RJ Williams – Founder & CEO, Young Hollywood

RJ Williams is the founder and CEO of Young Hollywood. Started in 2007 by Williams, Young Hollywood has become one of the most innovative digital media brands and the leading celebrity and lifestyle network for millennials; which is available on digital, social, and mobile in over 160 countries and in over 120 million homes. In addition to financing, producing, and distributing over 500 hours of original programming annually, the company’s activities include owning and operating several leading entertainment digital platforms, a 24/7 OTT Network, and licensing the Young Hollywood trademark for a range of consumer products and services.

How did the concept for Young Hollywood come about?
In 2003, I started a production company that was producing celebrity and pop culture-focused programming for a lot of the big media companies like Fox and Showtime. All these media companies skewed older and I thought there was a void in the marketplace to create this type of programming targeting the younger generation. Figured if I was going to target that demo, I should focus on the platforms that were interesting to them. The idea was to create the first lifestyle media brand that would be built from the ground up digitally. The plan was to let the legacy media brands respond to pop culture and let Young Hollywood be the one driving it.

How was the first year in business?
We launched YH in 2007. Everyone thought I was crazy and that nobody would watch streaming video on phones or video on the internet. Keep in mind when we first launched, the iPhone wasn’t even created yet, so the notion of watching content anywhere other than traditional television was just too hard of a concept for anyone to grasp.

What was your marketing strategy?
Word of mouth. We did grass root campaigns at schools, and then a few years into it, social media became a thing so we fully embraced that. We always honed in on our demo and kept our content authentic so it was things they could relate to.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
It took around three years to really hit its stride. I’ve never been after rapid growth, but rather sustainable growth. We avoided VC financing because they want returns in 5-10 years and we wanted to be able to grow at a more careful pace and execute on long-term ambitions.

How do you define success?
Doing what you want, when you want it, and how you want it. By building the company from the ground up, I’m in complete control of my destiny and have the luxury of being able to reinvest in new initiatives and to continue feeding the business.

What is the key to success?
Maintaining your vision and only doing things you are passionate about. You also want to learn from the mistakes of companies that grew too quickly and then encountered real growing pains. You want to build infrastructure as revenue grows, and as opportunities arise, you don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Going with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, chances are its not. There were times going into things I had hesitations, and over time, they ended up being right.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Art of War. Every entrepreneur should read it. The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood, Who is Michael Ovitz?, Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, and The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood are some other great ones.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Would be impossible to isolate to one. Every day brings its own set of challenges and as an entrepreneur it comes with the territory. Our second year of business, the global financial crisis hit, and when people saw we could weather that storm, they realized we were the real deal and here to stay.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
You can just never give up as every major career has its ups and downs. I can’t think of one successful person who hasn’t faced adversity. Today, as I write this, Tiger Woods just won his 5th Masters. He was on top of the world for a long period of time and then had one setback after another and everyone said he was done. Today, he proved everyone wrong. He had over a decade of challenges and most people would give up, but he kept at it and now he’s back on top.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Stay humble. As quick as you rise, you can fall. I’ve had way too many friends who have had tremendous success only to lose sight of reality and not realize their full potential. Always stay humble.