Someone alert Henny Penny and Turkey Lurkey; the sky is definitely falling. Celebrities are coming in droves to create their own social networks! From Barack Obama to Bode Miller to MC Hammer, and starting Monday a star NBA player and his Hollywood and Silicon Valley buddies. IBeatYou, an online platform for competition, was founded late last year by Golden State Warriors guard Baron Davis, two of his childhood friends, and a couple of venture capitalists. The site is meant to encourage everyone, including celebrities, to start video, photo, or text competitions, anything from most free throws in a minute (captured on video) to best smile (captured in a picture).
“I understand why DanceJam would want to go to MC Hammer — he’s the best dancer in the world — but one of the things we want to do is take celebs out of their comfort zone. We’ve got Steve Nash playing soccer, we’ve got Baron doing webcam karaoke, we’ve got Jessica [Alba] doing lipsync,” said IBeatYou co-founder Cash Warren, a businessman and movie producer who has been friends with Davis since age 11 and is also Alba’s fiancee (you can see her lipsyncing in the video embedded at the end of this post). Other NBA stars like Nash, the two-time league MVP, and the blogging phenom Gilbert Arenas are also involved.
Davis admits he’s not really in this for the money; his day job pays pretty well (I’m not kidding; he makes $16 million per year).
“It’s a way to not have that media influence, so I can really dictate to people who I am, the lighter side of my personality,” Davis said in a phone interview. I coincidentally happened to attending a Warriors home game the next night (full disclosure, I’m a fan) so I was able to catch him afterwards for a video interview, embedded above. “This is the one place where I can just be Baron Davis or Boom Dizzle (his nickname and screenname). The fans are moreso like friends in the competition.”
Starry eyes aside, I think IBeatYou could play an interesting role in the increasing opportunities for celebrities to wrest control of their images even as they are increasingly scrutinized. It’s different than Britney Spears posing for the paparazzi and commenting on their site in the wee hours of the morning. And it’s different than having a blog where you talk about how cool you are and your fans write in to tell you they love you. On IBeatYou, there’s actually a point, a reason for stars and fans alike to interact.
The pre-launch site is intimate; as he mentioned in the video, Baron was ranked 193 out of about 4,000 members when we talked to him (he’s currently down to number 211). I’m not sure this can continue as the site grows, especially considering the user interface is not really that great.
But I do think the idea of casual competition could be bigger than just the celebrity angle. And IBeatYou knows it has to make that true. “At the end of the day if people are only coming to the site to view the celebrities, that’s not a good value proposition,” said CEO Abdul Khan, formerly a VC at Crosslink Capital who made investments in web startups like Pandora, Omniture, and Ancestry.com. Davis’ take? “For the regular every day person, IBeatYou gives you the opportunity to be seen and be heard of. In this space they’re numero uno.”
IBeatYou has raised under $1 million in seed funding from Prism VentureWorks, individuals at Crosslink, Davis, and football legend Ronnie Lott. The team (minus Davis, who’s busy trying to secure a playoff berth) and some of its alpha testers filmed an office lip dub last weekend, which they’re posting as the first entrant in a new “group lip dub” competition tonight. Check it out: