Jay Leopardi: “Here Are 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Founded My Company”
Stop hustling people and chasing money; shut your mouth and listen.
Do what you love and follow that because then it won’t seem like work to you.
You have two ears and one mouth for a reason — you should be listening more than you speak.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Leopardi. Jay is a lifestyle and pop culture branding expert, who specializes in the growth and development of brands. His skills range from search engine monopolization to new business funding techniques, concept actualization, and motivational speaking and product launch campaigns. Some of his entrepreneurial endeavors include product placement, licensing and integration as well as celebrity endorsements. Jay Leopardi launched his career at age 13 as a pop recording artist in Miami, Florida, landing his first record deal at age 17 with Always Fresh Records. Six weeks after releasing Jay’s single, it became the top one hundred hit on the billboard charts, selling 60,000 copies. After the record label bidding began, Jay recognized that there were many other facets to the music industry. He then made the decision to become a music producer. Growing up among top celebrities ranging from musicians to actors helped Jay recognize that the music business was much more intricate than what people heard on the radio. After years of producing albums, Jay decided to move to Cincinnati, Ohio to work alongside his father, Emmett C. Leopardi, who worked for the multinational corporation Procter & Gamble. Jay learned discipline and formal training from several of the top leaders in the brand management industry. Previously “The Shark” Daymond John’s right hand man at Shark Branding, Jay worked closely with celebrities and companies in delivering brand management support. Jay clients included Cedric the Entertainer, Kel Mitchell, and Miguel Nunez Jr, to name a few. Jay Leopardi is a TV and film producer, US patent inventor, and lifestyle branding expert. Having been a partner of Gary Reeves, creator of NBC’s “Give,” for the past eighteen years in various successful ventures, Reeves has added Jay Leopardi as an executive producer. Previous and current titles include the owner of viral, consumer electronic brand FanStereo, incorporating top-tier celebrities who have created their own capsule collections. He is currently CEO and chairman of the board. Previously, he was the Chairman of Bad Boy Branding, working alongside celebrity Daymond John for the past twenty years. Jay Leopardi has worked with Cedric the Entertainer, Lebron James, Blair Underwood, Chauncey Leopardi, aka “Squints” from the Sandlot, Quinton Aaron, and has produced and acted in several different film projects.
Thank you so much for joining us Jay! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was tired of working for corporate America and working the 9–5. I wanted to work my own hours on a variety of various projects. I started as a musician and when you are in the entertainment industry, it evolves into many different things. My hands are in a lot of different things, but in all things, I am an entrepreneur. I wanted to choose the brands and corporations that I was passionate about, and not be stuck working only with one brand or project.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First, can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The first hard time I faced was when I was 17 and hit the top 100 records on Billboard charts and on my 18th birthday, my grandfather died and he was my best friend. I broke down and decided never to work in that industry again and I didn’t really feel like doing anything at all. Years after that, in corporate America, I was doing great, but wanted to be an entrepreneur. I went to LA with $10,000 and ran out of money and lived on the street after a week. It was difficult trying to find a living without doing horrible things, like selling my soul and selling drugs. I would knock on doors and paint people’s garages. I would find quarters in soda machines and phone booths. I lived out of a garage while making contacts at events, networking and no one really knew what I was doing since I wore nice clothes and showered at church. I ended up meeting Daymond John and he pulled me off the street and signed me to FUBU records and Universal.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I wasn’t going to turn back. I left a 40,000 dollar a month job and now was broke, but I was not going to turn around and give up. Many celebrities wanted to put me on TV and I turned that down because the music was always my passion. I wanted to find a way to do what I loved. One night, I met Stephan Belefonte and he helped me get into the music industry. He was the one that introduced me to Daymond John and the rest of history.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great today. I own Fanstereo, a consumer electronic products company and am now acquiring record labels and working with incredible mentors. I am one of the executive producers of NBC’s Give and 9 more shows coming out soon. I did decide to do a little bit of acting and I have a branding business. All of these are tied together. My branding agency markets the Fanstereo brand and handles marketing for the Give TV show, which was able to bring new products and opportunities to the table, while giving a great message and reaching viewers. I have always been true and honest with my contacts and have never been dishonest. My drive comes from leaving a legacy for my children and future generations.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I got a phone call from one of my colleagues who saw that I had talent in technology and branding, he told me to fly out to Ohio and meet with Lebron James and family, who just signed a deal with Nike. I asked who Lebron James was and what I can do to help him. He replied that he was the biggest basketball player in the world. After some research, I stayed at the Quaker Hotel, The Inventor’s Hotel, which used to be the actual oatmeal factory. I got another meeting from that in the music industry, who ended up being a dentist, and after dinner, I told him I have sinus issues. He made me lay on the bed and he grabbed a toothbrush and saw I had 3 wisdom teeth sticking out. I asked how much it would cost and he said he would pick me up and get me to the office before his assistant starts drinking. After dinner, a woman walks across the street who looked a little intoxicated. After laying down, he starts using needles, and I was blinded. Next thing I know, my teeth were pulled out. When everyone in Lebron’s office found out, they all placed bets on my teeth. They called the next day and I had absolutely no pain.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I am what stands out in my company; my capabilities are what make me successful. One of my clients says that I do things that it takes Hollywood years to get done. I am not about chasing money. I am about being passionate and getting the job done- we have our own production company and many need an agency. That’s where I come in.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Stop hustling people and chasing money and shut your mouth and listen.
- Do what you love and follow that because then it won’t seem like work to you.
- You have two ears and one mouth for a reason — you should be listening more than you speak.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It depends what one defines success to be. As it relates to the business side of things, Marshall Blonstein and attorney Richard Manson. Also, Daymond John who believed in me and Cedric the Entertainer who put me in the TV business. Miguel Nunez Jr. and the CEO of Trifecta Technologies, Doug Pelletier, as well as Isaiah Sistrunk and Charles Koppelman.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
-I wish someone told me I needed a lot of money in the bank
-I wish someone told me I would be working 24 hours a day
-To be an entrepreneur, you never get a real vacation
-I wish someone would have told me I would go broke 4 times before making any money
-I wish someone told me it’s easy to get a product in the store, but difficult for getting it off the shelf
I had a lot of people that did not believe in FanStereo and they kept discouraging me because Beats by Dre already existed. I went to many different investors and factories and I needed money to manufacture them even though I had not sold any. I had half a million dollars in order but I did not know how to fulfill it. I called all of the investors and laughed at them with all the orders. They all offered money. I reached out to my childhood friends that I knew were successful and I told them about Fanstereo. I asked them for the money with a 20 percent interest in the next 30 days. My friend asked no questions and wired the money. I paid him back with 20 percent in 7 days.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We have already done that with a philanthropic TV series called NBC’s Give. It’s for the good of people with the same underlying message and we are helping people.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!