Top 3 Tips To Picking The Perfect Celebrity Co-Founder

Most founders are looking for that ‘secret sauce’ to accelerate their business. Whether you are an early stage or a late-stage company, having a superpower is paramount to success in a cluttered market.

And let’s face it, every sector is cluttered nowadays.

With competition coming from the far reaches of the world and in the dark corners of parents’ basements, anyone can set up a business – and excel. You no longer have to be Bill Gates circa 1975 to launch a billion-dollar company from a small garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can be anyone, anywhere, with minimal to no funding.

With competition being as fierce as it is, you need to think outside the box to stand out and hone in on your secret sauce.

Historically, a brand’s USP (unique selling point) was built on the people within the business. The link of the people within a business to that of success was linear, and one that venture caught onto early. You’d be hard pressed to find any existing investor website not discussing how they ‘believe in founders’ and ‘invest in people’ blasted across their homepage.

But times are changing.

Having a rockstar team is no longer enough.

With the shift to working from home, businesses now have access to a wider pool of talent, which means more businesses are better equipped with better teams. And better founders.

Which begs the question – where can you carve out a differential?

Through the sheer luck of industry timing driven by challenges in talent and entertainment due to pay, ownership, licensing, and social media – further propelled by George Clooney’s billion dollar exit of Casamigos – ‘free marketing’ through celebrity ownership is now available to those founders who can brave the unknown.

But bringing on a celebrity co-founder is a tricky business.

Most founders have never worked in entertainment, so even the simple task of creating an offer to a celebrity can be a challenge. And making the wrong choice is detrimental.

Assuming you need and want a celebrity partner (deciding whether you need one is a whole other blog post), how does one pick the perfect co-founder?

Here are our top 3 tips for doing it right:

1.Audience: Typically, 5% to 30% of equity is given to a celebrity depending on the stage of the business and the level of celebrity. Pick the wrong partner, and your business is likely to fail. But the right partner can see exits far exceed typical sector exits based on the built-in audience and platform the right celebrity can provide.

Our recommendation is to get in early with a celebrity as that is when they can make the biggest impact to your brand.

At that stage you need to find a celebrity whose audience mirrors your target consumer. The aim is that you can utilize the millions of followers your celebrity co-founder has for free and use this as a platform for growth. Initial sales, focus groups, product market fit, etc. should all be utilized against your celebrity’s social media audience which eradicates trying to break your product into new consumers which is not only hard to do, but exceptionally costly. Having this access to a primed and receptive audience provides a quicker line of sight to profitability – which is impactful for the business, as well as for investors.

A great example of a brand not aligning their product to their celebrity’s audience is Emily Ratajkowski and her swimwear line iNAMORATA. Although Emily looks great in a bikini, the brand utilizes Emily’s social media exclusively to market the brand – a social media account primarily followed by men.

2. Authenticity: This is a word that gets used a lot when talking about celebrity co-founders. And although this is important, we’d argue that it is not as paramount as people think. There is a way to build in authenticity as a founder – aka you can fake authenticity and that works just as well if you do it right. If you want more on that, listen to Jackie Fast’s interview with Dulma Altan here.

If you don’t want to put in the work, and why would you, then having real authenticity and affinity between the product and the celebrity makes the job significantly easier to deliver.

For an early-stage business when headcount is critical, this becomes relevant as it relates to the bottom line. You don’t want your marketing person spending hours trying to get sign off on a social media post through the celebrity’s agent who is in Cannes when they could be launching POS campaigns with a new retailer.

Understanding whether the product fits the celebrity and vice versa, we recommend thoroughly knowing the celebrity in question. Spend time listening to interviews, articles, candid appearances and podcasts. Most founders do not spend adequate time to get to know their celebrity co-founder before they send through an offer. Which is ironic because the same founder will go through countless rounds of interviews and CVs to hire a junior salesperson. The rigour needs to be higher when deciding on a celebrity partner. Make sure they organically talk about the sector your product is in, and are truly passionate about what you are doing.

As mentioned, it can work without this, but it requires significantly more work that most startup founders do not have the luxury of.

3. Start With Why: Follow Simon Sinek’s strategy and look to understand why the celebrity in question is looking to partner with a brand.

It’s typically one of three reasons and how you structure a deal and how you execute your partnership should be based on the celebrity’s ‘why’:

If the celebrity co-founder is after…

  1. Money: Ensure that you have strong performance renumeration set up. If money is the only reason to do this, that’s ok – just structure the deal with this in mind and it would reduce over complicating contracts, which saves on legal fees.
  2. Relevance: Ensure your offer includes how you will promote them and what you’ll be investing in terms of marketing and ad spend. Discuss having their image and likeness reflected on packaging and marketing material if that is beneficial to the brand (it isn’t always).
  3. Personal Brand Positioning: Ensure you build in PR spend to help support the message of ‘I’m not just an actor/singer/sports star, I’m also an entrepreneur’ and get them involved with the business beyond a fake job title.

Having a celebrity co-founder not only accelerates a business through customer acquisition and reducing expenses, but it can also amplify growth through brand positioning, network and retail influence, and more. However, picking the perfect celebrity needs to be done with careful consideration and should be led by business strategy because not all partnerships are created equal.