Ashton Kutcher on What He Looks for in a Startup

by Ellen Lee on September 19, 2011
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On Sept. 19, Ashton Kutcher made his first appearance on the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men, replacing Charlie Sheen. Kutcher’s fictional role on the show as an internet billionaire isn’t a far cry from his real-life persona: Over the past few years, the actor has become a regular figure in Silicon Valley’s tech scene, helping to fund some 40 companies, including Airbnb, a peer-to-peer vacation rental service, and Hipmunk, a travel site.

So, what does Kutcher look for as an investor? In a fireside chat with pal and TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco last week, Kutcher said he looks for startups that are building something “magical.” He compared investors to pilgrims trying to suss out witches. “We’re all kind of on a witch hunt looking for the thing that is so magical, so unbelievable, or [so] disruptive that you almost don’t understand how it works,” he says.

Kutcher, who was a biochemistry major in college before breaking out as a model at age 19, says he is attracted to technology that can help build friendships and connections, find love, improve health, make things more efficient, or somehow lead us to being happier people. “Most people want more time in the day, or more love, or happiness,” he says, adding that technology can help “accelerate our path to happiness. That’s a general thesis.”

Before investing in any company, Kutcher says he and a small team of colleagues review proposals. He also relies on feedback from the friends he’s cultivated in Silicon Valley.

Kutcher, who became a household name during his time on the Fox sitcom That ’70s Show, has been widely mocked as a celebrity dabbling in technology. So, what does he really offer startups? Kutcher says that although he can’t help a startup build a team of engineers, he does know a thing or two about marketing and getting the word out: He famously has more than 7.6 million followers on Twitter and has been known to crash new services when he tweets about them. And he also can help open doors because most people, even if they don’t know him personally, return his calls.

“I care about the companies I invest in,” he says. As cheesy as it may sound, he says, he finds joy in helping people become successful.

Photo courtesy TechCrunch

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