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Hollywood's Favorite Startups

Six businesses attracting attention--and investments--from agents, producers, and stars of the silver screen.

1. Instagram

What’s not to love about a photo-sharing app that in 18 months went from launch to acquisition by Facebook for $715 million? And that involved barely any overhead or expenses, at least in the way that Hollywood thinks of expenses (which is in tens of millions of dollars, if not more). To Hollywood, this is the equivalent of money growing on trees. As Brent Weinstein, head of digital media at the United Talent Agency puts it: “I think everyone wakes up and goes, ‘Oh my God. Why am I struggling to produce movies when I could just create Instagram?” Though he wisely adds: “But they don’t realize a, how rare that is. And b, how hard that is.”

2. Uber

Hollywood of course was going to be a sucker for Uber, the app that allows you to summon not just a car, but a luxury sedan, with the tap of your finger. As William Morris Endeavor co-CEO Ari Emanuel tells Fast Company, “Uber is an incredible product,” adding that his kids use it as much as he does. The rapidly expanding company--which WME is an investor in--has blown past its rumored $300 million valuation and appears headed for an IPO or a multibillion-dollar sale. It has other appeals, too. WME is hoping to develop a reality series based on Uber that Emanuel compares to Taxicab Confessions. He’s also discussed an Uber movie.


Rovio CEO Mikael Hed and his cousin Niklas Hed play with some of their merchandise menagerie at company
headquarters in Espoo. | Photographs by Markus Henttonen

3. Angry Birds

Like Instagram, Angry Birds has the kind of numbers that makes Hollywood drool. The mobile game that involves sling-shotting scowling birds into the air has been downloaded more than 648 million times as of the end of 2011 and has over 200 million monthly users. Rovio Entertainment, the Finnish company behind the phenomenon, is valued at $9 billion and is expected to go public this year. But even better, Angry Birds is a sprawling franchise that generates revenue through plush toys, T-shirts, and even Angry Birds soft drinks. To Hollywood, this is the mobile equivalent of Harry Potter or Twilight. Naturally, there is a film deal at 20th Century Fox to adapt a movie.

4. Chill

The social video-sharing site that raised $8 million in funding last year in a round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and WME, has two key properties that appeal to Hollywood. One, unlike competitors like Socialcam and Klip, Chill, which has over 18 million users, is about premium, not user-generated, content. And two, since rolling out Chill Direct last fall, a service that allows creators to sell their content, it is not just about giving away stuff for free. As Emanuel says, Chill allows WME to offer a “Glenn Beck model for our clients.”

5. Funny Or Die

This is Hollywood’s biggest breakout hit in the startup world. Incubated at CAA, Will Ferrell’s online comedy venture has become the most popular humor destination online and has TV shows on HBO, Fuse, and Comedy Central. The result is a profitable, revenue-generating company that sold a 10% stake last April to Time Warner's Turner division for a reported $20 million, which values FoD at $200 million. Matt Mazzeo, a former digital agent at CAA who now runs Chris Sacca’s digital entertainment fund, calls FoD “a great case study of what’s possible” when talent agencies get involved with startups.


Jessica Alba and her youngest daughter, Haven.

6. The Honest Company

Jessica Alba’s e-commerce company that supplies eco-conscious moms with toxic-free baby wipes and hipster diapers has managed to win over Silicon Valley cynics, who typically view celebrity startups with more than a little disdain. The company has raised over $27 million from investors, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, and is being savvily overseen by entrepreneur Brian Lee. Online shopping moms have taken to the company’s subscription “bundle” model that allows users to receive a monthly package of goods, in addition to being able to buy items individually. And Alba’s social media prowess has helped drive sales, as has the fact that she is actively involved in the company as opposed to just being a pretty face.

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