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I love being a mogul: Hollywood stars go into business

By Susan Hornik

Business reporter, Los Angeles

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionVanessa Hudgens launched her new soft drink on 30 April with a photo shoot in a Californian desert

With the pandemic shutting down Hollywood for much of the past year, actors have had more spare time on their hands.

Rather than just isolating at home, many high profile names have instead tapped into their entrepreneurial passions and set up businesses.

Here three celebrities who juggle acting with singing careers tell the BBC about their start-ups that have been born out of the lockdowns. They are joined by a best-selling country music artist who has also used the lockdown to flex her business muscles.

Vanessa Hudgens

The 32-year-old actor and singer has just launched a soft drink that contains the juice of cactuses.

Called CaliWater, she has started the brand with her friend and business partner Oliver Trevena.

image copyrightCaliwater

image captionHudgens says her drink has health benefits

“The pandemic gave us the opportunity to really focus on the brand, fine tune it, and get it launched,” says Hudgens.

“This is a health beverage with antiviral and immunity benefits, so we really wanted to release it as soon as possible and get it out to consumers.”

Initially planning to target restaurants and hotels, as these were closed during lockdowns, the two friends had to alter their marketing and distribution strategy.

“The situation made us have more of a push and focus on the direct to consumer/e-commerce world, and add in a subscription-based model too,” says Hudgens.

However, with the end of the pandemic now hopefully in sight, and restaurants and hotels reopening, Hudgens adds: “We are now moving quickly with many confirmed rooftop dining/dining patios and hotel rollouts, along with retail.”

Best known for her role in TV series High School Musical, Hudgens has pledged to give at least $1m (£700,000) from sales of CaliWater to the US child poverty charity No Kid Hungry.

Bella Thorne

“I’ve always wanted to be a mogul,” says Thorne, who at 23, is an actor, singer, model, film director and businesswoman.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionBella Thorne says she has always wanted to be a businesswoman

During the pandemic she has launched a new production company, Content X, which supports social media influencers who are hoping to build their brands.

“It’s definitely been a fascinating process,” she says. “Because of the lockdowns we had to think harder and do lengthy research about when to promote marketing and brand initiatives for Content X.

“People are online at different times during the pandemic era.”

Thorne is also continuing to run a cannabis business – Forbidden Flowers – that she launched at the end of 2019. She says she is grateful that sales of the crop rose strongly during the pandemic.

With Thorne now working on several movies and creating new music, she adds that she has found it quite difficult to balance everything.

“It can be pretty hard,” she says. “There is always a struggle to balance new dates coming on my plate, and there are always new things I want to do.

“It’s all about sectioning off the time to really focus on something. Right now, I get to focus on a month on music before I leave for my next movie, while still focusing on Content X.

“[However], I love ‘mogulism’, I think it’s amazing. I am so flabbergasted, excited and intrigued by people that can do more than one thing.

“I think in life, you are interested in everything, but people don’t give you the chance; they say do X or Y. Now is the time to do it all!”

Quincy Brown

Actor, singer and model Quincy Brown is the adopted son of rap star Sean “Diddy” Combs.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionQuincy Brown says business enables him to be creative

The pandemic afforded the 29-year-old the time to develop a new business idea.

“To me, all business is a form of art,” says Brown. “One of the spaces I am passionate about is tech. To find success there you have to constantly be changing and evolving.”

After losing five sets of Apple’s AirPods headphones, he searched the market to see if there was anything out there that could help him not lose them.

“As a musician and actor, it’s extremely important to me to have them on hand and fully charged,” he says. “When I didn’t find anything [to solve the problem], I created my own!”.

Brown developed a AirPod case, called Qase, which includes a tracking device. So if you lose it, you can find it again by using an app on your mobile phone.

To gauge interest in the product he spoke to his 4.5 million followers on Instagram.

“I used socials as a test dummy to see if I would be able to sell this product,” says Brown. “I reached out to my fans and asked them questions, creating my own market research.”

Brown, who already has a photo editing app business called Fresh Crop under his belt, says his ultimate goal is to become a global household name.

“I want to create and align myself with all aspects of business that are relatable to me, to share all my creative sides and connect with people on all different levels,” he says.

“Everything I create has a little piece of me, just like the AirPods case is spelled Qase. Replacing the ‘c’ with a ‘q’ to give it my personal stamp.”

Wynonna Judd

Multi-platinum country music star Wynonna Judd was inspired to create her own range of cannabis oil products during the pandemic.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionWynonna Judd: “This past year was very stressful”

Feeling helpless about her own health, the 56-year-old says she wanted to be more “proactive” about it.

“With the music business shut down, the band and crew going on unemployment, this past year was very stressful,” says Judd.

“I had borderline panic attacks… I needed to learn how to be more self sufficient.”

Launching the business was Judd’s way of saying “nope, you can take away touring, travelling, live shows and many other things, but you are not going to take away my desire to get past this moment”.

Her products, which include bath bombs and a lip balm, contain cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD. Some say that this relieves pain, and helps the user relax. It does not contain any of the cannabis compounds that would make someone “high”.

Judd, who has also done some acting work over the years, says that starting the business venture – Wynonna CBD – required “a lot of learning”.

“I felt like I went to college this past year, I learned so much. I asked a lot of questions and tried out a variety of samples.

“That’s how I figured out what I wanted to do. I think it’s exciting for any person at any age to get into a new career you know very little about. This is how you learn who you are and your strengths.”

New Economy is a new series exploring how businesses, trade, economies and working life are changing fast.

While none of the four we spoke to revealed their sales figures, brand expert Rebecca Battman says their celebrity status would make it much easier for their products and business interests to be successful.

“With hugely valuable social media fan bases of their own, Hollywood stars [or indeed any other celebrities] provide instant access to a target customer base that is pre-disposed to purchase the products they endorse,” says the founder of London-based brand agency RBL.

“Not content with promoting someone else’s product for a relatively small slice of the action, the savviest players are launching their own companies and becoming entrepreneurs and brand owners in their own right.

“Increasingly it’s not enough to be a great singer, actress, model or athlete with your own personal brand. To be a truly global super star you need your own business empire and brand portfolio.”

Additional reporting by Will Smale

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