The Los Angeles rapper-entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed last night. He was 33. It happened by his Marathon Clothing storefront, which was in the same area where he had had a hard, gang-focused childhood. The fact that he was able to survive, make smart money decisions, and actually buy back his inner-city block is telling of his entrepreneurial acumen.
I admired his business wisdom and, in interviews I read, his savvy was comparable to Jay-Z's. In fact, a 2018 interview of his is one of only a dozen bookmarks on my phone. Several quotes from it almost made it into my new book, Bring Your Worth.
Here is perhaps my favorite quote from the interview.
Know your value.
Talking to Forbes contributor Julian Mitchell, Nipsey explained why he went the independent music route -- and wanted to be an example to people undervaluing their influence:
When you say "follow me on Twitter," and you get 10 million people to follow you -- you just leveraged your influence to add value to an app that you have no ownership in. Each of those users is worth around $21. When the owners of Twitter go to get their valuation in order to sell 50% of the company ... you're the person who added 10 million people to the platform, [but] the owners are the only ones getting a huge payday.
It is a simple, important statement. Anyone dipping their toe in Silicon Valley understands this, but so many of us forget it. My co-founders and I did a great job with Cuddlr, but the real value of our exit wasn't the brilliance of the idea; it was the strength of our hundreds of thousands of users. Facebook is one of the biggest businesses in the world, but only because it has billions of people interested in it. Atlantic Records is powerful, but only because it has strong artists who join it. And so on.
And yet, as Nipsey said, we fight hard to get more followers, take up the company line of faceless businesses, and get worked up over vanity metrics. When that company goes public or has record profits, though, none are actually passed on to us.
Connect directly with your audience.
Nipsey wasn't doing lip service here. Skipping the major labels courting him, Nipsey created a 24-hour pop-up store and sold his 2013 mixtape, Crenshaw, at $100 a piece. To put that in perspective, most mixtapes are, well, free. Nipsey made $100,000 in one day.
After the successful experiment, Nipsey launched a boutique chain of stores called Marathon. They allowed him to sell his music, clothing, and other affiliated merchandise without any middle men. You can see why I saw him as a kindred spirit.
His real secret, though, was connection: Creating a unique, exclusive experience for the community, building interactive spaces for the consumer, and, as stated above, skipping traditional social media shortcuts for genuine communication. I'm willing to bet his business wasn't even affected by the recent Facebook/Instagram shutdown.
He was just getting the GQ spread and the magazine covers, but that notoriety came from connecting with his audience (and not the other way around). Nipsey wasn't waiting on a co-sign to build a movement -- and he was able to inspire more non-traditional entrepreneurs in his short life because of it.