01: Scooter Braun – What it Took to Build the Career of Justin Bieber
What does it take to be a superstar? Of course, it takes dependable people backing you up, supporting you, and giving you the opportunities you need to succeed. But what does it take to be one of those people?
My friend Scooter Braun is one of those people for some of the biggest superstars on the pop scene today. You may have heard of Carly Rae Jepsen, Psy (of “Gangnam Style” fame), Tori Kelly, and young pop singer known as Justin Bieber — Scooter helped build them all. He’s been working with young artists and building careers for years now, and along the way, he’s created an impressive career for himself.
But I think what’s most impressive and inspiring to me is how Scooter has remained grounded among all the chaos. He operates in a world of fame and celebrity, but he’s still just a regular guy. He also fundamentally believes in the power of philanthropy. I recently joined him on a trip to Guatemala, and it was incredible to see how much he genuinely loves to help people.
I was so excited to have Scooter as my first ever guest on this podcast. I don’t think there could be a better person to talk to about what it’s like to live as a creative entrepreneur. Scooter built his career from the ground up, and he knows a thing or two about letting your passion guide you through open doors of opportunity.
Scooter is incredibly successful; that’s why I asked him about his personal philosophy around success in our interview. We also talk about how we can achieve success, and why the key is to trust your gut and choose not to be afraid. We talk about what the word “success” actually means — and why it’s not just about how much money you make. And finally, we talk about the importance of building relationships and being a good friend to the people around you.
This interview is full of so much inspiring wisdom — I know you’ll walk away with more than a few great takeaways. So without further ado, let’s dive into my interview with the brilliant Scooter Braun.
Who Is Scooter Braun?
Scooter Braun is the Founder of SB Projects, the multimedia magnate behind Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Usher, and Tori Kelly, to name a few. Scooter has personally managed some of the biggest acts in show businesses today, and he’s still building his empire.
But Scooter doesn’t only work on the music scene. SB Projects has ventures in music, film, television, technology, and philanthropy. Their first documentary, Never Say Never (directed by Jon Chu, another ONKEN RADIO guest), was a massive hit that became the number one grossing concert film in US history. And their tech incubator, Silent Labs, has investments in Uber, Spotify, and Pinterest, among others.
Scooter’s presence in the entertainment industry is enormous, but he reaches even farther with his philanthropic efforts. Scooter currently serves as the Chair of the Advisory Board for Pencils of Promise, a non-profit organization that builds houses in developing nations. Our recent trip to Guatemala was part of a Pencils of Promise effort to construct homes there, and it was inspiring to me to see how much joy Scooter takes from reaching out to help people.
Beyond his efforts with Pencils of Promise, Scooter, along with his wife, Yael Braun (another amazing ONKEN RADIO guest), serves on the board of Fuck Cancer, a non-profit Yael founded to help with the prevention and early detection of cancer. And finally, Scooter, his clients, and his companies have granted more wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation than any other organization in the history of the non-profit.
In 2013, Time magazine named Scooter one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. His work in entertainment is incredible, and his work in philanthropy is inspiring. I am so thankful to Scooter for lending me a little bit of his time today. Let’s get into our interview and look at what it really means to be successful in a creative space.
Trust Your Gut
Scooter has a memory of a particularly formative experience. He was playing basketball in high school, and nothing was going right. He had three turnovers in a row, and he felt himself getting more and more flustered. His father called him over from the side of the court, and he said a few words that Scooter will never forget:
“‘Are you scared’? And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And he’s like … ‘Let me be clear about something. … It’s a full-court press, but it’s a game. There’s nothing to be scared of. Is anyone trying to kill you? Is anyone going to hurt your family? … Because I’m pretty sure when this game is over, nothing in your life has changed.’ And I walked out onto that court because he was right. I wasn’t scared.”
– Scooter Braun
I think that sometimes when we’re trying to create something beautiful or we’re trying to perform at our absolute highest level, it’s easy to get flustered like Scooter did that day. We put enormous pressure on ourselves to succeed, but we end up putting so much stress on our bodies and minds that we can’t perform at our best.
In those moments, it’s essential to remember the truth Scooter’s dad shared with him. The truth is, you are probably not in immediate physical danger. There’s nothing to be scared of! If you fail, you’ll pick yourself up and try again tomorrow. If you create something that you’re not proud of, you can learn from the experience and create something better next time. But in this moment, if you are not in the way of physical harm, you have every reason to keep going, keep trying, and keep creating until you get it right.
I asked Scooter for his best advice for anyone trying to build a creative career in music, and his answer was simple and concise: Trust your gut.
“Trust your gut. You’ll know if you’re good quickly — Don’t be afraid to fail numerous times. Keep yourself out there. … Don’t think [that] trying is going out there and shooting that first layup and missing and saying, ‘I tried to make a layup and I missed.’ Trying is the start. Finish with success.”
– Scooter Braun
If you’re feeling any fear or anxiety as you try to build and grow your artistic career, take a moment to remember that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Meditate, do some journaling or breathwork, take a walk to clear your head, and silence the fear in your mind. From there, you can just trust your gut. You know what your passions are, and you know what you need to do to achieve success at those passions. Keep trying, and you’ll reach the success you desire.
Success: It’s Not All About Money
But what is the success you desire? Is it all about the financial wealth you can build with an entrepreneurial career?
Scooter doesn’t think so. He has a really wise perspective on the relationship between money and happiness that I want to share with you:
“I have a lot of friends who are very successful and very unhappy. And I think it’s because they took a route of success where even at the end you don’t get to enjoy yourself. If you don’t trust your gut, if you don’t trust the goodness in people, if you don’t surround yourself with positive energy, you might make a dollar, but that’s not a good dollar. … Money is not an avenue to happiness — Money is an avenue to freedom.”
– Scooter Braun
I love that last idea: “Money is not an avenue to happiness — Money is an avenue to freedom.” Even if you built the largest empire in the world and earned billions of dollars, you couldn’t buy lasting joy or fulfillment. Money is just a way to release yourself from burdens and free yourself up to pursue the things that bring you true happiness.
I know for me, it’s my relationships that bring me the most fulfillment and happiness. It’s my relationships with my family and my friends that I believe will make up my quality of life now and my legacy in the future. My friend Scooter feels the same way:
“If I am the richest man in the world and I’ve done so much for charity … but after I die [my children] can’t … say, ‘He was a great father,’ I am a failure. If I have nothing and my kids can … say that ‘I have a good father,’ I am a success.”
– Scooter Braun
For Scooter, his core relationships with his family are his barometer of success — if he’s succeeding as a father, he’s happy. What are your core relationships? Who are the people who mean the most to you in your life? I want you to know that if you are taking care of good relationships with them and using the money you receive to take care of those people, you’ll have all the success and happiness you need.
The Importance of Saying “Sorry”
Relationships really are essential to a successful life and a lasting legacy, but they’re not always easy. When you’re investing in your art and your business, it can be challenging to find the time and energy to invest in the relationships that matter most. We’re going to fail sometimes — we can’t always be the perfect spouse, friend, parent, sibling, or neighbor.
In those moments, you’ve got to be prepared to say two simple words: “I’m sorry.” You have to own up to your mistake and let the person know that you’re genuinely sorry about what happened. You have to be willing to be humble and apologize when you’re in the wrong.
That’s a lesson Scooter had to learn the hard way.
“… When you’re a bad friend — because the times will come when you will be a bad friend — don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and say [that] you’re sorry. … I was a very bad friend to one of my oldest friends. He has a child, and he lives on the other side of the county, but I should’ve made the time. … Now the kid is almost a year old. … When I got there … I pulled him aside and said, ‘I want you to know there’s no excuse. I’m sorry.’ And he forgave me, and it meant a tremendous amount to me.”
– Scooter Braun
I really admire Scooter for his willingness to admit when he was wrong and seek his friend’s forgiveness. And I’m happy for him that he and his friend have repaired their relationship. I know that friendship contributes to Scooter’s happiness, so it was worth the awkwardness and struggle of sincerely apologizing to maintain that relationship.
Is there someone in your life you need to say “sorry” to? Is there someone whose feelings you may have hurt or who hasn’t gotten enough of your time? Be willing to pick up the phone and apologize to them. Let them know that you care about them, you’re sorry you messed up, and you care about the relationship enough to seek their forgiveness. You’ll be glad you did.
Be a Creative Alchemist with Scooter Braun
Scooter Braun is many things — he’s a giant in the entertainment industry, he’s a philanthropist with a global impact, and most importantly, he’s a family man who takes care of the people who matter most to him. I am so inspired by Scooter and the incredible work he does, and I want to acknowledge him for being one of the most down-to-earth guys working in the entertainment industry.
Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.
With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens of which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes, but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes.
Scooter is living the life of his dreams and is a Creative Alchemist as a result. He’s become a man he can be proud of — and to him, that’s the way to truly live inspiration.
“Do you want to inspire other people? Live Well. Be able to … look yourself in the mirror and be happy with yourself because that’s what’s going to be most inspiring — not the money, not the success. … And so if you really want to live inspiration … live in a way that … you’re satisfied with the life you’re living.”
– Scooter Braun
Create the life of your dreams. Don’t be afraid to trust your gut when you’re pursuing your artistic career, and make sure you’re to take care of your relationships along the way. You’ll find the success you’re looking for and more if you can remember to simply create a life that is happy and satisfying for you in every moment.
Thanks for joining me on this episode, guys! I hope it brought you a lot of value and inspiration today. If you enjoyed it, please leave me a good review on Apple Podcasts. And don’t forget to share the episode on Instagram, tag Scooter, @scooterbraun, and me, @nickonken, and tell us what your biggest takeaways were.
Until next time — remember to trust your gut and always keep creating.
Some things we learn in this podcast:
• How excelling at planning parties led to a position as the vice president of So So Def
• How a thirst for ideas led him to start Scooter Braun Projects
• How he found and singed his first two acts: Asher Roth and Justin Bieber
• What working with Justin Bieber taught him
• What fueled the singing The Wanted, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Psy
• Why Scooter is so grateful for people doubting him
• The importance of a backpacking trip with his little brother
• How Tori Kelly became one of the hottest in the industry on her own
• A key that Scooter uses for building relationships
• The importance of picking up the phone and saying “I’m Sorry”
• Scooter’s #1 priority
• The difference of growing up with Holocaust survivors
• What makes scooter the most selfish guy around
• Why people do drugs
• Justin Bieber’s strange feeling of normalcy while giving in Guatemala
• Advice for creating a career in music
• Definition of trying
• Running towards fear as a catalyst for growth