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Have you ever wanted to reach through the screen to interrupt a TED Talk speaker or raise your hand during a MasterClass course?
You’re not alone.
Entrepreneurial education has dipped its hand into the sexy jar of sweet offerings never before experienced by knowledge-desperate entrepreneurs in wait. New offerings weave incredible real-life, story-based content with thought-provoking presentations and platforms harnessing iconic names and faces of the brands we love.
Many have wondered what the next iteration of offering might provide that hasn’t already been served up to an ever-growing marketplace of need.
An A-list of celeb entrepreneurs shared behind-the-scenes experiences for attendees at the Wealthflix business conference’s inaugural event in L.A. earlier this summer. The list includes Magic Johnson, Daymond John of Shark Tank, Sprinkles founder Candace Nelson, branding superstar Shaun Neff, Beyoncé’s father and noted music executive Mathew Knowles, former Virgin executive Jason Felts, and Ashlee Simpson-Ross — all mixing classic tales with never-before-heard nuggets of personal experiences not usually touted in business books.
Related: 8 Important Lessons From Leading Entrepreneurs
Best practices and lessons from the stars
The classic fourth wall that marks an actor’s acknowledgment of the audience was shattered by the presenters and for good reason. The celebs shared best practices and lessons learned through stage speeches and sit-down interviews to enhance the learning for audience members. The shared realism of the Magic Johnson’s of the world couldn’t come at a better time.
The data can no longer be seen as a cute detail at a cocktail party of those already in the catbird seat. The Kaufman Foundation’s research reveals that 100% of net new job creation in the U.S. comes from the world of startups. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shines a different and compelling light, including the staggering statistic that 37% of minority youth are unemployed.
To meet the moment, Duquan Brown, the former manager of artists like Tyrese Gibson and Busta Rhymes, has put together an experience centered on dismantling outdated educational practices while infusing networking opportunities and behind-the-scenes interviews and conversations that bring entrepreneurs inside the mind of a Magic Johnson or Daymond John. “Thoughtful learning options provide all of us an incredible opportunity to support entrepreneurs and the journeys that define their success,” shares an impassioned Brown.
Recent labor data illustrates an expanding need, especially for Gen Zers, to find entrepreneurial education. Approximately 70% are considering a permanent stage left exit to start their own companies. Analysts might scoff at the impact of a labor pool representing just over 8% in 2022. How will the naysayers feel in 2025 when that number jumps to 20% and then to 30% by 2030? This generation is marked by a need to feel connected to their work and the stories that constructed their individual horizon lines.
On the one hand, Magic Johnson, who may be just as well-known for his business triumphs as an NBA Hall of Famer, believes that an entrepreneur’s pitch should be perfect. “When you come into a meeting and pitch your idea, I expect you to have the answers. If you don’t have the answers, how can we establish trust,” exclaims a passionate Johnson. When pushed for clarification, a never-nervous and always-prepared Johnson says, “I eat pressure for breakfast — if I ask you five questions and you can’t meet the moment, then you’re not somebody I want to do business with.” It’s this kind of brass-tacks education that audience members clamor for and why an alternative approach is just as welcomed by entrepreneurs.
Daymond John started with $40 in his pocket when he founded FUBU, and even back then, he struggled to find his answers in a sea of uncertainty. Fast forward to today, and John works diligently to educate and support those lucky enough to present their business ideas to him. “I am of two minds. If you come to me acting like you know everything and I find that you don’t, we won’t make perfect business partners. Now, if you openly respond to a question saying you’re in front of me because you don’t have the answer, well then I respect that,” says John with the steady, steely-eyed focus we’ve become accustomed to on Shark Tank.
The semi-structured but moderated conversation allows John to freestyle, sharing that the “hacking” phenomenon plays a significant character in his success story. “I used to hack myself, constantly testing my assumptions against those things that have meaning in my life — kids, family, friends, community.”
The founder of Sprinkles, Candace Nelson, embraced the family notion of going into the cupcake business with her husband, Charles and celebrating the profoundly successful Sprinkles exit even after 22 years of marriage and counting. “It just works for us. I know that people say never to go into business with family. We understood our roles and allowed each other to grow in those roles,” shares Nelson whose cupcake empire has sold over 75 million cupcakes.
The challenge for Nelson and countless entrepreneurs comes when success is knocking on the door, and control has to cede if scaling is a realistic option. “I struggled to incorporate others into the business at first. Would they know how to bake my recipes? Could I trust them? I finally relented, and outside of a few hiring learning lessons, it became a huge success.”
Magic adds, “We [entrepreneurs] shouldn’t be afraid of partnerships. You don’t have to own 100%.” A prescient statement by Magic as news now breaks of Johnson’s ownership stake in the NFL’s Washington Commanders, with Josh Harris, as the sale became official at the reported tune of a record-breaking $6.05 billion.
Jason Felts, the youngest CEO of a Richard Branson Virgin company, embodies the notion of Johnson and the lesson of Nelson, building KEMPA Home with a family friend and cultural icon, Ashlee Simpson-Ross. “We had been friends for decades. Our families have been friends, and we always shared our thoughts about our careers. I wanted to start KEMPA, and it dawned on me that Ashlee should be a part of this. Now the Creative Director Simpson-Ross is harmonizing her creative and musical muscle to bring “vacation home” with Felts and the KEMPA team.
Related: From Idea to Successful Exit — 8 Lessons Learned From Building and Selling a Startup
Entrepreneurial community building
Like many who shared the stage with her in L.A., Candice Nelson sees collaborating and teaching as essential building blocks for the next generation of business owners. “We’ve launched Pizzana, a chain of Neapolitan pizzerias, and continued to expand our portfolio of investments with CN2 Ventures supporting early-stage businesses.” Pizzana, of course, isn’t just your run-of-the-mill outfit – a collaboration borne out of Sunday night pizza parties with their friends and now business partners, actor Chris O’Donnell and his wife, Caroline.
Shaun Neff, a branding expert whose little black book of influential business partners reads like a once-in-a-lifetime Hollywood Hills summer bash, remembers the days before collaborating with the likes of Kevin Durant and Kendall Jenner. “I still remember the feeling when somebody would hand me a $10 bill, and I’d reach into my backpack and hand them a t-shirt with my name on it. And, then, to see my merch worn by recognizable and global figures. Unbelievable,” a reflective Neff shares.
Neff talked about community and brand building throughout his career, shedding light on the confidence level necessary to establish and bring a brand back from the dead. “I remember Sun Bum vividly. I was asked to come in, invest, and turn it around. I didn’t want to do it. I woke up countless times convinced I shouldn’t jump in. I’m glad I did,” smiles Neff. You’d smile, too, if the reported sale to SC Johnson of $400 million is accurate. Neff, though, isn’t celebrating success the way one might think. This self-proclaimed creative junkie hails the opportunity to be selective and creative with projects that align with his life and family. “I just feel blessed.”
The lessons from the star-studded celeb entrepreneurs were diverse, filled with poignant tales and anecdotes, and steeped in a shared passion for giving back to those on the precipice of success. Johnson delivered a pin-point pass sharing the realities of entrepreneurship even if he is the undisputed champion of optimism. “I don’t want people to think that every deal I’ve been a part of has succeeded because that just isn’t true. We all need to learn from our mistakes and ensure that they [mistakes] don’t happen again.”
Effortlessly, Magic provides sage advice minus the shine of an over-produced sound bite for an engaged audience to chew on.