9 Celebrities Who've Invested in Startups—and Won Big
There are only so many multimillion-dollar homes one can buy… So what should Hollywood’s cash-heavy do with all those blockbuster payouts? Invest, of course. While some invest in real estate or the stock market, a handful of famous faces are getting very smart about investing their funds in the tech space. And a smaller subset is succeeding. From Bono to Stephen Fry, these nine celebs are making a killing in the startup world.
Ashton Kutcher is what we call a power investor, having made 46 investments in 41 companies. In 2011, with Ron Burkle and Guy Oseary, he launched a venture fund, A-Grade Investments, which has staked a claim in multiple tech companies, including Spotify, Airbnb, Foursquare, Fab, Uber, Dwolla, and Path (acquired). In 2009, he invested in Skype, which was acquired by Microsoft for $8.6 billion. Along with Guy Oseary, he also recently formed Sound Ventures, which invests in later-stage startups.
U2’s lead singer, Bono (Paul Hewson), has fully submerged his toes in the waters of investing, co-founding Elevation Partners, a private equity firm focused on large-scale investments in media, entertainment, and technology, in 2004. He now acts as managing director. In 2010, the firm bought $120 million in Facebook stock, which netted Bono an approximate $10 million after the social network’s IPO. Elevation also invested in Yelp, which IPO’d, and Palm, which was acquired, and has invested in a number of other promising companies, including Sonos. Bono also recently invested in Vamo, a vacation itinerary planner, and cloud storage and sharing company Dropbox.
Like Madonna, Ellen DeGeneres isn’t a frequent investor, but her one investment paid off big. In 2012, she invested in Stamped, an app (created by ex–Google employees) that allows users to track their favorite things, including restaurants, books, movies, and music, in a $1.5 million seed round, alongside Ryan Seacrest, Justin Bieber, and more. It was soon acquired by Yahoo for $10 million.
Though his Crunchbase profile suggests he’s only invested in 14 companies, actor Jared Leto is said to have made more than 40 investments. His best investment, he told TechCrunch, was Nest, a company that Google acquired for $3.2 billion. He’s also dropped dollars into Blue Bottle Coffee, Zenefits, Meerkat, PlateJoy, Reddit, Surf Air, and more.
Lady Gaga is an adviser for and investor in Backplane, a social network builder and platform for connecting music and sports fans, which has raised $18.9 million in funding. Gaga in turn used the technology to power her own social networking site, Little Monsters. Though it took some time for Backplane to step out from her shadow, it now powers sites for Guns N’ Roses and Condé Nast, and allows any community to build its own social network.
The celebrated actor made waves this week by taking part in a $55 million Series B funding round for mattress startup Casper, alongside other noted celebs Tobey Maguire, Scooter Braun, and Adam Levine. The sleep brand, which sells direct to consumer, has garnered much buzz for disrupting the industry sales model. DiCaprio also led a $4 million Series A funding round for photo-sharing app maker Mobli, alongside his good pal Maguire and tennis champ Serena Williams. The app has since raised $82 million more in funding, including an investment from Lance Armstrong.
Madonna was an early investor ($1.5 million) in British coconut water brand Vita Coco, which she’s personally a big fan of and drinks often while on tour. Vita Coco has received a total of $21.8 million in funding and since garnered funding from Matthew McConaughey, Demi Moore, and Anthony Kiedis. The brand is now sold in 30 countries, and global retail sales rose 31.1% last year to $421.1 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Rapper, songwriter, and record producer Nas is a general partner at venture capital firm QueensBridge Partners, and he has invested in at least 31 companies. Some of the most notable include petition platform Change.org, Bitcoin services provider Coinbase, online art community DeviantArt, Bay Area coffee retailer Philz Coffee, ticket search engine SeatGeek, and wash-and-fold laundry service Washio.
Twitter enthusiast and British actor Stephen Fry—along with Ashton Kutcher, Yoko Ono, and 16 other investors—participated in a $1.2 million venture funding round for Summly, an app that generates algorithmic summaries. It was acquired by Yahoo a year later for $30 million. Fry also invested in Ticckle, a video debate platform.
What startups would you invest in, if you could? Tell us in the comments below.