The Straight Nasty: Just in Time for the Holidays

Come on down, Bono. And you too, Nas. And Justin, Jessica and the rest of you. Welcome to our world – the world of startup investing.

Celebrities used to make commercials for companies and endorse their brands. Pretty good money there.

But getting equity? Whoa, that’s a more enticing deal by far.

Famous names are glomming onto a new type of arrangement. In exchange for a percentage of a company, they’re agreeing to provide publicity, feedback and valuable connections.

Sweet, eh?

So here’s my list of seven celebrities who have morphed into angel investors – a new role that’s likely their most challenging yet.

How are they doing? Here’s a rundown…

Nas
My kids tell me that Nas – otherwise known as Nasir Jones – is a great rapper. Wouldn’t know. But I am impressed with his startup portfolio. Dropbox ($10 billion valuation), Lyft ($5.5 billion), Casper ($550 million) and Tilt ($400 million) are among the 40 startups he’s invested in.

Nas is a founding partner of QueensBridge Venture Partners. His investing approach? He wants “to see how you started, why you started, what are your goals and what have you done so far to get where you are, on your own.”

Ashton Kutcher
Listen to this: If “Ashton picks up the phone and calls someone, that person calls back.”

That’s not Ashton the actor they’re talking about. It’s Ashton the angel investor. Well, that’s good. As an actor, the guy is strictly second-rate (and that’s being generous). As a startup investor? He’s made some savvy investments. His A-Grade Investments firm has backed hot tech startups like Product Hunt, Poshmark, Casper and Citymaps.

Bono

Paul Hewson – better known as Bono – got rich from putting out excellent music. Then he got richer from investing in Facebook. He reportedly made $10 million. It doesn’t stop there. He also invested in Airbnb ($30 billion valuation), Dropbox ($10 billion valuation), Yelp (worth $1.47 billion at the end of its IPO day), Palm (acquired for $1.2 billion) and MarketShare (bought out for $450 million).

He co-founded venture capital firm Elevation Partners in 2004. His investing philosophy is best summed up by his lead guitarist, “The Edge” (David Evans): “We want to bring forward and support innovative, world-changing ideas.”

Tyra Banks
Her investment company, Fierce Capital, is described by Crunchbase as “developing and investing in early-stage startups, including female-focused businesses.” I should add “and female-led startups” – as in the Muse (led by Kathryn Minshew) and Locket (led by Yunha Kim).

Banks isn’t going away, either. She’s one of the “sharks” in NBC’s upcoming startup competition show Funded.

Justin Timberlake
Congratulations go out to Mr. Timberlake. The man who played Sean Parker in The Social Network just landed the job of “chief flavor officer” for beverage startup Bai Brands. Well, he probably had to invest in the company to land the job. I suspect his experience in product development is rather limited.

At around the same time, the company was acquired by Dr. Pepper. The price tag? A cool $1.7 billion. Was Timberlake part of the package? I don’t doubt it. (By the way, Ashton Kutcher was also an investor.) Timberlake has also invested in audio technology company AfterMaster Audio Labs and social media website MySpace, which was acquired recently by Time Inc. for $580 million.

Jessica Alba
Justin, ol’ buddy, you got nothing on Jessica Alba. Sure, getting hired as a chief flavor officer is pretty cool. But Alba has startup bonafides you can’t touch. She’s the founder and chief creative officer of Unicorn startup The Honest Company. Alba’s the real deal. She used to spend 86-hour weeks on the set of the TV series Dark Angel. Now, she says, she spends as much time at her desk overseeing marketing and brand development.

The Honest Company is valuated at $1.7 billion. But a few months ago, it came to light that some chemicals had snuck into the “healthy” ingredients it uses for its products. It’s now in talks with Unilever. The buying price discussed is about $1 billion – a hefty discount from its official valuation but still not too shabby.

Kanye West
The talented Kanye Omari West invested in the now-defunct Turntable. He wasn’t the only one – so did Jimmy Fallon and Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures). West once said that his name was “going to mean something similar to what Steve Jobs means.”

Well, he just had a face-to-face with President-elect Trump. West clearly thinks he’s meant for bigger things. Will Trump give him a vehicle to realize his grand ambitions? By the way, West didn’t vote for Trump. But he said he would have… if he had bothered to vote.

Counts for something, right?

Good investing,

Andy Gordon
Founder, Early Investing