Debunking the Stereotype
When you picture a stereotypical investor, some older, suit-wearing man in a Manhattan highrise might be who first comes to mind.
Don’t get us wrong: suit-wearing rich guys definitely exist, but the investors pouring millions into the world’s most buzzworthy startups come in all shapes and sizes – they could even be your favorite athlete or singer.
More and more celebrities are reaching beyond the entertainment and sports industries to make angel investments in startups they hope will blossom into billion-dollar companies.
We're talking big money: According to CB Insights, famous folks participated in more than 350 funding rounds –– worth approximately $4.6 billion –– since 2007. In 2015 alone, the world’s 75 biggest celebrity investors poured roughly $2 billion into 100 investment deals.
Using data collected from 2007 through last year (2016), CB Insights compiled a list of notable celebrity investors –– AKA the rich and famous people throwing the most money at startups. About half of the stars on the list work in the music industry, while the rest work in sports, movies, or fashion.
If you’re curious where your favorite stars are putting their money, here’s a list of some of the world’s most active investor celebs:
Just one year after playing Facebook’s founding president in “The Social Network,” Justin Timberlake invested an undisclosed amount into the struggling MySpace with hopes of revitalizing the brand and “making it relevant in a big way.”
Six years later, it appears even Justin Timberlake couldn’t bring sexy back to the social media platform.
Some of the actor and musician’s other investments appeared to have gone better: Timberlake backed Particle, a firm that makes HTML 5 applications, and Apple purchased the company in 2012. Timberlake has also invested in beverage startup Bai Brands, mobile game company Tapulous (acquired by Disney in (2010), and Stipple, a tech company with software that tags people, places, and objects in photos.
While Kutcher is still one of the highest paid actors in television, he’s also a prolific investor and something of a Silicon Valley angel: Since 2007, Kutcher has backed more than 100 startups, including major players like Skype and Airbnb.
Kutcher founded venture capital firm A-Grade Investments in 2010, a $30 million fund he grew to $250 million in just six years. He also co-founded aplus.com, a digital media company based in New York City.
Retired football star Joe Montana was 2016’s most active celebrity investor, according to CB Insights. Investing via his fund Liquid 2 Ventures, Montana previously struck 14 investment deals in 2014, backing companies like Nucleus, Skymind, and TrueFacet.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Kardashians are here to stay. Though Kardashian-West makes millions as a reality star with her own mobile game, Kimoji app, and cosmetics line, she also invested heavily in ShoeDazzle back in 2007.
The e-commerce site reports serving more than 3 million customers, who subscribe monthly for a selection of personalized shoes and accessories.
NBA Star Steve Nash is one of only 10 players who’ve won back-to-back MVP awards. Off the court, he’s building an impressive portfolio of primarily health and sports-centric investments.
According to Forbes, Nash often trades endorsement work for equity stakes in the companies he works with. He occasionally goes on to invest more money in the company after a trial period.
Nash is a backer for juice retailer Liquid Nutrition, the Vancouver Whitecaps Soccer Club, supplements company OneBode, and a chain of Canadian fitness centers named after Nash himself.
Music is far from the only thing on Will.i.am’s mind. The Black Eyed Peas member aims to meld his music and entrepreneurial passions with tech startup i.am+, which produces gadgets like iPhone camera lenses and bluetooth headphones (with mixed results).
Will.i.am has made sound investment decisions in the past: He was an early investor in Twitter and a founding shareholder of Beats Electronics, the company behind the popular Beats by Dre headphones. Apple bought Beats Electronics for $3 billion in 2014.
Supermodel Tyra Banks founded venture capital firm Fierce Capital in 2013, shortly after she completed Harvard Business School’s three-year Owner/President Management program.
Through Fierce Capital, Banks has invested primarily in women-led startups. She told TechCrunch that The Muse, a digital media outlet offering career advice to Millennials, was one of her favorite investments.
Tyra was also invited to teach a course at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.
New York Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony teamed up with Stuart Goldfarb to create Melo7 Tech Partners.
Through Melo7, Anthony has backed more than 30 startups since 2014, including Casper, Lyft, MakeSpace, and Juicero.
According to Inc, Justin Bieber invested in his first startup way back in 2009 – when he was just 15 years old – but the Despacito singer never revealed the startup’s name. More recently, Bieber led a $1.1 million seed round for selfie tech company Shots, a platform Bieber helped skyrocket to popularity by using the app himself. He also invested in social curation app Stamped, alongside GoogleVentures and Bain Capital.
Perhaps most notably, Bieber invested an undisclosed amount of money into ultra-popular music streaming service Spotify, which raised $400 million in 2015.
Though it’s probably safe to say none of us saw this coming back in 2004, Linkin Park is now a venture capital firm as well as a rock band. The group launched Machine Shop Ventures in 2015 and quickly built an impressive portfolio, backing high-growth ventures like ride-sharing app Lyft, stock-trading app Robinhood, and logistics startup Shyp.
Rapper – and prolific weed smoker – Snoop Dogg certainly seems to understand the concept of investing in what you know. The artist-turned-venture-capitalist invested in weed-delivery startup Eaze and later went on to found Merry Jane, a resource for Cannibis news and culture.
Snoop’s money isn’t just in marijuana – the rapper has also invested in stock-trading app Robinhood (joining co-investor Linkin Park) and so-called ‘homepage of the internet’ Reddit.
Braun is probably most known for managing a little someone by the name of Justin Bieber after discovering the young singer on YouTube in 2008. Braun’s SB Projects manages a whole host of huge names: Karlie Kloss, The Black Eyed Peas, and Tori Kelly to name a few.
But beyond managing some of the world’s biggest stars, Braun is behind Ithaca: A $120 million investment fund that, according to Fortune, serves as a holding company for SB Projects and the ownership interests in seven major music management companies. Through Ithaca, Braun has backed tech powerhouses like Spotify and Uber.
Arguably one of the most famous names in basketball history, the now-retired Lakers player is turning to tech. Bryant partnered with investor Jeff Stibel to build a $100 million venture capital fund (named Bryant Stibel) that focuses on backing media, data, and tech companies.
Stibel told The Wall Street Journal the fund isn’t meant to be an extension of Bryant’s brand.
“We don’t want to be in the business of investing in companies so someone can use Kobe as an endorser,” he said. “That’s not interesting. The point is to add real value.”
Ryan Seacrest’s primary source of fame comes from his gigs hosting television shows like American Idol and Live with Kelly and Ryan, but the TV and radio personality has also tried his hand at investing in the technology sphere. Seacrest reportedly poured millions into Typo, which produced attachable keyboards for iPhones, in 2013 –– an investment that fell through after BlackBerry successfully sued the company for copyright infringement.
Since then, Seacrest has (more successfully) backed the social sharing platform Stamped, along with Headspace, an app to help people practice meditation and mindfulness.
Troy Carter founded the production company and talent management firm Atom Factory, and has managed superstars like Lady Gaga, John Legend, and Priyanka Chopra.
Carter is also an extremely active investor, having backed more than 30 startups since 2011, including Uber, Spotify, Warby Parker, Dropbox, and The Skimm.
The actor and comedian you’ve loved since the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has backed a wide range of ventures in completely different fields. He’s an investor in BioBeats, an artificial intelligence app that helps patients with chronic conditions, and has also backed sheet-music cataloging site Chromatik and online cosmetics retailer Julep. Smith is also investor in Tuition.io and Stance.
Teenage heartthrob turned household name trying to make us care about climate change, Leonardo DiCaprio has backed his fair share of startups working toward a greener world, including sustainable trash-collecting startup Rubicon Global and ethical diamond manufacturer Diamond Foundry.
Rapper Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, who goes by his stage name Nas, is one of the most active celebrity investors on this list. Since 2007, the rapper has backed more than 40 startups, including Dropbox, Lyft, mattress company Casper, and song lyric app Genius.
Anthony Saleh, Nas’ manager and partner at his investment firm, QueensBridge Venture Partners, told CNBC their firm receives more than 100 pitches every month, but they invest in less than three of them. QueensBridge typically invests $100,000 to $500,00 in a company.
Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, editor-in-chief of The Zoe Report, has invested in a number of female-focused startups since 2012, beginning with online fashion wholesaler NuOrder. Zoe has also invested in the beauty website BeautyCon, wellness subscription service FabFitFun, and suitcase company Raden.
With more than 50 investments in early-stage tech companies under his belt, the former '30 Seconds to Mars' singer told CNBC he likes staying involved with the companies he backs. Leto’s impressive portfolio includes Uber, Airbnb, and smarthome tech startup Nest, which Google acquired in 2014 for $3.2 billion.
"I would say almost every investment I made I've been incredibly proactive, really aggressive," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" in an interview.
He was also an investor in smart home startup Nest, which Google purchased in 2014 for $3.2 billion and now resides under the Alphabet umbrella.
Robert Downey Jr.
Surprise, surprise: Ironman invests in tech.
Downey Jr. heads up Downey Ventures, which incubates consumer entertainment tech companies and digital media startups. Downey Jr. invested in media company MakerStudios, which Disney acquired in 2014. The actor has also invested in subscription box service LootCrate, as well as Masterclass, a website that offers online courses taught by big names in the entertainment industry.
Axios reported in February that rapper Jay Z is working to create a venture capital firm with Jay Brown, his Roc Nation co-founder. Though the fund will receive some help from Sherpa Capital, Jay Z’s fund will have it’s own brand and make its own financial decisions, according to the tech publication.
Jay Z was an early investor in Uber and backed premium sock company Stance – which TechCrunch reports is doing very well – during its initial $6 million funding round.