Today I’m with Amanda Groves. Amanda is a partner at PLUS Capital a venture firm that advises high profile celebrities on their venture activities, and also invests alongside them. Plus has a new, $100M+ Fund II and is investing alongside big name celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Matthew McConaughey. So,
You know, I had Adam on the show, but it was a while ago and I’d love to know more about the model and how things have evolved.
Great. Adam is such an incredible partner and I’m so grateful to be on the journey with him. And just to sort of hone in on what our model is, as you alluded to, we represent 70 or so high-profile artists and athletes, they’re all household names across movies, music, and sports.
Those are the future of work, future of education, health, and wellness the conscious consumer and sustainability. And the idea is that we can leverage these people who have incredible audiences and influence over. Audience in the world of venture capital, you’d be able to help make those businesses move forward faster.
and what are the expectations for how a business would measure and quantify that celebrity involvement. That measurement piece is actually one of the most impactful parts of what we do, I think and making sure that it’s very data driven in our approach to marrying these high-profile artists and athletes with the underlying operators and entrepreneurs. And so every partnership is. Bespoke in the sense that we’re asking the underlying company, what is the challenge that they’re facing in the current state of the market or what bulls do they have over the next 12 to 24 months that celebrity might be able to help with?
And so if the goal is customer acquisition, let’s create really interesting content and build as much brand awareness as possible by. Social posts or press or events or gifting, whatever it is to amplify where that brand currently exists and how many people know about them and then therefore transacting with the brand.
And the measurements done in partnership with the company. So being able to see sort of the backend on the.
And understand engagement site, traffic, conversion, all those kinds of things, but also working with our artists and understanding the analytics on the backend of their social or leveraging their PR teams to think through, like, what is the value of a medium freshen today? , if it’s just a standard press release that then gets picked up by.
The wall street journal, the New York times, like how many more eyeballs does that capture? And by the way, it’s not pressed that you’ve paid for, right?
That’s interesting. So you’ll kind of insert yourselves or that sounds negative, but like you’ll kind of be in between the company and the artists.
Absolutely. So we have a platform team in house at fly us. That’s run by my colleague, Jordan Weiss. He’s amazing. And the idea of the platform team is to facilitate, manage and optimize the relationship between the portfolio company and the talent to your point, like the artist or athlete. It’s not their full-time job to be a consultant or an advisor or an investor in this company.
But our platform team is very specific about tracking whatever deliverables we said we were going to do.
Coordinating with the core members of the artists.
or athletes teams to make sure it gets done. And then measuring the impact of that in conjunction with the portfolio company, because also like, well, some late stage companies have fully built out sort of VP of partnerships, style of roles, a lot of them don’t they don’t know how to measure this kind of stuff.
And so making sure that we can run the process for them alongside. They’re marketing or business development teams makes us an extension of their team too. And so that symbiosis between the talent and us and the company ends up working really well.
So tell me more about your model and how you identify the right companies We always sit down with our clients at the beginning of a relationship to understand where their passions and interests lie outside of the court or the field or the slopes. The movie set like thinking about where they want to affect change in the world outside of their core craft.
And so we have sort of our database internally that matches up and sort of outlines all of those passions and interests areas, Then when we go out and source great opportunities, we’re saying, oh, this is a really cool opportunity in climate tech space, let’s build Europe for all of our clients that have said that they’re interested in sustainability.
Specifically carbon sequestration or whatever it is. And now we have sort of a short list of people that we know are going to find this opportunity compelling. And so will we certainly get a bunch of deal flow from the artists and athletes directly, as you can imagine, everyone wants McConaughey on the cap table and everyone wants Ellen DeGeneres on the cap table.
And so they get a lot of deal flow directly that they send to us to bet on their behalf. Most of what we do is in partnership with the best GPS in the world. And so making sure that we’re in close contact with GPS who have sector specific expertise to understand their underlying portfolio companies, and then be able to hone in on a couple of them and think about who the right artist or athlete partner is, is really core to what we do.
So you really are acting more like a leader stage fund that has to really map out certain sectors and do more outbound.
Oh, absolutely. We are very squarely focused on series BCD these days. I think when, plus first started, it was a seed and series, a stage strategy, and we found that if a company doesn’t have product market fit And if they don’t have a team that’s ready and able to handle this celebrity relationship, a lot of things can break, And so that series B C stage is sort of best case both, for us and for our talent, where the company is going to be successful. Anyway. Now let’s just help them do it faster and more efficiently.
So tell me about the evolution from endorsement deals of the past, to the equity investments we’re seeing today.
We’ll put it into a couple buckets, but I think what’s most interesting is how sort of entrepreneurship as a whole, as evolved and become more compelling to high-profile artists and athletes for the longest time, endorsements were highly successful brands like a Nike, right. However the talent and get to own a piece of the upside.
In most instances, and so much like in movies, for example, where they’re earning a residual along the way they thought, you know, we’re going to partner with these brands and create a tremendous amount of enterprise value.
We should be able to capture some of the upside that we’re generating too. And so what does that mean? That’s some sort of equity-based compensation where they’re also owners in the business. opposed to just some one-time transaction. Is that going to be. , like 2010, 2011 There are a select few of high-profile celebrities that were investing in brands like Uber or vitamin water. And there were some really great case studies where people were saying, Hey, like 50 cent made all that money.
He’d be on same, made all that money. And Leo made all that money. Why can’t I do that too. And so it’s starting to spark interest in artists participating in venture capital, much like sort of society as a whole. I think over the last 10 years has been increasingly focused on Silicon valley and founders as the new stage of celebrity.
And then the last piece of the puzzle was. Uh, Drive towards authenticity, which is a lot of these high-profile RS and athletes are not interested once they’ve achieved some sort of level of success in partnering with brands that they don’t personally align with. So someone who’s really passionate about health and wellness might be like, look, Rebel’s brand is cool. I love the content that they do, but I don’t drink red bull. Like I drink macho or whatever it is like the better for you version.
But there wasn’t a great way to do it because a lot of those companies are early stage brands that don’t have the balance sheets that can pay for the five or $10 million endorsement deal that these clients would otherwise be getting paid. And so finding a way for them to participate in early stage business In the beginning, it was really my partner, Adam’s foresight
So staying on the authenticity piece. You know, I think it’s not just alignment, but it’s also that like celebrities have come off a pedestal in a lot of ways. Like Michelle Pfeiffer, to me, wasn’t almost a real person. Like she, you know, don’t you feel like our celebrities today are like more
accessible and isn’t that just changing the nature of these engagements.
Absolutely. There’s so much more accessible with the way that social media exists today, Right. Like it used to be a product placement in a spread, in a magazine or in a commercial or in the TV show. Now it’s, whoever’s in the kitchen making breakfast for their family and they’re using this regenerative farmed food and beverage product that they can talk about and say, I’m addicted to this olive oil, or I cannot get enough.
Candy like it’s in my purse all the time and just makes them feel a little bit more real. And so less scripted mechanism for talking about brands and companies that they like resonates better with consumers and with businesses for that matter. Like, I think a lot of people would have guests that is primarily focused on consumer products and consumer technology companies.
that is at least half of what we do. But the other half of the business is on the business development side with enterprise technology companies, where we found that. Namely athletes, but a lot of other high-profile artisan athletes too, can play a really interesting role they can partner with those companies and help expedite their sales cycle in some capacity.
That’s a really interesting way to leverage celebrity.
Right. I think Adam said this in his episode, like showing up to the meeting with a business executive is a big deal. If you’re playing for the Lakers and showing up the meeting,
A hundred percent or joining the, zoom call with the whole foods buyer to try and get the product in off cycle. Like otherwise those brands are paying slotting fees, right.
In most instances, or they’re waiting for the next reset on the shelves to get there. And so if you have. A big names, actress, join your zoom.
The likelihood that the buyer is going to take that meeting off cycle is pretty high.
Yeah. I’m not at all surprised by that. What about the example that you shared, which is like, here’s just my video of me cooking and I’m addicted to this olive oil. What do people have to disclose nowadays? So traditionally it was always hashtag ad was the thing when it was a paid endorsement on Instagram or Twitter or whatever now, so long as you disclose that you have an interest in the company , we think we’re going to be okay. So what we usually say is, you know, we’re really proud to be invested in this company.
, and I invested in this company because I inherently really love. Product. So you need some level of disclosure, whether it’s written verbal or both you cannot be going around marketing something that you have an interest in, or that you’re going to gauge for whether it’s equity or cash and not disclose that to the consumer.
That’s a pretty clear violation. I’m not sure how much they’re cracking down on that now, but it’s really important to us that we’re very transparent and which is why I think like proud investor is a much cooler way of saying that you’re affiliated with a company than saying it’s a.
and who is doing the regulation It’s like an FTC violation though, Part of the reason why plus exists also is to make sure that we’re able to comply with all of the regulation that exists. And so we’re structured as a broker dealer internally to make sure that we’re pretty buttoned up on that point.
And so similarly, A paid advertisement for any other company. It’s always disclosed that it’s paid now with startups too. You also have to disclose the, you own an interest in the company to make sure that you’re not running a foul of any securities related violations. Because again, it’s almost like insider trading, but private edition, if that makes sense.
Yeah, it does. Do you want to share a good example, celebrity investors. Why don’t we just announced recently, which has been really fun for me. Personally was an investment we made in a company called smart suites, which is better for you. Candy.And I don’t know if you have as bad as a sweet tooth as I do, but I was addicted to Swedish fish as a kid and those sour watermelons, and they make those same candies, but with three grams of sugar only a hundred calories for bag, which makes it a lot less guilty of a treat.
And we just recently invested with Nina Dobrev, who’s a Canadian high-profile actress, but also an entrepreneur too.
So it was really cool to be able to connect her with Tara, the founder of smart Swedes. They like sort of traded notes on entrepreneurship, but Nina. Has been on Vogue doing the what’s in your bag conversation and had smart suits in her bag already, like well, before the investment ever existed. And so it’s been really amazing to partnership, where there was already an inherent love for the brand
That’s great. I totally know the brand. You and I were both at upfront and LL cool. J was up there talking about working with Proctor and gamble to make their brands.
Cool. So broad question. How does someone like LL cool J make a brand cool.
Uh, His conversation at Upbra was so great. I loved that, that, that stage. I mean, I felt like everybody in the audience was compelled to listen. And by the way, part of it is. The mechanism by which he delivers the information, right? Which is he is LL cool J and the same way when Matthew McConaughey speaks about social determinants of health, for one of our portfolio companies, you dyed us, which is otherwise not a particularly sexy topic or conversation.
People are inclined to listen to. His role in life or his career to date has been around storytelling generally behind the screen. Right. And so if you can tell a story for brands in a way that makes It interesting and compelling, even if it’s something like social determinants of health, people think it’s cool, Because Matthew is telling the story. And so some of it is who is the voice. It’s less about let’s reshape the narrative of what this brand is and what it stands for. It’s more about how do we distill this information in a way. Palatable and sort of quick soundbites that then the underlying consumer gets and understands which is part of the superpower of celebrity.
And what we talk a lot about with our portfolio companies, which is we’re not here to change what your mission is. We’re not here to change what your brand positioning is. Let’s just make sure that we’re using the right voice to tell your story in a way that’s going to resonate with your company.
It’s such a good way of saying it. Everyone in the room was listening when LL cool. J was talking. I mean, in some way, Like Hollywood is specifically trained to tell a story, right? Like that is what an actor actress is. It is their core craft. I would argue that they’re fantastic at it.
Is that different? When you’re working with, say an athlete?
Athletes tell a story in a very different way. They’re not trained as storytellers necessarily outside of maybe like through movement. But usually the way that athletes are engaging is a little bit closer to home. Right. Which is everybody probably played some sport growing up and you all aspire to be a professional in some way.
Or that just makes I, played sports, but you know, I was a Kobe Bryant Sonata. It’s terrible at basketball. I’m five foot three. Like I had no business being around there, but anything Coby said about work ethic about teamwork, about perseverance, about resilience that resonated deeply with me.
And so we can take those same concepts that they employ on the court or the field or whatever, and apply them to the everyday person or to the enterprise business. where a celebrity?
Are there other ways that the culture is different from Hollywood to sports, to tech? there are a lot of similar threads that weave through all of those groups. I don’t know that we draw a very different distinction between Hollywood and. I will call it entertainment for the sake of covering movies and music and TV, and then sports. They think like they’re celebrities and in their own platforms, I guess the major difference is scheduling.
Like you are not talking to an athlete during the season, or you shouldn’t be like or at least not during playoffs. Right. And similarly in Hollywood, when somebody is filming the next Marvel movie, like you’re not working on brand partnership during that window, like when they’re on set they’re on set.
And so being cognitive. More craft is, and then making sure that whatever partnerships we execute are additive to what they’re doing anyway, as opposed to just another to-do list, which again, circles back to why it’s important that they invest in and partner with companies that they actually care about as opposed to the one that’s willing to pay the highest endorsement deal, because then they’ll want to engage on it even after a long day.
But I don’t, know that it’s that different, honestly, between Hollywood and sports and the tech university. As you can imagine. There’s a lot of really, really impressive people that are very high-performing in different sub sectors. And I think they all have a lot to learn from one another, which is cool.
A hundred percent. I think I’ve just tended to find the entertainment and celebrity world less accessible.
my, sense is that as social media continues to persist and as more and more platforms come to life, this celebrity is going to be more and more accessible over time. But at the end of the day, like they’re just one person too. It’s just another person.. Like, imagine if you were that accessible to everybody in the world, I can give you overwhelming.
Yeah. I was talking with Carter beam and he was saying that just for a trip to the farmer’s market, he asked Paris if she can wear a hat and a mask, because otherwise just so overwhelming. Does celebrity have any appeal for you?
Being a celebrity. Oh no. Oh my gosh. It seems very overwhelming. I think that you probably like this too, I’m a little bit tight day and like making sure that I clean out my inbox and respond to all the text messages and, you know, get back to everybody that you talked to in a given day, Venus celebrity means that more and more people are reaching out to you at any given moment.
Feeling like I needed to respond to everybody and not being able to do it with all the hours in the day seems like a lot to handle, but I’m very impressed with everybody that can manage it.
like of the premise of plus capital to some degree is that celebrities have the ability to have such massive impact. Right.
Oh, absolutely. people that have a platform whereby they can affect more change in a day than many can in a lifetime is such an incredible gift. maybe gift is the wrong word too, because in most instances, these people really earned it, right? Like they put in a lot of hard work over time to be able to get to where they are today to have an audience and influence over that audience that matters.
And I think that is. Such an incredible asset.
And can you share some of your lessons learned for how to best take advantage of that asset?
And I guess like leverage your followers.
Yeah. I think for the longest time everyone was like, oh, we need social posts and we need. Instagram stories and we need five tweets and we need a real, we need all these other things. And we found that, you know, for some brands like social converts and is good, but that’s not the only platform. And so it’s less about this thing.
Doesn’t work. Let’s refocus here. It’s more about what is the mix of activities? Called them deliverables that are going to move the needle for the company. And in what way, and so press is obviously a big one getting sort of brand awareness and impressions events are a really cool one. Gifting is great.
Social is good. Social changes a lot as the algorithms do. But we find that, you know, celebrity content isn’t really effective way to deal with the increasing ad spend that you’d otherwise have to employ. Some of the business development initiatives I talked about earlier, it’s like being the keynote speaker on an event is actually really impactful.
And so just reframing sort of the mix of deliverables as opposed to honing in on only one channel has been really impactful.
Okay. So I’m a software investor and I barely know gifting. Can you just explain how that works? traditionally, a lot of consumer products companies will hire PR firms or agencies in particular to gift their products. It’s really like to see their product to other influencers, with the hope that you you’d get this free box of instant lattes.
And when it arrives now, I, Amanda, as an influencer am taking a video of me making a latte, I’m pushing it out and you get this amplification really quickly. Those agencies can be really expensive to work. Oftentimes they’re sending the product to another publicist or to an assistant or something, and it doesn’t ever end up getting to the.
Target directly, right? Whoever that celebrity is or that influencer is. And so what we do is say, Hey, we’re not paying for this. Let us help you curate a list of artists and athletes that are friends of the investor or friends of plus are members of the plus collective that we can send this to that we know we’re going to like the product.
We’re going to write a handwritten note. We’re going to mail it to them directly, not to their publicist, not to their assistant. Then when they get it, it’s like a gift and they’re more inclined to either talk about it or post about it or whatever. And so if you just have a more targeted list of people to see your product, to, with the hopes that it builds amplification for the brand, that’s a really valuable asset as opposed to paying for it and making sure that when you’re donating products by virtue of this gift, that it’s not just ending up in some assistance hands.
See it beat a celebrity does sound kind of cool. Just getting everyone’s addicted, new things.
free stuff would be fun for sure.
Okay. So back to advice for entrepreneurs, do you have advice you’d give to entrepreneurs looking to work with celebrities.
I would just say that making sure incentives are aligned is the most important thing. Like I’ve found that with a lot of entrepreneurs that want to work with high profile talent early on, they’re inclined to just give them equity in some instances. because they’re excited to have them involved, but if.
you’re not upfront about what you need from the partnership, you’re likely not going to get it. And so upfront being able to say, I need help on these four things every year. I want you to engage in these five activities with me. Okay. The equity is going to vest according to you doing so as sort of some downside protection for the entrepreneur in the event that if it doesn’t work out, they could cancel the partnership.
And when you talk about sort of the best thing, do you often structure things, are they often warrants? And can you just talk about like smart structures and what you’ve learned there?
Yeah. Almost always our clients Are investing directly into the company and so they have some skin in the game just like everybody. But then to the extent that they’re getting more actively involved we might structure either an option grant or some warrant coverage.
And so the idea is if you can back into its size of an equity grid, it sort of lines up with what the talent would otherwise be getting paid elsewhere in cash may discount that because there’s far more upside associated with the equity, right? Albeit it’s still riskier for the talent. And then again, maybe it’s a two or four-year term where the RSUs or the options or the profit interests are vesting.
According to this, these specific things being done. It’s a really thoughtful way to align incentives. I may have asked you this before. Are you seeing NFTs? Are you seeing them in the wild or social tokens? I guess like, is that coming up
Yeah. The social token thing is, coming up more frequently now, which is like, what is the modern version of a fan club?
And if I. As some big name musician and minting my own token. And now if you buy my token, you’re the first to here. My single you’re the first to pre-order the tickets to the tour. You get sort of all this other stuff that your other fans wouldn’t get upfront. That’s kind of a cool way to do a fan club.
Um, And so we’re experimenting with that both on behalf of brands and on behalf of talent. Do you have any thoughts on like, , the use cases are that make it different than just a fan club where you sign up and how actually web three is, changing.
I think the idea is, well, at least for some of our clients, like scarcity is important, right? It’s like they don’t have. Time to interact with all of their fans one-on-one or even like 10 on one. And so if you can sell a limited number of these like ultra VIP tokens, then you know, there’s a finite group of people that are going to engage with you in some ways.
And you want to hear from them, like you want to get their feedback because , they’re your best case customer
Yeah. How about cancel culture? Does that come up a lot? Is that something that worries the, either the companies or the celebrities? It seems like it’s everywhere right now.
Totally. It is horrifying. And for good reason, in a lot of instances, you know but I think. The way that we’ve thought about it as plus is sort of no one safe including ourselves. like. Would be afraid if the livelihood of plus was dependent on one individual and their social currency or relevancy because you’re right.
It can change in a heartbeat. And from the company’s perspective, what we’re finding now is, well, there’s usually one person at the top of their wishlist that they’d like to partner with. We’re generally. Constructing sort of strategic groups of people to invest in, in partner with brands that all have different audiences and sort of sub segments of their audiences with respect to the demographics and psychographics.
And so it’s not like the celebrity is the face of the brand. They’re supporting the brand, which it should be its own.
, it just seems like there’s obviously good reason at times, but it seems like there’s a lot of instances where it’s sort of a. Just more capricious.
Totally. I mean, we’re starting to see. You wanna come back into favor that were out of favor a couple of years ago, which is interesting. And maybe it’s just because more people have been canceled. And so people have short-term memories and they’re coming back and feeling forgotten. I don’t know. I would say that our clients have some of the best PR teams I’ve ever worked with.
And that’s really helpful along the way. I hope that cancel culture doesn’t persist in the way that it’s happening. It’s like everyone’s made mistakes over their life in some more aggressive and egregious than others. But an apology matters and making up for what you did matters and , you shouldn’t be cut from doing what you’re great at to the extent that it’s helping the world in some capacity,
Yeah, that was really nicely said was going to ask something related. Do you think there’s things that non-celebrities, maybe high-profile founders could learn from celebrities around like weathering the ups and downs when it’s all super amplified in the lives of celebrities.
Man. I wish I had a great answer to that. It was such a good question. I’m for a couple of our clients that have had. Some sort of public disparagement and how they handled it. A lot of them keep their heads down and just keep doing what they’re doing well. Right. Like particularly athletes.
Bad press comes out and they’re like, all right, this is my test of mental toughness to really hone in and focus on the thing that I can control. I can not control the press to an extent I can not control this public narrative. What it can control is my body, my work ethic, you know, my determination to be successful.
And in some instances, like putting your head down and focusing on that is, really good. Ultimately very challenging. And I think that, , on the founders side of the table, they have a responsibility to make a statement in a lot of instances.
But ultimately if you can rally your team around you around this common goal of whatever the company is achieving, like that’s better energy well spent than trying to like go head to head on CNBC about whatever you did that was wrong.
It’s really good. It’s I can channel like the athlete mentality there, which is like, get your head down and like your body in order. What other advice you have from your career? You’ve been at plus now for over six years, right?
Yeah. Yeah. It’s been such a fun journey. And I think I mentioned this to you before, but I kind of fell into this. I was at JP Morgan before and a colleague of mine at the time introduced me to Adam. And he was like, you know, he’s really onto something you should just like, have a conversation with him to the extent you want to continue investing.
I met with Adam the next day, put in my two weeks notice, I think the day after that I’ve been with plus ever since. And so sometimes. And people that know me well know that I. I’m a planner to a fault, in some instances, like very psycho about planning. And sometimes you have to be okay with just flying by the seat of your pants and allowing the world to happen to you in some ways, and being open to receiving whatever is going to come your way, because it’s not, you can’t plan out every day, every hour and know what’s going to happen to you.
And I think being open to opportunities, it presents itself is a skill for sure, particularly for somebody. This type a, but can be so fruitful if you’re open to it.
How does that manifest itself for you Giving myself some buffer time is increasingly important. I used to be like every 15 or 30 minutes scheduled throughout the entire day. And I’m realizing that that’s entirely unrealistic, particularly when you’re working with founders that are on a deadline or with talent, that’s on a deadline.
Like you just don’t have that luxury to control your own calendar that way. But I also think. Making sure that you surround yourself with a team that’s highly competent, highly determined, and as scrappy and as hungry as you are.
Um, Okay. Stay on that for a second. So you played soccer at Berkeley. Uh, What position?
Interesting. I would’ve guessed you as a straight.
That is really kind of you, I’m a very small human I, five, three was shorter than most and uh, I was pretty fast. And so they had me run on the outsides a lot, which was.
Hmm. What’s your mental game? Like what was your, you know, pregame post game? Like what are you telling me?
Well, it’s different in high school than it wasn’t college. Cause I actually walked onto the soccer team at Cal and they had never had a walk on before. And so I think at the beginning we really didn’t know what to do with me. Certainly weren’t giving me. Playing time. And so my pregame pep talk to myself.
It’s like, don’t lose your mind that you’re not in the game and like be supportive. And for good reason, like the, my teammates were so incredible. That evolved though, as I started to get some more playing time. And it’s just remembering that, you know, there’s many games in a season and you’re not going to make it or break it in any one instance, but giving it as much as you can on game days important.
And. Preparation ultimately is what was the common thread throughout my athletic career. And now my professional career, which is. The game day is like the ultimate performance. Right. But what really matters is all the preparation before that. And whether that’s mental toughness sort of training or physical training, or both like you have to be ready to go, you can’t just show up on game day and expect to win.
And that’s how we approach a lot of our work at plus two,
I mean, I often say that I think I have the coolest job, but I actually think you have the coolest job.
Thank you. I, I love this role so much. I love plus so much. I’m so grateful that we get to do what we do every day. And as I mentioned, like working with people that have this kind of platform and this ability to affect change is such a cool place to sit.
That’s amazing. Well, thanks for coming on the podcast.
Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I so appreciate.