Rytis Vitkauskas doesn’t strike you as the sort of person to court celebrities. The Lithuanian born co-founder of YPlan, the events discovery app, comes across as smart, focused and unostentatious.
Nevertheless, YPlan has been remarkably successful at getting celebrity backers like Stephen Fry, Pharell Williams and Ashton Kutcher, and Vitkauskas spoke about this at a recent Leap 100 roundtable breakfast.
Though Fry hasn’t been formally associated with YPlan, a couple of tweets like “this looks like a seriously good app” to his followers of millions nearly crashed the company’s servers. This wasn’t just a lucky break, though: YPlan employed a PR agency to promote its app to key people. “Stephen Fry happened to fit the bill perfectly, being an actor and a technophile”, says Vitkauskas. As he explains, the half-life of a tweet is about five minutes. But YPlan paid Twitter to promote a retweet of Fry’s tweet, which “got a phenomenally high level of clicks because everybody was recognising ‘oh, Stephen Fry, he is promoting YPlan’.”
The endorsement of Pharell Williams came through existing investor William Morris Endeavor, which is the second largest talent agency in the world and based in LA. YPlan zeroed in on Pharell for its launch into the US. For a nominal fee, the musician played an intimate gig for a couple of hundred people, but his main involvement came in the form of options and an advisory role.
Out of all the celebrities who’ve got involved, Vitkauskas appears to have the most respect for actor Ashton Kutcher. He is “a bioscientist by undergrad training – not many people know that – who finished with the highest grades and is a phenomenally product focused person”. Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments has backed YPlan and has a great track record of supporting the likes of Airbnb, Spotify and Uber from an early stage.
They came across each other when Kutcher was in London visiting his then girlfriend (now wife) Mila Kunis, and Vitkauskas got an email from his office looking to set up a meeting. “We met up at our office and talked about our vision, what we’re building with the company, and he gave a lot of very good product suggestions. It was a very genuine conversation with him,” Vitkauskas says.
The co-founder also stresses the limits of celebrity endorsements: “It’s not a strategy, it’s not a plan… I think we’ve done it well [by setting] clear expectations upfront of what we’re hoping to achieve.” YPlan is also backed by more traditional venture capitalists like Octopus Investments in the UK and General Catalyst in the US.
The conversation – as most these days – turns to Brexit. Needless to say, Vitkauskas, like most of the European tech entrepreneurs who have been instrumental in building London as one of the preeminent tech hubs in the world, isn’t a fan of leaving. And I don’t blame him. Whatever your views on Brexit, make no mistake, if we shut the door to the next generation of entrepreneurs like Vitkauskas, we will all be much the poorer for it.