After tasting success in the spotlight, stars like Rihanna have turned their attention to business and we rounded up ten celebrity entrepreneurs you must know about
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Celebrity entrepreneurs are increasingly becoming the norm. From Paul Newman’s food company to Chris Hemsworth’s fitness app Centr, stars are no outsiders to the corporate world. Rihanna started her business journey in 2017 when she launched make-up brand Fenty Beauty followed by lingerie line Savage X. And now, the pop singer has launched her fashion label Fenty under French fashion conglomerate LVMH, the parent of Louis Vuitton and Givenchy.
Many have forayed into fashion labels with Beyonce’s Ivy Park, Kate Hudson’s Fabletics and Drake’s October’s Very Own. Indeed, celebrities leveraging their status when starting businesses has been a long-standing pattern and some believe it works in their favour. “One of the reasons that celebrity-led businesses and brands have become more popular and, ultimately successful, is the hitherto unheard of massive and speedy access to their market through social media,” argues John Stapleton, an angel investor. Indeed with more than 71 million followers on Instagram, Rihanna has the advantage to tap into a large audience.
In fact, apart from the benefit of social media followers, Sam Morton COO of Redu, the shopping influencer firm, believes A-list celebrities are able to launch business ventures by taking lesser risks as most have millions of dollars in the bank already. “If you are George Clooney and have millions of people listening to you, why wouldn’t you take your passion - in George Clooney’s case tequila - and promote it to that audience?” argues Morton. “He recently sold his tequila business for $1bn showing the world that if you get it right you can take the power of fame and turn it into something amazing in the world of business.” Indeed, it isn’t the same for those sans having celebrity in their career. “If someone has millions of dollars and an existing loyal audience of millions it’s a lot easier to create a business than it is for the average person – so people shouldn’t think that if they start a tequila brand tomorrow they’ll be billionaires a fast as George Clooney,” he adds.
Additionally, given the reach these heavyweight personalities have, they could – along with making millions – address the many issues other businesses are dealing with. For instance, Riri’s Fenty didn’t airbrush the models or hide the scars on their faces. “What she got really right was focusing on a key value – inclusivity,” says Freddie Sheridan, director of Sheridan&Co, the global retail design agency. “She inspired global conversation and industry-wide action, as brands opened their eyes to how important inclusivity is.”
Indeed, many celebrity entrepreneurs ensure their target audience relates to them as making money isn’t their only goal. “Of course, profit can be a driver for celebrities to pursue the entrepreneurial route but for many, they want to empower their brand by extending it into new markets and reach more people,” Natasha Mudhar, global CEO of Sterling Group and The World We Want, tells Elite Business. “These celebrities have the influence to power their brands to not only drive profit but purpose.” For instance, Quantico star Priyanka Chopra has invested a considerable amount in dating app Bumble to empower women in India.
However, celebrities shouldn’t rest on their laurels and take their fame for granted as it can backfire on them. “As consumers today are more discerning and are scrutinising the quality of products and services more than ever before, it’s now not enough to have a famous face behind a brand,” Mudhar continues. “Celebrity entrepreneurs need a solid business acumen, where product quality, pricing and perception is king.”
And Elisha Carter, co-founder of The Cherry Moon, the online retail company, too believes while celebrities have the perks of being famous and rich, their business idea must go beyond their brand name. “It’s hard not to wonder how this would pan out, if Rihanna was sitting at her own table without the collaboration of an already phenomenally successful luxury global brand,” she opines. “If the true spirit of entrepreneurialism was simply creating a marketing tour de force with the aim of increased wealth, this lucrative venture would win hands down. But it’s not and nor should it be. And here lies the important divide. For a business to be truly entrepreneurial, the idea or the product should always be more important that the name behind it.”
Indeed, while you likely don’t have the luxury of millions of pounds at your disposal or a huge following to begin with, there is something you can learn from these celebrity-cum-leaders. “What does a celebrity use to launch their new product – their individuality,” says Marianne Page, founder of Marianne Page, the business consultancy. “So use yours. What makes you special? Why is your product unique? Is it because it’s handmade, small batch, made with eco-friendly materials? What is that makes you stand out in the market?”
Despite having it easier than many, we have rounded up a few well-known celebrities who turned to business along with their ongoing careers.
Witherspoon has taken her talents to other areas of the film world. In 2010, the Legally Blonde actress co-founded the production company Pacific Standard and with the goal to encourage women in lead roles she produced Oscar-nominated films Gone Girl and Wild. She didn’t stop there. In 2015, the Big Little Lies star then launched clothing and lifestyle brand Draper James, which received a $10m investment from Forerunner Ventures. Her newest venture was multimedia firm Hello Sunshine, which aims to bring female-centric literary properties to TV and film. She’s definitely set the standards high.
You’ve probably seen her disappear in Fantastic Four or showcase her dance moves in Honey but acting isn’t the only thing Alba’s proficient in. In 2012, she entered the world of entrepreneurship with her non-toxic babycare and personal care product line The Honest Company. By using only natural ingredients, Alba was able to become an instant success and briefly attained the unicorn status in 2015. She even raised a $200m funding round in 2018 to scale up the brand. This is honestly commendable.
From starting her career as a child in E.T. to fighting fiercely in Charlie’s Angels, Barrymore hasn’t ever ceased to amaze her fans with her talents. Along with skills as a producer and director, she’s even a wine connoisseur and launched Barrymore Wines in partnership with Carmel Road wines. Furthermore, she created a cosmetic brand under the name Flower Cosmetics in 2013 and went on to launch Flower Press, a magazine. In March 2019, she even launched Drew Barrymore Flower Home, a home decor collection inspired by her travels exclusively available in online Walmart stores. Clearly, there’s nothing she can’t Drew.
Jay-Z – or Shawn Carter – is one rapper who has turned his music career into something more in all kinds of sectors. From being a co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records and taking over music streaming service Tidal to starting his own cognac D’Ussé in a joint venture with Bacardi and launching VC firm Marcy Venture Partners with Walden Venture Capital, this rap star has led a hard knock life to reach success. Recently having become the first hip hop artist to reach billionaire status according to Forbes, Jay-Z indeed knows his beat well and you can’t knock the hustle.
Not only can she manage Stark Industries in Iron Man but Paltrow is at the helm of her own fashion and lifestyle brand, Goop. Despite being in the midst of many controversies revolving around jade vaginal eggs that claimed to solve menstrual problems, Paltrow has achieved great strides through her company. Launched in 2008, she started by mainly focusing on women with blogs on travel, fashion, beauty, food and wellness and has got almost $75m in funding until now. Pepper Potts is indeed goop at many things.
Most know Wahlberg as the early-90s rapper and the Daddy’s Home actor, depending when they were born. But his skills go way past the big screen. In 2011 Marky Mark opened a restaurant called Wahlburgers with his brothers Donnie and Paul. His entrepreneurial instincts didn’t end there. Wahlberg joined forces with rapper Sean Combs and billionaire Ronald Burkle and invested in Aquahydrate, a bottled water brand the former discovered and he went on to participate as an investor for sneaker resale marketplace StockX in its $6m funding round. He then ignited a passion for fitness as he launched his own supplement brand, Performance Inspired. He also has a car dealership to his name which saw the launch of the Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet. And most recently in March 2019, he bought a stake in the F45 fitness franchise. He clearly has no intentions to stop and it’s fair to say he’s a fighter.
The That '70s Show actor is no newbie to business. His VC firm A-Grade Investments which he launched with Guy Oseary and Ron Burkle has pumped money into Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Shazam and Soundcloud and turned $30m into $250m. The Two and a Half Men actor also appeared as a guest investor on business pitch show Shark Tank as a guest. With the passion to invest in tech startups, Kutcher also cofounded a viral media site and a human-rights organisation. Clearly he knows his stuff and there’s little chance of him being Punk’d.
The ten time Grammy Awards winner does much more than record music. Utilising his musical talents, the singer launched record label Tennman Records. Harbouring a passion for fashion, Timberlake co-founded the fashion label William Rast. He even ventured into hospitality by launching restaurants like Destino and Southern Hospitality. Indeed, he has his fingerprint in many pies but they’re not always well baked – Timberlake poured in $16m for a golf course in Tennessee called Mirimichi but sold it in 2014 for $500,000. While his golf business might not have been successful, his tequila brand Sauza 901 definitely was. Looking at his ventures, we can tell that Timberlake can’t stop this feeling.
Apart from going on rage-fuelled murder rampages as Wolverine, Jackman has also violently attacked the business world off screen. He launched Laughing Man Coffee, a coffee company which aids farmers to get good quality coffee get a wider market. The profits are then donated to the Laughing Man Foundation he set up to help poor farmers and their families in the coffee community. This was all inspired by a trip the Les Miserables actor made to Ethiopia to shoot for a documentary where he met farmer Dukale. Indeed, Jackman is saving lives in reel and real life and that even convinced Ryan Reynolds to make an ad for him.
Speaking of Reynolds, you might remember seeing him as Wade Wilson in Deadpool or donning a three-piece suit with his wife Blake Lively but he’s actually also busy being an alcohol impresario. Reynolds launched a booze business called Aviation Gin Launched in Portland and it claimed to have sold 25,000 gin cases in 2017 alone. Looking at how Clooney, Barrymore, Timberlake, Matthew McConaughey and P Diddy have wet their whistles, we’re sure Aviation will prove to be a gintastic venture for Reynolds.
Looking at the innovative ideas birthed by these entrepreneurs, we’re sure to say that every entrepreneur must endeavour to learn a few things from them. "By thinking ahead, differently and with clarity, normal entrepreneurs can learn to create competitive advantage and not become lazy in their offering or overall approach towards the customer,” concludes Gemma Angharad, director of Marketing Mastermind, the marketing company. “It’s an ongoing conversation for both.”