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Say What? Introducing WhoSay

May 13, 2011

Brad Svrluga

I am very excited to celebrate the unveiling of one of the most exciting companies we’ve ever had the pleasure to be involved with. WhoSay is a company that for over a year we’ve been desperate to talk about, but which has been operating in strict stealth mode until this week.

WhoSay is a social media distribution and rights management platform for celebrities, brands, corporations and other entities concerned with controlling their social media presence. The company launched privately last summer, and emerged publicly through this New York Times piece from earlier this week. You can expect to hear a lot more from these guys in the month’s ahead.

WhoSay was founded in early 2010 by Steve Ellis, whom I had the pleasure of backing once before when he founded and ran Pump Audio, which was successfully sold to Getty Images back in 2007. Steve is such a good entrepreneur that I probably would’ve backed him opening a laundromat if that’s what he wanted to do. Fortunately for all of us, he had a much bigger and better idea this time around.

WhoSay’s core premise rests on three foundational truths:

(1) active participation in social media is an essential activity for any celebrity or brand,

(2) controlled effectively, social platforms create an unprecedented opportunity for celebrities to take control of their media assets, and

(3) an effectively aggregated collection of celebrity talent and assets will create powerful monetization opportunities for the aggregator and, importantly, the talent.

We live in a nation that has a $3 billion/year advertising-supported media industry that feeds off of celebrity content (People, US Weekly, E! Network). A substantial portion of this content is gathered against the wishes of the celebrities, and the content that is collaboratively produced (interviews, etc.) rarely offers the talent direct financial participation.

WhoSay provides the first social media solution that is effectively focused on this unique set of customers – offering control of distribution, protection of digital rights, and administrative tools that allow mangers and agents to participate in the creation or approval of posts before they are released to the world. But the management platform is just the thin end of the wedge. By working with hundreds of popular personalities, WhoSay creates a unique ability to serve as an aggregator and digital agent for talent.

Imagine United Airlines sponsoring a Home for the Holidays photo contest. WhoSay can package a sponsored content opportunity for United and then put the call out to its talent base. Celebrities submit their in-home family pictures from the holidays, and WhoSay syndicates that packaged content to the highest bidders, or sells advertising around it on an owned and operated website. The talent will then share the sponsorship revenue 50/50 with WhoSay. People Magazine won’t have access to pictures like that.

If the talent shared those pictures directly via Twitter, they would lose control of the rights.  But post to Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere through WhoSay and you share directly in the upside that your content creates.

Ecommerce opportunities? Why wouldn’t Eva Longoria want the ability to use her social media presence to promote the fashions that she wears and the causes she supports?

So this is a great idea, sure, but how can a tiny startup make it happen? Critically, Steve co-founded the business in partnership with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the biggest talent agency in the world, with massive market share in each of TV, film, sports, and comedy talent. With CAA’s phenomenal support and endorsement, the company has been able to sign top talent at a remarkably rapid rate. Without that support, it would have been impossible to get going. With the help of that kick start the company now boasts over 200 top personalities using its platform – talent from CAA and every other major agency.

The list of celebrities using WhoSay today includes A-list talent like Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Katie Couric, Magic Johnson, and hundreds of others. In aggregate, this talent base has over 300 million social media followers. On the strength of that user base the company is already racking up tens of millions of page views per month. And they’ve only just begun.

We’re thrilled to be involved with Steve again and to have the chance to watch WhoSay grow. The business model opportunities are myriad, and coming fast and furious now.

By building quietly for a year and listening to the needs and desires of the talent along the way, WhoSay has earned the invaluable trust and confidence of its partners. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that no would-be competitors knew what they heck they were doing until now, when the talent base has reached a scale that would be all but impossible to replicate.

Now, it’s time to take the covers off and get to work turning this into a real business. We’re excited to see where it leads.

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