JÉRÔME JARRE dropped out of business school at age 19 and moved to China. After failing in six startups, he focused all of his energy on cracking social media, and within 12 months, his videos about happiness and challenging fears reached 1.5 billion views, making him a pioneer of the mobile video industry. In 2013, Jérôme co-created the first mobile-only advertising agency with Gary Vaynerchuk and helped advise some of the largest companies in the world, pairing influencers with brands. In 2017, after supporting local NGOs across the globe, Jérôme united 50 of the largest mobile influencers through LOVE ARMY, which raised $2.7 million for the drought in Somalia and spent every penny directly on the ground.
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Propaganda by Edward Bernays, along with the documentary The Century of the Self. This book opened my eyes to the marketing industry in a time when I was blindly playing my role in it. Essentially, Edward Bernays is the ancestor of the entire marketing space, he is the father of all the marketing gurus and agencies. He became fascinated at the beginning of the last century by what Hitler’s army had created—a complete illusion, “propaganda” that millions of people in Europe believed. So he moved to New York and decided to apply this technique to business. And because of the bad reputation of the word “propaganda,” he renamed it “public relations” and created the first PR firm in America.
Unfortunately for humanity, he was choosing his clients based on how much money they were willing to give him, like 99.9 percent of the agencies today. So he ended up helping the pork industry by convincing people that bacon for breakfast made a man stronger, and he helped the tobacco industry by making cigarettes the symbol of the women’s rights movement.
I am passionate about the life of Bernays because he did everything wrong. He chased money over purpose. Fame over impact. And he had massive regrets on his deathbed. I read that, on his deathbed, he was preaching against the use of tobacco. I know the marketing and PR industry is not going anywhere, and it’s probably too late to reverse the effect this guy and all the marketing gurus have had on the world, but my hope is one day Bernays’ books and the documentary on his life will be the first things students have to read and watch in business/marketing school. Right now, his life is being ignored by everyone for a very specific reason: It is hard to look at yourself in the mirror. I recall speaking about Bernays’ life and legacy at a marketing conference in Germany. The organizers were furious—they were hoping I would give them tools to sell products on Snapchat to “millennials.”
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
I spent four dollars to park near a beautiful lake in Oregon. I took a swim and had a trillion-dollar moment with the water.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Most of what I do looks like a failure at first. When I dropped out of business school to create my first startup, 75 percent of the people I knew thought I was going to regret it all my life, and some even said that I would end up homeless. When I quit my struggling tech startup to start making videos online, everyone around me saw it as a shameful escape and a waste of my time. When I quit the influencer marketing agency Gary Vaynerchuk and I co-created to pursue using social media for good instead, everyone thought I was completely crazy and losing not only my mind but a huge source of income and a guaranteed future. Turns out they were the best decisions of my life. Because each one of those difficult decisions that looked like failures (at first) took me a bit closer to my real self. Each one of them empowered the real me. Each one of them woke me up from the illusion. At this point, I can see a clear pattern of rejection every time I try to get closer to my real self, so the feeling of “looking like a failure” has become more of a fuel than a burden.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
Somehow having an audience on social media feels like having a giant billboard for millions of people every day. I wish we could all start seeing it that way. I know so many people, for example, who were against Trump but were talking about him, criticizing, on their social every day. Would you put up a giant billboard of someone you don’t want to see elected? Probably not. We truly don’t understand social media. A good book that would help us is Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan. It should be the online behavior bible of the 21st century. We all use media 24/7 but most of us have never truly studied it.
Back to your question: I would like two billboards. One for something I tell myself when I have a difficult decision to make that goes against the odds. And it is “Make yourself proud.” I think we spend too much of our time trying to please everyone. And we forget that it’s all already within. Your instinct, your inner child, your soul, all of those know what’s good for you and the world. The public opinion of your friends and strangers online, not so much.
The second is a quote from a very special man, Christopher Carmichael, “You are 99 years old, you are on your deathbed, and you have a chance to come back to right now: what would you do?” I have used this one many times when faced with difficult questions. When I met him in China seven years ago, I didn’t speak any English. So he gave me a couple of books to read to practice and get used to the English language. One of the books was The 4-Hour Workweek. I read it so many times to practice that I think I was speaking a bit like you [Tim] for a while.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Four years ago, just before Vine was about to take off, I decided to pursue it full- time. If I wanted to make it happen, I needed to leave Toronto where I was living and move to New York. New York is one of the prime cities for marketing/advertising, and I had this desire to create the first mobile influencer marketing firm. So I took a leap of faith and asked my business partners at the time how much money was available for me to move to New York. We had nothing. But one of our associates said I could borrow $400 from him. Imagine that—moving to New York City with $400. I knew nobody in the entire United States. All I knew was that I felt a call to go, and I had to trust my gut. I booked a bus ticket from Toronto to New York for $60. I slept on the floor of a friend of a friend of a friend. And here I was, “living” in New York.
Within seven days, Gary Vaynerchuk and I started GrapeStory, the first mobile-only influencer agency. I was so broke and didn’t want Gary to know, so I started sleeping at the office of his company VaynerMedia, showering at the nearby gym, eating the leftovers that his team was forgetting in the company fridge. This lasted for months, and during that period my posts on Vine started to intensify. I was inspired by New York, so inspired that I didn’t mind the struggle of being broke in such an expensive city. I think it took just about one year before I moved into an apartment. My goal had never been to grow a huge following, only to study the app by using it, but in New York I somehow found my style and the audience liked the content. In June 2013, just a couple weeks after moving to New York, I grew from 20,000 followers to 1 million in a month. That same month, our agency started being profitable. Even though we were making money, I kept sleeping at the office because I didn’t really have the time to find a place, and I think I enjoyed for a while the hustle of sleeping on the floor in a Park Avenue South office in New York. It had its charm while it lasted. When I was able to take my first paycheck from the company, I bought the iPhone 5. That was the first time I had bought a new phone instead of secondhand. I did it as an investment to improve the image quality of my Vines. This was also a really good investment.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Not absurd, but it’s something I didn’t do for most of my life, and I don’t see many friends doing it, so I assume it may not be very usual. Before eating, I pray. Not religiously, but more for setting intentions. I try to feel truly grateful for the food on my plate, especially if I happen to have an animal product on it. Maybe it’s an egg or a chicken. Most of the time, my nutrition is plant-based, because it makes me feel the best and it costs the least to our planet and environment. But, for example, when I spent roughly four months in Somalia for our Love Army mission, we didn’t have the luxury there to eat plants. We had to eat chickens. I am fine with eating animals when we have to, as long as it is done respectfully. Feeling gratitude for the animal’s life is a good way to honor it. Everything we eat, be it a tomato or a chicken, is carrying light within. This light feeds us a lot more than the calories or protein. By acknowledging this light, by acknowledging the divinity of everything created by Mother Nature, we can feed ourselves twice. It’s like when you are a kid and have a stuffed animal. They say stuffed animals only become real if you believe they are real. Same thing with the light in your food.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
A belief: the belief that we are all mini gods. I mean this in the sense of creators, in a way that should not feed our ego but our consciousness. This means the entire universe is not just outside but also within us. We have unlimited power— the power to solve any problems facing us or facing others. We get to create our realities. It’s a simple and small belief, but it can change the course of humanity. Being mini gods means we never lack. We know we already have everything. We don’t need a million dollars. We don’t need a trillion followers. We are complete. We are full. So full that we can give without counting. The day we will all start acting like mini gods is the day there will be peace in the world.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Don’t trust the gurus, whether a marketing guru or a life guru. Anybody telling you he knows better is—more than anything—disempowering you, because he is placing you below and himself above. The guru separates himself from the rest of us. Anything that creates separation is an illusion. In reality, we are all united, all the same, all small parts of the same bigger thing, the universe. I am especially thinking of all the online personalities telling you to work harder, telling you they are working more than anybody. When 99 percent of your life is your work, either you are really bad at what you do or you are completely off balance with the rest of your life; neither is something to be proud of. Anytime you see someone preaching, remember that this is smoke and mirrors.
My other advice is to enter the real world as soon as you can. And by “real world,” I don’t mean for you to do an internship in a marketing company. I mean for you to get off of social media, to get out of the big cities, and to reconnect with what’s real: nature, your soul, your inner child. Respect yourself. Most of the world is asleep today, playing a small role in a gigantic illusion. You don’t have to be. You can choose a different life. It’s all within. You will know the answers when you take the time to find yourself and trust yourself. If you are studying business/PR/marketing, then drop out today. The world is already full of marketers and businessmen. The world doesn’t need more of that. The world needs healers and problem-solvers who use their hearts. Your heart is a million times more powerful than your brain.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I have my feet in two industries right now, social media “influence” and the humanitarian industry. The worst recommendation that I hear in the influencer world is coming from marketing gurus who preach that if you build an audience and you start promoting brands to them, you can be extremely rich and successful. That’s cute, but remember the story of Bernays. Promoting unethical or unhealthy companies for money is not success, it is actually called “corruption.” Not corruption at the political level, like we are used to hearing, but corruption of your belief system. Corruption of your legacy. I know so many “influencers” who promote products they would never ever consume. But when the paycheck is half a million dollars for a couple Instagram photos, what would you do in their shoes?
I have been in those shoes, and I am proud to say I had to take some of my own medicine that day. Around the time I was starting to really question the advertising industry, two years ago, I was offered a million-dollar contract for a big Snapchat series for Sour Patch Kids. I told them I didn’t eat those candies and would never eat them in front of the camera. They were fine with it. I even remember telling myself, “I would never ever eat one of those candies, even if their marketing director, who was signing the deal, asked me.” That day was a difficult battle between the illusion of needing money and the incorruptible inner voice that told me to not do it. I turned down that million-dollar contract. I even recorded the scene of the meeting and put it on my YouTube. Gary Vee was in the room; he was negotiating that contract. I made myself proud that day. The worst advice anyone with an online audience can ever receive is from marketers. Gary says it himself, “marketers ruin everything.”
When it comes to the humanitarian space, the worst advice you will ever receive is “Trust the big NGOs; they know what they are doing.” As sad as it sounds, humanitarianism is, at this point, a giant industry. I have seen so many people raising money for a cause, hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions sometimes, and feeling like they aren’t good enough to organize the relief mission themselves. They believe that if they trust a big, well-known NGO, things will be okay. Sure, it is a safe choice for you, because it totally drops the ball; suddenly your work is over. But is it really going to help the people who need it? Not so sure. When we raised money for Somalia, we decided to organize everything ourselves, to ask advice from local NGOs but to never drop the ball. And that’s why our mission has been one of the most impactful relief missions ever organized in Somalia. Even though we had a relatively small amount of money compared to other big players in this space, we ended up having a massive impact. They will tell you good intentions are not enough, but I can promise you that if you keep your intentions pure through the entire process, then you will learn extremely fast and you will change lives, not only with the action but also with this intention. Humans who need food or water are still humans, and they can tell when the hand feeding them respects them and empowers them or disrespects them and treats them as a commodity. The NGOs that have been around for decades know that the humanitarian system is broken and that there are new, more efficient approaches.
For example, in many countries in Africa, like Somalia, mobile wire transfer is totally adopted by the population. This means there is no need to bring food to villages, but it is now simply possible to wire the money raised directly into people’s phones. This has been ready for almost ten years but no NGO nor the UN will talk about it, as it scares them. Because if the humanitarian space suddenly gets disrupted like every other industry, it will bring massive change into those NGOs and for all the people that work in them. Think of what Uber did to taxi companies. When we discovered that all the infrastructure for this new model was ready, my team and I started raising and distributing money directly into people’s phones. It was a game-changer for the people. They were empowered and could buy their own food like normal people. My point is this: give your money to people who need it, not to charities.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?
Somalia was a challenging time for me, as I had to separate my time between organizing our mission and updating/communicating with our 95,000 donors. I had to be very mindful of where I was putting my energy, and in this process, I started taking a different approach to my phone. Instead of considering every DM, every email as the most important thing in my life, I started looking at things as energy. Is this email empowering or is this email taking power out? I realized most of the time the answer was taking power out. Remember most people are asleep and forgetting their inner powers, so they think they need to take power out of others to feed themselves. I have now learned to say no to any of those solicitations.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
I simply try to ground, and to ground you need to touch something real. This can be by swimming—water is real; by meditating—your heart is real; by being in contact with an animal—animals are real; or by enjoying a delicious meal by yourself under the sun. I love being alone with food. By eating slowly and putting so many intentions into my food, I have started to develop a stronger sense of taste than I used to have. So when I eat, I tend to get very emotional with the taste of the food. These types of little, real moments get you out of your head.