Have you ever seen the movie Friday Night Lights? If you haven’t, you should watch it. It’s a movie that paints a charismatic and dramatic picture of the Texas high school football scene where 15-18-year-old boys are portrayed as mini-superheroes in a small Texas town. There is even a hit TV series of the same name.
Everyone lives, eats, and breathes football in Texas is the impression which was confirmed after sitting down with Jason Felts, the CEO of Virgin Produced (the entertainment arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin brand). Although not born there, Felts happens to have grown up in Texas himself. He wasn’t a football player growing up, but at the young age of 16-18, he was an instrumental part of his high school’s football athletic training staff.
Mostly consisting of ensuring the players were physically prepared and ready to perform come Friday Night. This was where Felts’ started developing his passion for production because, in Texas, Friday Night football is the state’s greatest production.
Although Felts is a relatively private person, he had this to say about the experience that inspired him to pursue moving to Hollywood.
“I had fun building up the package, a mentally and physically strong team, that was expected, by an entire town, to produce a winning result every Friday night.” – Felts
Building a Different Team
He may be the CEO of Virgin today, working alongside Richard Branson, but his journey to Hollywood was no cakewalk.
“I come from a family which advocates dream seeking. My parents always put my interests and goals before there’s and encouraged me to pursue a career in which would be challenging and fun.” –Felts
The part of his story that should inspire you the most is the fact that he’s basically done every job you can imagine in Hollywood since he arrived there after high school. From nannying to washing cars, fetching coffee, and script copying. Felts is the epitome of someone who started from the bottom.
“When I first arrived in Hollywood, I would work 15 hour days, no joke, at my boss’s beck and call. I was expected to arrive in the office before them and leave after them ensuring their day was both productive and efficient. I loved every second of it. I was a sponge and I could not get enough.“– Felts
As Felts continued to gain more experience and work his way up in the industry, he realized his passion was in building brands. As a result, he found himself transitioning from assisting those industry execs to becoming a junior one in his own right; producing commercials for big brands.
Felts used his organizational and creative skills mixed in with a natural leadership ability and quickly rose within the companies he worked for. Felts, through this journey, realized that in order to truly support an existing brand or build a successful new brand, that one needed to be innovative and stay ahead of the curve; and to never be derivative. It became clear to me that “Status Quo” is not a phrase in Felts’ vocabulary.
Evolution of a Leader
Although modest, and prying details out of him proved challenging even for me, it was clear that Felts still very much prides himself on the importance of a strong work ethic and focus on innovation. As a result, it’s no surprise that in 2010, Felts found himself tapped by Virgin founder Richard Branson to lead arguably (well maybe besides Virgin Galactic), Virgin’s sexiest and certainly most entertaining company: VIRGIN PRODUCED.
Adopting a similar approach to business as Branson, Felts shared that he feels it’s vital to know the marketplace, stay ahead of others, focus on delivering a quality product at a valued price and most importantly not be afraid to shake an industry up and take risks in business. These aspects seem to be what Felts uses to influence his decision making.
Jason, What’s it Like to Work With Branson?
When you meet someone like Felts that works with one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, it’s hard not to ask questions around what he’s actually learned from Branson. I’m sure most of you reading this right now, are like me, and are also curious.
Felts’ response, quoting Branson, told me all I really needed to know.
“I’ve never seen a separation between work and play, it’s all living.” -Richard Branson
When I asked Felts’ if he believed the same, he shared that he believes a live/work balance is imperative to not burn out or lose interest. Felts also believes that taking care of his team and the people that work for him is most important.
“Not everyone is wired the same. Not everyone can sit behind a desk or have the work ethic to be equally productive from a hammock. So it’s important that you understand your people, understand their talents and ensure others compliment their weaknesses. A leader must put his/her people first in an organization.“-Felts
Both are powerful statements by forward thinking, progressive leaders in their own right.
Insights Into Tomorrow
During our conversation, I decided to dive a bit deeper and get insight from Felts into Hollywood and the entertainment industry. After all, with the birth of reality television, followed by YouTube and now the overwhelming amount of social media platforms, it seems everyone wants to be a star these days. Everyone wants to be a brand. So why not get a few knowledge nuggets from someone who knows a lot about brands.
Felts resume is impressive, to say the least having produced and/or marketed a dozen movies including Limitless, Immortals, 21 & Over and Bad Moms and running the entertainment arm for one of the most respected lifestyle brands in the world.
1. Theatre Experience
Even with our dependence on all of our devices, Felts believes the theater experience, (just like the post office, he said), isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and I would have to agree with him. We agreed everyone needs an escape. I went to a few movies over the past few months and haven’t seen smaller crowds. If anything I see them getting busier and more crowded.
This is great for an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur because in my mind it presents an opportunity to capitalize on. The makings of a promising business opportunity.
If the theater experience isn’t going anywhere, how can you make it better? How can you improve upon the experience? How can you, as Felts says not be derivative? Find an area you can innovate or change.
Go to a movie theater today to get your mind flowing with ideas, write them down, then act on them. Remember every great business idea or invention usually solves a problem. Identify the problems, innovate a solution and you might just have a business.
2. The Entrepreneurial Mindset
In Felts’ mind, anyone can be an entrepreneur because it’s more of an attitude and a work ethic than it is a trained profession. Thinking innovatively and working on ways that you can expand your knowledge and skill set in an area of passion or expertise, is a part of this mindset. Learning to bounce back after a setback, a financial hiccup or an audition gone bad also involves mindset. Anyone can think like an entrepreneur if they apply their mind to it, and Felts feels more people need to think like this.
“In today’s world technology is enhancing everything, content consumption and product purchasing behaviors are shifting. One must study behavior and trends and be able to quickly adapt and pivot no matter what industry or field you are in.” -Felts
Current and aspiring actors in Hollywood should adopt an entrepreneurial mindset to build their own personal brands and personas through social media. The ability to reach people around the world and build a brand around any niche today provides an advantage that wasn’t available 5 or 10 years ago.
A tip for aspiring musicians or actors out there is to define your authentic character, know your skill, and then build a personal brand and social following around yourself. By doing this it will likely set you apart from others, and will actually increase your chances of career growth. The power to build a brand smartly is in your hands and readily accessible.
With the short time I had with Felts, I feel I could easily turn the knowledge into 2-3 more articles, which is probably what I’m going to do. Next up for Felts is spearheading the brand marketing of a new music festival, KAABOO. It sounds nothing like any other music festival I’ve heard of before, but if Felts or Virgin are supporting it, then I can’t imagine it would.
I was left with one final ounce of inspiration during our discussion, and it was that it doesn’t matter where you start, or what you have today, all that matters is where you end up and what you do along the way to drive toward your goals. Felts started on the sidelines of a football field, fetching water, taping ankles, all ensuring that the players could play to win.
I challenge you to take action on something that’s been keeping you up at night. Whether it’s a business idea, a project you want to start, or the latest content idea you want to create. We all must be okay “fetching water” at some point, but persistence and drive will take you closer to achieving your own aspirations.
Put in the work, have the proper mindset, and choose to never settle for anything in life. That’s a recipe we all can use to get us to where we want to be in life. And if you want more advice along the way, maybe pop Felts a tweet @iamjasonfelts – he certainly understands the value of guiding words thanks to Branson.
Clinton Senkow is the Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer of Influencive where he manages and oversee’s all business development and partnership activities for Influencive. He’s also a business advisor to high-growth startups and SMB’s, a member of the invite-only Forbes Business Development Council, and was named a “Top 20 Speaker by Forbes in 2017”. He’s also a three-time Top G20 YEA Entrepreneur representing Canada.