The news that Dropbox now counts a couple of rockstars among its investors brought a few chuckles: the cloud startup’s team posing with U2’s Bono and The Edge certainly made for a little fun viewing.
— Dropbox (@Dropbox) April 2, 2012
The backstory — that the Irish rockers first came across Dropbox when they were building a project on Facebook and decided to get a toe-hold in the business when it raised $250 million last year — is sort of interesting.
But does it really mean anything? On the surface, almost certainly not. Celebrities love to court startups, and vice versa. Witness Ashton Kutcher’s attempt to transform himself from a goofy beefcake into a Silicon Valley insider — a transition that has, in some perverse sort of logic, landed him a film role playing Steve Jobs.
Yes, there is juice that both sides can bring to such relationships: celebrities can gain a bit of business credibility, while startups can get a little spike in attention and audience. The endless parade of celebrities visiting Twitter’s offices, for example, was part of a symbiotic relationship that helped take the messaging service more mainstream — even if it proved a distraction for the business and got pushed to one side by former boss Ev Williams.
Still, the culture of mutual adoration continues: Jack Dorsey recently took time out from his schedule of gladhanding politicians to mark the momentous occasion of MC Hammer’s birthday.
— Jack Dorsey (@jack) March 31, 2012
I think it’s fair to say, however, that a little attention from U2 is not going to bring many new users to Dropbox. (It’s not clear what MC Hammer’s impact on the Twitter user base has been.)
But let’s be fair: Bono is not your ordinary celebrity investor. Since 2005 he’s been a co-founder of Elevation Partners, alongside the likes of Silver Lake’s Roger MacNamee and EA star John Riccitiello. And it seems to have done pretty well out of its investments in Yelp and Facebook.
It has, however, also backed a lot of duds. There was the $300 million pumped into Forbes, which didn’t help it get off the rocks and ended with Elevation scaling back their involvement, and the $460 million put into Palm, which was burned away as the company tried to rescue itself and challenge Apple.
And even the Facebook deal — which could provide a return of more than 10x by the time the company goes public — appears to have been one that had to take place on the second market.
All this is what led the Irish rock star to be called America’s worst investor a couple of years ago.
Bono’s music may sell millions, but his track record as an investor is something that Dropbox may not want to think too hard about.