The LA Times published a huge piece this week on celebrities lending themselves to new start ups. There are a couple ways that celebrities are doing this. Some celebrities of course, can be bought to lend their name, likeness and endorsement to a start up. Then there’s the path that singer and actor Justin Timberlake and Lady GaGa have gotten involved.
Timberlake invested in and led a consortium of investors who successfully bid for MySpace from Fox Media last year. The price $53 million dollars. While some thought that the investors were going to rip the data out of the social network and sell it, they actually pumped new life into it and for the first time in years MySpace has graced the top 50 ComScore list two months in a row.
Timberlake went as far as to be the MySpace pitch man at the International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas in January. Pitching everyone that would listen to him both big time investors, and well just everyone. Teen pop superstar Justin Bieber was also at the Consumer Electronics show however in his case it was a paid endorsement of Tosy, a robot company banking on his star power attracting potential buyers to their booth.
More after the break
On the investment side of the start up business it was reported back in September that the “biebs” was scene rubbing elbows and playing horse with NBA star Steve Nash. Mike Duda was also part of this game and together Duda and Nash own Consigliere Brand Capital which has invested in start ups like Birch Box, Stella Service and Chloe and Isabel. To date we haven’t seen the young superstars name tied to any of their start ups but it’s possible that he’s investing in companies now for when his prowess with the tween ladies dries up.
Lady Gaga is also another superstar who has invested in startups along with working on her own startup with her manager called Backplane. Backplane is some kind of start up in the social arena which focuses on sports and musical stars. They’ve already raised over $1 million dollars in a round led by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures.
Hip Hop stars are also no stranger to the start up scene. Rapper Chamillionaire is a familiar face in tech convention scenes like TechCrunch Disrupt, The Crunchies, Ignition and CES. Chamillionaire is invested in Y Combinator start ups like Vidly and Disqus. He also spearheaded a global innovation tournament at Stanford University with the likes of Quincey Jones. In several interviews including one with nibletz.com the rapper repeatedly drives home the need for hip hop stars, youth and people in general to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. Chamillionaire freely admits that after he left the security blanket of a major record deal he was able to maintain his level of performances, fan base and overall business thanks to his early adoption of new technologies.
LL Cool Jay has released a virtual recording studio start up that allows users to record tracks using the internet and of course Dr. Dre, Ludacris and 50 cent have their own line of headphones. Rohan Marley and the Marley family, all direct kin to Reggae sensation Bob Marley, have a two part business in House of Marley. House of Marley produces earth friendly high end audio products like headphones, iPod docks, and boomboxes and uses proceeds from those sales to fund socially aware human aid projects across the country.
And of course one of the most popular tech advocates with tremendous star power is Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher has invested in dozens of start ups and also regularly speaks at tech events like last years Tech Crunch Disrupt. Some of Kutcher’s investments include Zaarly, Chegg, Fashim, Fab.com and Foursquare.
It wasn’t always easy for hollywood stars and celebrities to break into the start up scene, especially for Kutcher. When Kutcher first showed interest in investing, and then actually be involved in the start ups themselves he had a hard time being taken seriously;
“For the first four or five meetings, I couldn’t take Ashton seriously,” said David Lee, a Silicon Valley investor at SV Angel who has worked with Kutcher on more than 25 tech deals told the LA Times. “He has overcome that skepticism by leaps and bounds.”
Kutcher leads his investment arm called A-Grade with L.A. billionaire Ron Burkle and Madonna’s manager Guy Oseary. They regularly invest $50,000 to millions of dollars in start ups. Kutcher is actually a hands on investor. Dan Rosenweig the CEO of textbook rental service Chegg told the Times that Kutcher regularly visits the office and one day sent over a long list of notes he had made about the companies website.
CBS was reportedly irked after one of the first Kutcher episodes of Two and A Half Men. Kutcher used his own laptop for a scene which was covered in start up stickers for companies he invested in.
What’s apparent in all of this is that celebrities are taking notice of the tech world around them and through their investments and participation giving back in a natural way.