The worlds of celebrity culture and technology have never been more intimately intertwined. Where tech was once something of a closed, inaccessible industry, the now established startup culture has opened up the sector to unprecedented involvement from not only investment firms but also would-be venture capitalists. The diverse nature of development means there’s something in tech for everyone, and some of the world’s most high-profile celebrities have been piling money in.
Beats by Dre is perhaps the most obvious example, but there are countless examples of celebrities buying into tech. Justin Bieber has a stake in Spotify, messaging app Tinychat and ratings app Stamped; Jared Leto has invested in HR software company Benefits and video streaming app Meerkat; Ashton Kutcher has shares in Skype along with more than two dozen other companies; and Leonardo DiCaprio led a $4 million investment round in Mobil in 2011 - the list goes on. Celebrity investment is as much about the endorsement as it is about the finances, with invaluable attention cast on otherwise modestly known startups.
The latest in the long list of celebrities to diversify their portfolio with tech investments is Beyoncé. The singer’s business portfolio is formidable, with her net worth estimated at around $450 million by virtue of not only being one of the best selling music artists of all time, but also of her diverse commercial projects. Along with Parkwood Entertainment, Beyoncé has invested $150,000 into concert merchandising app Sidestep, which lets fans pick up concert merchandise without queuing by selecting and paying in advance. The company lets artists in on data about who’s buying their merch, keeping a 10% service charge paid by the customer. According to TechCrunch, the app has done ‘over $2 million in sales, up 10X from last year,’ and though it faces competition it now has some serious backing.
The company caught Beyoncé’s attention whilst selling merchandise through the app on her Formation Tour, a 49-date concert tour spanning over five months and two continents. After two weeks of seeing how well the app was performing, Beyoncé and her company invested in the startup’s seed round of funding. Talking to TechCrunch, Sidestep CEO Eric Jones said that Beyoncé and her team wanted the ‘tour to be very focused on tech,’ and liked the idea of ‘a tiny scrappy startup doing the biggest tour in the world.’
Sidestep’s product has it ideally placed to be endorsed by musicians who see the app as a way to sell more merchandise, and the likes of Jared Leto and Fall Out Boy have been vocal in their support for the app. Its popularity stems from the same reason musicians are investing in companies - there’s very little money in having your music streamed or selling albums. The real money comes from touring and, crucially, selling merchandise; artists looking to bolster their revenue will be hoping apps like Sidestep take off.
Beyoncé has previously helped start vegan food company 22 Day Nutrition and invested in beverage company WTRMLN WTR and, coupled with her minority shares in Tidal - husband Jay Z’s music streaming service - her portfolio of business interests is diverse. According to Billboard, Beyoncé is moving Parkwood Entertainment’s headquarters to LA, ‘where she spends the majority of her time,’ in an effort to focus more on the business. The artist’s investment in Sidestep is a drop in the ocean of her estimated fortune but, with the music industry in desperate need of a financial shakeup, products that give more power to musicians to make money (almost) directly are welcome. Tech and culture are closer than they’ve ever been, and perhaps that should be saluted.