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Movie stars rely on Albany startup to hone their online images

Posted by Marie Cusick on

A small startup based in Albany has managed to help some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities protect and promote their own online images.

And New York State is banking on the company's success - by investing in it through the state pension fund.

The two-year-old company called WhoSay has built an online platform for nearly 1,000 celebrities, entertainers and famous athletes.

Their client list includes some of the biggest names in the movie business, like Tom Hanks, Gwyneth Paltrow and James Franco.

The company's online platform lets celebrities securely upload photos and videos to social media sites.

People often lose full ownership of the content they upload to sites like Facebook. It's a particular concern for some celebrities, since photos of them can be published or re-posted on other sites without their permission.

WhoSay maintains control of the images, and allows the celebrities to retain full rights to their content. 

The company also partners with other media companies, like Yahoo and Viacom, and allows them to use and embed the images.

Steve Ellis is the company's CEO.

"The idea really here is to empower all of our clients to be able to manage this direct relationship with the fan, with the consumer of their original content," he says.

Ellis spent a year working in Los Angeles to establish the company, but says his home is in New York, and he wanted to to keep the company based here. He currently employs 32 people.

WhoSay has received $1.2 million from the In-State Private Equity Program, which invests in New York companies through the state common retirement fund.

At a press event to announce the investment Monday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli admitted he was surprised to learn that WhoSay's offices were just a few steps down the street from his own.

"That's a message for New Yorkers, you might be surprised what's right down the block," DiNapoli said.

While most of WhoSay's clients come from the entertainment world, Ellis says he'd like to branch out and attract more prominent people from the political arena.

He said the first person he plans to court is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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