Former Disney CEO Bob Iger Invests and Joins Board of Metaverse Startup Genies
Metaverse avatar platform Genies has raised an undisclosed amount from former Disney CEO and Chairman Bob Iger, who will join the startup’s board of directors as well. Iger’s investment and ascension to Genie’s board mark his first public move since stepping down from Disney at the end of 2021, just before the entertainment juggernaut began pursuing its own metaverse strategy.
Genies is one of several companies developing virtual avatars for the interconnected digital worlds of the metaverse. The startup produces a line of non-fungible token (NFT) representations of people and outfits that can be integrated into the metaverse for interactive experiences. The five-year-old company has begun offering creators a shot and making their own content and becoming authorized sellers of custom avatars on an NFT marketplace Genie is developing called The Warehouse. Iger’s involvement is likely tied to Genies’ success in scoring deals with major entertainment firms to create celebrity avatars. The company counts Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez among its fans and claims it has 99% of the celebrity avatar market. Genies has inked deals with Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group to design and launch both avatars and wearable NFTs using their respective music artists. Most recently, Genies has begun beta testing a platform for anyone to design their own avatar, including clothes, environment and interactive experiences. Genies had raised about $100 million from investors before Iger’s undisclosed sum, according to a Reuters report. The majority came from a $65 million round led by Bond Capital.
“I’ve always been drawn to the intersection between technology and art, and Genies provides unique and compelling opportunities to harness the power of that combination to enable new forms of creativity, expression and communication,” Iger said. “After spending the last few months getting to know Akash [Nigam, Genies CEO] and learning more about Genies, I am very excited about his vision and how it will be fulfilled, and I look forward to working with the entire team.”
Iger spent 15 years as Disney CEO, shifting to Chairman in 2020 for two years. Iger had hinted that Disney was working on a metaverse plan as he exited, which almost immediately came to light in February when Disney announced Mike White as essentially the chief coordinator for its metaverse strategy. White is officially the senior vice president of next-generation storytelling and consumer experiences on top of heading up Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution consumer experiences. He’s now tased by current Disney CEO Bob Chapek to organize and shepherd metaverse-related projects like virtual reality and AI-powered characters to populate digital worlds. Genies, though unrelated to a metaverse-adjacent theme park AI named Genie Disney is adding to the My Disney Experience and Disneyland apps, makes sense for Iger’s background. His contacts alone could probably give the company most of the celebrity avatar market they’re pursuing.
“We believe that avatar ecosystems are going to be the mobile apps of web3,” Nigam said. “An ambitious vision calls for rare mindshare and I can’t think of a better creative and product thinker than Bob to collaborate with in bringing this all to reality.”