Want Lance Bass to sing you 'Happy Birthday?' This Chicago startup can make it happen

by Michael Hines
July 9, 2018
Cameo Chicago tech startup

Celebrity retweets, mentions and likes are now just as valuable, if not more so, than autographs and in-person meetups. However, just because these interactions are online, that doesn’t mean they’re any easier to facilitate than those that take place in the real world.

That’s where Cameo comes in. The Chicago startup has created a marketplace where fans can purchase personalized video shoutouts from their favorite stars.

“We’re trying to bust down the pedestal that talent sometimes puts themselves on and create the most authentic and personalized fan relationships in the world,” said co-founder and CEO Steven Galanis. “We want to be the ones who are lifting up the red velvet rope and letting people through.”

Galanis and his two co-founders, Martin Blencowe and Devon Townsend, came up with Cameo in late 2016. At that time, Blencowe was working as an NFL agent and noticed that fans were increasingly asking his clients for selfies, not signatures.

“We had the idea that selfies were the new autographs,” said Galanis. “You can buy an autograph in the store, so why not a selfie? But buying a selfie would be boring. Video is a much better way for monetizing a person’s social media and brand.”

On Cameo, users can order custom shout outs from over 2,500 celebrities, athletes, social media stars, reality TV stars, comedians and more. Some of the bigger names on its roster include N’SYNC alum Lance Bass, NFL hall of famer Terrell Owens and actress Bella Thorne.

Or you can buy a cameo from professional beach volleyball player Chris McDonald as a birthday present for your boss, like I did.


Cameo recruits talent to its platform, and stars can also apply for access via a form or by logging in through Instagram and having their influence assessed. Referrals are also accepted.

Talent sets their own rates — anywhere from $5 per video to $500 — and have a week to turn around videos. Cameo takes a 25 percent cut from each purchase.

“It’s really the best way for the talent to monetize their social in a brand-positive way,” said Galanis. “The customer ends up paying the talent to make them more popular with their fans.”

Cameo also lets talent donate their take to charity. HQ Trivia host Scott Rogowsky donated the proceeds from his videos to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Cameo donated a portion of its profits last year to relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey.

Cameo sold its first video in February 2017, and since then the company has sold over 40,000 videos. Galanis said growth has been driven by word of mouth and through customers sharing their videos on social media.

There’s no limit to what we could do, but today we’re focused on doing one thing exceptionally well.”

“We don’t spend any significant money on marketing,” said Galanis. “We always say every Cameo is a commercial for the next one.”

To keep up with demand, Cameo is growing its team. The company has a headcount of 14 and is headquartered in 1871, with four members of the team working out of its Los Angeles office. Cameo is currently hiring for its tech team and is also seeking a head of finance, data analyst and talent relations manager.

“We’ve built a world-class team that’s able to attract and retain top talent and a platform that our talent likes so much,” said Galanis. “There’s no limit to what we could do, but today we’re focused on doing one thing exceptionally well.”

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