business

Meet the VC Matchmakers Introducing Celebrities to Startups

As more and more celebrities get involved in venture capital, there is growing demand from these elite influencers to discover companies that align with their vision.
PLUS Capital founder and managing partner Adam Lilling told Cheddar Monday that his company serves as a matchmaker that brings growing startups and celebrities together.
"We take these people who can affect change in the world, more today than most people can in a lifetime, and we try to pair them up with the world-class operators and entrepreneurs that are out there," he said.
When Lilling started the firm about seven years ago, PLUS found that celebrities could profit more from taking equity in exchange for brand endorsement rather than a cash payment.
"You were leaving a lot of money on the table because for every dollar in talent fees, there was this opportunity to make maybe $10 in enterprise value," Lilling said.
High-profile clients of PLUS include Ellen Degeneres and wife Portia de Rossi, the latter of whom called Lilling her "business brain." De Rossi will reportedly be participating in a new $60 million fund from PLUS although the firm has not confirmed or commented on this report.
Amanda Groves, a partner at PLUS Capital, says identifying a company's core mission is a significant factor when recommending it to one of the firm's clients.
"Most importantly, can our talent be additive to what that company wants to achieve," Groves said. "That authenticity matters and consumers are smarter these days than they ever have been before. And so they know when it feels transactional."
While not a PLUS Capital transaction, as if to prove Groves' point, Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds surprised fans Monday with a surprise announcement that he purchased a stake in affordable mobile carrier Mint Mobile.
Reynolds will reportedly own 25 percent of the wireless service, according to TechCrunch.
Over the weekend, 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer declared his investment and partnership with shoe brand On from his native Switzerland (also not a PLUS transaction).
However, PLUS Capital represents its share of legendary athletes, as well.
Groves shared an example of how three-time Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White had offers from large beverage and fast food companies for endorsement deals. Instead, he chose to invest in brands that aligned better with his diet and lifestyle, like Beyond Meat, Sweetgreen, and Casper.
"Those [brands] were more aligned with the passions and interests of what he was doing in his day-to-day life," Groves said.
Like Beyond Meat, many of the companies in the PLUS' portfolio have gone public, and that strategy is no accident. Lilling says his firm avoids the risks associated with picking companies too early, instead opting for clear winners in a particular space.
"The opportunity for the celebrity right there, at post-market product fit, is actually gonna move the needle," Lilling said. "It's gonna be gas on the fire for a company."
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