Ashton Kutcher travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday night to inspire creators and help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
While the star of Netflix's The Ranch is best known for his acting career, he shied away from his entertainment life and appeared during the WeWork Creator Awards, an event highlighted by awarding funding to non-profits, businesses and performing artists for their ventures.
Kutcher was at the event, held at Music City venue Marathon Music Works, to judge the businesses competing in the "Business Venture" category. However, he did far more than simply vet applicants.
The 40-year-old actor-turned-entrepreneur kicked off the evening's festivities with a speech about how his background gave him the tools necessary to succeed in business.
"I come from a very conservative family. I come from a family in the Midwest. I come from the Heartland. I come from a town where you drive a pickup truck," Kutcher told the audience. "But I most definitely come from a family that taught me about humility. I come from a family that taught me that being humble is a virtue. ... And there was a moment where I realized humble's a value but there's a way to be humble and confident, and it's when I changed the tide for my life."
Kutcher then took the crowd, which well-met the venue's 1,500-person capacity, back to moments early in his career when he was playing "a dumb guy on TV," referring to his beloved role as Michael Kelso on Fox's That '70s Show. At an event in Manhattan, he met WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann and realized that he and his new friend had three qualities that all entrepreneurs need to succeed.
The first of those was ambition, which Kutcher says trumps curiosity as an essential part of getting work done.
"A lot of people talking about curiosity being like the super power of humanity, like curious people change the world. Nah, curiousity comes from ambition," Kutcher said. "Ambitious people are curious people. And the guy that I saw across from me was an ambitious human. ... There's so much that needs to be done and so few people that are willing to actually do the work."
That drive to achieve change was also helped by the hard work he and Neumann, a former member of the Israeli military, had done their whole lives before that point. Kutcher reflected on his "s—y jobs" as a hay baler, deli worker and a butcher, some of which began when he was 13 years old.
"The truth of the matter is the only people that understand work are the people that understand that the work only starts when you start to feel a little bit of pain," Kutcher said. "Everybody else gives up when they feel a little bit of pain."
He also emphasized that along with ambition and hard work, one must always "love thy neighbor as thyself" to keep one's priorities straight.
"Ambition is the road for an entrepreneur ... The work is the fuel that gets us there, but the thing that keeps us heading in the right direction is love," Kutcher said.
Kutcher later appeared in the judging round alongside president of Combs Enterprise Dia Simms and Florida Georgia Line members Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley. While the panel had their celebrity behind them, they did not pull punches on the finalists. Kutcher, in particular, did not shy away from grilling competitors.
"I researched. I’m not just up here hanging out," said Kutcher, who currently holds investments in more than 60 companies. "I'm looking for a spark that shows me the founder has grit because building a business is hard and you're gonna come across obstacles. And the people who have grit actually make it through."
He continued, "I'm looking for a company that actually has defensibility where, as they grow, they can continue to grow and not get taken out by another big company. I'm looking for a company that ultimately has the capacity to impact and change lives."
After Kutcher and company deliberated, the night's biggest prize, worth $360,000, went to Queen of Raw, a hub for selling overstock fabrics and preventing them from being turned into waste. Other award winners included musician Melanie Faye, hummus company Prommus and non-profit Found in Translation.0comments
The next edition of the WeWork Creator Awards will be held in London on Oct. 25.
Photo Credit: Getty Images for the WeWork Creator Awards / Terry Wyatt