Quick, what rhymes with “start-up?” Celebrity music artists, including rappers, have been finding new ways to invest their money, and Nas, born Nasir Jones, is no exception.
After a six-figure investment in the lifestyle publication “Mass Appeal,” the rapper has put money into a San Francisco company called Proven, which makes apps to help people apply to online job postings through their smartphones.
Nas, who rose to fame with his smash 1994 album “Illmatic,” participated in the company’s $1-million seed funding round that was led by Andreessen Horowitz and closed this summer.
“Jobs are a concern for the nation, and Proven is all about that, so I’m all about Proven," Nas said in an interview.
Nas was introduced to Proven through Menlo Park investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has invested $15 million in the Web company Rap Genius. The rapper is joining Proven as an advisor and will help promote its services.
The concept behind the company, run by 33-year-old first generation immigrant Pablo Fuentes, is to make it easier for the non-LinkedIn crowd, including blue-collar workers and low-income people, to look for jobs online without personal computers.
Fuentes’ life story and mission resonated with Nas, who was surrounded by joblessness in the Queensbridge housing projects in New York where he grew up.
“What he chose to do with his time and his life was noble,” Nas said of Fuentes. “He struck me as a smart person with a good heart.”
Proven is trying to mount a comeback after a rocky start.
Fuentes started the company in 2009 while he was in graduate school and eventually built up to 15 employees. He tried a number of unsuccessful business models and, at the end of 2011, laid off everyone but himself and one other person.
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He even briefly lived out of his car at his girlfriend’s place because he was letting a pair of former employees live at his apartment.
Now he runs the company out of an office in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco with four workers. It launched new apps for job seekers last year and also has a service for employers. The apps have drawn 150,000 monthly active users and more than 500,000 downloads.
“At this point, we’re being very conservative,” Fuentes said. “The premise has always been, ‘How do you help people find jobs through their mobile phones?’”
Nas has joined a growing list of music celebrities who’ve helped fund start-ups. The rapper T.I. has invested in the social app Yopima, while Bruno Mars has put his money behind the sheet music app Chromatik. Perhaps most notably, Justin Bieber has built a reputation as a budding venture capitalist.
Nas said it makes sense for rappers, specifically, to invest in tech.
“Hip-hop artists, especially the older ones, are the ones who knew hip-hop was a worldwide phenomenon before the mainstream caught on, so hip-hop artists are forward thinkers,” Nas said. “We want to stay with the new.”
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