Next Gen Investing

Ex-Disney CEO Bob Iger's next step: Investing in a metaverse start-up run by a 29-year-old

Robert Iger, Chairman and CEO at The Walt Disney Company speaks in Laguna Beach, California, October 22, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters

Former Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger is putting his name and money behind a new company that's aiming to dominate the future of the internet and the metaverse.

On Monday, 3D avatar start-up Genies announced that Iger is joining its board of directors and investing an undisclosed sum in the Los Angeles-based company. Founded in 2017, Genies' mobile app allows users to create their own custom digital avatars – three-dimensional cartoon versions of themselves – for their social media profiles and, eventually, to travel the metaverse.

In a press release, the 5-year-old start-up says it will count on Iger's help to grow the company, as it looks to build "avatar ecosystems" where users create everything from digital fashion lines for avatars to the online worlds in which those avatars can interact.

Genies co-founder and CEO Akash Nigam, 29, touted Iger's involvement in a statement, saying he "can't think of a better creative and product thinker than Bob to collaborate with."

Iger spent 15 years as Disney's CEO, starting in 2005. During that time, he oversaw the company's heavy investments in tech, paying more than $7 billion to acquire Pixar in 2007 and emphasizing the development of streaming and augmented reality technologies throughout the company. 

"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 in a statement, announcing his role at Genies. 

Iger stepped down as Disney's CEO in 2020, succeeded by Bob Chapek. Iger also left Disney's board at the end of 2021.

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Just before he stepped down from Disney's board in December, Iger spoke with CNBC about how new technologies regularly disrupt the ways that media giants like Disney tell stories – perhaps more so now than when he took over Disney in 2005.

"In reality, that scenario of a world in which technology's enabling more storytelling exists today probably even more so," Iger said.

Since stepping down, the former Disney executive has hinted at his interest in the evolution of the internet – sometimes called "internet 3.0" or "Web 3.0" – and the concept of a metaverse. In January, on Kara Swisher's "Sway" podcast, Iger said the next iteration of the web "will definitely be more compelling in experience, certainly more immersive, more dimensional."

He added that there won't just be one metaverse, but numerous digital worlds ready to be explored, and that users' avatars will play an important role as they hop from one metaverse to another. "I talk about democratization. It'll be dispersed," he said. "You may have an avatar, but you'll go all over the place. And I think that it's likely to be developed into something real as an experience."

That's exactly the sort of metaverse experience that a company like Genies is banking on. The start-up says its goal is to "create a universal avatar system that can be used across an open metaverse." Already, several companies are touting their future metaverse offerings, from Meta (formerly known as Facebook) and Microsoft to Roblox and, yes, Disney.

Genies has raised a total of $100 million in funding from venture capital backers like Bond and Breyer Capital, according to Reuters. The company has also partnered with a long list of celebrities, creating online avatars for the likes of musicians Justin Bieber, Cardi B and Shawn Mendes.

Genies has also teamed up with brands like Gucci on branded digital items and has launched a marketplace for digital accessory NFTs – think clothing, shoes and backpacks for those avatars.

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