Is the Uber IPO a Windfall for it’s Celebrity Backers? Think Beyoncé, Kutcher, and Paltrow!
Actor Ashton Kutcher’s investment in Uber made him one of the biggest celebrity investors out there. The star, and music manager Guy Oseary, invested $500,000 in Uber, starting in one of its first rounds. Kutcher’s bet, helped make him a start-up star. But Kutcher was not the only big name to invest in Uber’s business, a convergence of Hollywood and technology that co-founder Travis Kalanick’s pursued for unusual sources of capital and the cultural influence that would follow. A-listers like Oliva Munn, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jay-Z confirmed having invested in Uber, joining celebrities like Beyoncé to Jared Leto to Leonardo DiCaprio, whose bets will pay off soon as Uber starts trading in one of the largest tech IPOs in history.
So who is in on it?
Some big names are crowing about sizeable returns. Cyclist Lance Armstrong, who paid millions to settle legal issues related to taking performance-enhancing drugs, said that it saved his family. Armstrong was among the few celebrity investors like Kutcher who invested in Lowercase Capital fund managed by billionaire Chris Sacca. Sacca, who crossed over to Hollywood and appeared as a judge on Shark Tank, was once a close friend of Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick and invested in its first funding round and many rounds thereafter. Armstrong reportedly invested $100,000 into Sacca’s fund in 2009 but declined to say just how much that ballooned to. Experts estimate that a $100,000 investment would have easily made him about $20 million but Armstrong declines to comment.
Others were early investors too such as Jay-Z and music Mogul Jay Brown who invested in Uber’s Series A deal in early 2011. Uber just operated in San Francisco and the company was valued at $60 million. Depending on investor demand, and Uber’s IPO prices, the valuation could reach $86 billion. Most celebrities invested after Uber’s next funding round in 2011.
Trying to grow their money
One lead investor with strong ties to Hollywood introduced people, like Munn, to the company. Kalanick, who was Uber’s CEO at that time, met Munn and decided she was “legit”. The actress also invested in other Uber-like startups like Wag, a rental dog-walking company. Munn did not mention the size stake she holds, but expressed regret for not investing more. Others like agent Ari Emanuel, actor Edward Norton, and Lawrence Bender, the producer of Kill Bill, were brought in as Uber investors.
It wasn’t all about investments. In 2015, Kalanick even had Beyoncé perform at Uber’s offsite Las Vegas event, using up $6 million of restricted stock units to pay her. Beyoncé didn’t respond to a request for comment, but her 2018 song “Apesh*t” with Jay-Z, possibly refers to the Uber payout with a line saying “pay me in equity, watch me reverse out of debt.” Of course the fact that A-list backers spotted the appeal for a black-car service and on-demand, did help. The idea of ordering a limousine and having it at your beck and call, did make a few early investors back away from the deal. That early insight turned into a powerful investment position on the day of one of the biggest tech IPOs. Ashton called it early as Uber was not actually taking on the taxi companies but was taking on the notion of owning a car. That was crazy and that’s why it retained the velocity and potential.
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