Americans are accustomed to celebrities from Marie Osmond to Richard Simmons hawking diet plans and exercise regimens, and the health industry has added African American stars such as Jennifer Hudson and Mariah Carey to reach a broader audience.
However, Feel Rich, an Austin startup, claims it is adding a more authentic voice for an urban audience, particularly minorities: hip-hop artists.
"Our goal is to make hip-hop artists the new Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons," said Feel Rich co-founder Shawn Ullman, a Houston native and graduate of the University of Texas.
He has his own celebrities as business partners: legendary music producer Quincy Jones Jr. is chairman, and his son, Quincy Jones III, a Grammy and Emmy award-winning producer in his own right, is a co-founder of the company.
In fact, Feel Rich would probably be located in Los Angeles except that Ullman, who has worked with the Joneses on other projects, wanted to locate it in Austin.
Feel Rich bills itself as "the first urban health media company," and produces YouTube testimonials from hip-hop artists and DJs. It also uses its website, Facebook and Twitter to round out its message.
The testimonials about losing weight and getting healthier are from rappers Fat Joe, Phife Dawg, Paul Wall and his wife, Crystal Slaton, and rapper and author Styles P, who also has started a juice bar in New York City.
"There's a weird movement in hip-hop where everyone is becoming healthy," Ullman said.
Feel Rich's message: "Healthy habits will make an artist's concert livelier, an athlete's game better and an entrepreneur's results better."
Ullman said Feel Rich is not a diet company.
"We don't preach a certain diet," he said. "We just want people to make one healthier choice a day. It's about lifestyle."
Started seven months ago, Feel Rich has been on YouTube for only four months but claims more viewers (almost 3.5 million) and subscribers (16,001) than Jenny Craig, WebMD and Weight Watchers combined.
So far, the audience is two-thirds young women and one-third young men.
"Every time someone's watching, we're getting paid," Ullman said of Feel Rich's partnership with YouTube. Supermarket chain Kroger is a sponsor on the Web page.
And Feel Rich, which is looking for office space and is relying primarily on interns for staff, is nonetheless getting media buzz: Entrepreneur Magazine last month named it the "next innovative company."
The company, still largely self-funded by its founders, is looking for venture capital to turn the buzz into products. Ullman said the company wants to use its new media presence to sell everything from Feel Rich apparel to celebrity cookbooks.
"Think urban Martha Stewart," Ullman said.
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