Fast forward: It’s Valentine’s Day. You’ve been stuck with your partner in quarantine for what feels like a billion years. You love each other, but man are you bored of each other. The typical flowers and chocolates seem so anticlimactic, as, let’s be honest, you’ve already been getting that for yourselves for a while now in order to hunt down some serotonin. So what do you do? 

You get them a Cameo, obviously. You find their favorite actor, reality star, athlete or even TikTok influencer to send them a message of love, encouragement, jokes or sarcastic ribbing (if that’s your thing). You see your partner smile genuinely for the first time in a long time, and you get to share a laugh together as you enjoy this private moment between yourselves and an entertainer who, just a few short years ago, you could have never fathomed receiving a personal video from. Life is feeling good. Thanks to Cameo you have new inside jokes and a shared experience that’ll surely become a core memory. You have won Valentine’s Day. 

Since the rise of TikTok, the popularity of Cameo has found nationwide reach. Whether it’s a viral reaction video to someone being surprised with a Cameo, an über entertaining video of your favorite reality star being their charmingly messy selves that you just HAVE to share, or a wholesome message from your kids’ favorite TikToker that they’ll ask to watch on repeat for days, Cameo is a natural next step in this new societal era of connection and humanization. I personally cannot say enough good things about it, as the Cameo I custom ordered from my husband and sons’ favorite TikToker – Stalekracker – has ingrained itself into our weekend morning routine, as we gather together to watch. To this day, hearing their beloved cajun chef say their names can calm even the most toddler of tantrums. Cameo is kind of magic that way. 

It’s this magic, this personal connection, that this week’s guest on the L.A. Weekly Weekly Podcast, Steven Galanis, was counting on when creating the platform. Steven is an American entrepreneur best known as the co-founder and CEO of Cameo along with Martin Blencowe and Devon Townsend. Cameo’s official description is: a marketplace where fans can book personalized video shoutouts from their favorite celebrities. But it has come to represent so much more. 

“Cameo’s mission is to create the most personalized and authentic fan experiences in the world,” confirms Steven. “We primarily do that through our core product, is where you can find it. We make personalized video shoutouts from over 50,000 different athletes, actors and entertainers. So if you wanted somebody to wish your boyfriend happy Valentine’s Day from you, you could go to Cameo, you could find that person that would be perfect for them, you craft a message [to your Cameo choice] in 250 characters or less and in seven days or less you will get your video from them saying whatever you want to whomever you want.”

Entertainers vary in turnaround time – for example, my Cameo from @stalekracker was requested in the evening and I had received it by the following morning. 

So how did this idea come to be? What was the seed that grew the website and app into the household name it is today? 

“It’s a pretty crazy story,” Steven admits. “I actually had the idea for a Cameo at my grandmother’s funeral, of all places. My cofounder Martin had flown in for the day [to attend the funeral]… and as I was driving him back from the funeral to O’Hare where he was going to get on a place to go back to L.A., he started telling me about a problem he was having as an NFL agent with one client. He had this one client, Cassius Marsh, that he really felt like he could turn into a movie star. He thought he could be the next Rock or the next Jason Mamoa, like a big guy that could be in a ‘blow ‘em up’ action movie.”

Steven’s uncle – Hollywood producer George Furla – had produced quite a number of hits, films such as Rambo, Conan, Lone Survivor, etc… so Steven’s buddy Martin hoped that by having such a personal relationship with such a well-known professional connection he could get his client into film. Unfortunately, Martin could never really get that vision to work. 

“Martin kept telling me how charismatic Cassius is, and he showed me a video on his phone of Cassius wishing his buddy congratulations on having his first kid,” continues Steven. “As Martin was playing this video the eureka moment went off in my head and I go ‘Martin, stop trying to get Cassius an endorsement deal or get him into movies. That’s pretty cool what you just showed me, we should try to sell those.’”

And thus, the idea for Cameo was born. And the two decided to develop the platform to address the gap in the entertainment industry that held talent back from connecting personally with their fans. 

It was no easy task, especially given that neither of the men were developers. 

“We had an idea but we had no idea how to go about building it,” confides Steven. “At that point, I then called up a classmate of mine from Duke [University], Devon Townsend, who would become our co-founder, and I pitched this idea of creating a marketplace where for X amount of money you could pay to do “y” with “z” athlete.” 

Devon agreed to a meeting to discuss viability, and the three kept coming back to the original seed of the idea: personalized videos. With that as the vision, they took off running to get the platform functional. Six months of hard work later, they sold their first Cameo. 

As is with every tale of success, there is a long journey and tale within a tale that brought Steven from childhood to where he is today. Born in 1987, Steven is the eldest son of Greek immigrants. He grew up with a drive to connect and a family ethic of handwork. While in kindergarten at Winkelman School he received his life-long nickname, “The Mayor,” due to his social acumen. In high school, Steven was an award-winning debater and class president, as well as an accomplished student-athlete and leader. These successes and his proven drive landed him acceptance to the prestigious Duke University (he majored in History, minored in Economics and received a certificate in Markets and Management Studies) where he got his first taste of entrepreneurship by co-founding Spartan Entertainment. 

Once bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, his mind never stopped churning with ideas, which is how we came to enjoy Cameo as it is today. 

Cameo started with the idea that “selfies are the new autograph,” and has grown into a company that has forever altered the way fans can interact with their favorite celebrities. It has won many awards. Cameo was been named one of America’s Best Startup Employers by Forbes (#19) and LinkedIn (#32). It was named one of the “50 Most Genius Companies” by Time in 2018. In 2019, Cameo took home the prestigious Momentum Award given annually by 1871 & the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center. And most recently, in 2020, Cameo topped Fast Company’s list of the “World’s Most Innovative Social Media Companies” and was named one of the “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.”

To learn more about this fascinating business, as well as hear words of wisdom and golden advice from a successful entrepreneur, tune in to this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly Weekly Podcast on Spotify, Cumulus Los Angeles or wherever you get your podcasts.

LA Weekly