VENN—originally pitched as a 24/7 live gaming network backed by founders of Twitch, Riot Games, Blizzard, and ESL—has retained an accounting firm to facilitate an “accelerated” acquisition process less than a year after its first broadcast, according to an email obtained by Dot Esports and confirmed by one of the company’s founders.
Texas accounting firm Armanino LLP will be tasked with finding the Los Angeles and New York-based startup an acquirer or a special financing partner after the company’s first-year plan did not result in notable viewership. VENN first started looking for additional funding, after raising $43 million in two separate rounds in 2019 and 2020, “four to five months ago,” its co-founder Ariel Horn told Dot Esports. Horn said as those discussions went on for a potential Series B, the company received potential acquisition interest and has decided to seek that route.
A potential partner is not decided, although Horn said he believes a good fit could range from existing media conglomerates, game publishers, or parties in the online gambling industry. While specific timeline is to-be-determined, Horn hopes to be in the due diligence process with one or more potential acquirers within the next month. A deal, he says, could be done within the next two months.
“We’ve vetted a broad list of potential partners and been working with this firm to get a memo out to all of them,” Horn said. “We’re looking for this deal and it’s something that’s of course necessary because we’re a startup and we’re not profitable as of now.”
VENN was founded in 2019 by four-time Emmy-winning producer Horn—formerly of Riot—and serial entrepreneur and former Shark Tank contestant Ben Kusin. Together, the two aimed to be the “MTV of the Gaming Generation”—a 24/7 network that broadcasted on Twitch, Roku, Samsung TV Plus, and more.
The company built a studio set within existing studios in Los Angeles and had announced plans to build another in New York, inside the World Trade Center complex. Shows on VENN featured singer Chrissy Costanza, actor Jimmy Wong, Riot desk host James “Dash” Patterson, musician and former porn actress Sasha Grey, and more. But that strategy has not gone to plan.
VENN pivoted several times in its first year, going from broadcasting 55 hours of live programming in one week to focusing on short-form video-on-demand content on YouTube and other mediums and, lastly, a creative agency using its existing talent contracts to produce white-label content for some and acquire existing content too. Along the way, it made several rounds of layoffs, slimming down its workforce significantly.
“Being critical of myself with the market being such as it is for gaming and esports, there’s a lot of interest from advertisers to sort of be placing big dollars into gaming content,” Horn said. “That created a bit of a feeding frenzy from investors as well. In order to try and go after those big media dollars—something like $70 billion for media that gets put into TV sports that could potentially be bridged into gaming and our sector—we needed to get broad distribution and create content that was live, linear, longform, in studios, and we focused on high polished content and that ended up being extremely expensive. I’m very critical of myself for spending as much as we did.
“For what I was hoping when I started out trying to build this business, we fell way short in terms of market traction and ultimately profit. We succeeded in producing the type of content advertisers wanted, but market traction begets revenue and success.”
The company has run two funding rounds, with its $17 million seed round in 2019 being led by Connecticut firm Eldridge and BITKRAFT Ventures, the gaming and technology firm founded by ESL co-founder and G2 Esports chairman Jens Hilgers. VENN’s Series A, which consisted of an additional $26 million in 2020, saw BITKRAFT return to co-lead, this time with Nexstar Broadcasting Group, who owns 197 local market television stations in the U.S.
Additional investors in the company included successful gaming entrepreneurs like Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime, and Riot co-founder Marc Merill. WISE Ventures—the venture arm of Minnesota Vikings ownership Wilf family—and aXiomatic also participated. Axiomatic is the investment firm who owns Team Liquid and whose board consists of Golden State Warriors co-owners Peter Guber and Bruce Karsh, Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.
While Horn is unsure what the valuation of an acquisition deal would look like, he is prepared if it is lower than what the company raised on in its last round.
“I’m not afraid or ashamed that the valuation will probably not hit the bar of the post-money from the previous round,” Horn said. “This happens in business all the time. I’ve had positive discussions with our investors, Ben has as well, and everyone knows we’re doing our part as fiduciaries and making decisions we can to keep us vitally moving forward. There’s been optimism from smaller wins we’ve had in the past five or six months.”