Justin Timberlake Invests in Beverage Startup Bai Brands
Pop star Justin Timberlake has become an investor in beverage startup Bai Brands, a partnership that will see the Grammy winner serve as “Chief Flavor Officer” as he helps steer product development and upcoming marketing campaigns.
“I’ve been a fan of Bai for a long time,” Timberlake said in a statement. “This partnership was created from a shared desire to help people put better ingredients in their bodies without sacrificing taste.”
Bai founder and CEO Ben Weiss told Fortune that selling a stake to Timberlake and bringing him on board for business decisions made sense for a few reasons. The singer and actor is actually a fan of the brand. And at the age of 35, he’s also the core demographic Bai strives for—they target older millennials as their main consumer base.
“We don’t need a celebrity to find success, we found success without them,” Weiss said of his company, which was founded in 2009 and booked $120 million in sales last year. “But the reality is, this guy happens to be famous, he’s a consumer of the product we pour our soul into, and he is truly respectful of our vision of the future, which he will now be a part of.”
Bai, which is poised to generate $300 million in revenue this year, says Timberlake will work closely with the executive team to help develop new flavors, product launches, and marketing campaigns and digital content. On the product development side, Bai has been fairly active for a startup. It launched 13 new items in the last year, broadening a slate of fruit flavored-drinks that contain few calories, little sugar, and no artificial sweeteners.
On the marketing side, the Hamilton, N.J.-based company said it is expecting in 2017 to “more than double” the $60 million it spent on marketing this year. Timberlake, Weiss says, will be a “big part of our messaging next year.”
The investment into Bai is one of many Timberlake has made over the years. He invested in audio technology company AfterMaster Audio Labs almost two years ago and famously was a backer of social-media website Myspace, which was acquired recently by Fortune parent Time Inc. The closest he’s gotten to the traditional beverage industry is Timberlake’s relationship with Beam Suntory: he has a tequila brand called Sauza 901.
Bai and Timberlake came together earlier this year when Weiss heard through a mutual friend that the A-lister was interested in an introduction. “Clearly, I took that meeting,” Weiss said. He quickly learned Timberlake was a passionate fan of the brand—mixing Bai’s Tanzania Lemonade Tea with his Sauza 901 tequila. Both parties quickly saw that a relationship would be mutually beneficial.
“Justin is one of the most creative people I’ve been around,” Weiss said. “He truly cares about the beverage and has an opinion worth listening to whether it relates to flavor innovation or marketing.”
For Bai, an investment and marketing jolt from Timberlake will help elevate the name-recognition of the brand. Timberlake is one of many well-known investors that have jumped at a chance to buy a stake of Bai. Other backers include Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS), actor Ashton Kutcher, and private-equity firm Strand Equity Partners. The brand’s fast growth has helped it achieve a potential valuation of more than $2 billion—including debt—as it reportedly mulls a sale.