Jasper Donat: “As an entrepreneur, you get the freedom to work on Sundays”

When you set up your own business, there’s this idea that you become your own boss, and therefore you get all this freedom, which is completely untrue. I often like to say, “As an entrepreneur, you get the freedom to work on Sundays.” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jasper Donat. Jasper began his career […]

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When you set up your own business, there’s this idea that you become your own boss, and therefore you get all this freedom, which is completely untrue. I often like to say, “As an entrepreneur, you get the freedom to work on Sundays.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jasper Donat. Jasper began his career in advertising in 1987 at Chris Ingram Associates (now MEC) before joining Eurosport. He moved to Hong Kong in 1995 to work for Star Sports before transferring to Channel [V] in 1997. In 2001 he co-founded Branded and has worked with a large number of the world’s leading entertainment brands. Branded also owns and produces the award winning “Matters” series of events including Music, Digital, Social & Sports and produces the YouTube FanFest series.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I left school when I was 17 years old to find fame and fortune. My first job was selling insurance on street corners in London, and ended up selling timeshares in Lanzarote, all before I was 18. I spent some time in the advertising industry before getting into television. I came to Asia in 1995 to work for Star Sports and then moved over to Channel V where I spent about four years having far too much fun and getting paid for it. And finally in 2001, we set up Branded as a gateway to Asia for entertainment companies and brands, who wanted to launch in this part of the world.

In 2006, we produced Branded’s first ever Music Matters showcase in Hong Kong, Asia’s only conference focused entirely on the music industry. The conference brings together industry professionals from across a spectrum, including majors, independents, promoters, artists, digital retail, lawyers, financiers, mobile and media.

Edgar Bronfman Jr. who was the CEO and chairman of Warner Music, was our first keynote at Music Matters. He flew in from New York to Hong Kong just for that session. My business partner Michael Denmark and I agreed it would be a good idea for us to meet him at the door of the Four Seasons Hotel hotel.

So with our business suits and producer earphones in, we accompanied Edgar in the lift and into his suite. As we were coming down the lift, we were high fiving and thinking “We’ve made it!” A couple of weeks later we got a really nice handwritten note from Edgar’s business assistant saying, “Thank you for everything you did for us at Music Matters, he really had a great time. Thank you especially for the two bodyguards!”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

That first event has evolved and is now our flagship event for 15 years running. It’s now called All That Matters and I’m proud to say it’s become a place where the industry gathers to see what’s next in Asia’s entertainment industry.

We’re going through an interesting time with it in 2020, because for the first time, it’s 100% virtual. And we have evolved the company very very quickly. Back in February we had all kinds of plans for live events. I said hell would freeze over before we went virtual. And in May, only three months later, we announced that our events were going virtual and our CMO asked me if I needed a hat and gloves.

The opportunities of being virtual are that people don’t need to jump on planes and book hotel rooms and take a week out and be jet lagged. So we thought — who could we get this year that would normally be impossible to get? Really excited that two of our keynotes this year are Cookie Monster and Elmo — I’m going to be interviewing Cookie Monster live. We’re producing content that we would never normally produce — we have rock stars appearing, we have the world’s top gamers appearing. The future of the business now is that people can attend an event they wouldn’t normally be able to, so we’re actually having a lot of fun doing things very differently.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from this?

There’s a question that we ask a lot of our speakers: “What advice would you give your 15 year old self?” First: get into gaming. Unfortunately my gaming career started and finished with PacMan and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Another one of my biggest regrets is that I never learned to speak Chinese. My 14 year old daughter speaks fluent Mandarin, and she always asks me, “Daddy, why don’t you speak it?” When you live in a country like Hong Kong or Singapore, you don’t really need to learn Chinese in order to connect. However if I had that choice again at 25 years old, I’d go to Beijing or Shanghai, and immerse myself in the culture and learn Chinese.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Learn Chinese, get into gaming, have a business plan, celebrate failure, and if you’re gonna sit at the back of all these amazing conferences that you produce, with some of the most amazing speakers in the world in the world, listen to what they say.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There’s countless people over time who have been so helpful, not only in inspiring me but simply standing beside me, beginning with my mother.

I was backpacking around the world, and I had just returned home to London from Kathmandu, feeling ready to never work again. My mother had other plans though. She arranged a barbecue that night with a lady called Christine James who worked for an advertising agency, who I ended up working for by the following Monday.

I’m also grateful for my former boss and mentor Robert Bland who looked after me in London and brought me to Hong Kong for my big break. And also grateful for my wife who has been incredible in putting up with me for 17 years.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?

When you set up your own business, there’s this idea that you become your own boss, and therefore you get all this freedom, which is completely untrue. I often like to say, “As an entrepreneur, you get the freedom to work on Sundays.”

I also want to highlight the importance of being resilient. When you work for a company and someone says no to you, they’re referring to the company and not you personally. However when it’s your company and someone says no to you, it hits differently.

But through all of this, remember your support network, keep going, never ever stop selling, and to quote David Mamet from Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always be closing.”

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We’ve done some really cool stuff with artists in Asia. The horrific Japan earthquake in 2011 happened 11 weeks before Music Matters. We had the idea to bring together all of the participating artists into a room and in 36 hours we recorded a cover of Coldplay’s Fix You to send a message of love to the Japanese music industry, the largest in Asia. This incident remains one of the highlights of my career and I’m very proud to be able to do stuff like that.

I have a teenage daughter now, and being a teenage girl has always been hard. You read stories about teen anxiety, depression, bullying, issues. The number of teen suicides is going through the roof in some countries. We thought about what we can do to provide a place where we can help and inspire teenage girls, and so ‘It’s a Girl Thing’ was born.

“It’s A Girl Thing” originally started out as a festival designed to empower, inspire and educate teenage girls in the wide world of social media and connected technology. This year we’re hosting our first ‘It’s a Girl Thing’ festival 100% online.

We take stars that teenage girls idolize, be it from YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or any other social platform, put them on stage and have fun with it. These stars talk about their lives, how they got to where they are today and their journey to success. No one’s had an easy life, and everyone’s faced challenges.

Listening to these stars discuss relatable topics such as bullying, racism, anxiety, depression, and teenage pressures leading to successful careers, you see the girls and boys in the audience go through an emotional transformation. It’s really emotional, even for the older production people like me in the back of the room.

If we can continue to build out our ‘It’s A Girl Thing’ platform with a purpose to empower teenage girls, then I’d be very happy.

Can you share with our readers the challenges you have faced this year?

I’m the wrong person to ask because I break all the rules. I start working at seven in the morning and I finish at midnight. But I do wake up earlier to go for a bike ride three times a week. I ride for about 100 kilometres a week and find that it clears the busy head.

What kind of opportunities have 2020 brought?

We‘ve produced lots of live events over the years where you are measured by the number of people you can cram into a venue r. Although we all hope to return back to stadiums to watch our favorite rock and roll groups, it probably isn’t happening anytime soon.

The events business has been given the most mighty shakeup. We have evolved Branded to cope with the pandemic very quickly. Back in February we had all kinds of contingency plans in place, and plan Z was to be 100% virtual. And I remember writing next to Plan Z — “hell will freeze over first”. Not even three months later, we made the executive decision to run our events 100% virtual.

The future of the conference business is that people can now attend or speak at events they typically wouldn’t be able to. We have popstars and rockstars, fashion designers, gamers and even globally-known kids entertainment brands appearing and speaking at our festivals. The opportunities of being 100% virtual are that both speakers and audiences don’t need to catch a red-eye and fly halfway across the world feeling jet-lagged for the next five days.

As a business we’re having a lot of fun experimenting and doing things very differently. We are really excited to announce that two of our keynotes this year are Cookie Monster and Elmo. I’m personally going to be interviewing Cookie Monster!

While it’s near impossible to network with someone over a cup of coffee and a croissant, there’s lots of virtual handshakes and connections being forged. Hopefully next year we’ll see everyone back at the Ritz Carlton for All That Matters or our other festivals.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

I’m @jasperdonat everywhere.

When you have a name like Jasper Donat, it kind of sets itself up quite nicely for social media. Growing up in London in the 70s and 80s, with a surname like mine I used to get into fights all the time. However I’m really proud of my surname now, and it’s purely because of an eight year old. When my daughter was eight she set up a YouTube channel called Donuts, and she taught me how to really own that name.

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