Ashton Kutcher took the stage with Charlie Rose at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this week to talk about his new hobby: venture capitalism. Most famous tech-wise for his relentless championing of Twitter, Kutcher turned some heads with early stage investments in startup darlings like Foursquare, iPad reader Flipboard, photo-sharing site Path and most recently Airbnb, a schmanzy-er version of Couchsurfer.com. Investing in tech companies started off rocky for the Punk'd star. Kutcher admitted to Rose that his first foray into startups with the fated Ooma, an internet-based phone company in which Kutcher both invested and served a managerial role, failed in 2004. It wasn't until Netscape founder Marc Andreessen approached him in 2009 to invest in Skype that Kutcher hit a cord. "He came to me and said Skype could use some help with being more popular in the U.S. and we would like to bring you on to do that,” Kutcher said.
Making things popular seems to be Kutcher's primary appeal to buzz-hungry startups and their ambitious investors. According to a report in today's New York Times, Airbnb approached Kutcher with the same intentions as Andreessen and his not-yet-mainstream company. “We realized Airbnb needs to leverage pop culture and social media,” Airbnb founder told the Times, adding that Kutcher could offer both. "I have some expansive social media reach, but what I’ve become relatively good at is bringing things that aren’t mainstream…into the mainstream,” said Kutcher at the TechCrunch conference. With a combined 6.8 million followers on Twitter and 9.7 million fans on Facebook, Kutcher's social media dominance has won him spokesman roles at companies like Popchips, Nikon and Pepsi.