Ashton Kutcher says that he identifies new startups to invest in by asking to see the smartphone home screen of everybody he meets
Hollywood's Ashton Kutcher has an unusual question that he asks the people he meets: what does their smartphone home screen look like? The "Dude, Where's My Car" star appeared as Harry Stebbing's guest on the podcast The Twenty Minute VC on Tuesday to discuss his perspective on tech investing. The question highlights what Kutcher says is his investment strategy: He's not a technical person, but he's picked winners like Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify early on by paying attention to the ways that people actually interact with technology. Kutcher attributes his success in Silicon Valley to this attention to detail: He says that it means that he's often a step ahead of those VCs who focus purely on the underlying technology, rather than cultural factors.
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Hollywood actor and prominent startup investor Ashton Kutcher has an unusual question that he asks of everyone he meets — he wants to know if he can check out their phone's home screen. "When I meet people I always ask whether I can see their home screen, because the apps on the home screen are likely the ones they're using the most," Kutcher said, appearing as Harry Stebbing's guest on the podcast The Twenty Minute VC on Tuesday. "And I've actually solicited my entire Twitter audience at times." The "Dude, Where's My Car" star, who's made a fortune from early investments in companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify, says that this is one of the best ways to find the next big thing. "I just run pattern recognition across thousands or hundreds of home screens and pick off the apps that keep showing up," he said. "And start the investigative process." His current portfolio includes high-flying startups like meditation app Calm and code-sharing tool Gitlab.
What am I missing? #aplusapps pic.twitter.com/P9aO2gN2 — ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 13, 2012
Investing with a non-technical background His home-screen anecdote speaks to a starkly different investment philosophy than most VCs. Unlike many of his peers in the VC business, he says that he and his VC firm Sound Ventures are less interested in the underlying technology. "Most major VCs in the Valley, most of the partners in those firms come from a technical background... I think that drives towards companies where you have founders who have extraordinarily solid technical chops," he said. "We have technical chops on our team, but that's not the first lens that we look at companies through." Instead, Kutcher says that he tends to stay alert to the larger cultural trends that are driving people towards one app or another — a skill he says that he honed in Hollywood. "Sitting in the media industry for 20 years, you tend to look for cultural narratives that are important and valuable," he said. "From those cultural insights, you proceed to build a product." Kutcher said that this awareness had pushed him to invest in Spotify well before the music-streaming service had entered the US. More recently, Kutcher said, the rise of social movements like #MeToo helped Kutcher identify that women's health was a market that was only going to grow. "Watching the #MeToo movement, you have a sense based off other movements that have happened, that this one's going to stay, and its going to be enduring," he explained. "And you shift your investment focus toward companies that actually fill voids.... women's health rights have been oppressed for years, and a company like Modern Fertility or even Carrot Fertility, which is another company we invested in, offer a solution."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Most maps of Louisiana aren't entirely right. Here's what the state really looks like.