Strong Startups Launched by Celebrities
Celebrity success is pretty synonymous with having money to burn - some people get famous just from what they do with their inheritance. For actors, many choose to leapfrog to related careers higher up on the production ladder (producer, director, etc.), but sometimes they use their creativity or business acumen to go in a completely different direction.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Zooey Deschanel both launched successful sites that created communities with their largely female readership. Respectively, Goop highlights healthy lifestyle practices and products with Gwyneth’s elegant ethos, while Hello Giggles makes the case for women collaborating and helping out fellow women, with that quirky humor we’ve come to expect from the New Girl star.
Sometimes these projects grow big - maybe even bigger than the founder originally conceived. That’s where things get really exciting. How did some of our famous celebrities/entrepreneurs make the leap to thought leadership? Tracing these paths can help us learn from them and their projects.
Possibly the original starlet-turned-innovator, Hedy Lamarr was not satisfied being merely “the most beautiful woman in film” through the thirties and forties, and turned to scientific inventions. She patented an idea called Spread Spectrum that was used to further military communications, and later in mobile phone technology and the development of WiFi. Intellect, talent and charisma were Lamarr’s great resources in her dual careers, which she managed to have despite the glass ceilings of her time.
Many actors have used their copious personal funds and fan base as a launchpad for charity work. Celebrities often choose a pet project, and aim to raise awareness and funds to address a specific problem, as Demi Moore has done with child sex trafficking, or Bono has done with poverty. In Edward Norton’s case, he instead chose to create a crowdfunding platform called CrowdRise that is specifically for social causes. He co-founded CrowdRise in 2010 in Detroit, and the success of the project was reflected in its’ acquisition by GoFundMe in 2017. Instead of the trappings that accompany many crowdfunding sites, such as campaign length limitations and goal requirements, CrowdRise eschews those specifics and emphasizes efficiency and streamlines the launch process. CrowdRise has a unique sense of humor that can best be encapsulated by the platform’s tagline: “If you don’t give back, no one will like you.” -- perhaps the key takeaway.
Musician and record producer Pharrell Williams has been creatively collaborating with artists, fashion labels and accessory designers for a decade. On his website he has created a highly visible network of fans that can create digital “cards” to highlight their favorite projects of his in tv, film, music, art, or social good. As a speaker on education, quality of life, and the environment, and founder of the i am OTHER project, an affirmation for diversity and creativity, Williams has put a lot of energy into cultivating and investing in communities.
One of his projects with G-Star Raw and his own textile company Bionic Yarn, called “RAW for the Oceans," where Williams serves as Creative Director, reclaims discarded plastic from the ocean and creates fiber and fabric with it. The 2014 partnership has yielded high fashion denim garments that blend the plastic fiber - a recycled polyester at that point - with cotton. Using this discarded plastic puts a dent in a huge source of pollution and a devastating ecological phenomenon. Also, because this lessens the need for new polyester to be manufactured from raw petrochemicals, Bionic Yarn makes an impact on energy conservation as well. More recently, Bionic Yarn partnered with H&M to create a sustainable women’s collection, and reached $274K in estimated sales last year.
And our personal favorite, hitRECord, started in 2005 by actor/musician Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his late brother Daniel as an open collaborative production company. The project blossomed into a multi-platform machine with books, music albums, and now an award-winning television show, appropriately entitled hitRECord on TV. The show premiered its first three episodes at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and has aired two seasons this far.
The hitRECord production company acts like a hub for its collaborators, who form something of a social network. It’s free to join, and the principles of involvement are that members submit their original material - writing, music, animation, etc - and that the content can be edited, remixed or added to material from other users. There’s a sort of hackathon/creative commons workflow, but hR has its own lead editors who finalize the projects - under the watchful eye of director JGL himself. But for members, contributing to the site is not necessarily altruistic - if hR monetizes content with members’ “RECords,” the company shares the profits. So not only is hitRECord a production company, a content platform and a social network, it’s also a cooperative economy. Nice job, Joe!
Gordon-Levitt’s company derives its success from its two opposing, yet complementary sides. The crowdsourced talent and content is plentiful, diverse and - as can happen with user generated content, sometimes chaotic. JGL’s role, on the other hand, is not just curation and adding finishing touches by his staff and himself, the team creates vibrant, professional work that benefits from his decades of experience as a filmmaker as well as his strong vision and exacting standards.
While passion has manifested in very different ways in the listed projects, these celebrities follow a common thread of nurturing a passion they aren’t famous for: advancing social good. It is true that capital and starpower behind a project give an advantage that many of us cannot emulate, but these leaders are great reminder to follow our dreams however challenging they can be.
Photos Hedy Lamarr from filmdetail.com, Pharrell Williams from PR Photos