A hallmark of American culture has been the extent to which we have been able to squeeze every dollar of celebrity out of our star athletes, musicians and entertainers. From the eponymous Air Jordans to Joe Namath’s 1974 advertisement for hosiery and Britney Spears’ perfume, merchandise and endorsements have been a great way for stars to supplement their (and their agents’) incomes, and expand their marketing reach.
A more interesting phenomenon as of late has been the foray of celebrities into the world of Venture Capital. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher are some of the biggest names to handover cash to promising startups, but other notable stars such as MC Hammer and even tween heartthrob Justin Bieber are reported to be scratching their entrepreneurial itch by way of VC investments. Can you imagine the Silicon Valley headlines? “It’s not a bubble, it’s Bieber Fever!”
Are Kutcher and DiCaprio really as adept at identifying emerging technologies and talented entrepreneurs as the veterans at Kleiner Perkins and Andreesson Horowitz? I doubt they can model cash flows or advise on go-to-market strategies as well as the true VC players can, but apparently the Ven”star” Capitalists are doing fairly well for themselves. Kutcher, through his investment partnership called A Grade, was an early investor in such hot startups as Foursquare, Path and Flipboard, and was even part of a group that bought Skype in 2009 before selling it to Microsoft in April for more than three times the purchase amount. Yesterday, social video and photo platform Mobli announced that Leonardo DiCaprio was one of a handful of investors that had participated in its latest round of funding – a $4 million seed round – and in April, MC Hammer announced he was joining as an investor/mentor in a tech incubator in Silicon Valley called NewMe.
Is this phenomenon a brilliant move on behalf of prescient celebrities with an eye for “companies that solve problems in intelligent and friction-free ways and break boundaries,” as Kutcher replied in a May interview? Or are startups realizing that celebrities can increase the brand awareness many times over, seemingly overnight, as in the case of Justin Bieber earning more than 1,700 followers within an hour of posting his first picture on Instagram?
Whichever the case, I appreciate the entrepreneurism exhibited by these celebrities. I never thought I would be giving props to anyone appearing on Perez Hilton, but I can’t help but applaud the Kim Kardashians and the Olsen twins of the world who appear to be testing out the waters of the business world by using their brains – okay, their checkbooks might be more accurate – to diversify their careers. My question is, how long will it be until there is a fund we can invest in that only manages portfolios of star-backed startups? Or what about a VC training camp for the rich and famous? Now that’s innovation!
About Colin Hudson
Colin drives the business and analytical thinking on projects, working collaboratively as a consultant on the Motiv team.