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Meet "Genies", the realistic personalized avatars that update the news

"We plan to make Bitmoji obsolete," said Akash Nigam, CEO of Genies. Boasting one of the best apps in the world even before it is launched is emblematic of the raucous style of Nigam and Genies. But with a $ 15 million financing at an appraisal of over $ 100 million, major investors like the NEA and Hollywood royalties like CAA are buying at the start of the avatar. He already has 680,000 kids on the waiting list to sign up for the iOS Genies app that is launched today.

" If God does not want Donald Trump to bomb North Korea, you'll see your Genie mount a nuclear weapon in North Korea," says Nigam. Whether this idea makes you laugh or roll your eyes, it's Genies 'plan to be the next BuzzFeed,' says the 24-year-old CEO. " Your genius is the star of the show The scenario is what happens in the world that day."

It all starts with the customization of your big photorealistic Genie avatar. While Bitmoji, owned by Snapchat, looks like a comic book, Genies are closer to Pixar. You will first select a personality type that determines some of the scenes you will see, based on cloud brands like Coachella, BuzzFeed, and Supreme for Cool Kids or TechCrunch and BBC for Technicians. Then, using Genies wheels, you can quickly get through tons of options for a dozen features like face shape, hair, and eyes. Finally, you will equip your Genie with clothes ranging from generic shirts to popular brands.

Genies sends you 10 to 15 animated scenes each day, with a duration of about 10 seconds, with your avatar. They include small bizarre situations for holidays like Christmas, cultural staples like hunger Sundays, and those based on the most popular daily news for your personality type. Human editors review scenes for factual accuracy, consistency, and humor, and can edit them before sending them. Generally, new scenes arrive discreetly in the Genies application, with notifications reserved for breaking news or update summaries.

Nigam says that Genies draws more than a million sources by focusing on reputable media to find out what is happening as soon as possible. He claims that Genies' art team and AI have built millions of pre-designed creative resources, and that AI can assemble them to automatically create animated scenes. If all blogs report Elon Musk's plan to colonize March, then he will gather space, stars, and Elon himself to show your genius rushing to the red planet next to the title.

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You can swipe up to read the main source article for news. But what the Genies really encourage is to transmit the video scenes to their friends via other apps like Instagram Direct, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat. "Everyone has Giphy but they use it everywhere else.Exactly the same with us" Nigam tells me.

The idea is to take advantage of the vanity so that the information looks interesting and shareable, and disseminate it via a social app instead of a traditional media publisher. "At our age, we get the majority of our news from Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram." And to add virality and personalization, many scenes include an empty silhouette that you can fill with a celebrity of your choice like Trump or Kylie Jenner, or insert a friend for you to act on the stage with your boyfriend. If Facebook has taught us anything, it is that people will always open a notification if they are tagged in an image.

Overall, Genies are superb, with many more nuances than in alternatives with fewer customization options or that rely on facial detection. Nigam says that he does not believe in technologies for automatic generation of avatars, saying that even small inaccuracies can be jarring, and testers have appreciated the process of personalization. If Genies has just released an emoji keyboard with avatars so you can use them anywhere, this could prove to be popular.

But animated scenes are often gimmicky, rude, even offensive. During a few days of testing, I saw those who advocated buying beer, potted brownies, studying drugs like Adderall, and pouring out crappy vodka in Gray Goose bottles to save money. Nigam defended the content by saying that they were "party-oriented" for a "young demo where they share and learn through the lens of pop culture." Others like "Wanted: Holiday Bang Buddy" could be too lustful, even for college kids. And one of them even parodied the NFL's major protests against racism and police brutality: students "took a knee" to escape a trivia game. This should never have happened in front of human publishers.

Those who were not worried often felt mediocre, like showing two avatars building a sand castle to represent an article on Facebook that launches the Kids Messenger app. Your Genie goes through the screen filing Bitcoin before someone breaks the bubble in any of the scenes today. The best I've seen was perhaps a model of what the Genie could have sent after the Las Vegas tragedy that encouraged people to read a Newsweek article on how to donate blood.

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As a social application, avatars are too distorted in specific situations for general use, and as a news reader, it feels random and ineffective. The team has a powerful idea, and the graphics are pretty, but the performance on the content needs to be worked on.

Trying to make magic

"We did a bunch of applications, and they sucked" Nigam says about earlier products that his team built before the Genii. "We think they're going to explode and there will be 16 users." Born and raised in Silicon Valley's Mountain View, Nigam is the kind of guy who's dreamed of launching his own app since he's been pretty old to be allowed to use them.

Co-founder and CEO of Genies Akash Nigam

He met his co-founders during hackathons while studying computer science at the University of Michigan. They raised a seed and built a failed group chat app called Blend while she was working in a tiny room adjoining a mosque in San Jose. They had a poor exit opportunity for Blend and refused it. See Bitmoji hovering around the App Store # 1 for years convinced them that there was greater wealth in the space of the avatar.

Now they have passed Blend to Genies with $ 15 million over a few rounds of traditional investor financing like NEA, Capital Foundation, Box Group, Great Oaks, Lerer Ventures and Trinity Ventures. The entertainment industry was also supported by CAA Ventures, production management company 360, Bobby Maylack of Prizeo / Represent and Thomas Tull, former CEO of Legendary Pictures. And strategic celebrities are also funding the startup, including NBA star Russell Westbrook, great footballer Joe Montana, musician Shawn Mendes, and former stars of Vine Cameron Dallas and Jake Paul.

They see a lot of revenue opportunities in Genies, which could easily do product placement and sponsored content in its animated scenes. "Your Genie is showering Gatorade" suggests Nigam. "We can monetize every time we want to turn on the faucet." The startup also plans to allow you to buy the clothes you've put on your Genie, or even get your plaster avatar on custom merchandise. "Brands are really fascinated by the wheels, we could do a whole wheel Supreme," he says, referring to the wear and tear of fashionable urban fashion.

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Now, the company has offices in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, as well as engineering offices in Bucharest. "We take street kids to our office every day to test them," says San Francisco, who does not always know what's fashionable. The startup has spent the summer on an aggressive college marketing campaign, with tons of slightly dressed models wearing Genies merchandise and signs asking the company to "Make My Genie". All these listings on the waiting list could help him score points today.

When asked what he would do if Snapchat's Bitmoji started to play the news too, Nigam replied that they "would force you to live inside Snapchat itself" rather than to share elsewhere. And just to dig the dagger a little deeper, he said, "They are a trend that may have already reached its peak."

Maybe I show my age by being put off by some of the content. Nigam boldly states, "We do not really trust people in products unless we actively talk to teens all the time." But being a news editor, even one that looks like nothing, can be more complicated 39, it appears there. Snapchat had to make great efforts to teach news organizations how to discover the Z-generation channels. And Facebook is counting on how much damage can be done with fake news.

Genies has a lot of potential. The idea of ​​a mini-visually depicting the news is fun, and it's wise to use other messaging apps instead of trying to create another stream. Yet the content feels squeezed and half-cooked at times, and could either not attract users or be too thin to persist as more of a fad. He has a lot of money and connections to find the talent needed to improve the scenes, however. And if avatars become something everyone wants, that might be enough in the meantime.