Floyd Mayweather Jr., the world’s best boxer, pound-for-pound, finally announced his fight against Manny Pacquiao last week — something fans have been waiting on for years.
But he dropped the news in a place most boxing observers may not have expected: On Shots, an app best known for being a place where teenagers can snap selfies to share with friends.
Why he did that is clear, at least on a nominal surface level: Mayweather, as we’ve noted before, is an investor in Shots. But just how the world’s top fighter ended up announcing the most anticipated bout of his career on a photo-sharing app that has yet to hit the mainstream is more complicated.
It’s a story involving the modern confluence of popular culture, technology and business — as well as Justin Bieber, of course.
On May 5, 2012, Mayweather beat Miguel Cotto by unanimous decision, bringing his career record to 43-0 (he’s now 47-0). Before the Cotto fight, the boxing champ was accompanied to the ring by Lil Wayne and 50 Cent, two rappers boxing fans already knew to be pals of Mayweather’s.
But he was also walked out by a surprise guest: Bieber, who was just 18 at the time but already one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
Bieber and Mayweather — two pillars of the popular culture with legions of fans and vociferous armies of critics — caused quite a predictable stir together. What could they possibly have in common?
The story was picked up across the web, with TMZ noting that “It’s unclear how the two hooked up.”
The root of that unexpected connection remained unknown — until now. The answer reveals how Mayweather came to announce his upcoming fight on Shots.
It starts with the app’s CEO, John Shahidi, who was seated ringside in Las Vegas as Bieber escorted Mayweather to his fight against Cotto nearly three years ago.
Shahidi, 35, and his younger brother Sam grew up in Southern California, where they were friends with Carson and Jordan Palmer, brothers who would go on to become NFL quarterbacks. Fans of the annual HBO show Hard Knocks may recall the 2009 season when Jordan Palmer, a Cincinnati Bengals backup at the time, looked into the camera during an interview and explained an iPhone app called RunPee, which tipped moviegoers to the best times in different films to duck out for bathroom breaks without missing too much action.
Palmer had made the app with John and Sam, who were later introduced to Bengals teammate and NFL star Chad Ochocinco. The Shahidi brothers then partnered with the star receiver to make an app called the Chad Ochocinco Experience. From there, they developed an Ochocinco-themed mobile game called MadChad.
Personalized mobile games produced with Mike Tyson, Cristiano Ronaldo and Usain Bolt followed between the winter of 2009 and spring of 2012. The games were quite popular, and helped tap the Shahidis into the celebrity athlete world.
The brothers quickly gained a reputation among pro athletes as being prescient observers of the tech space — and having the chops to pull off their own projects.
“Everyone is recognizing that technology is moving towards the cell phone,” Shahidi told ESPN.com back in 2009 for a story about Ochocinco’s app. “People are now associating computers with work, and now phones are the fun part.”
Mayweather, a fan of mobile games himself, invested in the brothers’ company, called RockLive.
‘Let me see if I can make this happen’
One night during the winter of 2011, John Shahidi recounted during an interview at Shots’ headquarters in San Francisco, he got a text from a friend. That friend, a jeweler for celebrities, was also friends with Bieber. The jeweler and Bieber were at an L.A. Kings hockey game together, Shahidi recalls, and the funniest thing was happening: Bieber couldn’t pay any attention to the game because he was too busy fiddling on his iPhone.
The source of Bieber’s distraction? RockLive’s recent release Heads Up, featuring Ronaldo.
Bieber, it turned out, was something of a RockLive aficionado. “Dude, that’s awesome,” Shahidi recalls texting their mutual friend at the Kings game. “Let him know I made it. I’d love to meet him.”
The friend told Shahidi that Bieber would call him that night, and what number to expect the call from. When they chatted, Bieber asked if RockLive had any investors. They actually did, Shahidi said, the largest being Mayweather. He recalls Bieber’s reaction: “What? Money Mayweather? I’m a huge fan.”
Shahidi and Bieber stayed in touch, and began spending time together as they explored ways to partner in the tech world. They had moved on from mobile games and were focusing more on how they could build a social network that would avoid many of the pitfalls teens face online — chief among them being nasty, demeaning comments.
Shortly before the Cotto fight, John remembers, he and Bieber were watching a show together featuring Mayweather.
“Bro, you know what would be awesome?” John recalls Bieber remarking. “If I could walk Floyd out to his fights.”
“You’d do that?” Shahidi asked.
“Hell yeah, I would,” Bieber replied.
“Let me see if I can make this happen,” Shahidi said.
Shahidi called Mayweather, who said he was up for it. Bieber and the boxer met for the first time in Las Vegas just before his fight against Cotto in May 2012. Then Bieber walked Mayweather to the ring, prompting an online frenzy. More than a year later, in September 2013, Bieber walked Mayweather out to the ring again, for a fight against Canelo Alvarez.
Two months after that, in November 2013, Shots launched — with Bieber and Mayweather as two of its top investors.
The man in the ring
Fifteen months after launching, the app has racked up more than 5 million users, 50% of whom access it daily, according to Shahidi. Mayweather and Bieber remain its most high-profile promoters, although a raft of other big names from the sports, entertainment and social media worlds have signed on as well.
The bio section of Bieber’s Twitter profile, which has more than 60 million followers, tells people to “add me on @shots.” Mayweather also frequently posts photos to the social network, including this one with Oklahoma City Thunder player Caron Butler during an NBAplayoff game last May:
But Shahidi says Beiber and Mayweather’s involvement goes beyond simply posting pictures. Last September, Shahidi was in a meeting when he got a call from the boxer. Mayweather’s most recent fight was only about a week away, so Shahidi immediately worried something had gone wrong in training.
He slipped out of the meeting to take the call — only to find that Mayweather was preoccupied not about his upcoming fight, but about Shots.
“I just woke up. I had a bad dream,” Shahidi recalls Mayweather telling him. “I had a bad dream that we put comments inside Shots.”
“What?” Shahidi said, taken off-guard.
“I need you to make sure we won’t ever do that,” Mayweather said.
Shahidi’s own social media accounts frequently show him spending time with Mayweather or Bieber. His celebrity friends-slash-business-partners have helped make Shahidi something of a Twitter celebrity himself. Re/Code dubbed him the “King of Twitter” last year, and the title is apt. He has more than 300,000 Twitter followers, and his most basic of posts regularly garner thousands of retweets.
Teenagers (most Shots users are between 13 and 22 years old) implore him to follow them. A mention from Shahidi will flood your mentions for days, even weeks. I still get almost daily notifications from a post of mine he retweeted four months ago. Fortune gave the experience a name last June; they called it “getting Shahidi’d.”
This Monday, Shahidi took to the blogging platform Medium to explain some of the philosophy behind Shots. He announced the post in a tweet reading “My first Medium post.” The word “Medium” quickly became a worldwide Twitter trend.
Meanwhile, Bieber and Mayweather remain the unlikeliest of allies. Last autumn, they prompted another cause célèbre online when Bieber posted a Vine of himself in a boxing ring working out with Mayweather:
Again, the story was picked up across the web by numerous outlets. What those outlets failed to note about the video was the man with a towel draped over his shoulders, leaning up against the ropes in one corner of the ring.
That man? John Shahidi.
Originally appeared on Mashable