Last week, Lenovo, a Chinese multinational corporation that sells personal computers and other electronic devices, hired actor-capitalist Ashton Kutcher as a "product engineer." Not a celebrity spokesperson, venture capitalist, or even the more laissez-faire "creative director" (à la Alicia Keys and BlackBerry, but a product engineer. Today, Fortune reports that Justin Bieber is the "lead investor" in a "new teen-focused social network" called Shots of Me.
The real news here is that startup titles, which have increasingly devolved into the ridiculous, are now entirely devoid of meaning. No surprise from an industry that likes to play fast-and-loose with the English language and never met a euphemism it didn't want to commoditize.
For a little historical perspective, here is how the The Oxford Handbook of Venture Capital defines "lead investor:
While a syndicate of investors usually finances a venture capital project, the lead investor plays a particularly critical role in making the investment decisions. The lead investor usually originates and structures the deal. It is often the most active investor and extensively helps in monitoring and professionalizing the company and locating follow-on venture capital investors for syndicated investments.
Bieber led a $1.1 million seed round in the company, along with venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, whose Instagram is littered with images of the pop star, and boxer Floyd Mayweather. Here's a picture Pishevar posted of Bieber on their way to Mayweather fight. Hashtag synergy, baby.
According to Fortune:
It not only is Beiber's first-ever investment in a social network, but also is believed to be the first time he has made a VC investment independent of his manager Scooter Braun.
Here's how the New Yorker described Bieber's initial entree into tech investing in a profile of his manager (and tech investor!) Scooter Braun:
Braun uses Bieber’s fame as a P.R. platform for his other clients as well. He makes it worth Bieber’s while: when Braun signed Carly Rae Jepsen, he gave Bieber a fifty-per-cent cut. Braun told him, “We’ll be partners. But you’re going to do your part, being a loudspeaker: put her on your tour, sing a song with her.” And Bieber obeyed. The homemade video of him horsing around to Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” got forty-eight million views and made the song catch fire. Last month, he tweeted to introduce the world to Braun’s newest client, Madison Beer, a thirteen-year-old singer who resembles a baby Megan Fox. Within minutes, her name was trending worldwide.
Cross-promotion is all part of the interdependent business culture that Braun has created. For instance, he cuts Bieber in on many of his tech investments. Sometimes he has Bieber put money into a start-up company directly; sometimes he offers to have him promote a product in return for equity. “If it makes sense for Justin’s brand, I show it to him,” Braun said. (He has a similar relationship with his other artists, and with Ellen DeGeneres, with whom he has shared tech-investing tips: “She put me onto something, and I put her onto something.”)
To be fair, that Braun profile was from a year ago. It's possible that between hiding under a bed sheet to exit a Brazilian brothel and dropping piles of money on a talented stripper at a Houston's gentleman's club, Bieber has learned a thing or two about structuring deal and professionalizing companies.
Bieber's other public investment is Stamped. A tweet from El Biebalo sent Stamped to the top of the App Store and he filmed this little video for it. But did that really have anything to do with why Marissa Mayer threw down $10 million for the app, founded by fellow ex-Googlers—or was it more about mobile talent to hopelessly Web 1.0 Yahoo?
Shots of Me is being launched later this week by the same team that developed social mobile games under the brand RockLive. CEO John Shahidi told Fortune:
"We got to know Justin after he began playing our games and tweeting about it," says RockLive CEO John Shahidi, who founded the company several years back with his brother Sam. "He's been very involved in our products, helping us test things and providing feedback… When we told him that we were looking to create a social network for teens that really addresses what they aren't getting on other networks, and which tries to deal with things like cyber-bullying, his eyes just lit up." [...]
It should be interesting to see how Bieber's influence will affect downloads and usage. He currently has 46.5 million Twitter followers, which is more than anyone else in the world (save for fellow singer Katy Perry, with whom he is effectively tied). RockLive has never used traditional marketing methods – no PR firm or press releases, for example – instead relying on digital word of mouth from users (in its past games, users were encouraged/enabled to share accomplishments without leaving the actual game).
See what I mean about playing it fast-and-loose? I'd say letting a celebrity call himself a "lead investor" is the oldest kind of marketing there is.
Celebrity endorsements for startups do absolutely nothing. It's criminal that people believe this myth.
— Steve Cheney (@stevecheney) November 4, 2013
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[Image via Getty]