Seahawks QB Russell Wilson gets billionaire backing for his new app connecting celebrities and superfans

Jonathan Shieber

Russell Wilson, the superstar quarterback helming the Seattle Seahawks, has a pretty enviable life.

His wife is the musician Ciara. He's hung out with the Obamas at the White House. And he's won a Super Bowl (he's also, apparently, a huge fan of Chinese food after a trip there last year).

All pretty great stuff.

Well, Wilson wants to give superfans a curated look behind the glitz and the glamor, to the somewhat less glitzy and glamorous view behind the scenes of the celebrity machine with his new app, TraceMe.

Basically giving Wilson's stalkers biggest fans a controlled look at his life "as it's lived" (although still in front of a camera), TraceMe available in beta today on iOS,

Wilson ultimately envisions it as a platform where celebrities of all stripes, from athletes to musicians, actors to models, and instagram influencers, can all offer a more intimate picture of themselves -- on platforms that they control.

“I’ve dreamed about launching TraceMe for a long time and I am excited to finally see it come to fruition,” said Wilson, TraceMe’s Founder and Executive Chairman, in a statement. “I have worked super hard with the world class team at TraceMe to make this become a reality for our fans.”

Wilson worked with the local Seattle venture studio, Pioneer Square, founded by entrepreneur Greg Gottesman, and seasoned Hulu executive Jason LeeKeenan (who serves as the company's chief executive).

The idea is for fans to get an inside look at Russell's training regimen, his mental coaching, his off-the-field life, and a smattering of produced pieces that Willson's building out around interviews with some of his own personal heroes.

“Now that it’s football season, my number one priority is leading the Seahawks to another Super Bowl victory,” he added. “TraceMe is going to help me on that journey by providing me with a direct line to my most passionate supporters who drive my motivation throughout this amazing season.”

The vision that Wilson's laid out has attracted some top-tier investors from the Seattle area, including its best known billionaire, Jeff Bezos, through his Bezos Expeditions fund. Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai, and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley are also investors in the new venture.

In all, Wilson managed to round up $9 million in initial funding from the app.

“We think there’s a gap for the most passionate fans out there,” said LeeKeenan, in a statement. “Our vision for TraceMe is to define a new category for superfan engagement. When the floodlights are shut off at a big game or a sell-out show, the smartphone offers the best place for a superfan to immerse themselves in the worlds of their favorite artists, athletes, and entertainers. We want to give them the VIP experience they’ve always dreamed of.”

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Joining the billionaires (and leading the round) is the Seattle-based venture firm Madrona Venture Group. Mike Mahan (the president of Dick Clark Productions) and Kenny Dichter, who founded Wheels Up, round out the investment team.

“At the core of every great team there are passionate leaders like Jason and Russell and a commitment to continuous improvement,” said Matt McIlwain, a Managing Director of Madrona Venture Group and board member of TraceMe, in a statement. “TraceMe is focused on improving and personalizing the ways talented stars share content and interact with their biggest fans. The entire Madrona team is excited to help TraceMe realize its full potential.”

The app is an example of how influencers and celebrities can try to wrest some control (and dollars) away from content platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Snap, and others, that manage fan interactions and own most of the customer data.

Wilson and his fellow celebrities can now launch their own platforms for fan engagement and interaction ... and think there's an audience out there that will pay for the exclusivity.

While that hasn't worked out so well for properties like Tidal, there's a logic to the model. Especially as TraceMe gathers more celebrities onto the platform.

Derek Jeter's Player's Tribune shows how the model of storytelling "told" by athletes themselves (coupled with amazing talent from places like Sports Illustrated), can work as a media property.

Examples of the exclusive content Wilson’s fans will be treated to as part of the public beta app include:

  • DangerTalk – Wilson’s unique weekly podcast with his take on the game plus personal views on family, faith, and relationships.
  • Legends – Wilson sits down to talk with legendary superstars such as Jim Brown, Chris Berman, Laila Ali, Bill Russell and Steve Kerr to reveal their stories and motivations, as well as to talk sports, entertainment, and world news.
  • Trainingwith Decker Davis – Learn how to train on and off the field like a Super Bowl champion with Wilson’s personal trainer Decker Davis.
  • DangeRuss Minds – Train alongside Wilson as his mental coach Trevor Moawad teaches you how to have a DangeRuss Mind.
  • Cooking with Chef Andrea – Journey to healthy eating with Wilson’s personal chef, changing the health of the world one dinner plate at a time.
  • RWQB – Learn to be a great leader both on and off the field in RWQB, an elite training program for young quarterbacks all over the world, taught by Wilson and Coach Jake Heaps.