Reading Stuart Knight's elevator pitch is enough to get you inspired. On top of writing and producing for almost every medium imaginable, the 38-year-old entrepreneur is also the man behind the Top Ten event, a must-attend for young professionals this year that raises money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation...
Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
I write and produce speeches, musicals, film, television, radio, books and songs with the intention of pushing people to think bigger, go further and to attract a life that goes beyond the cookie cutter version that was handed to them.
Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
I read a book at the age of nineteen where the author told me that I was awesome and could do anything I wanted with my life. I was like, “Whoa, no one has ever told me that before!” Up until that point, I had grown up in a small town with two brothers and two immigrant parents who came to Canada to make a better life for their family. To us “better life” meant getting a university degree, a stable job, a mortgage and 2.5 children. I always felt like there was something more, but had no clue how to find it so I resolved myself to the life everyone else was living. Reading that book slapped me across the face and made me realize that life comes in many packages. I didn’t think it was fair for others in the same situation as me to not hear that message so I dedicated the rest of my life to sharing it.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
Everyone walks down the street with ideas floating around in their head. They see a storefront that would look more attractive if it had a splash of colour, a song that would sound better if it added horns during the chorus or shoes that would be more comfortable if the heel was a little lower. The best part about my job is being able to set these ideas free and watch them land in a tangible space. I suspect this is true for most entrepreneurs however I get to go one step further. Since my ideas involve pushing people toward the greatest version of themselves, not only do I get to see them come to fruition, but when they do come to life they are followed up with an email from a stranger saying, “I took a risk because of something you wrote or said on stage.” That’s pretty fun.
The most challenging part is dealing with a world that’s cynical beyond belief. I don’t know where it happened, but somewhere along the line someone said it’s “uncool” to be enthusiastic about life. It starts in high school. Kids in high school who are excited about life are made fun of. If they sing in the choir, try out for the school play or get involved in the chess club, they’re screwed! Who do you people think you are singing, dancing, laughing and using your brains? Don’t you know the true joy in life is spent in the smoking pit talking about how much we hate our parents and our teachers? Unfortunately, this mentality creeps into our adulthood and when guys like me get on stage and say, “Hey, life is not a play you act in, but one you get to write!” people either run for the hills or make jokes at your expense It’s all good though, because for every ten people who run back to the smoking pit, there’s one that joins the choir and it’s amazing to see them sing with such a big smile on their face.
Where do you see your business going in 5 years?
I was writing a piece today called, “Fifteen years to open a door” and it ties in nicely with this question. I see very big things happening for me and my business in the next five years because I’ve been pulling at a door for fifteen years and in the past two or three it’s become easier to move. Now that it’s opened a few extra inches, I can see the light shining in from behind and I believe that my style of motivation is going to catch on and be noticed by the world as something necessary and timely. People are taking notice and that feels good. Producing the Top Ten Event (www.toptenevent.com) last year made a big difference. I’ve taken lots of risks, but this was the biggest ever. I’m taking it to a whole new level for year two this May and I’m confident that everyone who chooses to be in the audience that night will witness a fellow Canadian who is about to take something very big to the rest of the world.
What does success look like to you?
I’ve been in Lamborghinis, partied in multi-million dollar mansions and flown around the world. I’ve had more standing ovations than I can count, signed more autographs than I can remember and have driven out of parking lots after a show with a bunch of twelve year old girls chasing my car. None of that comes close to the success of pouring your love into another human being. Whether it be an intimate partner, family member or disadvantaged youth, making a person feel loved is the most successful thing a person can achieve in this lifetime.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
I was sitting in a downtown city park. It was a beautiful day. I had just purchased a coffee and in my hand I had one of Toronto’s most popular publications. I knew that an article had been written about me and one of my shows and I was ready to receive the accolades. Considering the review was from a show that received a standing ovation and was hailed as a huge success by the audience, I knew that I would soon be reading glowing words about my performance and outstanding writing ability. Hell no! Instead I read line after scathing line where the critic told the readers how watching paint dry would be a better use of ones time than attending my show. He literally picked me and the show to pieces and made it sound like it was the most amateur performance he had ever seen. After reading the article, I sat there sipping my coffee wondering how many thousands of people would read that article that day. While considering the different caves around the world that I could move to and how much sand I would need to bury my head forever, I began to laugh. In a split second one of the most powerful moments of my life occurred. I realized that I was in the game. More specifically, I realized that every person I looked up to and admired had the exact story that I was experiencing in that moment. Every one of my idols had mean, untruthful and inaccurate articles written at their expense. I was just like my idols! I was one step closer to making it. Ever since then, I remember that milestone when facing the same type of challenge that my heroes have faced. It reminds me that I’m on the right track.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Risk is only relative to the importance you put on the things you worry about losing. If you place a great deal of importance on money and allow yourself to believe that without money you can’t be happy, then you won’t risk losing it. If you place a great deal of importance on being in a relationship and don’t feel completed unless you have someone in your bed every night, you won’t take the kinds of risks in life that might lead you to losing that person. If you place a great deal of importance on your image and don’t truly trust that your true friends will stick around no matter how stupid you look then you won’t risk losing people in your life. It’s about putting things into perspective and creating a new story around it. If you are a Canadian citizen it’s almost impossible to fail. As long as you wake up each morning with the intention of being a good person, working hard and being honest, you’ll always make money, fall in love and have friends. If you lose it, you can always get it back again. And those are just examples. The true advice that I’m offering is to really understand what something is and who you are in relationship to that thing. If you put a significant amount of pressure and importance on the thing you are afraid of losing then you have everything to lose and you won’t take a risk. But, if you keep things in perspective and see things for what they really are, you will take huge risks because you will see that you can’t lose.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I support my brother’s charity called Kirabo mainly because I know the money goes directly to important projects in Uganda and doesn’t get lost in red tape.
I try to support as many causes as possible. People who dedicate their lives to making a positive difference inspire me beyond words.
What is Notable to you?
Walking your talk.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
I’m an iPhone guy mainly because I use Apple for everything in my line of work. But don’t talk to me about the texting. If my life is ever on the line and me texting a coherent message on my iPhone is the difference between life and death, I’ll just type the words…“It was nice knowing all of you!” Of course half the words will be misspelled and no one will even know I’m dead! Ha!
How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
Every morning at 10am my alarm on my computer goes off telling me to do push ups. I roll my eyes and drop down for thirty. I do that three times in a row. Aiming for three times fifty push ups. Not there yet. Monday nights are for soccer. Two random days a week for jogging the Don Valley Trail. In between all of this? As much powerful conversation as I can find. Nothing will keep you young and energetic like a good story pulled from an unlikely suspect.