VIP Ignite Live was founded in 2016. It seeks to empower 10,000 models, actors, and musicians with the best opportunities with global brands. In this episode, Michael Fomkin, the Creator of VIP Ignite Live, brings you this opportunity to delve into how you can create a powerful brand. Michael says, “There comes to a point where people won’t find happiness in what you’re doing. You find joy in it, but to have a fulfilling life, you need to go beyond that.” Go out and find your why today. Tune in to this episode to ignite your powerful brand.
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VIP Ignite Live: How To Create A Powerful Brand And Ignite Your Passion With Michael Fomkin
I’m excited to be with Michael Fomkin. He is the Creator of VIP Ignite Live. He’s one of the biggest agents around. I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Thank you so much for having me on this. I’m excited to be here with you.
You’ve been in this agency space a long time. How did you first get into this world?
I’ve been doing this now for many years. I used to be in the restaurant industry for a long time when I was younger. I’m working 12 hours a day and 7 days a week. I was burnt out. I decided to sell the restaurant. I literally found myself not knowing what to do with my life. To give you the time perspective, this was back in 2001. This was before the iPhone, Facebook, or anything like that.
I went online and saw this ad. It was like, “Own a modeling agency. Judge a beauty contest and meet beautiful people.” I was like, “I’ve been working in the restaurant industry, smelling like garlic and covered in flour and there was an opportunity to judge beauty contests? Sign me up.” I call the company up. It was a software company so it wasn’t so much about judging beauty contests. That was the kitchen show-up kind of deal.
What they were doing is they were developing software for modeling agencies to be able to submit talent to clients digitally. At that time, this was very revolutionary. This was at the forefront of the internet revolution. The company did well and I invested in it. We are going from 1 office to owning 15 offices throughout the country. We would present software and help these agencies build their software platform.
The company did great. They went from $0 to $150 million within two years. I had worked literally underneath me close to 5,000 employees. Like a lot of these startups back then, they did well, but their burn rate was a lot higher than what they were bringing in. I got a call one day from the head of the company and he’s like, “Just to let you know I know you did a great job and you believed in us, but we are declaring bankruptcy. By the way, we’re closing tomorrow. We have to shut everything down.”
I was having the best time of my life. I was traveling and had offices all throughout the country. I found myself for the second time in my life not knowing what to do and what was next. At that time, the company had this concept where they want to do these events because they were trying to build their brand up. Also, they wanted people to be aware of the technology, but they want to bring models and agencies together for these live events.
I said, “The company is gone. It was a great idea. Maybe I could do something similar because it keeps me within the same genre and I would do something small. I keep it like 125 people. I would host it in New York City.” The issue was I had relationships with some of the agencies, but we were software. It wasn’t like I was in the acting or the modeling industry as a software or a vendor. I said, “Let me turn to Craigslist or run an ad online.”
I sat down at the computer and said, “How can I phrase this? Hosting an entertainment industry or an entertainment event, we need speakers that can talk about the TV, film, and fashion industry. You must love kids. By the way, we’ll compensate you. We’ll also provide lunch.” I remember this word for word. It’s short and simple. I put it out there and I went to sleep. I woke up the next day and went to go check the ad, I literally have 40 responses. I had people from NBC, actors from TV, and all these people. I was like, “These guys must want a free lunch. This is incredible.”
What it was was unbeknownst to me. I happen to put the ad up on the exact day of the writer’s strike in New York City. All these different people that were going to be out of work, all of a sudden stole my little ad and like, “He has a cute gig. I’ll get to speak about what I love.” Long story short, about 50 people applied. I narrowed it down to about 10 and those 10 people in the past years, each person introduced us to somebody else in the industry then they introduced us to somebody else, and so forth.
Those 10 turned into over 450 people that we work with ranging from the Vice President of Warner Bros. casting to numerous Academy Award-winning actors to the most amazing people in the world. We currently have three Phantoms of the Operas that have spoken at our events. As we were doing this, that one end turned into something incredible. Not only being able to help thousands of people appear on TV, film, and runways in New York, Milan, and all over the world, but I, myself, wanted to learn about the industry even more.
Every time I would hire a speaker, I would say, “Tell me more about what you do. How do you do? What’s your framework?” We started investing in projects with a lot of these connections we started making. Those connections turned into 38 awards, including 6 Tony’s. In 2013, I won the Tony for Best Play. We have a book coming out, produce two films, and did the premiere for one of our new films out in LA. It’s been an incredible ride. It’s amazing.
That was something that could have been devastating to get this call and everything you built your life up. Planning on having this incredible life was gone in an instant and then having to start all over again. I’m glad that everything went the way it did because now I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be sitting here talking with you and doing all these cool, incredible things.
What a mindset because if a lot of people would get that call, they go to the bar or hide after and go, “What am I going to do?” You go, “I got to figure this out.” You throw up a free Craigslist ad and turn it into a company. What made you show up for more instead of retreating into another defeat?
I had the responsibility of having a lot of people depend upon me as the work. I had my own family, which was important for me, but it was also the people that were with me during this whole journey. When this whole transition happened, I was like, “These people are going to all be out of work too. These people have families and bills, and so forth.”
I felt it was my moral obligation to do something. It was the right moment and the right time. We couldn’t bring everybody with us, but the one thing I did was I made sure every single person was paid up to date. Every person got a letter of recommendation. Whatever the cost to myself was didn’t matter. I transition hundreds of thousands of dollars. I knew I could have easily walked away and looked the other way and said, “The best of luck.” I knew that I was obligated to even the talent that we represented. A lot of the talent that we had through the other company that we’re in that transition of working with some of these agencies may have not gotten signed. I felt it was my moral obligation.
When you have a big enough why, you can do anything. Sleep doesn’t matter. You figure things out. It’s the most incredible thing. For many years, I never believed that if you believe in something and you put it out to the universe, it can happen. I say, “I don’t know about that,” but it’s true. Analyzing things in science and other things work is the drive that makes you make it happen. It’s being here with you.
Every single person in the world has the same 24 hours, 60 minutes, and amount of time. You have to maximize the time that you get the job done no matter what. Every time I start a company, I always tell people that are closest to me, “Follow my example and my lead but just so you know, I’m going to do whatever it takes. If I have to be up 20 hours a day, I’ll be up 20 hours a day. If I have to be up 24 hours a day, whatever it takes.”
I remember one time when I started my first office, being the office manager, we had to get the furniture. We were in one small office and were very busy that the landlord was like, “You can’t be here anymore.” There was like a line going around the block. It was like American Idol every night. He’s like, “You guys are cool, but we can’t have you here.” He gave us until the end of the week to find another space so I went to find a much larger space. I remember this so well. I had to get all new furniture.
I was like, “We got about 72 hours to move the office. We’re going to a new location to the other. Let’s go to IKEA. We’ll get some furniture.” I remember getting on the highway and I don’t even know where IKEA was at that time. We had the directions but it was 150 miles away from where we weren’t. He looks at me and I was like, “We’re doing this. We’re driving there. We’re getting the furniture. We’re loading it up on the truck and coming back. We’re going to spend all night setting this furniture off. We will be ready by the next day to be open.”
It’s having that type of drive and determination like there is no excuse. You can have results or you can make excuses, but you can’t do both. I see many times entrepreneurs when they’re first starting out, they always come up with excuses, especially in my industry for the talent, “I’m too tall. I’m too short. I’m too old.” Change your story and your life. Leverage what you have don’t worry about what you don’t have.
Think about this. Other people are like, “I don’t have enough money to start a business. I don’t have this or that.” “What do you have? Do you have a connection? Do you have the ability? Do you have the mindset to go out and figure things out?” “I do.” “Concentrate on that. Don’t worry about what you don’t have. Only concentrate on the resources that you have.” It’s not always about finding the resources, but being resourceful. When you’re able to be resourceful, you can make anything happen. There are no excuses to make anything happen, especially when it comes to business.
I want to talk about some of those mental stories that you’re sharing there because I spent a lot of time in Hollywood. This was true in my life. What I came across was on paper, everything looked amazing, but I wasn’t happy, and then I discovered there were all these other people. We know the stories like Anthony Bourdain. Do you see a disconnect between someone who can have success outward on paper, “We look at this person. They’re huge, but don’t feel it inside?” Do you see that as well?
I do. I interview a lot of prospective talent that is new to the industry. They have this real excitement in their eye and are passionate. A lot of time, I talk to them about the hard work that’s involved. Not only just the hard work but also the support systems in their life for friends and family because when you’re first starting out, you’re giving up a lot. You’re giving up time. You’re probably not making a great income, and so forth.
Literally, everybody in your life is telling you, “I told you so.” You have to push through. There are people who push through and they’ll become successful, then they find that happiness. They got the house, car, they may have a beautiful, significant other, they have financial abundance and so forth, but they’re still missing something.
When I first interviewed, one of our interview questions is, “What charity are you looking to support?” Let’s say a year from now, we were sitting having a coffee, “When all your dreams came true, what’s next for you?” I find myself like this too. Even at sometimes the height of success, I was like, “What else is there? What am I great? I’m in the TV and film business.” Everyone thinks it’s exciting, but it’s not as exciting as people think. They see the glitz, the glamour, and what they perceive from a television or from a book. It’s a lot of hard work.
The lucky part of the industry is surrounding yourself with some great people. I’m sure as you know, working in the film industry, that people are hard-working and very dedicated. In the end, you have to find that why and something outside of that genre that you believe in. It’s something that you say, “In the morning when I wake up, this is why I’m doing this actual job. If I get better at what I’m doing, I can help a million people.”
One of our whys is we hope with people who are displaced and homeless. We don’t even advertise. This is not something we even talk about that much. Our goal is always in every city where we’re hosting an event, we’re going to provide 25,000 meals. It’s an interesting thing because as I’m sitting there in the audience and I’m running these events, shaking hands with celebrities, and seeing all these success stories, it’s amazing, but then, I also know every hand that I shake and every success story I have means that a family is eating that night.
It could be the push for your family to do better and so forth. There comes a point where people won’t find happiness in what you’re doing. You find joy in it, but to have a fulfilling life, you need to go beyond that. We’ve helped build schools in Costa Rica. We’ve done some amazing things with giving back. We’ve helped free over 3,500 children from sex trafficking with our partners, Russell Brunson from ClickFunnels and Tony Robbins from Tony Robbins Foundation. When you know that you can make an impact on a child’s life that you’ll never meet but going through such a heart condition, and by you getting up in the morning and pushing through that, it opens up your heart.There comes to a point where people won't find happiness in what you're doing. You find joy in it. But you must go beyond it to have a fulfilling life. Click To Tweet
In that, you’re able to find joy and happiness. As time goes on, your business reignites itself. There were times I wanted to sell the company, I was like, “I’m done. I know what I want to do.” My accountant will always say, “It seems like you’d like to build businesses.” I was like, “I guess I do.” I can relate to that. I hope that’s an answer that may provide some inspiration for people. That’s from my experience. Maybe this is my hallucination, but I know you find something that’s bigger than you, it inspires you. When you could find something that’s big that you can make such a big difference, never in my life could I think that I would help 3,500 kids and feed 25,000 people in a city, that makes such an impact. It inspires me.
How did you find your whys?
I give so much advice for people to find their whys and to go out. For a long time, I didn’t know what my why was honestly. I leaned on my family, the company, employees, and so forth. One of my staff members introduced me to the concept of helping children. First, I was like, “That’s such a hard thing. I don’t know if I want to help. It seems like I could never do enough. I can’t look at that. I have to change my story.”
It’s an interesting story she told me. It’s what changed my life or seeing things differently. She told me a story about a young boy who was walking along the beach and all the starfish were getting washed up on the shore. This little boy would pick up the starfish and throw it back in the ocean, then he picked up another starfish and throw it back in the ocean. It was hundreds and thousands of them washed up on the shore.
Some guy comes along and he’s like, “What are you doing? You’re wasting your time. You’re never ever going to save all the starfish. They’re going to die. The sun is beating down on them.” The little boy looks up and picks up a starfish. He throws it and he goes, “Save that one.” It’s an interesting thing to say, “Maybe I can’t save everybody, but I save that one.”
How would you define success for you?
The impact that you leave on others and the success that you are able to give to others. When you start providing value to others without asking for anything in return, that’s a successful life because you have the opportunity to be able to do things to make a difference in people’s lives without concern for yourself. Many times, I see people starting off. They go, “I have to pay the rent, the bills, and things like that. I can’t donate my time. I can’t do these things.”When you start providing value to others without asking for anything in return, that's a success because you have the opportunity to do things to make a difference in people's lives without concern for yourself. Click To Tweet
There are 24 hours in a day. You can figure it out. Even if it’s 5 or 10 minutes, taking time to follow up with a client or piling up with a customer, and turning off Netflix. One of the greatest tools I could tell you I’ve ever done because I always felt I never had enough time, somebody once told me, “Get a little sheet and break it down by five minutes and track what you do in the morning. When you woke up, what did you do?”
“I checked my email.” “Is that what you do?” “We lay there for a few minutes.” “How long did you spend brushing your teeth? What did you do then?” You start finding out that when you micro-manage your time, how much time do you waste? I’m sitting there thinking or doing nothing, or I want to flick on the news, and all of a sudden, it started me minutes later. You get caught up on social media. Social media plays a big influence in our business, but at the same time, I’m very cautious. I use social media as a tool for our business. I teach people that at the end of the day, social media is a tool. Don’t get so caught up in it that you’re putting in multiple hours a day watching other people live their lives.
Go out and live your life and set up systems. A lot of times, even for myself, with sharing things, I may be somewhere in the world, I may not share an image for that for maybe 2 or 3 weeks. I want to live my life and be there in the moment versus worrying about taking a picture of my food and the sunset and immediately sharing it because I’m missing a part of that sunset. It’s hard to do at first, but when you change your story and your mindset, you sit there, live your life and look at social media as a tool, things start changing for you very quickly.
What would you tell this young kid that is running the restaurant?
I would tell him, “Never give up. The mistakes you’re going to make are going to make you who you are. Not beat yourself up so much.” As entrepreneurs, we’re our own worst critics. When I learned to get past that, that’s when things started accepting. It’s a lot more exciting and better. I started being a lot more successful when I wasn’t beating myself up as much, but I think I had to learn that.
Everything you go through is a blessing. No matter how hard it may seem at the moment, there’s a blessing in it. It’s a matter of figuring out what that blessing is and seeing like that way. You have to see it that way like, “I don’t know why this is happening to me right now but I know this is a blessing. What am I learning from that?” Somebody wrongs you. I understand that was terrible what happened to you, but now you learn what not to be like to others.
When did you make that shift from beating yourself up to maybe becoming a friend to yourself? Was there a teacher or mentor that you found?
I’m working with Tony Robbins and I’m a Platinum Partner. Having the opportunity to travel around the world and work very closely with Tony and his team opened up my eyes to that.
What were the words he used that opened that part of your brain?
He gives a lot of words. It came down to changing your story. It took me a long time to realize having gratitude for what I have in my life and not worrying about what’s not in my life. I said, “It’s easy for Tony Robbins to say because he’s got everything. He’s talking about this $200,000 stereo system he put in his house.” I realized in making that breakthrough, “I’m worried and focused about what he has.” It’s learning to start catching those negative thoughts and being able to twist them. It’s like, “Why am I thinking of this right now? What’s causing me to feel this way? Is this who I am at my core or like somebody else?”
It’s conditioning your mind like every other muscle in your body. That’s to be trained and conditioned. You’re in charge of your mind and thoughts. When your thoughts get carried away and you start drifting off, you’re like, “Let me get back to focus.” Many times, it’s you make that realization that you control your thoughts and the outcome of your life. When you’re able to put that focus in there, it was through the teachings and spending a lot of time, not only with themselves but a lot of other flats. Being able to text those thoughts, having conversations with people, and then surrounding yourself with people who make those realizations. Being able to have this awareness of, “You got that negative thought? Let’s talk about it. Why is this coming up?” it’s not just rushing it away.
A lot of times, people say, “I can’t think that.” The answer is there. The obstacle is the way. Whatever the obstacle is, that becomes the way. That negative thought is the obstacle for the moment, address it and find out why you are thinking that. A lot of times, you’ll say, “It’s because of fear. I’m afraid of trying something new. I’m afraid of failure and what other people may think of me.” All of a sudden, you make this realization, “How can I change that? What would happen if I fail? What would be that outcome? What can I learn from that? How can I overcome that? What benefits could come from that? How can I make sure that I know it?”
Start asking yourself better questions, writing things down very rapidly, looking at things from outside the box, seeing every type of angle, “Who can I reach out to? Who’s the right person that may be able to help me overcome this?” It’s having that great group to be in. It’s such a true saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.” You need to always find people who push you further and harder, but at the same time, you got to be willing to pull others too. It’s always being able to go back and help others but finding people who are positive.
Sometimes you have to make a decision in life. One of the things I do is almost cut negative people out of my life, but I make judgments when I meet people. People say, “How are you doing?” I’m like, “I’m living to dream every day of my life.” I get two responses. One is like, “That’s great. I love that.” That’s the person I want to hang out with. Somebody else is like, “Good for you. I don’t know if this is awesome but I don’t think I’m going to go out for dinner with you.” I want you to keep surrounding yourself with people who are positive and push you forward.
With the people you work with in your agency, how do you make sure that they get that mindset that you’re talking about?
What we do is we have an indoctrination and onboarding system where we try to make them understand the importance of having that positive mindset. When you’re going to walk out to an audition, you could be the greatest, hottest girl in the world, or the most devastatingly handsome guy and good-looking. When you walk out your door, people look at you and faint. They are like, “That person is good-looking,” and they pass out.
If you show up on set, the other person is like, “It’s too hot. It’s too cold in my theatre.” No one is going to want to work with you. Showing them the importance of personality and you want to be the type of person that other people want to work with. It’s showing an interest in and who you’re auditioning with. That’s very helpful at the beginning. That’s our basic training. Everyone is going to have bad days and good days, but consistently working with them over and over again.
We love taking the training and the things that we do. We’ve invested well over $1 million in our company’s training, Taking that and then giving it back to the people we work with our clients and so forth, we found that that’s been a great system. Maybe for a lot of them first starting out may not have the financial abundance at that point in their life to be able to afford to work with Tony Robbins or somebody. At least we’re giving them that inspiration and the best training we can and putting them on the right track. We’ve been doing it for many years, and we’ve seen some great results.
The mindset is working. Thank you so much for everything you shared. I hope that’s been helpful. There’s much there. You can create it. You just have to have the right stories and ask the right questions.
Thank you so much for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure.
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