Marketing loves celebrities — and with good reason. They’re “celebrated” people, individuals invested with bulk quantities of cultural capital (i.e., public respect, goodwill and interest), which — if tapped correctly by marketing firms — can be reflected onto endorsed products.
But while the above have simply been endorsements offered in return for what we can only presume were million-dollar fees, there are a number of other celebrities who support and have supported crypto more meaningfully. From Ashton Kutcher to Serena Williams, these are individuals who have actually bought crypto or invested in crypto-related startups. So instead of merely allowing their names and faces to be associated with altcoin X or exchange Y, they’ve provided an even stronger backing of crypto by actually putting skin in the game.
However, as validating as it may be to hear of another celebrity staking their own money on the success of crypto, celebrity investments won’t be enough on their own to drive widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies, since they still remain a relatively rare occurrence. Instead, the crypto industry and community still need to focus on the core fundamentals: building platforms that businesses and the general public actually want to use.
Venture capitalist celebrities
On April 17, tennis champion Serena Williams became the latest celebrity investor in crypto. And more importantly for the cryptocurrency industry, she also revealed that this company had invested in Coinbase, making her a backer of one of the industry’s biggest players.
It’s not known how much Serena Ventures has invested in America’s biggest crypto exchange, although Williams has won nearly $90 million in prize money over the course of her career, while she earned around $18 million in endorsements between 2017 and 2018 alone. Arguably the most active celebrity investor in such companies is Ashton Kutcher, the actor and one-time Calvin Klein model who launched his own venture capital firm — A-Grade Investments — in 2010. Most notably, he invested an undisclosed sum in crypto transaction processor BitPay in March 2013, while in June 2014, his firm participated in a $12 million funding round for blockchain cybersecurity company BitGo, making it one of the most well-funded crypto-related companies at the time.
Indeed, comments made about bitcoin at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in 2013 show that Kutcher has been a cryptocurrency devotee for over half a decade — and in recent years, additional investments have reconfirmed his interest in crypto. In 2015, he launched a new venture capital firm, Sound Ventures, which later went on to invest in Ripple (and then to donate XRP worth $4 million to Ellen DeGeneres’ wildlife charity in 2018). Sound Ventures has also invested an undeclared amount of money in exchange platform Robinhood, which expanded in February 2018 to offering cryptocurrency trading.
Kutcher may be the most committed and outspoken celebrity investor in cryptocurrencies and crypto-related businesses, but he isn’t the only famous individual to be all-in when it comes to crypto. One other celebrity venture capitalist who flies slightly more under the radar is Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known as the rapper “Nas.” Nas launched QueensBridge Venture Partners (QBVP) in 2014, when the firm invested in Bitfury Group as part of a $20 million Series A investment round. QBVP has also invested in BlockCypher and, more recently, Coinbase and Robinhood, while Nas himself has gone on record as saying that “Bitcoin will evolve into an industry as big, if not bigger, than the internet.” And speaking of celebrity overlaps in crypto-related investments, BitPay was on the receiving end of money not only from Ashton Kutcher, but also from famed investor/author/philanthropist Richard Branson, who took part in a $30 million Series A funding round in 2014. That’s because, in such cases, the investors concerned are highly public figures who aren’t putting only their money on the line when they invest in Coinbase, Robinhood or BitPay, but also their reputations. What’s more, as CryptoOracle CEO Lou Kerner told Cointelegraph, their reputations really help to drive wider interest in crypto, particularly if the investors concerned are genuinely enthusiastic about cryptocurrencies:
“Investment from a celebrity like Serena Williams often generates press, which has value, but it’s pretty ephemeral. There are some celebrity investors, like Ashton Kutcher, that really dig in, leverage their celebrity status to help the company, and add real value.” Artem Popov, the co-founder of blockchain-based investment service Roobee, also affirms that celebrity investments can boost public interest, so long as these investments come from individuals who are personally invested in the cryptocurrency space:
“Celebrity investments certainly bring hype and make the startup in question more appealing in the eyes of the general public and retail investors.
Celebrity crypto ownership
As Lou Kerner adds, such celebrities as Ashton Kutcher and Nas are “the exception rather than the rule,” since most of the celebrities who do associate themselves with crypto do so more in terms of superficial marketing endorsements. Generally, a celebrity will invest their own money in a crypto-related project because they really believe it offers value and will succeed as a business proposition.
But even if the number of celebrities who have actually invested in crypto projects can probably be counted on a few hands, there are also a number of celebrities who, rather than getting involved specifically in venture capitalism, have sought to invest in bitcoin, ether or some other cryptocurrency for their own personal advantage.
Crypto must prove itself in its own right
It’s not surprising that celebrities have been drawn to crypto — and that crypto-related projects have been drawn to celebrities — because, not only are celebrities usually always open to earning a little extra money via endorsements, but many of them also like to maintain their “fashionable” images and branding by associating themselves with the latest trends and innovations. This is a big part of the reason why they’ve publicly come out in favor of cryptocurrencies, and given that a large number of them also have plenty of money and time to spare, it’s once again no surprise that celebrities have been in a position to invest in crypto in one way or another. For one, it’s clear that, in certain cases, the direct purchase of crypto and even the provision of venture capital by celebrities isn’t as effective in enabling the industry to grow as the help provided by established investors and entrepreneurs. He continued:
“Being within the crypto and blockchain industry for long and driving it strongly forward, they bring much more value and trust to a project than just celebrities.” And while such investments might not attract the wider public, it’s generally the interest from seasoned crypto investors and the community that will help to build the new projects and products that ultimately will win mainstream adoption.