Failure to me is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to refine a strategy, it’s an opportunity to improve and it’s an opportunity to grow with a higher degree of certainty and confidence.
Josh Sason is a serial entrepreneur, investor, artist, and producer. Each aspect of his career is rooted in a desire to build and create — and he has developed his firm Magna as a vehicle for his efforts across the board. Today, Magna is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost creative and tactical firms; building disruptive companies and investing across the worldwide public and private equity markets and the entertainment industry.
Having founded the firm out of his bedroom at just twenty two years old, Magna’s initial investment strategy, now known as Magna Equities, was established in the depths of the global recession when few others were investing in the public emerging growth markets. After experiencing initial success, Josh Sason expanded the firm’s focus in 2012 to include private companies, opening a new division, Magna Ventures, dedicated to either founding or investing in disruptive companies from residential construction to customer experience to food. Stemming from his lifelong DNA as a creative and an artist, Josh Sason later announced a third division focused solely on strategic investments and partnerships within the entertainment industry, Magna Entertainment. Today, the firm also operates a real estate investment division via Magna Real Estate and an M&A strategy through its SPAC franchise, MI Acquisitions (NASD: MACQ).
For Josh Sason, art and business are inexorably linked on every level. He was already a successful artist, musician and producer by the time he was a teenager, and once he began to pave his own way in business, he immediately began to draw parallels between the two worlds. Ultimately, this link led to the founding of Magna’s entertainment division that makes strategic investments and develops creative partnerships within the media industry. As the firm continues to grow, Josh understands that creativity, collaboration, and the quest to inspire are at the heart of any successful entrepreneur, and he’s undertaken a mission to share this message with others.
Josh Sason continues to actively create music in his home and office studios, and works to provide financial and creative support to meaningful creative projects across media sub-verticals. He co-produced the artist Esh’s eponymous EP. As a film producer, Josh has financed several feature films and documentaries through Magna Entertainment including HBO’s “The 50 Year Argument,” and 2016’s, “Bleed for This,” both in partnership with film legend Martin Scorsese.
Where did the idea for Magna come from?
I came up with the concept for Magna over the course of my last two years in college. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and started becoming obsessed with Ben Graham and Warren Buffet’s concept of value investing. I read Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, three times. It became a bible of sorts for me. In my last year in school I decided that I wanted to start an investment firm and apply my own unique concept of value and creativity to what I was doing and build a company to last.
After spending about nine months endlessly scouring market opportunities and doing research and meetings, I started Magna out of my bedroom in my parents house in 2009, focusing on investing in small public companies. An area that was, and continues to be, tremendously underserved by institutional capital sources.
That business and strategy is now called Magna:equities and within three years from founding, we built it into one of the foremost institutional investors in the world focusing on smaller, emerging growth public companies. After having success there, we continued to diversify and build out the firm, focusing on other similarly overlooked and underserved market opportunities that are devoid of a significant amount of institutional capital.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My days are remarkably disciplined and structured. Routine keeps me efficient and creative. I wake up between 7 and 7:30 and read Axios’s morning newsletter from bed. It’s a fantastic way to digest the most important news items of the day in about 10 minutes. That’s typically the only news I’ll consume throughout the day.
I then go the gym at around 8:30. I’m in the gym seven days a week, either lifting or getting my cardio in at SoulCycle. It’s an opportunity for me to clear my mind, listen to music and think creatively about Magna and what I want to accomplish that day or week. It’s a meditative moment for me.
After the gym, I’ll shower up and head into the office, typically getting there between 10 and 11AM. Then it’s typically full day of meetings and calls — both internal and external with potential partners, clients, portfolio companies, etc. I’m steadfastly focused on building the firm strategically, so always looking to meet new people with similar ideas about interesting investment opportunities or similar ways of thinking about building and scaling a unique asset management company in the modern age.
Then it’s out to dinner, with sometimes a drink meeting in between. I try to do a business dinner or drinks 5 days a week, and frankly, I find that it’s out of the office, over a drink or meal, where most of the real work gets done, in the midst of candid, less rigid conversation.
Then it’s back home, typically around 10 or 11pm and to bed, to do it all over the next day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a huge proponent of creative thinking, testing a hypothesis, seeing if it has legs and either iterating quickly in the process of moving an idea forward or killing it.
I take an optimistic approach to new ideas and opportunities that sound and feel compelling. And most typically for me, I like to develop some marketing language around the idea quickly to test its immediate viability amongst others.
So, for instance, if there’s a unique investment strategy or opportunity I come across, I’ll immediately start writing, almost in a press release type format so that I can think about how to clearly communicate the idea amongst others. From there, I’ll start speaking with and meeting with the right people to help take the idea or concept forward, whether that talent be internally amongst the team at Magna already, or externally, with people who might serve as partners going forward.
Then it’s about defining roles and responsibilities. I’m a big fan of autonomy, in fact it’s one of our core values at Magna and love to delegate to people better than I am at certain things or more prepared or in a better position to make an impact while carrying out initiatives.
Overall, it’s an extremely creative and then iterative process as ideas are formulated and then pushed into execution mode.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m currently particularly interested in the ways that data and computers can make our decisions smarter and better.
I’m in the middle of reading Ray Dalio’s, Principles, at the moment, and am thinking about ways in which we at Magna can adopt some of Dalio’s ideals around data and computers helping improve investment decisions and remove a significant element of subjectiveness to important decision making processes.
We as humans are emotional and inconsistent, generally. Decisions as it relates to investment ideas and building businesses generally don’t work well when emotion gets involved and people’s minds are affected in different ways day after day, depending on the environment around them at any particular moment.
The question is how to take advantage of data to make us better and smarter as people and as a firm.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I referenced it earlier, but it’s definitely my sense of discipline. I’m steadfastly disciplined and routine oriented with almost everything in my life. I force myself to keep to what works for me and have been that way for as long as I can remember.
I find that when I remove elements of uncertainty and discomfort around my schedule and the things I need to accomplish day to day, my mindspace is far more open, creative and able to solve difficult problems with a certain clarity.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Before starting Magna, I was a signed recording artist and record producer in my teens and early twenties. I thought that the only thing that would lead to my being fulfilled in life at the time was being a professional recording artist, touring the world and playing sold out arena shows forever.
When I came to the reality that at 21 years old I needed to figure out something else to make myself economically self-sufficient and, at least temporarily, put the music career on hold, I felt like I had failed at something significant in my life. It sort of haunted me for a few years.
What I didn’t realize then, and only came to realize a few years down the road, is that it wasn’t just making music and playing shows that inspired my life and got me excited. It was creating in general. The fulfilment I get from making, recording and playing music is exactly the same as the fulfillment I get from building and growing Magna.
So I would most certainly have told myself back then, as I tell many young people who come to me for advice today, that it’s not about the one singular thing that might bring joy to your life, but it’s about the process for why you enjoy that singular thing that you must pursue at all costs. For me, it’s my thirst for creating meaningful things. I love that process. I live that process.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Eating one meal a day is a life changing behavior that brings about great benefit. I started doing it almost two years ago by accident.
I’ve never been a breakfast person, so never ate in the mornings, but for almost my entire life, have eaten lunch and dinner. About two years ago, my schedule started becoming increasingly hectic, so I stopped being able to find time for lunch during the day, and frankly, I didn’t really miss it. I made up for it with a huge dinner, getting all my necessary calories for the day in that one meal.
Over time, I started to find that my mental clarity and alertness increased throughout the day and I was just feeling better and lighter on my feet. After the fact, and now having done a bunch of research around the benefits of intermittent fasting and the “Warrior Diet”, I’ve become an advocate for the one meal a day approach.
Most people think I’m insane, but hey — it works for me.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Remove emotion from business decisions. Running a business is hard. It’s very hard. Things rarely go exactly as planned, they always take longer than expected and unexpected events come up routinely that throw a wrench in plans and budgets.
The easiest way to get swallowed up in the chaos of running and building a company is to allow emotion to get in the way. Sound, calculated decision making is actually a very measured process. It should be driven by facts and data, not by emotion.
I always recommend, in moments of intense heat or pressure, to take a firm step back away from the issue at hand, reflect, allow the emotionality of the situation to subside, and to then react.
When looking at the investment world, opportunity in the markets are purely brought about by taking advantage of other people’s emotional reactions to events. For instance, when people are scared and fearful, they sell. When people are making money and prices continue to escalate, most buy, and continue driving prices to irrational new highs. It’s a sound investor and entrepreneur’s ability to understand these dynamics and to benefit from them by focusing solely on the facts and figures. Not the noise amongst the crowd.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Being quick to market on a particular idea or strategy and iterating aggressively after launch to refine and capitalize.
I see so many entrepreneurs and companies that take forever in going from a conceptual stage to execution and getting a product or service to market. These folks get caught up in getting their product or service absolutely “perfect” before sharing it with the marketplace or with customers.
Typically, in all the time that it takes to “perfect” everything, the opportunity is lost. They’ve missed the boat.
I’m a big proponent of the opposite approach. Develop and create great ideas, products, strategies and concepts. And get them out to market as quickly as possible in a smart way. Allow the market to provide feedback and iterate efficiently and accordingly. Don’t allow fear of failure or the unknown to prevent you from following this approach. Be bold and confident in your first step and be flexible and humble in understanding that your first step certainly won’t be your best step, but it’s a necessary one.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It’s a journey full of “failure”, but it depends on how you, as an individual, approach the concept of failure that matters.
Failure to me is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to refine a strategy, it’s an opportunity to improve and it’s an opportunity to grow with a higher degree of certainty and confidence.
One example that comes to mind is that when we first started diversifying Magna’s interests in 2012, we launched a division of the firm called Magna:ventures. I wasn’t exactly sure what we’d be doing within the division at first, but as I mentioned earlier, am a big proponent of going to market quickly and boldly, and figuring things out once there.
I was seeing a bunch of early stage, venture-like opportunities in the market that appeared to be attractive and needed a platform to be able to make some of these investments. What I later figured out is, in fact, I had no idea how to invest in venture. Venture is a tremendously tight-knit community of very few elite firms who typically see the best deal flow and have the best results year after year, while most of the non-elite firms have short-lived existences and suffer.
We made a handful of investments. None of them worked out. And I realized that this just simply wasn’t something I was good at and wasn’t something I was willing to spend enough time and energy on getting good at, so we completely altered the strategy, focusing only on our own internally incubated operating companies via our Magna:ventures division.
We weren’t hurt badly by the attempt as one of Magna’s core values is perseverance, and specifically, to never bet the house on a single idea or concept that would put the broader firm at risk. I learned to stick with things that we could really be best in class at rather than trying to have our hands in a little bit of everything is a half-assed way.
We’ve moved on and become stronger from our attempt to play firmly in the venture space and have correspondingly improved our firmwide strategy and focus based on the experience.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create the world’s best umbrella. This was actually an idea I conceived in college. I remember one day, walking around campus in a downpour while it was quite windy and seeing all of these peoples’ umbrellas folding up and flying all over the place.
And so I thought to create the “Apple of Umbrellas” — something that was minimalist in design, beautiful and extremely practical in the sense that it didn’t get obliterated in the wind and actually held its form.
Since, there have been a few umbrellas that have come to market that have addressed some of the wind problem, but none are great. My challenge to you is to think about creating the coolest possible looking umbrella (and ideally something that people might even want to use to shade from sun when it’s not raining so it’s use case is expanded beyond just rain), price it right and make it work really well in tough conditions!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Not sure it’s exactly $100, but I recently signed up for a contact management platform called, Contactually. It’s super reasonable and extremely helpful for efficiently keeping in contact with folks who you’d like to, particularly if you’ve got a massive database of contacts.
It allows you to bucket contacts with all sorts of different criteria and set up auto-mailings and different programs for the buckets to allow you to keep consistent contact with people in frequencies that make sense.
For years I struggled to find something that was clean and simple to use that allowed me to maintain good, consistent contact with people as my contact list continued to expand, and Contactually has been a great tool for just that. Highly recommended.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Ha, well I guess I just answered that one. Check out Contactually if you’re in the market for a good, simple to use contact management application.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Blue Ocean Strategy“. It’s a super enlightening business book that encourages us to think about how to truly stand out amongst the competition to innovate boldly and create lasting value.
The book made such an impact on me when I read it a couple years ago that I made it required reading for my management team and we did a roundtable discussion about how we could further apply its principles to the work we’re doing at Magna.
I also blogged about some of my interesting takeaways and discussed how the concepts related to the way we thought about building businesses and investing at our firm and the authors picked up on the blog, got in touch, and I ended up doing a cool interview with their team for their website and blog as well!
What is your favorite quote?
“Exist to matter.”
- Discipline and habits are critical to a successful, efficient entrepreneurial journey.
- Remove emotions from business decisions to forge a pathway to success.
- Embrace “failure” as an opportunity to reflect, iterate and improve.
- Get to market with an idea as quickly as possible and iterate based on customer feedback to improve instead of endlessly brewing over an idea in private, potentially missing the boat on the opportunity.
- It’s not a single career or function that you enjoy, it’s the process behind those things. Dig deep to discover what drives you and pursue it with passion and energy to enjoy a fulfilled life.
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