“With a work and travel schedule as demanding as mine, it is easy to get lost in my “To Do” list. I’ve found that disciplined time management has allowed me to balance my professional and personal life; I have even been able to squeeze in yoga twice a week! When I first launched RARE and ventured out on my own, the idea of being my own boss made it tempting to join my friends for a weeknight out in Hollywood or Santa Monica. However, as my business started to grow and evolve with the addition of new clients, I realized the importance of being fresh and energized for the work week. Also — there’s no need to be “networking” every day of the week. It’s more important to show your abilities to your peers, day to day, by doing extremely good work. A referral from someone for whom you negotiated an amazing contract will be worth 1000 times more than a personal referral from someone who has never worked with you before.”
I had the pleasure to interview Ashley Rachel Villa, Esq., Founder and CEO of Rare Global, attorney and manager to digital content creators and YouTube stars.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born in Vancouver, Canada but grew up in the Bay Area — 45 minutes outside of San Francisco. After completing undergrad at UCLA, I attended Loyola Law School, and decided to pursue a career in the film industry. I went on to work as coordinator at Lionsgate under the Office of the General Counsel. By then, my dream was to work as an attorney in international film sales and film finance — and travel to all the glamorous film festivals like Cannes (who wouldn’t?). After a year, I moved on to an associate position at a film sales agency called Sierra Affinity.
It was around that time that I was introduced to Jenn Im who had a YouTube channel called “ClothesEncounters” and was starting to see many lucrative opportunities. She needed an attorney to help her negotiate deals. I asked around, but couldn’t find any attorneys who specialized in digital media law, so I started to help Jenn with the contracts myself. I had no idea this would be the start of a major and exciting career pivot, into an evolving industry…
Soon, I was offered a job at Stylehaul, a multichannel network for YouTube. There, I learned the ins and outs of YouTube, and how brand partnerships and collaborations, distribution agreements and other licensing and merchandise deals were done within the digital media space.
After some time, to my own surprise, I found myself considering an entrepreneurial route. Going off on your own can be scary, but it suddenly clicked: I wanted to take the reigns of my own career, I knew I had the capacity to do more — and was uniquely qualified to shape the future of my business in uncharted territory.
I opened up my own management company, now called RARE Global. RARE stands for “rise and rule everyday.”
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest of most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?
About a year and a half ago, my business started to grow pretty rapidly. I was adapting to the changing nature of the space while splitting legal and management work, alone, drowning and in desperate need of an assistant. The only thing harder than building a company, is expanding it. I needed someone who could learn quickly, work brutal hours to pick up the slack, and be just as effective behind the computer as in front of clients; someone who would care enough be a part of my vision and my future, to help me build Rare from the ground up while I myself was learning how to do it — an assistant-cum-protege (plus, unicorn?).
After months of hunting and interviews, the difficult started to look impossible. I found myself struggling to come to terms with how to entrust someone else with responsibilities that were both professionally and personally essential to me. Then my best friend and colleague referred me to her little sister, Vanan, a year out of UCLA undergrad in search of a career. I was skeptical at best — first, because of the nepotism, which second, could only be complicated by my own expectations and working style. Today, she’s grown from assistant to junior manager, and is unquestionably my right-hand woman in running RARE. But the growing pains were real.
Through the process, I learned a few crucial things. Some of them were good business practices: establish firm standards and guidelines for execution; lead by example; relinquish control when necessary; reward great effort. However, the most invaluable thing I learned was how to really lean into building a company founded on female empowerment, a culture of work ethic and integrity, and paying it forward with opportunities for other women. In the past two years, I’ve seen the evolution of YouTube and the digital media space, and recognize how these values might influence the future of what women can do in the space. The possibilities are exciting and enormous; and it’s a very powerful thing to be a part of the community.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I like to think that my clients produce content that brings goodness to the world. Every video can brighten someone’s day, and offer a moment of connection. Jackie Aina, a passionate advocate for social change, has brought light to the underrepresentation of dark skinned women in makeup — and always with her unique brand of sass and humor that’s gained her so many fans. Jenn Im, who might post a video about self-confidence or her own personal weight loss journey, has become one of the top names in the YouTube space, representing Asian American females in popular media in a way that touches millions of young women. Wengie brings a smile to more than 9 million subscribers every Saturday through her fun life hacks and creative DIYs.
On another note, my clients have partnered with non-profits such as Ad Council, who represents GoodWill. RARE facilitate these kinds of relationships to make sure that our social media footprint (which totals about 22MM+ followers between all clients) is used to generate awareness and monetary support for social causes.
This coming year, I am working with our in-house publicist to start a foundation and award scholarships to young entrepreneurial women. I know how difficult it can be to take the leap of faith, to invest in yourself, your path — and even more so as a woman. I want to do my part in empowering women with a network, a plan, and financial support to bring more female-owned, female-led companies to life.
Which person or which company do you most admire and why?
I have to say: Virginia Longmuir. She’s not a big name in digital media, fashion or makeup, but is the most boss attorney (currently General Counsel at Ratpac Entertainment) I know, and most important mentor in my life. After Virginia hired me at Sierra Affinity, she would spend time with me every week going over redline contracts and explain how contracts are structured. She taught me how to be an attorney and overall effective negotiator — skills that have shaped my career and life skills in general. I can’t begin to relate how grateful I am for her time. In an industry where it’s definitely not the norm for women to help women, Virginia reached out and made it a point to be my mentor. Now, I make it a point to mentor the women who work for me.
Yitzi: So what are the most exciting projects you are working on now?
The really great part of my job is that I am never bored, and always more inspired. We are constantly working on multiple projects at the same time with each and every one of our clients. Currently Jenn and I are working on the fall collection for her fashion line, Eggie, a versatile ready-to-wear collection with gender-neutral, gender-inclusive options. Meanwhile, Jackie is collaborating with TooFaced Cosmetics, helping to expand their Born This Way Foundation line to be more inclusive of darker skin tones. And last month, Wengie was announced as the fourth PowerPuff Girl on Cartoon Network. With each project, it’s always a hope that we are breaking new ground, whether for women, women in media, or women in beauty…
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Actually, I was given a lot of these tips throughout my life by my parents, relatives and teacher; however, it wasn’t until I lived through them, that I actually knew what they meant.
a. Finish what you start. When you start a project, finish it. See things through from start to finish. Once you make a commitment, keep it. It’s as simple as that.
b. Disciplined time management. With a work and travel schedule as demanding as mine, it is easy to get lost in my “To Do” list. I’ve found that disciplined time management has allowed me to balance my professional and personal life; I have even been able to squeeze in yoga twice a week! When I first launched RARE and ventured out on my own, the idea of being my own boss made it tempting to join my friends for a weeknight out in Hollywood or Santa Monica. However, as my business started to grow and evolve with the addition of new clients, I realized the importance of being fresh and energized for the work week. Also — there’s no need to be “networking” every day of the week. It’s more important to show your abilities to your peers, day to day, by doing extremely good work. A referral from someone for whom you negotiated an amazing contract will be worth 1000 times more than a personal referral from someone who has never worked with you before.
c. The devil is in the details.
At an internship at Fox Sports Music, it was my responsibility to input all the expiration dates for different music library agreements. For some reason, I just didn’t see the importance of my work, so I was just going through the motions. My boss at the time called me into her office and showed me a mistake. I had simply put 11/1/11 instead of 1/1/11. Given that this was an expiration date to renew a license agreement, I would have lost the company tens of thousands of dollars by letting the renew date lapse.
d. Double check everything you do.
My first job out of college was as second assistant to a big time music attorney. I created an invoice for him to send to a client. After I printed the invoice and put it on his desk, he sent me back a note to check the zeros on the invoice. I had added a zero, making the invoice for $50,000 rather than $5,000. He explained that mistakes like that are not acceptable and even the smallest error could have serious repercussions with client relations, and reduce our client’s confidence in our work. Even if you are sending an email, double check your sentences and then open the attachments to make sure they’re the right ones.
e. Focus on what you’re doing, not what other people are up to.
While it’s great to stay in the know and be aware of your colleagues, refrain from comparing yourself to others or putting yourself down because you believe you’re not as successful as your peers.
Many managers in the digital media space stay friends. And while yes, we sometimes compete for the same opportunities, there’s plenty of work to go around and many clients who need managers. I like to think that my colleagues are my friends and confidants, not my competition.
Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this:-)
I have been so blessed to meet many entrepreneurs that I look up to. I was only recently introduced to a long-time source of inspiration: Toni Ko, founder of NYX Cosmetics and now founder of Perverse Sunglasses. Toni is a female entrepreneurial powerhouse who built her empire on hard work and self-belief; she founded and sold NYX Cosmetics to L’Oreal for $500 million, and became one of the most successful self-made women in recent history. She wrote her own story through hustle and vision. Toni has paved the way for females to play (and out-play) in a male-dominated industry. I can only comprehend on a very small scale the extreme adversity she must have gone through while navigating the male-dominated cosmetics space; now she’s tackling yet another niche. To me, she’s unstoppable, proof that if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can create a life and career that shatters expectation and precedent — and hopefully inspires others looking to build something of their own.