How These Four Startups Attracted Celebrity Investors Like Jay-Z

The influence of celebrity endorsements for a brand is still just as significant as it was when it was known as “Royal warrants or endorsements.” In fact, in this digital age, partnering with a well-known personality can help hit those business goals faster. The moment it spreads over the social media sphere, the snowball effect can build a strong brand image. With celebrity endorsements, we also have celebrity investment.

Celebrity investment does more for a brand than just raising its visibility. It elevates authority, reputation, trustworthiness and optimizes marketing efforts. That’s why we talked with some founders 1:1 about how they successfully managed to attract investment from celebrities.

Soula and supermodel Natalia Vodianova

Natallia Miranchuk is the CEO and co-founder of ,Soula, an AI-powered assistant for pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Her company reaching the MVP stage was one aspect that aided her in roping in Natalia Vodianova, a supermodel and the Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA. “This investment happened due to the combination of a coincidence, my determination, Soula reaching the MVP stage and our personal match with Natalia,” says Miranchuk.

It’s also essential to pick influential people who can personally relate to the product/business offering so that it’s easy to market your product’s value to them. Vodianova, being a mother of five herself, felt the desire to invest even though she wasn’t investing at the time Miranchuk decided to reach out.

Another strategy Miranchuk opted for was to contact someone who worked with Vodianova as she struggled with setting an initial personal contact. “Chances would have been much lower had I cold-pitched the project through some general emails,” says Miranchuk. The opportunity presented itself when Vodianova’s investment partner was in Cyprus, where Miranchuk is based. She managed to locate him at an event and her request to meet up was answered with a “yes.” While Vodianova’s investment partner initially apprised Miranchuk of their inactive investment efforts, he assured her that he’d deliver the message. “I pitched Soula and we already had an MVP, so the partner promised to show it to Natalia. Eventually, Natalia initiated a personal call and said that Soula was 100 percent her product,” Miranchuk says.

Natallia Miranchuk is the CEO and co-founder of Soula

HUNGRY and Jay-Z

Eman Pahlavani is the co-founder and COO of ,HUNGRY, a celebrity-backed food-tech marketplace that connects businesses with top local chefs and restaurants. His company enticed Usher, Kevin Hart, Jay-Z, Terry Crews, Issa Rae and more to invest when they noticed it had become the talk of the town.

Instead of contacting celebs directly, Pahlavani aimed for celebrity chefs across the country. “The goal was to help elevate the brand profile on a national level so initially we targeted celebrity chefs to join our platform,” Pahlavani told The Helm. Convincing some of the top chefs to sign up was the stepping stone for everything that they had hoped would follow. The chefs put the company in touch with actors, athletes and entertainers that they had great rapport with.

The company sealed the deal with notable people by sharing their story and how it would service the chefs across the country. Pahlavani also pitched how it was connected to the economy, how it would make a positive impact, and the business model’s potential to expand globally. “It really wasn’t difficult for them to see the vision and massive growth potential,” Pahlavani says. “Once they learned about the business, they didn’t just want to promote our brand, they also wanted to invest and be part of our team.”

Pahlavani suggests that having a confidant connect your brand with the celebs is better than reaching out to them directly. Most celebs are time-pressed and pitched continually. But he also notes that there are always different ways to reach out to any celeb or an influencer. “Unrealistic optimism works wonders when wandering in the world of celebrities,” Pahlavani concludes.

Eman Pahlavani co-founder and COO of HUNGRY

Honeyfund and Kevin O’Leary

Sara Margulis is the CEO and co-founder of Honeyfund, an online wedding gift registry for giving and receiving wedding gifts in the form of cash. Her pitch on Season 6 of the TV series Shark Tank convinced Shark Kevin O’Leary to invest, despite not winning the competition.

The Shark Tank casting team heard about Honeyfund from a crew member who had been invited to a friend’s wedding. The friends had created a Honeyfund for their wedding registry.

In 2011 Honeyfund pitched its business to podcaster/author/investor Tim Ferris as part of a competition he was holding. “He didn’t choose us, but it was a good exercise that ultimately prepared us for what was to come,” Margulis says. She says that the experience was worthwhile and helped her hone the skills needed to craft a perfect pitch for Shark Tank.

Two years later came Shark Tank. “Honeyfund was invited to apply, but that wasn’t a guarantee we would appear on the show,” Margulis says. She zeroed in on O’Leary because she felt that he was someone to whom the emotional importance of a wedding gift would appeal more than the other Sharks. Margulis showcased the achievements of her company in the application, her passion for helping couples arrange funds for their honeymoon, and the difficulties she faced in keeping up with the expansion. “We were accepted and managed to create a TV worthy pitch to put forth, and that attracted Kevin as an investor,” Margulis told The Helm. She mentions that factoring in competitors, USP, economic trends and looking through the perspective of an investor benefited her a lot outside of focusing on a solution. “I’ve learned so much from my Shark Tank experience,” Margulis says.

Sara Margulis CEO and co-founder of Honeyfund

MVMI Sleep and Brandi Chastain

Joe Castignani is the founder and CEO of ,MVMI Sleep, a brand centering on better sleep with its MVMI Pillow. He was able to get Brandi Chastain, a Women’s World Cup Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, on board as an investor.

“Securing her investment took the most effort and time out of any investor that I have worked with, around 9 months, probably because the company was so young, and our vision wasn’t fully fleshed out yet,” Castignani says. He took the traditional route for securing investors and stuck with the fundraising process.

Disclosing things that aren’t working, how you’re handling them and the lessons that you’ve learned accelerate the trust-building process. “Put yourself in the investors’ shoes and understand if someone is to invest, they’ll only do so once they trust you wholeheartedly,” the CEO says. “So transparency is necessary.” He also stresses on the need for networking within your investors’ network to come across more investors.

Going outside the immediate network and sponsoring events also helped Castignani find celebrity investors. His company sponsored athletic competitions where numerous athletes participated. “We sponsored events surrounding the MLB All-Star week, the Super Bowl and a celebrity-amateur golf tournament,” Castignani says. Building connections with various people, including athletes, resulted in acquiring celebrity investors. “There were, and still are, tremendous struggles throughout this process. For every investor that said ‘yes,’ at least five or 10 said ‘no.’ Hearing ‘no’ so often can be tough on one’s self-esteem but you’ll win if you don’t quit.”

Joe Castignani founder and CEO of MVMI Sleep

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