Famed musician, inventor and philanthropist will.i.am kicked off our first-ever Entrepreneur360 ™ conference this morning in New York City with a keynote addressing his emergence from the projects to becoming a visionary in modern-day tech.
Will, né William Adams, told Entrepreneur's editor-in-chief, Amy Cosper that making hits in music and business are roughly analogous propositions. "We live in a noisy planet," he said. "How can you be louder than that noise?"
Of his notable foray into wearables with the Puls smartwatch -- which is fully functional without an accompanying phone -- will.i.am called the category ripe with possibility. "Five years from now, wearables is a 'duh' conversation," he said. "Right now, you're thinking of a watch or a bracelet but how hard is it for this to be a leather jacket? It's not that hard. As a matter of fact, you'll probably get more battery life." He has launched other futuristic tech products, including the i.am+ foto.sosho camera accessory and an eco-friendly 3-D printer called the Ekocycle Cube.
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Still, being in the tech business isn't cheap -- even for someone of his celebrity status. "You know a lot of us are lying in the videos, right?" he laughed. "We ain't really that ballin'. Three months burn rate building hardware and software will burn a hole in any ballers' pockets. Real talk."
Despite his obsession with futuristic gadgets, Will is also well aware of a modern epidemic he calls "dumb-thumbing," or when people perpetually hit refresh on their phones to parse through mindless content. To disrupt this behavior, he said, it first needs to be defined. "You have to point out the addiction," he explained. "Like, 'Yo, man. I went to the club the other night and everybody was just thumbing in the VIP section. That shit was whack.'"Related: 3-D Printed Violins and Guitars Push the Boundaries of Art and Tech
At the end of the day, Will says what drives him in both art and commerce is a commitment to giving back to inner city communities -- like the projects in Boyle Heights where he grew up on Los Angeles' east side. "My passion is to get the unlikely candidate from Watts or the South Bronx or from the fifth ward in Mississippi to be a part of this conversation," he said. And school serves as a pivotal means to get kids interested in tech. "Why isn't it mandatory that kids learn iOS if [Apple's] the biggest company in the freaking world?" he asked.
As a seven-time Grammy winner and founding shareholder in Beats Electronics, Will will appear on the cover of Entrepreneur's newly-redesigned November issue, which also features our inaugural Entrepreneur360 ™ list -- a comprehensive catalogue of the best entrepreneurial companies in America.