The Atlantic‘s Nicholas Jackson wrote a curious post about Ashton Kutcher yesterday in which Mr. Jackson alleges that Mr. Kutcher’s “smart decisions in the start-up space make most venture capitalists look like amateurs.” Despite that, Mr. Jackson points out:
“But he doesn’t get a lot of coverage. At least not as much, in the tech press that is, as Peter Thiel or Ron Conway or Paul Graham. And that’s probably because he still describes himself as an actor.”
Guess all that stage time about his approach to investment at TechCrunch Disrupt wasn’t enough. If you ask Mr. Jackson, “Kutcher has invested in so many–and had so much success with– startup companies, that he might be called a venture capitalist first and an actor second.”
Let’s look a little closer at this premise, shall we?
Actually, Mr. Jackson did some of Betabeat’s work for us. He starts by pointing out that Mr. Kutcher had a number of failed investments before Marc Andreeseen, arguably one of venture capital’s top one percent, convinced him to bet on Skype. These days, through A-Grade Investments, Mr. Kutcher works alongside billionaire Ron Burkle. This is just hypothetical, but we have a feeling that if Topher Grace had the founder of PayPal and a billionaire advising him where to put his Hollywood millions, he might have an impressive portfolio too.
At TechCrunch Disrupt, Sarah Lacy asked Mr. Kutcher to explain his newfound confidence in investing after a rocky start. His answer? Surrounding himself with smart people.
“I would go through different people’s investment portfolios and I would say, ‘I like this one’ and ‘I’m interested in that one’ and ‘This makes sense to me’ or ‘I don’t get this, but I understand this. I think I can be helpful to this company through an introduction to these people.’ There are certain people in the media world that can be really, really influential to a company. And I can kind of get a return phone call from most people that I place a call to. That level of introduction for people when they’re first starting out a company can become extremely valuable.”
Among the fifteen start-ups Mr. Kutcher is known to have invested in (there are at least a dozen undisclosed deals), there are a number of high-profile, potential success stories, like AirBnB, Foursquare, and Flipboard. But even the most promising of those 15 are still unproven and not without challenges and competitors, especially in a rapidly changing tech climate. Other start-ups, like Fab, have pivoted in a different direction after their first idea didn’t pan out.
As our own Ben Popper wrote in the comments, perhaps “it would be more interesting to write about [Mr. Kutcher] as a new breed of strategic angel who can add his social media capital to a young start-up’s arsenal.” Mr. Kutcher should feel justified listing Angel Investor above Two-and-a-Half Men on his new business cards, but that doesn’t mean he’s up there with Peter Thiel and Paul Graham.