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Celebs put the ‘star’ in startups with cash, glamour equity, and more

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Sohini Mitter

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Sohini Mitter

29 reads

India’s top stars from the world of Bollywood and cricket have backed 100-odd startups since the funding highs of 2020-21. With traditional VC funding dwindling, stars are getting more integrated into these companies as investors, co-owners, brand ambassadors, and more.

February 28, 2024

7 MINS READ

Key Takeaways

  • Celebrity-startup deals are seeing a strategic shift, with stars now getting more integrated in multiple capacities that go beyond just ad campaigns
  • Earlier, it took startups almost 6-7 years to move up to onboarding an A-lister. Now, top stars are getting involved in the brand and product journey from Day Zero
  • Fledgling young brands that are unable to afford top-tier celebs are often paying them in equity, giving rise to interesting new barter deals
  • Several actors and cricketers have also floated their own venture funds to gain more control over the financial transactions and have a bigger role in the brand narratives

On February 12, when Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh and adult entertainment star Johnny Sins appeared in a commercial for a men’s sexual wellness brand, they took the internet—and the advertising world—by storm. The shock-and-awe aside, Bold Care, the young D2C startup behind the product they were endorsing, was instantly catapulted into the limelight. Online searches for the brand went through the roof, with ‘Bold Care’ seeing hockey-stick growth on Google Trends. Almost a fortnight later, the buzz still hasn’t died down. 

More importantly, it also brought attention to the fact that Singh is not only the face of Bold Care but also an investor and co-owner. Co-founder Rajat Jadhav went on to call it “an iconic partnership”, confirming that the actor had been “deeply engaged in every facet of the business” for over a year. While celebrities associating themselves with startups is no longer new—with nearly 90-100 deals done by India’s top 20-25 stars since the pandemic—the extent of their involvement only seems to be growing. 

“It was inevitable that an ad like that would go viral, but there’s a lot more to it now,” says celebrity brand consultant Harish Bijoor. “Now that we live in the era of startups, it is a way for stars to insulate their future and build a retirement corpus. They want more skin in the game than just 30-second TVCs,” he tells The CapTable. “A brand ambassador would have 25% liability, but a co-owner has 100% liability and remains a continuous asset for the brand,” he says.

THE UPSHOT

With more skin in the game, comes higher risk as well. What if something goes wrong with the product/brand? Who takes the brickbats? Who’s accountable? As a result, the due diligence done by stars is growing stronger, sharper, and more multi-pronged.

“It’s also because consumer protection laws are becoming sharper now. If a brand gets sullied, the reputation of the star is also at stake. So, they’re getting specialists to do product due diligence, brand due diligence, and legal due diligence,” says a person whose firm has conducted umpteen such checks for India's top celebs. “The reputed stars will sign on all documents only after these checks are done,” he adds.

Singh’s association with Bold Care aside, several Bollywood actresses—Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Katrina Kaif, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Malaika Arora, etc.—have signed up with startups in dual capacities of investor-co-owner and/or investor-brand ambassador. Kaif, who was one of the first A-listers to back a startup early in 2019, formed a joint venture with Nykaa to launch her own brand Kay Beauty. Nykaa-KK Beauty—in which Kaif holds a 41.5% stake—is now a direct subsidiary of Nykaa. 

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