“If You’re Ever In A Dark Place, Focus On Love And Let That Guide You Towards The Light” With Alex Negrete of Rise9
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” (Aristotle) My darkest moment was when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was terrified because I didn’t know what caused it, if I was going to die, or if it would come back down the road. I wasn’t happy with who I was or where I was in life. I could have gone on a downward spiral, but instead I chose to face my fears and focus on love. I started loving myself more and focusing on what made me happy. Now, I’m living my dream and although I go through ups and downs, I’m not scared of what the future holds. I know everything will work out. If you’re ever in a dark place, focus on love and let that guide you towards the light.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Negrete. Alex is the Co-founder of Rise9 and an early day YouTube star with over one billion views. He was invited to the White House by President Obama, nominated for a Webby Award, and featured in 250+ media outlets including TIME, The Hollywood Reporter and The LA Times.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started making YouTube videos for fun under the name “keeptheheat” back in high school and a few years later I was the 80th most popular YouTuber in the world. Around the same time, I co-created “Yo Mama”, which is now one of the most successful animated web series of all time. Then, unexpectedly, I found myself diagnosed with cancer wondering if this was the end.
From that point on, I followed my heart and did what made me happy. I made a video to end world hunger (“Raining Food”), was nominated for a Webby Award (“Breaking Bad x Frozen”), had a series picked up by a major studio (“Animeme Rap Battles”) and was invited to the White House for the first-ever Digital Influencers Summit.
Despite these achievements, I felt called to solve a bigger issue involving the difficulty creators have earning a sustainable income. Platform changes, lack of monetization options, and competition are just a few of the things that threaten their livelihoods every day. I knew I could help, so I sold my company and founded Rise9, a marketplace that helps influencers and brands build long term partnerships.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
With three months left before VidCon, the world’s largest online video conference, my team and I decided we wanted to throw an epic mansion party for the top creators. We had no idea how we would pull it off, but the stars must have been aligned because shortly after this we met the owner of a Great Gatsby-style mansion near the conference who let us host the party there for free.
We also met a celebrity event designer who threw parties for A-list celebrities like Justin Bieber, who said he would produce ours (but for a hefty price tag). At that point, we knew we had to make it happen. So we put on our sales caps, mass emailed brands, and even went door-to-door to local businesses asking them if they wanted to sponsor the party. Somehow we came up with the money and even brought on Tesla.
Now we just needed people to show up to the party, so we came up with an off-the-wall marketing strategy to hand out these metal Willy Wonka-style Golden Ticket invitations to all the guests. It worked like a charm. At VidCon, word spread like wildfire. Everyone was talking about the Golden Ticket party and dying to get in!
When night fell, 800 of the world’s biggest social media stars with over a one billion reach showed up. Our celebrity event designer had gone crazy with the Willy Wonka theme: We had mermaids in the pool, Oompa Loompas running around, giant candy walls, fire shows, and more. It was spectacular! People still talk about the party at VidCon and some even say that it’s a myth! This party is proof that you can do anything you set your mind to.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our amazing team is what makes our company stand out. My high school football coach used to say, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” That has always stuck with me. I have strong creator-first values because I was a creator first; I’ve been in the industry for over ten years and have built large audiences as a creator and a brand. My co-founder, Ivan, is an engineer who went through Y Combinator and built and sold his last company to Instagram. He knows how to engineer major social platforms from the ground up. Together, we have a unique dynamic that is second to none.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful to God, my family, friends, and everyone in my life. Specifically, my parents have always pushed me out of my comfort zone. While I was in college in Texas, they encouraged me to take part in the National Student Exchange program, and as a result, I had the opportunity to study at Queens College in New York City for a year. They supported my decision to move to LA to pursue a YouTube career which was unheard of at the time. Their unconditional love and support has always been a source of strength for me and I can’t wait to give that to my my kids someday.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes! My motto is “Do what excites you.” Everything I work on is exciting: The Rise9 app, the web platform we’re building, and our community events. Sometimes the most exciting things can be the most terrifying. Recently, I was invited to speak in Greece in September, and I’m excited, but also nervous because I’ve never done public speaking before. This reminds me of a Seinfeld bit: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking and their number two is death.” Death is number two! Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. The book teaches you how to unlock the power of your subconscious mind. When we transform our thoughts, we transform our lives. Since reading this book I’ve noticed positive changes in my finances. I’ve become happier with what I have and less concerned about what I lack.
Another one of my favorite books is “Letting Go” by David R. Hawkins. The book teaches you how to free yourself of negativity. When we let go of what no longer serves us, we become who we were meant to be. Since reading this book I’ve become less stressed and more easygoing. Things that used to get me down don’t affect me as much.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why?
1. “Move fast and break things.” (Mark Zuckerberg)
I can’t stand losing. When I was a kid, my teacher asked my parents the following question: “When you play games with Alex, do you ever let him lose?” My parents, of course, responded No. My teacher told them that they should let me lose because every time I lost in class I would throw a temper tantrum! Since becoming an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that failure is necessary. Failure is data. The more you fail, the more information you have to succeed. For best results, fail as much as you can as fast as possible!
2. “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” (Aristotle)
My darkest moment was when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was terrified because I didn’t know what caused it, if I was going to die, or if it would come back down the road. I wasn’t happy with who I was or where I was in life. I could have gone on a downward spiral, but instead I chose to face my fears and focus on love. I started loving myself more and focusing on what made me happy. Now, I’m living my dream and although I go through ups and downs, I’m not scared of what the future holds. I know everything will work out. If you’re ever in a dark place, focus on love and let that guide you towards the light.
3. “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” (Socrates)
Have you ever heard of the Cosmic Calendar? If you scaled the 13.8 billion year history of the universe down to a single year, all of human history would occupy the last hour of the last month. Think about it. How could we possibly think we know everything?! The smartest people I know surround themselves with people smarter than them.
4. “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)
The only thing better than surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, is surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good. My best work has always come from working with people I enjoy being around. People who make you feel good bring out the best in you. That’s why company culture is important. No matter your role in work or life, it’s crucial to cultivate a positive, uplifting, and supportive environment around you. Be someone who makes other people feel good about themselves and you will be someone people won’t want to live without.
5. “The journey is the reward.” (Steve Jobs)
It’s fitting that this quote is by Steve Jobs. Despite how successful he was, Jobs was not guaranteed a tomorrow. He never lived to retirement or to see Apple become the world’s first trillion dollar company. If those were his rewards, he would never have received them. We are not guaranteed a reward as long as we consider it something that exists in the future. The moment we are in right now is the greatest reward we will ever have.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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. :-)
Michael Jordan. He was my hero when I was a kid. I wanted to go to the exact same school he went to and become a basketball player just like him. I loved how he fought so hard and came out on top. I remember when my teacher asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Everyone in class was starry-eyed and brimming with confidence as they went around the room giving their answers. Some kids said they wanted to be an astronaut. Some wanted to be the President. When it came to me, my answer was simple: “I want to be like Mike.”
I’ll close this out with my favorite quote of all-time, by him: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
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