The rise and fall (and rise again) of Cameo

Coming out of the pandemic has been a challenge for Cameo, as it is for many tech companies, it’s worth noting. In May 2022, the company laid off 87 people, or about 25% of its staff. Galanis told Variety it was “painful” but necessary to “right-size” the business. In 2020, the company had generated approximately $100 million in gross revenue, 4.5 times more than the previous year. But bookings had slowed. And a hoped-for IPO would have to wait.

“We’re really happy to be private right now,” Galanis told me, and I believe him. “Public companies are crushed in the market right now. If we had had this interview a year ago, 18 months seemed like the appropriate time. Everyone was rushing to go public, whether it was direct listing, SPAC… We were definitely on that trajectory. Then when the music stopped and it became a game of musical chairs, we found our seat. And we’ll sit in our place until the music starts again.

Athlete Tony Hawk, who became an investor in Cameo last year, said: “Obviously the exit is always the big end of investments. But I’m in no hurry. I trust their decisions. (During the lockdown, he and his daughter watched Office together; for her birthday, he gave her a cameo of every available member of the show.)

Cameo has worked hard to expand its offerings, turning one of their most annoying headaches into a new revenue stream: Cameo for Business. A few years ago, the team explained that they had noticed that Brett Favre was turning down about 5% of requests. “It wasn’t the Chicago Bears fans who told Brett to say the Packers sucked,” Galanis explained, “it was a car dealership in Waukesha, Wis., trying to get Brett Favre to stop. ‘Get people to come for the Labor Day Sale.’ Basically, they wanted a Brett Favre ad for $400.

Tony Hawk had seen the same thing. People weren’t even shy about it, he said, with people asking him to say, “This is the best coffee in the world!” He added: “Some are getting sneakier. As, Say this sentence! We love when people say this phrase! I look at it and it’s the name of the company.

Cameo for Business was introduced in 2020 with a different pay scale. Infiniti held a promotion for its QX60 SUV in which customer questions were answered by Cameos of Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews and The west wing Dule Hill. In the UK, Bud Light partnered with Cameo on Bud Light Birthday Shoutouts (which apparently did much better on Snapchat than some of the brand’s previous content). Cameo for Business now accounts for around 20% of company revenue, Galanis has spat – from zero percent two years ago – and Cameo is now branching out into booking talent for IRL events, recently booking a musician to play a corporate retreat for six Figures.

Competitors will likely follow. Facebook – sorry, Meta – previously announced a Cameo killer called Super. Although I haven’t been able to find much on the service since it was announced. “We couldn’t find anything about that either,” smiled Blencowe. “If you find anything in your research, let us know.” Google had also been working on something that was perhaps more of a celebrity Q&A product. It’s unclear where this one stands, but Google is now an investor in Cameo. (Says Galanis: “We’re much happier to have them on our side now than to be enemies with them or whatever.”)

Last fall, Cameo made its first acquisition, buying celebrity merchandise company Represent for an undisclosed sum. I don’t know anything about the commodity market – it’s presumably huge – but the deal certainly makes sense as an entry drug to Cameo. Represent did some merchandising for the high-profile Friends meeting. Imagine Jennifer Aniston also making cameos as part of that same deal?

Attracting new talent or feeding the beast is a big part of the game. The white whale of Blencowe, he says, is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The name of The Rock also came up in conversation with the three founders. Cameo’s founders were thrilled with the NCAA’s recent decision to allow college athletes to take advantage of their own image. The talent team – which at one point numbered more than 70 people – almost immediately began recruiting athletes to marquee programs like Duke basketball and Notre Dame football. Over 470 college athletes have since joined Cameo. Who was a resounding success? “It’s not obvious who these people were going to be,” Galanis said. He was thrilled to share that Montana Fouts of the Alabama softball team crushed him on Cameo.

Even if only a small percentage of these athletes will turn professional, it doesn’t matter. “The next Tom Brady,” Galanis said, “he’s going to join Cameo when he’s a freshman in Michigan. It’ll be part of his creator stack the same way he uses Instagram or YouTube or Snapchat. Then we don’t have to try to get him when he made half a billion dollars and won seven championships.

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