Andy Samberg, Saturday Night Live's prince of Digital Shorts, is getting into the tech startup scene. Samberg is listed as a co-founder of CanaryHop.com, a newly-launched travel and activity recommendation site. Samberg is just the latest celebrity to lend his name and fame to a startup, following in the footsteps of Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kanye West, and others.
If only because of Kutcher's self-styled "tech guru" pose in the past couple of years, we tend to have an aversion to the trend of celebrities investing in startups, but some of these projects have us optimistic. After all, a startup should hardly be identified only by its investors or founders who, especially in the case of Kutcher, DiCaprio, and Lady Gaga, also serve as de facto spokespersons. And while we remain skeptical about the real reasons the celebrity startup bubble has been inflating extra fast lately, we hate to admit that some of the company's they're supporting are actually pretty cool. Lest you be blinded by Kutcher's mysterious eyes, sidelined by DiCaprio's smile or simply distracted by the thing that is Lady Gaga, we've made a ranked list of a few celebrity-funded startups worth watching and, dare we say, trying out:
Andy Samberg's presence on CanaryHop's website is classic celebrity-sponsored startup stuff. He stars in the service's first commercial, a black-and-white spy movie spoof in which he wakes up next to a beautiful French women, speaking French without realizing he could and discovers he's suddenly, inexplicably worldly. As the site's About section explains, "We connect people who are looking for a tour of a city, want to learn a new talent, or are interested in discovering new activities with incredible tour guides and activity providers." Does that mean CanaryHop can put us on a boat? Maybe!
Ugh. It pains us to admit it, but the company that tops our hate-to-love list is funded by none other than @aplusk himself. Kutcher put a million dollars into this simple, slick-looking travel site in October 2010, and the company's been adding convenient features at a steady rate since. Like Kayak and Priceline before it, Hipmunk offers an easy way to find and book flights and hotels. Unlike its competitors, it can't confuse you, since its design is so clean and easy-to-use that making reservations is actually kind of fun. We just booked a plane ticket for Mother's Day Weekend (don't tell Mom, it's a surprise) and can't wait to use it again. Equally pretty mobile apps and Google integration sweeten the deal. Once you arrive at your destination, the previously blogged about CanaryHop offers an adorable interface for booking activities, so many activities.
This is Lady Gaga and Kanye's jam. Last year, the pop goddess and the rapper/producer each invested $7.5 million in this social music experience. (It doesn't quite work to call it an app or a website or anything like that -- it's an experience. Try it for yourself, if you don't believe us.) Basically, you enter a themed room, where a stage of Lego-like avatars are DJing a virtual music party, and your cartoon avatar is hanging out in the crowd. There's a little chat window where you can talk to the other people in the room, and if you're brave, you can get in line to man the cartoon ones and twos. Right now, we're hanging out in the "Coding Soundtrack" room and listening to what can only be described as a mix of Skrillex-infused video game music and Mahler-Marvel mashups.
Now we're really starting to get red in the face. Zoe Deschanel, the star of Fox's New Girl and indie crush object didn't just fund this "ultimate entertainment destination" website; she co-founded it with producer Sophia Rossi and writer Molly McAleer. And we really really hate to admit it, but the site is adorable. It's somehow set up as part magazine part trinket shop and part Tumblr clone.
Here's a funny pair of new school investors: Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio and Tour De France title hogger Lance Armstrong. (It's way too easy to make jokes about this pair.) The two got involved with the Israeli photo-sharing startup Mobli last fall, albeit in different ways. Leo threw an undisclosed amount of cash into a $4 million round, while Lance chose to go the promotional route and offer the site some photos of him riding his bike. The basic idea behind Mobli is simple. It uses geo-location for sharing photos and videos from at events. The founder likes to use the example of sitting in crappy seats at a basketball game and wishing he had access to everybody else's cellphone cameras as part of the inspiration behind the : What on Earth do you know about startups. For now, the site is really busy, and Lance Armstrong's picture is everywhere. But we're sure they'll perfect the product. In the meantime, it's easy to get lost staring into other people's lives and being reminded of how mundane yours is. A similar startup called Lockerz is also worth checking out, but we couldn't bear the thought of devoting another section to a company that Ashton Kutcher invested in.