Tradin’ with Kurt Brown
Learn from someone who knows Wall Street inside and out but who decided to leave New York to start a private firm managing over $6 billion in assets.
Who is Kurt Brown?
Kurt Brown is the Chief Investment Officer for TownSquare Capital in Provo, Utah. In this role, he is also the head of the investment committee and oversees the creation of portfolios for clients. This includes assessing outside money managers and selecting asset classes. He has close to 25 years of specific experience in capital markets experience, both on the buying and selling sides. His experience includes managing hedge funds, portfolios for Fortune 500 companies, Taft Hartly plans, university endowments, bank trust portfolios, and individual retirement accounts.
Before taking his current position at TownSquare Capital, he worked for Alta Capital, which is a quality growth equity manager located in Salt Lake City, Utah. His 12-year position with Alta Capital saw a lot of growth for him personally and the company as a whole. He helped to take the $300 million of the firm’s assets and grow it to over $3 billion.
Even with his extensive investment work, Kurt also has experience as a speaker at investment conferences, CPA and estate planning conferences, and universities for a wide variety of audience members. He has the experience to talk about capital markets inefficiencies and conflicts of interest related to investment products and brokerage firms.
Prior to his position at Alta Capital, he worked at Black Rock Capital and Bank of America, where he spent his time advising clients on various trading and risk management issues. He built up his experience with the divestiture and hedging of concentrated equity positions and creating structured products.
He earned a degree in economics and finance from Brigham Young University and still serves in the capacity of an adjunct professor there, as well as a board member of The Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance.
What is TownSquare Capital?
TownSquare Capital is an investment platform that is designed to help clients fortify and enhance their current investment portfolio and program. Clients can always pick and choose from the services offered to use what works best for their situation.
TownSquare Capital offers traditional and alternative manager research, vetting, and selection as well as portfolio construction, monitoring, rebalancing, and repositioning to help clients get the most out of their investments. The investment platform also will evaluate and do a full audit of each portfolio to find any weaknesses or areas that can be improved.
The company can also help clients focus on their gain/loss harvesting, donations, and lot management to optimize their tax benefits. A full-service trading desk is designed to help clients implement preferred manager strategies or their own custom models.
What to Expect
Town Square Capital is an independent firm that provides services to family offices, wealth advisors, corporations, governments, and foundations. They believe strongly in supplying clients with the best tools to help them make informed, competitive, and strategic investment decisions.
Since they do not believe that there are any shortcuts or tricks to creating wealth, they see the long-term plan for clients’ money and stick by them for the duration of their time with the company. They take care to ensure that all strategies and managers added to the platform pass a strict set of criteria.
They also ensure that there are no conflicts of interest that are found with most investment advisory firms. They are not beholden to a specific bank or insurance company and do not distribute any outside products from other companies. This means the advice and recommendations clients get are truly in their best interests and are not there to help promote someone else’s gain.
The advisors do not work based on commission, so they do not pressure clients to buy more products. Every client pays the same fee, so they receive the same services. Advisors also stay away from pooled investments, so clients can always see exactly where their money is what it is doing.
TownSquare aims to help clients see a return on their portfolios through vetted and strategic investment advice. They focus on a “bottoms up” investment process and hire the best money managers in the industry to help keep clients’ money safe. This helps to keep costs low but still make the most of the cash flow and optimize the tax efficiency.
TownSquare’s goal is to give clients the power to make the best investment moves for their situation. TownSquare enables clients to understand the assets they own and be able to have confidence in their investment choices, even in times of stress in the market.
Kurt Brown Podcast Transcript
Charan: Guys, I think we’re rolling. I think we’re rolling.
Kurt: This is great.
Charan: This is awesome.
Kurt: This is awesome. And thanks for having me in.
Charan: Of course. Well, guys, as you all know, this is the Lemonade Stand podcast. I am your host Charan Prabhakar, and I’m here with Kurt Brown, who, honestly, I’m having a very difficult time looking at him, because you could get lost in his eyes. I mean, his eyes are so blue and so deep.
Kurt: Such a charmer, you’re such a charmer.
Charan: I’m just saying it as it is. Kurt’s such a good guy. We met actually because the church that I go to, he’s the leader of that church, so we met there initially. But we’ve become good friends along the way. It’s just been awesome to see your journey. Now just a little bit by way of intro, and please correct me if I’ve got something mistaken, but you grew up in Florida, and you had aspirations of being in the NBA, if that’s right.
Kurt: Yeah, among other things, yeah.
Charan: Among other things, right? So you played basketball, which is awesome, because I also had aspirations of being in the NBA. I also was on my high school basketball team, only as a waterboy. Then I realized, you know what? It’s not going to happen for me. But you actually had aspirations of being in the NBA, right?
Charan: So you were doing that, and then you got into trading and like managing a mutual fund, and you were in Wall Street itself, on the stock exchange, like those floors, just trading.
Kurt: Yep. I was one of those guys running around [crosstalk 00:02:56].
Charan: One of those guys running around, like a “Pursuit of Happyness”-type dude, right?
Charan: So you did that for a little while, and then you are now managing, or you’re actually I guess the CIO, if you would call it-
Kurt: Yeah, yep.
Charan: -of TownSquare Capital. And you manage over $3 billion.
Charan: Which is great. That’s a lot of rupees, that’s a lot of rupees, if you were to translate that in India.
Kurt: I don’t know the conversion factor, but I’ll take your word for it.
Charan: Dude, it’s a lot. Just trust me. Am I missing any thing, like what else?
Kurt: No, that’s the gist, yeah.
Charan: That’s the gist of it? Well, let’s talk about your basketball career. No, actually, first off, I want to let everyone know, the whole purpose of the Lemonade Stand podcast is to inspire the younger generation, because we all started in business, as an actor, as someone that manages funds, doing business in some point or another, like the ground level was like owning a lemonade stand. Right? As a kid, you might have been like, “Hey, you know what? I want to own a lemonade stand, I want to get out on the street, sell some lemonade, make a little bit of money.” A lot of times, you may not have made any money at all. But some of the kids kept going, and they’re like, “You know what? Maybe a lemonade stand is not for me. I’m going to keep going, I’m going to mow lawns,” or you can do whatever you want to do. That’s the purpose of this podcast, we want to get into your journey of why you became a businessman and what you can do to inspire the younger generation.
Kurt: I like it.
Kurt Brown Talks About Starting His Journey to Success
Charan: So let’s talk about your journey. You were in California, and so tell me about those dreams and what happened over there.
Kurt: You know, it’s funny, because as you’re talking about that, I’m thinking, I didn’t want to be a business man when I was a kid.
Kurt: Like I wasn’t the kid that was like, “We got to set up the lemonade stand, I got to make the money.” I was actually more of an adrenaline junkie.
Charan: Are you serious?
Kurt: I wanted to be a race car driver, an astronaut. Right? Something like that. Fighter pilot, I really thought I’d be a fighter pilot for a lot of my childhood.
Kurt: I just wanted to go fast. I mean, that was really my, which of course translated eventually when I was a trader in New York. There’s an element of going fast, you know, sort of built in that. But yeah, it wasn’t, and I think a lot of times you don’t realize that you want to run your own business until later. You develop a craft, you see a way you want to do something, but I definitely had my business aspirations early. There was a show when I was a kid on TV that was by far my favorite TV show, called “Family Ties.”
Charan: Dude, of course. I love “Family Ties.”
Kurt: Yeah, and maybe a lot of listeners are a little young for that maybe, but Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton on this show. He was this ultra-right-wing conservative, like “make money at all costs” kid. But that was actually like, I remember at that point in my life thinking, that was like eighth grade, “That’s who I want to be like.” There was a little bit of inspiration back there. I came from a family where no one ever graduated from college.
Charan: Oh, really?
Kurt: Military. My dad was an elevator mechanic. There wasn’t really a white collar emphasis in my home. So all of this was very new for my family, for sure.
Charan: Okay, okay. How did that transition from adrenaline kid to, “Hey, I want to do some business”? Because a lot of people, a lot of the guys I’ve interviewed, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, we’ve always known we wanted to do business. We love like the thrill of it.” Right? The thrill of the deal.
Kurt: Yeah. For me it was actually probably more of the poker elements, which is really funny, because we don’t do that now the way we manage money, but when I was young, I would watch the stock market, and it seemed like it was a poker game.
Kurt: It really, I wasn’t as interested necessarily in what the fundamentals of the companies were as much as I was, why were the stocks moving around so much?
Charan: How old were you when [crosstalk 00:06:35]?
Kurt: Oh, I was 17 or 18 when I started reading “The Wall Street Journal.”
Charan: Wow, all right.
Kurt: Then I played at a small college, I played basketball at a small college in California, and I would carry “The Wall Street Journal” with me everywhere. Airplane, bus, hotel.
Charan: That’s crazy.
Kurt: Of course the guys on the team made fun of me mercilessly. But really, the gamesmanship of the economy and the stock market, that’s what sucked me in. It’s funny, because I teach a class in the finance department here at BYU, but this is not what it started for me. This was not academic, it was not fundamental, it was a game, it was a poker game. Then you fall in love with some of the other elements of investing and things like that. But yeah, I was a gamer really when I was young.
Charan: That’s wild, man, and it’s funny because there’s something that, I don’t know, when it comes to venture capitalists or whatnot, like some of the other ones I’ve interviewed, you also mentioned something of like blackjack in there. Wow, there’s that element, right? There’s that element of there’s a bit of risk, but there’s a bit of strategy. You can beat the game, if you can win that game, then you can make a little bit of money, right?
Kurt: People ask me all the time about what it was like trading on the floor in New York, on the New York Stock Exchange. The funny thing was, a lot of guys didn’t even have either big degrees or didn’t really have college degrees or whatever, but they were almost all of them were either great athletes or great poker players. A lot of the elements that went into trading was like sports. And there’s a mentality of, you know great athletes, right?
Kurt: You step in a batter’s box, you strike out 10 times in a row. How mentally tough are you? Can you come back that eleventh time and crack one? That’s … Trading, and even investing, can kind of be like that. I’m not surprised to hear you say that. There’s a gamesmanship element, because you have to have a toughness in a way to separate the emotion.
Kurt: If you’re too emotional about business or your money, you’re probably going to wreck yourself.
Charan: Going to wreck yourself. Well, it’s interesting, because I can totally relate to that as an actor, because I have gone to so many auditions and sometimes it’s even a joy to be like, all right, well, I’m not getting that one. It’s a numbers game and it’s just fun, right?
Kurt: A numbers game.
Charan: And when you think of it like that, that’s [inaudible 00:08:47] booking, because I just didn’t care. I didn’t care what the outcome was going to be, right?
Kurt: Yep. And once that pressure is off, it’s like anything else, right? Even dating. If you look like you’re gripping, you’re never getting a second date, right?
Charan: Let this be known for everybody that’s watching, including myself, this is why I haven’t gotten a second date. But, hey, you know what? The pressure will be off pretty soon. That’s cool. How did you go from California holding that paper, that “Wall Street Journal “to say, “Hey, you know what? I want to make this my life, I want to be in New York”?
Kurt: Yeah, so I realized I wasn’t going to have an NBA career. Even though I was a decent college player, at some point, you realize you’re not quite in that same league. I transferred out to Utah to go to school at BYU.
Kurt: I had an academic scholarship. While I was here, I was developing a little trading program. I was a little bit of a math nerd.
Charan: Oh, you were?
Kurt: I was messing around with this little model and this little strategy. I’m a returned missionary for the LDS church, so my mission president, successful guy, kind of heard about this, and he seeded what I was doing with a substantial amount of money.
Charan: Are you kidding me?
Kurt: Yes, my junior year.
Charan: This is like not paper money, this is the real thing. [crosstalk 00:09:53]
Kurt: No, and I had been running this model on paper, and I had been winning some of those fake investing competition, where you get like, “Here’s the fake million dollars, now see what you can do with it.” And I won a few of those.
Charan: Oh, wow.
Kurt: Then my mission president took me to lunch. I was at the time living on $330 a month, and I drove a car with 250,000 miles on it.
Kurt: My mission president wrote me a check for $100,000, a personal check.
Charan: No way.
Kurt: Yeah, here you go. I said, I was stunned. I’m like, “What are we doing here?” He’s like, “You’re going to put this in the account, now we’re going to do it with real money. No more fake money.”
Charan: Oh, my gosh, was that nerve-wracking?
Kurt: Oh, incredible. In fact, the first thing that happened was within a few weeks, I lost $40,000 of the $100,000. Like right out of the hole. It was like, yeah.
Charan: Yeah, and how was that for you emotionally?
Kurt: It was devastating, devastating. I mean, $40,000 at that point in my life, given my background, the family I came from and whatnot, it was such a tremendous amount of money for me.
Kurt: The stress was consuming. I stopped going to class, I eventually lost my scholarship to BYU. This mentor of mine bailed me out basically. He knew how upset I was. He called me to his house and he said, “Listen, you’re feeling too much pressure. $100,000 for me is like 100 bucks for you.”
Charan: Oh, my gosh. Do you still have his number, for all the people?
Kurt: Exactly. So he says, he did one little thing that changed everything. He said, “Every penny that you make me, we’re going to give to charity anyways.”
Charan: Oh, okay.
Kurt: “I don’t want this money back.”
Kurt: It was my first lesson in money. You lift the pressure off about money if you can disconnect the emotion. Now you can be a much more rational actor. We made all that money back, and then we made a bunch more money, and we grew that amount of money into a substantial amount of money, and got other investors, and pretty soon, I just dropped out of school.
Charan: And you were just doing that.
Kurt: Yeah, I was running a small fund.
Charan: And you loved it, you loved it.
Kurt: Oh, absolutely loved it. It was funny, because I was going to school, I was in the finance department. I was majoring in, double major, finance, econ. I was going to all these guys that I had networked with that worked on Wall Street, these investment bankers and whatnot. I was explaining to them what I was doing, and every single one of them said, “Stay in school, get good grades, finish, because this thing is going to blow up, this trading thing you’re doing is going to blow up.” Except for one guy, a guy named Doug Moore, who I lied and said I was a graduate student to get into an information session he was doing. We became friends, stayed in touch. He was at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco. He said to me, “If this works, you’re going to save 15 or 20 years of your career fast-tracking yourself. If it fails, so what? Come back and you finish your degree.”
Charan: So he was saying, “Get out of there. Just do it.”
Kurt: He was the only person that told me that as a piece of advice. So I did it. I stopped going to class. It worked, and then eventually my fund was essentially acquired by an investment bank in San Francisco.
Charan: You’re kidding?
Kurt: Yeah, a firm called Montgomery Securities. Literally in a period of a few days, I packed up, got in my car, go to San Francisco, and it was a new life. No more Utah.
Charan: Oh, my word. Dude, that is insane. I had no idea. I guess, when you were trading, was it all just U.S. stocks and bonds?
Kurt: Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Charan: It wasn’t anything Forex or anything like that?
Kurt: No, no.
Charan: It was just all nationwide.
Charan: I felt like I was doing like a State Farm commercial. Nationwide is on your side. Anyway, you did that.
Kurt: That’s a Nationwide commercial, by the way.
Charan: Is that a Nationwide commercial?
Kurt: Yeah, they have their own brand.
Charan: Never mind. Clearly I have no idea what I’m talking about with these commercials. You know what? This is why I’m not [crosstalk 00:13:26].
Kurt: You do commercials for a living. You’re supposed to know that stuff.
Charan: I do commercials for a living, but you know what? I just get in front of the camera, I say a couple of lines. [crosstalk 00:13:33].
Kurt: There you go. Just tell me what to say, right?
Charan: Tell me what to say. I’m a little puppet, man, and I’m happy with that. So you moved to San Francisco. Now how old were you at the time, when this happened?
Kurt: Early twenties, 24, maybe, 23, somewhere around there.
Charan: Wow, that’s wild man. It’s such an interesting way of looking at life, because I think in my early twenties, I was like, “All right, cool, ten bucks an hour. This is amazing.” Right? A lot of people think that, and there’s nothing wrong with that, at all. It’s great, but it definitely takes mental capacity and tenacity to say, “Okay, you know what? I’m going to listen to someone like”—is it Doug Moore, you said?
Charan: “I’m going to listen to Doug Moore, I’m going to not go to class and focus on this, build this up.” And oh, my gosh, you just got acquired. “And now I’m going to go to San Francisco.”
Kurt: A lot of my students over here at the school, they’ll ask me about this. You know, they’re smart kids. They get into something, and they say, “Hey, you know, Professor Brown, should I drop out?” And you got to make those decisions for yourself, right? There’s no right answer here. You just got to know. Most things are going to fail. So just get ready, right? Secondly, you got to know what pitch you’re waiting to hit. My mission president—his name was Dick Winwood—Dick told me multiple times at that part of my life, he said, “You’re going to have a lot of opportunities. Don’t take them all. A smart guy knows what pitch he’s looking for.” You’re basically going to heat-seek the right opportunities for yourself.
Kurt: And that’s where you kind of have to have a sense of “where do I want to go?” Because otherwise, I know too many guys that end up in careers and jobs where they’re a slave to their grind. Now they can’t quit, they make too much money, “I got kids.” Money actually in a way becomes a curse, because now you can’t go backwards.
Kurt: So you kind of have to know what it is that you’re looking for. Otherwise, you just kind of wander around and fall into something.
Charan: You know, that is actually excellent advice, because the problem is, is whatever you put your attention to grows, I really believe. If you put your attention to something that you never intended to be, like you’re like, “Well, I just want to do it because I’m going to make some money and maybe have a good future and whatnot.” 20, 30 years down the road, you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I regret my life.” I’ve met people like that.
Kurt: Well, it’s sort of like, even the mentality, so I got married older. Spent a lot of years single. Probably should have got going a little earlier. Right? I’m almost 50, and I’ve got three kids under six, so I got a little bit of a later start.
Charan: That’s great.
Kurt: You know, a lot of things you do when you’re single and having a good time is in the name of having a good time. Which there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but that has a tendency to become who you are and what you do. You got to be a little bit careful with that flippant, “Yeah, I’m going to do this and just make some cash.”
Kurt: Right? You have to be careful, you need an objective.
Charan: You got to have an objective. I did the same thing with acting as well, because initially when I first got into acting, I thought, I can do whatever. Like this is great. I’m an actor, I want to do all kinds of projects. But as I become more seasoned, I definitely am a lot more pickier with my projects, because I realize, hey, this is a lot of energy that I’m putting towards it. What’s the messaging here, and who’s the crowd I’m hanging out with? Because I’m hanging out with these guys for 12 hours a day, for maybe months on end, and if I don’t like what I’m doing, I’m not going to be happy with the end result. You know?
Kurt: Yeah. I know some of your listeners are younger, because you and I had talked about that before. One little exercise I did when I was in my early twenties that paid massive dividends is I got out a piece of paper and I created two lists. The first list was every job I ever thought looked cool, either I heard about or I saw in a movie. Because you’re young, you don’t know. I put crazy stuff on this list. I even had air traffic controller on that list. I mean, don’t ask me why. It’s on my list.
Kurt: Okay. Then I had the second column was only the characteristics of the perfect career. Okay, I’m going to make a lot of scratch, I’m not going to punch a clock, I’m not doing nine to five, I’m not sitting at a desk all day. For me, I wanted to negotiate, I wanted to work with people. Right? Then that list became my guide. I mean, I went out and I interviewed people in each of those areas, including air traffic controllers. I’d go in and I’d sit with them and talk to them about what they do. I was like, CPA? That looks boring, right? Attorney? Oh, that looks boring. I have my own thing and after a while you start learning about yourself. You start realizing, there’s patterns to what I’m being drawn to, and sort of what makes my blood pump, right?
Kurt: Understanding that is a lot better than just saying, “Well, this is the pragmatic career. It’s safe, it pays well.” I mean, you can make a lot of money doing almost anything, if you’re exceptional at it. It’s a lot better to have it marry up with you and your personality. I still have it in my journal. The funny thing is, here I am, all these years later, and pretty much every single thing on that list of the perfect job, I have.
Charan: That is awesome.
Kurt: Almost by accident, because you subconsciously work your way to that.
Charan: Yeah. Well, it’s kind of like vision-boarding, if you will, where you’re very clear and very specific on, hey, this is exciting, this isn’t exciting. I find that I still do that. I find that I still do that. I mean, I’ve been in the film business for a while, and kind of not moving away from it at all, but just kind of refocusing where I want to be with it and what I want to do with it. It is true. It’s like the more you focus on what you really, really want, you will find you get that.
Kurt: And I don’t think everybody needs to go to a Tony Robbins seminar.
Kurt: This plays out for everybody differently, but at the end of the day, you really are going to become what you fill your brain up with. Pretty much no matter how you slice it, that’s where you’re going.
Charan: Yeah. That’s great, man. That’s awesome. Let’s talk about from when you were in San Francisco, and you said, “Hey, I’m going to go to New York.” How long were you in San Francisco?
Kurt: Well, so really what it was is I kind of worked both coasts.
Charan: Oh, you did?
Kurt: I was a single guy, I was a workaholic, no social life. I mean, literally I had like two friends. I mean, this is what I did. And I was in New York and San Francisco, simultaneously, flying back and forth.
Kurt: It was an incredible experience. It was a little bit awkward. I’ve got some funny stories around that. You know, I was a young man. I was on the floor trading for a major investment bank. Back then, it was a little different. I mean, some of your listeners have watched things like “Wolves of Wall Street” and things like this, there’s an element of truth to what it was like back then. The business has cleaned up a lot, but inside of my first six months on the floor, I had my boss asking me why I wasn’t getting more escorts for our clients, and things like that.
Charan: Oh, my gosh.
Kurt: It was an interesting. It was wild. Guys doing blow in the bathroom, and so here I was this young guy, religious guy, but the work itself, I absolutely loved. I mean, it was like being a part of the biggest financial sporting event in the world every day. You never had the same day twice. It was such a great place for me to cut my teeth and kind of learn about it. A lot of social elements I didn’t appreciate or love. My life was never really dictated by money. That’s not really, I don’t live for money. I lived more for the adventure of what I was doing. The money is just one element of that. Eventually I just cooked on it. I’m like, I can’t do this. This will take me to the wrong end, because this doesn’t have the social elements I want. Everybody I worked with, the money is the point.
Charan: That’s like the end-all, that’s the end result.
Kurt: Yeah, and it really grinds on you after a while. And it’s not, this by the way is not an indictment on these people. Some of the greatest people I worked with are down there, I mean, they just are fun, awesome guys and gals, but it just didn’t fit necessarily very well for me. I started looking around and thinking, “Hey, what’s my next move?” There was a fund here, an investment firm in Utah, and I had some mutual friends that kind of introduced me there. I really liked what these guys had done. We kind of started into talking and negotiating and stuff like that. Yeah, I came and bought a third of that firm, of that fund, based in Salt Lake City. That was it. That’s how I got back to Utah, those years later.
Charan: What year was this, would you say?
Kurt: 2003-ish, I got back to Utah. I got involved with this firm, it’s called Alta Capital.
Kurt: One of my, still my mentors in this business is still up there running that firm, Mike Tempest. Veteran in the business and somebody I’ve admired and respected and he sold me a part of the firm. Then we were really fortunate. Over the next 12, 13 years, we grew the firm a lot, I mean, from a tiny firm to a pretty big firm. It was a great way to transition from that first part of my financial life, which was kind of running gun, trading in New York, being single, a little bit crazy. Then morphing that into something more about building. Trading is an endeavor of “eat what you kill.” It’s a daily grind.
Charan: It’s a daily grind, yeah.
Kurt: Versus, like, building an investment program that’s more holistic and enduring, right? And the nature of your clients change. The nature of your clients become big families that have made a lot of money. They want to protect that money and still grow it and things like that, right? That really was the evolution, and by this point, of course, I’m in my mid-thirties and things are evolving a little bit.
Charan: Yeah, well, you know, it’s interesting, because in a weird way, I feel like our lives kind of mirror each other, in a weird way. Because for me, with the acting deal, it wasn’t about making money, it wasn’t about fame, I just loved the craft. I loved being on set and I loved working with people. I went to L.A. to chase the dream, right? It was awesome, I had a great time. Some people were like, “Oh, man, how was that? How did, you’re back in Utah, how did that go?” I’m like, “I freakin’ loved it. It was amazing. I had a great time.” I met some awesome people who I still keep in touch with, networked a lot, and it was great. But I will say, there were definitely elements to that world that I did not like.
Charan: First off, it’s like, a lot of the messaging, a lot of the shows, I’m like, oh, I would never watch this show. It’s just not a good message. Why do I want to put my energy towards that? Right? Then I also noticed that a lot of these guys were partiers and stuff, and if you really wanted to go high in the industry, then you kind of had to like do some stuff that you probably weren’t all that stoked about. I would find that it would just eat at my spirit all the time. I’d be like, “Dude, I just want to act. That’s all I want to do. I just want to be on set, acting. That’s it.”
Charan: All these weird parties, all these weird networking, which I do love networking, but when you go to weird parties and bars and all this stuff and just like, getting in with a certain crowd, it’s like, “Hey, partake in what we’re doing and then you can get way up there.” I’m like, nah, I wasn’t stoked about that.
Kurt: Yeah. I think a lot of things are like that in our lives, too. Everything from politics to church to whatever it is, there’s the ideal, there’s the core, there’s the passion, but then in the application of these things, they can really be bastardized and watered down and perverted. It is, it makes your life a little bit tricky, because you get there. I mean, here I was when I was an eighth grader, Alex P. Keaton, I wanted to go to New York. I mean, when I was in eighth grade, I wore a tie to school, because I wanted to be him. Like that was my … Then I’m in New York, and I’m like, yeah, this is not really …
Charan: Right, yeah.
Kurt: Because by the time you get there 20 years later, you’re like, “This actually isn’t really what I want anyway.”
Charan: Oh, man.
Kurt: Right? And that’s kind of the evolution of our life though. It’d be kind of weird if we didn’t evolve that way, because then the more you know, the more you realize, “I think this can be better. This was good, but I actually think it can be better.”
Charan: Well, it’s like, this certain glamor that you get, this certain idea of it, you get out to Hollywood, for instance, and you’re like, “Oh, this is it, huh?”
Charan: Okay, all right, awesome. Carry on, with everything. I remember when I came back to Utah, it was for a very specific intention, which is, I want to produce my own stuff, I want to create my own stuff. Which is kind of what you’ve done as well, right? You’re like, “All right, cool, I’ve learned all the things that I’ve learned. I already come back to Utah, I’ve bought into a firm, and now I’m going to start my own place.”
Kurt Brown Talks About Starting TownSquare Capital
Charan: So TownSquare Capital, how long has that been [crosstalk 00:25:53]?
Kurt: Yeah, we’re going to be closing in on four years this year.
Charan: Four years.
Kurt: You know, it was a hard decision to leave my partners at my old firm. There were seven of us that owned that firm, and they’re great, just great individuals, and yet you kind of get to a place, too. What starts to happen I think is, if you’re able to make a living, then the next thing becomes the optimization of how you make a living, right? Then you kind of realize, hey, I could make a living in actually a variety of ways. Now could we do it so that it’s more fulfilling? I haven’t had this much fun my whole career. I mean, these past three or four years for me have been the most enjoyable, like fruitful part of my career.
Kurt: You know, we’ve built it from zero. We’ve got 27 people here now. I love the people that are here, it’s like family. And yet I still get to be in the business that I love. I’m still kind of a Wall Streeter, in Provo, Utah, of all places, right?
Charan: Dude, it’s the best.
Kurt: So it’s like the best of both worlds for me. I live down on a little bit of property in Mapleton, Utah, right, but I get to come to work every day and slug it out in finance and stuff like that.
Charan: Oh, that’s awesome.
Kurt: You’d be willing to even make less money in a lot of cases, if you could figure out how to do that, right, how to optimize.
Charan: Optimize the lifestyle. It looks like you’ve been doing that. I mean, I know you’ve got a beautiful family, you got a great house, and you’re out here. It just seems like everyone loves hanging out with you and connecting with you. I think at the end of the day for me anyway, relationships were the number one deal. Right? It’s like, hey, you’re making money and all that stuff, that’s great, but if you don’t have good relationships with people, it doesn’t mean anything. Anyway.
Kurt: Yeah, and it’s kind of funny, too, like I was just saying to my wife the other night, that it’s really funny, the things that you used to care about, you don’t care. One of the great things about being older, like especially when you get into your forties, is you don’t give a damn what anybody thinks anymore.
Kurt: I mean, you’re just like, I don’t need to dress this certain way, or I don’t need to … It’s so liberating, too. I don’t mean that in like, “I’m a jerk” kind of way.
Charan: For sure.
Kurt: We always care about what other people think to some certain extent, but it’s really liberating to be like, you know, that really doesn’t matter. Right?
Charan: You don’t put energy towards thoughts to rule over you. Right? You’re like, hey, you know what? The things that you used to be so neurotic about and so worried about, like, “Oh, my gosh, how’s my follower count in Instagram?” It’s not [crosstalk 00:28:13].
Kurt: You know what the best, like literally the greatest part of every single of my day is when you and I are done, I’ll get in the car and I’ll drive home. I’ll walk in, and when those three kinds run up to me and maul me, when I go through the door, like that’s the peak of my life right there. You know what I’m saying?
Charan: That’s awesome.
Kurt: It wasn’t that many years ago that I was like way stressed out about other stuff. I wish I wouldn’t have burned up so much energy and stress worrying about it. But I actually think you almost have to. It’s over idealistic, because it’s actually part of the development of yourself.
Charan: It is, yeah.
Kurt: Which later you realize, yeah, that was stupid. Like this is kind of how we learn, right?
Charan: Well, that’s the journey, right? You have to go through those periods of worrying about all this and all that, only to realize, oh, yeah, didn’t even matter.
Kurt: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:28:57].
Charan: Yeah, we could have [inaudible 00:28:58] through the whole situation.
Charan: I remember, if there’s anything I regretted at BYU, because I went to BYU as well, it was that I just spent time doing too much homework. I mean, honestly …
Kurt: I’m not surprised to hear you say that.
Charan: Because I got good grades, I was almost a 4.0 student. But I was, I spent way too much time at home doing stuff, while my friends were like, “Hey, what are you doing?” I’m like, “Oh, just homework, I’m getting this all done.” There’s so many periods where I’m like, oh, my gosh, what was I thinking? I should have made memories with my friends. Let’s talk a little bit about struggles. You know, I mean, I know we all go through them, and I know in the world of business and in the world of just personal life, we’ve all faced different struggles, right? Different challenges that have shaped us into who we are today. Your attitude, your resilient attitude towards things, I’ve noticed, like you’ve mentioned in the past to me some of the struggles that you’ve faced, personally with your own family. Are you open to talking about some of that stuff?
Charan: Yeah, what would you say have been some low points, where, oh, my gosh, that was a huge defining [crosstalk 00:30:08]?
Kurt Brown Talks About Enduring the Low Points in His Life
Kurt: You know, and it’s funny. I know it seems so cliché, but I actually think your greatest strengths come because you get your butt kicked. I draw more today in hard times today on those bad things of my life than any of the good things. Even though everyone had the best of intentions, my family, multiple divorces when I was a kid, abusive stepmother. My mom and my sister both died super young. My mom died when she was 45, my sister was 34. They both literally just both dropped dead in two different circumstances.
Charan: Wow. Were you pretty close to both of them?
Kurt: Very, very. We had a small family, it was just me and my sister and then my twin brothers. My sister and I were inseparable. We talked literally every single day. Then honestly, I was single for a long time and lost my faith for a while. I was lonely, and it was, on the one hand, it was like, from the outside, he’s successful, he makes all this money, or he’s in New York or San Francisco or whatever. But truly kind of feeling tormented also, you know. It’s a miracle that I really was able to meet somebody like Katie and then build a family and have kids now and feel a lot more peace. Because for a lot of years, I didn’t have that peace. Even a lot of my childhood, I didn’t.
Kurt: We equate success with happiness, but those two are not always the same thing. In fact, they’re frequently not the same thing. Because I was really good at controlling the external. I was always successful. I was a 4.0 student, I was … But those are controllable items. They don’t necessarily indicate peace or joy or happiness. There was a lot of, those were some really hard times. I remember my sister got in a lot of trouble. Yeah, I don’t talk about it very often, but we lived in an abandoned house, my sister and I, for quite, for maybe six months. She was a drug addict, and my mother had just died, and it was just a lot of, you know, hard things. It’s no different, I mean, everyone has hard things. It wasn’t worse than somebody else in my hard things.
Charan: For sure.
Kurt: But to you, they’re awful, and they’re really challenging. Yeah, there was plenty of dark days, and especially, you know what’s funny, is sometimes I’ll hear a song that I loved at a certain point in my life. Like I loved it in my, let’s say, mid-twenties. I realize as I’m listening to it today how sad I was. Like I listen to the music, and I’m like, I was identifying with this music but now I see it and I’m like, it was pretty heavy and sad. And sometimes you don’t even know until you look back that you were experiencing an emptiness or whatever.
Charan: Did you ever feel like, when you were doing, going to Wall Street and doing all these things, did you ever feel like at that time, you were using it as a way to overcompensate for the pain in your heart or the pain in your life?
Kurt: Yeah, I kind of always had a sense from a very young, young age, that if you run hard, I remember calculating how to get the approval of adults. Because as a young person, I could always win adults over. It was like a game. Like you knew what the characteristics were. I always knew that the key, a really critical key, to success was winning people over to you. Right? Not in a dishonest way, but being sure people had your back and they like you.
Charan: For sure.
Kurt: Again, that doesn’t mean that you’re close to them, that doesn’t make them friends, that doesn’t make them family, and so yeah, I knew that if I ran hard, you could stay in front of the pain and loneliness and sadness, if you run hard. I was such a workaholic, like even in school, even when I was in college playing basketball, as soon as I was done playing ball, I was into something else.
Charan: You’re doing something else.
Kurt: All night long.
Charan: Yeah, you weren’t just like sitting time there with yourself.
Kurt: No. Because you don’t want to. Like if you’re not happy, you don’t want to sit around and think about not being happy, or what you’re missing. Let’s just go kick some ass, and then we can create something great. Then you can mask a lot of ills that way. Everybody does it different. Some people feel depression and anxiety, that’s a different thing. Right? I was lucky because I didn’t have to battle with that. So yeah, for sure, I had my share.
Charan: You had your share. When did you decide, “Hey, it’s time for me to not run and like drown into this other stuff and face the problems”? Because I feel like a lot of people do that, right? Your deal was, “Hey, I’m going to be a workaholic. I’m going to jump into this.” Other people do suffer from anxiety. We’ve talked about that before.
Kurt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Charan: I think I was kind of like you, in the sense of, I’ve had like, my parents, or my mom has been divorced a couple of times, and you don’t feel like those things affect you, but they do, they definitely affect you. Right? I was like, hey, I’m the guy that’s like overly optimistic. I’m going to go have so much fun, and the truth was, yes, I really am overly optimistic, I really do have a lot of joy, but maybe a part of that was faking it til [inaudible 00:35:16]. You know what I mean? Maybe a part of that wasn’t completely authentic.
Kurt: Oh, totally.
Charan: It was just like my coping mechanism.
Kurt: It’s your coping mechanism. And you know you’re better off. You look around and you realize the people that are moping, well, they’re screwing themselves. At least we can have some success if I’m positive and trying. Yeah, totally agree.
Charan: Yeah, and so that was me. Yeah, as far as the depression stuff goes, of course I’ve had bad days. I’ve had days of sadness and struggle, but like periods of depression that have lasted days or weeks or months, not really. Not really. But how did you decide, “Hey, I want to face these things”?
Kurt: Yeah, you know, I wish I was that forward-thinking. I don’t think I ever really decided, I want to face these things. Except I went and saw a counselor for the first time when I was in my early thirties. I was finally to that point, I got a reference or a recommendation, and I was the guy that always thought, oh, you know, you don’t need to see a shrink. That’s for people that are messed up. Now I’m a huge advocate of seeing a counselor, right?
Charan: Of course.
Kurt: I go in and see a counselor, and I’m like, she must have just been rolling her eyes at me, because I just sat down in the chair and I’m like, “Well, I give up. I’m broken. I need help.” I just like laid all this stuff on her. I think that was the start of it. But it really wasn’t until after I got married. I mean, there’s really something about having, and by the way, it’s forced upon you.
Kurt: Because there’s something about building a life with another person that you can’t fake it anymore. You know what I’m saying?
Kurt: You’re alone, you go out and fake it, come back to your house and hide. Right? When you’re married like that, you just know more. Being married, and not because Katie would point it out to me. I mean, just literally building a life with somebody, I would go in and look in the mirror sometimes and be like, “You’re [inaudible 00:37:01].” I remember looking at myself in the mirror going, “You got problems, you got issues.” Then you have to decide, what do I want to choose? Do I want to choose joy, or do I want to be right?
Charan: Oh, okay, yeah.
Kurt: Do I want to defend my position and who I am …
Charan: Your ego.
Kurt: Or do I want to be happy?
Charan: Or do you want to be happy?
Kurt: This is a great lie, man. So you have to. It took me so long. I’m so slow on this uptake. I’m sure everybody else figures this out before I do, but sitting there and going, “No, I want to be happy. So I’m going to dial it down and start looking at myself and saying, hey, I got to fix some of these things about myself.” The truth is, man, I’m still, there’s lots of these things right now I’m better at, but still are hard.
Kurt: But I still want to choose happiness. I want to choose my wife, I want to choose my kids.
Charan: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because, I think you and I again might face similar struggles. I was thinking about that the other day because I was having a Zoom call with like former mission companions of mine. I also went on LDS mission. They’re all married, they all have kids and stuff, or one is having a kid on the way. I remember thinking, so what’s with me? Why haven’t I gone down that path? It’s not like I’m antisocial, I love meeting people, I love dating and all that stuff, but I just haven’t gotten married. You know, I can give different, I won’t even say excuses. It’s just like, hey, there just hasn’t found the right person. That totally is legit, I think, but I also know that I have to work on myself in the process, getting ready. Like I got to be the right person if I want to get the right person for me. Whatever, right?
Charan: But what I’ve learned is, yeah, there’s a lot of issues that I have, there’s a lot of things that I’ve struggled with that I just thought, hey, my positivity will get me through. For a lot of it, it has, it definitely has. But I can also tell, okay, these are some issues, these are issues of shame that I didn’t even know I had. I went and saw a counselor once, and he’s like, “Yeah, you got a lot of issues with shame, buddy.” I’m like, “Do I?”
Kurt: I love it.
Charan: The thing is, is like, for me, my coping mechanism, whenever I react, it’s the weirdest thing, too. I just start laughing. I know that sounds like a bizarre way to respond.
Kurt: Yeah, but I know you, I know that’s true.
Charan: Yeah, but it’s like a bizarre way to respond to tragedy, but sometimes when I have tragedy come in my life, I get eerily calm. Like just genuinely start laughing. Like sometimes I talk about things that are traumatic and I’m really kind of laughing about it. But I feel like those reactions are honest, they really feel honest to me. I feel like in a sense, I’ve definitely [inaudible 00:39:50] from a lot of stuff. But I wonder, why is it that I have to laugh? Why can’t I just get angry?
Charan: I don’t know. It’s interesting to me to see your evolvement of how, “Hey, I’m this guy, I did all this stuff. Then I got married, and then I realized, okay, wait, joy and peace is a little bit different.”
Kurt: Well, and I hate to say it, but I actually think a measure of success can be your worst enemy. Because let me give you a comparison.
Charan: Yeah, please.
Kurt: When I was trading for the bank in New York, one of the worst things that could happen to a rookie trader was you make a bunch of money right off the bat. Because he’s thinking, “I know what I’m doing, I’m really good at this. “Right? “I got a gift, “whatever. Now he can’t learn. You can’t teach that guy. I think what happens is, I was single for a long time, and then you want to build a life with another person and you got to learn to be humble. You got to learn to be like, maybe I’m not doing this right. When I first got married, I wasn’t, and it led to all kinds of tension. Not because I thought I was so great, but subconsciously you think, my way is pretty good. I’ve lived a pretty good life. I’ve seen success. You know what I’m saying?
Kurt: Like you think, but you know what? There’s probably a lot of good ways to do things. There’s probably a lot of right ways. So you get that mentality. You can’t experience joy with another human being.
Charan: That’s so true, right? Because you experience life a certain way, and your partner experiences life a certain way. It’s like, how do you experience life together?
Kurt: If you’re both successful, then you’re really screwed, because you both think, “My way is great.”
Charan: And she’s successful, right?
Kurt: She’s very successful. She had a really successful news reporting career, and she was intimidating, man. She still is.
Charan: Yeah. She actually is. Every time I talk to her, I’m like, oh, man, I just got humbled, and I didn’t even realize [crosstalk 00:41:46].
Kurt: I know she’s told you straight up [crosstalk 00:41:48].
Charan: Yeah, I didn’t even know it was going to happen, but here I am. Again, I’m just laughing through it, because it was like …
Kurt: I know, I know. I’m sure, I’m sure.
Charan: Well, that’s awesome, and I’m so glad that you were to face your own inner demons and kind of come out the other side. Now and we also talked about joy. We’ve already talked about the things that bring you joy, which is like your wife, your faith, your kids. It’s interesting, because you do work in the field of money. You’re helping build portfolios, and yet you also know that money is not the end game. Right? I always have thought money is like a form of energy. Right? It’s like a form of energy. If you build the true relationships first, if you build those up, I feel like money just kind of follows. That’s how it’s been for me, by the way.
Kurt Brown Talks About What He Would Tell His Younger Self
Charan: A lot of times, the gigs I get, people just request me. They just request me. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, we love working with Charan. Let’s just get him.” It’s been awesome. So just kind of wrapping things up, final question. What would you tell your younger self?
Kurt: Oh, man.
Charan: I mean, seriously, what would you tell your younger self?
Kurt: Well, let me tell you what I tell my students every semester.
Kurt: And what I think is missed in the formal education system. We learn things at home. We learn about religion at home, we learn, whatever we learn from our parents. Some of us are luckier than others with our parents and what we learn at home or whatnot. We get into the formal education system and then we’re trying to kind of figure out where are we going to go. We touched on several of them. One of my dearest friends, he turned down, he was a 4.0 BYU economics department, got big offers from consulting firms, but knew what he wanted to do. And this is like 28 years ago.
Kurt: 27 years ago, and he’s offered $120,000 a year to go a big consulting firm. He took a $36,000-a-year job.
Kurt: Living in San Francisco, by the way, which you can’t live on, so he had to live an hour and a half out of town. Right? But that’s what he wanted to do, and then in a few years, making like $600,000, $700,000 a year. Okay? Because he got into what was him. Too many of us are trying to square peg, round hole. Too many of us got in our heads when we were nine that we should be a doctor or a dentist. We’re at 29 still fighting that out. Why? If that’s not the thing. Right? I tell people all the time, you’ve got to be careful, there’s two elements. The industry you work in, but then your personality set. Who you are. If you’re not an analytical type, don’t go into a cubicle because you think that’s a good job.
Kurt: The other thing is, there’s a tremendous under-appreciation for grit. I know this is a little bit of, sort of a catchy word the last decade, you know, grit.
Kurt: But I’m absolutely, I believe it’s the number one delineating factor of success in anything. Grit is simply your willingness to run through a brick wall, to get what you want to get. I mean, how crafty can you be, and I don’t care what it is. A family, a job, whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, right? Man, that’s actually who I want to hire. I don’t care about your GPA. I don’t care what school you went to. It’s irrelevant to me.
Kurt: I’ll tell you one story, had a guy come in to me years ago when I was at the other firm, and he cold-called us. Walks in, goes to the secretary and says, “I want an interview with Kurt Brown.” She says, “Do you have an appointment?” He’s like, no. I say, “All right, I’ll talk to him for 10 minutes, whatever.” He comes back, he’s got his resume. UPS truck driver, 27 years old, two kids, college drop-out, wants to work on Wall Street.
Charan: I love it.
Kurt: His name is Daniel. I say, “Daniel, I’m a little bit stunned.” He says, “I got my girlfriend pregnant, and I had to drop out of the finance department, but my passion has always been finance, and I want to take it into Wall Street.” Well, anybody that knows Wall Street knows you need the pedigree, right? You get the internships, you got to play the game and go to the right school or whatever. Here’s this UPS truck driver, college drop-out from West Valley, Utah. So I say to him, I say, “Tell me a stock you like. If you want to be a fund manager someday, tell me a stock you like.” He names a stock that I happen to own in my portfolio.
Charan: Are you kidding me?
Kurt: Yeah, there’s no way he could have known it either, right?
Charan: Yeah, yeah.
Kurt: I start grilling him, and then I call in another analyst, who knows this company like the back of her hand. She’s grilling him. This guy is challenging my analyst at the firm.
Charan: Are you kidding me? Oh, no way.
Kurt: And he knows his stuff and maybe knows it better than her. Okay, what’s that take? How self-motivated, how self-driven do you have to be? You can’t learn it in a book. Right? I’m going to tell you one other story while we’re rambling on this.
Charan: Dude, I love this, keep going.
Kurt: Okay. In fact, I never, ever skip this story, first day of class in every semester. Okay? It’s the most important interview that I had in my entire life, and it was the worst interview I had in my whole life. It lasted about four minutes. I networked my way into a guy, a big-time investment banker in New York, because we had this mutual friend or whatever. He agrees to see me for a few minutes. I’m like a junior at BYU, I thumb it out to New York. I have no other way to get out there, right? I’m hustling these meetings. I’m so nervous, it’s my first morning in New York. I’ve got my resume and my stupid suit. I go in here, I’m a punk kid.
Kurt: He says, “Sit down.” I sit down across the table. He grabs my resume from me, this is the whole interview. Then he looks at it, and he puts it down, he goes, “So what do you want to do?” I gave the dumbest single answer I’ve ever given in my career. I said, “I want to work on Wall Street.” He said, “Well, I figured that, but what do you actually want to do?” I made up some b.s. answer. I want to be a fund manager, or something. Something very nebulous, right? He was visibly disgusted with me.
Kurt: He turns around, and he opens this drawer out of his desk, and it’s just packed jammed with files. He says, “You see all this here? These are all resumes, Harvard, Wharton, Yale, Stanford.” He said, “What the hell is a ‘BYU?'” That was exactly the phrase. I was sitting there stunned, turning red. He says, “Listen, I’m going to tell you one story, and then this interview is going to be over.” This is the real time, the whole interview. And this is the story he tells me. He says, “About three years ago, a young man like you walks in here, looks like he’s 12 years old. Sits in that chair, I ask him the same question. What do you want to do? He says, ‘I want to be in debt syndication.'” He says, “Do you even know what debt syndication?” “No,” he says, thinking the guy is bluffing, he says, “What do you know about debt syndication?” This guy, this young man, proceeds to tell this older guy every single detail of the last three deals that Deutsche Bank, this firm, did in debt syndication.
Charan: Oh, my gosh.
Kurt: Including things he never should have known. This is 1990, no internet. It’s LexisNexis. Right? Guy is, no way how this young man knows this. He says, “You’re hired.” Come to find out, that guys is from a small farming community in Kansas and goes to a Kansas junior college.
Charan: No way.
Kurt: Yeah. So completely self-taught, creative, how do I get there. Self-built. So that when you sit in the chair and you have the opportunity, somebody sits across from you and says, “I have to have that guy or gal with me.” That’s the person that I need. It’s the character of that.
Charan: It’s the character, yeah.
Kurt: They’ll self-teach, they’ll run through the wall, they’ll whatever. That’s what, you go back and you talk to your younger self, and you say, “That’s what you need. That’s how you’ll kind of create your own success.”
Charan: But you know, gosh, man, we could talk about this for hours, because I keep thinking like, for me, I always equate it to fun. I always say, oh, it’s fun for me, it’s fun for me. It’s work, it’s definitely work, but I don’t equate it to work. I look at work as like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this, it’s exhausting.” Fun though for me is like just enjoying the process of whatever you’re learning so much that you’re not, oh, I’m so tired and exhausted. You’re energized by it, you’re pumped by it. I remember …
Kurt: Like you stay after work reading about it.
Kurt: Just for fun.
Charan: Just for fun, yep. That’s how I view tennis, like I love playing tennis, and I’m doing the same thing right now. I remember there was an audition I had in L.A., where I went in, and I remember reading up on the character and all this stuff. It was for a new show that hadn’t come out yet. It was like brand new or whatever. I went and auditioned, and I remember the casting director said, “Okay, so this character, we want him to be really shy. Like really insecure. He’s on stage giving this speech, and he’s just very insecure about it.” Truth be told, I didn’t see him that way. But I’m like, okay, yeah, I’ll give it a shot. I switched up the way I did it. She thought it was really funny. She’s like, “Great, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for coming in.”
Charan: I left, and typically with all auditions, I do it and I forget about it and I move on. Right? Well, sure enough, my manager calls me and I came to Utah to do work on another project. I was living in L.A. at the time. My manager calls me and says, “Hey, they want to see you for that HBO show again. They want to, they have you in for a callback.” I’m like, “You’re kidding? Are you serious? That’s crazy.” I go back in, and I’m in a conference room, kind of like this one, I’m in a conference room. There’s like six or seven high-level execs in there. They’re all like from the studio. I didn’t really now any of them, thankfully, or else I would have gotten intimidated.
Charan: They’re like, “Hey, we loved what you did. We loved your read. Let’s just see it again.” I’m like, okay, cool. I do it again, insecure, kind of shy, whatever. You could hear them snickering. It’s like, oh, my gosh, this is funny, this is great. The director of it, his name is Mike, he says, okay. He’s like, “Good job. It’s really good stuff. All right, let me give you a couple of tips. Let me give you some advice for what’s going on in the scene, and then let’s have you do it again.”
Charan: He gave me some advice on certain beats to see if I could hit them. But what was interesting was, as he was doing it, I kept thinking, man, I don’t see this character this way. I don’t see this character this way at all. So I finally said, and it’s like this room of Hollywood execs, and I told them all, “Hey, guys, is it cool if I try something totally different?” They’re like, “Wait, what? You have something else?” I’m like, “Yeah, I just don’t see this character this way. I want to try something else.” He’s like, “Yeah, let’s see what you got.” So I did it totally different. Right? Like the way I thought.
Charan: They were dying in there, they were roaring with laughter. They’re like, “Oh, my gosh, that was so great.” Well, I got the part, and they rewrote it to be more like the way I did it, just because I was, yeah, I see the character this way. I went for it.
Kurt: And you brought it to life for them.
Charan: And I brought it to life for them. Right. It was different than the vision they had, but they were like, wow, that’s great. I think when it comes back to great, coming back to like the UPS guy. Or USPS, UPS guy?
Charan: Same thing, right? He studied so hard that even your analyst was like [crosstalk 00:53:41].
Kurt: Yeah, totally self-taught, on his own. I think the only other thing is I wish, and I don’t even know that it’s possible, but for all younger people, I wish they could be more comfortable in their own skin. I wish I could have been. I wish I could have not worried so much about what people thought, and then a little bit more true to just myself. I’m not sure that’s possible. I think that part of being young, but man, you get older, and you cannot emphasize that enough, how much you burn up in anxiety and stress when you’re younger.
Charan: For sure. I know it sounds like so cliché, but just being authentic, being you.
Charan: I look back in my own life and I’m like, oh, my gosh, so much of my life was wasted worrying about what other people thought, when if I was just authentic with who I was, so many other things would have just come quicker
Kurt: I just recently had a friend of mine, he’s been a friend of mine for 20, gosh, almost 30 years, 28 years I met him, when I was, what, 20 years old. He recently told me, he thought I was a total prick when he met me. We have been friends this whole time.
Charan: Are you kidding me?
Kurt: No, it was really funny. He’s dead serious. He’s like, “I really liked you, but I was like, why are you trying so hard?”
Kurt: I look back at that point in my life, and I don’t think I was trying that hard, but I think what ends up happening is your own anxieties and fears and what you’re trying to do gets in the way of authentic. I love authentic. It’s very hard as a young person to do that, but man, that’s what I wish the most for young people.
Charan: Yeah. It’s funny. In L.A., I hung out with a couple of celebrities, right? And I’ve become friends with some of them. The truth is, the reason why we’re friends is because I was just authentic. I wasn’t trying to do anything or whatever. I’m like, “Hey, nice meeting you, man.” They find that authenticity surprisingly refreshing.
Kurt: Oh, yeah.
Charan: I think you find that in all industries, right? Especially if you’re looking up a mentor, like, oh, my gosh, that industry, I want to get to know that person, whatever industry that is.
Kurt: Sometimes when I interview people, I ask them questions I know they don’t know.
Kurt: Because I cannot wait to see how they … And the guy that’s going to fumble around and try to come up with some eloquent b.s. answer, he’s out. I love the guy or gal that says, “I have no clue what you’re even talking about.” You know what I’m saying? But here’s what, “I’ll go find out.” You know what I’m saying? There’s that grit element, right?
Charan: Yeah, I’ll figure it out. Yeah, never be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
Charan: Right? Because the thing is, if you’re authentic, and you’re not trying to please the person across from you, but just being authentic and truthful …
Kurt: Then you know you can trust them.
Charan: You can trust them.
Kurt: Right? Like hey, man, he told me straight up, he has no clue what I’m talking about.
Charan: Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, Kurt, honestly, thanks. I mean, look at this guy. He’s just a handsome man. Thanks so much for hanging out.
Kurt: Yeah, this is fun. We don’t ever get to hang like this, so this is great.
Charan: I know. This is awesome.
Kurt: Maybe we’ll just have to do this more often, just so we can hang out and chat and tell stories.
Charan: Every week, I’ll do it. No, I appreciate you taking the time, especially because you’re really inspiring to the young, you’re inspiring to me. I think about your own journey and you’re probably about 10 years, you’re 49 or so?
Kurt: Yeah, I’ll be 49 next month.
Charan: Next month. Okay, so you’re about 10 years old than me. I just feel like, hey, this is definitely someone I can look up to. I really appreciate you taking the time, and hopefully, you youngsters that are listening to this conversation.
Kurt: You kids out there.
Charan: The kids out there, if you will. First, research “Family Ties.” It was a fantastic show by Michael J. Fox.
Kurt: It was on Amazon Prime, I’m not sure if it still is, but great show.
Charan: Oh, man, that, and “Back to the Future,” all three are on Netflix right now. So check those out. But honestly, I hope you get something out of this. This has been tremendously helpful for me, so I really appreciate you taking the time. Thanks, man.
Kurt: You bet.
Charan: Any last words, before you go?
Kurt: No, any time. Nope, good luck with the new series, and this is awesome, I’m excited.
Charan: Kay, awesome, thanks again.
Charan: Kay. Ciao.
Charan: Thanks so much for listening to Lemonade Stand podcast, and we hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you use to be alerted when we release new episodes. We’d also love to hear your feedback and reviews, and if you or someone you know has an awesome Lemonade Stand story, please reach out to us on social media and let us know. Thanks so much and have a great day.