Nassim Khadem Reporter

Nassim covers the accounting and tax rounds for BRW, as well as general business news. She previously worked for The Age newspaper covering general news, state politics and economics.

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Why Ashton Kutcher backed Airbnb

Published 05 November 2012 06:08, Updated 06 November 2012 05:52

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Why Ashton Kutcher backed Airbnb

Ashton Kutcher is a co-founder of the venture capital fund A-Grade Investment and his investments in Airbnb, Foursquare, Chegg, Flipboard, and Skype have all been helped by his star power. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

The one-time “King of Twitter” and Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher says his campaign to get 1 million followers on Twitter wasn’t about his personal brand but about demonstrating the power of social media.

Kutcher is an investor in Airbnb – the online site that enables people to rent out rooms in their homes – and flew out last week to promote the site opening an office in Australia.

Kutcher, who now has more than 12.8 million followers on Twitter, is a well-known tech investor in Silicon Valley start-ups. In April 2009, he became the first person to attract more than 1 million Twitter followers, beating Ted Turner’s US media company CNN in a challenge he set against the media conglomerate.

The move was later criticised as being a personal PR stunt with massive billboards going up in America at the time calling for people to follow the movie actor on Twitter.

But Kutcher denies it was staged to help his own brand. He says Twitter has helped everyday people connect and now new sites like Airbnb, have also helped millions of travellers all over the world meet online.

“I like the idea of the democratisation of media in same way as I like the idea of the democratisation of housing,” Kutcher says. “People have choices as to who they listen to and which media outlets are important to them … I like people being able to have a choice other than a hotel.”

At last count Airbnb, which was founded in August 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, had more than 10 million nights booked by people all around the world.

The site works by matching people with spaces to rent with people looking for a place to stay and the company earns a fee from the host and the traveller. Rooms, apartments, castles, boats and even tree houses and islands have been advertised on the site for rent.

“When I see companies that are trying to be bold and trying to do things that benefit people in general – I have a tendency to want to support them – [back then] I was supporting the idea of Twitter.”

Kutcher says having a voice that’s larger than the largest news outlet in the United States was a “powerful notion” and one “I want to support”.

“The notion that a guy in his house down the street can travel around the world without leaving his living room – I think that’s pretty profound,” he says. “We have people from 52 different countries staying with Australian families right now.”

Kutcher became a major investor and “ally and trusted adviser” to Airbnb in May last year and by July the company had raised $112 million in new funding along with a $1.3 billion valuation.

Kutcher is a co-founder of the venture capital fund A-Grade Investment and his investments in Airbnb, Foursquare, Chegg, Flipboard, and Skype have all been helped by his star power. He is one of a number of other US celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian who have invested in and helped promote tech start ups.

He says his contribution to Airbnb isn’t just in marketing but “as someone who really lives the product and uses the product”.

“I’ve given a ton of user feedback,” he says. “And from a marketing perspective it’s an awareness about different markets around digital social media and advertising.”