With a recent investment in Reddit, rapper and consummate weed smoker Snoop Dogg has attained the status of "venture capitalist," and he's just getting started. "I would be surprised if we don't do 20 in the next 12 months," says Nick Adler, who handles Snoop's investments over at the branding and marketing agency Cashmere. (That rather large figure includes smaller investments as well as non-monetary contributions, such as a few hours of Snoop's time.)
At this point, Snoop has invested in "about 15" companies, says Adler. Only a handful of those business pursuits are public. In addition to Reddit, Snoop has put money into Ustream, Secret, Robinhood, and Philz Coffee.
With his new sideline, Snoop is following other celebrities-turned-tech benefactors, like Ashton Kutcher, who seek to use their investor status as part of their overall brand. Snoop's financial endeavors elicit particular attention because of the cognitive dissonance. It's weird seeing the entertainer best known for recreational drug use donning a Ralph Lauren sweater vest and Warby Parker glasses in a picture with Google CEO Larry Page (see below). Snoop is the embodiment of a certain kind of gangster-rap, drug-hazed cool, and tech is for nerds.
Of course, that's the image he cultivates. In reality, Snoop is a successful businessman who sees opportunities in one of the fastest-growing sectors. Still, Fast Company wondered what it's like to invest when you're Snoop Dogg. We spoke with Adler and the Cashmere agency to get a peek inside the process.
(The conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Fast Company: When did Snoop first get interested in investing in startups?
Nick Adler: He started investing early on. We didn't have a dedicated strategy, there was just a couple things that came across our desk. That is probably five or six years ago. I think very early on he was on Ustream. It was really fun because they embraced him really early. We went up to their offices in Palo Alto and they had a Snoop Dogg conference room set up. He spoke to the company as well as their developers via Skype. He did this morale boost for the company. That wasn't something that necessarily helped them grow their user base, but was awesome internally for the company.
Really, really seriously, (he started) about a year ago. It wasn't something where we sat down one day and said we need to have a dedicated strategy. We had to prove ourselves in the industry. We had to develop the relationships. We had to show these companies that we were serious. You can be a big celebrity, but it doesn't mean all these companies are going to say here, be part of it.
How did you make the case for Snoop the Investor?
We started to visit the Bay a lot more consistently. We started to meet with people. It's funny. There's that big picture of Snoop and Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker on the Internet. That came from an event we attended at the launch of Spotify. We showed interest in meeting with people. We traveled to San Francisco to visit Square, we met with Jack Dorsey. We did a round table with SV Angel recently, where they brought in about eight of their portfolio companies. That was an awesome experience.
Have you had any problems getting in on an investing round that you want?
Absolutely, there's a lot of them. I wish they all just fell in our lap. I am surprised sometimes, I feel like we're going to get it no problem. A lot of times we don't get the investment. The funny thing is, and I'm sure you see this a lot, in this industry at this very moment, getting money for a company that has a little bit of hype behind it isn't that difficult. They fill up those rounds very quickly. We are fortunate because we can help via promotion.
What does having Snoop on board bring to the table, exactly?
The benefit of working with Snoop is we have a super solid team. There's 30 people behind him from people who are doing the social media, to the people who are the value end of the deal. You're getting the Snoop machine. He has this global personality. His reach is incredible. He's got 60 million social followers; his network is insane. I know for a fact, when you attach his name to your pitch decks or to your investment decks it opens up new opportunities.
How do you decide what is an appropriate investment?
One thing is, and I know it sounds pretty cliche, at the end of the day is the relationships. If we've met them over a long period of time, we want to generally like them. We want to meet people who understand us—the Snoop brand, and who he is, and who we are at Cashmere. That's our number one thing, but we can't always go by that.
The other thing is strategically, something that is relevant, that would be organic to Snoop and would be organic to Cashmere. Would it make sense for us to promote it on our social media, for us to use it on a product? Ultimately, sometimes there is the excitement to have someone like Snoop involved. If they can show us a reason why, then we'll invest.
How do you find companies worth investing in?
We've developed a lot of relationships with VC funds, hedge funds, and angels in the industry. A lot of the time they will reach out to us.
Does he ever come to you with businesses he wants to invest in?
Absolutely. He has ideas of things he wants to develop, he'll have ideas of things he will want to pursue. I'm just out there doing things. I'm looking at things online, I'm looking on Y Combinator demo days. He’ll come to us and we'll go to him.
What is Snoop like when he makes a decision?
He's very methodical. He's quiet. He takes it all in. I think there's an expectation that he's going to be a certain way. Once he has taken it all in and evaluated, he really opens up. When he starts to really open up and talk, he just owns the room. They just love it. A lot of the stuff he gives is funny, it's very informative. He comes from an honest place, it's very smart, a little hip-hop. He always dabbles in quotes of music, or elements of Snoop that you see in the media.
What does Snoop get out of investing, besides equity?
The real strategy is business. There is an element of innovation. We're going to associate our name with things that are changing the game. You saw the devaluation of music, an industry that got ravaged by tech. How can we be a part of the next frontier? A by-product of all that does make Snoop Dogg and Cashmere look as though they're tech savvy and innovative; it's a great by-product.
If you look at his career, the fish out of water thing has always been really great for him because he continues to exceed expectations. People always have one image of him because they’ve known him for so many years. He’s just so calm in doing things you wouldn't expect, whether investing in tech opportunities, or appearing with Martha Stewart on a cooking show. That is part of his charm.