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Celebrity Crypto Backers Hit Pause On Startup Deals

Illustration of collapsing crypto/Jenga.

Things haven’t worked out well for promoters of FTX. The company is in bankruptcy, its founder is in jail, and its venture backers have written off the investment.

Celebrities who endorsed the company are also regretting their choice. Beyond the reputational damage and shortfall in expected compensation, they’re also defending themselves in what could be a costly class-action lawsuit.

Given this state of affairs, it’s not surprising to see stars most closely tied to the crypto craze, and FTX in particular, pulling back on their startup entanglements. They’re investing less, promoting less and mostly staying away from Web3.

Who’s not doing what

To get a sense of then and now, we used Crunchbase data to compare the investments of several of the most famous names associated with crypto. We focused on FTX promoters to start, which includes sports superstars Shaquille O’Neal, Tom Brady, Naomi Osaka and Stephen Curry.

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal

The basketball legend had a fittingly legendary introduction to startup investing. His first known deal was an investment in Google’s 1999 Series A, at a reported $100 million valuation. (Google is now worth $1.8 trillion).

O’Neal has subsequently taken part in an eclectic, fitness-leaning collection of investments, including wellness wearable Oura, metabolism tracker Limbo, and portable fitness equipment startup Maxpro Fitness. His last reported deal was a lead investment in a $2.5 million September seed round for Edsoma, an AI-enabled literacy platform focused on helping children learn to read.

As for his role in a 2022 FTX advertisement, O’Neal told CNBC late last year that he was “just a paid spokesperson for a commercial,” and was not involved with the company beyond that role. He also said he is not bullish on crypto.

Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry

The Golden State Warriors star is a prolific investor and promoter, having backed a host of startups and established brands.

Like most celebrity investors, the pace of Curry’s startup dealmaking was busiest in 2020 and 2021. His investments from that period include rounds for barbershop app Squire, mobile fintech platform Step, and smart home gym equipment brand Tonal.

Curry’s crypto and Web3 forays included promoting FTX, for which he was reportedly supposed to have received $35 million, per an article citing author Michael Lewis, who wrote a book about the crypto startup’s founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.

Additionally, Curry promoted the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection from Yuga Labs. He’s currently facing lawsuits for his affiliation with both Yuga and FTX.

But the four-time NBA champion hasn’t stopped investing. Last spring, for instance, he participated in a Series C for, an app offering consumers savings and access to credit.

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka

Tennis star Osaka is another busy startup backer, with at least seven known investments, per Crunchbase.

While she was an investor in FTX, Osaka has been more active in the food and beverage space. Portfolio companies include nonalcoholic beer brand Athletic Brewing, high-protein ramen maker Immi, and plant-based chicken purveyor Daring Foods. Outside of the startup sphere, she also has a long list of endorsements for more established brands.

Tom Brady

Quarterback Tom Brady in 2019
Tom Brady

Brady participated in financings for at least four startups in 2020 and 2021, per Crunchbase data. The most recent was a 2021 Series B for Alt, a platform for managing trading cards  and other nontraditional assets.

The San Mateo, California native has also taken an active role in startups. He is co-chairman and sits on the board at Andreessen Horowitz-backed Autograph — which helps athletes and entertainers launch and promote their NFTs. The company has received more than $200 million, according to Crunchbase.

He also is co-founder of Religion of Sports, a sports media company in Santa Monica, California, that provides videos, podcasts, films and social content about athletics. The startup has taken in $63 million in funding to date, per Crunchbase.

More recently, the seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has focused his investment sight more on sports than startups. Last year, he purchased stakes in the Las Vegas Aces and Raiders sports franchises.

For FTX, Brady was reportedly to receive $55 million over three years to promote the exchange.

Other crypto-promoting celebrities

Other famous names associated with FTX aren’t known for being especially active in the startup sector. This includes comedian Larry David and model Gisele Bündchen, Brady’s ex-wife.

Meanwhile, several other celebrities have also drawn rebukes for their crypto entanglements. They’ve also scaled back startup investments in the past couple years.

In late 2022, the SEC charged Kim Kardashian with promoting a crypto product from EthereumMax without disclosing the $250,000 payment she received for doing so, resulting in a $1.26 million settlement.

Nonetheless, the reality star is still extremely active in the startup scene. Her commitments include the Skims shapewear line she founded, a gig as chief taste consultant for Beyond Meat, and her consumer-focused private equity fund, Skky Partners. Her recent investment forays, however, have not extended to crypto.

To endorse or not

As a noncelebrity, it seems understandable that the opportunity to do paid endorsements would be pretty tempting. Who wouldn’t want to make lots of money for low-effort social media posts and commercials?

But of course, when trading on one’s reputation, the last thing you ever want to do is damage said reputation. Celebrities who promoted crypto scams, so far, have mostly emerged without serious harm to their street cred. But the fallout has likely made them more risk averse about future gambits.

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