EDC Las Vegas 2014 has officially ended and according to my Facebook feed, though people are hungover and tired, the withdrawals are already starting to seep in. Its neverending growth and cult following has lead many to dub EDC as the “modern day Woodstock.” However, this culture of electronic dance music is not new; it’s been around for decades prior to its mainstream success. How exactly did Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella manage to not only build such a successful company, but essentially shift the trend of music? Most importantly, what can we learn about success from the man said to be the “EDM King?” After some research, here are eight key reasons that sets Pasquale Rotella apart from everyone else.
Guy Kawasaki said in a recent talk that he feels many young entrepreneurs don’t understand the concept of “paying your dues.” Whether you come out on top is dependent on whether you let this feeling of entitlement get to you. No matter the challenges and setbacks, Pasquale has faced them all. In an interview with USA Today, he mentions having to survive on Top Ramen and living in places with rent control while doing the jobs of multiple people:
“I did all the booking, scouting, marketing, everything myself,” he says. “I had a car that I just loved, a ’64 Ford Comet. I was on Melrose Avenue and parked in the yellow zone so I could run in this store to leave a stack of flyers. I had all these unpaid parking tickets that I couldn’t afford to pay and this tow truck took it to the impound lot.”
If you’re a young success seeker, there are no shortcuts, you have to pay your dues and do the the bitch work. Even if you get a head start from rich parents, no one is ever going to fully respect you if they know you haven’t walked in their shoes.
One common advice for entrepreneurs is to “find people that can do the things you can’t.” While this is true on the surface level, not everyone has this luxury due to financial or resource limitations. So what’s the next option then? You suck it up and do it yourself! Even after events were booked, the hard work didn’t stop there, According to his latest AMA:
“I’ve done everything at my shows, from passing out flyers to selling water to picking up trash. Anything that’s needed… Being at these events and enjoying it like a fan helps me understand what I need to improve.”
In the words of HauteLook Founder Adam Bernhard, “there is no job too small for you to do at your company.” Understanding and experiencing every single duty that makes up your company allows you to optimally expand your team and constantly improve your product.
Angel Investor Jason Calacanis once said that “product speaks.” In the end, you can be a great salesperson and close deals, but it’s ultimately having a great product that keeps customers coming back for more. But what makes a product “great?” You use quality ingredients! Like the world’s best sushi chef Sukiyabashi Jiro who is known to use only the very best fish, rice, and produce suppliers for this dishes, Pasquale does the same when producing his events. In an interview with Billboard, he said:
“Everything is important. It’s not just about the band on stage or the DJ on stage… It’s 10% venue, 10% acts, 10% production, 10% theatrics. People think I don’t care about the music or who’s on stage — and that’s crazy.”
Being overly-OCD about the things that go into building your product will not only help ensure that you build something your consumers love, but will also destroy your competition. Why did Apple manage to build such a cult following when Steve Jobs came back? It’s not just because of great marketing. They simply created amazing products people could connect with when others didn’t.
While some entrepreneurs are known to get harder to get a hold of as they reach the top of the mountain, Pasquale does the opposite. He is constantly interacting with fans to answer questions and is open to journalists hounding him with hard questions. Despite being worth at least $50 million, he still rocks a simple t-shirt, backpack, and baseball cap when he goes out. In his letters to fans, he emphasizes on the importance of sticking to your routes, because that’s ultimately what’s most important when your mind is riddled with confusion from external forces.
While it’s important to have your personal vision with the direction you want to take your company, you’re nothing without your audience and customers. Why? Because they’re the ones buying your product! Throughout his career, the customer has always been the #1 priority for Pasquale. A friend once told me a story of a time his buddy lost his keys at EDC. As he began to see the sun rise while standing next to his car, a man suddenly drives up in a golf cart and asks what happened. After a brief explanation, the man takes him to a nearby auto dealership, helps him pay for a new key, and then drops him back off at his car. As the man drives away and my friend’s buddy looks down at the receipt for the key, the top reads “Pasquale Rotella.” This resonates with Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh’s number core value for his company: Deliver WOW Through Service.
Pasquale’s decades of hard work has surely paid off and it not only shows through his achievements, but the amount of respect everyone has for him. One promoter told the LA Times that he’s unable to book any big-named DJs without Pasquale’s blessing. Pasquale doesn’t like being attacked and admits that he can be fierce from time to time.
“I don’t like confrontation. But I am never going to stop what I’m doing when my life is on the line. I do have business sense. It’s because of my upbringing. I wasn’t given toys. I grew up with parents who had nothing and wanted to start businesses. I’m very strategic. I want to protect what I do.”
Since the beginning of his career, Pasquale has constantly faced tough challenges that would drive most people to quit from having his events shutdown, getting arrested, to facing public scrutiny because of the events he produces. He’s never seen giving up as an option, and you can see this in the early years of his career.
“The scene crashed four times. The last one was in 2001, when events went from 40,000 to 7,000 people attending… There was a rave task force that kept busting up the parties. There was a crack house law that threatened event throwers with jail time and a lot of people dropped out. I kept going, though, and that’s why I’m still here.”
After a 15-year-old girl died after taking ecstasy at EDC in 2010, a combination of media scrutiny and getting sued by the City of Los Angeles for multiple counts including civil fraud and unfair business practices (these accusations were later dismissed) forced Pasquale to look for other venue options outside of Los Angeles. After solidifying a venue, EDC Vegas was executed in just ten days. Since then, EDC Vegas has thrived with an estimated earnings of $207 million in 2012, an increase of 52% from 2011. Also, attendees for 2012 have increased by 230,000 compared to 2011. Talk about a comeback!
“When you have mass gatherings, it doesn’t matter what kind they are, there are issues… We haven’t seen anything that’s affected us except that we’ve looked at ourselves and said, “Is there something else we can do?” We always do that.”
A monk once told me that the key to a happy life is to take away all the superficial things that are in the world and find your life’s true purpose. Even with the financial success of EDC Vegas, Pasquale is still heavily focused on bringing the festival back to LA because that’s where it all started for him. It’s easy to focus on the money, but it’s standard advice in this day and age that this is obviously not the key to happiness in life. What’s Pasquale’s purpose for Insomniac you ask?
“I hope people get inspired to enjoy life a little bit more, connect with their inner self, and make the world a better place. Happiness is the most important thing in the world!”
No matter what you do, you must narrow down the core thing you want to contribute to the world. Otherwise, you’ll still be empty on the inside if and when you “succeed.” In the words of VC Marc Andreessen, “it’s not about focusing on your “passion, but the beneficial value you want to create for other people vs. just one’s ego.”