Let me start by saying I’m not a rock fan at all. Growing up I’ve heard of this band called KISS, a group wearing make up and heavy metal-style clothes, with a band member who has a massive tongue. I can’t say that I’ve been paying much attention to them, and I don’t think I’d recognise any of their songs if I heard them. There’s been a rumour for years (apparently false) that KISS stands for Knights In Satan’s Service.
I read about the band’s bassist, Gene Simmons, the guy with the huge tongue, once or twice in the mainstream media, but that was about it. I had no appreciation for the man’s genius.
This all changed a couple of years ago when I went to a marketing conference where the key note speaker was Gene Simmons. Interesting, I thought. A rock star is going to give a business key note presentation. I didn’t know what to expect.
When he started the speech I was so impressed with his voice, and how well-spoken and calm he was. From his speech I found out that Mr. Simmons is quite the entrepreneur and marketer. In fact, you could say he’s a marketing genius. I always thought he was just some rock star with make up and a big tongue. Boy was I wrong. I’ve subsequently become a fan of Gene Simmons the entrepreneur. But I’m still not a fan of rock and I can’t say I agree with most of his controversial views on life, marriage etc.
After the speech we had the chance to take a photo with him. There was a huge cue with a couple of hundred people wanting to take their photo with him, including me. He was very patient and made a ppint of chit-chatting with each person. He was really humble and down-to-earth.
When my turn came I introduced myself and told him that I was from Bahrain. “Oh!” he said. “That’s pronounced with a hhh [making the sound of the letter ح in Arabic]. Right?” “Yes” I said, completely impressed. He said one or two other things and then he grabbed me by the waist and we had our photo taken. What really impressed me is how he made small talk like that with everyone. He came across as friendly, wise and learned. Not at all what I expected him to be like. I left so impressed, and a bit star struck.
The organisers gave attendees autographed copies of his book Sex, Money, KISS. I thought the book was really interesting, and brought my admiration of Gene Simmons the entrepreneur/marketer even higher. In my opinion he spent a bit too much time in the book talking about his views on marriage, fidelity etc. But overall, still a good read.
I’ll share with you some random factoids from his life and business career that I thought were interesting, and you might find too:
Gene Simmons is the only child of Israeli immigrants, and his real name is Chaim Witz. He doesn’t drink or smoke and never did drugs. From the very beginning of his career he knew the dangers of alcohol and drugs and never touched these vices. Of course we’ve heard many stories of actors and rock stars who’ve fallen from grace due to their addictions. Not here, Gene was sober from Day One.
“Once you learn that the most important commodity is you, yourself, and on one else, you will probably make a lot more money!” – Gene Simmons, Sex, Life, KISS
All about money
One of the things I admire about him is that he knows what he’s all about, and is not ashamed of it. Gene Simmons is all about cash, which he reminds us about a lot in his book. Even his logo is a moneybag!
Further, while other members of his band (and other rock stars) were splurging their money on cars, women and alcohol, he made a point of always living below his means and making sure he saved money. He didn’t even have a car for many years. He bought his first car at the age of 35, and that was second-hand.
“I’d better be making more than I spend, or I’ll be asking you if you want fries with that.” – Gene Simmons, Sex, Life, KISS
So when he first started out with KISS, he was never satisfied with making money just from the music sales. He (and KISS as a whole) got into the merchandising business from the very beginning (more on that in a bit). And he was constantly looking for other income streams to add to the band and to himself. You could say the band was just a means to an end, rather than an end in it’s own right. I guess you could say that he was an entrepreneur who happened to have musical talent and be in a rock band.
I can certainly relate to that. I’ve never viewed myself as a martial artist, but rather an entrepreneur who happens to be a martial artist, which is part of the reason my martial arts school is so successful.
According to the book, Gene first earned his own money at the age of six selling cactus fruits to workers! Is that impressive or what! While in college, he would sell his services typing term papers for fifty cents a page, while being in a band and working as a life guard, and doing a handful of other things.
It seems Gene was always reading, from a young age. Among the publications he would read were Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. Can you imagine! I imagine that most of his peers would never dream of doing such a thing. In the book he says “If you don’t know something, ask! Anyone! Everyone! Information is everything and everybody is willing to tell you want you want to know…Keep your moth shut. Be a vampire. Suck life dry of its knowledge. Go to libraries. Be around successful people. Be around the rich and devour everything they know… Hang around smart people – like them. Try to hang around rich people – love them, especially people who were poor and became rich… If money can’t buy happiness, it can at least buy everything else.”
“I’ve always been blessed with this delusional notion I have of myself: I think I’m better looking than I actually am.” – Gene Simmons, Sex, Life, KISS
As I mentioned, KISS started merchandising from the very beginning. They’ve sold over $500 million worth of merchandise in the last 35 years – more than any other band. According to Gene, they cover “condoms to coffins.” According to a Billboard article about the band, the KISS portfolio includes more than 5,000 products and designs! 5,000! They include such items as ketchup (no, I’m not kidding), pool cues, mugs, pens, alarm clocks, KISS Mr. Potato Heads, credit cards, M&M’s, shoes, flip-flops, video cameras, dinner tables, children’s and toddler’s clothes, and more!
Gene was the one mostly concerned with the business side of the band. He says “Paul [Stanley, his partner] has always been much more firmly rooted in the image and credibility of the music of KISS. I was never all that much concerned with credibility. I believed if we stood the test of time, that was enough. I was always much more interested in the business of KISS.”
As an entrepreneur, Gene was always on the lookout for opportunities, and coming up with new ventures and products. His – non-KISS related – business ventures include a marketing and advertising agency (Simmons Abramson Marketing), a TV website, a line of t-shirts and accessories called Gene Simmons Moneybag, The Simmons Comic Group, Simmons Records, Simmons Books. He also stars in his own reality TV show. He also owns a direct-sales business selling his branded bass guitars, and tons of other stuff.
Overall, one hell of an interesting guy, and worth studying. If you’re an entrepreneur, certainly Gene Simmons is someone you should emulate. And if you’ve not done so already, make sure to sign up for my FREE entrepreneurial marketing course at RadicalMarketing.com.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and talk to you soon.
PS here’s a video of Gene being interviewed by Mike Eisner, which shows you his relentless style of promotion: