Hollywood Invests in Rex, a New Social Network (Exclusive)
Among the backers of the recommendations app are Tobey Maguire, director Marc Webb and executives at Disney, Anonymous Content and UTA.
A Sundance darling and a veteran of Soho House's executive team are launching a new social network today called Rex. The platform — conceived by director Chris Smith (American Movie, The Yes Men) and Ashley Lent Levinson, who previously developed and ran the member programming at the industry-oriented private club's West Hollywood branch — is a mobile app to help users share and curate cultural recommendations, beginning with key categories that include dining, travel and the arts. (Fashion and other interests will debut later.)
Among Rex's top financial backers are Sean Bailey, president of production at Walt Disney Pictures, as well as UTA's new media ventures unit. Initial fundraising rounds total $2.9 million.
"The idea is that everything posted is actionable," says Levinson of the Manhattan-based service, which is debuting on Apple's App Store. "You can eat it or read it or go there."
Adds Smith: "Rex is built on the idea that a recommendation from one person you trust is worth more than a thousand strangers. Yelp is a group of aggregated recommendations. Knowing who people are provides context. I have certain friends who I'd look to for a dive bar and others I'd look to for a restaurant for a special occasion."
Of course, it's easier to get a little help from your friends when they're all tastemakers. Smith and Levinson's own influencer-heavy social circles have served as Rex's beta phase user base. Bad Robot executive vp Bryan Burk has talked up Japan's Sawada: "Best sushi in Tokyo. Period." Whiplash producer Helen Estabrook touted "Off You" by The Breeders: "I'm just going to lie here and listen to this song. Maybe more than once."
Rex's advisers include John Maloney, the former president of Tumblr; Nick Jones, the founder of Soho House; Michael Sugar, a partner and producer with Anonymous Content; creative director Willo Perron, known for his collaborations with Jay-Z, Drake and Rihanna; and Rostam Batmanglij, the former Vampire Weekend member and producer for the likes of Charli XCX. (Batmanglij was the one who named Rex.)
Meanwhile, the investor group is rounded out by a who's who of the entertainment business. There are actors (Tobey Maguire, Jennifer Morrison), directors (Barry Levinson, Marc Webb), screenwriters (Scott Z. Burns, Allan Loeb), managers (Darin Friedman, Eric Kranzler) and producers of the new school and old school (Jamie Patricof, Robert Evans).
Rex allows users to filter recommendations by category — for instance, if you'd like to see what people are endorsing in Big Sur ahead of your next trip. And while it's not marketing itself as a dating app, Smith and Levinson observe that hook-ups are already happening, forged by the cross-pollination of shared sensibilities and enthusiasms. "In our small beta group of a few thousand, there's been over 100 romantic relationships that we know of," marvels Levinson. "People go, 'Oh, they're so thoughtful!'"
For Sugar, Rex has already had a practical effect on his life. "I recently moved to New York full-time, and I've gotten both great restaurant recommendations — Carbone, so good! — and," he adds, laughing, "sometimes names to drop for those recommendations."
Burns, who claims to have been first turned on to the indie drama Tangerine and the British sci-fi television satire Black Mirror by the service, believes it's a potential antidote to its more established competitors. "It's slightly less narcissistic than some other social networking apps because the focus is entirely on things to share. The conversation is about that great book you just read or movie you think people should see and why, rather than a picture of your latte."