Creative Artists Agency Gets into Celebrity Tech Start-Ups
When Matt Kozlov walks through the halls of the super-powerful Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency each morning, he works alongside agents and managers for George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. His job? Helping to create celebrity-based apps for the Apple and Android mobile platforms.
Kozlov is CEO of Moonshark, a new start-up set to release its first titles in the summer. His firm is being incubated at CAA, best-known for its muscle in getting huge paydays for its A-list talent roster in movies, TV shows, music and sports.
CAA has also recently ventured into Internet start-ups, founding companies it hopes will one day see the type of paydays exhibited recently by photo-sharing appmaker Instagram, which was bought by Facebook for $1 billion.
"We're really active in developing companies we think will make a difference, and that we can take to the next level with CAA," says Michael Yanover, CAA's head of business development.
Yanover, who previously worked in new media at software firm Macromedia before it was acquired by Adobe, acts as an in-house broker, putting folks together from both CAA's client list and contacts he's picked up through the years.
CAA's biggest hit is Funny or Die, a top comedy website owned by Sequoia Capital, CAA, actor Will Ferrell (Elf) and his production partners.
The idea started with Sequoia, which wanted to do a sequel to YouTube, which it helped finance, with professional content. Yanover put the Silicon Valley investors together with Ferrell.
Getting WhoSay going
Other CAA Internet properties started with Yanover. He began WhoSay as a way to offer clients more control over how their images were being used online. He reached out to Steve Ellis, who founded and sold the Pump Audio website, and together they got WhoSay running. Some $7 million in financing has been raised, including from Amazon and High Peaks Venture Partners.
With WhoSay, actors upload their pictures and video clips to the site for use on Twitter, Facebook and other online outlets, so that they own the images directly.
"I could have come up with this idea, but I wouldn't have been able to pull it off without CAA," Ellis says. "That they open a lot of doors goes without saying."
WhoSay works with more than 1,000 celebrities who are posting 10,000 photos and 5,000 videos monthly, Ellis says.
For Moonshark, Yanover was in discussions with wireless giant Qualcomm about forming a company that made apps for phones and tablets. He reached out to Kozlov, a friend of a friend who had worked at Sony Music on apps, and tapped him to be CEO.
"This is certainly not your typical start-up environment," Kozlov says. "We have lovely marble and wooden desks and one of the nicest office spaces I've ever been in. And we have incredible access to celebrities."
On any given day, he interacts with "some of the most legendary people in the world, and that's something no other start-up has access to," he adds.
Kozlov and two associates work out of an office next door to Yanover's, with a glorious picture window view of the Hollywood Hills, developing games and apps that will feature CAA talent. Kozlov wouldn't reveal names yet, as the deals are still being worked out.
Eventually, like WhoSay, which started off in CAA's offices as well, they will move out to bigger digs.
"We have big plans and look to a major expansion," Kozlov says.
CAA's other properties:
Empowered.com. The site that helps Boomers get second careers through education was started by Yanover and former Paramount Pictures president Sherry Lansing. They tapped former California gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner to be CEO. The company has raised $15 million from Granite Ventures and InterWest Partners.
Weplay. It's targeted to parents as a place to schedule all their kids' sports games. The site was co-founded by CAA and Major League Baseball.
The next new thing
Yanover, a frequent presence at industry conferences, says he's always on the lookout for another new idea that can pay off for CAA.
He's happy to see the companies grow with CAA's help, but looks to have "an exit" down the road, whether "that be a sale, an IPO or something that lives forever and generates cash."
CAA won't reveal the percentage of its ownership in companies.
Daniel Miller, who covers the talent agencies for the Hollywood Reporter, says CAA is unique among its competitors.
CAA's involvement with start-ups helps the agency keep its clients happy. A TV or movie actor could call up, and say he or she wanted to be more active online, for instance, Miller says. "Another agency might say, 'OK, we'll look around for you,' but at CAA, they just pick up a phone to one of its companies and it's taken care of. That's a strength other agencies don't have."