7 Celebrity-Backed Startups That Totally Nailed It


by Alex Wilhelm, Anna Escher, via Tech Crunch |

Earlier, TechCrunch highlighted a number of startups and products that were founded or heavily backed by the glitterati, and failed. The list was surprisingly long.

This time around, we’re flipping the script, and showing off some companies that have taken celebrity buzz and cash, and used them to their massive advantage.

Is it a good, or a bad idea to take famous dollars? That’s your call, though there is an argument to be made that the more celebrity aligned a company is, the greater, and more positive impact celebrity money may have. That sounds tautological, but much business logic is shockingly reductive.

So dig in and enjoy. A fun question: How many of the following services and apps do you use?

Jared Leto Loves Nest

TechCrunch interviewed Jared Leto backstage at BoxWorks earlier this year. The singer and actor told us that his favorite technology investment was Nest, which Google picked up for a cool $3.2 billion. That’s impressive. Leto has other investments to boot.

Justin Bieber Takes Shots

Shots, which is backed by the former-tween-thing Justin Bieber was dubbed a flop on its release. I have since come under the opprobrium of some of its users, and Bieber fans, and can confirm that whatever its rank numbers, the damn thing has users. So, there was room for one more picture app. (Hi Josh!)

Jessica Alba, Honest Co. President

She’s so much more than just a pretty face. Since 2011, Jessica Alba has acted as co-founder and president of Honest Co., an e-commerce startup that makes and sells personal care products. The startup, popular for its flagship line of safe, eco-friendly baby products and delivery-to-your-door service, reached $70 million in a series C funding round in August 2014. It’s now valued at $1 billion. Keep doing your thing, Jessica.

Leonardo DiCaprio Advises Mobli

A brave feat, investing in a photo-sharing startup that is competing directly with Instagram, Leo. mobli calls itself a visual media platform that differentiates itself with subject-based channels and filters like people, places and topics. Leonardo DiCaprio led a $24 million injection into the app and took on an advisory roll in 2011 – and it appears as though mobli is still alive, kicking and iOS 8 compatible.

Will Ferrell and Funny Or Die

For years, humor video website Funny Or Die has been making us laugh with both exclusive and user generated content monitored by a rating system that allows only audience favorites to stay up on the site. But did you know it was founded by Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow, and has stayed alive through funding from HBO, Sequoia Capital and SV Angel.

Lady Gaga and Backplane

Here’s an interesting story for you. Backplane began as a startup that created private social networks for celebrities and big brands. With former Google CEO Eric Schmidt on board and an investment from Lady Gaga, the network swelled with more and more users. In 2014, Backplane decided to pivot into a platform where anyone can build and monetize their own social networks. This move was in favor of brand organizers, in an effort to put the power back in their hands when it comes to managing online fan bases. (IMAGE BY FLICKR USER AMALIA ADINA UNDER CC BY 2.0 LICENSE)

Ashton Hearts Airbnb

Kutcher, an actor, famously put money into Airbnb years ago. The shares that he bought are presumably worth a multiple today of what he paid for them then. In 2011, asked about his investment strategy that included the Airbnb stake, Kutcher said that he “became an apprentice” to other, perhaps more experienced technology investors.

Kutcher: Annoyingly rich.