Jared Leto is backstage at a major concert venue in Romania just a few hours before his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, will headline for throngs of ecstatic fans. Leto could be boasting about the group’s triumphant growth over the past decade, from minor opening act to bona fide phenomenon. (Two days before, the group packed a venue in Hungary, and tomorrow it will be Bulgaria, part of a worldwide tour that will extend from South America to South Africa.) Leto could be harping on his Academy Award earlier this year for his role in the movie Dallas Buyers Club. Instead, though, he is talking about enterprise software.
Yep, Leto is a tech geek. “We use Slack, Basecamp, Box,” he says, noting some of the tools that his team uses to communicate while he’s touring. “Sometimes we suggest, hey we really want this feature. Being deeply immersed in tech is an awesome doorway.”
Leto is not just a pretty face, though his pretty face has been getting him noticed since he starred as Jordan Catalano in the ABC sitcom My So-Called Life in the 1990s. He is thoughtful, insightful, often private despite his regular engagement with some 2 million Twitter followers. He is also more than just a talker when it comes to tech. He’s invested in startups like Nest and Airbnb and Spotify, and he operates his own streaming video-platform, called Vyrt, as well as a social- and digital-media marketing outfit called The Hive. All this along with touring, recording albums, acting, directing films (his documentary Artifact won a People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival). So is he an actor, a musician, an entrepreneur? “I’m a poly-hyphenated whatever,” he says. “I enjoy the stimulation of learning.”
What Leto has embraced is that he can’t engage in all these activities without discipline. “I never wanted to make the most movies, to make the most albums,” he explains. “So I like to employ the power of no. We all want to say yes, because with yes comes so much opportunity, but with the power of no comes focus and engagement.”
Leto doesn’t use the word “mission,” but the filter he applies sounds like one: “I am an artist. I make things and I share things with the world, and hopefully that adds to the quality of people’s lives.” His decisions as an entrepreneur, he says, “come from the same place. I don’t compartmentalize. What you’re doing, you should be passionate about, and if not, then say no.”
Leto turns almost philosophical in explaining why focus is so important in today’s world. “In my youth, listening to music was the dominant activity, in terms of consuming content. It captured my attention. Sometimes there was the smoking of a joint, but it was about listening intently, active participation. Today music can be secondary, it’s background, a lubricant to other experiences. It’s all because our ability to access music is now mobile. Music can be more a part of our lives, but in a more transient way. The same is true for movies. People will watch TV or movies, and they’ve got their phones out, texting, not solely engaged.” His larger point is that valuable interactions require higher engagement. It’s what he strives for with his fans (and one reason he loves live performances); it’s what he strives for in his films and other artistic ventures. It’s also what he’s after with his business activities: real impact that matters.
“I’ve had a standing rule for a couple years: no new projects. With Vyrt, we’ve been listening and learning, creating social theater that gives artists a way to share with the world without relying on advertising, and we’re climbing up the right areas, making progress. There can be attention on service.”
“Whatever you do, you have to have deep interest and desire and passion, or you shouldn’t be doing it. My work is never a job. My work is my life. If you work your fucking ass off, you can get a lot done.”