Sunday, May 2, 2021

Startup Cameo had its breakthrough moment in 2020 and a Tippie alum was part of its rise.

Garret Dunn

On his 60th birthday, Garret Dunn’s father unwrapped an iPad with a personalized video message.

“Hey Stu! It's Luis Gonzales,” said the former Major League Baseball outfielder whose game-winning hit off New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series clinched the Arizona Diamondbacks only championship to date.

“Your son, Garret still remembers that memorable day back in 2001 with you when we won the World Series. It was a great time for all of us, but this is a special time for you. Happy 60th birthday! I hope you enjoy the day, man. You deserve it.”

For the committed Diamondback fan, hearing Gonzalez personally wish him happy birthday prompted a number of feelings. Surprise. Incredulity. And then.


The video was purchased from Cameo, which launched in March 2017 and offers personalized celebrity video interactions to customers for a fee. The celebrities set their price and keep 75% of it for every video they record. Cameo keeps the other 25%.

“Cameo is interesting because it's a two-sided marketplace that creates online connections.”

Dunn (BBA13) joined the company in September 2019 right after its Series B funding round. On his first day he was welcomed to the company with a Cameo from Mike Portnoy, the drummer from Dunn’s favorite progressive metal band, Dream Theater. Now director of finance and strategy, Dunn said he was drawn to the company because of its unique business model.

“Cameo is interesting because it's a two-sided marketplace that creates online connections,” said Dunn. “But unlike other social media companies who are built on advertising, our business model is built on paid talent-to-fan interactions. In my role in strategy, we dive deep into the data and the analytics on how we are acquiring customers, how we are acquiring talent, and how those two sides of the marketplace interact.”

Before the pandemic, Cameo’s talent was largely made up of the “untraditionally famous” such as reality TV characters, nano-influencers, and cult film stars. When the pandemic arrived in 2020, Cameo experienced “huge, outsized growth” to the business.

“There was this moment when the NBA shut down, the NFL shut down, actors were out of work, and comedians and singers were out of work. So we had a huge crop of talent who had lost incomes. And on the other side, you had customers who were confused and struggling to connect with family and friends. Both of these groups could really benefit from the mutual connection that our product offers,” said Dunn.

One of the big winners was Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin Malone on the television show "The Office." Baumgartner was one of Cameo’s most popular talents in 2020, reportedly making over $1 million from Cameo bookings that year. One of his videos was commissioned by Peggy Stover, associate professor of practice and director of the Marketing Institute, as a graduation gift for her students. It was a hit.

The company explored a number of new business lines in 2020, including promotional products for corporate events, sponsorships, and other business customer use cases. Cameo is also experimenting with synchronous video call between celebrities and their fans, which is set to launch this year. Yet through it all, said Dunn, the “North Star” of every endeavor came back to the delight factor.

“Our main goal is to spread joy and connect people with their favorite celebrities and connect celebrities with their most loyal fans. It was a really helpful way to stay focused in 2020.”


This story appeared in the 2021 issue of Exchange magazine.