How Founder/Market Fit Lead Topia To A $5 Million Seed Raise
Topia is a unique connection experience that leverages virtual environments and live video to empower users to connect in a more life-like way. Unlike Zoom, which works best for one-to-many experiences like meetings, Topia is a world in which your unique avatar moves around with freedom serendipitously connecting with other avatars in the same world.
With Topia, every online social experience can be reimagined. Topia has hosted Burning Man among a variety of other events but the platform is also great for conferences, meetups, and parties.
It truly reimagines the experience of being social online and one day, just like everyone has a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we’ll all have a Topia world where others can join and connect in real-time.
A Man on A Mission To Innovate
While Topia is an awesome product today, Topia’s founder Daniel Liebeskind, went through over 6 years of building, testing, iterating, and validating a variety of models and concepts before launching today’s version.
In this fireside chat, Untapped Ventures’ founder George Bandarian talks with Daniel about how Topia got started and the evolution of startups as they iterate to find product-market fit.
As any entrepreneur will tell you, innovation doesn’t follow a straight line but, what often eludes founders is that there is a path to follow from idea to launch through scale. It’s part of the framework we live by at Untapped. As a venture studio, we build startups using repeated processes and shared resources.
A key component of our innovation framework revolves around the process of testing assumptions, validating ideas, and iterating on product scope until demand is proven and traction can start to take hold. This build-test-learn process is what Daniel followed when building Topia.
There is a path to follow from idea to launch through scale.
Building New Worlds
In 2015, Daniel was building applications for corporations in a variety of spaces. He designed a platform called “Body” and, according to Daniel, “it was essentially metaverse or a platform for fitness instructors to create their own virtual fitness studios with their own branding, set their own schedules, and then teach live interactive classes where they could see the participants and participants can see each other.”
Daniel elaborates on how the power of “real-time experiences online” was ahead of its time in 2015. He talks about how Zoom wasn’t really popular then and there certainly wasn’t a pandemic supporting exploration of online social experiences so, ultimately Body wasn’t a success.
Learn & Fail Forward
Daniel could see where online interactive experiences were headed, but market conditions weren’t right and timing is everything with startups.
Countless companies have failed because they launched at the wrong time and many companies, like Airbnb and Uber, have succeeded wildly because they launched at the perfect time.
Daniel could have quit on the idea when Body wasn’t successful but he had grit and intuition. Instead of throwing in the towel, he leaned into learning and explored other opportunities to apply his theory to the future of real-time digital social experiences.
Timing is everything when it comes to startups.
Next, he tested the hypothesis with a variety of startups seeking to learn more about demand, desires, and needs from the market.
Daniel outlines how he moved through this period keeping his unique insight top of mind. “Many of the startups were in the community space, often they were around real-time connection, and so, it may seem like Topia kind of came out of nowhere but the reality is I’ve actually been building toward this for many years.”
The Vision Evolves
When George met Daniel in 2018, his tech stack had evolved to using a variety of what are now referred to as “Web 3 technologies” such as Etherem and Virtual Reality.
He describes how the original version of Topia was a VR application built on top of Mozilla Hubs. Daniel describes it as “a way for people to have basically a WordPress of VR where you could design your own spaces, incorporate your own branding, and then bring people together for social experiences.”
He details how he became interested in the startup studio model, which George was pioneering at the time with Untapped Ventures because Daniel was actually building multiple startups in parallel.
Time for Topia
When the pandemic hit early in 2021, Daniel had so much information and so many insights from his time spent building, testing, and iterating that he was in a prime position to recognize that the market timing was right.
People were now tied to their computers due to the stay-at-home orders and remote work and play gained incredible traction.
The shift from offline to online social experiences was happening at lightning speed as everyone tried to figure out how to stay connected and engaged.
Because Daniel was able to analyze the market quickly, he had more than enough validation that remote tools like Zoom and email weren’t cutting it. People wanted life-like experiences where they were able to create and connect with others as they had prior to the pandemic.
“The pandemic really just accelerated all of this and I realized that this dream I had for the 2020s of building this space for people to create their own digital social experiences and bring people together and empower creators to earn money through this- that opportunity was not a decade opportunity, it was one for right now. People need this now. I basically threw out everything else I was doing, shifted from VR to web-based, and put out a prototype in May of 2020.”
— Daniel Liebeskind
Daniel was able to move with speed and precision because he had spent years learning from the market, building, and testing on his core thesis.
He had the tenacity to keep building and with each iteration, he gained a clearer insight into demand and was ready to strike quickly when the market shifted from offline engagement to an online connection.
The story of Topia is an incredible testament to the power of forward-thinking, developing insights through exploration, learning from failures, and moving quickly when market conditions are right. Through rigorous testing and validation, Daniel and his team have been able to build a market-leading venture which has raised $5M from some of the most respected VCs in the game including Alexis Ohanian, Bonfire Ventures, and Untapped Ventures.
We’re very excited to have been an early investor in Topia and can’t wait to help support them in changing the world. We encourage you to explore Topia, check out Untapped Ventures, and watch the full fireside chat now.