Now that he’s added University of California, Los Angeles graduate to his resume, Justin Combs, the 22-year-old son to hip-hop mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy), is ready to make his contribution to the family empire. With his father's rap and business accolades and his brother Christian "King" Combs signing to Bad Boy Records, it’s no wonder Justin wastes no time when it comes to starting his own entrepreneurial venture.
With Tonite, a multimedia and event production company, currently in the works, Justin joins forces with fellow UCLA alumni Kenechukwu "Kene" Orjioke and former Two and a Half Men star Angus T. Jones to help create unique and unforgettable experiences for their clients. In a recent conversation with Billboard, the trio shared the vision for Tonite, how their business plan has changed since its 2015 conception and why there’s no time like the present.
Angus and Justin, how did you guys link up?
Angus T. Jones: A friend of mine from the University in Boulder at Colorado named Sherrard [Harrington] introduced me to Kene. Justin and I met three years ago and we became friends. I came out to California and got to hang out and get to know the whole idea.
What is the goal for Tonite?
Justin Combs: The goal for Tonite is to create an experience for our generation and to create the ultimate happy feeling, a high feeling, an ecstatic feeling, something they’ve never felt before when they come to one of our events.
Justin, what business lessons has your dad bestowed on you?
Combs: Nothing ever goes your way so you make it go your way. You have to just keep fighting and keep dreaming and keep going. He openly talks about his failure more than his successes and it got him to where he is today. He’s like, "Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be scared to take a chance and just go with what you want."
Have you encountered any pushback in trying to put this company together?
Combs: Yeah, most definitely. As far as the company, we have a solid foundation but our first privatized event that we had put together had a great turnout but there were so many things that we learned. Kene and I tried to do a lot of the things ourselves. We just learned and were still successful. It was a great experience. A lot of times people learn things the hard way.
Angus, how did Two and a Half Men prepare you for this? What have you been doing since leaving the show?
Jones: The funny thing is, when I came into this, it was almost a completely new thought for me. When I first met with Justin and Kene, I was kind of coming into it as like "Why do you guys want me to be a part of your music scene?" I like music and I know music -- that’s what my dad has done and I’ve grown up around that so I kind of moved that way myself but I was like, "Why me?" At that point, I really hadn’t been imagining trying to pull off something like this because I feel like this is out of my league a lot of times. The team that I got to work with on Two and a Half Men were the best. As I’ve gotten older and started to look back and hear about some of my friends that are doing the acting thing and different things that are going on here and there, I am now fully understanding what people meant when they told me that Two and a Half Men was one of the best jobs ever if not the best job ever. That was the opportunity of a lifetime and everyone’s always told me that but I’m really actually understanding myself now. It’s showed me what it takes to put on a good show.
Is there a business blueprint that you guys follow?
Jones: Kene is the brains behind a lot of the things going on. My role has been just trying to figure out, advise and be present but Kene has hatched this. I know that he was studying Ultra and Coachella [festivals] and him and Justin were brainstorming. It was Justin and Kene that were thinking, "OK, this is where I’m at and we can leverage this.” Sherrard has a lot of connections into the sports world and Kene as well because they played football. Justin, also. I’m the only non-footballer on the team. I’m the weak one in this situation. [Laughs] They started to see the resources that they had and were seeing where the market is right now so it’s kind of a mosh of a few different things.
Kene, can you talk elaborate on your role in the company?
Orjioke: I run the business and alongside Justin and Angus, curate the event experiences. Meetings with vendors, developing business with brands and prospective event sponsors, talking to booking agents, managers and venues, fundraising, calls with investors & the legal team, helping develop media strategies, and managing our operational team takes up the majority of my day - a few nitty gritties arise here and there. The rest of my down-time is spent researching and understanding companies that have scaled their attendance size to where we would like to be in a few years and taking pieces of those models and adjusting our model accordingly.
My role more so is to be behind the scenes and leverage both Justin and Angus' resources to re-implement what Coachella and other music festivals have done but in a unique way. And obviously because of Justin and Angus’s social platforms, we can drive attendance to our events very early on and we can also get headlining performers very early on because of Justin and his family’s resources as well. So my role and Sherrard's as well is to grow the business behind Justin and Angus, and let them be as authentic and true to themselves as possible because they’re both great, very humble and hardworking people. I think we draw a lot of people to our brand and the fact that it’s people our age doing this as opposed to a 45-year-old executive, I think it will also resonate well with the people we target.
What spin do you want to put on Tonite's event experiences?
Orjioke: Early on, the idea is to produce and host these private, more exclusive events as they are not as capital intensive, more manageable from a logistical and operational standpoint and allow us to create an identity behind our brand. We want these events to be unique from every standpoint - the venue, performer, host and ultimately the experience. Because of the attendance size, we have a lot more control over the experience. I’m a close perfectionist and I work to address every detail from the first wave of promotion, to the last second of the event. The idea is to get people back to the point where they are more focused on having fun and less about being on their phones - it’s something that we hope is better felt than said.
What does your day-to-day look like and what are your long-term plans?
Jones: For the phase of the business we’re at, we’re designing infrastructure, figuring out employees -- who do we need, who should we outsource right now, trying to figure those things out so there’s a lot of brainstorming. Alongside that, there are constant phone meetings, group text messages, reading of Excel spreadsheets and looking at what the music industry is doing so that we can look for it ahead. That’s how I’ve been applying a lot of my time right now -- trying to do my best to know the music industry as well as I can and as well-rounded as I can.
According to Vibe, Tonite was slated to launch in L.A. in February. What has changed in your business plans since then?
Orjioke: We had the first event in October on Halloween and that’s when [the company] was Justin and I. We were balancing 20 hours a week of school, 20 hours a week of football at UCLA, 20 hours a week of internships. We actually had a game the day of the event, and we didn’t get to the venue the day of the event until 6 p.m. It was still a huge success in many ways. We generated over six figures in revenue and we had a performance from Travis Scott, Metro Boomin' DJ’d and we circulated over 100 million times, not unique, online and social media. So naturally, Justin and I thought we could do the same thing in February when we’re not in season and we were wrong.
Going off of what Justin said about his dad’s advice to him about things not always going as planned and being able to adjust, we decided to postpone it until we both graduated, which we did in June, and really try to scale this thing. Regarding the business plan, the model has changed considerably and everyday because we’re meeting with a lot of really cool people through Angus and Justin. We kind of adjust based off of the advice but the core idea of the business is live events and experiences.
Justin, with your dad’s Epic Records partnerships, are you planning on working with Epic Records artists?
Combs Yeah, most definitely. That’s definitely something we plan on doing. I’m not sure exactly who yet but that’s something that’s going to definitely happen in the near future.
Anything else you guys would like to add?
Combs: I just feel like it’s time to just enjoy yourself and not focus on Snapchatting and the extra stuff. We want our [events] to be so in the moment, you don’t bother picking up your phone. We want the youth and people to just get back to being in the moment, stop worrying about social media and how they look, and everything like that. It’s time to get back to people feel good and just enjoying themselves. So hopefully through the grace of God, we create that feeling and give that to people and bring that back to the culture.