Editor’s Note: Christine Magee is an editor for CrunchBase.
Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony is making a bid for a legacy off the court.
The power forward-turned-venture capitalist launched Melo7 Tech Partners earlier this year with partner Stuart Goldfarb and has since disclosed 10 deals ranging from a seed for smart kitchenware startup The Orange Chef to Lyft’s latest $250 million cash bonanza.
A seven-time NBA All Star and two-time Olympic medalist, Carmelo is used to mixing it up with the best of the best — and the VC arena is no exception. Up and running for less than a year, Melo7 Tech already counts major players like Accel, a16z and Google Ventures on its list of most frequent co-investors.
“I have a 50-50 partner who happens to be Carmelo Anthony,” says Goldfarb of his high-profile partner. “It’s half his money and half my money, we’re both at risk, and help is never, ever in terms a commercial endorsement from Carmelo Anthony.”
That being said, both Goldfarb and Anthony are fully intending to leverage Melo’s superstar status to their advantage.
“Carmelo’s celebrity has with it a bank of contacts, a great Rolodex, and an ability to get people to the table for any company looking to do certain kinds of business,” says Goldfarb. “If we’re able to use his celebrity in effective ways for companies we invest in, we’re more than happy to.”
But the hotshot name doesn’t necessarily convey legitimacy in the tech scene.
Jeremy Johnson, founder of ed-tech startup Andela, was initially skeptical when Goldfarb approached him, having heard horror stories from friends who had brought on celebrity investors and come to regret it.
“I said to Stuart, ‘I’m happy to chat with you, but if I’m going to take this seriously I’m going to need to meet with Carmelo,'” Johnson says. “[Goldfarb] said, ‘of course, he wouldn’t invest if he didn’t meet you either.'”
“They stopped by our office, and to say the least he was really engaged — Carmelo showed up on time and he led the conversation. Even though Stuart obviously has a lot more experience in venture, Carmelo was the one that said, ‘look, we want to be involved,’ and that’s not at all what I was expecting.”
With a list of seed investors including Rothenberg Ventures, Omidyar Network and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Johnson wasn’t hard-pressed for cash. But Melo’s money carried an additional value — value that was quickly made clear at Andela’s recent launch event which drew an unusually large crowd of well-connected folks as a result of Melo’s attendance.
“A lot of what sets early stage businesses apart from one another is their ability to market themselves,” says Taylor Greene of Lerer Hippeau Ventures, one of Melo7’s favorite partners. “That’s the core asset celebrities bring to the table — a built-in following and distribution network that help to kickstart a following.”
It seems like a bit of a stretch to associate Melo’s fan base with those likely to purchase smart cooking utensils or download a voice chat app, but Greene says it doesn’t matter. “These are mostly consumer businesses, and it’s a numbers game. People have to eat, and they probably hate voicemail so they like the idea of Cord — really it comes down to the distribution channel.”
While it’s a clear bonus to the companies he backs, Melo’s celebrity status is often the sole reason Melo7 has been able to get in on many of their recent deals.
“I think lot of it comes down to access,” says SeatGeek founder Jack Groetzinger on celebrity investors, “if you identify the top 20 VC funds in the U.S., the deals they do are deals a lot of investors would like to participate in.”
Groetzinger has no shortage of experience with celebrity investors. SeatGeek’s latest round, one of the high-profile deals Groetzinger refers to, included participation from professional athletes Melo, Peyton and Eli Manning, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Shane Battier.
If you’re imagining athletes hashing out venture deals in the locker room after practice, think again.
“It’s not like there’s a little club of pro athlete investors and they say, ‘here, this is the deal of the week’ — we went into that deal because we know the lead investor Accel. I didn’t even know there were going to be other pro athletes involved,” says Goldfarb.
“It can get a little bit misleading,” Groetzinger points out. “In the Series B we did, Accel was the sheer majority of the round, but if you look at the coverage they focus on the names that are fun to talk about.”
“Carmelo is in this for real,” says Johnson, “he’s very new into it, but he’s taking it seriously.”
One thing is serious — with 10 deals totaling over $300 million announced in the last 10 months, the growing chunk of cash at stake is no joke.