If you look at actor Justin Baldoni’s IMDB page, his biography makes it sound like a TV agent discovered him on a Los Angeles street, and—bam—suddenly he’s one-third of a love triangle on the Emmy-nominated CW show Jane the Virgin. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that Baldoni is an entrepreneur first, a social activist second, and an actor third.
When I ask Baldoni to tell me all of his ventures, not leaving any out, he laughs. "Are you sure you want to do that?" The 32-year-old is CEO and cofounder of production company Wayfarer Entertainment, cofounder of social media network Shout the Good, director of the much-watched digital documentary series My Last Days (part of which Warner Brothers just greenlighted to become a movie with Baldoni directing), founder of the soon-to-launch My Last Days Foundation, creator of the #WeLoveYouSkidRow Carnival, maker of two new apps for pregnant women and the fitness world, and the actor who portrays Rafael Solano on Jane the Virgin. He's also a new father.
"So yeah, it’s quite a bit right now," he says. "I’m taking it day by day. I have a tattoo on my arm. It’s a quote from the Bahá'í writings that says, ‘Where there’s love, nothing is too much trouble, and there’s always time.’ And I really believe in my heart that there’s always time, and there’s always a way to make time."
But how to balance his myriad business interests with his various nonprofit ventures? That’s Baldoni’s business lesson number one: collaborate.
"One of the greatest things that my dad taught me . . . he told me, ‘I could’ve been so much more successful if I empowered others . . . ’ And I think the biggest mistake an entrepreneur can make is to think he has to do it on his own, and to think that there’s nobody else who can do it as good as him," Baldoni says.
When he first started Wayfarer three and a half years ago, Baldoni directed every project. Now, he has a team of eight full-time employees and countless numbers of freelance directors and commercial reps who produce documentaries and branded content.
"[T]he smartest thing that I did was listen to my dad and realize that I don’t need to do this alone," he says. "In fact, when have you ever heard of an army comprised of one person? And so we’re building our company, not as a hierarchy where Justin’s the boss and he has the last word, but as a partnership between all of our employees."
If the meditation mention or the Bahá'í quote tattoo didn’t tip you off, let’s be clear: Baldoni is a religious man, and this attracts likeminded people personally and in business. Wayfarer’s COO Farhoud Meybodi met Baldoni about four years ago at a spiritual talk that Baldoni cohosted with a few friends.
"Having been born and raised in L.A., I’ve experienced my fair share of house parties, but up until that day, I had never seen philosophy or spirituality branded with that unique layer of celebratory coolness," Meybodi wrote in an email. "It was as if Justin and his friends successfully transformed faith from something dated into a fun, aspirational experience—without any of the baggage."
Shortly after, Meybodi joined Wayfarer. But it’s not just Baldoni who’s dishing out do-gooder vibes. "I don’t have the kind of friends where it’s very casual and nobody cares and it’s like, ‘Yeah, everyone’s cool. Let’s go party.’ I have the kind of friends that are like, ‘Hey, how are you feeling? Are you okay?’ That’s the kind of friend that I want to be to them." Baldoni says that these people make the difference between a bad day and a good one.
If there’s one thing to come out of the millennial generation, it’s #YouDoYou, and Baldoni is fully onboard with that. "If you read every CEO and ‘how to be an entrepreneur’ book, they always say focus on one thing. For me, I kind of feel like, how can these ideas come through me if I’m only supposed to do one of them? I don’t like rules. I understand they’re necessary, but there’s something in me that inherently wants to break them. And I think that’s another attribute of a good entrepreneur, is you make your own."
Baldoni started the #WeLoveYouSkidRow Carnival eight years ago on his birthday because "you can always get people to do something for you on your birthday." Today, it's annual event that most recently served about 1,750 homeless people. This year, Baldoni hopes to turn it into a nonprofit.
His second project is the My Last Days documentary series, in which he follows inspirational people who just happen to have terminal cancer. "I felt like our age, millennials in general, we feel like we’re invincible. Nobody is really living for today," he says. "Everyone is very much living for tomorrow, and we spend so much time on our phones and we’re disconnected." So, he teamed up with Rainn Wilson’s company Soul Pancake to produce a series that first focused on Minnesotan Zach Sobiech (which Warner Brothers is now taking to the big screen).
"We made the first season for nothing, for no money, and spent a year and a half doing it. I left acting completely, and that’s when I started Wayfarer Entertainment, which is built around the idea that content can do more," Baldoni says. "That purpose-driven content that connects you back to who you are, that inspires you, that reminds you of something, that teaches you something, that gives you a lesson, is needed."
"We have this ability to create light," he adds. "If your intention is to start a business just to make a lot of money, then you’re starting in the wrong place. What's going to happen over the next five or 10 years is that people are going to start companies that can do good in the world, and I think because of that, will profit greatly from it."
As of this year, Wayfarer is profitable, with a 400% year-over-year revenue increase.
That all sounds very Kumbaya, but what if you don’t work for a company that is "inherently good"?
"Not every company is going to be as blatant about their mission as we are," Baldoni admits. But anyone can look at their life and work through the lens of how to be of service to others. "It takes you, the person who feels like you want to connect more, who feels like you want to make little changes, and eventually, that will go to the top, because I believe that kindness spreads."