As more evidence Product Hunt is the place tech enthusiasts and VCs are increasingly hanging out to find and discuss new products that often haven't yet been discovered by the tech press, the platform is hosting an online contest where for the next few days you can apply (here) to pitch your idea or product on Oct. 7 to rapper and investor Nas. If you're one of the dozen or so ideas chosen you'll have the opportunity to field the celebrity's questions live and vie to be the next company added to the portfolio of his venture firm, Los Angeles-based QueensBridge Venture Partners.

Celebrities and Startups

I checked in with Anthony Saleh, Nas's manager and partner at QBVP who had some thoughts on the reasoning behind interviewing startups on Product Hunt as well as why he and Nas are now backing more than 50 companies, including a few names you may recognize. Here's what he had to say.

What's the backstory on QBVP?

We started angel investing a few years ago, and started investing as QueensBridge over the last two years. We have really ramped up over the last 18 months.

What kinds of companies have you gravitated toward and why?

We don't really gravitate toward a particular vertical. The way we look at investing, we're more top-down investors versus bottom-up investors. We look at the marketplace and how big it is, the idea or product and the founders and we try to see how all three of those things jell together and how they look on paper when they're married. Then we make a decision based on those three things. And then we obviously co-invest with a lot of great investors who really help mitigate a ton of the risk by doing proper due diligence but at the stage we invest there isn't much true due diligence to do. A lot of it is gut and the vibe you get. And a lot of times you may not believe in the idea or product but you love the founder so much that you're willing to take a bet knowing they'll figure something out. We're people investors. We're not married to any particular vertical.

Why do celebrities get involved in startups? What's your passion behind this? Where did that come from?

Well, our initial thought around it was to just find a way to surround ourselves with the smartest people in the world. We thought investing in technology was the perfect balance between expanding our business acumen and expanding our Rolodex so that as we think about new ideas and new ways to market and to penetrate the consumer's mind and stay there, that we would have access to some of the smartest people in the world to think through that stuff with us. And as time went on it turned into a business for us. So we came into it more so feeling as though it would be a great way to get exposed to people who look at the world for what it's going to be, versus what it is and we love that. We love that way of thinking.

What are some of your biggest successes?

We're really proud of how well Genius has done, formerly Rap Genius. It's a company we're really excited about. We're really pumped on the mattress e-commerce company, Casper. We think they're awesome. We feel like they're going to be great. We're also excited to be in business with the guys at Coinbase. Fred Ehrsam is super passionate, very well educated in his space. We're proud of all our companies and we look at all of them as success stories but we also really enjoy working with James Beshara from Tilt and Tracy DiNunzio from Tradesy.

Why do the contest on Product Hunt?

We love the platform. We believe in paying it forward and feeding the ecosystem as much as possible. And if there's a way for us to be supportive of startups and giving them an opportunity to work with us we would love to provide that. We don't necessarily feel as though any particular company needs our money but we just think it's a cool way to explore new ways to get companies into our portfolio.

Scouting for Hot Ideas

The contest follows on the heels of a similar audition in which 500 Startups recently used Product Hunt to scout for the next startup to join its accelerator. During the online demo day September 26, 500 Startups partner Sean Percival interviewed 16 companies using the same questions he would normally ask an applicant during an in-person pitch, but in Product Hunt's public space, a community frequented by entrepreneurs, developers, journalists and big names like Mark Cuban, Dennis Crowley and Anil Dash.

If you're not familiar with it, Product Hunt is a Y Combinator alum emanating a vibe similar to Hacker News, YC's crowdsourced community where users post technology-related links upon which people upvote and comment. What started out as an email list Product Hunt CEO Ryan Hoover sent to friends, has grown to have more than 75,000 subscribers and an online platform which now draws more than 2 million clicks on products a month. The platform also has attracted notable investors such as Google Ventures and Ashton Kutcher's A-Grade Investments fund. And when Hoover launched the Product Hunt iOS app in August within hours Apple had featured it in its "Best New Apps" category.

Faster Than the Blogs

When I spoke with him this summer Hoover told me his platform can surface hot technology trends faster than the tech blogs because links to featured products are posted by about 3,000 whitelisted curators, with discussion about the posts bubbling up on the site as ancillary content. In short, when there's no story to write, news can flow faster.

Published on: Oct 3, 2014