You likely know Adrian Grenier as Vincent Chase, the amiable leader of the Entourage brat pack, with a piercing pair of baby blues and a 5 o’clock shadow. And he doesn’t mind that at all (more on that in a minute). What you may not know is that from the tender age of 9, Grenier’s been an entrepreneur who now has his hand in four different ventures.
Those include Reckless Productions, a company that spawned the recent documentary Teenage Paparazzo; SHFT, the multimedia platform that aggregates content on socially conscious business and culture; his own iPad app; and craft beer. Is your head spinning yet?
Grenier’s isn’t. Chatting with Fast Company, the actor sounds just as grounded and laid-back as his Entourage alter-ego–albeit with serious philosophical views on business and media culture. Though his celebrity status has only gained steam in an age of pins, tweets, and Facebook likes, Grenier tells me, “We all have the power through technology to communicate the things that are important to us. That is a power to use responsibly.”
It’s a message he’s eager to spread–particularly to teens. Using Indiegogo’s crowdfunding platform, Grenier is raising money to take his show–the documentary Teenage Paparazzo–on the road. Dubbed the Empowerment Tour, Grenier aims to bring the film, a companion art exhibit (think pieces by Banksy and Shepard Fairey) and a related curriculum to 80 high schools around the country at no cost to the schools. The intent is to educate and engage kids, “so they are not just passively affected by the media, but actually take an active role in how they create their own images.”
Grenier’s also getting ready to launch Churchkey Can Co. in the next couple of weeks with Justin Hawkins, a former Nike designer.
So what does retro beer (you open the can with an old-timey piercing tool–no pop tops here) have to do with educating celebrity-obsessed teens or curating news and views with a social conscience? More than meets the eye, according to this young entrepreneur.
FAST COMPANY: Tell us when you first got interested in starting your own business. Were you one of those kids who sold lemonade or Halloween candy to make a profit?
ADRIAN GRENIER: Big time. I remember I was about 9, growing up on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. I had the revelation I could buy a little packet of Kool-Aid for 25 cents and a pack of Dixie cups and a big thing of sugar and put it together. I could sell each of those cups, there were about 100 to a pack, at 25 cents a piece. It was quite a profit [laughs] but it wasn’t enough for me to just sell Kool-Aid. I built a cart out of wood that fit into my mother’s shopping cart that had two pockets so I could have a pitcher of Kool-Aid on one side. My ultimate vision was to have ice cream, but refrigeration was a problem.
The idea for ChurchKey Can Co. was born from a chat with a friend at a birthday party about a year ago while you were working a lot of other projects. Would you define yourself as impulsive or a risk taker?
I consider myself an artist, first and foremost. I have a big imagination, so when I envision something, my instinct is to create it. My mom always told me I could do anything I want. I saw how hard she worked, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I had that confidence and her work ethic. Now with the DIY culture and the opportunities available with technology and through Entourage, I embarked on a journey to make things happen, to communicate that vision. Of course, not one person alone can make anything happen; you need help. So it’s partly having the vision and then enlisting support.
Many actors are entrepreneurs by necessity–you become your own business. Rather than just stick with your production company, why do you feel compelled to branch out in so many directions?
I believe they are not unrelated. They are pieces to a larger vision. A production company tells stories and I seek out storytelling first. I don’t know how much real value I bring to the world, I am just trying to share ideas and things that inspire me. The people in the trenches that are really doing the work, like teachers and community leaders, those are people creating value. We are simply telling their stories. And building communities.
Teenage Paparazzo highlights the importance of unplugging, yet you created the app “Reckless Adrian Grenier” to help fans engage. How important is a virtual community, especially in an age of individualism?
I think it’s probably the most important and the most relevant. I think we are in an ironic place, a post-modern era where technology, on one hand, is isolating us, but it is also the thing that is going to bring us all together. We are no longer beholden to the monopolies of yesteryear. We define the culture as we see fit and we can start business without the restriction or oppression of big capitalist monopolies. It’s very democratic. It comes down to community and really connecting with people that share your values and letting that propagate. Our generation will replace the generation of greed and wanton indulgence with a new social, entrepreneurial capitalism. Sustainable business with a strong social consciousness–that is the Kool-Aid that I drink.
So how hard is it to get people to see past you as Vince, the Hollywood consumer?
I like Vince [laughs], and I am proud to have been part of Entourage. It is such a relevant and defining show of an era, a zeitgiest of the time. I don’t mind if people ask me where Turtle is. I wonder where Turtle is, too. I want people to know the different sides of me, but Vince is a community building kind of guy, so it is not all that incongruent.
Here’s Grenier’s take on the business of generosity: