First, celebrities used their stardom to get free things. Then, they got paid to endorse products. Then, they took ownership. But the newest A-list perk hits another level entirely: leveraging their fame to make early-stage investments -- or launch startups themselves.
Ashton Kutcher is the godfather of this trend. The actor (who ranks 51st on our Celebrity 100 list with $24 million) has been investing in startups since 2007. Not all of those investments paid off (ever heard of Ooma?). But Kutcher got in early on Skype which Microsoft bought for $8.5 billion and the music-sharing site Spotify. His largest investment is in Airbnb, a service that lets people rent out their homes. The company was recently valued at $1 billion.
Kutcher says he uses all of the services he invests in (including Airbnb) and has some advice for other celebrity investors.
Educate yourself," he says. "If you're going to make an investment, make sure you know what you're investing in and invest in really good people."
That's what Tobey Maguire did before he invested in photo-sharing site Mobli. His pal Leonardo Dicaprio had told Maguire about the site while they were filming Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. DiCaprio was part of a $4 million investment round in Mobli. After learning more about the company, Maguire decided he wanted to put his money into the startup too.
"I"m passionate about the way technology can empower us all to be storytellers," he says. It was a smart move. Instagram (another photo-sharing site) recently sold to Facebook for $1 billion. Mobli is adding 20,000 new users every day.
Another fan of Silicon Valley startups: Selena Gomez. Her boyfriend, Justin Bieber, might be getting most of the attention right now thanks to landing on the cover of our most recent Celebrity 100 issue, but Gomez is also a savvy investor. The young actress joined a $750,000 angel-investment round for photo-sharing app Postcard on the Run. Founded by former MySpace exec Josh Brooks, the site lets mobile users snap pictures on their phones and turn them into physical postcards at 99 cents and up a pop.
"I put my money into the project because i really felt like it had meaning," says Gomez. "I used to look through photo albums with my family and now I don't. There's something really magical about holding a photo in your ha
Jessica Alba is a different kind of celebrity entrepreneur. Instead of investing in someone else's idea, Alba started her own company. Pregnant with her first child, the actress read the book Healthy Child Healthy World and realized how difficult it would be for an average mom to keep her house toxin free. So she founded The Honest Company which offers monthly deliveries of nontoxic diapers and cleaning products to busy moms.
"I'm big on data and statistics and hard facts," says Alba. "This is my passion." Zooey Deschanel (who ranks 96th on our list with $9 million) is another actress who decided to start her own company. In addition to her work on the hit Fox show New Girl, Deschanel has spent the last 12 months building Hell0 Giggles which she likens to a female Funny or Die. The site features things like an article on the beauty of snowflakes and a live bunny cam.
"If we can be the place where 13-year-old bloggers are engaging with thirtysomethings, finding out how much all women really have in common," she says, "then I think we're on to something." (For more on Deschanel's business smarts click here.)
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