Episode 363

Jenny Feterovich On Capturing The American Dream And Building An Entrepreneurial Life

The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Jenny Feterovich | Entrepreneurial Life


Jenny Feterovich is a truly creative entrepreneur and renaissance woman. She is an award-winning TV and film producer, internationally renowned DJ, and serial entrepreneur. She is perhaps best known for the Emmy-nominated TV show START UP, which spotlights outstanding entrepreneurs and their businesses. Jenny joined host Robert Glazer to share her extraordinary story–fleeing Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War as a child and capturing the American dream with a remarkable entrepreneurial life.

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Jenny Feterovich On Capturing The American Dream And Building An Entrepreneurial Life

Our quote for this episode is from Dorothy Parker. “Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” My guest, Jenny Feterovich, is a truly creative entrepreneur and Renaissance woman. She’s an award-winning TV and film producer, internationally renowned DJ, and serial entrepreneur. She’s probably best known for the Emmy-nominated TV show Start Up, which spotlights outstanding entrepreneurs and their businesses from all over. Jenny, welcome. It’s great to have you join us on the show.

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

You have an amazing personal story that I wanted to start with. Why don’t you start by telling us how your family came to America at the end of the 1980s? What were you fleeing from at the time?

I was born in the Soviet Union, a super exciting country with very open borders. Growing up there, you couldn’t leave the country. Only a few people ever got to leave it. If they were leaving it, there would usually be a KGB agent hanging out with a group or right behind them to make sure they never escaped this wonderful country. Who would want to do that?

I am Jewish and Jewish people were highly prosecuted against the Soviet Union. The funny thing is Judaism was not a religion because all religions were against the law, whether you’re Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. As communists, you only wanted to believe in one true religion, which was communism. For us being Jewish, it was a nationality that was listed in our passport.


The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Jenny Feterovich | Entrepreneurial Life


It was a six-line in our passport. We knew that very well. It was your name, your father’s name, your last name, the date of your birth, your sex, and then your nationality. In number six, if it said Jewish, you were pretty much for the rest of your life branded as somebody who was never going to be promoted at work. If you wanted to go to university, your parents had to bribe people. People made fun of you in school because starting at grade school, your nationality was listed there as well.

Prosecution was always there and it was taught to us as children that we want to keep it to ourselves. The American Jews found out the fate of the Soviet Jews somewhere in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They decided to create a massive exodus. They were recreating what Moses was doing and decided to get us out of the Soviet Union. They raised a lot of private money and lobbied.

There was a huge march in Washington. About 400,000 to 500,000 people came. Reagan and Gorbachev made a deal that we would be able to go to Israel, our historical birthland. They were saving face of who’d want to leave the Soviet Union but we’re going to let the Jewish people go to their historic land. They said, “You guys can leave but you can’t take anything with you.” We were allowed to take two suitcases per person and $100 per family. We have to leave everything behind. That’s how the journey started.

Once we got to Vienna, Austria, which was our first stop, if you were going to Israel, you were put in the next plane, or if you wanted to Go to Canada, the United States, or Australia, they would move us to Italy where we would wait for an indefinite period, pleading a refugee status case until we were allowed to come to the United States, which is how I ended up here after that journey on October 24th, 1989. My dream of the United States came alive landing in Detroit, Michigan.

You were in Italy for a while waiting. Was that all sponsored by Jewish organizations in the US?

Yes, it was sponsored by the Jewish organization in the US. It was a HIAS joint. There were several organizations. There was the Breakfast of Champions in One Day, which set this off where there was a commitment from ten Jewish men for $1 billion, which was distributed amongst this organization. We were moved from Austria to Italy by trains, which were heavily guarded because, at the same time, we were also being hunted by terrorists who knew that there was a massive exodus of Jews happening. We were situated in some summer camps. I remember that very well. We lived in the small towns that we took over waiting to see the US embassy and tell them our story to plead our case for refugees.

When you left, did you know where you were going? Did you know whether it was Israel, the US, or Canada? Was this like, “We’re packing our bags and going. This will figure itself out along the way?”

I was thirteen. I had some understanding of what was happening. My parents right away said, “We’re going to the United States.” They made that decision because, at that time, most Jews who were arriving in Israel were going to live in occupied territories. They were also afraid that at eighteen, I would be drafted into the Army. Plus, my uncle had already lived in the United States. He lived in Detroit. I had the idea of the United States but you have to understand my idea came from films. This is certainly not how I pictured what the United States was and what it would look like when I landed in Detroit.

You take a flight from Italy to Detroit. I don’t know that people appreciate sometimes in thinking through this. We hear a lot about immigration through the negative lens but you show up somewhere with no place to live and I assume not much money with two suitcases. How the hell do you start?

The Jewish community in all of the cities where we’re going but specifically in Detroit helps you rent an apartment for six months at that time.

That’s like seed funding.

They’re like, “We’re going to do our best to try to teach you the language.” You have to understand that we speak no English. We don’t understand the culture of this country.

Nor do we but that’s a whole different discussion.

Creating Your Own American Dream

It’s something as simple as watching people go somewhere with their food was fascinating to us because we’ve never seen that. We’ve never seen McDonald’s. We don’t even know we go to the store. We’ve never seen freedom. It’s very basic things. We don’t even know what to buy when we go to a store. I remember this happened in Vienna when we got to Vienna. Older people were crying in a store. You have to realize in the Soviet Union in the mid-’80s, we would go to the store and sometimes there’d be nothing. There were empty shelves upon empty shelves.

When these older people who are adults, who I can relate to, got there, they said, “What made us so different? Why were we made to live in a society that never took care of us? Why did we have none of those things? Now, I’m looking at a shelf that has twenty kinds of coffee.” You start to question your whole belief system. You were raised a certain way, sold a life for so long, and then you’re in a country of everything. Your mind is going crazy. For six months, they had all kinds of educational programs. They gave us an apartment but then you got to create your American dream.

Were you allowed to go to school and start in the school or not right away?

Yes. We all went to school. We went to high school. It was about 30 or 40 of us who were going into this high school. They put us all together in English as a second language class. There was one Chinese girl. She learned Russian before she learned English. The school was bad for us. People were mean to us. We look different. We have no clothes. It was an interesting experience.

They were pretty mean.

I remember a Senator of Michigan coming to school to greet us because he was a big part of this. They were trying to explain to other kids who were these 40 aliens that landed on their backstep over the air.

You started hustling in addition to school. I assume everyone in the family needs to help make money if you can.

My mom went to work for a Korean lady. She was a fashion designer so she could work with her hands. What was interesting was women adjusted much faster because they were willing to do anything and everything and work with their hands. A lot of men who came were highly educated. They were PhDs and doctors. It was a major brain drain leaving the Soviet Union. All these Jewish men were highly educated and skilled. They found themselves in a country with barely any language or not being able to apply all their skill and education. My mom went to work for a Korean lady. She made $3 an hour.

I remember distinctly understanding what freedom was because there was a car. I could go anywhere but didn’t want to ask my parents for money because we didn’t have any so I got a job selling bread at a bakery almost right away. I probably made the same $3 an hour but it meant I was making money. I remember with my first $20 ever, I bought a T-shirt of Detroit Pistons back-to-back hammer time, 1989 to 1990 basketball championship. I was blown away. I’ve never seen basketball and black people. I’ve never seen that culture and I was in love. That’s the first thing I bought with my first hard-earned money, that T-shirt.

That was not your first job. I assume you were good at selling bread. Did you sell a lot of bread?

It was easy to sell bread. People wanted it. My first job was selling bread. The big perk was whatever we didn’t sell, we got to take to this apartment complex and I would give it to all the other families whatever we had.

That sounds like a perverse incentive system, depending on what your outcome is. You started working and starting to go to school. When did your passion for filmmaking and TV production start to materialize?

That came way later. I didn’t even get into the film and television business.

What’s the path from bread to your first business in school?

The path from that went into DJing. I had this little apartment. I didn’t have a bed. I had a couch but I had a TV and it had a lot of channels. I loved music and I saw these people. It was a new dance show on YouTube but sometimes, it was a poor man’s version of the Soul Train that took place in the Detroit basement. I fell in love with these funky-looking people. I heard house music for the first time. I ended up going to a nightclub and seeing people DJ and the freedom of music. I fell in love with that.

I decided to do my party. That was the first business I ever started, party promotion, I would say because it was my own. I rented out a synagogue on Christmas Eve. I had a captured audience. Jewish people have nothing to do. I’ve never DJ’d before but I’ve seen other people do it. I rented some equipment. I had 300 people buy tickets and we were off and running. That was my first business venture for sure.

How did that go?

It went phenomenally. I did not know what I was doing. 300 people showed up and bought tickets. It also achieved another thing. For DJing and a career path in music, a lot of people always wait, “Who’s going to discover me? Who is going to see me? Who’s going to invite me?” I knew that was not going to happen. Who’s going to invite somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing? Let alone culturally, I didn’t even speak English. That solidified in me creating my path. I would eventually become a world-renowned DJ but if I wanted to learn, there was no YouTube and nobody was willing to teach me. It was learning on a job and forging my path.

You had no mentor. How did you learn?

Trial and error. I would ask anybody and everybody to teach me and they wouldn’t. It was a very different business back then. Now, you’ve got computers or play MP3s. Back then, you had to buy two turntables if you wanted to DJ for real. That was about $1,200 each. You needed a mixer, which was another $1,000. Each vinyl that I would buy costs anywhere from $6 to $10. For anybody to set their path, it was a very heavy investment. Now, it’s very low. It was a competitive thing back then. I would ask people and they’re like, “No. You got to figure it out.” Until I found one guy who eventually taught me the technical skills. I always had good taste in music so I had a music selection. I just needed to learn the actual technique of blending and mixing records.

It’s interesting. Everything that these people did was a failure when they were kids. It was trial and error, failure. There was no parental involvement. There was no parental advocacy. They learned to fail and figure it out. We have the opposite where it’s so much about perfection and not getting anything wrong. That’s not the real world. When you enter the real world, it’s so much different and harder. You’re not ready for it. We’ve flipped this switch. It’s not just our education system. It’s our cultural system around you shouldn’t fail.

In America, particularly, that’s what you see. Parents are trying to problem solve.

This is a first-world problem.

How else do you learn? Everything that I learned is by making mistakes. In the first concert I ever promoted, I lost my ass. I lost so much money. It was so painful.

You don’t want to make that mistake again. If someone tries to take or defray that pain for you, the next time you’ll make that mistake is at a higher stakes, a bigger concert later on, without that experience.

I’m a mother of three children. I think about this every day. “What are they going to fail at? How am I going to step back and let them fail? How am I going to let them figure it out?” Every time I lean in and want to help, I have to stop myself a lot of times. That’s what conscious parenting is about. I highly suggest to everybody out there what conscious parenting is. You have to be conscious not to continue these patterns, especially in America and I feel like for a lot of entrepreneurs who become successful.

I did a conference and Magic Johnson was speaking. He was talking about this. This was one of the questions that was asked. He came 40 minutes from here from a ghetto and this guy is a multi-multi-billionaire and the question is to him, “What are you going to do with your kids?” He’s like, “They’re never going to experience what I’ve experienced. It’s not possible because I worked so hard that this doesn’t happen to them.” He has tricks up his sleeve. They’re working in the business. He’s letting them fail and figure it out.

It’s critical. I had an interview with Jack Stack and he talked about failing at everything. He then built this incredible company that has helped so many people. The stakes were lower. Your DJ empire gets going. Do you stay in school or not?

I have to. I have Soviet Jewish parents. Are you kidding me? I stayed in school because to my parents, it was very important. It was non-negotiable. You’re going to college and bringing this piece of paper. I have a wonderful college degree in IT, Information System Technology, which I never used a day in my life. I paid somebody to finish my final project and it was basic.

They programmed this gym app where you were checking people in at the gym. I was way ahead of my time. I could have made some money on that app. I brought that piece of paper home and it made my parents very happy because my parents didn’t believe me that people paid me money to play music. I would come home and I was on tour. I was in Ibiza. I was flying around the world, making money.

How old were you?

I started playing when I was about 18 so this was in my 20s.

You were getting discovered. This is before social media so this is all word of mouth and you’re flying all around the world.

You go somewhere and play. People come to Detroit and see you play. I went to play in South Africa with David Guetta and Akon because somebody came to my party in Detroit. The guy’s like, “Do you want to come to South Africa and go on tour with David Guetta and Akon?”

I think the answer to that is yes. You were DJ Jenny La Femme.

My parents didn’t believe me. I’m like, “They paid me a lot of money. I hate to tell you probably more than you make,” and whatever it is that the jobs that they were doing at that point. They’re like, “No. You need to get a job at the office and be like everybody else.” That is the only time I ever did that. Right out of college, I went to work at an advertising agency. September 11th was my first day at work, which was super weird as you can imagine.

I worked there for a short period. My salary was $24,000 a year, which I could make in DJ gigs much faster. I realized that the whole corporate environment was not for me. Along the way, I’ve owned many different businesses and I failed at a lot of them. I had a clothing store that failed. I had a kitchen and door showroom that didn’t fail. Somebody bought me out not for a great deal. I would always be involved in business. I realized that I love the idea of creating something from nothing, taking an idea and realizing it.

Some of them have succeeded greatly. Some of them have failed. From every failure, I learned. I was DJing and I was always into some kind of a business. I’ve had several of them. The film industry was coming to Michigan with incentives. A friend of mine came to me and said, “Let’s open a company to service the film industry.” It sounds like a cool business. The film industry is exciting. I was getting very sick of DJing because every party became just a party. Whether I was in Ibiza, Brazil, or Miami, it was all the same.

It looks fun but that has got to be a pretty grueling lifestyle.

It’s a very grueling lifestyle and you can’t maintain good relationships. That’s the hard part unless you’re doing it with somebody in a business.

It also doesn’t age.

As much as I love to make people dance, I was over it at that time. It’s a young person’s sport with all the travel and everything. I said, “Let’s do it.” The first business in the film industry was called Filming in Detroit. We were providing extras, automobiles, and locations to the films that were coming to film here, which was going well but I quickly learned I did not want to do that because Hollywood and the film system are very hierarchical.

People look at you a certain way when you’re down here and you can only do so much. I didn’t like it very much. I opened my production company. At the same time, a guy who made a film about techno came to me and said, “I have this idea. Why don’t we make a TV show about entrepreneurship?” Years ago, Shark Tank was just starting. There weren’t all the shows. Entrepreneurship was not that sexy. That was a different vibe. We were going to do a Michigan-only PBS show. We shot a pilot and took it to Michigan public television. They’re like, “This is so good.”

I always find the value chain of an industry I don’t understand. You put up the money, shoot the pilot, and then take it and try to sell it. Is that it?

Yes. You know how people say, “What you don’t know you don’t know.”

You learn this afterward.

We learn so much afterward. Both he and I have never made television. We don’t know what the hell we’re doing but we knew some guys that produced local TV. Yes, we hired people who are our friends who are not that great. The idea of the content sold. I can’t even watch Season 1 of Start Up without cringing.

That’s how it should be. We make mistakes and make it better.

We hired people and shot the pilot. It was like a test episode of a TV show, what it would look and feel like. We have friends so we took it to Detroit public television and they liked it. In the essence of a business, yes, depending on what level of the business you’re dealing with. You can’t just take your pilot to Netflix, HBO, or people like that, even public television. You usually have to have a buffer, which is an agent or a relationship with somebody high up in the network. The chain is you make something and then sell it like anything else through different channels.

There’s some risk. You’re laying out some real money in doing this, I assume.

There’s a huge risk. They said, “This is too good. Why don’t you guys go to Chicago and make this regional?” We did that. We came back and they said, “This is great. This is going to be a national show.” We started celebrating and they said, “Go find the money.” We were like any other business people. We had a proof of concept. We knew that this was going to work.

They’re going to take it national. Was it like an investor saying, “We want to invest in your business but go find the money?”

PBS works very differently than a usual network. The way PBS works is that you can dip into corporate broadcasting funds, which Ken Burns probably gets most of because he makes very expensive epic documentaries. There are independent producers like us who are told, “You guys are new. You’re independent. Go find your money, whether it’s foundations or corporate sponsorships.”

They’re giving you the distribution but you’ve got to figure out how to fund it.

The distribution is very hard to get on PBS because it was the number one trusted source of information above courts of law when it was pulled. It’s very hard to deserve a spot to get distribution on PBS, which we didn’t know at that time how any of this works but they’re like, “Go find the money to shoot this thirteen-part series.” We were looking at each other going, “Where are we going to get this money?” At that point, I don’t think I’ve ever asked anybody for more than $25,000 before, and then we’re talking about a 13-part series, which is pushing upwards of 7 figures. It’s a very different vibe.

How’d you get the money?

We looked at each other like, “Other people have done this.” My partner says yes. “What are we going to do?” “Let’s hire people that get you the money.” “Good idea.” We hired some people for six months.

There are brokers in this industry.

Yes, people that sell sponsorship or foundation like in anything else. They’re salespeople. They never got us any money six months went by. When you have other people selling your stuff, you know how that goes. I don’t give up ever until I exhaust everything. That’s the rule of my family. We don’t give up. We looked at each other. We’re like, “We’ve got to figure out how to do it. Other people do it.” I said, “I’m going to go on LinkedIn and see everybody I know who works with some major corporation who might give us this money.”

We’re asking somebody almost mid-six figures from at least one corporate sponsor. I went on LinkedIn one night and wrote to a friend of mine who I found who worked at American Express. I said, “I know we haven’t talked in ten years but can you help me get an exuberant amount of money from American Express?” He said, “I met my wife at one of your parties and I am so happy so yes, I will help you.” You can imagine. That corporation is so huge. It was no after no. There were a lot of noes but we all know sales is a numbers game.

It takes more noes to get more yeses.

No is not a yes. Yes always lives in the world of no. I was going to New York to premiere a project that I did, Girls Gone Vinyl, to promote females. At the same time, I got a call from this woman, Alexa. She’s from MX. She’s like, “Why don’t you come see me at the towers?” The timing aligned. I went to MX. I remember sitting on the 39th floor overlooking the Hudson River going, “What am I doing here?”

My Imposter syndrome was 10X. I’m at one of the largest companies in the world asking for an exuberant amount of money. It seemed like so much money at the time. It was $450,000. I’ve never asked for more than $25,000 before. The worst part is I don’t even have a show. I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’ve never done this before.

It’s a true chicken-and-egg situation.


Inside, I’m dying. She comes. There was something that I said to her and she told me this years later that made her give me the money. American Express became the first-ever sponsor of the StartUp television series and launched us on our way. We ended up premiering Shop Small for them. Small Business Saturday came out with us at Start Up.

Years later, we went to have coffee in New York. We’re still friends. I asked her, “Alexa, why did you give me the money? I didn’t have a show.” She’s like, “I’m not stupid. I know all of that but there was something that you said. There’s so much conviction. You said, ‘Listen, this will be the best investment you will ever make. I’m the woman of my word.’ The way you said it, I knew you were going to get it done and it’s going to be amazing. That’s why I gave you the money.”

They were a long-term sponsor after that, I assume.

They were a long-term sponsor. As you can imagine, once American Express comes in, the sales process becomes slightly easier because people want to be aligned. General Motors was our second sponsor and then we kept building from there. That’s how we lifted the show off the ground. We set off running around the country like crazy because we featured one person. For some reason, we decided we were going to feature three people per episode during Season 1, which all I know is for about a month and a half, we were all over the country.

That’s a key entrepreneurial lesson. People do a lot when they start and then you’ll start to learn to do less. Most people have to learn that lesson the easy way or the hard way.

People do a lot when they start. But people will learn to do less. People have to learn that lesson the easy or hard way.

For me, it was the hard way.

You mentioned Girls Gone Vinyl. I love that name. Why don’t you talk a little bit about how that came about? That seems like a good intersection of two of your passions.

I was DJing and throughout my years of DJing, it would always be like, “You’re pretty good for a girl.” I was DJing with some bodily parts that were female or offsite comments. You would be in a DJ booth and there would be a lot of guys standing and staring like, “I didn’t know women can mix like that.” I started talking to other women and we were all facing the same thing. “Is your boyfriend producing your music?”

You would look at these massive festivals and lineups. There were barely any women at that and it certainly wouldn’t be headlining. It was certainly not for the lack of women being good at this, the way that cooking has crumbled for many years. A friend of mine, Maggie Derthick, came over one day to one of the largest techno festivals in the United States. She said, “We should start doing a party.”

They let this woman play somewhere because they’re not playing in the festival roster but they’re still coming to the festival. I said, “Let’s do better than a party. Let’s do a project.” We grabbed the camera. I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up shooting 400 hours of footage to which the editors were like, “We have to watch all of that to edit all of that.” I thought the more content, the better. It was a complete rookie mistake. We did Kickstarter and went all over the world talking to women. We discovered that was a thing. Women all over the world were facing this.

The project went viral. We were on billboards, The New York Times, and everywhere. It came head-on with festival and club promoters. We started one of the biggest conversations about booking women, giving them headline spots, and talking about what happens to women in this business. I don’t know how many men have been offered sex in exchange for a spot at their club. It’s all your usual things that are happening. The project still exists. We still support the women but it was something that went viral and brought a lot of light to what was happening with women, particularly in DJing culture.

What do you think the percentages are? I assume it was probably almost non-existentially calculable when you started that.

It was very small. It was maybe 5% of women. I don’t remember what that stamp was. It’s maybe 15% to 20% now. We’re still not there considering that if you look at the world being 50%-50% when you look at the lineups. The project created a conversation and made promoters conscious and aware that when they’re creating a lineup, they need to be conscious about their lines and who is headlining. Women still don’t headline that much. When you look at a festival, there are very few women that are going left at that spot but we’re certainly seeing the trend upwards.

I assume it probably drew a whole generation of new people into it who are getting trained and getting those reps. There are a lot of problems that we would like to fix overnight but if you take certain things that require a partner track job and you have a total imbalance of associates for ten years, it’s going to be hard to fix the partner pipeline unless you fix the associate pipeline first. I assume that’s starting to put a lot of people in a different position to be headliners.

Female DJs

It’s all about visibility. I remember distinctly the first time I ever saw a woman DJing. I remember walking into a club because I did not see any women when I was about 16 maybe or approaching 17. She passed away. God rest her soul, she was an amazing DJ. I remember walking into a club, looking up, and going, “Women do that, too.” A lot of times, visibility is the key. The fact that there were more women and they were more visible, other women were drawn to that saying, “I can do that too. I want to do that too.”

Visibility is the key. The more women become visible, the more women are drawn.

That’s across the board whether we’re talking about film executives and film directors, which I’ve stepped into another business that had somewhat of a similar thing. It’s all about visibility. You got to see people doing the things you want to do or you might want to think about doing it and have them be successful at it. We mentor a lot of young women. My door is always open. Most of us will mentor all kinds of young women. We will have them open for us, give them music, and do all kinds of things.

I assume the more mentors they have, the more opportunities but 20% got to be a lot better. My guess is it would have been 1% when you started.

It was probably very low. I don’t think anybody was counting back then.

It wasn’t much of a denominator. We talked about your Renaissance nature. I can see how that project came about but you did the Small Business Show. Talk to me about The Russian Five and how this story and opportunity found you.

To level set Start Up, we released Season 11 and we’re into four Emmy nominations. Going from something I can cringe from to four Emmy nominations two years in a row, being recognized by your peers, producing this amazing, beautiful content, still traveling across the United States, and telling these inspirational stories. I’m very proud of how long we have come. Longevity in this business is very rare.

It’s easy to get a one-season wonder. Doing anything for a decade in the world that changes as fast as it changed is by definition an extraordinary achievement.


The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Jenny Feterovich | Entrepreneurial Life


Russian Five

We’re extremely proud of where the show is. The Russian Five, what a journey that was. I’m always a very busy person. I always had multiple projects happening. As the show was going on with it, we’ve lifted another show. We were working with a lot of different brands. One day, I got a call and it was that day where I was sitting there saying, “I am not taking out the project.” I said that to myself, which never happens because my plate is always full.

That was one of those days where I got a call and somebody said, “You owe me a favor. I have this guy. He came here from Austin. He’s doing something Russian I’m not sure what. You’re the only Russian person I know in the business. Can he come and talk to you?” This young American kid came to me and said, “I want to do a story of The Russian Five,” to which I said, “Oh crap. I said I wasn’t going to do anything.” For people who don’t know, The Russian Five was the first ever five Russian hockey players who were assembled in an NHL to play as a unit that’s forever changed the history of the way this game was played.

It was the Detroit Red Wings, where you live.

Detroit Red Wings is where they were assembled. I knew the guys because Sergei defected around the same time as I came to America. As they built the team, all of the Russian people would come together on Sundays and Wednesdays to play soccer in the backyard of a school. I was the only girl because I loved soccer. I would go there with my dad. Sergei, Slava Fetisov, and all of them played there. We had this fun relationship. Everybody’s like, “What is this little teenage girl doing playing soccer with these pro hockey players?”

I was very keen on knowing that story growing up. I remember when they won the Stanley Cup. You went to Detroit and it was 1996. You never saw a million people in Detroit in 1996. That was not happening. Not just a million people but a million people celebrating them of all colors, ages, and all of that. That story to me is one of the most phenomenal sports stories ever. When he said that, I was like, “I have to do this.”

Did he have the idea or any connection to them? This is like an entrepreneur saying, “I’ve got an idea to build a submarine but I don’t know how to build submarines.”

He had an idea because he was in a car accident in a similar way as one of the people in the film. He broke his back. When he was in the hospital laying there, he couldn’t walk or do anything. His grandparents gave him a Vladimir Konstantinov’s jersey to persevere, survive, and come out of the other side. That’s what pulled him out of his car accident. He had moved to Texas. He went to the University of Texas Film School. He was working with all these famous directors and doing all these things.

One day, somebody asked him, “What’s your dream story to tell?” He said, “The Russian Five.” The guy fired him and said, “I’m not doing you any favors working for you. I’m going to fire you and you have to go and make this movie.” He tried to raise money in Texas but who the hell in Texas wants to make a story of a destroyed hockey team? No one.

As a last-ditch effort and he was going to give up after this, he came to Detroit and approached many people. I was his last stop. He came to me and I said, “It’s extremely difficult to raise money for an independent documentary.” It’s even harder than Start Up. I said, “However, I know one person. I’m going to go to him. If he gives us the money it’s meant to be, I’m signing on to the project. I will only do it under this set of circumstances that I know that I have to do this.”

I went to an acquaintance and friend of mine, Dan Milstein, who owned a mortgage company but also had one hockey client, Pavel Datsyuk, who was his friend and he was managing him. I went to see Dan. I looked at him and said, “The story dies of me and you don’t tell it. Sure, it’s here maybe for another decade but if we tell the story, the story lives forever.” He agreed to finance the film. It took us almost five years to complete this film. It was a very big and difficult undertaking. We went between multiple countries. We filmed Wayne Gretzky and Tarasov.

If we tell the story, the story lives forever.

Where were they all by the time you were filming them?

We filmed Igor Larionov in Detroit. Everybody else was in Russia. We flew to Moscow in almost dead winter to film them there. We went to Canada to get Scotty Bowman and Wayne Gretzky. We filmed incredible amounts of footage and then started doing post-production. Everything started going to mess up there. It was such a disaster. We needed a lot of NFL footage and nobody was going to help us.

Finally, we got the archives opened up by the Red Wings. They dropped probably a roomful of boxes up and down. There were these old tapes and video reels. We spent months and months getting what we needed out of that. Once we got it, we were told by the NHL that we couldn’t use any of this footage because it all belonged to them. We had 42 minutes of archive that we needed to license from the NHL and the NHL didn’t want to license it to us because they didn’t want us to show the fight. There was a massive fight that takes place in the film like the March 26th fight between Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux.

Was it a behind-the-scenes fight?

No, it was on the ice but the NHL at that time said, “We were no longer violent.” They had changed their image and they didn’t want to show that. They were like, “No, you can’t license it.” I was like, “I can’t tell the story. This fight is epic. It’s a pivotal storytelling moment.” It took me a couple of months because I don’t take no for an answer to license the footage from the NHL. At the same time, I wanted to license where the champions from Queen. I didn’t have the money and I don’t even know where to begin.

We tweeted Queen and they came to us. We made a deal with them and they gave us a good deal to license We Are the Champions. We didn’t want We Are the Champions because we wanted We Are the Champions and that’s why they gave it to us. We wanted it because one of the players would end up in a tragic accident and the only time he reacted to anything in a coma was when We Are the Champions played. When we talked to Queen, we said, “This is why we want We Are the Champions. Not because we are the champions but because the song has a meaning.”

There was a crazy amount of things that had to take place to lift that movie. It was released in 2018 on The Festival Circuit. We ended up winning a lot of awards with it. We got a great distributor but they did not want to take this into theaters. They wanted to do digital straight to DVD. I believe this was a communal experience and fans wanted to see it together. I had witnessed it in The Festival Circuit. I’ve asked them to carve out the theatrical rights for me. They laughed. They said, “What is this girl going to do with theatrical rights?” I went back to my team and said, “We’re going to theatrically distribute this ourselves. My team consisted of two and a half people.” They laughed at me as well.

I’m sensing a theme here. People will tell you that you can’t do something and you brute force figured it out.

In 2019, we became the top-grossing box office documentary of that year, self-distributed by a team of three and a half people while I was breastfeeding a baby that I gave birth to. When I say that anything is possible in America, it truly is.


The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Jenny Feterovich | Entrepreneurial Life


That’s a good bridge. You’re originally from Russia. You’ve lived in the US and made your life here. You gave a TED Talk, Building Invisible Bridges, which talked about your childhood and also the war in Ukraine. Your thoughts on all of this must be complicated, multifaceted, and multicultural.

I don’t know if they’re that complicated because I don’t see a gray zone in this particular war. I’m never going to call it a conflict. That’s a war.

Would you still have relatives?

I do. There’s a lot of gray in a lot of places. To me, there is no gray here. My wife is from Ukraine. All of the graphics that you saw that were in The Russian Five were done by Ukrainian people. It was an unprovoked attack on innocent people. It was a fight over democracy and control. I can’t imagine or fathom that this is happening. It’s very hard to grasp that when something like this happens in the part of the world where you’re from and the people who you know.

I jumped into humanitarian efforts almost right away after I was done with the shock of getting people out of the country. We could get out by building shelters and getting refugees out. We started working with grassroots organizations inside the country, getting food to the places that had no food. I’ve been heavily involved in humanitarian efforts. I opened a nonprofit called Real Help for Ukraine when this started. Somebody handed me a large check and said, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with it but I know you’re going to do something great with it.”

That’s the money going to you since you seemed to be good at raising it.

It’s a lot of hard work but anything can be done. I couldn’t find the fiduciary that I trusted so I started this organization. A lot of people were not doing work inside Ukraine like the World Central Kitchen.

That’s an incredible organization. We’ve done work with that, my family and I, in Puerto Rico.

They are incredible. They were right there on the ground. Nobody else was willing to be inside so we were willing to be inside. We started a lot of work with grassroots projects and various projects together with the Entrepreneurs’ Organization as well. I’m not conflicted at all. My wife’s family’s in Crimea and I watched that get takeover in 2014. I was there when I saw it with my two eyes. I was in Crimea when it happened.

People could have a take on politics and think about politics but when you’re living in this and you’re watching this takeover, you woke up one day and there was no longer Ukrainian television or Ukrainian radio. Everything went off-air and every billboard the next day had Putin’s face on it. They were running a referendum. All of it was a huge mistake by the world to be soft on it because that signaled what we’re witnessing, unfortunately. We’re still going on and a very big part of it. It’s very hard to swallow that there’s been so much systematic brainwashing that happened to the Russian people. They have no freedom or free information.

A lot of the world has no free information.

It’s this constant propaganda that’s in their face. I’m looking forward to when there will finally be a trial and they’re saying there will be people in the media that knowingly disseminate this information. Propaganda is so strong.

There was a woman I saw who escaped North Korea. She wrote a book around it. Her name is blanking me but I saw her speak at a conference and she was incredible. One of the things that they were doing and what she had seen and helped influence her was a massive drive to collect thumb drives, put movies, newspapers, and stuff, and drop them into these places where people only get a curated sense of news. It busts all the things that they’ve been told in the narratives.

They had these big boards that said, “Put anything on a thumb drive movie, news, music, or cultural and stick it on this board.” It had a big mouth of the dictator over there. I thought it was super interesting that something that simple seemed to be having a huge effect. I don’t think most of us and probably by default, anyone reading this, doesn’t appreciate when you are curated all day long in a narrative and then you see or read something or you’re told these people have horns and you see that they don’t have horns. It’s like someone broke the glass for you.

Russia is not like North Korea. The younger generation is consuming the right content. The older generation is very brainwashed but here’s the thing. The systematic totalitarian system doesn’t allow for any uprising. He has killed everybody who has ever stood up to him for years and years. There is no leadership. Nobody is leaving. The only guy that was trying to was rotting in jail. The guy who somewhat started some coup accidentally died in a plane crash so we know what the trend is.

Russia is not like North Korea. The younger generation is consuming the right content, while the older generation is very brainwashed.

For lack of a better term, until the slaves are able to rise in masses, that country and culture will remain what it is and it’s very unfortunate. With a lot of my work around Ukraine, I’ve been under severe cyber attacks from Russian hackers. I am on some very interesting blacklists in Russia. Putin and the Russian Ministry of Film stole The Russian Five. That was an interesting story. It happened right before the pandemic. Somebody sent me a pitch from the Ministry of Film because the Ministry of Film financed a lot of films.

Putin plays hockey. He’s a big hockey fan. He saw the film. He liked it. He didn’t like the ending or the American undertones. He has ordered his version of this but done it in a very pro-nationalistic Russian way to show that they all came back to Russia type of thing. Somebody sent me a pitch from a closed Ministry of Film where they awarded $7.5 million to a Russian production company to make their version of The Russian Five. They never even changed any of my visuals. I’m watching this person pitch my movie.

Change the ending and be very profitable.

It was surreal. I’m in a very interesting position. Until the regime change, I would never be able to go to the grave of my grandparents. I don’t know when was the next time we will see my wife’s family because we’re not in a position to visit that country anytime soon.

That’s complicated and probably better to be safe than sorry there. You’re not doing enough already. I’ve heard you’ve started writing a series of books. What are you writing about to complete your multimedia empire?

My mission in life is to help people become better versions of themselves through storytelling. It could be in any medium, whether it’s film, DJing, which is a story that I tell, or motivationally speaking. The first series is about what we’ve learned from this entrepreneurship. I’m still a casting director selfishly because I love all of the stories. I’ve interviewed upwards of 1,000 small business entrepreneurs across the country in depth learning about how they made it.

The first is to imagine it’s chicken soup for the soul but it’s chicken soup for the entrepreneur’s soul. We’re telling stories of these different entrepreneurs who have been on a show and the lessons that they bring forward to hopefully inspire the next generation. I’ve got a book in the works about feeling the fear but doing it anyway, which I strongly believe in.

This is the country where you can do anything. I was watching Magic Johnson come on stage and talk about what he’s been able to accomplish, thinking that I came here with $100 and two suitcases with no English to stand on that stage at the abbey and do anything that I do. Anything can be done here. I want people to truly understand that. A lot of people here don’t have a frame of reference because they don’t come from places like I was.

I was at a school. I was out at a meeting at an Amherst, Mass and they were trying to organize a meeting of communists. I hear there were socialists who used it a lot. I have not seen communists. What is your take when you hear a lot of this rhetoric usually from very privileged people around capitalism and the evil of capitalism who don’t have any context for alternative systems in the world?

I’d like to take them all and ship them to a place with all of these idealistic ideas. Communism to me only works in the kibbutz or a small family setting. Human nature doesn’t allow for things like this but in general, when people demagogue about things they’ve never experienced or lived in, that’s very hard for me to swallow, especially when they’re very privileged. They have no idea. I know what it’s like to stand in line, when there’s no toilet paper for sale, and there’s only bread in the store. I would challenge them by asking, “What do you know? What your life experience is like? What have you seen?” Where we’re going of capitalism with social responsibility is a great place to be. How can we do better as capitalists?

Capitalism is fair. A lot of people’s criticism of capitalism is crony capitalism, where the government gets involved and messes it up. The people who should have lost all their money don’t lose their money but that’s not capitalism in its purest form.

America is not perfect by any means. Nobody ever is. It has its set of issues and problems. However, I will never get sick of saying this. The American dream exists for anybody and everybody. You can do anything here but people have these preconceived notions and programming. They have to unlearn things. It takes unlearning and radical self-belief.

To your point, people always ask me, “How do you make it?” I have radical self-belief because I don’t care what I’m told. I will flip it on its head and get it done. It doesn’t matter what other people believe. It matters what I believe and that’s what I’m teaching my kids to be like. You have to have radical self-belief and work ethic. You can make money doing anything in the United States.

If you walk around thinking everyone’s out to get you, that goes against all those principles. That is not going to get you where you want to go.

Nobody’s out to get you. Everything is here for your taking. Some people come from different places. It’s more about education, mentorship, and unlearning certain things that have been programmed. People are raised by other people to think a certain way but luckily, you can consume so much information now.

Maybe people here need some of those USB drops of stuff that’s not algorithmically shown to them on social media.

It’s got to seep into our education system earlier. Can we teach people other skills like the hard skills we’re teaching? Can we teach them about growth mindset, critical thinking, and emotional intellect? There are so many things we can teach children outside of this antiquated system that’s been in place for a long time.

Jenny, last question for you. This is multivariate. It could be singular, repeated, personal, or professional but what’s a mistake that you’ve made that you’ve learned the most from?

My grandma used to say that we were too poor to pay for something cheap, and I didn’t understand it. The biggest mistake I made was on The Russian Five. It cost me more money. I was trying to save money in the post and I went with a post house. Saving money was not the only reason but it ended up costing us twice as much essentially. From that lesson, I’ve learned that you’ve got to hire the best people for the job and it’s going to cost you a lot less in the long-term.

You’ve got to hire the best people for the job. It will cost you a lot less than in the long term.

What was the quote?

We’re too poor to buy cheap things was the translation of it because it was in Russian. She wanted to make the best quality thing because it would last a lot longer, even though it was more expensive.

You have to divide the price over time to get the true cost. With furniture, go with Ikea if you want 1 year or 2, or go with something nice. It’s the in-between that doesn’t get you anywhere.

It was a big lesson. It cost me a lot of time and money on that for sure.

Jenny, thank you for joining us. I know our audience will be inspired by your story. How can people learn more about you and your work?

Follow me, @JennyFeterovich on LinkedIn or all the different social media. Start Up TV show, you can stream it on PBS.org. That’s up for streaming. We release new episodes every Monday. Hopefully, you’re inspired to follow your dreams, whatever those dreams are. That’s the whole point of it all.

Thank you for joining us, Jenny.

Thank you.

To our audience, thanks for reading. If you aren’t yet a subscriber to Friday Forward, my weekly leadership note that reaches about 200,000 people around the world each week, you can sign up at FridayFWD.com. Finally, if you enjoyed this episode, please make sure to follow the show to be notified about new episodes and have them downloaded to read. If you’re using Apple Podcasts, simply hit Follow on the show overview page or the three little dots in the upper right if you’re on an individual episode page. You can also hit Follow on Castbox, Spotify, Pandora, or your favorite podcast player. Thanks again for your support. Until next time. Keep elevating.

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