How the Farm Got Phat and the Jam Became Def

Urban mogul Russell Simmons met with members of a new St. John’s University club, the Young Entrepreneurs, last Thursday. The Def Jam and Phat Farm founder shared some of his business knowledge with Young Entrepreneurs and told its members what they can do to successfully start and run a business.

Simmons’ most heartfelt advice, though first seeming cold, was what he believes in most. “You’re not gonna make it,” he said. “If money and things that you get from work is what you’re working for, than that’s not it. Making it is doing what you want to do in the day and then eating and sleeping.” From the man who is widely considered the most powerful in hip-hop-an industry seemingly based on material possessions-these are big words.

Simmons began his entrepreneurial success in 1984 when he co-founded Def Jam Records with legendary producer Rick Rubin. He began with two main acts, Run-DMC (the pioneer hip-hop group featuring Simmons’ brother Reverend Run) and LL Cool J. Led by Simmons’ guidance and the addition of the Beastie Boys, EPMD and Public Enemy, Def Jam began to flourish and Simmons’ has never looked back. Today his business empire has grown to include Def Comedy Jam, Phat Farm, Rush Communications and the magazine One World. In 2001, the revenue from his combined ventures reached an estimated $200 million.

For a group of young New York businessmen trying to get started, there are few better footsteps to follow. After reading Simmons’ autobiography, Life and Def, Young Entrepreneurs’ founders Jonathan Gallashaw and Derrick Bedicako became determined to sit down and talk business with Simmons. The biggest factor that drew Bedicako to Simmons was “his persistence, his drive. [When he started] Phat Farm he lost ten million dollars in the first five years,” he says. “With Def Jam, not everyone was jumping onto EPMD or Run-DMC in the beginning, and he took losses there too. But he stayed persistent.”

And this was exactly the message Simmons gave the members of Young Entreprenuers. “That’s the problem with most of you young kids-you quit too easy,” he said. “Courage is a word most people don’t associate with this. But that’s what it is-it takes courage to be prepared to fail. All the artists you know, they’re there cause they stuck with it. All the entertainers, all the business people you know-they’re there cause they stuck with it.”

For the Young Entrepreneurs, this is what they now have to do. In August, the group applied with Student Government to become an official St. John’s organization that receives funding, but it was told it would have to wait and reapply in November. Because of restructuring in Student Government, no new organizations are being accepted this fall, meaning that Young Entrepreneurs will have to wait until at least December before anything official occurs.

Gallashaw and Bedicako formed the organization earlier this year to provide more opportunities for active, business-minded students at St. John’s. It hopes to provide a productive and informative avenue for aspiring young entrepreneurs on campus to actively pursue their ideas. St. John’s alums are also an important part of the organization and Bedicako, who graduated in May, serves as the president of alumni relations. “We know that there are lots of successful people from St. John’s who already have businesses and careers,” Bedicako says, “and we hope that they can help us with their knowledge and help us in getting internships and jobs.”

Although it does not enjoy the Student Government check that gets cut to official organizations at St. John’s, Young Entrepreneurs is giving up. They have several event possibilities planned, including a “Then and Now” concert where a currently popular musician will be paired with and an artist that was popular in the past so the show can be enjoyed by both students and their parents. Gallashaw and Bedicako also hope to start a mentorship program and continue to meet with successful real-world entrepreneurs. An owner of a scrap metal plant is the next person they are trying to arrange a sit-down with “to show that not everyone is Russell Simmons,” says Bedicako. “There are lots of ways to make money out there.”

For funding, the Young Entrepreneurs will use money from the outside ventures of its members. “I think [Young Entrepreneurs] is really important, so we’re willing to use some money out of our own pockets,” said Gallashaw. Working together with vice president Charles Thurton, Bedicako and Gallashaw have already started an entertainment and promotion company, and another project, Baby Millions, which is strictly confidential.

“We had a Plan A, that was if we became an organization in September and got funding, and a Plan B if we didn’t, so we’re still going to be active,” added Bedicako. However, funding from Student Government would help Young Entrepreneurs to be even more active.

By meeting with Simmons, Young Entrepreneurs have learned first-hand information that it will try to carry over to its organization. “Building long-term equity and long-term stability is the goal of any brand,” Simmons said. “We have a saying at Def Jam: Does it fit with the logo? If not, than it doesn’t matter how big an idea is.”

For Young Entrepreneurs, the goal to start building its long-term stability as an official St. John’s organization come January. After that, says Bedicako, the sky is the limit.