Yao Ming Joins Dynasty of Celebrity VCs
Yao Ming, the 31-year-old, 7-foot 6-inch former NBA star forced into early retirement from injuries, is now trying to make a splash as a venture capitalist in various projects in his home country.
But Yao’s second act as an investor and philanthropist in China is proving less lucrative than the time he spent crashing the boards in the NBA, according to Fortune. The magazine writes that Yao has invested $6 million in Top100.cn, an ad-supported digital music partnership that has seen decreases in traffic due to competition from piracy sources and censorship concerns.
According to Fortune, Yao's other investments have included the Chinese Basketball Association's Shanghai Sharks and Yao Family Wines, a winery in California’s Napa Valley.
Yao is only the latest celebrity to use his notoriety and influence as a means of appealing to and boosting startups. Social media in particular have provided celebrities like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga a built-in audience, allowing them to easily create an initial impact for their investments.
What Bieber lacks in age and investment experience, he more than makes up with a massive fanbase and connected social media presence (see his 24 million Twitter followers). According to his manager, Bieber has invested in a dozen private tech startups, though Forbes was only able to pinpoint four, including the music network Spotify.
Lady Gaga and her 26 million Twitter followers drew Google chairman Eric Schmidt to make a $1 million investment in the community platform The Backplane. The partnership yielded “Little Monsters,” a social networking site for GaGa fans that serves as a springboard for people to take interest in the capabilities and ambitions of Backplane.
Yao may want to take a note from another former NBA star, Magic Johnson, whose post-basketball career has been filled with years of sustained, successful investments. According to the Los Angeles Times, Johnson has made a fortune acting as a liason between investors and residents of urban neighborhoods, building everything from movie theaters bearing his name to extending the reach of food service giants, like Starbucks and Burger King.
But as Yao may be discovering, a celebrity investor is no guarantee for the success of an investment. U2 frontman Bono made several poor investment choices, and was even dubbed one of the "worst investors in America," before turning it around with huge hits with Facebook and Yelp.