Ashley Villa is the founder and CEO of Rare Global, a premier boutique talent management firm for the next generation of media stars. She started off her career working for companies like Stylehaul and Lionsgate, and even went to law school with the plan to become a lawyer! With the ever-changing space of digital, Ashley discovered a great business opportunity by filling the legal & financial void that digital influencers didn't have with basic talent managers. Read on to learn about her entrepreneurial journey and how she's leading the next generation of YouTube stars to rise and rule every day.
What made you take the leap to start your entrepreneurial journey by creating a female-owned, female-run agency?
As time goes by, I like to think that some things are simply meant to be. At the start of my career, I never would have thought that I would start my own business, or that I was entrepreneurial. I worked at Lionsgate out of law school—a pretty traditional route. This experience came in handy when the opportunity presented itself to help my first client, Jenn Im, figure out how to turn YouTube into a career. There weren't many lawyers who knew how to navigate contracts in the digital space; best practices were still being formed. It was the Wild Wild West. Luckily, I was in the right place, at the right time, with enough knowledge and experience to recognize a new path forward. And then, working with women developed organically.
What have you learned from your previous experience that has translated over to your entrepreneurial journey?
It prepared me for the long hours that come with starting your own business. Of course, I came armed with niche knowledge about deal structures and contracts in entertainment, which could be applied to digital media. But without the endurance, the stamina, the work ethic — it wouldn't have mattered. Work structure, discipline, organization and forward planning are important pieces of the puzzle.
How has social media and the influencer marketing space evolved since you first started, and how do you adapt to the changes in your business?
Before I worked in the space, it was the time of the Top Bloggers; before Instagram, there were websites which offered a glimpse of cool outfits and glamorous but elusive bloggers who went to high fashion shows. The cult of influencer-celebrity was still pretty small. Then came YouTube and Instagram, and all of a sudden, YouTubers were the new wave of celebrity. There are a lot more YouTubers now, with a lot more market share. Seeing the YouTube space explode has been astonishing, if not surprising. But now, things are changing. Content creators can't just pump out content and expect to do well—they must put out high level/quality content. Influencers are also now learning that authenticity is crucial to their brand; and that only with a strong brand can they grow and create other outlets for expression and consumer products. Social media and digital media are still the Wild West of media.
How do you think brands need to rise up to help make the digital space even more inclusive?
I think that first, brands should be discerning about who they approach to work with them, especially in high-level collaborations. Authenticity is as essential for the brand as it is for the influencer these days... and as they say, 'The Internet always wins.' The audience is smart and whip-fast; they can sniff out cheesy or insincere marketing, or forced campaigns. There will be backlash. That said, brands have the chance to work with faces and voices that are mixed-ethnicity, multi-background, and intersectional. Who they choose can be a great way to make a statement about our level of compassion and acceptance in the world of beauty and beyond.
What's one of the most critical things you've seen influencers & content creators overlook the most when creating partnership deals with brands?
I've seen some generic collaborations where the talent doesn't put a real stamp on the collaboration; I've seen competing brands choose all the same talent to work with, back to back. This speaks to that issue of authenticity. Is it just about spending marketing dollars? I think it's a missed opportunity not to use the voices that you're aligning with.
What would you consider essential for up and coming influencers to be able to approach a brand and lock in a brand deal or collaboration with them?
I think a demonstration of consistent, quality content, and a clear, unique voice is important. An influencer should be a brand, however small; they should be able to capture the attention and loyalties of their own niche market. They should have high engagement with their following. And they should be able to sell or move product.
You're helping the next generation of female entrepreneurs grow their businesses thanks to The Be Rare Foundation. What inspired this grant, and what do you envision for the grant winner 2-3 years from now?
The Be Rare Foundation started with the idea that we could create tangible opportunities for women—a fund. Then came A Rare Day, our first women's day summit and networking event to benefit the foundation. That event brought together so many aspiring and inspired women in digital media, beauty, and fashion for our fund; it showed the power of conversation and community towards bettering each other and pushing females forward in our careers. I hope that our grant winner will have used our funds to seed the first phase of growth in her business, it will be its own entity in 2-3 years with female-leaning goals!
What advice do you have for anyone looking to apply for The Be Rare Foundation grant and make the dive as an entrepreneur?
If you can dream it, why not try to do it? You won't know what's possible until you try, and only you can do this for yourself. Our fund is just the beginning. We're still accepting entries, so if any PLANOLY readers are interested, please visit www.theberarefoundation.com for more info.