NFL star Russell Wilson launched a startup to help 'superfans' get deeper access to celebs

Russell Wilson Jason LeeKeenanTraceMeJason LeeKeenan (L) and Russell Wilson (R)

The rise of social media has allowed celebrities of all stripes to interact with their fans on a (sometimes terrifyingly) personal level, through platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. But some celebs want more direct control over how they are presenting their lives to superfans than those platforms provide.

Take the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, who debuted a set of subscription apps in 2015 to give people more behind-the-scenes access to their daily lives — for a few bucks a month.

And now NFL superstar Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, is betting there’s a business to be built around creating custom ways for celebs to engage with their superfans.

Wilson has cofounded a startup called TraceMe, which is meant to “control the experience and cadence” of how celebs interact with their biggest supporters, TraceMe CEO and former Hulu exec Jason LeeKeenan told Business Insider. It launches in public beta Friday.

The idea

LeeKeenan pointed to the pregnancy of pop star Ciara, Wilson’s wife, and one of the lightbulb moments that led Wilson to found TraceMe. When Ciara was about eight months pregnant, the couple filmed a funny video of her lip syncing to Whitney Houston, which racked up millions of views on social platforms like YouTube and Instagram.

But Wilson wanted there to be a “better” and “more direct” way to share moments of his family’s life, like that one, with fans — and perhaps a more lucrative way, though LeeKeenan didn’t say that. Through that experience and other conversations with his famous friends, who had similar feelings, Wilson decided to seek out a cofounder for TraceMe.

The idea behind TraceMe is to give celebs both the tech and production know-how they need to create their own content empires. In that way, it sounds a bit like Derek Jeter’s startup The Players’ Tribune, which publishes (and helps create) content like essays and videos by athletes. The Players’ Tribune has raised a total of $US58 million from venture capitalists, according to Crunchbase. But TraceMe is more personalised to the individual celeb, and not an overarching media brand itself.

While TraceMe will be the overall platform, it will let fans dive into different (custom) celeb worlds — think “Russell’s world,” LeeKeenan said. The first star on the platform, starting Friday, will be Wilson himself.

Wilson’s content will be a mix of “raw and unfiltered” video directly from him, as well as a handful of more polished original series that the TraceMe team will help him produce. The latter will be videos like Wilson talking to legends in different fields, or detailing his workout routines with his personal trainer.

The ultimate idea is to create immersive experiences, in whatever form the celeb wants, LeeKeenan said.

As to a monetisation method, there isn’t one in place yet, and LeeKeenan is mum on his plans. But one can imagine a subscription element, like the Kardashians employ, with TraceMe taking a cut of the revenue depending on how much work its team does on the project. And for now, TraceMe has raised a $US9 million Series A round of funding from the likes of Madrona Venture Group, Bezos Expeditions (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos), and Chad Hurley (cofounder of YouTube).

LeeKeenan’s position is that if they are creating something of value for these celebs, the money will come.

“Russell has this saying, if you’re a celebrity you need to be the CEO of your own brand,” LeeKeenan said. “Our job is to support [them] in their endeavour.”

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