Simmons gives his secrets to success
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Curtis Lum
Rocker-turned-entrepreneur Gene Simmons has a tongue to write home about, but it was the crowd of several hundred that had its collective tongues wagging as the member of the Kiss band entertained them with secrets to his success.
The 58-year-old musician, businessman and star of his own A&E reality TV show, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," was the keynote speaker at yesterday's annual Small Business Hawai'i Conference at the Ala Moana Hotel. The all-day event also featured former congressman Ed Case, Superferry CEO John Garibaldi and economist Paul Brewbaker.
But there was no doubt about who was the star of the show.
Simmons entered the ballroom to an ovation worthy of a rock star. Dressed in blue jeans and a black coat and dark glasses that matched his jet-black hair, Simmons spoke without notes for about 30 minutes while camera crews filmed him for two upcoming episodes of his show.
Known more for his wild makeup and long, pointed tongue, Simmons shared stories of how he and his mother emigrated from Israel when he was 8 years old and how he was called "stupid" because he didn't speak English. It was that experience that drove Simmons to learn the language and to learn it well, and to give his best effort in everything that he did.
He delivered newspapers and sold magazine subscriptions and outdid everyone in his neighborhood. He was on the dean's list when he graduated from high school and later worked as a "man Friday" at Vogue magazine and a sixth-grade teacher in Spanish Harlem.
All of these experiences molded him to the successful person he is today, he said.
"I realized at an early age, dress British, think Yiddish," Simmons said. "Learn the rules of whoever owns the basketball court. I was able to look into the eyes of the person I was talking with and engage them in me. I understood somehow that when you're selling something, you're really selling yourself."
Inspired by an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show by the Beatles, Simmons formed a band that would become Kiss, and he immediately worked to distinguish himself and the group from other rock bands of the 1970s. Kiss members wore black-and-white face paint and flashy outfits, while Simmons' on-stage antics, which included sticking out his tongue, further singled him out as the star of the group.
Kiss was an immediate hit, and Simmons took advantage of that to launch his marketing efforts.
"What started as a rock-and-roll band," Simmons said, "I quickly understood was really a rock-and-roll 'brand.'
"What I realized early on was the band that we were in, besides sticking out my tongue and singing rock songs, that here was an opportunity to turn a band into a brand."
Kiss has been together for 34 years, and today the band and Simmons have licensed 3,000 items, from condoms to caskets. Kiss has its own Visa card, and Simmons is a partner in a marketing company and is involved in ventures too long to list.
Kiss also will launch a world-wide concert tour in March that no doubt will draw more attention and business to Simmons and the group.
Simmons was asked by Sam Slom, SBH president, to offer 10 business tips to the small-business owners in the crowd. Simmons said 10 would be difficult because there are "a million of them" out there, but he did share some thoughts.
First, Simmons said entrepreneurs should be self-motivators, self-starters and self-thinkers. He also said they should avoid investing everything in one idea.
"Spread your risk in gambling because life is a gamble," said Simmons, who once studied to be a rabbi. "Don't just bet on red. What I did early on was have lots of fall-back positions."
Simmons advised the crowd to be dependable and that "your word should mean something." He also told them that when they do something, they should do it well.
"Anybody who's really successful, you will find out when you take a look at where they came from there's no straight line. It meanders," Simmons said. "I urge you, be a vampire, soak up information, be interested in other people. They will teach you stuff they don't teach at Wharton Business School."
Reach Curtis Lum at firstname.lastname@example.org.