Finance Work Passion into profit: From bouncer to cinema innovator

Passion into profit: From bouncer to cinema innovator

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Working as a bouncer during his time as a “wild kid” was an oddly apt starting point for Moonlight Cinema and meditation app founder James Tutton’s working life.

As a nightclub doorman and bouncer, Mr Tutton needed to be quick on his feet and read people well.

“It sounds odd, but it is actually very relevant to my journey with Moonlight Cinema, meditation app Smiling Mind and property development company Neometro – they are all things which are about people and ideas.”

Mr Tutton founded Moonlight Cinema in 1995 when he was a 23 year-old studying philosophy at university, selling the business in 2006 for $8.3 million to focus on his other ventures.

He bought a half-interest in Neometro despite “not knowing the first thing” about property and co-founded a daily meditation tool called “Smiling Mind”. 

In each enterprise, Mr Tutton deals with a range of people – from private equity, academia and mental health on the board of Smiling Mind, to family offices, banks and lawyers in property.

“Basically, I am a big believer in being able to engage with a breadth of people and starting out as a bouncer is a good grounding for this.”

He also covered a diverse range of clubs, concerts and bars and said the best skill he learnt was the ability to be able to spot trouble.

“There is a posture, a walk, an attitude which you need to be able to see – it’s hard to describe as someone can be civil and good and then next thing they are smashing up the street.

“Same applies in a commercial environment; you get a sense of whom you want to work with and who is honest to their stated values.”

The early entrepreneurial start means he has never had a boss, instead learning from his business partners along the way.

He believes that capitalism can be used as a force for good with business and commercial outcomes combining.

“There are too many people – both in business and in the not for profit space – who think that social outcomes can not be delivered by business, and business folks who think social outcomes are not relevant to business,” he said.

Mr Tutton’s most important business advice is not to do something you don’t like – to do what you feel is right.

“There are so many really miserable people who are living with the unreal view that one day they will wake up and love being a lawyer or banker despite the fact that they’ve been miserable for the last 10 years.

“I am not saying all lawyers etc are miserable but there is clearly a lot of unhappiness out there in corporate Australia.”