Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk jokingly introduced himself as a “leading expert on credit unions” during Sunday’s keynote address at the 2018 CUNA Lending Council Conference in Anaheim, Calif.
While that may be a stretch, Hawk has proven himself to be a shrewd businessman with impressive branding and social media acumen.
“I’m proof that you can’t outgrow skateboarding,” says Hawk, citing his age and continued passion for the endeavor he calls “as much art form as sport.”
During his address, Hawk described his quick rise to skateboarding success as a teenager, the painful business lessons that came soon after, and the tidal wave of success he enjoyed after launching his wildly popular skateboarding video games.
He learned several lessons along the way, such as:
►Follow your passion. Skateboarding wasn’t always the most popular or lucrative pursuit. But Hawk soldiered on despite many obstacles because of his love for the sport.
►Find your community. While many friends quit skateboarding because it stopped being cool, Hawk found his community of “nerds” who had a passion for skating.
►Maintain control of your brand. After securing multiple sponsorships, Hawk inadvertently signed away rights to how other companies used his image. The low point came when he learned a vendor put his name on toilet paper.
“I realized that I was just a product to him,” Hawk says. “At that point, I vowed to maintain quality control and keep control of my brand and rely on good skating and quality products.”
►Persevere. As royalty checks dried up, Hawk did whatever he could to keep going.
For several years, he toured with six skateboarders in a van, earning just enough for hotel rooms, food, and gas. “It sounds like a struggle, but we loved it,” Hawk says. “By skating for a living, we were living the dream and following our passion.
►Shine through the noise. A big break came when ESPN wanted to feature skateboarding in its new “extreme” games, which ultimately became the X Games.
This gave Hawk the chance to engage with large new audience. “Make your brand fun, interesting, and engaging,” he says.
►Don’t sell yourself short. As Hawk prepared to launch his wildly successful skateboarding video games, the software company offered to buy out his future royalties for $500,000—an incredible amount of money at the time.
He decided to “let it ride” and keep the royalties, Hawk says. “It was the best financial decision of my life because the royalties going forward were huge. It also boosted our name recognition more than I imagined.”
►Give back. Hawk created a foundation that builds skate parks in low-income areas in the U.S. and overseas. “I realized I had more of a responsibility to the skating world than just commercial,” he says. “There’s a big disconnect between the kids who love skating and the people providing the parks. I thought I could bridge that gap.”
Next up for Hawk: A new video game (which he can’t talk about), spending time with his kids, and, surprisingly, a project on Broadway, he says.
“It even sounds super strange to me."
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