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Why Jared Leto loves being the dumbest person in the room and what Elon Musk taught him

At Fast Company’s European Innovation Festival, actor, musician, and tech investor Jared Leto broke down what he looks for in a company.

Why Jared Leto loves being the dumbest person in the room and what Elon Musk taught him
Fast Company editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta with actor, musician, and investor Jared Leto at the Fast Company European Innovation Festival 2019 [Photo: Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images for Fast Company]

In addition to his Oscar-winning career (Dallas Buyers Club) and his critically successful band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Jared Leto has established himself as a savvy tech investor. To date, Leto has backed more than 70 companies in their early stages, including Slack, Spotify, Uber, and Snap, all of which have gone public in the last 15 months.

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His key to making smart calls? Modesty, for starters.

[Photo: Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images for Fast Company]
“I love being the dumbest person in the room—that is a great place to be,” Leto said during Fast Company‘s European Innovation Festival. “I don’t have an incredible education, but I’ve always been very curious, so I read a lot. I ask a lot of questions, a lot of stupid questions, probably. And I love to learn. So investing in technology for me has been kind of a way to challenge myself, a way to grow.”

Over time, Leto said, he has progressed from feeling like “just a dumbass artist who dropped out of school” to someone who has value and a viewpoint to add to a growing company.

“I have 60 employees on the road for the band. And having a band is kinda like a startup,” Leto said. “You have a group of people and a garage around a computer using software to write songs and make an album. You’re very involved in the marketing and all the forward-facing stuff as a musician. The record company is kind of your venture capitalist, although your terms are backwards: They keep 80 [percent] and you get 20—if you’re lucky to see the 20 ever.”

As clichéd as he admitted it may seem, the driving factors for Leto to back a company come down to the product and the people—but those two criteria don’t always go hand in hand.

[Photo: Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images for Fast Company]
“I don’t have to love every person to invest. There are some companies I’ve invested in where I thought, ‘Holy shit, that guy’s an animal, but I want to be a part of that company!'” Leto said. “It’s a myth that every leader of every company has to be Gandhi and a great CEO. We wouldn’t be sitting here with our iPhones in the air right now if that was the case, if legend is true.”

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“There are some great companies that have sociopaths at the helm,” he went on to say. “They make good CEOs sometimes and not great people probably. But there have been a lot of multi-billion-dollar companies run by full-on sociopaths—sometimes countries.”

Stephanie Mehta and Jared Leto [Photo: Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images for Fast Company]
As for where Leto is placing his bets: “I really don’t give a flying fuck what vertical anything is in, to be honest,” he said. “I love food and beverage as well. I’m looking at things in the biosciences and agriculture and how technology is going to inform and influence those things.”

That said, despite his sizable footprints in both Hollywood and the music industry, Leto isn’t all that interested in entertainment-related companies, save for those already in his portfolio, like Spotify and the video collaboration startup Frame.io. “I don’t really do entertainment,” he said. “As a rule, I stay away from that.”

He did, however, offer up an area that’s ripe for disruption should any entrepreneur be up for the task.

“Touring would be a great place to throw some innovation and some technology. Just to get my brother’s drum set from California to Europe is incredibly wasteful and expensive,” Leto said. “How you tour around the world is incredibly inefficient and it’s very antiquated.”

In order to stay on top of every aspect of his career, including investing, Leto said he doesn’t multitask—rather, he hyper-focuses on what’s at hand. At the suggestion of Elon Musk, no less, Leto has learned how to say no.

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“I’ve gotten really good at saying no. I witnessed it firsthand with [Musk] and in his life and recognized how important that was,” Leto said. “We can all do a lot of things. I’m nothing special. Everybody in here has many things they could pursue. And you probably do. But it’s really important to say no and to know when to stop.”

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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