Will.i.am: from rapper to tech mogul who made history launching AI app for creatives

Abu Mubarik October 10, 2023
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Foundations World Economic Forum

Will.i.am is a powerhouse musician, producer, technologist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Born Williams Adams, the musician turned entrepreneur is a multi-faceted entertainer and creative innovator, and a seven-time Grammy Award winner. He started off as a solo artist before co-founding the musical group Black Eyed Peas.

As co-founder of Black Eyed Peas, he became a worldwide sensation, working with chart-topping artists like Britney Spears while hanging out with tech pioneers like Google cofounder Larry Page.

Along the way, he reinvented himself as a tech entrepreneur although tech had always been part of his life. Raised by a strong mom in the crime-ridden projects of Los Angeles, he was drawn to tech at a very young age. As such, he specialized in science, engineering and mathematics while in high school.

However, he left school after struggling with ADD and signing with his first music label at age 17, Forbes reported. His concentration is now on promoting robotics, AI and technology. 

In 2014, he invested £5m ($6m) in Music Messenger’s Series A round, followed by a further investment of £5m in Shellanoo Group and £3m investment in Honest Dollar. Also, he co-created Beats with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine which was eventually sold to Apple for $3 billion in 2014.

In 2017, he invested in and acquired a $4.6 million stake in app-only bank Atom and he has also put money into startups such as the app Knock Knock and acquired stakes in ChatGPT-maker Open AI and its multibillion-dollar rivals, according to Forbes.

It was in 2014 that he started getting interested in AI. During this period, he was introduced to Viv Labs, cofounded by Siri developers Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus, and DeepMind, co-founded by Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman, which Google acquired for around $500 million.

In 2019, Will.i.am was invited by billionaire Reid Hoffman to invest in Inflection AI, a startup aiming to rival OpenAI. He accepted the offer and through a private investor group, took stakes in OpenAI, Anthropic, Runaway and Hugging Face—each now with multibillion-dollar valuations, Forbes reported.

“One day Reid called me and said, there’s this guy you should meet named Mustafa. I know you’re interested in AI and there’s not that many people from the industry that have the vernacular and understanding of the space. It’ll be great to have you in the fold. You should invest. I am,” he recalled in an interview with Forbes.

His latest venture, FYI, is an AI-powered productivity app that enables creatives to collaborate and communicate on projects with digital asset management, Forbes wrote. FYI also known as Focus Your Idea, is billed as “the first productivity tool designed to serve creatives first”.

“So the creative community was working across six different tools up until FYI existed,” Will.i.am said to Euronews. “We were on WhatsApp. To work off WhatsApp, you need a Dropbox. If your files were too big, you need to WeTransfer. But if you can’t open it up on WhatsApp, you need to send that Wetransfer to emails, you need email, you need a calendar, and you need Zoom and then a chatGPT.

“So you need seven things for creatives to get work done remotely on a phone on fire. For FYI you just need one tool called FYI,” the rapper explained.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 10, 2023


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