Grammy-nominated artist Ryan Leslie talks success

Leslie recalled his own path to success, which included creating a dorm room barbershop

· December 3, 2013, 9:51 pm   ·  Updated December 3, 2013, 10:44 pm

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Osama Ahmed | DP

Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Ryan Leslie spoke about his path to music industry success at Huntsman Hall Tuesday night as part of business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi’s Aspire to Excellence Speaker Series.


Wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, Grammy-nominated recording artist Ryan Leslie entered a full room in Huntsman Hall last night to speak about success.

The event was hosted by co-ed business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi as part of its Aspire to Excellence Speaker Series. A VIP dinner with Leslie and a selected group of students followed the main event.

Leslie began his talk with a personal definition of success — “understanding what you really want to do, your passion,” he said, with the resources available to you.

Leslie went on to contextualize this definition with his own biographical success story. At the age of 14, he scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT and enrolled at Harvard University where his peers became more of his “big brothers and sisters,” he said.

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However, he dropped his initial pre-med ambitions to find his own path to success: his love for music. He concentrated in government instead, “where you only had to go to one class a semester,” he said.

In the university hub of Boston, Leslie struggled to keep track of all the gigs and venues where he wanted to perform, a problem that led him to the business model he still follows today. “I wanted to create my own grapevine,” he said, to learn about the talent shows and parties happening around the city.

His solution was to create a barbershop in his dorm room called Shady Eights where the “fly kids” came to get their hair done for parties and passed on opportunities to perform.

“What was happening in that simple microcosm … is actually what’s going on with me right now,” he said.

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Leslie’s experience with Shady Eights led him to get involved with ActiFan, “a direct consumer platform” that connects an artist directly with his album buyers. Proximity to the customer is the founding concept behind these two businesses — a concept Leslie believes can compete with distribution companies like iTunes and Amazon. “Fortune 500 companies want what I had with my barbershop, a one-on-one customer interaction,” he added.

After discussing the evolution of his business modeled on “a long-term symbiotic consumer retailer relationship,” Leslie took questions from the audience. Most of Leslie’s talk was “catered to a Wharton audience,” said Nursing sophomore Jaya Sondhi.

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One attendant asked whether Leslie considers himself a musician or a businessman. Leslie responded that, for him, simply being “a creator” defines success.

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