CNBC Transcript: Actor Ashton Kutcher Sits Down with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo on "Closing Bell" Today
WHEN: Today, Tuesday, August 6th
WHERE: CNBC's "Closing Bell"
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with actor Ashton Kutcher today on "Closing Bell." Following is a link to the interview on CNBC.com: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?play=1&video=3000188653.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Ashton Kutcher, good to have you on the program.
ASHTON KUTCHER: Sure, thanks for having me.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Thank you so much for joining us. So the film Jobs out next week. How did you decide to take on this role?
ASHTON KUTCHER: Well, the decision to take it was a tough one, but an easy one. First of all, I'man admirer of Steve Jobs, I had been for a long time. And when he passed away I kinda had an emotional response to his passing because I had this realization that all of these relationships that I have in my life, all the important relationships, whether it be work or personal, are kinda held together by glue. That's a foundation that really he laid down with a lot of his products.
And I have a lot of friends that are in the technology space that are-- were either coworkers of his or friends of his that loved and admired him. And when I saw the film I read the script-- I really-- I wanted to honor this man that we admire and I wanted to honor him in a way that the people that loved him remembered him.
And then secondly, it terrified me. And I've usually found that the greatest rewards in my life come from taking on things that are a little bit scary. And lastly, I love what the film stands for. You know, in-- with the current state of jobs in the literal sense of jobs-- you know, there are a lot of kids that are coming out of college today. And they get these educations and they can't find a job that they feel is applicable to the education that they've received.
And what this film is about is the notion that life isn't just something that you live in, it's something that you build. And for these kids that are coming out of college and looking for work, you know, it could just be that they may have a friend and they may have an idea and they may have a garage and they can build the most powerful company in the world.
MARIA BARTIROMO: It's amazing. Actually-- I get when you-- when you say terrifying because here's a guy who really was a game changer-- created one of the most valuable companies in the world, if not the most valuable company in the world, and did it while changing all of our lives. We are the generation that grew up on Apple products. How do you prepare for such a role?
ASHTON KUTCHER: Well, I had the liberty of having three months to actually prepare to play the role, which usually you don't get as an actor. So I was really blessed. Yeah,I-- first I started just studying everything about him, everything I could find whether it was videos online or audio files that I collected or books or anything there was just to get a general understanding of who and how he was.
And then I wanted to understand why he made the choices that he made. So I started studying the things that he studied, the entrepreneurs that he admired from, you know,Edison and you know, Edwin Land and these guys and you know, I started studying…and Ansel Adams and his design aesthetic. And then reading the books that he read and trying to consume the content of his life so I could capture his opinions in the moment and not have to be thinking about it but rather just be reacting.
MARIA BARTIROMO: So when you do that, when you step into a role do you take on that role 100%, 24/7 for that three-month period or six-month period or however it is long that you prepare for a role?
ASHTON KUTCHER: In some cases I do. In this one I kind of had to. Steve Jobs was a pretty complicated character and somewhat a psychologically complicated guy. And in order to maintain sort of his ethical opinion base and his characteristics and his mannerisms, I think because he was such an iconic figure and people already have a preconceived notion as to who he was and how he was.
And it's usually the guy wearing the blue jeans and the black turtleneck and the New Balance with the round glasses and the shaved head, but understanding that Steve Jobs wasn't always that guy and that he became that guy. And we're constantly refining ourselves and our personas throughout our life. And so in an effort to honor his-- who he was and how he was and based on the mere fact that I knew that anything that we did, somebody could probably find something online where they could compare day and date to the things we were shooting, I felt like it was important to sort of really live in his shoes.
MARIA BARTIROMO: What a lesson in life. It just basically tells us that we could change and become someone else or change and achieve goals by really stepping into and understanding what we're trying to do. So talk to us a little about the darker elements of Steve Jobs, because they were you know, in the film as well I was reading that you made a ten-hour sound file of his voice.
ASHTON KUTCHER: Yeah, there's a platform called SoundCloud and there are all these audio files and they have this great index of Steve Jobs content over the years from when he was 22 years old all the way until he was 45, 50. And I just compiled them and listened to them while I was sleeping and driving in my car 24 hours a day,just trying to understand l-- like, the themes of his ethos and the themes of his persona.
And there were certain things that I was able to find that were patterns that were repeated that he said again and again and again. And if he said it publicly again and again and again, he was probably saying it privately ten times as much. He was complicated-- insomuch as he was a very aggressive leader.
And he had a brutal, blunt honesty that a lot of people, I think, are afraid to have. And I think it was his strength, but it was always at some points it was also his fault. When he gave feedback to people he didn't care whether or not they liked him. He cared whether or not it was-- what it was that they were doing was making his product better or whether it was that they were doing was making their life better. And so his feedback was often extremely blunt. But I think it was all in an effort to service his innovation and his creativity.
MARIA BARTIROMO: So you like him? After learning all about him, do you like him? Do you feel like he's that complicated really, was that complicated?
ASHTON KUTCHER: I love him. You know, he-- while he was this great guy and this extreme leader and achieved a level of genius and greatness that a lot of people try to attain to, he was still a person. And what makes people beautiful is their flaws. And I think he had a scar from childhood, from, you know, being--I-- I'm-- my guess would be that he felt like he was rejected by his birthparents.
And then he was rejected again by the very company that he created. And I think that the way that Steve Jobs sought after love was to create products that people loved. And when people loved his products, in turn they-- he felt like they loved him.
MARIA BARTIROMO: You obviously studied Apple as well as Steve Jobs. Do you think that without Steve Jobs they're still gonna have the momentum that they have had over the years under his leadership? It's hard, right? I mean, it --
ASHTON KUTCHER: Well, so here's the-- what I think the gift of Steve Jobs was as a guy running a business. He consistently and constantly sought innovation, spent a lot of time and effort in R&D, created leapfrog products and had the ultimate compassion for the consumer and at the same time had a complete disregard for the stockholder.
However, the stockholder ultimately benefited from his compassion for the consumer. So because he cared so much about creating a beautiful, brilliant, innovative, wonderful--exacting product, an experience, and he made it magical and powerful and heal so understood the power of vertically integrating his hardware I think in turn the stockholders benefited.
But I don't think it was ever his goal to please the stockholders. The stockholders were a result, they were an effect of-- and the cause was is he cared about the consumer and cared about the consumer experience. I think the danger that Apple has is becoming risk averse at this point-- because they have capital and they have--money and they have a stock that's sort of having a little bit of a tumultuous time, and they have real competition.
So you know, when they first sort of had their surge they had this extraordinary vertically integrated hardware system where their software and their hardware were you know,within the iOS system it was completely vertically integrated. And you had consistently and constantly the best leapfrog experience on their product.
And I think companies like Google who's actually doing extraordinary innovation in the software space and creating vertical integration in-- with their software tools has the real market opportunity right now-- to come in and in some ways supplant some of the momentum that Apple had. But that being said, I don't know what's happening behind those closed doors. So they could be creating the next innovative leapfrog product that sucks you back into their ecosystem.
MARIA BARTIROMO: You made a really good point in terms of not putting shareholder necessarily as the priority,but putting the customer and the consumer and the product as the priority. I wanna get back to that in a moment. But I wanna ask you about how this movie really hits a sweet spot for you. Because you played the role of Steve Jobs, but you're also a real technologist yourself. You've invested your venture fund has invested upwards of-- is it $200 million into 30 startups?
ASHTON KUTCHER: No, it's less than that. The collective portfolio's, like, $100 million.
MARIA BARTIROMO: So how did you come to know about tech so much, be able to pick out winners? You've picked out some real winners and interesting innovative companies. How do you do it?
ASHTON KUTCHER: You know the companies that we look for are mostly consumer facing software technologies. And well, the first thing we look for is the density of the problem that they're solving. So we're not looking for companies, you know, off the bat that are-- that we go, "Oh, that company's gonna make-- X amount of money and it has X market cap."
If you solve a big problem,you're gonna have a large market cap. So we look for problems that have great density and we look for problems that consumers are already hacking a solution in some way, shape or form. Because a lot of times if there's a large hacking density which is people sort of going the long way home, they're looking for a short cut. And if a company provides a shortcut, which ultimately becomes that leapfrog innovation the company becomes valuable very quickly.
The second thing we look for--are extraordinary entrepreneurs. You know, a lot of these companies that we invest in, they are two guys in a garage with a PowerPoint and a dog, you know. And so you have to sorta see through everything else and go,"Is this guy or girl going to build something that is gonna been during? Do they have a passion for the problem they're trying to solve? Do they have the kind of willpower that's gonna take them through the challenges?"
Because you know, like Steve Jobs they're gonna face great challenges along the way and they're gonna face adversity. And they're gonna face people that tell 'em they can't do it. And when they start they're gonna call like Steve Jobs did and people aren't gonna know you're name. And they're gonna go "Jobs?" And he's-- "Yes, J-O-B-S." And you have to have a level of perseverance and will to actually drive through that. And then you have to have the know how and the moxie to actually put together the pieces and build the solution in a really effective way.
MARIA BARTIROMO: And you found that in companies like Airbnb and Uber and Spotify. Did they come to you or did you spot, "Okay, here's an idea that these guys are working on," or you-- I mean, how do you research? What screens do you look at in addition to what you just said in terms of finding these companies that have had huge growth?
ASHTON KUTCHER: So you know,we look for problems and then kind of wait and see if we can find companies that are in some way solving them. And then every once in a while you hear that idea and you just go, "Oh, obvious." There are a couple specific sectors we look at. We look at two-sided marketplaces as a big opportunity that was never before available-- Airbnb being one of them.
You have an opportunity now because we have this layer of trust that's been built by these social networks where you have implicit trust because you know someone's a friend of a friend. So there's product that can be sold on that network to a willing buyer. And you match those two-sided marketplaces up and have a sense of security or a sense of trust in the actually commercial exchange.
So you know, Airbnb would be one of them, another one would be a company like Poshmark-- that basicall ygirls go in and they photograph-- or guys, they go in and photograph the clothes in their closet and then they can sell them and trade them with their friends or their friends of friends across the network. And these technologies-- Getaround is another, it's a car sharing service. You know, these companies are using the lubricant of technology to create their exchange.
There's other companies that we look at in the financial sector that are actually lubricating financial exchange. There's a lot of bulk and bloat in the banking systems that exist. And there's a company called Dwolla that actually eliminates ACH. And ultimately the way that they're exchanging cash, the ultimate potential of the company is – could replace the Federal Reserve or the Federal-- the exchange be-- because of the way that they actually move money.
So we're looking for solutions that go into antiquated businesses or bloated businesses or businesses that have great inefficiencies and utilizing technology to eliminate that. Uber Cab would be you know, it's like these one button service type companies where you press a button or there's a company called StyleSeat where a girl can go and actually book an appointment at a salon. That's another sector that we look at.
And then another interesting thing that is starting to emerge now is intelligent objects. So there's a whole new space of computing sensor companies that actually create intelligent homes or intelligent objects. Nest would be one of them, an intelligent thermostat and I'm sure they're gonna grow into other things. And Tony Fadell who actually created the iPod is the guy running that company, so here ally understand product and he understands that Apple ethos. There's a company called SmartThings that's doing some similar stuff as well.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Wow. I know Dwolla, I've heard of it and also Square is very exciting. Financial services, I think you're right…You can tap into that for real innovation.
ASHTON KUTCHER: Yeah, and then there are other social networks that I think are really interesting that are emerging now that are approaching it in a different way. So if Facebook gets your entire social graph, you don't necessarily wanna share everything with your entire social graph. You might wanna parse that social graph. So there's a company called PASS that is a private social network that I personally use for my friends and my family.
And if I wanna send something a little bit more intimate that I don't want everyone in my life to know about,I actually send it through that exchange system. There's a social network called Nextdoor that's just your neighbors. I don't wanna talk to my neighbors about everything. I wanna talk to my neighbors about the neighborhood. I want the sense of security of knowing my neighbors. But I don't necessarily wanna share everything with them. And I think that those types of platforms are gonna have a strong surge as well.
MARIA BARTIROMO: How much of your life is investing and, you know, getting interested and, you know, doing your work on technology companies and how much is it, you know, your acting career? It feels like you are very, very knee deep in investing and actually finding these new ideas. Is that taking a shift in the way you spend your days?
ASHTON KUTCHER: I'm very passionate about both. And I spend-- depending on what the project load is on either side-- I spend quite a bit of time on both. But in essence they're very similar processes. Most of the investing I do is in consumer facing technologies. And most of the advising I do on behalf of those companies is around their consumer product and the way that people will relate to-- a product.
And that's really similar to acting insomuch as you have to understand the psychology and the want of a character that you're playing. And so when you break down a character what you're really looking for is what they want and why they want what they want and what tactics they use to actually attain what they want.
And when I look at the consumer facing user interfaces for technology products I'm looking at what does a consumer want? What do they-- what is their intuitive sense? What is the way that they're-- you know, what is their proclivity on any given click or page? And they're somewhat similar processes.
And I don't really think that there's a bifurcation between technology and art. And I think Steve Jobs was probably the greatest example of that. Steve Jobs was an artist, but he was also a technologist. And the people that he hired, he looked for artistic, creative people to work within his company.
He looked for people that weren't only great engineers, but they were also poets or they were also painters. And they had a sense of artistic design. And I think that what he did is he-- by making technology artistic and beautiful he also made it personal and human. And a lot of what I do with these technology companies is really similar to that.
MARIA BARTIROMO: It's true. I understand the relationship in terms of acting, understanding what the consumer wants, in terms of technology, understand what the product is. And then of course there's the money guy who comes in and is either funding it or in some way trying to call for change.
You probably saw last week George Clooney was making some comments about the activist investor Dan Loeb saying, "Listen, stay out of the entertainment business. Don't tell Sony to, you know, (LAUGH) spin off the entertainment division, because you know nothing about running the business." How do you feel about that? Does that jive with what a moment ago you said, look, Steve Jobs was not putting the shareholder as the number one priority, it just followed suit?
ASHTON KUTCHER: Well, I think there's a little bit of naivety on both sides. So, 1) the assumption that you can just walk into an artistic business and understand how that works or how the artistic process works, little bit of naivety on that side. On the other side, having been in the entertainment business for a long time, you know, some of these companies are extremely bloated. And they do spend money on relationships.
And some of the processes around the creative process aren't understood. And you know, if you look at Steve Jobs is an example of that, right. There are times when your R&D and your drive and your spin towards innovation-- come up with nothing. And then there are times when that is the very vitality of your company.
So I wouldn't necessarily say that George Clooney or whoever is speaking on behalf of the studios is necessarily 100% right. And I wouldn't al-- at the same time wouldn't say that Dan Loeb's position is... Now, that being said, Dan Loeb is responsible to a company and is responsible to the efficiencies of the company.
You know, the entertainment business in a lot of ways is a loss leader, it's a low margin business. And you know, if you're looking at shareholder value in Sony a lot of the technology stuff that they're doing is really leading the way and actually has you know, high value margins against it. But I don't think that-- I think we've become a slightly profit-obsessed society. And I do think that there's a value in the art and the creative process as well.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Ashton, would you like to add anything else that I may have missed?
ASHTON KUTCHER: I'm good.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Okay, thanks so much for joining us.
ASHTON KUTCHER: Thank you.
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