As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Fast.
Former Young Entrepreneur of the Year and Media Disruptor of the Year, Jackie Fast, is an award- winning entrepreneur and business leader. As founder and former managing director of Slingshot, one of the most successful global sponsorship companies, she has worked with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Red Bull, Zoom, Formula 1, Virgin, Allianz and Universal Music. An in-demand keynote speaker and an advert for collaboration, Jackie invests in global partnerships as co-founder of Sandbox Studios venture fund.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After university, I arrived in London, England from a small suburb in Canada with a backpack full of dreams. I quickly found out that dreams don’t pay the exceptionally high rents of London and had to get to work. I landed on my feet working as a sponsorship manager for a trade association. Following a relative amount of success there, I set up my first business Slingshot Sponsorship with just $3,000 and a laptop in my bedroom. Slingshot’s primary service was to source corporate sponsors for their organisation — often using celebrities and entertainment properties to push products. Three years on we had three global offices in Brazil, Oslo and Singapore working with clients including The Rolling Stones and Sir Richard Branson. I loved it, but after six years felt I had achieved all I could within the business and decided to sell it. From the proceeds of the sale I got into angel investing and also launched a wine brand called REBEL Pi Ice Wine. Although I loved the perks of working in the wine industry and managed to get REBEL Pi listed in some of the world’s top restaurants along with a number of awards, I grew restless just sitting on boards without much actual ‘work’ to do. Fortunately, I now am leading the team at Sandbox Studios which is based in Los Angeles and invests and manages talent-driven product collaborations, so things like Casamigos, Kylie Cosmetics and Beats by Dre. Along the way I also wrote a book called Rule Breaker: Rebellious Leadership for the Future of Work, which is a manifesto for new leadership — something I am extremely passionate about. With the advance of technology, our entire way of working has evolved, and yet most leadership and management tactics have not. Rule Breaker looks at what leaders need to know now in order to be successful — and specifically what rules to break.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I once locked my entire team out of the office for a week because I lost the keys and we didn’t have spare ones!
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?
There are too many to count! I actually would first say that I don’t have mentors, but I’m very fortunate to have amazing friends and colleagues who have been so supportive on my journey. I’ve never been shy to ask for help or ask a question and I found that has really helped me build relationships. I have easily ten different people I regularly turn to for different advice, whether that involves what colour the title page of my book should be to how to deal with trademark IP for a collaboration I’m doing, everyone has a different specialty and skill set and I feel like I’m pretty good at utilising people in their best capacity.
One particular person springs to mind just because I was just talking to her about it the other day, but my good friend Rebecca Jolly, CEO of Dandelion Works, has been involved in almost everything I’ve done in small ways or big. Before I started Slingshot she was one of the very first people I showed the website to — I remember it so clearly as we were so young and it felt like such a big thing. Shortly after when I had hired someone she helped me get my first official office which was hot desking in the agency she was working for at the time. With a journalism degree she also helped me edit my book Rule Breaker — painstakingly going through all the spelling and grammatical errors. Now that I’m at Sandbox Studios we are going to collaborate with some of her amazing music clients. She’s been helping me along the way for over a decade!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I wholeheartedly believe that, and my book Rule Breaker examines why this is now fundamental in the future of work. People no longer want a transactional relationship with a brand or service, they want more meaningful relationship grounded in shared values and trust. Purpose plays a huge role in that. In all my many roles I have also been excellent at marketing and sales — often raising significant funds for brands, clients and rights holders — this skill can often be lacking with more purpose-driven businesses, so in my own way I feel I am contributing and making a positive difference.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Sandbox Studios is an advisory firm and venture capital fund — we strategically help celebrities collaborate with brands (and vice versa), often fulfilling the missing piece of the puzzle by implementing our team to execute and launch products. What we do is very simple, but is often overlooked — effectively we are the ‘special sauce’ that makes a talent collaboration successful for the long term by being there at the very beginning and managing the business until an exit, rather than a celebrity just promoting the latest product.
We help celebrities and talent by helping them uncover their passion and understanding what kind of product aligns to their brand. It’s important that passion underlies the investment otherwise the deal just won’t work. From a brand/product perspective we work with businesses to help them secure a celebrity to their company — often undergoing significant research and development in terms of alignment and story. Once partnered, we work with both to help align objectives and get the product into people’s hands.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Specific to our business Sandbox Studios, social media is hugely relevant — without it we wouldn’t exist. Social media has created an opportunity for new voices to be heard in an authentic way — it creates distribution channels organically rather than hoping and praying broadcast media will like your product and tell the world. Instead, we need a bunch of people to like our product and tell their friends. This is a much better approach — it means good products can reach the right people rather than relying on a few power-hungry people at the top to decide your fate. Media has been democratized and that is a wonderful thing.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Even though I spent my entire career talking about how social and digital media has changed consumer purchase behaviour, Slingshot Sponsorship was very much still reliant on mainstream media. It has only been in the last couple of years that people are really understanding that it’s not a fad — that it’s a fundamental shift in the way people buy products. The pivot is that we now heavily rely on online networks for distribution of our marketing and communications — specifically the reach our talent has. This has helped make our communication much more authentic while also providing more space to be creative and reach new audiences.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
My desire to work in the area of talent-driven product collaboration has always been there, but it wasn’t until The Defiant Ones (a Netflix documentary profiling the friendship between Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine in the lead up to their sale of Beats Electronics to Apple) did I finally see other people start to get what I’ve always talked about. It took some highly publicized exits (Kylie Cosmetics, Aviation Gin, Casamigos) to get it on the forefront of people’s minds. So in actual fact, it’s become more of an “Aha moment” for everyone else around me when the penny finally dropped!
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Amazing so far. We are super excited about the future, as are our investors, our clients and our start-ups. I think the only way is up from here!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
I was on a Zoom call with a potential investor and about halfway through the call when I was discussing my flat in London the person went, “Oh I’ve been to your house before!” We actually Airbnb our home sometimes — so it was pretty coincidental, and in a way led to a more personal conversation with the investor.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
I think it’s fundamental now to stand for something. In the past many leaders shied away from taking a stance or communicating their position — whether it was political or not. Nowadays people need to know you have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, even if they don’t agree. Standing for something, rather than ‘towing the line’ is one of the four rules in my book Rule Breaker because it is so critical for leadership in the future of work.
A great example of its importance, and more importantly it’s influence in purchase behaviour, is Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick which angered many, but in the end grew market share with a new (younger) audience — their share price is at a record high today because of it.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I think it’s important for a leader to be passionate about what they are doing, believe in what they are doing, and most importantly communicate that vision to the world. Just like people want to purchase products that are aligned to their values, people also want to work for people that are aligned to their values. Therefore, you need to boldly communicate your values to the world. When you do this, this small act of rebellion of speaking out, it then inspires others to do the same — and pretty soon you have a whole army of people behind you that are completely aligned.
Everyone knows collaboration and teamwork is critical to success, but leaders need to understand how to facilitate this — and it starts by being self-motivated and wholly bought into what you are doing in the first place
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I think if you are driven by passion and your work fulfils that, then you will have enough grit to carry you through. If you are just going through the motions or there to pick up your paycheck, then it makes it much harder (I’d argue impossible) to guide a company through challenging times. There isn’t a magic wand in bad times, you need to stick it out and remain positive — which means anything you can do to help you keep your smile on your face is important. So hopefully you love what you do!
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Ignore the disruption and keep business as usual
- Wait until it directly impacts them and their bottom line
- Not ask questions about the disruption to the right people
All three of these are very common mistakes in the face of disruption. All three of these will make your business redundant. By the time the disruptive technology impacts your business or your bottom line, it’s already too late, you are already too far behind. Your competitor who was on top of it is way ahead of you and then you spend the rest of the time playing catch up while they continue widening the gap. From a client perspective, no one wants to work with someone who lags behind — everyone wants to work with businesses and people who understand the future, so you cannot afford to be complacent.
A great example is how governments are still unsure about how to regulate social media platforms — and this is everywhere, every country is struggling with this. Governments let these tech giants grow without any governance or clue about what they were really doing. We are now in a situation where they have so much control — just 6 tech giants control most of the communication and messaging much of the world sees. And yet, the government is now far too far behind to really do anything about it — because they don’t even know where to start.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Follow your passion: it’s important that leaders start with passion, not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because business is hard and you need passion to fall back on to make it through the tough times. There is a big disconnect between people and their work, mostly because we spent an entire childhood being asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, rather than what we care most about. Millennials and a younger generation are getting back to that, but it’s important that leaders understand this to begin with.
- Stand up for what you believe in: It’s no longer acceptable to sit on the sidelines, leaders must be active and be engaged with the world around them and communicate their values. Only then will people be able to support them and follow them.
- Be authentic: In a post-truth world the truth matters, so leaders need to be as authentic as possible to win trust. This comes from how you speak, what you say, and how you lead.
- Don’t get complacent: We all have access to the same information now, but it’s important that you understand how to properly access and utilise it. You need to regularly engage with the world — including your competitors and your naysayers. Understand the arguments on both parts, and partake in the debate. In order to pivot successfully you must have as much information as you can gather in order to make the right decision.
- Pick up my book Rule Breaker: I believe the entire world is at a tipping point as evidenced with #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, the pandemic, etc. Everyone is at a crossroads and looking to pivot, whether that is forced through disruptive technologies or just the shifting values of the global economy. Regardless, the world is very different now and in order to pivot successfully you need to understand the new constraints — or rather understand what is no longer binding. Rule Breaker examines all of this, providing a clearer path to be more successful as a leader in the future of work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Great things never come from comfort zones”
I have always been a big believer in change so I’ve always pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. I have done this in every aspect of my life and have been delighted with the result. In every area I have surpassed what I thought was possible, which just goes to show you that you need to dream bigger — and often those dreams are far bigger than what you can dream, so just go beyond what you are comfortable with and work hard. You might surprise yourself.
How can our readers further follow your work?
My book Rule Breaker: Rebellious Leadership for the Future of Work can be found wherever good books are sold, or Amazon.
Sandbox Studios: https://sandboxstudios.ventures/