From Ashton Kutcher to Justin Bieber, a number of celebrities have put their dollars – and sometimes their personal brands – behind tech investments including Fab, Flipboard and Mobli. And its not just celebrities themselves making investments but their agents and managers too — folks like Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter. The trend of celebrity investors is relatively nascent but has caught the eye of Hollywood talent and sports agency Creative Artists Agency who is said to be developing a new $20M venture fund as well as former Mashable editor Ben Parr who is working on the Hollywood-connected #DominateFund.
Of course, not everyone (Mark Suster for one) is so sanguine on the celebrity-startup connection. Interestingly, however, GRP Partners has partnered with Rachel Zoe on two deals – NuORDER and DailyLook. (Note: there was some debate at CB Insights about whether Rachel Zoe is a celebrity but the fact that she is the top Google auto-suggest result ahead of Rachel Maddow led to her inclusion.)
So after Brooklyn-based media company Mass Appeal raised funding from hip-hop artists Nas and Pusha T, we wanted to dig into the trend a bit and see which celebrities (or their investment vehicles) have backed the highest number of tech start-ups as well as which venture capital firms most frequently co-invest with celebrity backers.
First, celebrity as we’ve defined it includes the actors, singers, rappers, etc. themselves, as well as those in their inner circle. As can be seen below, actors account for the highest number of celebrity investors with at least 11 actors holding stakes in private tech companies. Music artists followed close behind with at least 10 singers and 8 rappers involved in tech financings since 2007.
The majority of celebrity tech investments in the past five years have gone to Internet companies but celebrities have also backed at least 28 mobile-based start-ups. Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, was involved in a round into photo sharing app provider Mobli while seed investors in Blackjet, a fractional jet sharing company of sorts with a mobile app, include Ashton Kutcher, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment.
The list below shows the most active celebrity tech investors since 2007. The top 10 is led by A-Grade Investments, the investment vehicle headed by Kutcher, talent manager Guy Oseary and Ron Burkle and is followed by Troy Carter and Justin Timberlake who round out the top 3. Eight of the top 10 celebrity tech investors concentrate on early-stage investments at the seed/angel and Series A level. Frequent celebrity co-investors include SV Angel, Menlo Ventures and CrunchFund.
Based on their own prior business success, hip-hop artists have enjoyed some of the more notable exits. Note: these were not always investments by these individuals but firms in which they had a stake:
- Jay-Z’s sale of Rocawear to Iconic Brand Group for $204 in March 2007
- Dr. Dre’s sale of a majority stake in Beats Electronics to HTC in August 2011
- Curtis Jackson (50 Cent)’s minority share of Energy Brands (Vitamin Water/Glaceau) which was bought by Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion
But beyond some anecdotal data points, most of the companies backed by celebs are still young making analysis of exits premature at this stage. Some of the celebrity investors who have re-invested in/followed-on in tech companies which they initially funded can be found on the ‘Research’ tab, after logging in to CB Insights. (Note: The list of celebrity investors who’ve re-invested is free to anyone once they log on to CB Insights)