I know way too much about Ashton Kutcher.
I know about his tweets, his marital issues and about his investments.
Our cover story this issue, by frequent contributor Tom Stein, takes a deep dive into how Kutcher and other celebs, including Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, MC Hammer and others, are investing more often lately in tech startups.
Kutcher himself is by far the most active of the bunch. We counted no less than 18 tech companies that list the dude as a financial backer or advisor, including such Silicon Valley startups as Airbnb, Flipboard, Hipmunk and Zaarly, among others.
It’s no wonder the attraction from an investment standpoint. For the most part, Kutcher and the other actors and pop stars are power users of the mobile technology, or, in the case of Lady Gaga and other musicians, they stand to benefit professionally from the technology they back, such as Turntable.fm, a social music platform.
Admittedly, the Hollywood glitterati bring something to the table, as well. An association with a celebrity is an easy endorsement that the startup can brand and use repeatedly to market its product or services, assuming the relationship is genuine.
To be clear, Kutcher is not a numbers cruncher. He’s not performing due diligence and poring over business plans any more than he’s paying close attention to his many tweets. Kutcher, who says he has learned about tech investing from Ron Conway, Paul Graham and Marc Andreessen, admits that macroeconomics is not a strong suit. He says he has friends who are a lot smarter than he is who have helped him with the business side of things.
The question, then, is whether having Jimmy Fallon and other celebrity involvement in startups is the ultimate sign of an Internet Bubble—or at least the peak of the tech investing market?
Many of the VCs—such as Jeremy Liew and Howard Morgan—who have co-invested with Kutcher, Kim Kardashian and others, say that’s not the case. Morgan, of First Round Capital, says that a celebrity involvement is not something that is thought about at the beginning of the process. “But celebrity involvement is one more positive sign that can help a company succeed more quickly,” he tells VCJ.
I confess I’ve paid closer attention to some startups lately that have a celebrity tech investor.
But many of Kutcher’s deals were already on my radar before I knew he was a backer. Take Flipboard, for instance. The company is taking off, not because of Kutcher, but because of the iPad and how the company can aggregate Web links into a digital social magazine on your tablet.
On the wall at Flipboard’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., are testimonials from various users, including one signed by aplusk. If you didn’t know that was the Twitter handle of Kutcher, you might think aplusk was just a happy customer.
There’s no denying that celebs like the tech. And we all love following the pop star involvement. But until they generate returns on these investments, celebrity tech investors will remain just a curious sidenote to what the real VCs are accomplishing.