When the manager of basketball star Shaquille O’Neal called Michael Downing one month ago out of the blue, the San Francisco entrepreneur was overcome with elation – and dread.
O’Neal is a savvy social media adopter with nearly 4 million Twitter followers and more than 2 million Facebook fans. He also reads tech press, and he’d noticed a short piece about Downing’s 10-month-old company, Tout. The maker of an iPhone application that will be available on Android phones next month, Tout allows users to film 15-second-long videos, then blast them over Facebook or Twitter accounts, email or SMS with the click of a button.
O’Neal wanted to announce his retirement from the NBA in as immediately impactful a way possible – without first alerting his Boston Celtics teammates. He thought Tout looked ideal, so a call was made. “His manager wanted to let us know he was going to announce his retirement using Tout so we wouldn’t get crushed by the traffic,” said Downing.
Downing quickly offered to make O’Neal an adviser, a role that provides O’Neal with a bit of equity. The six-person company also set about how to improve the service in a hurry. (O’Neal’s camp had reached out just two weeks after Tout’s beta launch.)