For Rehan Choudhry, Life is Beautiful is more than just the name of the festival and social platform that he founded in Las Vegas in 2013—it’s a mantra, and an all-too-important reminder for most people. “The name of the festival was meant to be a statement more than a brand,” Choudhry says of his company’s chosen moniker. “I think over the last couple of years more and more people see it as the name of a festival as opposed to a brand. But the reality is that I wanted more people around the world to just say the words ‘Life Is Beautiful’ and have them build it into their day-to-day language.”
Choudhry himself has much to be thankful for. More than a decade ago, he was plagued by a series of health problems, kicked off by a massive heart attack at the age of 23, which left him reexamining his life. Walking away from his life in Corporate America, Choudhry came to Las Vegas to create the kind of event that would allow him to indulge his passion for empowering others. We spoke with Choudhry about changing lives, his razor obsession, and how he stands out on the Strip.
Tell me about your morning routine. What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
For good or for bad, the first thing I do is reach for my cell phone because I end up knocking out about 50 percent of my morning emails before I get out of bed. Then I have a call at 6 a.m. At 6:30 a.m. I’m off to the gym, and I’m there from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. every morning, five days a week. After that it’s back home and then into the office around 9 a.m. From 9 to anywhere between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. it’s in the office, and then work dinners and any kind of shows we need to see.
This doesn’t seem to leave much time for a sleep. What’s a good night’s sleep for you?
Six hours is awesome.
What about grooming? Do you have a regular routine?
My dad taught me the importance of getting in the shower first thing every morning. He was a surgeon and physician, and for him the thing he always said when we were growing up is, “You are never fully alert and awake unless you take a shower.” So it’s literally up out of bed and straight to the shower, where I have an entire kind of shaving system.
What does that consist of?
Every single time Gillette comes out with a new razor, I have to have it. Every single time! So if you look inside my shower I’ve always got the newest Gillette razor, and then, in one of the drawers by my sink, I have got a graveyard of every other Gillette razor that has ever existed. I have never used anything else.
How would you describe your personal style?
For the most part, I’ve got a uniform: I’m always in black combat boots or black Chucks and Scotch & Soda denim—usually dark—and I wear the hell out of them. And then it’s usually some sort of Life is Beautiful gear. Anything else is situation-relevant. We go to so many events in the city that I tend to gravitate toward this gentleman’s style approach to dinner wear. So a button-down, blazer, pocket square, and lapel pin of some sort—usually it’s one of our Life is Beautiful ones.
How would you describe the typical Las Vegas style, and what makes it unique?
I live in downtown Las Vegas and our festival is in downtown Las Vegas, which has an urban hipster kind of vibe. It’s more influenced by desert rock than it is New York-style SoHo coffee shop—we are the home of The Killers and Imagine Dragons. That is my environment, so I have a tendency to cater to that. The challenge is that you have this entirely different world when you go on to the Strip, and a lot of our events are there. So I am typically the underdressed guy on the Strip, just because I usually stick to my hoodie-jeans-boots routine.
In your everyday work and life, what’s the one item that you always have with you?
If you ask my assistant or any of the team around me, it’s my iPhone, my MacBook Air, and my sunglasses. Those are the three things that I never go anywhere without. And then for probably 50 percent of any given day I have a cup of coffee in my hand.
Las Vegas, of course, is known for being a party town—a place where there is some form of entertainment around every corner. How has Life Is Beautiful distinguished itself as a new kind of event and concept for the city?
For the first 10 or 20 years of its history, Vegas was an incubator for music, art, and culture. Then all of a sudden Vegas kind of shifted into presenting a bigger version of what exists anywhere else in the world. What we are trying to do at Life Is Beautiful is to bring that kind of integrity that goes into creating new art and being a source of new inspiration and new content that Vegas can then become known for. So what we did was create a city festival focused around four pillars: music, food, art, and learning. We built it into 15 city blocks of downtown Las Vegas in a completely unexpected way, in a production manner that has never been really seen before in the festival space. It gives the city a sense of pride that when people come into Vegas, they are seeing something for the first time in our city as opposed to a bigger version of the same nightclub that you know of in L.A. or New York or Chicago.
What’s the meaning behind the name of the company?
On any given day, there are things that, in a weird way, are trying to convince you that life isn’t beautiful or full of opportunity. But the reality is that life doesn’t happen to us—life happens for us. And everything that happens—good or bad—is an opportunity to create better lives for ourselves, and a better world for ourselves in some capacity. You just have to embrace it. So what we are trying to do is create a festival that is very positive in nature. But we are also trying to pull together the real-life stories of people who are living out their dreams and present that to people who also have the ability to do that. It’s a very positive message.
You wrapped up your second festival in October and are in the midst of planning year three right now. Were you at all surprised by how quickly the festival caught on?
When we went into it in the first year, there wasn’t anything that we weren’t experimenting with. We messed with the lineup and the footprint and the branding and the messaging and the storytelling and the four pillars, and we screwed with everything. So the biggest question was: Were people going to get it? And were they going to appreciate it? The answer was a resounding “yes” to both. We are now credited as being one of the top three best festival experiences in the country. I think largely it’s attributed to our kind of urban-inspired vibe, but also the ability that people have to experience non-traditional entertainment. It gives people an unexpected kind of learning opportunity, which is why I think it has caught on so much.
What is one thing that even some of your closest friends don’t know about you personally?
It’s funny, I was having this conversation with someone the other day: My job requires me to be a very confident figure of sorts. The reality is that for everything that I come across as confident with, I carry an equal amount of insecurity. Just like anybody else who has a job or a family or anything, I’ve got the same challenges and insecurities and fears that anyone does. And when you humanize anyone, whether it’s a musician or your favorite movie star, you can start seeing their success as achievable for yourself. But I think that is something that would surprise people because I really fake it well.
What is your personal definition of success?
I’ve got a few. The most important one for me is the number of people that we can really inspire individually at a core level. Ticket sales are an obvious performance metric, as are sponsorship sales, brand awareness, so on and so forth. But really, the difference between a lasting brand and one that is a flash in the pan is the ability to positively influence someone’s life.
What’s the secret to your own success?
I came from a really strong family, so family means a lot to me and I want to have my own someday. I definitely want to keep building and keep creating and keep coming up with new experiences, whatever they are.
What does the phrase “living sharp” mean to you?
Living sharp for me is being highly aware and highly engaged in every interaction. I don’t leave anything as a secondary: pick your outfit, pick your look, be purposeful with every piece of your life, including how you say “hi” to somebody, how you shake their hand, and how you look, smell, and feel. Everything! Because all too often people get up in the morning and think, ‘You know what? I’m just going to take a little bit less time to get ready this morning and no one is really going to notice.’ People notice. Every time.
What role do you think appearance—from clothing to grooming—plays in one’s success?
For me, personal appearance is less about the reaction I’m going to get from the person looking at me. It’s more of the confidence and the comfort in the way that I carry myself. So I know if I go into the gym every morning and take a shower every morning and pick out my wardrobe every morning—all of that makes me feel confident in the ability to present the brand and the person that I want to present in every interaction.
I read a really great profile on you a few years back that talked about the health problems you experienced in your early-20s, how you had a massive heart attack while you were in great shape, which led to the discovery of a rare blood clotting disease. How did that experience change your outlook on life and how you spend your days?
Since my heart attack and years in and out of the hospital, I find myself with a much higher risk tolerance. I get bored very easily with any kind of project that is stagnant or moving slowly. I don’t walk around with a “you only live one life and it’s precious” and that kind of cheesy Hollywood-style perspective. Having a heart attack, almost having a stroke, and being in the hospital for that long was the hardest thing that anyone would have to go through. It has taken me years to recover from it, and I think in a way I am still recovering from it. But I think the lesson that I learned is be very, very in-tune with what your body and your mind are telling you. If your body and your mind are telling you that you need to recover and you need to take time for yourself, then you need to get into a better mental space.
Did the experience inspire you to kind of follow your heart and say, ‘Hey I want to give up this corporate thing and create my own thing?’ I’m sure it creates the sort of bravery it takes to try something like that.
I spent my first 10 years in the corporate world with this image in my head of what I wanted to be. I wanted to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I pictured the tailored suits, I pictured the car I was going to have, and my office and the building I was going to work at. I had it all figured out. And then after the heart attack—it took me years to figure this out—all of a sudden I realized that I didn’t want to be that person that I pictured in my head. I’m just not that person. And I think like maybe having the heart attack kind of sped that up and got me to think a little bit differently. But when I figured that out it allowed me to be a lot more comfortable in leaving it all behind and starting over.