Next Life

From Hedge Funds to Lady Gaga


In 2008, hedge fund manager Matthew Michelsen received the phone call that would change his life—from 50 Cent. Actually, the rapper and energy drink mogul was calling to speak with Michelsen's wife, Jenny, about investing in her 3D eyewear company, Gunnar Optiks. Jenny passed the phone to Matthew, and an unlikely friendship was born.

Michelsen, who co-founded trading technology firm UNX after starting two hedge funds, never thought he'd work in entertainment. Yet after "Fitty" introduced him to Lady Gaga's manager, Troy Carter, Michelsen saw an opportunity to employ his financial tech expertise: Carter had been looking for a way to unify Gaga's "Little Monster" fans online. Michelsen, now 39, introduced Carter to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Joe Lonsdale and Alex Moore. The group subsequently founded the Backplane, an online platform that allows fans to build all-encompassing e-communities. Michelsen left UNX in 2010.

With seven figures in startup costs coming out of Michelsen's pocket, the Palo Alto company has 12 employees, and, he says, is in talks with Eminem, Justin Bieber, and the National Football League. Its most important client, however, remains Gaga. Littlemonsters.com uses the Backplane technology to create a Gaga universe for her 38 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers—replete with e-mail addresses and calendars. "The goal is for everyone to start their own interactive community," says Michelsen. "If you're a Girl Scout mom, you could have your own Backplane with 12 other moms." Though the Gaga model seems a bit more promising.

Michelsen's Best Advice
1. Know Your Weaknesses. "Find friends and business partners who can do the things you can't. This is hard to do, because most people only really value the skills they're good at and downplay the importance of other abilities."
2. Exude confidence. "It's contagious. Walk into rooms planning to make it happen. If you assume something is impossible, it probably is. But if you're confident that you're supposed to be there, others will be, too."


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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