Justin Timberlake: Stealth Silicon Valley angel?
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As it turns out, Justin Timberlake's role as Napster founder Sean Parker in "The Social Network" was a wink and nod to the celebrity's little publicized role in driving Silicon Valley start-ups.
But his involvement in the technology industry drew public notice this week with news that Timberlake, whose character in the Oscar-nominated movie helped shape Facebook's early days, will take a stake in Myspace, the ailing social network website that New Corp is selling at a large loss.
The move -- in partnership with Specific Media -- is the latest in Timberlake's quietly expanding business and investment empire. It may also be one of his most high-profile to date, thrusting the singer-actor into a category of celebrity-turned-businessman in the mold of Ashton Kutcher.
"Fame is a highly fungible commodity," said Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University and an author on media innovation. "It makes anything you do more likely to be successful."
Timberlake has several publicized business ventures, from jeans and clothing line William Rast and record label Tennman Records, a joint venture with Interscope Records, to 901 Silver Tequila, a name inspired by an area code in Timberlake's hometown of Memphis.
But Timberlake has been providing relatively under-the-radar angel investing to tech start-ups via his Tennman Digital, an operation based in San Francisco's tech hub.
It incubates "great ideas that we think will change how we share information, consume media, and interact with the people around us," in the interactive digital media space, according to a profile posted on techVenture, a website that pairs investors with start-ups.
Tennman Digital has funded start-up Particle, which develops micro-video application Robo.tv, among other things. The group has also provided funding to Apple iPhone gaming application developer Tapulous.
Timberlake's role at Myspace remains unclear, although he will have his own office and a staff of six that will work for him, according to Specific Media Chief Executive Tim Vanderhook.
Vanderhook said his company's expertise in technology and advertising would complement the star's innate creativity to produce a site with "high entertainment value," with original content from a community of musicians, photographers and other creative professionals.
The combination of money, an iconic image and the business acumen displayed by him in the past all increase the likelihood of success, Levinson said.
That's good news for Timberlake and Specific Media, whose investment signals optimism that the brand of Myspace can be revived.
"The one thing that's been underreported is how excited Justin is to do this. I was blown away by his excitement level," said Vanderhook in a phone interview. "I think he was blown away by his excitement level, too."
(Editing by Edwin Chan and Steve Orlofsky)