It’s easy to label Tom Delonge as just the guy from Blink-182 and leave it at that. The punk rock band, founded in 1992, sold more than 13 million albums and had seven singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
But Delonge has grander ambitions than just rock and roll fame. Not only did the California native form another group (Angels and Airwaves) but also founded and co-founded a few businesses, including clothing brands Atticus and Macbeth Footwear (which was purchased by Saban). On top of music and these business ventures, Delonge also co-wrote a few books, including Sekret Machines Book 1: Chasing Shadows, which reveals secrets about the UFO phenomenon.
It was Sekret Machines that spurned Delonge’s latest and arguably biggest project to date: To The Stars Academy, a science fiction media company aimed at millennials that will produce and market books, movies and music with a goal of getting the audience to dream big about the universe and the future.
But the company also aims to build this future, with an R&D division focused on building spacecrafts and laser systems, along with studying fringe science topics such as telepathy and brain-computer interfaces. Delonge says the company will compete with the likes of Boeing and SpaceX for government contracts.
He’s raised $2 million and his partners include veterans of the CIA, NASA, Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin, the $78.3 billion aerospace and defense company. The New York Times on Saturday published a story that revealed a $22 million Pentagon program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program to study unidentified flying objects. The person who ran that program, Luis Elizondo, has also joined To The Stars.
We spoke to Delonge about this undertaking and what it means to be an entrepreneur.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was the inspiration behind the expansion of To The Stars?
An entertainment company of the future is going to be an entertainment company that does a little bit of everything. The artist that just wrote an album is now going to be a guy that writes a book and makes a movie, because he did it all with his laptop. It’s that kind of a world that’s coming. So To The Stars was the beginning of that world. It was how to create a vertically integrated transmedia company where we are the publisher, the production company, we are creating our own stories, our own music, our own merchandise.
The story I wanted to do was called Sekret Machines, and it was about the UFO phenomenon. When I came out with that book I got approached by high-ranking officials in the intelligence community that wanted to know how I got access to this information and what my plans were. Through those conversations, this group of people who understood what I was trying to achieve said, “Well why don’t we try to achieve it all together?” Let’s take all these people and through art, science and aerospace innovate, educate, entertain and communicate.
There’s a reason why Disney is a couple of hundred billion dollars and Warner Brothers has $5 billion, because they are vertically integrated. They are the publisher. They are the merchandiser, they are the film studio. They do it all. That’s how we were set up, except we’re kind of a science-fiction Disney for millennials. And the aerospace division is like the skunkworks. All they do is innovate with extreme precision the most advanced air and space craft on the planet.
It sounds like the entertainment stuff is planting seeds so the collective of humanity doesn’t freak out when things are revealed.
It’s a bit of that. There is an inoculation that is kind of macro brushstroke on [the UFO phenomenon]. I think people need to be brought into it slowly; I don’t think it’s something that people can all digest. I mean the larger pieces of data associated with this subject specifically are literally wild, so wild that people would laugh out loud.
All these guys sound like they had amazing gigs before coming on To The Stars. Was it the opportunity to work with these other creative minds that got them onboard?
Our company isn’t this UFO thing, but when you when you take into account that subject these guys have all been read into some degree on this stuff. They all hold security clearances. They’re all current from different institutions.[With this team in place,] it starts to paint a picture of, holy shit, our world is changing and this company can be one of the biggest companies of all time, if this giant group of people are successful within one of these divisions — but we’re going to be successful with all of them.
How do you convince people that putting their money with you is going to give them good value?
I think you’ve got to look at the people that are leading the company. They don’t just see Tom Delonge as a musician. When you take into account the other guys on the team, no one thinks I’m [the one] building a spaceship.
We’re going to have major partnerships with the U.S. government. Innovation at this level has to come with the government’s involvement, no different than Tesla Motors when they needed $400 million to help finance their factory.
What’s your method for jumping into projects?
I usually find a shortcut, or a way in. If I’m starting completely from scratch, it usually doesn’t interest me as much.
But what I learned along the way is I didn’t know what I was doing. So there are things we probably failed at a few times before we got right. But I’m very much like a trial-and-error kind of guy. I don’t make the same errors twice usually.
Also, I like to move fast. I like to jump in at first and assume I’m going to get a few things wrong, but I’m doing so much I feel like I’ll get a lot more things right.
How do you approach failures and what’s your attitude toward them?
I think failure is madly important, because if you don’t have a failure where you learn something, you’re not going to be building up skillsets that apply to doing business.
An entrepreneur is built upon accepting failures as part of your journey and usually entrepreneurs are around my age (42) when they start to get things right.
I’m sure you probably got a lot of cynics within the defense and science community who were like, this rock star is putting together scientific research. How did you overcome those objections?
That’s actually the opposite. They were with me 100 percent right away, because they knew what I knew.
Being in a popular rock band didn’t matter to these guys. What mattered to them was the respect I had for the issue, the collaborative spirit I have in my DNA, the humility that I brought and my ability to put together an institution that can handle all these different things.
They look at me as an entrepreneur and a means to an end. It’s like, OK, we can do this together Tom, you know how to do this shit.
Sounds like you have the mindset for entrepreneurship and music was almost like a stepping stone.
For sure. I love music, and I’ll always do it, but I like a lot of other things as well. I like being independent, in control of my own world and having options to create art at any time, whether it’s a film or it’s an album or it’s a really cool product. I like that freedom.
What advice do you have for anyone taking on a large project?
You’ve got to believe in yourself, and if you believe in yourself, you have to accept that any grand idea, whether you’re starting a band to take over the world or you’re starting a company to change it, it’s a war of attrition, because no matter what you do as you gain notoriety for it, the easiest thing is for people to poke fun and make jokes.
You have people coming at you and telling you all the reasons why it can’t work, but if you can stay the course and if you can be there as the last man standing, everyone will turn around and say, “We’re sorry we doubted you.” That’s the spirit of an entrepreneur. These types of people get much further, but there’s a risk: you’ve got to put yourself out there.