In today’s consumer-driven world, many times social media influencers drive much of a consumer’s purchasing decisions of top brands. Ashley Rachel Villa, Esq. is manager and attorney to digital content creators and Youtube stars to help them grow their platforms and career. As the CEO and founder of Rare Global since 2014, a female-run and female-focused talent management company, Villa learned to trust herself and jump on the opportunities that she saw forming in the social media space.
In the social media world where there were no rules, Villa, trusting herself, made the smart move to take the opportunity to create her own company. Throughout her inspiring journey as an entrepreneur, Villa took things into her own hands, developing her business and her team with the valuable lessons that she learned working as a lawyer at her previous 9-5 jobs. Representing and empowering a diverse group of female influencers, Villa has taken her expertise to enhance her clients’ visions, helping them build lasting and positive brands. I had the chance to sit down and chat with Villa and her journey of creating her company for social media influencers.
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Ashley Rachel Villa. I’m an attorney and manager to digital content creators and YouTube stars in fashion and beauty. I also consult for brands and entertainment companies in the digital media space.
I have my own company, Rare Global, a female-run and female-focused talent management company that represents a diverse group of female influencers.
I am also the co-founder of The Be Rare Foundation, a non-profit for female entrepreneurs—we host an annual women’s summit called A Rare Day, to benefit the foundation, which provides grant funding to projects and businesses with a female-forward mission.
I guess you could say that my work and my life is centered on—and powered by—women!
I live in Los Angeles, which I love to call home.
Give us a rundown on the history behind your business.
I started my company, Rare Global, in 2014. This was right when the world of influencers, social media, and digital marketing began to change. It was the Wild Wild West of brand deals, collaborations, and social promotion… before Instagram went from just a social networking tool to full-blown business platform. Fashion Bloggers were still the only new-age media stars with the power to generate business. This was when little known, yet to be YouTube superstars, were just starting to build their channels; YouTube wasn’t really a main platform in the space yet!
It was an exciting time! There was suddenly this need for infrastructure and best practices around it all (contracts, deals, brand relationships)—but there was no blueprint, no ecosystem. yet.
My first client was Jenn Im, who is best friends with my sister, Stephanie Villa (also a YouTube star). At first, I was just handling contracts; that quickly became managing Jenn on the side, while still working as a full-time lawyer. Soon, it became clear to me: we were on the verge of a new industry. There was an opportunity to build a business of my own.
After getting some experience at StyleHaul—the first YouTube multi-channel networks focused on fashion and beauty—I took the leap and created Rare Global. The vision was to help women establish long-term careers as content creators and, eventually, global brand voices. It’s amazing to have been able to work with Jenn and Stephanie, from the beginning, to launch my dream company. That’s how it all started—women helping women.
What has your process been like getting your business started to where you are now?
Taking the leap, like any entrepreneur, for me, was exhilarating. As I said, there was no map. It was me, doing it all, out of my small condo. At first, that was great. It was flexible, and at my own pace. I could dedicate all sorts of crazy hours to outreach, business development, negotiations; I could craft my own best practices and protocols. Whatever challenges came up or mistakes made along the way… I could handle it on my own, in this startup bubble. But soon, things began picking up and the workload becomes totally unmanageable.
Then, like any startup CEO will tell you, comes the biggest growing pain: expanding. I knew I needed help, to build a team… That is the most difficult and defining learning curve for most small companies. How do you delegate? How do you create a working model that scales but doesn’t sacrifice quality; create a professional work environment but with great work culture? I’ve found that the answer comes down to one thing: your team.
I’m grateful and lucky to have been able to find and work with rockstars, every step of the way. My best friend, Vannga Nguyen, who I’ve always collaborated with over the years, introduced me to her little sister—my first employee. Vanan started as my assistant; she’s now a junior manager. Last year, we hit a huge milestone when my partner, Ivy Cavic, joined the company, having previously built the digital / tv department at ROAR, a major talent management company.
In 2018, we moved to our new offices to Mar Vista, and a truly diverse client roster of remarkable women, including Jenn Im, Jackie Aina, Amber Scholl, and Wengie, and growing.
I’m proud of our milestones, but even more so, I’m proud of the family we are, above the business. Coming to work every day with people I trust and care about, and pushing to achieve for one another—it’s like nothing I could have imagined. It’s incredible.
You previously worked as a lawyer and held positions at companies like Stylehaul and Lionsgate. Many people believe you can’t have a 9-5 and be an entrepreneur. How did your roles there help you shape what you wanted to do next?
I think every entrepreneur’s path is different. One thing that’s defining for every person, however, is their experience. Whether that is work experience or life experience, is in your own cards. I know many entrepreneurs whose previous jobs showed them what they didn’t want to do, and others whose inability to have traditional jobs pushed them to create their own. It’s all a part of your own learning curve.
I actually didn’t mind having a 9 to 5. I like the structure. I never fancied myself as an entrepreneur. I’m very methodical and strategic. I like plans; I like security. I could have worked my way up, for a very long time, up a very long ladder… It just so happened that I saw a real opportunity and was in the position to take it —because I had the professional experience I knew I could apply to a new venture.
From the moment I stepped out on my own, it’s been: which dots do I need to connect, and how does my previous experience apply? Lionsgate and Sierra Affinity taught me corporate structure, protocol, and the ins and outs of media deals, contracts, licensing, and distribution—invaluable skills in the Wild Wild West market. StyleHaul taught me what was happening in this new industry in real-time. These two roles combined created a unique combination of skills for me as an attorney-manager stepping into this space.
Is there anything people misunderstand about your career or something that might surprise others to learn about your work?
Some people might think it all happened overnight.
Some content creators seemed to become ultra-famous just overnight. But many of my clients, now big names in YouTube, are similarly misunderstood. Some of them started their channels 10 years ago when nothing was happening. And they’ve been consistently producing videos, polishing their content, gaining die-hard fans, working towards their own product lines, for a decade. None of that success has been easy or a stroke of luck. It’s been a product of hard work and dedication.
For me, it’s been a decade of commitment to learning and a half-decade to transformation. It’s just in the last couple of years that Rare Global has grown into what it is today.
We all make them—what’s been one of your biggest professional mistakes or missteps so far? What did you learn from it?
One of the biggest lessons that I’ll never forget, from my days in corporate: details matter! And no task, if it’s important to the business, is beneath you.
I remember I was working on a spreadsheet for my boss at an internship at Fox Sports at the time. I was expected to input, cross-check, and organize hundreds of pieces of data and numbers pertaining to a licensing and distribution project. I thought it was so mundane, hardly a useful way to apply my analytical skills. So I didn’t take as seriously as I would, say, reading a contract. I did it as quickly as possible; inevitably, I made some mistakes. Come presentation time, certain numbers didn’t add up… My boss pointed it out that I could have cost the company a significant amount of money for my lack of attention to detail. At that point, I could have been fired!
That one moment woke me up: it was my job to do the job right. Every detail counts. Every task counts.
In a small company that’s ten times truer. You could do 1000 tasks correctly but it’s those 2 that you did wrong that will get attention, that’s just how it is.
Have you had any major setbacks along the way, or did you have a moment where you wish you’d done something differently?
When the business started to grow, and before I had a team, I took on as much as possible, excited to spur that growth. Soon, I was drowning in projects and commitments, not able to give every individual thing my full attention. Looking back, I have the foresight to know that it would have been better to have expanded my team sooner!
How did you handle those setbacks?
That moment created an urgency to look for my team! It was do or die.
What’s your best piece of advice for women looking to work or build a career in your field?
Get some experience. No matter where you want to go, you have to start somewhere—so make it count. If you’re not sure exactly how to get to your end goal, ask around!
Ask someone already in the business, Most young professionals are willing to give you advice; sometimes, even busy executives will find the time to drop you a few gems. But be prepared: do your own research, come with pointed questions, and be respectful of their time.
Find an opportunity that is at least tangentially (if not directly) relevant to your career goal. Then work your ass off and LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN.
Also: Ask yourself, how can I add value? When in doubt, go above and beyond.
What’s something you wish your younger self had known when you were just starting out?
Life is more than just work. Take joy in the simple moments – picking up a Starbucks coffee, getting ice cream after dinner and going for a walk with your dog.
Health is wealth. Get your sleep and eat right – you can’t achieve your career dreams if you are constantly getting sick.
What one thing do you wish someone had told you before you started your business?
The more successful it becomes, the more work is required of you. Be prepared for that, and take care of yourself so you can handle it!
Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. How has your social media platforms helped and/or hurt your career?
Social media has been the foundation of my business, so I have a respect for social platforms. To me, they are tools for building community, promoting business, and expressing personality. I have social media to thank for what Rare Global has become.
I also understand the complexity of social media’s effects on how we experience things at work and in our lives, so I’m very mindful of that.
Instagram is usually used to show a positive highlight reel of what’s going on in your career. What are some of the less glamorous things and tasks you don’t usually get to share with your audience?
I love this question. Of course, we show the glam on IG! But the day to day is much different: furiously answering emails; reading long contracts; trying to remember to eat lunch; back to back phone calls; back to back meetings; random fires and mishaps that require immediate attention; the printer breaking… then it’s suddenly the end of the day.
Yes, we have the chance to attend cool things like events and photoshoots… but 90% of the time, it’s the work behind the desk, that no one even cares to see, that gets us there.
What’s next for Rare Global?
What’s next: working with more unique and mission-oriented female content creators. We’re also excited to bring more of our clients’ visions to life: launching new product lines, tackling activist initiatives, conquering music and breaking into hosting and TV.