Welcome to the Supporters Fund, Ask An Angel. I’m your host, Jeffrey Potvin, and we like to welcome our investor today, which is Gil Eyal. How are you sir?
Gil: I’m great! Thanks for having me.
Jeffery: Awesome! Where are you calling in from today?
Gil: I’m at home, Hoboken, New Jersey.
Jeffery: I love it! New Jersey’s a great spot! You’re just a stone throw away from New York.
Gil: Literally, can see New York outside my window and say, “Oh, I’m so close to being cool,” but here I am in New Jersey.
Jeffery: I still think it’s cool if you can be a stone throw away from there and make your way over there in half-hour, or whatever the little timing is. That’s pretty brilliant!
Gil: That’s true, that’s true.
Jeffery: Not a lot of people get to say that but amazing. So excited to have you here today and the way we like to kind of start things off is we want to dive right into kind of your background: where you’ve come from, from starting and exiting out of hyper all the way through to working with tech stars, building your own fund. You’ve got a lot of great things, but I’ll let you talk a little bit more about kind of where that journey came from, and then once you get through all of that, one thing about you that nobody would know.
Gil: All right! Sounds good. So, you know, I’m a career switcher. I’ve been, you know, I got into digital marketing about 15 years ago and found myself relatively early in that process. Doing celebrity endorsements for companies I worked with because there was a desire to do it. Nobody really knew how to do it, so I did about 200 different deals with celebrities anywhere from Leonardo DiCaprio to Little Wayne, Adam Levine, over the years and realized what a big opportunity that was for brands to get visibility and credibility. So in 2013, I started a company called Hyper which was an early player in the influencer marketing space focused on data and analytics, and the understanding that really at the end of the day, you want to find people that are not only trustworthy, but also can provide you with visibility and credibility with the right audience. And you can convey the right message and you want to do that at scale, and we wanted to work with micro influencers because not every brand can afford the big names. So I ran that company for about eight years. Sold it about a year ago, and I partnered with a guy named Dredrick Irving, and with a guy named Talani Dredrickson plays in the NBA, and Talani has a long history of working with celebrities and we started “Star Fund” which basically invest in consumer focused startups that can benefit from the involvement of a celebrity that will generate both visibility and credibility for their products. So the ideal investment for us is something where people are literally going to say, “This can’t be true. I can’t believe there’s a product like this and they need somebody like a celebrity to show them that it works.” And my joke is always, if the rock has a full head of hair, I’ll believe that this product can grow hair. If you just tell me, I’m not going to believe it. So that’s kind of the background of how we got to investing. We do, anywhere from angel investments which are smaller 25,000 to 50k. As angels or larger syndicates of anywhere from 100k to 250,000 dollars exclusively in consumer, which kind of makes us a little unique and we bring along a celebrity or an influencer strategy that we help implement as part of our added value. So we don’t charge anything for it. We don’t take extra equity or anything like that. That’s just our, we believe every fund should have their extra value and that’s our extra value, and you know, you wanted something about me that people won’t believe is, I used to be a computer crimes investigator for the Israeli Army. So believe it or not, I know, I look like I’m basically a celebrity myself. But I used to be a nerd. Still am, yeah.
Jeffery: I like that! That’s awesome but now I’m gonna have to ask questions on this, so you were working. The last place I got to travel was, happened to be Middle East and I was in Israel, and I was checking out the stop scene there and it was pretty awesome. I came back and literally the world kicked off covid. So I was probably, I was back mid to late January and then that’s, everything broke loose. So yeah, but in going into that side of things, it’s pretty fascinating. So maybe share a little bit about that. What got you into it, why were you doing it or were you actually in the army and that’s why you were working in this type of role?
Gil: Yeah. So, you know, I was, I grown up in the US, came back to Israel. You get drafted when you turn 18 and they don’t really ask you or they ask you, but they don’t really care what you say when they ask you what you want to do. And I ended up being, you know, they were looking for people who had computer experience. I was like a little growth hacker, a little less growth, more hacking when I was younger, and I happen to have some knowledge. So I got into this unit that they were starting. This is back in 1995, so it’s not, you might be imagining like the, you know, the net with Sandra Bullock or something. It was a lot less sophisticated than that but we started building a unit that dealt with computer crimes at that time, and it was an exciting time to be doing that because, really, everything was young. The internet was super young. It wasn’t a household thing. People who were hackers at the time really knew what they were doing. These weren’t, you know, this one wasn’t, you know, simple code. This was people who really knew what they were doing. It was a, I, you served for three years. So I did that for three years. Realized I wanted to be something else. Went to law school, studied law, realized I didn’t like that, and then started it again as a marketer.
Jeffery: Amazing! And I have to ask you because this is a curiosity of mine. So when I think back in 1995, when I was hacking away and doing things and learning how to get in fishing, getting in back doors, doing all that type of stuff in systems just to learn. I found it exciting because there was kind of no rules and you like, I remember burning discs that took me like three days. Yeah I thought I was doing revolutionizing stuff here. I’m like, I have solved the world’s problems and I’m like, ‘man, this is 72 hours of hackness.’ I’m like, this seems ridiculous but at the same time I’m like, servers set up, running everything. I’m like this is cool. So then you think about today and everything is like, and I kind of think, ‘Man, I miss those days because my creativity today, if I could port that back to back then, my god, I probably would have been on fire.’ If you take kind of what you were doing and that was one stage way higher, you were literally working on the fastest computers, doing the best things, how much of that kind of shifted and shaped the way you looked at the future? Because you had that role at such the infancy of the internet.
Gil: I wish I could say we were that smart, you know, we all, we did was we bought old computers and we built the gaming network in my basement, that was about how sophisticated we get. And then instead of going out with girls on Friday night, we were, we played video games into the night, multiplayer games. Didn’t really come up with anything super creative and I, you know, I never thought of myself as a startup guy or an innovator at that point. It came a lot later in life, so I did, I didn’t really invent anything, I was very involved with online communities and things like that and was very social on it. But it took a while for me to be, to think about myself as somebody who could actually create something people want to use.
Jeffery: Again, it’s interesting that you say that it and it was very similar. We used, we ran a lot of land games, so we and again, funny story, but we would have a whole bunch of people would come over and we would have speaker systems. So they could all plug the speaker system in so that we could yell at each other through the speakers. You knew that one day that would get built into your actual PS4s or and everything right? Where you got headsets and you’re working. We were doing it through amplified speakers so that we could get the real experience of yelling at each other but it was all land because you know, buddies.
Gil: When we played you could hear each other. You didn’t need the speakers looking at your screen. We were like covering our screen. We’re like don’t look.
Jeffery: Oh, that’s awesome! Yeah it was a lot of fun though. Like on the innovation side, but again, back then, I wasn’t thinking business. I was thinking just innovative ways to overcome the barriers which were just how do you amplify your experience that you’re in? And you know, it’s pretty fascinating. But I always look at the the experiences you created back then are kind of what drive you today and even going back to, you know, from your platom, your dell days, all the things that you did on that technical side, it seems that it obviously makes a big impact like the legal stuff probably helped you sort through the contracts and legal things as you got further along. So there were some good learnings but it really came down to getting into media, getting into these tech spaces, and then of course, you started Hyper and once you started Hyper, which I think is a pretty amazing setup overall. What does that look like when you started to put this together? How did you get into the influencer side of it? How did you think, “Man, I need to get Lebron James and all these big players,” to support what you’re doing?
Gil: Yeah! So when I was working as an attorney. I kept seeing, you know, what others were creating and saying, “Wow, you know, I have my own ideas. I wish I would have the courage and the ability to do it,” and I decided to go get an MBA. I didn’t really enjoy being an attorney and which is kind of a weird thing. You know, a lot of people once they become an attorney, don’t go and get a second master’s degree. And so I went to the MBA and that, you know, my creative juices were flowing. Everybody was looking for jobs. I was looking for ideas and I met a founder that needed help. So initially, I was working with him. We created something that was a little bit of Instagram. Before instagram, this is around 2009-2010, and it kind of took off, but what really set it apart was that one of our investors knew Leonardo DiCaprio because they happened to have seats next to each other at Laker games, and he showed him the product and he was like, “Oh, I could invest in that. I would like that,” and so we ended up raising for Leonardo DiCaprio, and you know, there’s a saying, “You know, when you smell the food, you become hungry.” So we’re like, wait a second. We could do a lot with celebrities, and I started doing celebrity deals and realizing, it wasn’t as intimidating and as challenging as I thought it could be. In that, I was building my own network and starting to get to know these people and I worked for that company Mobley for about three years before moving on and doing my own thing which was okay. I want to help other companies be able to do this and what makes total sense today, everybody’s activating influencers, everybody’s strategy is that they should have influencers at the time. It’s very hard to do. How do you find the influences? How do you know who influences which audience? So I recognized that problem and I said, “Okay, let’s build that into a platform.” And I was fortunate enough to have had a good experience with my previous company that some of the investors wanted to come along with me and I had that initial base to work with.
Jeffery: That’s pretty awesome! And now working with Leonardo and the different celebrities that you did and started to shape this into a business, what was the needs and wants of the celebrities? Because I’m sure Leonardo is not cheap, and/or he was, maybe back then, but had visions of where he wanted to be. So what type of thing influenced them to want to be part of this and then how did you get other brands and other businesses to see the same focal point that, you know, celebrities were always kind of in the picture, but they were not really in the picture until influencers became popular-
Jeffery: -then they became popular and wanted and sought after?
Gil:Yeah, so with Mobley, it was kind of the perfect storm at the time. Facebook was talking about going public and Twitter was talking about going public, and there was this story, not sure how to or not, it was that a lot of their traffic was reliant on people like Justin Bieber and other celebrities who were driving a lot of action inside there, and I think people like Justin Bieber, and others were walking around and claiming that they were responsible for one percent of Facebook’s traffic, and all kinds of stuff that today sounds crazy. But back in the early days might have been true. I don’t know, but they’re not getting anything, you know, they’re not getting compensated for it. They’ve done all this for the platforms but they haven’t generated anything for themselves, and so we recognized that there was a story to be told here, which is, “Look, there’s going to be a third and fourth and fifth platform. We think we could be that platform,” and that really resonated with celebrities. Especially, once you know one or two of them were already in. So once Leonardo DiCaprio was in that story alongside was, “Oh by the way, DiCaprio’s in already. So are you, you’re going to join us? All you create this fomo, this desire to join in.” I don’t know if that would work today, but at the time it worked like a charm and, you know, a lot of celebrities wanted to join, and for a while, we were doing really well until Instagram lapped us, you know, 50 times and grew much much more. But it was a real issue though. It’s hard to get these people excited and interested in at the time they weren’t surrounded the way they are today with professionals who can help them evaluate deals and opportunities. But even today, look, if you, if you’re going to activate somebody big, you need to show them that this is a real project that’s going to provide good returns. It’s going to be good for their brand. If you’re not going to pay them in cash, you have to convince them that what you’re doing is going to end up worthwhile for them.
Jeffery: And you mentioned earlier on, and it kind of coincides what you’re saying is that there’s a lot to do with credibility and there’s a lot to do with ensuring that the celebrity still looks good no matter what because the last thing you want to do is damage someone else’s credibility or image, because-
Jeffery: -or bad product or something that you didn’t put together in the proper way that benefited them, and I think the education of those celebrities today is way different than it was five or ten years ago. Because a lot more celebrities are, and I’m sure that you said there’s advisors and people helping them, but I also think that with social media, they’ve blown up that these celebrities are investing in companies, and they all want to follow herd mentality. Well if Lebron’s investing and Leonardo’s doing it, I better get into this space. So now you’ve got and of course, the biggest one is what’s his name?
Gil: Kevin Durant?
Jeffery: No, the actor who started..
Gil: Ashton Kutcher?
Jeffery: Ashton Kutcher! And guys started to build all of that up now more people were like, “Wow, this guy just exited a billion dollar company. This guy did this, why am I not in this?” So the education level for influencers but mostly celebrities has just skyrocketed. So they, they’re now in everything. Every deal has a celebrity in it. Almost, it’s quite phenomenal. So their business savvy is also jumped. So while you’re kind of working through that and making sure that the credibility is there, is there a key points that you have to look for to make sure that they don’t come out smelling bad and that everything works out great.
Gil: So the good news is, we always, we don’t represent any celebrities. We only work with the brands. We’re only interested in what’s good for the brands but the problem goes both ways. I did a deal with Lance Armstrong a few weeks before he decided to confess to using performance-enhancing drugs. So they could do a lot of damage themselves. There was a story with Apple and oh my god, I forgot her name. She used to be on E-network, Joan Rivers, and she was promoting, I think the iPhone 4 or something like that and she, you know, on the day that it came out there was a magnificent post saying, “I’m so in love with my iPhone 4.” It’s so quick. It’s just like my iPhone 3 but much better and the screen is big, and everything’s happening and it would have been a wonderful post had she not died, you know, 48 hours earlier. So we see a lot of issues with the way people activate celebrities and you have to be really alert on it. Where we want to get, you know, as a fund is to the place where,like Ashton Kutcher, celebrities want to invest alongside with us. So we’ve had a few, you know, successful or, you know, in progress, successful investments in history that eventually, we hope to get to that space. And I agree, I think almost every startup wants a celebrity. Not everyone gets one, you know. You have to really structure yourself in the right way but it’s a major competitive advantage when it’s done the right way. When it’s done incorrectly a lot of times, it provides no value or sometimes even negative value, and so doing it the right way is really really important. And that’s what we try to make sure with the startups that we work with.
Jeffery: And again, going back to this credibility because this is huge just even across startups and building a company trying to make yourself credible and branding wise, and you kind of fit in both spaces. When you have a marketing company working on influencers, you’re working on brand, you’re doing a cross-pollination of both of those. How do you guys create credibility so that these celebrities want to be part of what you’re doing or anybody wanting a celebrity? How do they validate on their end that you’re not just taking them for a ride to get their money and then you walk away?
Gil: Yeah, so you know, we’ve built reputations in the space, we’ve been in it for years. We know all the main people in the industry and so you know, a lot of it has to do with them knowing who they’re dealing with and understanding that, you know, we have a track record and it’s very visible and for them to see what we’ve done. So every single one of my partners has been in the space for at least 10 to 15 years and has done a bunch of projects, knows, and celebrities, personally knows their management teams has made money for a lot of celebrities. So that allows us to bridge that gap the startup wants to come in and meet with these celebrities. A lot of times they won’t get the opportunity to meet with them but we’re able to bridge that and say, “No look, I looked at the startup. You really want to take a look,” and then the celebrities will often comply, not always. By the way, we’ve gotten no’s. We’ve got people who ignored our emails just like everyone else, so you know we understand our place and we’re trying to elevate our visibility as much as we can to get the best results. I think on the credibility side, you know, one of the things that’s interesting for startups is that it’s very common for founders to fake it till you make it and so, when you go to investors, when you go to other people, you want to tell a story but they’re often unaware of the fact that it comes off as not very credible and especially, if you have a product that is almost too good to be true, you know. So if you have a product that says, “Hey, you’re not going to have a hangover if you take this.” There’s so many products promising that yours might be real. It might be true but you have and it might be the best product out there but you’re still suffering from that visibi- that thought that people have as soon as they hear about a product like that. “Oh another one of these,” you know, same thing for hair growth, you know. I’m gonna get, you know, my joke is that you know my 30-year high school reunion. I’m going to show up with a full head of hair. I don’t know. Somebody has to figure something out. But I don’t know if it exists right now but if somebody had it the only way, I’d believe it is. If someone I trusted was able to grow hair with this product so, or I would be skeptical immediately. So people always come in for the celebrities for the visibility, but my argument is don’t forget about the credibility side. Like if your product is good enough people are going to be skeptical about it.
Jeffery: And they should be, it should always be pushed against the credibility of the product or the service or anything you’re doing, you should be trying to poke holes into it because at the end of the day, that’s what you’re going to be investing in. And people want to ensure that what they are investing in is a hundred percent a real product. At the end of the day, they don’t want to end up stuck in investing in companies like wework or oh my god that lady, that the blonde, I know-
Gil: The blonde baby with the weird voice? Yeah got the name as well. Yeah we’re not, we’re both getting old.
Jeffery: Barely and it’s happening quick right? Live while we’re talking but yeah there’s I think a lot of the time the due diligence pulls that all out and not everybody has time for that, but you got to build your own credibility up online and people are going to see that, “Hey they rated your product. People like it. They’ve got it in their hands,” so there’s a lot of value that comes out of it. Now, when is the time that you look at a startup going to celebrity-ism and utilizing that as a way for them to start propelling their business is that at a scale-up stage when they’ve got to a series a and they’ve got some good positioning that that’s a risk factor for celebrities, or other celebrities just like regular investors that want to come in really early at the ground level, and celebrities that want to come in at series e when they know they can put in three million, five million, and still have a great two, three, four times exit?
Gil: Yeah. I think it really varies. Again, it’s kind of the Wild West celebrities have very different angles and thoughts about where they want to come in. It also really varies about just personality, you know, if you have a charming personality and the ability to make the celebrity fall in love with you. I’ve seen, I just am doing a deal right now. One of the companies we invested in where the founder has not, doesn’t even have a product in the market yet, and yet we have two of the world’s biggest celebrities investing in the company because they met her, and they, just like me, they fell in love with her and said, “I can’t say no to this person,” and then we have companies that are far far along and the celebrities just, you know, don’t and you know, they’re willing to do stuff but they’re very picky about what they’re willing to do because they don’t necessarily want to be associated with the company and they want to make sure that they’re getting paid in advance and all kinds of things. So it really varies and they’re not willing to invest, they just want to get paid for it. So it really varies on the specific situation as a company. I, I’m, I try to, I’m kind of like, you know, talent scout sometimes when I meet with the companies and I say to them, “Look, I think it’s gonna be really hard for me to get a celebrity in this,” and sometimes it has nothing to do with how wonderful the company is, you might be in a space if you’re in the clothing space, almost every celebrity has a deal already. So they’re not gonna do an investment that locks them out of a clothing deal that might be their biggest endorsement, right? It’s just a space that’s very competitive. If you’re in video games and you put them in a video game, they’re probably going to be much more open to it just because they know they’re very unlikely. Very few celebrities get a video game deal every year, so a lot of things have nothing to do with the startup and we try to help. We meet with about, you know, three or four startups a day and so we, I try to be as gentle but as honest as I can when I think it’s not going to work or they’re not going to get a celebrity, and I always pray, you know, prefaces by saying but, “Hey, I’m wrong all the time. So if you think I’m wrong, keep going.” You know, I, you know, the amount of companies I did not invest in that I should have is much bigger than the other, you know, the other way around.
Jeffery: Yeah, you know, I guess it comes back to the types of things that you like and what you’re more comfortable with and seeing, so not everything is going to pop out as being unique, different, or amazing, and you kind of have to work two models because you got to make sure that the celebrity also likes it because that’s part of the program on how you operate. So now are you, when it comes to the celebrity side and the investing, are you vetting the deals down to the best deals and then you’re bringing in other celebrities that you can say, “All right, here’s the deal. We’re going to invest in company a. We think this is a great set up for Kyrie Irving to jump in on this, so he’s going to put in two hours of his time in the next year. You guys figure out how to use it. It’s no cost to you and we’re gonna invest 250,000. Let’s get this ball rolling.” Is that kind of the way that things get structured or are they kind of set up a whole lot different, not just for you guys, but for anybody that’s finding celebrity endorsements?
Gil: So typically, what would happen from a process perspective is similar to what you would say, but it’s very focused on finding the right fit. So it’s not just about getting money from a celebrity. It’s about the credibility angle. Does this celebrity bring credibility to what this company does? So you know, if it’s a food company, is, will people believe that this celebrity would eat this food? There’s a big, you know, there’s a famous Kia commercial where Lebron James is his house, is very noisy and he doesn’t have a place to rest. So he goes and he sits in the back of a Kia and you’re like, “This guy’s six foot nine. There’s room for four of them in here.” I’ve been in the back of a Kia. There’s not enough that doesn’t make any sense and he’s not driving a Kia. This is Lebron James, so the whole thing is messy and yes, he gets the visibility but where’s the credibility? And then you think of something like Michael Jordan and Nike Air Jordan, and you’re like, “Okay, he wore those shoes in real professional basketball games that makes total sense.” We think of Jennifer Anniston, smart water. You know, she has amazing skin, beautiful hair. She was known for all that and in smart water, people will believe that or potentially will believe that that’s part of the reason why she looks so great, and so you really want to make sure you find that right match before anything. Sometimes I’ll just say to the company, “I love what you’re doing but I just don’t have a celebrity in my network that’s a good fit,” and then typically when we say we’re going to invest, it’s subject to the idea that we can bring in a celebrity as added value because it’s very, we’re not the type of fund that’s going to bring you the added value that maybe somebody who has tremendous clout in Silicon Valley will. If we can’t bring you the celebrity or we can’t bring you a really really powerful influencer strategy like we just did with with one of our companies at launch, and it’s a teenage skincare called Bubble, and it just launched in 4000 Walmarts. But the way we got there was through influencer marketing that got the attention of the Walmart executives and it’s an amazing company. But if we didn’t think we had the influencers to get them there, we probably wouldn’t have invested even though we love the founder and everyone else. So we want to make sure that we have credibility and you know, we worked with, Shy, the founder, and we got some of the best you know teenage celebrities and people who’ve been known for having skin care issues to use the product, and literally show their progress online. So people got really excited about how well this product is working for them.
Jeffery: So it’s a really strong matching program that helps, not only helps your investment, but it helps that company actually get way more exposure. Can you allocate a number that celebrity, bringing a celebrity on board can boost revenues if it’s the right fit by 20 to 40 percent? Like is there something like that?
Gil: Way way way more than that. Yeah, the right match can. Nike would not be Nike without Michael Jordan. It would not be the leading company in football, it would be one of a bunch. It’s a game changer in a lot of spaces. It could make the difference between the market. Being the market leader to being somebody nobody’s ever heard of and so I’m a strong believer, if you do it right, if you do it wrong, it’s a total waste of time. You pick, if you just pick a celebrity for the sake of having a celebrity, a lot of times it’s not going to do it, but it’s amazing. It can be a major game changer for the right startups and for the right celebrity match to the right startup, and it’s a lot more than 20% lift. I wouldn’t bother you know, doing it for a 20% lift. It has to create a situation where from being virtually unknown, you become a company that any time, anybody writes about this space, they remember to mention you, right? So nobody’s writing about Crypto without mentioning Bitcoin. But they’re probably not mentioning the fourth biggest coin which I don’t know if you’re most people have never heard of, right? I can’t think of what it is and you know, most people probably have never heard of and the same thing applies to pretty much every industry. There are two or three names that everybody will mention every time, I will create an appearance of market leadership and a willingness to try, which is a big big thing in CPG. The first purchase is going to create an interest with retailers who want to work with you because you bring in that celebrity, clout it, creates a lot of value to every angle of the product within the CPG world. By the way, if you’re not in the CPG world, if you’re not a consumer product position, probably a lot less valuable, so we don’t invest in those spaces and when they come to me and say, “We want a celebrity.” I often make it really really hard for them to convince me that they should, they really need a celebrity because it’s very rare that the same value is created. So, but when it works it’s not 20%-40%, it’s 200% to 5000%. You know, significant impact, ideally you’re seen by hundreds of millions of people on that celebrities, on the different channels that the celebrity has.
Jeffery: And it’s interesting how you shape up the call to action on this and I look at the ads that have been coming out with Shaq and printing, and Shaq and other things, and it may seem like, why is Shaq doing anything like this and is this actually a fit? But if you know, a little bit about on Shaq’s background and it’s been coming out a lot more so maybe they’re doing this intentionally. They talk about his work ethic that he has, I don’t know, 50 companies that he works that he owns and operates, and then he is tied into so many of these pieces. He works 17 hours a day from all of the analysis, working through companies, working on his companies. So it kind of fits with that narrative that he’s going to need printing services but it’s so weird that Shaq is doing printing services. So I’m kind of curious as to is that one that you would say not really a good fit or would you say, you know, what I bet you took off like crazy and every corporate person was like, “I need Shaq’s print.”
Gil: If I had to guess, you know, it probably didn’t do that well. But I don’t know. It’s just a guess. I think you know the same thing with Ashton Kutcher, at some point there’s only so many things you can endorse before you become like an endorser, endorsing machine, and that loses credibility. You know, people like Floyd Mayweather, people like Shaq who take a lot of these deals or like Ashton Kutcher at some point, they become, they might be great business people. They might be very very smart, but as a fan you get used to it. You’re like, “Okay oh Kim Kardashian’s promoting something new. That’s great!” It’s still going to have an impact but you’re not going to believe that this is Kim Kardashian saw this and fell in love with it. You understand the commercial side of it, we really want our celebrities to fall in love with the products and so we ask them to invest in the products. We ask them to be a part of to take on a meaningful role with the team. When it’s just an endorsement, I’m not saying you can’t work, but it really needs to have a lot of significant credibility that the person really really connects and really really cares with us. So, you know, Jessica Alba, an Honest Company where she’s genuinely involved in, genuinely working on the product, really believes in it, those things work a lot better to me. Those things look a lot better. Those things make a lot more impact for the companies. So I don’t know, I mean it’s possible that Shaq created a tremendous amount of visibility for them, and this isn’t a space that requires too much credibility, right? It’s not one of those places where like, ‘oh that would never work,’ so in some spaces or you know, if you’re like promoting Dunkin Donuts or Pepsi, you know. Yeah. I’ll believe you that you like it. I believe you that it’s tasty and I’ve probably even tried it in the past. So those things don’t require the same level of engagement and connection with a celebrity. So I don’t know, I mean I don’t know how many people ended up- I don’t know how much they paid and I don’t know what they got in return for it and maybe just the viewership and the visibility was cool enough, and sometimes that’s all you need. And you’re big enough, maybe that’s all you need, but would I have tried to create something a little more creative and out of the box? Personally, yes.
Jeffery: So I agree with that, and I like to the point you made about Jessica Alba. I think her persona and how she carries herself being part of the Honest Company, she kind of built into it. She was, I think she owns like 10% of the company. So there was a difference of her coming in as just a celebrity on the side and helping promote it. She actually went in on the company because she felt that it fit so well with her persona. She needed to be a larger portion of that, so I think that also makes a big difference. But it also speaks huge to the founders and them seeing that there is that great opportunity, too.
Gil: Yeah. And not every, I mean obviously, they have a very important message behind the honest company which is, you know, they’ve identified something that really means something. Which is a lot of products don’t provide enough or you know, meaningful enough information for consumers to make an educated purchase decision, and they built a tremendous company around it and that really really played well to her personality and to her capability. Not every celebrity can fill up that role. You know, I don’t want to name names. There are plenty of people that you wouldn’t feel are as trustworthy or as likely even if we take a company like say Goop and Gwyneth Paltrow which is much less about, you know, honesty and creating. It’s more about a cool factor and like living your life like Gwyneth, and that’s fine. But you know, if you replace the two, they do very very poorly. I don’t think Jessica Alba could lead Goop and I don’t think Gwyneth Paltrow could lead the Honest company, and you know, if you feel differently then we probably have a different, anybody who feels differently probably has a different perspective than I do about the role of celebrities being more than just visibility.
Jeffery: Well, I think Jessica Alba could 100% run Goop. She’d just change it into an Honest group company.
Gil: Yeah. Which would kill it!
Jeffery: You never know, but she could do it. But I don’t know if it could do the other way because you’re trying to say someone can now become honest or whatever not honest. But you would have to then transition someone into that space where it’s easier to transfer in and rebuild something around your staple of being good. So I think that would be easier than the reverse. So, but I think that that makes a lot of sense. Now, on the micro influencer side, influencers come in all size and dimension. So they’re coming in at a thousand fans, 200 fans, or I don’t know 30 million fans. Like it’s pretty crazy on how large the spectrum is, and the view, and how far that they can push and pull on product and services. How do you, again, how do you guys manage through that quantity of influencers to decide: are we just trying to make a small penetration in Pittsburgh versus going global and we have to go global? We’re going to have to get Mayweather and all these other ones that are in there because we need their impact. Is that something you and your platforms are and your fund? Or you’re reusing your old platform that you sold and you’re like, ‘this is how we got to do this as part of our strategy, so this is a great direction since I already built the company. I know how it works.’ Is that all-
Gil: It’s a little bit of both. I mean, I have a lot of experience. You know, Hyper’s done over ten thousand micro influencer activation, so we have a lot of experience. We know a lot of the managers. We know a lot of the micro influencers. What we do is we really look at the company and we say first if we can’t find a celebrity that we’re really really excited about because they match what this company is doing then maybe that’s just not the way to go, and we’ll build a strategy that’s built around micro influencers. Generally speaking, we do both anyways, right? We don’t just do a big celebrity, we’ll always surround him with a few hundred smaller influencers to amplify to get the story out there, to get ahead of any bad news that we get. You know, they’re the first people on the front line to respond to it and also to get you know, a real opinion. You know, if we give it to micro influencers and they’re not too happy to endorse it, we know there’s something wrong with the product. So a lot of times that whole process happens concurrently, but if you’re only doing a celebrity endorsement, you’re probably not doing it right because as much as you know any celebrity is big, none of them cover the entire world, and none of them have the same credibility as say somebody from their home saying, “I bought this product and I really love it,” so we try to do both. Every company we work with will typically do, you know, at least one big deal, sometimes as many as 10 deals with some of the companies that we’ve done for bigger names and then between 100 to a few thousand smaller influencers to promote their product over the first year.
Jeffery: Okay. And which is great. Now, again for the community to better understand this, we’ve had a few companies that have used lots of different celebrities from Shawn Mendes to again, different impacts sports athletes, all the way across. So what is a typical setup a startup would look for if they’re engaged with a celebrity? Call it small, mid, or large celebrity, depending on it. What would be something that they want to keep in mind when they are working with celebrities to bring them into the fold? How do they compensate them? How do they, do they give them equity? Do they give them payments? What’s kind of a typical way of doing it and is there a lot of time that you look for, like “I need three hours of your time a month or ten minutes,” all the structures in that sense? But what kind of contract would you want to set up with someone that’s just typical to start with just, so that you don’t get burned or messed things up?
Gil: Yeah, if I had to say, you know, a few things you really want to make sure, one, is you want to make sure you’re working with somebody who really really loves the company and that you get along. If you’ve never met the person and you’re just talking to their management team, odds are, this is not going to work out, you know. So they really need to be excited. I don’t, I’m not a big believer and ‘give me three hours’, it’s more about, you know, ‘let’s build this deal so that you’re really motivated to be a part of the company and push it and that you really really believe in what we’re doing.’ And so the structure of the deal tends to be, to have a few components: one is it’s a vesting deal over time. So the celebrity might get a large chunk or a certain chunk up front, but if the deal doesn’t go well, you can stop at some point and kind of cut it short. And then, the second is that really, there’s an alignment of interests. So you know, let’s say you’re creating a product. If you create a product that’s branded behind the celebrity. Both of you are building an audience, you know, building an audience that’s is favorable to the celebrity and you’re helping with and you’re helping the celebrity and things that matter to them. if it’s about a cause, if your startup can work with a cause the celebrity really cares about, so if you’re all about the environment or if you’re all about helping less fortunate or whatever it is. If it’s something that the celebrity is already working on is important to them then that’s going to make it easier for them to dedicate more time to you, so you want to make sure that within the agreement, you align interest so that they get what they’re promised you. In return, get the rights to use the name, the right to use the likeness, the voice, a certain amount of guaranteed content, and then on top of that, you build it. So that the more they do for you, the more they get compensated. So that these interests are aligned because the last thing you want is a situation where you’ve announced to the world, they have this celebrity and then the next day, they’re not doing anything. They’re not interested in your startup. They’ve seen a new shiny object. So, number one, make sure they really really love you. Not that they, you know, love the money, that they’re gonna get or the equity that they’re gonna get. Two, is ensure that you, there’s a minimum return that you get regardless of how the deal goes. So that’s the rights to use their voice and a certain amount of quotes and a certain amount of images and the right to use that in your online advertising and so forth. And then build the rest to be whether it’s cash or it’s equity, to be based on the returns that they generate to the company. So if they do one, two, three, four, they get this much. If a company reaches a certain milestone, they get another bonus and so forth. And make sure that you have ways to part ways amicably, if things don’t work out.
Jeffery: Oh, I like it! That’s awesome. It shares some really good points there. I was writing as fast as I could but they- agreed, those are, you know, they’re kind of like investing in a company, these are some of the things you look for, but I think from treating a celebrity the same way it’s almost the startups investing in a startup to get them to be aligned with the terms and what you want as an outcome and doing it through contractual agreements just to ensure that there’s no missed issues and it doesn’t turn the wrong way. But protecting yourself while protecting them at the same time, so it’s a really good breakdown of how to watch yourself, but also how to get engaged with some rock stars that can help really build your image.
Gil: Yeah for sure.
Jeffery: And I love the whole thing. Again, to summarize that on the ‘credibility’. I think it plays such a huge role in what you’re doing and it really does take the the process of really making, not just yourself and your business credible, but it’s also lining up how the future of your business is going to go and that is lining people up that see the vision of where you want to be, and that they can line up, and work through all of that. So you’re almost going to be, have to be a good person, good company, because you’re managing some pretty big influencers that could also turn on you and crush your brand in two seconds. So just make sure that you’re on the up and up. If you’re gonna reach out to these influencers because they have just as much power to give you as much as they can take.
Gil: Completely and you know, they’re, unfortunately, you know, we see this with Crypto now. A lot of celebrities have fallen into the trap of promoting stuff for greed or you know, if you want to be nice, naivety or you know, gullibility. I don’t know, and so that’s not going to end well for any of the people involved and you know, and so, I think you know, you want to make sure that the fact that you’re you or what you’re bringing in these celebrities into something that’s really going to be beneficial for their brands and the high quality celebrities, the ones that really care about their brand, are not going to do deals if it’s not that way.
Jeffery: I like it! Well, I appreciate all that. Now, we’re going to kind of transition into more on the side of you’ve been working with a lot of startups, you’ve been part of tech stars, and lots of things where you’re seeing stories, seeing pitches, you’ve been getting a real grasp of the whole startup scene, the whole startup world, which is amazing but through that journey, you’ve probably come across some amazing startup founders, where she or he has really just blew your mind with what it takes and what an entrepreneur really has to do to be successful. And I’m sure even a sports person or a celebrity, what they’ve had to go through to become a celebrity because I have a million questions I’d ask you just specifically on celebrities on what they have to do and how they do it because they’re a continuous marketing machine. But any great stories you can share that come to mind on what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
Gil: You know, probably the toughest situation I’ve seen as a friend of mine, I won’t say the name. But you know, his you know, he had built a company, he had invested some of his own money and he got investor commitments, and then they bailed on him, and he ended up having to mortgage his house to keep the company going, and I don’t know if that’s something I would do today. By the way, the company’s worth, you know, almost a unicorn but I watched him, you know, one, is that you know he was lucky to be surrounded with a family that was supportive. A wife that was supportive of this, and that’s not always very common and it’s a very lonely position in general to be a founder. So I see it all the time. I think, you know, I say 50% of my job is to be, to listen to my founders and not try to suggest solutions. You know, just be there and listen to what they’re saying and it’s kind of like, you know, they always say men try to solve problems. I don’t know if it’s true enough. They always like it. Get away from solving but just be empathetic and listen to what’s going on with them, and you know, one of the things we’re really proud of that are, on our website is the wall with all the founder testimonials, and it’s not about you know, “Oh they introduced me to this guy or they did that”, it’s really about, you know, “They supported me during the hard times. They want to create an environment where it’s okay to explore. It’s okay to come back the next day and say, ‘hey, you know what I told you yesterday. Forget about that. That was way off, you know,’ and not be afraid to have to say that.” And so we’re very very supportive of that and I think almost every founder has found a situation where they were with their backs to the wall and they were really really pressured by this new knowledge or this new situation where like no one around them would appreciate the fact that they discovered something even though that’s worthy of celebration because the first year or two of a startup is exploration. You’re basically, you know, you’re basically Magellan. You know, you’re jumping into some place, nobody’s been there before, or anybody who’s been there has been unable to really solve this problem really well, and you’re trying stuff that nobody else did. And so embracing failure and having investors support that is really important. I probably went way off of what you originally asked but somehow, I got into that angle. It’s something that every founder I’ve worked with meets, you know, everything goes well, everything goes well, then it doesn’t go well and that’s really the test for real for, you know, good investors and the people that surround you. How do they support you at that point? And do you feel comfortable telling them what happened? Or are you, do you feel like you have to hide it from them? Or do you feel like you have to solve it on your own? And it’s something that if you’re lucky, only happens a few times; if you’re unlucky, happens a ton of times. It has nothing often to do with how well you do at the end of the day, but the road is really really tough for every founder I’ve worked with.
Jeffery: Well said, well said. I, all of those, wholeheartedly agree and it’s good that they’ve got some great people like yourself supporting them. Being able to listen and not always be the talk on the back end of the phone, but just being to listen. And that empathy is huge, you know, I think a lot of people appreciate that and it is a big need and at the end of the day, when they do ask for that solution, you’ll be ready and you’ll probably take it in lots of input all over the world. So it’s going to help you, help them break that problem, but it’s good that you’re doing that. I think it makes a big difference in your community.
Gil: Yeah, as an investor, you know, the challenging thing is to really separate yourself and say, “Now, I’m in this hat and not in the hat that’s worried about the money. I put in and you have to do it,” and if you are worried about the money you put in, you know, this is not the time to bring that up.
Jeffery: I wholeheartedly agree. I like that. I like Mario. We’re going to jump into the rapid fire questions. So all right, let’s do that. You’ll pick one or the other, okay?
Jeffery: Ready to roll?
Gil: I was born ready.
Jeffery: And I like it. Okay, founder or co-founder?
Jeffery: Unicorn or four-year ten times exit?
Jeffery: Hacker or CPG?
Gil: I can’t choose. I love them both. Tech by a little.
Jeffery: All right, AI or blockchain?
Jeffery: Okay, first time founder or second or third time founder?
Gil: Second or third.
Jeffery: Okay, first money in or series a?
Gil: First money.
Jeffery: Angel or vc?
Jeffery: Board seat or observer?
Jeffery: Lead or follow?
Gil: It doesn’t matter to me. Both? Lead, I guess lead. Lead.
Jeffery: Okay safe or convertible note?
Jeffery: Equity or interest payments?
Jeffery: What’s your favorite part of investing?
Gil: The people.
Jeffery: Number of companies invested per year?
Gil: 10 to 15.
Jeffery: Huge! Preferred terms?
Gil: Only, if only, the bare minimum you know, getting your money out, first, or like in the right order. You know, you touched on the board seat. I think a lot of investors overvalue their contribution on the board. You’re spending a very small amount of time with the company, you either believe in the founder, or you don’t. And so observer, I think is you know, something that we don’t even ask for that sometimes because we say our relationship is one where we’re gonna see it anyways, but as far as preferred terms really just the ability to maintain your position and the ability to get your money out when in the order the money comes in because it’s a tangible investment. You need to give your investors their money back at least but really rarely anything else.
Jeffery: Okay, verticals of focus?
Gil: CPG, anything consumer or really if you can show me that a celebrity would make a big difference for your business, so it tends to be consumer. It tends to be CPG but it could be you. Definitely you’ve seen apps and tech that we’ve done and then rarely it can be, it could be a fit for something that’s not in consumer. But it can happen.
Jeffery: Okay, one thing that will help. Okay we’ll make it two. Two things that will help a startup stand out from the crowd.
Gil: One, is a founder that is a really unique person, a unique personality somebody that’s really credible and meaningful, and two, is a marketing hook. You know, there’s a story about a company called Briola which I love and what they did, you know, it’s a company that focused on the idea that women don’t like to go into stores and try out bras way before Covid. Where nobody was going to stores anyways, right? But what they did was really interesting. They had women submit photos of them without their head of themselves in a bra and then they had an expert or like an AI, I don’t know what it was, tell them what their bra size and fit was for every brand because every brand has their own thing. It’s a really smart thing but it also got a ton of attention, and I thought it was really really smart. So if you can come up with a clever hook that’s really really nice.
Jeffery: I like it. Okay personal side, book or movie?
Jeffery: Superman or batman?
Gil: Superman but spider-man really.
Jeffery: Well we’re not in a spider-man yet, we’re gonna go with superman. I like that, all right. Pizza pop or ice cream bar? I like spiderman too, so pizza pop or ice cream bar?
Gil: Ice cream bar.
Jeffery: Five minutes with Bezos or Oprah?
Gil: Shhh, Bezos.
Jeffery: I was gonna wait for you to say, “Oh I know Bezos.”
Gil: Yeah, I don’t. I don’t.
Jeffery: All right Arsenal or Manchester United?
Gil: Manchester United, but not really. I mean, Liverpool really.
Jeffery: Ah okay, all right. All right, I like that.
Gil: I’m choosing from the two options you gave them.
Jeffery: That’s true but I still try to find Arsenal fans. So it’s okay. Biker or rollerblade?
Jeffery: Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets?
Gil: McNuggets. Oh my god, I love McNuggets.
Jeffery: I’ll tell a quick story just because it was funny. I hadn’t had a big mac forever. So I went to the, I went two days ago. I went to McDonald’s, ordered a Big Mac, started driving away. I got a quarter pounder with cheese. I was so pissed because I was like, I waited forever and because I asked this question all the time, I had a craving. I better go eat this Big Mac and it was quarter pounder with cheese. I’m like I still haven’t even hit the craving yet. I’m like damn it, and the counter was terrible. So I was like-
Gil: It’s just not, it’s not the same. I don’t know what they do to those. Yeah, but fortunately, there’s probably a McDonald’s within two miles of where you were no matter where you were.
Jeffery: Yeah, exactly. There’s a blinking light behind my house. I can walk over there but I agree but it was just a funny story that after I’m asking this so many times that it just made me have to go do it and then [Laughter].. alarm clock or mobile phone?
Gil: Mobile phone.
Jeffery: Beer or wine?
Gil: I haven’t had alcohol in 30 years.
Jeffery: Done, all right. That’s okay, you can have an organic.
Gil: I was not an alcoholic. I just didn’t. I had a liver issue by the way just in case.
Jeffery: All right, all right. Trophy or money?
Jeffery: All right, hotel or hostel?
Jeffery: Based on all the things that’s been going on with Trump, does he go to jail for tax evasion? Yes or no?
Gil: He walks, I don’t think he will. Yeah, who knows. I don’t think he will because you know, not all of us are judged the same way.
Jeffery: That’s true, that’s true. All right, your favorite sports team?
Gil: Boston Celtics.
Jeffery: All right, all right. Scandalous but they’re, they’ve been actually playing pretty good,
Gil: Yeah just good enough to not satisfy us, you know.
Jeffery: Yeah, they’re on that level. They’re like, they’re kind of like the Raptors where they’re you know, they’re a little bit better, one year a little bit bad, a little bit better.
Gil: The tweener between just not tall enough to play in the NBA.
Jeffery: After one slam dunk away from making it a little bit further but they still have a pretty good team. Especially, this year last year, so
Gil: Maybe next year, maybe next year. We’ll see.
Jeffery: Yeah, favorite movie and character you would play?
Gil: Back to the future and Marty McFly.
Jeffery: Oh that’s amazing! I haven’t heard that one in ages. I’m gonna have to now watch that whole series again.
Gil: It’s the best series in history. It’s, I’m dating myself obviously, but yeah.
Gil: It was back when it was actually the future like now, when you, now it’s like, ‘oh that was like a few years ago’. But yeah.
Jeffery: Yeah we already passed it. Yeah we have to do another Back to Future. So to make it like,
Gil: I would love it and generally, Michael J Fox, I think is …
Jeffery: Oh you’re still there. The videos just thought shut out or something.
Gil: Yeah sorry something, I think something-
Jeffery: That’s okay.
Gil: So Michael J Fox. I think is just one of the greatest actors ever. I love that series.
Jeffery: Yeah, he’s great. I agree, all right. Favorite book?
Gil: Well, we have so many. But there’s one that I always tell people to read. It’s kind of dated right now. But it’s called Buzz Marketing. It’s about 20 years old. Have you read it?
Gil: It’s about, you know Buzz creating buzz before the days of, you know, viral social media. And it’s amazing! Amazing stories. A lot about the early.com stuff, and what they did, and it’s probably the book that made me a marketer. Like after reading it, I was like, ‘okay, I need to be in marketing,’ because it got me so motivated to do some of the stuff that they were doing that today, you know, is common knowledge everybody’s doing, but if you’re even thinking about marketing, you should be reading that book, and then if you haven’t read the dip, if you haven’t started, if you haven’t read the dip, you really need to. It’s a great book about knowing when to quit and when you’re just facing like a little bit of a problem. It probably takes you 40 minutes to read, you know short flight or anything. Read it. Really really good book and if you’re just looking for motivation, rich dad, poor dad, it’s not going to give you any tools to do anything, but you’ll come out like ready to go.
Jeffery: I like it. I have read two of those. I don’t think I’ve read the dip. I’m gonna check into it. I was actually looking to see if I could see on my bookshelf “The Buzz”,
Gil: it’s a teeny tiny book. I forgot the name of the author but it’s so good and it flies every day. You won’t remember. You’ll read it in one day.
Jeffery: All right, done. All right, last question. What is your superpower?
Gil: I can tell numerous dad jokes to a captivated children audience. They never end, yeah.
Jeffery: I couldn’t so that’s pretty good. All right.
Gil: I’ll tell you one right now, and then you’ll cut it out if it’s really bad.
Jeffery: All right, fire away.
Gil: You know some people call it “How I Met Your Mother” but really it’s just a long ted talk. I don’t know if you’ve seen the show but yeah, I like it the guy’s ted. He’s talking you see, why what my kids have to go through. You see what they have to go through.
Jeffery: No man, I think it’s good. Humor is good. I’m not the best at it, but I think at the end of the day that humor is what keeps people moving, smiling and that’s all that matters.
Gil: Yeah. I mean, I, you know, if I, for a serious note, for a second, I think my real superpowers, I have this ability to be positive no matter what. Now we see like the opportunity and things and I think that’s what really makes me enjoy investing because when I talk to the founders and they’re down and that always happens. I always have like a better attitude than they do about. What’s gonna happen in a more optimistic one. So I don’t know if that’s a sickness or a superpower but so far it’s served me well.
Jeffery: I think it’s a superpower. I think just like telling the dad jokes. I think a lot of that is just about getting people to forward think, and sometimes when you’re under the thick of things, you can’t always see further along. Look at the world’s ending. So it’s good that you’re able to take that super power and use it for the positive of driving someone else forwards. So kudos, brilliant!
Gil: Thank you, thank you!
Jeffery: Great super power. Well I want to say, Gil, thank you very much for all your time today! It was a lot of fun. Learned a lot and as I showed you earlier, I like taking notes. So I got lots of stuff to chat about after, but again, thank you for your time! And the way we like done-
Gil: Thank you for having me.
Jeffery: You bet. Is that we want to give you the last word. So anything that you want to share to the startups or to investors. I leave it at you and thank you again for your time.
Gil: Yeah, you know, people, you know, there used to be, I don’t know if they still do this and they used to say, you know, if you want to reach out to an investor, you know find an intro because they’re so busy and you know, you need to be introduced by somebody they trust, I don’t want an investor like that. You know, if you want to reach out to me. I’d skill at starfond.io or you know find me on Facebook or on Linkedin, or anywhere else. Find investors that are going to be excited to talk to you and that, you know, are going to, not going to put themselves at a different level and then you’ll probably have a better relationship with them.
Jeffery: I love it. Well shared, thank you very much again Gil!
Gil: Thank you for having me! So much fun and I will stay in touch.
Jeffery: Awesome! Thank you, all right. That was a great conversation with Gil! I love being able to dive into this whole celebrity based investing. It’s pretty massive, obviously, getting out there, you’re seeing a lot more of it, and I love the points that he brought up. You know, you want to make sure you bring a celebrity on that they love you, that you’re going to set up the returns, that are going to benefit both sides of the party, and then of course, ensure that the way the corporate side you structure, that contract is that you’re going to own assets that you can kind of reuse over and over, and then making sure that you set it up, so that they benefit you, benefit, and there’s a great way to exit as well at the end. So some really valuable points and the number one thing you talked about, so much was credibility, credibility, credibility, and that goes to the startup for the celebrities and for investors and founders is just trying to make sure there’s credibility across the board. De-risk as much as you can. That’s what’s gonna win the battle of growth of the company, and just love it, was all over it, was great. So thank you again for all your time today, Gil! I enjoyed this sharing. Brilliant, thank you everyone for joining us today! If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, or follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcast, and or Stitcher. You can also check us out at supportersfund.com and or for startup visits, startup events, visit us at opn.ninja. Thank you and have a great day!