1. April 2016–
Ashton Kutcher: Startup star?
The current cover of Forbes is the ultimate culmination of the 38-year-old ex-model, actor, producer and investor. The magazine lays out his record as a startup investor showing an impressive track record: within six years, starting with 30 million US dollars, he has returned his investments eight-fold with his firm A-grade - currently valued at 250 million dollars.
With numbers like that, Kutcher and his partners Guy Oseary and Ron Burkle are being praised even by legendary VCs. As Marc Andreessen said to Forbes: "If you routinely achieve a multiple of 3x, you are regarded as one of the best VCs. If one manages 5x, it’s a home run. I took my math classes: 8x is seriously higher than 5x.”
Where has this success come from?
Not everything A-grade has invested in has been a success but it did invest in two startups that would eventually become unicorns. It invested $2.5 million in Airbnb in 2011, its stake valued at 90 million now, and in Uber, valued at 60 million.
Other investments, like VoIP company Ooma and Blackjet, have been flops. Fab, the German-American design online store founded by Jason Goldberg, was valued at one billion US dollars and then reportedly sold for just 15 million. Its furniture spinoff Hem from Berlin was sold off in February, for less than $ 20 million.
An affinity for Berlin startups
In addition to Fab, Ashton Kutcher has invested in five other Berlin startups.
In spring of 2011, Kutcher invested in the 2 million dollar seed round for Amen. The hyped startup’s Opinion app existed in stealth mode, but Kutcher helped the founders win a global audience. Once live however Amen wasn’t able to build a critical mass of supporters in the long term and was eventually bought by TapeTv in 2013.
A similar story happened with Gitsy (Kutcher was part of the 2012 seed round), which was bought by Get Your Guide after failing to grow.
In 2011, A-Grade invested in SoundCloud. At this point, the music platform founded by Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss had five million users and $13 million in funding, mainly from Index and Union Square. Today the platform has 175 million monthly users making it a very successful product. That said it’s unclear whether there is a viable business model. Difficult negotiations with the music industry blocked the development of the company over the years but with the launching of Soundcloud Go, a new subscription service, hopefully the company will monetize better and Kutcher’s investment will grow.
It’s also not clear how Kutcher’s investment in Taptalk will fare. The Berlin-based startup which offers an instant messaging app for photos is known thanks to Kutcher's Twitter-reach of 16 million followers but it’s still not clear if the talk is just hype.
In July 2015, Kutcher invested in another hyped Berlin start-up: GoButler. The digital assistant was about to expand in the United States but GoButler has had to stop its aggressive growth and lay off lots of people.
"If you routinely achieve a multiple of 3x, you are regarded as one of the best VCs. If one manages 5x, it’s a home run. I took my math classes: 8x is seriously higher than 5x.”
Every VC portfolio will have highs and lows. The bottom line is that Kutcher's deal balance sheet shows that his hits have earned significantly more than his losses have lost. Even if one deducts Uber and Airbnb from its portfolio, according to Forbes, his investments still retain a multiple of 3.3.
It would seem however that the German startups that attract Kutcher have the makings of a viral hit but they often lack perseverance. It’s quite possible that Ashton Kutcher himself adds to this problem. With his reach and its network, he’s the perfect marketing assistant to start, but for long-term development of a viable business, startups may require the help of other VCs.
This article was first published on Gründerszene.