Scooter Braun discovered Justin Bieber on YouTube. Now he also represents Ariana Grande, Psy, Carly Rae Jepsen, and several other pop culture phenomena.
I’d love to tell you that there are all these lessons and that a lot of my success was based on things that I learned and how I was able to move forward. But really it’s just being stupid enough to think you can do it.
I was too dumb to think about all the conservative reasons why me achieving the things I wanted to achieve were very close to impossible.
It started in first grade. I went to a party and the clown-magician guy was like, “What’s your name? Scott? Scooter!” and I was like, “Shut up, clown-magician guy, my name is Scott!” And my brother, Adam, saw this, and anything that pissed me off, he loved. I had very big lips growing up, so my brother started to call me Scooter Fish because he decided a scooter fish has big lips. So it was, “Scooter Fish this,” “Scooter Fish that.” And I’d chase him around the house and beat the shit out of him.
My dad was a refugee from Hungary, the child of Holocaust survivors, so it was always very important for him to give back. And my mom lost her father when she was eleven and grew up with very little. So there was always an extra bedroom with someone in it in our home.
One day my dad got a phone call from a buddy of his in Philadelphia, saying, “Two kids, good kids, they’re living in an abandoned tenement in Philadelphia, very bad situation, the guy who brought them over from Africa had the wrong intentions. Could you help them out and put them on your AAU basketball team, maybe find them a prep school?”
The kids were from Mozambique. Really good kids. After a week, one of them, Cornelio, in his broken English, said: “Can we stay?” And my dad said: “A couple more weeks until we figure this out? Yeah, sure.” Cornelio said: “No, forever.”
We had one family meeting, and they were adopted.
People hear this story about your family adopting kids and they think, “Oh my God, it’s so amazing for those kids!” But they don’t realize it was just as amazing for us.
I remember watching Cornelio come home from school for the first day. He was very upset because they kept giving him books in every classroom, putting them in his backpack, and sending him to the next room. He kept trying to communicate, but in Portuguese — his English wasn’t good enough, and he didn’t know how to ask what he wanted to ask. He was upset because where he comes from there aren’t enough books for all kids to take home. You have to keep the books at school. And he thought he was going to get in trouble for bringing the books home. When you hear a story like that, you start to realize how much you take for granted in your everyday life.
Every night before we went to sleep — every night — my dad would walk in the room, and he’d say, “Brauns are different. You’re special.” We’d say: “What does that mean, Dad?” And he’d say: “You’re not better than anybody, but you’re different, and you’re not going to be held to the normal standards that other kids are going to be held to, because if you want to be extraordinary, you’ve got to be held to extraordinary standards.” Every night. After a while, you start to believe that shit.
If you really love someone, you push them.
If it’s achievable, there’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be doing it.
If you’re not going to do it to the best of your ability, then don’t do it at all.
There’s been a lot of studies on children of the Holocaust, descendants of the Holocaust. They look at the world very differently. You grow up with these stories that my grandparents told me. As good as your life is today, you have to plan for the worst tomorrow, constantly. And you also have to try to achieve as much as you can because you don’t know if tomorrow is going to be there. Tomorrow is not promised.
To me, surprising my dad meant impressing him. Even in small ways. I’d get a fast break on the basketball court but pull up for a three-pointer. And you’d hear my dad, who was coaching, go: “SCOTT! NO, NO, NO!!!” And then when the ball went through the net, he’d be: “Okay!”
Ball is life, man. You never heard that?
You can’t have five point guards on the floor. You’ve got to have your roles, and you’re going to have to depend on each other, because no one can win on their own.
What I really love about Phil Jackson is how he got guys like Michael Jordan to listen. This wasn’t the bull-in-the-china-shop approach that I’d known my entire life. He was able to get other great people to listen to him so he could shape them.
You have to speak to very talented and very opinionated people in a way that keeps them in a mindset where they’re not threatened and they’re willing to listen to you and trust you so you can grow with them.
I never had the privilege of being the big kid who walks in the park with the attitude that says: I’m going to pummel you guys. I was the tiny kid. In seventh grade, a girl called me a shrimp and I cried the entire night. What a bitch! But it gave me this sensitivity . . . you just don’t treat people poorly. Because I know what it’s like to be that person.
I was four eleven as a freshman. I grew twelve inches in high school — four inches every year. So at the start I was the short kid who was friends with all the girls but not big enough to date them, right? I had to be a very good listener. It was the only way they would talk to me. And it actually served me when I grew. I had heard them vent to me about all the guys who disrespected the girls and were rude. So I never became that dude.
When you’re that small, you find yourself observing a lot because you’re physically not able to compete. You have to use your mind in a different way.
Understand the little man and show respect. And understand that the little man today might not be the little man tomorrow.
Treat the janitor like the CEO.
I wanted my own story. I wanted not to be Ervin and Susan’s kid. Here I was hearing the story of my grandpa and the Holocaust and what he did to get our family out after the Hungarian Revolution . . . and then hearing about my father, you know, coming from Queens and getting us to Greenwich, Connecticut. I didn’t want to be that first kid to grow up with means. I wanted to do it on my own, the same way my father did it, the same way his father did it. So I wanted to go far away so I could make my own story.
In high school, people called me Scott. Scooter was a name only close, close friends called me. My buddy made me a bet that I couldn’t introduce myself to everyone at Emory as Scooter. Hundred bucks. Orientation starts and they say, “Scott Braun” and I say, “I’m sorry, but my name is Scooter.” When I threw the first party and put Scooter Braun on the flyer, that was it. I was in. I was Scooter to everyone who came, and it became this thing.
No one remembers Scott. But it’s really easy to remember Scooter.
Sometimes having your name shift allows you to feel like you’re getting to recreate your story.
I used to not listen.
I was the kid who always said, “I’m going to do this!” and then six months later, even though I gave it the best effort, it didn’t work out. And someone would say, “Hey, what happened with that?” and I’d be like, “Well it didn’t work out” and they’d be like, “You’re full of shit. You talk so much bullshit, you say you’re going to do this, you say you’re going to do that. . . .” Scott did that. Scooter didn’t talk. Scooter would tell you, “I just did this. It’s over, it’s done.” He learned that lesson. He got to start over.
Sometimes the smartest person for the job is the wrong person for the job because they’re just negative. When you have negative people around you, doesn’t matter how capable or intelligent they are, they will hurt the culture of what you’re doing. What they do is they project their negativity onto you. And you start to look in the mirror and say: Do I even like myself? And you realize it isn’t even you. It’s them. They’re putting that shit on you.
Happiness is understanding it’s about the journey.
Risk is being stupid enough to walk around a corner where you don’t know what’s there.
Courage is doing what’s right in every single moment no matter what it means to you.
Sometimes situations change, and it’s not the right deal for you. But it’s important if you gave someone your word, you stick to your word. Even if it’s not the best deal. Even if you know you would have negotiated it differently because circumstances have changed. Unless the other side is doing something malicious or spiteful, when you give somebody your word, stick to it. That’s real courage.
I don’t look at money as success. I look at it as an avenue to freedom.
When I was about ten years old, a Greenpeace worker knocked on the door to our house in Connecticut. It’s a defining moment of my life. I run over, open the door, and he starts telling me the whole Greenpeace thing. Good salesman. I’m pumped. Let’s save the ocean. Let’s save the whales. Mom! Come here. Greenpeace guy! You’re always saying give back. We should do this. “Scott,” she says, “we give to a lot of charities. We can’t just give money to everyone who shows up at the door.” Mom . . . I begged her, and I think she wrote a seventy-five-dollar check. He was super grateful, and he left. I watch him walk out of our driveway and I’m thinking: Where’s his car? And my mom says he doesn’t have a car. That he’s walking from house to house as part of his mission to show people he supports the environment. It’s part of him showing his devotion and his dedication to the cause. And I thought: Okay, cool, but there’s no train station close to here. There’s no cabs. That’s a long walk. And in that moment he was like a hero. To be that dedicated and that passionate to his cause. In that exact same moment, I realized without my mom writing him that check, he was just a guy walking door to door. That’s when I decided I would never, ever have to rely on a little kid begging his mom to give me a check to make a difference in the world. So I ran for class president. And I wanted to be successful. So when my brother says, Hey, I want to do this charity to build schools for children, I can write him a check. I wanted to be in a place of influence because I never wanted to rely on anybody. The lesson I learned was to skip a step.
My first memory is of my Uncle Will coming to visit me when I was born. Everyone thinks I’m crazy. They say: “That’s impossible. Babies can’t see distance when they’re born.” But I remember my Uncle Will wearing suspenders and I was completely fascinated with those things he was wearing. No one believes me. But Uncle Will says he was wearing suspenders. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.
It’s this weird thing that happens. I get a gut check in this way I can’t explain. It kinda feels like, Oh, I know what this is. It’s like something else is telling me.
I saw the video of Justin. It had sixty thousand views. My gut went: That’s the kid you’re looking for. And I knew, as I watched those videos, what to do. I had the whole plan in my head. I knew the next four years. Done.
I compare it to falling in love. I told my wife on the first date I was gonna marry her.
She freaked out. Completely freaked out.
But at the same time, she was freaked out that she wasn’t more freaked out.
Just because you know doesn’t mean they know.
Same thing with Justin and his mother. Found him, give them this idea, sounds crazy, but something in their gut is saying this guy is telling the truth. Then I have to show them it’s real.
At some point you gotta believe in a higher power and some mysterious plan that we don’t understand, that we can’t even fathom, because we’re just too small to fathom. Certain things happen and you just get gut feelings and intuition that simply doesn’t make sense. And you go against every logical thought in your head and it works out because something inside you tells you to do it.
This gut feeling is like that with all the artists. Same thing with Ariana Grande. I called her up and I said: Can I meet with you? And they were like, Sure. I went to the house, gave this whole pitch, and they’re like, We believe you. Let’s give it a try. I could just see it. I knew what to do with her. You know, with Martin Garrix, you heard Animals, you just kinda know. “Gangnam Style.” I saw the video, it had under a hundred thousand views. My COO sent it to me as a joke. Ha ha isn’t this funny? You should tweet it. He’s silly. And I said: “FIND THIS GUY.” What do you mean? “This is gonna be the number-one song in the world.” In the office, it’s like a running joke. People always ask me: Is your gut saying anything? Most of the time I’m getting nothing. But if I say to them, “My gut went off,” everybody runs with me.
At the same time, I’m the idiot who will go and give free hugs to people on a sidewalk.
Go with your gut no matter what. Because when you go with the logical thing and you go against your gut and you’re wrong, it haunts you. I knew it. Knew it. When you go with your gut and you’re wrong, you say: Ah, I went with my gut. No problem.
I wasn’t fully prepared for the transformation from young man to young adult, and seeing Justin struggle with that. And that’s where my father came in handy: Being that rock for me; I had to be that rock for him. And we got through that.
Mistakes are lessons. Cherish your mistakes. Learn from them. And by the way, cherish other people’s mistakes. Learn from them without taking the hit.
When I die, if people say, Man, he was an incredible entrepreneur . . . but my kids are thinking, He was a piece-of-shit dad, then I failed. But if I lost everything, and my kids felt, He lost everything but he was still a good dad to us, then I succeeded.
When you have a kid, this shift takes place. When you’re young, even though you know you’re gonna die, you feel kind of invincible. But all of a sudden you’re holding your kid and you’re like, Okay, this is weird. I’ve worked thirty-three years hard as hell to be the man I am in the world today, and you don’t even know anything about it nor do you care. In fact, you didn’t even fucking exist, and I love you more than anyone I’ve ever met. I don’t even know you, but I love you. And you have this weird moment where you realize that you don’t really know you’re gonna die until you make life. Because the moment you make life and you’re looking at your child, you realize, You never existed. All the things that I’ve done in thirty-three years, all the experiences, all the feelings, all the things I’ve seen, I didn’t even exist to my child. And someday my child will continue to exist, and I won’t.
And when that happens, you realize that you have to do as much as you possibly can while you have time on this earth to make a difference and impact this world and at the same time pass as much of that knowledge that you have to this little person before you die.
When you’re a young kid, you’re like, I wanna be a millionaire! I wanna be a billionaire! And then you realize, making five grand is really fucking hard. And your perspective on making millions to billions of dollars is completely changed. So you start to reevaluate and set new goals. What number is enough for me? I was very lucky to start passing those numbers when I was twenty-seven. At thirty, you start seeking people out that have so much more than you financially. All right, when do I stop being hungry for this? Because I’m confused now. I didn’t get any of the satisfaction when I hit my number. I thought when I hit my number, I’d feel something. And I felt nothing, and that was depressing. My life didn’t change. I just had more in my bank account. What the fuck? That’s when David Geffen told me to read that poem “Ithaka,” which is about the journey. It’s always about the journey. And he said something to me I’ll never forget. He said: “Hundred years from now, no one’s gonna remember me, and sure as hell no one’s gonna remember you.” And I realized, he’s right. No one’s gonna remember me. But they’ll feel my impact, and that’s good enough for me.
Cover photo by Bryce Duffy
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