Actionable insights straight to your inbox

Exclusive Interview: Gene Simmons on Why He is the Jesus of Messaging

Rock and Roll Legend, multi-billion-dollar merchandising genius of KISS, Reality TV Superstar, New York Times best-selling author, strategic marketing phenom, global icon, self-made rags-to-riches

Rock and Roll Legend, multi-billion-dollar merchandising genius of KISS, Reality TV Superstar, New York Times best-selling author, strategic marketing phenom, global icon, self-made rags-to-riches entrepreneur—call him whatever you want, but it’s undeniable that Gene Simmons is success personified.

After more than four decades, the KISS brand is as ubiquitous as ever. The band still tours to sold-out venues across the world, and continues to license its brand to an ever-expanding list of new ventures and markets. Simmons has adeptly created an aura that builds upon itself, and he’s been right in the center of the frenzy. In his latest book, Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business, Simmons shares a lifetime of field-tested and hard-won business advice with readers.

Simmons will be taking those lessons to Wall Street soon as a headliner for the Inaugural Small-Cap Stars Conference at the world-famous NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square, New York on December 18, 2014.

No stranger to controversy and an unabashed self-promoter, Simmons has never been one to pull his punches. Yet, whether you agree with him or not, he knows how to get people talking. More importantly, he knows how to leave a lasting impression. had the opportunity to interview Simmons to get his perspective on what it takes to successfully build a multi-billion dollar business and create an identity that matters. The conversation is thought-provoking, motivating, and forces you to ask yourself the hard questions. It’s definitely an enlightening read.

EQ: You formed KISS in 1973, turning it into one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Now 40 years later, you’re arguably bigger than ever with the KISS Arena Football team, the KISS KRUISE, new TV shows, merchandise sales, and your latest book Me, Inc. What would you say has driven you the most over the years and will drive you going forward as you keep expanding your empire and brand into new areas?

Simmons: My mother is my biggest inspiration; continues to be and always has been, because from her perspective, life in America is like nothing anyone could ever dream of. From my mother’s perspective, being 14 years old in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and seeing her whole family, our family, wiped out, and then emigrating to Israel—where I was born—and coming to America and realizing that even a first-generation immigrant—legal immigrant, because there is a difference—like myself who has been given all the opportunities that any native-born child of America has, is more than anything I could ever hope for.

So my biggest inspiration is my mother. Through her eyes, I understand the gift that I’ve been given, which is America.

The rest is just plain-old hard work. That’s the easy part. If you have the same ambition, work ethic and drive, but happen to have been born in the continent of Africa or North Korea or Iran or the Middle East, may I be blunt—you’d be f–ked.

EQ: Your latest book Me, Inc. provides readers with a very candid look at your perspectives on what it takes to succeed. You offer first-hand experience from your early days, and some very blunt advice. What inspired you to write the book in the first place? What do you hope readers take away from it?

Simmons: Let me turn it back to you. Somehow you’re making your rent payments every month by working for, or whatever else you’re working on. But there isn’t a class in high school that teaches what you do. There isn’t a class in high school that teaches you what capitalism is, what commodity futures are, what the Dow is, what taxes are, they don’t teach you any of this.

When you’re 18, you’re thrown off the edge of the cliff, and you’re supposed to be able to fly somehow and figure things out. As a former sixth grade teacher in Spanish Harlem, I will tell you that the education system teaches the wrong thing. They will drive home the point that Columbus discovered America in 1492, which is also not true. Indians have been here 50,000 years. Columbus discovered nothing.

That doesn’t prepare you in the least for how to earn a living. It seems to me that half the school day should be in teaching young potential mothers, especially, on things like what motherhood means, how to take care of babies because you’re biologically designed that way. It’d also teach the male of the species to be compassionate and sensitive, because we don’t learn any of that. Most importantly, they should teach how to earn a goddamned living.

They teach you nothing like that. So my intention with the book is to, in plain English, put down certain precepts and detail the maze that I had to travel through to climb the ladder of success. I’m fully confident I would have succeeded in anything I tried.

EQ: You’re unabashed about being driven by money, fame and success. What would you say to the people who see the world in a different way, that say, “Money can’t buy you happiness”?

Simmons: Those people are idiots, and I can prove it to you. You see, everybody in the world is just like me. Let’s say God magically appears to everybody in the world—the rich and the poor alike. God can do that because he’s God. He says privately to every human being, “Listen, whatever amount of money you have in your back pocket, I can magically make more or less money appear.”

What do you think all sane human beings of any age will say? Will they pick more or less?

EQ: More.

Simmons: Well, how ‘bout that?! You see? Warren Buffett will say he wants more. The poorest person in Africa will say they want more. Everybody wants more. More is a good word. Now what you do with it is another issue. Even if you’re a scrooge, even if you’re just a capitalist pig, by the very nature that you’re rich—you’re creating jobs. When you build your mansions, or your yachts, and all that stuff, you’re giving people jobs.

The opposite of that is true as well. Look at people like Buffett and Bill Gates, who are giving money away. The more money you make, the more money you can give to philanthropy. So, more is a good word. Money is not the root of all evil. Lack of money is the root of all evil.

If I have $100 million in after-tax money, why would I want to hold up a 7-Eleven for $14.95?

EQ: Your kids, Sophie and Nick are right in the millennial generation. Right now, they’re at the same age you were when you start KISS. The world seems to be a lot different than how it was back then. What advice do you have for young people at this age trying to make their fortune and build their brand? What are some challenges that they have to deal with that you didn’t?

Simmons: Listen, they don’t have to. They can just sit back and let the age of entitlement take care of them. I’m talking about the government. They’re the biggest employer of everybody and you have social security and all kinds of benefits like national health care. Terrific!

Imagine if the entire population did that, and nothing was produced. You’re just looking for the next paycheck from somebody for doing nothing. That’s OK. Somebody’s got to wrap fish. But I’m here to tell you that if God only gave you 24 hours of life a day, what would you do? Would you sit on your thumb and wait to die? Or would you try to get up and do something? If not for yourself, then maybe make somebody’s life a little better. How about buying your mother the hip operation she needs? How about leaving something for the next generation? How about just living?

I mean, if you’re just going to magically make me a gerbil and trap me in a cage for the rest of my life, please God, at least give me a wheel so that I can run around and be alive.

EQ: You’ve estimated that the KISS brand is worth something in the range of $1 billion to $5 billion, which could easily list on the NASDAQ if it were a company.

Simmons: I wasn’t making an estimate. I’ve been told that. I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I can drive my truck very well, but I can’t tell you how the engine works. Not a clue.

I don’t want to sit around in a boardroom, which is why I don’t want to go public and have some dentist in Ohio tell me what he feels I should be doing in life. I trust my gut, even though I’m completely unqualified to make any decision whatsoever, but my gut has made me a good living.

EQ: Fair enough. But that’s a business you started from scratch and built yourself over the years. What kind of advice and insight can you offer the CEOs of the companies presenting at the Inaugural Small-Cap Stars Conference that are trying to essentially accomplish what you’ve accomplished, building a multi-billion dollar business empire?

Simmons: My personal thing is stay away from debt and don’t take non-partners. Banks charge you interest but they’re not your partners. I like venture capital, but I don’t want somebody to become my partner if the only thing they’re giving me is money, because every day I’ve got to get up and work.

But in America, you can’t even fail, no matter how much debt you’ve got. You can go Chapter 7, Chapter 11, which is why there’s no excuse for just swinging that bat. Having said that, I’m a very conservative player. I like singles. I want to get a single every single time, instead of swinging for the fences all the time and getting a home run only every once in a while. The reason is because the people who swing for the home run will more often than not miss completely, and I don’t like missing.

EQ: In terms of managing and creating a recognizable brand, a corporate image, for these CEOs, what is some marketing advice that you can share with as they try and build their name?

Simmons: Your brand should be an extension of your personality. If you’re not intrinsically sexy and exciting and interesting, if it’s not in your DNA, then fake it. With the advent of youth culture from the late ‘50s onward, with the birth of rock and roll, all of a sudden corporate America started listening to youth. Because of that, and because of the rock and roll culture, you have cool names and cool brands like Google, and Yahoo. I mean, it just sounds cool.

Released in 1975, "Rock and Roll All Nite" by Kiss is still one of the most recognized songs around the world today.

It doesn’t sound like your father’s and grandfather’s corporate entity: I…B…M… international business corporate blah blah blah. They’re having fun with their brands and all that stuff.

So all the new brands have this, “Let’s have fun and let’s be memorable and let’s be sexy” feel to it. I mean, technology is f–king boring, and nobody can wrap their heads around what a cloud is and how anything works. So you may as well create some kind of superhero brand names. Things that are memorable, things that mean something to people, and things that are cool.

EQ: You’ll be speaking to an exclusive audience of corporate executives, Wall Street investors, and more at the upcoming Small-Cap Conference. What are you most excited about for the event?

Simmons: They should be very excited to meet me. The reason for that is because I don’t walk or talk like they do.

But taking a step back, when you take a look at the great movers and shakers of American industry, they have been miserable failures [at one point or another]. From Henry Ford to Bill Gates to Richard Branson to everybody else. They’ve failed over and over again, and one of the chapters of my book has a Michael Jordan quote about how many times he’s failed and that’s what made him into a success.

Don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll fail over and over again, but in America, you can fail. If you take a look at the great strides and inventions in human history, it was two brothers out of Kitty Hawk that invented flight. It wasn’t the government or big corporate entities. It was Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone. Not some big corporate entities. It was individuals.

Now you don’t have to actually be the technological wizard. Steve Jobs did not invent the Apple computer. Steve Wozniak did. Wozniak could tell you the sub-atomic structures of whatever the hell it is he’s talking about, but it was Jobs who understood what to do with it. It’s not what you make, it’s if you know what to do with it, which is why Wall Street is so important.

You’ve got the brainiacs who create something but have no idea how to implement and monetize, and other big words. That’s why Wall Street is really good! They raise capital and go around and talk about it. Things in and of themselves are not exciting. It’s how you describe them.

Ultimately, it’s the vacuum cleaner salesman that sells the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner itself will not sell itself. It is the voice and the messaging that will ultimately make something sell or not. So they should be excited to meet me, because I have no idea what they’re talking about, but they desperately need me because I can verbalize and communicate.

I am the Jesus of messaging.