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Newly funded app connects fans to celebs

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A new San Diego startup called Yapert makes it easier to stalk -- and talk to -- stars online.

The interest-based social media app connects musicians, actors, athletes and designers with their fan bases, letting the two engage and interact in new ways.

Yapert targets celebrities with 1 million or more Facebook fans, and about 40 are on board so far.

Facebook connects friends but fails to do the same with interests -- especially in music, entertainment and sports.

“People were frustrated by checking multiple websites, feeds, channels and apps, in an effort to just stay up-to-date. It was equally frustrating from the other side, as stars and brands were speaking, but few were actually hearing,” said Yapert, on its website.

This week, Yapert is closing on a $1.2 million round from San Diego Tech Coast Angels, an affiliate of the largest angel investment organization in the United States.

Instead of approaching each celebrity directly, Yapert inks deals with media companies that work with multiple stars.

“They sign up one media company and get several stars,” Gary Phillips, president of the San Diego Tech Coast Angels, who's leading the round.

About a dozen media companies in Los Angeles and the East Coast are interested. One is RocNation, which was founded by Jay-Z and manages mega artists like Rihanna.

The app, which has a revenue sharing model with stars, can help save singers money.

Facebook has limitations and pain points when it comes to communicating with millions of fans.

"It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach out. There are fees if they wanted to pay to engage," Phillips said.

The app is set to launch in early July and has been in open beta testing mode for the past month or two.

“They’ve already signed up 165,000 users,” he said.

Users can track stars' digital footprints -- their uploaded pictures, videos and music -- in real time, then share them with friends on Twitter and Facebook.

They can also interact with other fans and favorite brands and get alerts when new content or messages are posted.

Yapert is one of six investments totaling $6 million that San Diego Tech Coast Angels has made this year.

San Diego is the largest of Tech Coast Angels' five regional networks in Southern California, followed by Los Angeles and Orange County.

There are 100 members in the San Diego network, and each is encouraged to invest at least $50,000 a year into high-tech or life sciences startups.

Yapert, which is headquartered in Sorrento Valley, was founded by two Tech Coast Angels board members, Phil Kelly and Rick Cooper.

Phillips said startups that don’t have strong team members can fall flat, even if the product is terrific.

“If it’s a good product and a good management team, those [companies] tend to move forward,” he said.

Yapert, which has about eight to 10 employees in San Diego, could have 100 stars on board by the end of 2013. Those signed up now are mostly musicians.

“[Yapert] is growing rapidly. We are looking for an early exit. They are hoping to exit by year 2016 with a 20-times back for us as investors,” said Phillips.

An acquirer could be any of the social media giants -- including Facebook -- or an advertising company, he notes.

Yapert will likely receive another round of $2.5 million, Phillips said.

"This is one of those things that’s an execution play. That means there really isn’t any intellectual property associated with it. It’s a 'capture as many users as you can and grow the revenue as fast as you can,'" he said.

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