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Jonathan Keidan, the founder of Torch Capital, had already built a portfolio that included Acorns, Compass, Digital Ocean and Sweetgreen, before he raised single dollar for his inaugural venture capital fund, which just closed with $60 million.

Keidan, a consummate networker who began his professional career as a manager working with acts like The Nappy Roots, The Getaway People and a young John Legend, just managed to be in the right place at the right time, he says (thanks, in part, to his gift for gab).

The final close for Torch Capital’s first fund is just the beginning for Torch, which is angling to be one of the premiere firms for early stage consumer internet and consumer facing enterprise software.

The firm began raising its first fund in October 2017 and held a $40 million first close just about one year ago. Keidan and his partners had targeted $50 million for his first investment vehicle, but wound up hitting the hard cap of $60 million, in part due to high demand from the New York-based entrepreneurs that Keidan considers his peers.

In addition to backers like the George Kaiser Family Foundation and billionaire Hong Kong fashion mogul Silas Chou, Keidan was able to tap startup founders like Jennifer Fleiss, the co-founder of Rent the Runway; Casper co-founders Philip Krim and Neil Parikh; and Bryan Goldberg, the founder of Bleacher Report and owner of Bustle Media Group (which includes Gawker, Bustle, Elite Daily, Mic, The Outline, and The Zoe Report, which collectively form Bustle Digital Group).

“Because I’ve taken a more startup approach i was recruiting raising money and doing deals at the same time,” says Keidan. 


A sampling of Torch Capital’s portfolio investments

Along with partners Sam Jones, a former London-based investment banker; Katie Reiner, an investor at the data-driven growth fund, Lead Edge Capital; Curtis Chang, a technology-focused investment banker from HSBC’ and Chantal Haldorsen, a serial startup executive; Keidan has certainly done deals.

He started investing as an angel while still working at his own media company InsideHook, and began forming special purpose vehicles for larger investments as soon as he departed, about three years ago.

For the first year-and-a-half, Jones and Keidan worked on the SPVS, which allowed them to put together a portfolio that included Acorns, Compass, Digital Ocean and Sweetgreen — as well as startups like ZocDoc and the ketchup brand, Sir Kensington’s.

Since launching the fund, Keidan and his partners did 15 investments in the first year — including investments into . the consumer-focused Ro Health, which sells erectile dysfunction medication, supplements for hair growth, and more recently menopausal products for women.

Torch Capital has also backed the fintech company, Harness Wealth, sustainable cashmere manufacturer and retailer, Naadam; and Splendid Spoon, a vegan breakfast and lunch prepared food provider akin to Daily Harvest.

Keidan’s interest in investment stems from his experience in the music industry. It was a time when Spotify was just beginning to emerge and Napster had already shaken up the market. The creation of digital platforms enabled artists to connect more directly with the consumer in a way that traditional companies couldn’t understand.

Instead of embracing the technology labels and artists fought it, and the writing on the wall (that the labels and artists would lose) became clear… at least for Keidan. 

Following some advice from mentors including the super-producer and music mogul, Quincy Jones, Keidan went to business school. He graduated from Columbia in 2007 with an MBA and then did what all former music managers do after their MBA training — he joined McKinsey as a consultant. The stint at McKinsey led Keidan to Jack Welch’s online education venture and from there, Keidan started InsideHook.

Keidan grew the company to over 2 million subscribers in the five years since he helped launch the business in 2012. From that perch he saw the rise of direct to consumer startups and began making angel investments. His first was ZocDoc, his second, Sir Kensingtons (which sold to Unilever) and his third was the real estate investment platform, Compass.

That track record was enough to convince Chou, the Hong Kong billionaire that turned around Tommy Hilfiger and built Michael Kors into a multi-billion dollar powerhouse in the world of ready to wear fashion.

Like the rest of the venture industry, Keidan sees the technology tools that have transformed much of business are now remaking the ease and reach of building direct to consumer brands. Unlike most, Keidan has spent time working on the ground up to develop brands (artists and songwriting talent in the music business).

Everything that Torch Capital invests in has at least one eye on an end consumer, whether that’s direct consumer investments like Ro, Sweetgreen or the business surveying startup, Perksy.

Torch invests between $500,000 and $1 million in seed deals and will invest anywhere between $1 million to $3 million in Series A deals, according to Keidan.

“What makes a consumer company successful at scale is very different than enterprise software or consumer internet deals,” said Keidan. “VCs were having trouble getting their heads around this… [their companies] were overvalued too early… and when they couldn’t meet those goals they were doing things that were detrimental to the brand.”

Keidan thinks he has a better approach.

“Between InsideHook and watching companies grow and my own investments i’d seen the nuances of what it takes to get to scale,” he said.

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Clinton joined John Legend, Cardi B and Cher in a skewering of Trump that saw the group read excerpts from Michael Wolffss tell-all book

Hillary Clinton sends up Trump in surprise Fire and Fury skit at Grammys

Clinton joined John Legend, Cardi B and Cher in a skewering of Trump that saw the group read excerpts from Michael Wolffss tell-all book

In an unexpected prerecorded segment at Sunday nights Grammy awards, Hillary Clinton read a few lines from Michael Wolffs bombshell Trump White House expos Fire and Fury. The former secretary of state was the last of several famous folks to appear in the video, in which Grammys host James Corden pretends to be auditioning narrators for the Fire and Fury audiobook.

In the run-up to the video, Corden joked that by next years awards the Trump presidency will have inspired a spoken word album and potential Grammy nominee. Spoofing the concept, John Legend appeared reading from the book, which contains allegations that caused a media firestorm upon its release earlier this month.


Who were the biggest winners at the Grammys?

Album of the year
24K Magic Bruno Mars

Record of the year
24K Magic Bruno Mars

Song of the year
Thats What I Like Bruno Mars

Best rap album
Damn Kendrick Lamar

Best pop solo performance
Shape of You Ed Sheeran

Best new artist
Alessia Cara

Read the full list of winners.

Trump wont read anything, Legend said. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.

His comb-over: a product called Just for Men, noted Cher, who was followed by Snoop Dogg and then the rapper Cardi B, who read the now-notorious excerpt about the presidents supposed affinity for eating cheeseburgers in bed. Why am I reading this shit? she asked.

After a cameo from DJ Khaled, Clinton lowered the book to reveal herself. One reason why he liked to eat at McDonalds, Clinton read aloud. Nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.

While chuckles from the live New York City audience could be heard upon Clintons appearance, not everyone was amused. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vented her frustration with Clintons cameo on Twitter.

Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley)

I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the Fire and Fury book killed it. Dont ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.

January 29, 2018

Wolffs book, which has sold more than 1.7m copies and has sat atop the New York Times bestseller list for three weeks, has come under fire for what many regard as unsubstantiated claims and lax fact-checking. Nevertheless, Endeavor Content purchased the film and television rights to the book last week in a deal rumored to exceed seven figures.

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John Legend sent a heartfelt video message to the parents of Manchester victim Olivia Campbell after learning she was a fan of his music.

The video was played for Olivias mother, Charlotte Campbell, and stepdad, Paul Hodgson, when they appeared on on May 31.

Olivia was apparently a big John Legend fan, and particularly loved his song All of Me. She sang it at a talent show, and it was played at her memorial service.

Legend said in the video,

I cant imagine the pain youre going through. I have a young daughter, and I cant imagine the feeling you must be going through right now to have to bury your own daughter. I understand that she was a fan of my music, and that she sang All of Me for a talent show and that you played it at her memorial service.

And I want to thank you for playing the song, and let you know that I was so moved by your daughters performance of the song, and I want to send you as much love as I can send you from far away, and as much sympathy and condolences I can send you.

I know it wont make up for the loss youre feeling right now, but any love that we can send you we want to send you right now, and wish you all the best. Take care.

Following the video, Hodgson said Olivia would have loved to see it, saying,Little girl, up there, looking down and going Ive done it, Ive done it.

Olivia, 15, was one of the 22 victims killed in the Manchester bombing following an Ariana Grande concert on May 22.

She was missing for hours before being identified as one of the fatalities.

Charlotte hadnt seen Olivia since 5 p.m. the night of the concert.

Ariana Grande announced yesterday she will be returning to Manchester this Sunday, June 4, to perform a benefit concert for the victims of the attack with nine other artists.

All of the proceeds of theconcert will go to the families of the victims.

The performers will reportedly be Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Coldplay, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Pharrell Williams, Usher, Take That, and Niall Horan. Grande has also offered to pay for the funerals of all the victims of the attack.

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Los Angeles (CNN)Barack and Michelle Obama’s daylong first date is a slim premise for a movie. But the new “Southside With You” tries it anyway — and while it does find that premise stiff and confining, that’s offset, partially, by an inherent sweetness that makes it easy to like, if not quite love.

At a mere 84 minutes, the movie — writer-director Richard Tanne’s debut effort — is the length of a Lifetime or Hallmark movie sans commercials. In terms of scale, it certainly wouldn’t look out of place in those venues. In fact, the exercise has the feel of a one-act play — “When Barack Met Michelle” — with two characters primarily holding center stage.
The somewhat fictionalized account is nevertheless getting a theatrical release, perhaps a sign of nostalgia that’s already setting in during the waning days of Obama’s presidency.
    After a brief introduction as they separately prepare for the big day, Barack (Parker Sawyers) picks up Michelle (Tika Sumpter) in a run-down car with a hole in the floorboard. Establishing that it’s 1989, Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” blares on the radio.
    Michelle is clearly attracted to Barack but reluctant to date him. As his advisor during Obama’s stint as a summer associate in the corporate law firm at which she works, she’s concerned about optics and about becoming fodder for office gossip.
    “This is not a date,” the then-Ms. Robinson announces tartly, insisting that would be “inappropriate,” while Barack steadily seeks to charm and win her (and by extension, the audience) over.
    Many events that occupied that fateful day have been documented — among other things, the two attended an art exhibit and saw Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” — but Tanne has moved a community meeting into the mix too. That offers a chance to see Obama’s early gifts as an orator, but also fosters a slightly awkward perception that he was essentially showing off by bringing Michelle along.
    Mostly, the movie is a conversation. The two talk shop, religion, family, Stevie Wonder’s music. They discuss being African-American at Ivy League schools, and in a corporate environment that forces them, Michelle asserts, to work twice as hard.
    Michelle gets irritated when Barack suggests she’s unhappy because her clients don’t engage her passions.
    It’s all a bit herky-jerky, smoothed out by the engaging performances, with Sawyers conjuring the image of a young Obama without slipping into impersonation. Sumpter (one of the movie’s producers, along with John Legend and Tanne) has the more difficult task due to the gamut of conflicting emotions Michelle must experience within this truncated time frame.
    Despite her resistance, Michelle agrees to keep hanging out, as the afternoon bleeds into the evening. If Barack labors a bit to continue the date and maintain her interest, narratively speaking, Tanne faces a similar challenge in prolonging the movie.
    Knowing where it all ultimately leads, of course, is part of “Southside’s” appeal, as is the way the movie replicates this time and place in both of their lives. At its core, the story is an unabashed romance, less concerned with depicting “Young Mr. Obama” than the seeds that blossom into what is to outward appearances a long and successful marriage.
    Still, watching a first date — even one this significant — has its limits. And while “Southside With You” nicely conveys a broader, more intimate portrait of the First Couple, the movie probably would have been enriched if Tanne hadn’t hemmed himself in so much with the conceit and instead traced more of the early stages of their courtship.
    “Southside With You” opens August 26. It is rated PG-13.

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    Adam Foss, a former assistant district attorney in Boston, has joined up with Legend to find alternatives to incarceration, and recruit prosecutors to their cause

    Adam Foss doesnt look like your average prosecutor. He wears his hair in long dreadlocks that flow down to his ankles, and beaded bracelets ornate his wrists. He spent eight years as an assistant district attorney in Boston, but rather than focusing on high conviction rates or projecting a tough on crime attitude, he has been far more interested in alternatives to incarceration, and on keeping juvenile offenders out of prison.

    Fosss efforts might have ended there, making tweaks on the fringes of a flawed system, but in 2015, he met singer John Legend, who is no stranger to activism. Now the two want to change the way prosecutors nationwide think about their job, and to recruit them into the war against mass incarceration.

    We are sending in droves our young men into a system that erases them from public view and public consideration, Legend told the Guardian. The only way we are going to slow that down is if we focus on holistic criminal justice reform and so much of that happens in the prosecutors office.

    The singer and songwriter spent much of last year on a tour of prisons around the country, visiting nine of them and sometimes performing for inmates. Through his organization Free America, Legend has been trying to bring attention to the over two million Americans in prison in order to change what he calls the misguided criminal justice policies leading to America having the largest prison population in the world.

    The biggest challenge Foss is likely to face is fear. Photograph: TED

    Legend said he wasnt surprised by much of what he saw in the prisons, but was definitely disturbed.

    You begin to realize how much trauma and pain and abuse [the inmates] have been victims of themselves before they got to prison, and since theyve been in prison. And you realize that its just a cycle that keeps repeating.

    When Legends Free America hosted a gathering for progressive prosecutors in 2015, Foss was there, and it was there his vision for a new organization, now named Prosecutor Integrity was born. Foss wants to use the platform not just to apply political pressure, but to train the nations prosecutors, especially young ones, on how to rethink the application of justice.

    Were always poking at the prisons and sentencing laws and police practices and all of those things are important and need to be addressed, but the one lever that hasnt really been addressed and will push everything over the edge is this one, Foss said.

    Prosecutors in the US wieldunrivaled influence over the incarceration of alleged criminals. They alone choose what to charge, what deals to make and in all but a few jurisdictions, these decisions are not subject to any oversight or guidelines beyond the elections that put them into office.

    And because plea bargains are carried out away from the public eye, voters often have very few insights into how those offices work at least until something goes wrong. In the words of Angela J Davis, a law professor at American University: The unchecked discretion of prosecutors is extraordinary, and the mechanisms of accountability we have dont work.

    Foss, who was born in Colombia and adopted by a Boston law-enforcement family, left the Suffolk County DAs office in March to focus on his new PI organization full-time. But while he was there, Foss tried to address that accountability gap with his own creative solutions.

    What I was trying to do is look at each individual defendant as a case study. My first inclination was: Can I keep you out of the criminal justice system all together? And if I couldnt do that, how could I make it work both for you and for the the victim, the community and me?

    In most large jurisdictions like Suffolk County, which encompasses the city of Boston, district attorneys have dozens or even hundreds of assistant DAs (ADAs) who handle the day to day details and decisions around cases. The DA himself may set priorities and policies for their staff to follow, but ADAs often have some latitude to affect justice however they see fit. These are the people Foss, Legend and Prosecutor Integrity want to reach and train to think more creatively about justice and the impacts of their decisions.

    In a TEDx talk Foss delivered in March, he describes a case from early in his career as an ADA involving an 18-year-old black man he calls Christopher, arrested for stealing 25 laptops from a Best Buy and selling them on the internet. Foss explained he decided not to charge the teenager because he didnt think branding him a felon for the rest of his life was the right answer.

    With a criminal record and without a job, Christopher would be unable to find employment, education or stable housing. Without those protective factors in his life, Christopher would be more likely to commit further, more serious crime, Foss said. It is a terrible public safety outcome for the rest of us.

    Instead, Foss helped him recover most the sold computers, and come up with a plan to pay for the ones they couldnt recover. He did community service and wrote about the impact of his actions. Six years later, Foss said, he encountered the young man again, and learned he had graduated from college and went on to become a manager at a Boston bank and making a lot more money than me, Foss quipped.

    Foss doesnt think his approach is particularly novel, either. Im not this person thats come up with this crazy idea this is what were supposed to be doing, Foss said.

    Largely thanks to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the wind is now at Fosss back. Enraged over prosecutor decisions in the police shooting deaths of Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice, a popular groundswell led by activists pushed district attorneys out of office in Chicago and Cleveland during elections in March.

    These police killings of unarmed people is whats making people pay attention to prosecutors, but in reality what theyre doing on a day to day basis and for so long is prosecuting ordinary citizens in ways that produce all kinds of injustices, Davis said.

    Davis wrote the book Arbitrary Justice about the under-appreciated unilateral power of prosecutors nearly a decade ago and she is encouraged to see public attention shifting, but worries that the big city changeovers earlier this year speak more to a reactiveness over police killings than a popular movement committed to changing the day to day behavior of DAs.

    Every single one of those 1,000-plus deaths last year was a tragedy, Foss said, referring to those shot by police forces. But if you think about the number of lives that are ruined by prosecutors, its some exponent of the number of people killed by police and we dont get angry about that.

    Foss: What Im trying to do is different. Photograph: Adam Foss

    According to Fordham law professor and researcher John Pfaff, prosecutors represent a great untapped resource for slowing prison admissions, and its not just theory. Pfaff said it can be readily demonstrated at work in New York and New Jersey, two states that have been decarcerating steadily for more than 15 years.

    Since 2000, the two states have each decreased their prison populations by nearly 25%, according to Department of Justice data. They are two of only three states, the other being California, to see double-digit drops in incarceration over that span. By comparison, 45 states have actually increased their prison rolls over that time.

    The rise in incarceration started as the states were adopting tougher sentencing laws, Pfaff said. Lots of other states saw decreases in crime, and didnt stop incarcerating. Its clearly a decision on the part of DAs.

    The biggest challenge Foss is likely to face, beyond the inertia of the status quo, is fear. Voters have for decades stocked their districts with tough-on-crime prosecutors mainly because of it: the fear that criminals are out to hurt them, and the belief that locking them in cages is the only way to keep their communities safe.

    If new prosecutors come into office on a platform of compassion and diversion, how does the public react to what Foss calls the one-off scenario where a diverted defendant commits a crime, especially a heinous or high-profile one?

    The truth is, the one-off happens every day in jail and yet no one says we should stop sending people to jail, Foss said. Indeed, 95% of all inmates will leave prison at some point, allegedly rehabilitated, and some percentage of them, as many as 75% according to figures from the National Institute of Justice, will be arrested again.

    Ill give you this: what Im trying to do is different, Foss said. But is it any more dangerous than something we already know doesnt work?

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