Startups increasingly are looking to bring in celebrities as co-founders, in part because changes to Apple’s privacy settings have made it more difficult to acquire customers through social platforms, Akaks said.
“The idea of having talent affiliated as a co-founder gives you the ability to leverage their distribution model, their audience, to build the brand and then convert customers,” he said.
SonderCo also got the financial backing of investor Matthew Rutler, a former colleague of Akaks and the current executive VP of talent and business development for MasterClass. Rutler has invested in over 100 companies including Lyft, DraftKings, Pinterest and Discord, and was an early investor in MasterClass through MX Investments, the firm he owns with his fiancée, the singer Christina Aguilera.
After investing in MasterClass, Rutler joined the platform as its first executive and recruited Akaks to help him build its talent partnership team and deal-making efforts. Akaks is credited with driving the talent negotiations for celebrity-taught MasterClass courses that boosted the educational content platform’s brand recognition.
Akaks said him and Rutler came up with the name Sonder, which is “the idea that everyone has a unique story and identity, living a life as complex as your own.”
Thanks to Rutler’s backing, Akaks helped secure Aguilera as co-founder and chief brand advisor for sexual wellness brand Playground in March, before SonderCo officially launched. The agency said that the deal served as an early test to prove the business model could work.
The company already has work in the market—it helped form influencer partnerships on behalf of prescription digital medicine company Akili Interactive as it launches EndeavorOTC, a product aimed at helping treat ADHD and attention issues in adults. Akaks said SonderCo helped Akili identify the right influencers to help promote EndeavorOTC, including creator Tank Sinatra, who posts comical content about parenthood and had recently opened up about having ADHD.
“It was one of the first times that [the creator] was talking about ADHD publicly and [we] saw a really interesting way to tie in humor and his whole vibe with what Akili was doing [with] the product and drive consumers to it,” Akaks said.