Nucleic rapper Kanye West, embodiment of the New Uncanny, appears to have found himself in the same position as many an entrepreneur before him: long on ideas and short on financing. And what better place to look for funds right now than the frothing coffers of Silicon Valley?
Sources have been gossiping for months that the reason West has been spotted lunching with Instagram founder Kevin Systrom at Park Tavern and inviting prominent venture capitalists and squirrely cofounders to his performance art-gagement in San Francisco is because he's seeking funds for DONDA, his nebulous creative agency, pitching something beyond a fashion line.
Earlier this month, days before yelling "Do y'all want [Google chairman] Eric Schmidt to invest in DONDA?" about a dozen times on stage at Madison Square Garden, West stopped by Fancy, a New York-based e-commerce startup that West advises on matters related to "social, mobile, swag." During the 45 minute talk, Kanye said he wants DONDA to become a trillion-dollar businesses that disrupts the fashion industry, according to Business Insider.
Two sources told Valleywag that West recently attended a dinner packed with venture capitalists at Laurene Powell Jobs' home where West supposedly had the temerity to trot out his tagline: "I'm the next Steve Jobs." Both sources heard the story second-hand. Attempts to confirm details of the dinner through Island Def Jam, which is representing the Yeezus tour, and Blueprint Group, which has managed some previous business ventures, were not returned.
But some say West's efforts to drum up tech money for DONDA have not been fruitful.
"I think he's getting frustrated. People are enjoying meeting him because he's Kanye and they want to take him around, but then they're not actually investing," said one source. Investors like the coolness by proxy, just not his pitch style. "If you see his behavior, it's so erratic, he's not focused and kind of all over the place," the source added. West's caustic public criticism of investors has also left VCs a little gunshy. Last week, he skewered Zappos founder and investor Tony Hsieh for advising West to be more focused while Zappos "sells all this shit product to everybody." Zappos laughed it off. But "that's a massive risk," the same source noted. "If you meet him now and he does what he did with Zappos—he's self-imploding."
Others say discussion about securing tech investment is premature because no formal pitches have been made. "Kanye is passionate about DONDA and building a world-class team, top to bottom," another source told Valleywag. "Although he hasn't met directly with any VC firms to raise capital, I think San Francisco is home the type of innovative and passionate thinker Kanye may want to collaborate with in the future. It's early days, but there's momentum."
We heard that Anthony Schiller, who has traveled in the same circles as the Kardashians and Kris Jenner since the O.J. Simpson trial days, has also helped introduce West to some investors. Schiller's father, writer and director Lawrence Schiller, collaborated with Simpson on the audiobook I Want to Tell You. Anthony Schiller currently works as the managing director and executive vice president of Kramlich Investment Company, a private equity company led by C. Richard "Dick" Kramlich. Kramlich, who cofounded the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA), is a Silicon Valley legend. Schiller and Kramlich were spotted grinning at an exclusive Kanye West listening party in June (that's them in the last photo).
Of course, West doesn't have to rely on Schiller for connections. Who wouldn't take a meeting with him? The rapper is also friends with Ben Horowitz, who cofounded the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Horowitz spearheaded the firm's $15 million investment in Rap Genius and is very close with Nas' former manager Steve Stoute.
Horowitz tries to stay tight-lipped and discreet about his ties to the music world. You won't see him humble-bragging on social media. But maniac Rap Genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam can't help himself from blowing up Horowitz's spot, like that time he posted pictures of Nas and Marc Zuckerberg at Horowitz's house. Both Moghadam and Horowitz were invited to West's proposal to Kim Kardashian.
In response to questions from Valleywag, Moghadam said Horowitz has been friends with West for about a year, "ever since DONDA" was launched. "They are the best of homies, really a great meeting of minds. They discuss art, love…" Schiller, Moghadam added, "is an oil man [he makes energy investments] but he loves Kanye, helps him out a lot."
Here are some photographs of Kanye via Horowitz's private Facebook page:
"Yeah, of course," Moghadam said when I asked if he knew about West trying to raise funds. But, he said, "Kanye is not good at articulating what DONDA is. He is the Maboo of DONDA, but DONDA has no Ilan or Tom for now," referring to himself (by nickname) and his cofounders, who are occasionally able to keep his ADHD antics in check. "I mean, what is DONDA? so far it is just a brand."
DONDA's road map may be hazy, but is it any more far-fetched than some of the ludicrous pitches propped up Silicon Valley's free flowing capital? Especially from investors who claim to back the founder, not the idea, and embrace failure—West recently said he lost $13 million on business ventures because "I didn't have the knowledge to do it the right way"—as a badge of honor.
West is clearly not waiting around for the Valley. In the same radio show where he jabbed at Mark Parker for manipulative negotiation tactics, he asked the Nike CEO to back his company:
And by the way Mark Parker, yes I will still accept an investment in DONDA. I got some more ideas that don't involve shoes . . . Who is going to be the Medici family and let me create more?
Has no one told Yeezus about Kickstarter? The Medicis are the masses.
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