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Ashton Kutcher on His Best Investment (It’s Not What You Think)

Ashton Kutcher has played many roles in his lifetime.

You probably know some of them: Michael Kelso from “That ’70s Show,” Walden Schmidt from “Two and a Half Men,” and the star of dozens of movies, including “The Butterfly Effect” and “No Strings Attached.”

Others you might not be as familiar with. Before becoming famous, Kutcher worked jobs ranging from clean-up on construction crews to skinning and cleaning deer at a meat locker to baling hay.

More recently, he’s co-founded a human rights organization (THORN), and a digital media company (A Plus), and, for the last several years, focused on one gig he seems particularly skilled at: startup investor.

In 2011, he co-founded venture capital firm A-Grade Investments, and in 2015, Sound Ventures, and has since poured millions into companies like Airbnb, Uber, and (ahem, full disclosure) Acorns. We talked with Kutcher about investing, financial firsts, and his best advice for living the life you want.

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The best money advice you never got, delivered to your inbox weekly.

What inspired you to invest in startups?
I recognized early on that there were a lot of emerging companies building better, cleaner, easier solutions to everyday problems, and I had an ability and interest to bring those solutions to the masses.

I spend a lot of time thinking about new and simpler ways to do things, but don’t have enough time to execute on all those ideas. So I found people who were executing on them and invested in their success.

What gets you excited about a particular company?
I look for driven people who aren’t afraid of working hard, but have the savvy to work smart. I also study pain-points in life and look for a large volume of people who are hacking a solution or using an antiquated system to solve their problem.

But the real thing that sweeps me away is when I get the feeling that something is obvious, and it just seems like, `Of course this is how we should be doing it!’ Or when an idea is so wonderful that you spend hours thinking about various iterations and applications.

What do you consider your best investment?
My relationships—taking the time to get to know [people], what motivates them, what their challenges are. These things are often overlooked. Investors get so wrapped up in returns and numbers that they forget that the true privilege of their position is to share a journey with exceptional people.

Looking forward, what area of investing captures your imagination?
We have a long way to go in improving the standard of happiness for billions around the world. There are deep needs that exist in people’s lives, and investing in solutions will always be inspiring. Life shouldn’t be something people endure; it can be one magical discovery after the next.

So, tell us about your first jobs.
When I was really young, I mowed lawns and worked clean-up on construction crews. Then I started roofing when I was old enough to climb a ladder. I also did janitorial work at warehouses and factories. I worked at a supermarket deli, washed dishes in a diner, skinned and cleaned deer at a meat locker, detasseled corn, baled hay, and did masonry work.

What’s the first thing you saved for?
When I was a 13, I saved $1,400 for a snowmobile. I worked after school and on weekends for one and a half years, and put every cent into a savings account.

What was your scariest financial decision?
The purchase of my first home. I was scared because I took on debt greater than my cash on hand. I don’t sleep well when I owe people money. I believe freedom is a product of flexibility of choice, and debt leaves you beholden to practical choices.

If you could impart some wisdom to your younger self, what would it be?
Don’t spend until you have a very clear plan with benchmarks for success and failure. I’ve found myself as an entrepreneur, investor, and even with my personal finances pushing too hard on optimism: I blindly believe things are just going to work because I build an absolute justification for why they will, and then I end up over-investing in something that isn’t working.

Optimism is priceless—but only when coupled with measurement.

What would you tell someone who asks what they should invest in?
First: Yourself! Double down on your own expertise, your passion, the thing you do when you have free time.

[Then] pay attention. If you work in a grocery store, pay attention to the items that you can’t keep in stock, and the new things that are hitting the shelf. If you are a contractor, investigate the new materials showing up on jobs. Who makes them? Why are they better? You may have a more educated opinion than you are giving yourself credit for. Too often, people speculate on investments based on what’s making someone else rich and forget to do a deep index on their own behaviors.

Invest in that which you would like to see become a reality. Worst-case scenario, you lose money—but at least you will get the life you want.


    I’m very disappointed that Acorn is looking to actors to get investing advice. The fact that AK thinks his best investment (of money) is in relationships? Sounds to me like he’s trying to buy friends. Those kinds of friends don’t start around long when the money is gone.

    The fact that AK thinks losing our life savings is just a worse case scenario & no big deal. It must be nice to be so casual about losing money.

    The rest of us invest to make more money, Not to lose it.

    1: he is also an entrepreneur, that makes him qualified to offer advice. He owns 2 venture capital firms for crying out loud.
    2: never invest more than you can afford to lose, that’s investing 101
    3: grow up

    Starting 2 venture capital firms in the last 5 years in the last 5 years isn’t impressive to me. Maybe it is to you? A 5,10,15 year track record of ROE like Warren Buffet’s. That would impress me. As for your #2, I think that’s for gambling. I don’t know about you, But I don’t know any other way to grow a retirement account other then thru investing. Unless your happy with less then %1 interest on a CD & want to work till the day you die.

    As for your #3. Just because someone is a good actor/actress. Doesn’t mean you should be taking medical or investment advice from them. Just because they played one on TV. Maybe AK will have a track record like Warren Buffet’s? I would love to eat my words. Till then . . .

    You should really pay attention to what you read before you make an ass of yourself. Ashton is an Acorns INVESTOR, they didn’t just blindly pick him. And the question wasn’t what his best FINANCIAL investments are, but even so, the relationships he speaks of are of the people he’s investing in, NOT his friends.

    Yes I noticed he is a investor in Acorn. As for the investment question not being financial? Your being disingenuous. Unless Acorn has a dating/relationship side that I don’t know about? Of course the question was financial. The whole article was financial.

    He’s not investing in “friends”, he’s investing in the people behind his products. Do you know his background? Don’t call someone “just an actor” until you know what you’re talking about.

    I wasn’t trying to call him “just a actor”. But if you want me to take anyone serious as a investor? Show me their track record. I didn’t see any 1,5,10 yr track record in the article.

    He never said invest your “money” in relationships – he said to invest and build relationships. And he’s right. Building relationships and investing in people is a lot more important than the bottom line. If you can’t (or won’t) make another human beings life any better with your care, knowledge and experience – then you are truly a selfish person.

    The potential to lose is always out there. I don’t think AK is out to promote lost but investment growth.

    I definately have new respect for Ashton. I thought I would be reading a bunch of fluff but instead he had very sound advice. People as his best investment is obvious! Without them there is no payback, monetarily or personally!

    Refreshing to see someone from the Hollywood set as grounded as Ashton Kutcher. Saving his money for a snowmobile and working hard to see his investment(s) grow. It’s what you can do in America and other free markets if you just have the will and moxy to put your plan in motion.

    Well, I met Ashton once – when he was doing that 70’s show, and the guy is by far not someone you should take advice from; He didn’t strike me as an intelligent guy… just the opposite. He was simply lucky enough to have the right friend who advised him to invest some of his money in a startup he didn’t even know about…and from there it just got bigger with time, as he was lucky enough to invest on the right thing and see “easy” success. A lot of luck – not a lot of brain… He was a multi millionaire before he ever invested any money on anything – and when you have a few millions lying around – people just ask you to invest in their company…all the time… you have to understand also that when someone famous invest in your company – it boosts them a LOT… so even if they were not meant to succeed – they will now… it’s much easier to get more investments when you can say “Ashton Kutcher invested in us !”.. it’s just fame followed by money followed by luck… the usual story , and he’s not the only actor who made millions investing in such companies. He just got famous for that because everyone thought he is dumb… so it was a surprising fact. But a LOT of dumb rich people make money by investing in other companies… it doesn’t mean they are smart or intelligent or know what they’re doing… when you’re rich – you have a lot of smart people around you advising you what to do with your money…

    So you’re basing your facts off of meeting someone one time how many years ago? And sure he might not have known much at that time but people learn every day. And he has the money to learn not only through people but also failure in his own investments. So what he had money before he started investing. If I made millions I’d be buying into companies that would give me more millions. He could always blow it all on cars and houses like other celebrities.

    So much judgment. Regardless as to whether he has a long history in investing, what he was like as a 20-something, his fame, or his connections in business, his advice makes perfect sense. He’s really just saying that you need to pay attention to the market happening around you every day. We don’t need to pay some guy in an office to tell you what to invest in (although clearly some feel more comfortable with that, and that’s ok too). There are no guarantees in investing, which means there’s no perfect way to do it, so each to his/her own. Thanks for the article.

    My comments aren’t a judgment on AK. As much on Acorn. Looking to actors/ess for advice on a subject their not a professional in is a problem in our times & culture. Acorn is showing themselves as more of a media organization rather then a investing organization. Just look at the gains on your account (or lack of). My account list $6 in the last 6 months & paid them $1 a money for them to lose money for me.

    Acorns didn’t lose your money; whatever losses you incurred are due to market behavior. When your money is invested into your Acorns portfolio, it is directed into a group of ETFs (exchange traded funds) that all track major stock and bond indexes. These very same funds are available through investment houses such as Vanguard and Fidelity. When the underlying companies within each of these major indexes perform poorly, the funds also reflect that. Likewise, when they perform well, so do the funds. That’s the idea of index funds…they mirror the behavior of the underlying companies because that’s what their portfolios are comprised of. You’d have incurred losses regardless of where you decided to invest, whether it was Acorns, Fidelity, or anywhere else.

    Interesting conversations. It’s always good to have second thoughts about what these article say, but back to the basics: If you think Acorns will work, invest in it. It’s that simple. If not, browse away.

    I’ll listen to all the nay sayers when they can show me they are making more on their investments than Ashton Kutcher does on his, until then shut your piehole and try being positive. Acorns is providing you with a great opportunity to learn from someone that has managed to make a ton of money in different ways as well as lead a happy life. If you are unable to take away something good from that, then perhaps you should crawl back into your lonely little cave and disconnect from the internet.

    I can feel “green eyes” here. Kutcher has been a long time entrepreneur, long before any “entrepreneur hollywood actors”. He was the first to do his own “pranked show”. He has been also an venture capitalist long before you know the word “start-up company”. So if you don’t want to learn a thing or two from him due to your own narrow mind, it shows your own character, not his.

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