see the opportunity to leverage that and take some of that home.”
But the other half of Prodege’s business is built on understanding consumer behavior—polling users about their habits and analyzing that data for brands. For example, Prodege members earn a $15 reward for subscribing to Dollar Shave Club, the Marina del Rey-based grooming product delivery service. Prodege can then survey those new customers and send the results back to Dollar Shave Club to build a clearer picture of its consumer base.
And soon, with a new on-demand desktop app, corporate clients will have direct access to the Prodege audience to design and host campaigns. It’s a strategy that could become the norm as advertisers struggle to reach consumers they once could monitor almost instantly.
“It’s not surprising that a company like Prodege is thriving in this environment,” said Allison Schiff, managing editor of AdExchanger, a digital advertising analysis website. Schiff noted that many new startups, in particular, are looking to join an industry built on the idea that consumers are willing to share personal information in return for some type of reward.
That service has only become more valuable as tech companies continue to alter the privacy landscape. Last spring, Apple introduced its App Tracking Transparency feature, which displays an alert for users to consent to being tracked online. The change meant that many brands and advertisers would lose access to shoppers’ browsing activity and which discounts or promotions led to them making a purchase. Google, meanwhile, has also announced plans to ban third-party cookies from its Chrome web browser.
Of the iOS users running Apple’s updated software, 38% are opting-in and 62% are opting-out of data sharing, according to an October report from marketing analytics company AppsFlyer.
“The gold standard of data is behavior,” said Tina Moffett, principal analyst of business-to-consumer marketing at Forrester Research. “That pipeline is getting cut off by data deprivation and privacy-preserving measures.”
Moffett said she expects more marketers will turn to surveys and polls given the privacy protections. What they’ll miss out on is behavioral data—how long consumers spend looking at a product, or which items get paired together in their shopping cart.
Not that Prodege is complaining. The company takes around 5% from each purchase made on any of its seven platforms. In 2021, it pulled in roughly $300 million in revenue and added about 3,800 new clients.
“Brands buy into it—they’re happy to share instead of putting it all into Google’s profits,” Gorowitz said. “It builds a relationship with the consumer and they feel more comfortable sharing their data, their opinions, their time.”
Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.
Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Samson is also a proud member of the Transgender Journalists Association. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him
Esports team owner TeamSoloMid (TSM) released the findings of two separate investigations into its leadership today—with one clearing founder and CEO Andy Dinh of allegations of workplace harassment and another confirming that former “League of Legends” coach Peter Zhang had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Founded by Dinh in 2009, TSM is one of the most valuable esports organizations in the world, with estimated annual revenues of $45 million as of 2020. The Los Angeles-based company tapped law firms Gutierrez Marca and Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett to investigate the allegations against Dinh and Zhang, respectively.
Claims that the 30-year-old Dinh, better known by his gaming handle “Reginald,” was an abusive boss who had turned TSM’s workplace into a toxic environment first surfaced in November 2021, when former TSM esports pro Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng called Dinh out on a livestream—describing him as a “bully who gets away with being a bad person because he’s powerful.”
The Gutierrez Marca probe, conducted by investigator Lynne Davis, reached out to 39 witnesses and interviewed 31 current and past employees of TSM parent company Swift Media. According to the law firm, its investigation “revealed that there was no unlawful conduct by Mr. Dinh,” with none of those interviewed having witnessed or been aware of “conduct or derogatory comments” targeting anyone’s gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or other “protected characteristic[s].”
It added that “of particular note given the male dominated esport industry, all females interviewed did not feel that they were marginalized and/or that gender prohibited advancement within Swift.” Additionally, there was “no conduct observed in the workplace that was sexual in nature or harassing. In sum, there was no sexual harassment or gender discrimination.”
The law firm’s report did find, however, that Dinh would “provide feedback to employees, including players, in an aggressive and harsh tone.” Three witnesses said they had seen Dinh call employees names like “stupid,” “trash,” or “worthless,” while six current and former employees described him as a “bully” who had created “a culture of fear.” The remaining 25 people interviewed said they did not feel their workplace at TSM was toxic.
The Gutierrez Marca investigation is separate from another probe into Dinh’s conduct by L.A.-based video game developer Riot Games, which stages a prestigious annual “League of Legends” tournament that TSM competes in.
Dinh commented on the investigation into his conduct in a lengthy Reddit post on Friday. “While going through this process, I realized that I need to improve the way that I communicate with team members,” he wrote.
Dinh said he would begin a “three-month top to bottom, full evaluation of [TSM’s] company culture,” adding that he had agreed to the law firm’s recommendation that he attend executive coaching sessions and create an “anonymous reporting hotline” for employee complaints. incidents.
Simpson Thatcher’s investigation into Zhang, meanwhile, confirmed the allegations that had led TSM to terminate the former “League of Legends” coach in March. Zhang subsequently returned to his native China later that month, meaning that the law firm couldn’t reach him for an interview.
The relationship between Zhang and his TSM esports players was the main focus of the investigation. Simpson Thatcher determined that Zhang had diverted a total of roughly $250,000 in salary payments meant for two TSM esports players to himself and an associate. Zhang also swindled a TSM player, who was leaving the U.S. to return to Asia, out of $45,000 by selling the player’s car on his behalf for $80,000 but only returning less than half of that amount to the player.
Additionally, Zhang repeatedly asked players for “loans” of anywhere from $1,500 and $22,000, under the guise of needing to pay for his grandmother’s medical treatment in China. Zhang ended up borrowing a total of $15,000 from two players, repaying them $10,500 of that amount. But he has yet to give back the remaining $4,500, and TSM said that on March 18, it stepped in to prevent up to $54,000 in additional funds from being wired to Zhang.
“We believe that Mr. Zhang engaged in unethical and potentially illegal conduct and TSM, by immediately terminating Mr. Zhang after learning about his misconduct, acted in a timely fashion to protect the team and its players and staff members,” Simpson Thatcher investigators wrote in their report.
In a statement Friday, TSM said it had referred the details of the Zhang investigation to the FBI and added that it is “working with each player affected to make sure all are made financially whole.”
Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Samson is also a proud member of the Transgender Journalists Association. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him
Decerry Donato is dot.LA’s Editorial Fellow. Prior to that, she was an editorial intern at the company. Decerry received her bachelor’s degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.
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For The Record, a digital record-keeping company for the legal justice system, promoted president Tony Douglass to chief executive officer.
Former Hulu and Vevo executive Bryan Schafer joined market research platform Pilotly as chief revenue officer.
Carsharing marketplace HyreCar appointed Greg Tatem as chief technology officer. Tatem previously served as CTO for Wine.com.
H2U Technologies, a developer of new energy technologies to produce green hydrogen, hired David Martin as chief commercial officer.
Short-term rental platform AvantStay appointed Lyft’s former head of global operations, David Katcher, as chief operating officer.
Personal care brand Rael tapped former Unilever and L’Oreal marketing executive Lauren Consiglio as president.
Allen Media Group hired Matthew Lipson as executive vice president of marketing for digital platforms and content. Lipson was previously a marketing executive at 101 Studios and Sports Illustrated Studios.

Software platform ServiceTitan appointed Olive Huang as general counsel and secretary of the board and Doug Myers as senior vice president of operations. Huang most recently served as general counsel at Nutanix, while Myers previously led business operations at LinkedIn.
Brian Coco joined VettaFi, a data and analytics platform for the asset management industry, as head of index products. Coco previously served as executive director—head of indices at JPMorgan Asset Management.

Financial wellness company Stackin’ tapped Talkspace senior vice president Steven Dziedzic as an advisor.
EVgo, a public fast-charging network for electric vehicles, named CyrusOne chief financial officer Katherine Motlagh and National Grid president Badar Khan to its board of directors.
Decerry Donato is dot.LA’s Editorial Fellow. Prior to that, she was an editorial intern at the company. Decerry received her bachelor’s degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.
Decerry Donato is dot.LA’s Editorial Fellow. Prior to that, she was an editorial intern at the company. Decerry received her bachelor’s degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.
This week in “Raises”: A consumer brand holding company, a software platform for contractors, an AR/Web3 gaming platform and an organic feminine care brand all raised sizable rounds. Meanwhile, Fung Capital veterans John Seung and Janie Yu are seeking to raise $200 million for a new fund.
Redbud Brands, a consumer brand holding company, raised $46 million in new investment led by Satori Capital.
BuildOps, a management software platform for commercial contractors, raised a $43 million Series A funding round led by Next47.
Jadu, an augmented reality Web3 gaming platform, raised $36 million in Series A funding led by Bain Capital Crypto.
Rael, an organic feminine care and beauty brand, raised a $35 million Series B funding round led by Colopl Next and Signite Partners.
Astroforge, an asteroid-mining startup, raised $13 million in seed funding led by Initialized Capital.
PayEngine, a payments platform for software vendors, raised a $10 million Series A funding round led by Point72 Ventures.
Fyxt, a cloud-based operations platform for commercial real estate, raised a $4 million Series A funding round led by RET Ventures.
Fanimal, a live events ticketing platform, raised $4 million in funding led by Bullpen Capital.
CropSafe, an agtech startup that helps farmers monitor their fields, raised $3 million in seed funding led by Elefund.
Japa Health, a digital health and wellness platform, raised a $1.25 million seed funding round led by Arcsync Co.
LFX Venture Partners, a venture capital and private equity firm, is looking to raise $200 million for its debut fund, per an SEC filing.
Hedonova, an alternative assets hedge fund, raised $18.4 million from Chemie-Tech DMCC in a Series A1 funding round.
Raises is dot.LA’s weekly feature highlighting venture capital funding news across Southern California’s tech and startup ecosystem. Please send fundraising news to Decerry Donato (decerrydonato@dot.la).
Decerry Donato is dot.LA’s Editorial Fellow. Prior to that, she was an editorial intern at the company. Decerry received her bachelor’s degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.
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