Celebrity angels: a fad or the future?

Selena GomezSome might snicker upon hearing that Disney (s DIS) singer/actress Selena Gomez has Angel invested in a photo app but I think it’s great, and makes total sense. The trend of ‘celebrity angels’ doesn’t surprise me at all, and with correct expectations on both sides, it can provide great value to both sides. But this still leaves the question — why are we suddenly seeing celebrities become more involved in tech investing?

1. Technology is approachable & hot

We forget that any celebrity under the age of 30 isn’t too different from any of us. They grew up in a world of mobile phones, game consoles and the Internet. While I might wax nostalgic about the first time i fired up a Mosaic browser, Ashton Kutcher has similar memories of his 2000 StarTAC and original AOL (s AOL) buddy list. They are digital natives who use technology as professionals and people. Investor Peter Lynch once suggested that most of his great ideas came from walking around a mall and seeing where folks were shopping. Well, celebrities are much the same way — they see what technologies their fans are using; their managers are showing them the latest and greatest; companies are sending freebies. I’d be more skeptical if Justin Timberlake was studying up on currency hedging — the idea that he might have an insight or two into how to turn  MySpace around is reasonable.

2. Celebrities now have direct connections with their fans

Before YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (s GOOG), etc brand endorsements by celebrities essentially meant a TV commercial or billboard featuring the face of a movie star or musician. The conversion event (buying the product) was still separated from the advertising — you needed to later decide to hit a store and recall that Halle Berry thinks Revlon is swell. Now an influencer can often drive a conversion event directly and efficiently through social media. A tweet from a celebrity creates more product trial than an article in a major newspaper. It’s the new PR, the new sales channel. And celebrities are empowered like never before to directly build and talk to their audience. So for products they believe in why not move upstream and invest in the entity itself? Sort of like how musicians wants to own their recordings, not just get paid by the record company.

3. Traditional investments suck

Any time you are looking at a possible investment you need to judge the opportunity cost — what else could you be doing with that money. Over the past decade traditional investments like stocks have been risky and returning lower than historical rates. Just as pension funds seek to diversify into alternative classes such as venture capital or private equity, celebrities are thinking the same. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there has been an increase in venture funds bringing on celebrities as investors. Soon ‘LP’ might mean something very different to Lady Gaga (for anyone born after 1990 that’s a joke about an earlier form of music delivery called ‘an album’). And clearly these angel investments — sometimes at preferable terms due to the value they can bring above and beyond the money — round out a portfolio. So founders love celebrities, but do fellow angels? I asked some top consumer internet moneymen whether they had concerns about investing alongside celebrities:

It seems as long as celebrities are willing to work on behalf of their investments (like every other angel!) this should be a sustainable trend. A startup gets not only some cash but distribution and buzz. The celebrity gets the chance for financial outcome but also access to products which might become pivotal to their future success — the celebrity early adopters of Twitter & YouTube for example built substantial followings. will.i.amwith an Angellist profile? Perhaps not too crazy.Hunter Walk is the Director of Product Management at YouTube, focused on how nonprofits, social causes and educational institutions can use video to change the world. He first encountered the power of celebrity while working at “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Portions of this post originally appeared on his blog Elapsed Time. He can be reached at @hunterwalk