Gene Simmons, best known as the demonic bass player of legendary hard rock band KISS, is above all else a very successful entrepreneur.
He is the business architect behind the band that he told CNN Money he believes, from the endless merchandising and touring since 1973, is worth somewhere between $US1 billion and $US5 billion.
He’s the owner of the LA KISS arena football team, Simmons Records, the Cool Springs financial services firm, and Rock & Brews restaurant chain, among other ventures. He also starred in the “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” reality show that ran for seven seasons on A&E, and gives motivational speeches at corporate events. He has unabashedly focused his life on building the Gene Simmons brand.
In his new book “ME, Inc.,” Simmons explains that the first time he realised that he was going to dedicate his life to the pursuit of making money was when he made his first profit selling fruit as a poor boy in Israel.
He was forever changed by the experience of being able to, despite a lack of running water and food, not only buy an ice cream cone but give his mother money.
Back when he was 7 years old and still went by his birth name Chaim Witz, Simmons decided one day that there was an opportunity in the crowds that passed by his neighbourhood on their way home from work each day. He told his friend Schlomo that they were going to hike up nearby Mount Carmel and pick cactus fruit to sell to commuters.
He and Schlomo borrowed a vat of ice water from a local grocery and spent a day filling it with fruit they picked.
“We didn’t realise that it was a business venture, and we wouldn’t have known what the phrase meant. But we did have a sense that if we worked hard, we might make money. And that was an exciting idea: making money,” Simmons writes. “It still is.”
By sunset, the boys discovered they made the equivalent of two dollars, which Simmons estimates would today be about $US20.
On the way home, he grabbed an ice cream cone for two cents, which he says is still the best one he’s ever had.
When he arrived at his house, his mum was upset that he had been gone all day. But her expression changed when he placed a handful of coins on the table.
“The astonished look on her face will forever be etched in my mind,” Simmons writes. She gave him a big hug and called him “my little man.”
“So I made the connection that, ‘Oh, hard work not only makes you money so that you can buy an ice cream cone, which I did, but it also makes your mum love you all that much more,'” Simmons tells Business Insider.
In his book he writes that as he hugged his mother while covered in cactus pricks, “I knew that work was good. Work resulted in money. Work and money resulted in food. Work and money resulted in happiness. And that is the most profound capitalist lesson I have ever learned, though I was far too young to understand it at the time.”
It was a lesson he took with him to the US when he moved with his mother two years later, and a lesson that he used to motivate him to always find new business opportunities, regardless of the field.
And when he cofounded KISS, he never saw it as just a musical project, he says. He always saw it as a music business.
“The KISS thing, when you really look at it,” he tells us, “has become this huge monster, despite the fact that critics say that doing games and slot machines and golf courses is not credible. Critics still live in their mother’s basement. We own the world.”
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