Everything changed when Scooter Braun’s dad walked into the room.
Braun, the entrepreneur, investor, and manager who discovered Justin Bieber and Psy, last month spoke at the Fast Company Innovation Festival about his professional triumphs and stumbles, topics he’s never been shy about discussing. But when Ervin Braun took a seat near the front of the 92nd Street Y for his son’s interview, it became clear the younger Braun had never publicly told those stories–including examples of his parents’ impact on him–with his father present.
Braun said his parents “demanded a lot,” but also instilled in him the idea that “you can do anything. That idea is unrealistic, but I didn’t know it, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ If we’re all created equal, why can’t I be that guy?”
“Success and failure are neighbors,” he said. “They live right next door. The only thing you can do is keep pushing through.”
Braun dreamed big in bringing an unknown Bieber and his mother from Canada to a townhouse in New York, stashing them “illegally,” he joked, while he worked on getting Bieber the recording deal that would turn him into an international superstar.
Down to his last two months of savings, he called Ervin to provide an update and found himself breaking down in tears on the phone, wondering out loud if he’d ever bridge the gap from Atlanta college party promoter to international talent manager. His father, he recalled, encouraged him to use up the rest of his savings and see it through.
But luck, or fate, or God–Braun seemed to talk about them interchangeably–intervened. A one-hit wonder from the white rapper Asher Roth, also stashed in a Scooter Braun safe house–one that reeked of marijuana–provided the cash Braun needed to keep Bieber in the U.S. until he could seal a deal.
There was no gloat in Braun’s retelling of this chapter of his life. Rather, a sense of humility inflected every story. “I was a grown man crying on the phone with me dad. I came this close. When you ask me what the difference is, there is no difference. I got lucky. You work really really hard and sometimes it happens early in life, sometimes it happens later in life. That isn’t up to you. What happens early is when you quit. Someone upstairs was looking out for me.”
Even as Braun was chasing a career in talent management, he had an eye on investing. In his early twenties he tried to put money into Facebook when it was just a website for college kids, but narrowly missed his window as his contact, cofounder Eduardo Saverin, was already on his way out of the company. (A broken heart also kept him away from flying up to Boston to knock on Zuckerberg’s door and beg to invest, something that haunted him for years–until he heard recently that he never had a shot at being allowed to take a stake.)
While he missed out on the social network, he did manage to enter an investing round in Spotify, thanks in part to landing on Billboard‘s 30 under 30 list. Braun asked for contact information for his fellow listers, and sent out a mass email introducing himself and asking to be in touch. Among the recipients was the creator of a then-small Swedish music streaming startup curiously named Spotify: Daniel Ek. A relationship was struck, and the rest of that story will eventually be history.
“You’re not going to build the business or be involved in the business that changes your life by finding someone that’s already done it,” said Braun, near the end of his remarks. “It’s [going to be] your peers. If you bet on each other, that’s the life-changing moment. I wouldn’t have been in [Spotify] if I didn’t send that email to everyone my age and say, ‘Let’s get to know each other.'”
And lessons like that are why it’s worth getting to know Scooter Braun. These anecdotes are highlights from a nearly hourlong talk that touched on many more subjects, including getting fired and rehired by Ariana Grande, and the “bad years” of Justin Bieber, namely how he skirted the line between friendship and a working relationship to support the pop star’s eventual turnaround. You can watch the entire interview in the embedded video for more of Braun’s tales–well worth it, no matter how you feel about “Despacito.”