Dave Morin isn't easily star-struck. The early Facebook employee is a close confidant of Mark Zuckerberg, and when Morin left the social networking giant two years ago, it was to launch a startup with Napster founder Shaun Fanning.
Still, Morin couldn't quite hide his surprise a few months back when Britney Spears walked into his San Francisco office.
The CEO of Path, which bills itself as a more intimate social network than Facebook or Twitter, said the pop princess is among the most active of a growing number of "celebrity angels" - stars from the music or movie industries who are aligning themselves with tech startups as advisers, evangelists and, sometimes, investors.
"Social media has changed the music industry," Spears said in an email to the San Jose Mercury News. "For the first time ever, artists can directly communicate with their fans. Technology touches every aspect of my career right now."
Other frequent visitors to Silicon Valley boardrooms and startup dens include rappers Snoop Dogg and MC Hammer and actor Ashton Kutcher.
Kutcher's A-Grade Fund - co-founded with Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle and Madonna's manager, Guy Oseary - has invested in an A-list of hot startups. Among them are Flipboard, Airbnb and video chat site Airtime, the latest collaboration between Fanning and his Napster co-creator, Sean Parker.
"Ashton is probably the most sophisticated thinker in Hollywood," Morin said. "I trust his opinion as much as any product entrepreneur in Silicon Valley."
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, singer Justin Timberlake - who played Parker in the Facebook movie "The Social Network" - has been helping reinvent social networking pioneer MySpace, which he and other investors bought last year.
Also in L.A. is Scooter Braun Projects, launched by the talent scout who discovered a Canadian teen named Justin Bieber on YouTube and turned him into a superstar. Braun recently formed a startup incubator and investment arm; he and Bieber have put money into social music site Spotify and mobile video platform Viddy, among others.
The trend is so pronounced that tech commentator and former Mashable Editor Ben Parr just raised a seed venture fund, called #DOMINATEFUND, entirely from Hollywood celebrities. Parr declined to discuss the details, but he noted the outfit has already invested in a number of new companies with Bay Area ties, including education apps-maker Clever and lyrics site Rap Genius.
What isn't necessarily a given, though, is that big-name backers will mean big-time success for a startup.
"They have to bring more than a check and celebrity," said John Doerr of venerable venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.
Advocates of such partnerships argue that entertainers and entrepreneurs can teach one another ways to manage a brand and build an audience.
"Where I can pencil in my expertise is on the ground, for lack of a better term. I'm feeling what the people are looking for," said Printz Board, co-founder and musical director of the Black Eyed Peas. He's an adviser to San Jose, Calif.-based Monkeybars, which lets up-and-coming artists sell music online.
Peas frontman will.i.am, meanwhile, was named Intel's "director of creative innovation" last year, proving even "old" tech companies are eager to work with today's hot artists.
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