Beyond Hollywood: How Ashton Kutcher is Winning in Tech Investments
Originally published to Startup Grind, the global entrepreneurship community.
I often read comments criticizing ABC’s Shark Tank for putting Ashton Kutcher on the show, claiming he is just another pretty face on TV.
Honestly, I am surprised. Why? Kutcher has been investing in companies since before it was cool, backing Foursquare and Skype in 2009, and tripling his $1 million investment in Skype when Microsoft bought the video chat platform.
You could argue that the income from his Hollywood success is a huge advantage as an investor. Ashton Kutcher’s investment include companies you know well: Uber, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Flipboard. The total value of these four companies? Over 73 billion. Sounds like a pretty “seasoned investor” to me.
But money isn’t everything you need to succeed as a startup. You need a network and advice that can help you solve your hardest problems. To raise money, you also need to own certain traits as an entrepreneur. Here’s how Ashton Kutcher does it:
1) Ashton’s Calling: “Improve standard of happiness through technology”
The world faces problems that money and hustle alone cannot solve. In an interview by Grow Acorns, Kutcher mentions he spends a lot of time thinking about new, simpler solutions to existing problems. As a recent dad, investor, and actor, time and execution play against his aspirations. So why not invest in people that can do this full-time?
“We have a long way to go in improving the standard of happiness for billions around the world. There are deep needs that exist in people’s lives, and investing in solutions will always be inspiring. Life shouldn’t be something people endure; it can be one magical discovery after the next.”
2) Choosing founders and companies: Integrity, Storytelling, Product
- Kutcher invests in founders who are generous and are not afraid of breaking boundaries.
- These founders have a great sense of ethics, which helps them lead a team even through tough times.
- They “hack existing solutions or use an antiquated system” to solve users’ pain-points.
- They are great storytellers. They are able to sell it to investors and the press because if they can’t, how will they get customers?
3) Providing value to his portfolio companies
Kutcher’s career — from various jobs as a kid to acting in Hollywood — taught him to empathize with the average consumer. Emotions play a big role in people’s reactions to products and Kutcher understand that. To push a specific feeling and message to your audience, you need to have strong user empathy.
HR software has existed for a long time, but HR teams weren’t that happy using it. Then Zenefits came in with a user-friendly product and was valued at $4.5 billion. Who says HR isn’t sexy? As an investor, Kutcher helped Zenefits remove friction from processes. Small and large businesses can now handle their biggest pain point — managing payroll and benefits — more easily.
With 17.5 million followers on each Twitter and Facebook and knowledgeable about the entertainment industry, Kutcher has helped companies like Airbnb break into the mainstream and leverage pop culture. What does this mean? He could promote an app to millions of people using his social media outreach, not to mention his connections in both Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
4) Personal investment is growth
“Invest in yourself,” says Kutcher. You have to spend time enhancing what you are good at and learning new things. Investigate why certain things happen and dig deeper if it sparks your curiosity. Take Steve Jobs’ learning Calligraphy — it’s a safe bet you’ll get asked a question about it one day.
Whether you are a startup founder, an investor, or someone interested in technology, invest in projects you care about. Ashton Kutcher’s tech investments and successes reflect these philosophies — and by following that intuition, he has thrived as an entrepreneur and investor.
Now, the next time that Kutcher is on Shark Tank and someone is skeptical about his skills, you can tell them about his 46+ investments and how much he enjoys seeing you use Uber and Spotify — his portfolio companies.