Tech giants and celebrities descended on the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre on Monday, October 17, as part of the Forbes Under 30 Summit, which was kicked off by actor Ashton Kutcher and talent manager Guy Oseary, partners in a Silicon Valley venture capital fund.
The four-day Summit is a gathering of 5,000 Millennial entrepreneurs. This year, Emerson College is hosting one of the Summit’s four content stages—the Tech Stage.
The day’s first panel, “Meet the Midas Men,” featured Kutcher and Oseary, co-founders of Sound Ventures, which has invested millions in tech juggernauts such as Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, and Pinterest. Senior Editor of Forbes Media Steve Bertoni moderated the panel, during which Kutcher and Oseary spoke about what they look for when searching for new companies to invest in.
The star of That ’70s Show and the manager of U2 are the cofounders of a $250 million fund with more than 70 investments.
“We’re both egomaniacs and want to win. Also, Guy doesn’t sleep,” said Kutcher. You may think that two Hollywood guys wouldn’t fit in with the venture capital crowd, but their day jobs just might be the reason that their company is gaining major traction.
“It’s the same skill set that I’ve had since I was 17 or 18 years old: Trying to find the next great artist. The next great founder,” explained Oseary, who has represented musical acts since he was in high school. “It’s the same attraction. I’ve been doing the same thing for 25 years.”
Bertoni asked the two co-founders how they decide which companies are worthy of investing in. For Oseary, it’s all about the gut feeling. “Guy is a gut junkie,” Kutcher said. “And I’m always trying to deconstruct data.”
Kutcher’s advice is simple. “There is legitimately no substitution for hard work. To put yourself in the shoes of the consumer but also learn a trade really, really quickly—I think those tools are super-useful in the area of investing,” he said.
Kutcher said it is crucial to truly believe in the company you are about to invest in. He told the crowd at the Cutler Majestic that he used Airbnb for a year. He thinks it’s “shocking” how few investors seem to use their companies’ products. And he and Oseary look for one thing above all else when considering an investment: “Would you work for them?”
As Kutcher and Oseary exited the stage, young founder Brian Wong took the spotlight. When Wong was 19, he became the youngest person to have Silicon Valley venture capitalists fund his company Kiip. Now, as the author of the book The Cheat Code, Wong shared secrets of success in the mobile age during his panel, “Your Cheat Codes for Success.”
The idea behind Kiip was simple, said Wong. “Nobody is ever excited about banner ads. They are intrusive and ineffective. So what I decided to do was reward the consumer for watching an ad.”
Wong gave an example of a person using a fitness app. When the workout is over, an ad pops up with a special offer from Gatorade. “Now that’s profitable,” said Wong, “and it is so hot to be profitable.”
Wong offered a step-by-step guide for young entrepreneurs. “Step 1 is don’t treat investors like gods,” he said. The second is to hire people who know their “superpowers.” All businesses require specialists who have deep knowledge and a passion for their subject area. His last tip is to never be afraid to add random people on LinkedIn, the “Tinder of business,” he noted.
Next up was a panel comprising four CEOs and COOs from Casper, Harry’s, and Rent the Runway. “Empire Building in the Electric World,” moderated by Kevin Colleran, managing director of Slow Ventures, discussed digital branding secrets on how to leanly build a brand that battles the market's biggest players.
Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway, had one huge obstacle in creating her company: “Would we be able to convince women that wearing dirty clothes that other women had worn before was actually not disgusting? Could we ever get you to say, ‘Oh, thanks, I rented the runway?’”
A big part of the discussion centered around the fact that these companies were originally solely e-commerce and are now moving to brick-and-mortar locations. Harry’s, a shaving and razor company has a store in Manhattan that, on top of selling razors, offers haircuts and barber shaves. Casper, a mattress company, has two mattress showrooms, and its products can be found in more than 70 West Elm stores. Casper’s COO Neil Parikh said that having a physical location makes for a stronger connection with their customers. “You get to have more fun. It’s still a very efficient way of doing things,” said Parikh.
Hyman said that Rent the Runway has benefited incredibly from its brick-and-mortar locations (two in New York City and one each in Washington, DC, Chicago, and Las Vegas).
“A woman who goes into our store in LA tries on two pieces of clothing,” she explained. “We now know how each article of clothing fit her.” That, in turn, can be fed into the algorithms that power the site and recommend clothing for women with the same measurements as that single in-person customer, Hyman said.
Check back for more Forbes Under 30 Summit coverage.