Guest Post: Five Celebrities Who Have Started Businesses

Somali model Iman. Celebrities have always had a strong relationship with big business. Famous faces sell products and enhance brands, whether it’s Emma Watson’s endorsement of Burberry or Jennifer Aniston’s pose with a bottle of Smartwater. We’re used to the annual slew of celebrity-endorsed perfumes or recipe books.

But this is a list of celebrities whose successful businesses sell new and interesting products. Each of these businesses is booming in its own right, and there’s something in each of their stories that can help SMEs emulate this success.

Iman’s Iman Cosmetics

The business

Iman, a professional model, had been in the industry for nearly twenty years before setting up a cosmetics firm selling make-up shades that hadn’t been seen on the shelves before. Women with darker skin weren’t being provided for by the established make-up companies of the day, and even the outlets where such make-up was sold were keeping the ranges for darker skin tones near the back of the shop floors.

What can we learn

Iman was a very high-profile figure in the industry, and her long experience in the sector had given her a huge amount of insider knowledge and know-how. She identified a serious gap in the market and was well-placed to fill it, despite a degree of passive racism she encountered at all levels of the industry. By accurately isolating the need and using her expertise to fill it, Iman grew her idea into the $25m business it is today.

Dr Dre’s Beats

The business

Beats Electronics was co-founded by rapper Dr Dre in 2008, and mainly sells audio equipment under the brand Beats by Dr Dre. The brand’s line of expensive headphones is extraordinarily popular and is now sold worldwide, with a cult-like following throughout the USA.

What we can learn

The London Olympic Games 2012 were at the centre of a branding war, in which the companies that forked out millions to sponsor the games expected Olympic organisers to protect their investment. Noticeably, branded t-shirts were banned from the main arenas and there was fretful speculation about ‘brand police’. Dr Dre’s company performed a striking coup when it supplied Olympic athletes with the distinctive headphones, resplendent in the competitors’ respective country colours. Like Nike’s ambush marketing, Beats Electronics’ integrated Olympics and social media campaign drew in customers worldwide and contributed to the brand’s success.

Alex James Presents

The business

Blur’s Alex James moved to a very big house in the country and now produces cheese on a commercial basis. He lives with his family in a 200-acre Cotswold farm and makes a range of dairy products, including Farleigh Wallop, Good Queen Maude and even a Best Ever Cheddar. The bassist’s cheese business is no quaint, rural hobby though – it’s a commercial enterprise, selling cheese to the likes of Asda.

What we can learn

Even cheese (which humans have been making for several thousand years) is not immune to the wackiness of celebrity ambition. Asda ditched several of Alex’s cheese varieties last year following poor sales. Referring perhaps to the star’s ketchup, tikka masala or even salad cream flavoured cheeses, an Asda spokeswoman told the Daily Star that “clearly some of them were ahead of their time”.

Dexter Holland’s Gringo Bandito Hot Sauce

The business

Operating at a different end of the spectrum, both musically and commercially, Offspring singer and guitarist Dexter Holland decided to start his own hot sauce label. Hot sauces are wildly popular in the USA, and Dexter’s own brand – Gringo Bandito – sells for $5 a bottle.

What we can learn

This is another example of finding a niche and exploiting it. Unlike Iman’s make-up and the marginalisation of dark-skinned women in the cosmetics industry, Dexter’s hot sauce addresses a much smaller issue – the fact that hot sauces aren’t actually that healthy. By reducing the amount of salt in his hot sauce, the musician produced a very niche (and so far very successful) specialist product.

Kevin Costner’s Blue Planet Solutions

The business

In contrast to the slew of cosmetics, electronics and cheese factories, Kevin Costner’s enterprise owns the patent to a device that separates oil from water using centrifugal forces. This obviously has immense real-world practicality and is generally marketed at governments and multinational corporations rather than individuals.

What we can learn

After the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a huge amount of attention was given to Kevin Costner and a machine that was dubbed “the Costner solution”. He spoke to Congress and BP ploughed millions into the idea, but actor and director Stephen Baldwin wasn’t happy. He claimed that he was duped into selling his shares in the firm just as BP was pouring money in, and he demanded $4 million in damages. He lost, but this demonstrates how quickly even a celebrity business relationship can go sour.

But I’m not a celebrity!

Being a celebrity isn’t a free ride to business success. Plenty of A-listers’ start-ups have flopped, including Britney’s Nyla restaurant (which received awful reviews and allegedly flouted health codes) and Natalie Portman’s failed vegan footwear business. These examples show that without a good idea and competent management, even celebrities can get it wrong.

But learning from successful businesses is something all SMEs should be doing. These high-profile individuals each have established enterprises that earn them a substantial amount of money. Copying some of their tactics can pay off in even the smallest SME. If you need further idea or advice, talking to business experts such as Christie + Co can be a great way to help move your company forward.