Many people assume the path to success lies in focusing on just one thing. If you're great at one thing (or just doing one thing) you can't be an "and," even though Venus Williams is a tennis player and an entrepreneur. Even though Jessica Alba is an actor and an entrepreneur. Even though most successful people achieve success in a variety of pursuits, professional and personal.
We should never be just one thing. We should all be "ands." As I describe in my new book that comes out in January (pre-order it and you'll not only make Penguin Random House happy, you'll also be my new best friend) while we don't all have to be serial entrepreneurs... we should all be serial achievers.
We should all try to be more than one thing -- regardless of what other people might think.
Case in point: Tom DeLonge. If you don't know Tom, he's a multi-platinum selling rock musician (Blink-182, Angels and Airwaves) who turned down a considerable payday from re-uniting with his old band to self-finance a science fiction-related book/music/film project.
Somehow that project led him to have meetings with individuals at the Department of Defense and NASA -- people who don't have sit-downs with anyone, much less rock stars.
And somehow those meetings lead to partnering with a 25-year veteran of the CIA's Director of Operations, a Lockheed Martin Program Director for Advanced Systems at Skunk Works, and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence to start a company to explore "exotic science and technologies" and turn innovative ideas into world-changing products and services.
The result is To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, a Public Benefit Corporation that seeks to "collaborate with global citizens to advance science and build a powerful community of interest" that is made up of three divisions: Entertainment, Science, and Aerospace.
Sound like a pretty farfetched "and" for a rock star to pull off?
After taking with Tom and Steve Justice, the Director of the Aerospace Division, I realized it's not.
Everything starts with a "Why?" What's yours?
Tom: This all started with my fascination with why we are here.
Most people know me from being a rock guy, but I have always had other interests. I spent a lot of time studying advanced intelligence throughout the universe and decided to see if there was a way to get people to focus up instead of on each other.
Sum it up, and I just wanted to do something that has a positive impact.
But this is an area you can't just hit with a movie. You can't just hit it with science, because nobody but scientists read scientific reports. And me. (Laughs.) And you can't really just do it with an innovation because the story behind the innovation is often more important than the innovation itself.
So the goal is to put this all together under one roof, have everyone work together... create one really large round table of smart people and let them figure out a path to push humanity forward.
I know that sounds like a huge goal, but it feels like the perfect thing to do with the second half of my life and with the skill sets I've developed.
So you pull all that talent together... but then you have to decide where to start.
Tom: Everything starts with creating an organization with the right moral compass.
That's why being a Public Benefit Corporation is one of the most important aspects of what we're doing. The corporation can be involved in ventures that have a public benefit and not just a return for investors.
So the first thing was to have a clear mission. The second was making it open for the public to be owners, right from day one. We want to do important things -- and we want the public to own it with us. Not one corporation, not one government, not one institution... we want people to own the science and the innovations we produce.
Still, with all the smart people you have involved... it has to be hard to decide what to do first.
Tom: Absolutely. Priorities came next.
The Entertainment Division has a very clear and distinct path. I've invested in trademarks, and contracts with authors, and branding, and developing scripts, and copyrighting the ideas and art... getting everything ready to go to the next level: TV, movies, other forms of media.
It might sound odd, but for as Aerospace it's very similar. In many ways it's like making a movie. You develop a concept, develop a way to test it, and bring on partners to take it to the next level.
We'll need partners to do films. We'll need partners to do aerospace as well.
You've pulled what seems to me to be an eclectic group of people together; doesn't that make it hard to set clear priorities and directions?
Steve: "Eclectic group?" Actually, they're not. There's a definite continuity between them.
We have people with intelligence backgrounds, and the projects in aerospace -- and in science -- are often linked to intelligence. For example, the U2 is an intelligence-gathering aircraft.
That makes the continuity between science and aerospace very powerful because we have the science branch. which is designed to go out and objectively assess, the aerospace branch, which is designed to harvest those ideas and create products, and the entertainment branch, which will tell the story of how all that happens.
Tom: Then all you need are people that like to work as a team, and we definitely have those people.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge to making this work?
Tom: The challenge won't be having Steve and his engineers come together and push the boundaries of science and innovation. The big challenge is helping people understand that the possibilities are real.
There's a common defense mechanism that gets triggered in people when anyone brings forward an idea that isn't expected.
That's an odd phenomenon. It's easy for us to look back and think how stupid it was that surgeons didn't know they needed to wash their hands before operating, but years from now people will look back and think we were stupid for believing some of the things we believe. It works both ways.
Tom: When you're dealing with technology we haven't discovered yet, when you're thinking about science that can completely alter the way we see ourselves and what is possible... if it takes movies and documentaries to plant the seeds, when Steve pulls something new out onto the tarmac, seeing will be believing.
Steve: The key is to link the enthusiasm people have for science fiction to their everyday lives.
The impossible is just something you haven't seen yet. We do things today that in the 1800s would have seen like witchcraft. People laughed at the idea of GPS in the 1970s. Today we laugh at the fact they laughed at it.
The best approach is to assume something can be done -- because with the right minds working on it, it can be.
Short term, what do you hope to accomplish?
Tom: On the Entertainment side, I've set up 4 trans-media franchises that are heavily branded and easily marketable for years to come. We have stories that speak to different demographics that have extreme potential for monetization.
In 24 to 36 months we're hoping to have two to four TV series going, and three or four films in production... if not already having one released.
That's really what I think is not only attainable but will push the revenue model very fast.
Keep in mind most entertainment companies do one thing. We do it all. Disney has a market cap multiple times larger than many of its competitors because they're fully integrated. That's our model.
Steve: Our short-term goal between Science and Aerospace is to be a credible engineering and science organization that is trusted by outside partners to pursue these kinds of revolutionary technologies.
That's where storytelling comes in: We want people to take this journey with us. And as the work progresses, how we march this forward with a logical engineering and scientific approach... our job is to bring all the pieces together. That's why we're creating a horizontal structure rather than a vertical structure, so very different types of people that have extremely useful skill sets can actually work together.
Tom: The key is to turn physics and equations into a technology that can be implemented for a vehicle. There's a long way to go there, but we believe we have the roots of and the basis for that technology. We've connected dots we've never connected before to gain perspective in how to implement the physics.
The great thing is that there are people on our team that had to solve problems that were just as difficult as this -- and they've succeeded. They're prepared and are excited about attacking this head on.
You're a Public Benefit Corporation that hopes for broad public involvement -- so how can people get involved?
Tom: There will be be multiple ways. Something we're working on that's very close to being finished is a community of interest: A place where we can create the intersection between government and civilizations on the subjects we're interested in studying and telling stories about. We'll give people the opportunity to interact with people who deal or have dealt with these subjects.
If you want to invest, from day one we made this something the public could invest in with us and own.
Traditionally most people are left out of investing on the ground floor. You don't get invited to those meetings. (Laughs.) We've created a vehicle where young people can come in and be a part of this, and I'm really excited about that.
In essence you're democratizing the science and technology and also the ownership.
Tom: We're trying to democratize a very specific set of information, to democratize some technologies that not only do we think are doable but could lead to solving a number of issues. The Direct Public Offering is democratizing capital; it's like treating Wall Street the way YouTube treated TV.
Steve: I think it's important to note that Tom really wants to make a better future for his son and daughter. This is very personal to him. There's a public benefit, but it's also about making a better world for his kids to live in.
Tom: I think the biggest gift we can give our kids is a better world after we're gone. Helping to unite people, to get us off of fossil fuels, to better understand where we came from... To The Stars is a mechanism to do the science, engineering, and storytelling that is needed to push us over the hump.
Something I want to say to your readers. On the plane here I was thinking about how it's really not that hard to do something extremely disruptive and do something positive for the world if you just apply yourself, and stick with it, and don't give up.
This is the craziest subject and most ambitious ideas I've ever had, it's the most groundbreaking thing I could be a part of... and it ended up being the most organic and easiest thing to put together.
If you're thinking big, it's really not that hard to find people who want to do amazing things with you. In fact, the bigger you think... the easier it is to find people who want to think big -- and do big things -- with you.
Get more info about To The Stars Academy and read the Offering Circular at https://dpo.tothestarsacademy.com/#offering-circular.