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Nas/12 SocietyZooey Deschanel/Hello GigglesDan Aykroyd/Crystal Head VodkaShannon Miller Lifestyle50 Cent/SMS AudioJessica Alba/The Honest CompanyTony Stewart Originals
Celebrities may have name recognition and capital... but that doesn't mean they don't encounter some of the same challenges other entrepreneurs face. Here are seven stars who are angling to turn their passions into successful start-ups.--John Brandon
Starting a company requires a healthy dose of ego--a belief that you have something you can offer the world. And that's exactly what rapper Nas has. “I joined 12 Society because I thought it would be a dope way to share my taste with the world," he told Inc.com. The company is a style recommendation engine: Consumers pay $39 a month to receive a box in the mail filled with products selected by a celebrity. Each star is a co-founder, not just a spokesperson.
Only Zooey Deschanel would name a company Hello Giggles. The entertainment website posts videos and articles about fashion and style. Co-founders Molly McAleer (a well-known writer) and Sophia Rossi (a producer) also contribute to the site, which is filled with articles on topics like how to land your first job or make a vegan vanilla parfait. Ads and T-shirt sales are the main revenue producers.
Lots of entrepreneurs get started by trying to solve a personal problem. For Dan Aykroyd, the actor and former member of Saturday Night Live, that problem was vodka. Many commercial vodkas are made with chemical additives, making them oily to the taste and with a perfume-like smell. Aykroyd founded the company Crystal Head Vodka, which uses a more natural process. He is not just a spokesperson. As the majority founder, he is the main boss and communicates with the staff on a daily basis. He is involved in every major decision involving production and sales, including recently getting involved with international import rules governing alcohol sales.
After winning seven gold medals in the Olympics, Shannon Miller started a health and fitness company called Shannon Miller Lifestyle. "I think being an entrepreneur is similar to having the Olympic spirit,” Miller told Inc.com. “You need to be passionate about what you do every day. Women tend to put themselves last, but I want to share with women that it is okay to take time for themselves. That is our primary message." Miller operates two business channels. One is the site itself, which is a magazine-style portal that generates revenue via advertising and product sales. The company's other source of revenue is speaking engagements and endorsements.
Unlike the SOUL by Ludacris headphones, a product that was created for the rapper by an existing company, SMS Audio is a legit start-up where 50 Cent serves as the acting CEO. When I met him at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this past January, the popular actor and rapper spoke in great detail about the product's specs and the challenges of starting a company--especially the time it took to create headphones with distinct enough audio drivers to make his music sound lush and loud. But he also knows his high-profile stature gives him a leg up (his booth at CES was mobbed with fans eager to get a glimpse of the rapper in person).
Alba started The Honest Company after discovering her own baby had broken into a diaper made with toxic chemicals. Honest products range from infant-safe sunscreen to baby clothes. Alba spoke with Inc.com about the challenge of starting a company from scratch. Her advice: "Surround yourself with experts in your field of interest and ask questions,” she says. “Learn from them. After gaining as much knowledge as you can about the marketplace and the business opportunity, you should then target partners who can help you convert your idea into something tangible. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and try to build a team that complements your skill set." In March, the company announced it raised $27 million in venture capital.
The NASCAR racer is an über-entrepreneur with his fingers in several start-ups, including a PR agency and a company that makes oval tracks for radio-controlled cars. Perhaps his most interesting foray is with Tony Stewart’s Original, a company that makes BBQ sauce and flavored beef jerky. Stewart is involved as more than just a spokesperson and generates the ideas and business plans for products.
Read more: 7 Promotional Stunts That Work