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How a Photo Inspires This Record Company's CEO to Treat His Team Like Family

What keeps the CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M Records going? An old photo from his first big break.
How a Photo Inspires This Record Company's CEO to Treat His Team Like Family
Image credit: Courtesy of John Janick
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the September 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When I was a teenager, in the ’90s, I was really into underground music. I’d buy wholesale orders of CDs I loved and then sell them to friends for $10 apiece. Eventually I started putting together compilations. It wasn’t about making a profit as much as it was about turning people on to new music that I loved.  

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I was friends with a local band, Less Than Jake, in Florida, and the summer before my freshman year at the University of Florida, the drummer, Vinnie Fiorello, and I decided to start a record label. We launched Fueled by Ramen out of my dorm room in 1996. There was no guidebook -- and not many people there in Gainesville to learn from. 

We signed artists from all over the country, young acts that bigger labels weren’t paying attention to. We wanted so badly to show these bands what we could do for them. I purposely took five years to finish my undergraduate degrees; college life gave me a place to sleep and eat while I built the business.

Related: 22 Successful Entrepreneurs Share What Inspires Them to Keep Going

A few years in, I kept seeing flyers for this band from Chicago called Fall Out Boy. I remember thinking, That name is so horrible. But when I finally checked them out, they were so good. I gave them a call and signed them immediately over the telephone, just based on their music and vibes. 

Fall Out Boy obviously went on to have multiple platinum albums -- they were our first really big success. This photo of me and [Fall Out Boy’s] Pete Wentz, and some of the guys from The Academy Is… and Cobra Starship, was taken backstage after a show in 2007. Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, another band on our roster, had gone platinum by then. It’s crazy to think about where I am now -- running Interscope, living in L.A. with my wife and two kids -- compared to where I was then, having spent years sleeping on an air mattress in a dorm room. 

Related: 50 Inspirational Quotes to Motivate You

This picture sits in my office and reminds me of that hustle, but mostly that Fueled by Ramen was a family. We worked together, ate together, played basketball at night together. We did whatever we could to break an artist. We all knew we were working toward something bigger, and we created a family atmosphere that could be felt by the people at the label and the artists and the fans. Now that’s what I also love about Interscope -- we’re a family, and a real entrepreneurial culture that both artists and employees want to be a part of. If you can achieve that, you’re checking all the boxes.

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