Tony Hawk: Don’t Let Naysaying Affect You

Being an outcast may not be so bad. In fact, the differentiating characteristics that seemingly make you uncool may be preparing you for success. It certainly worked for the legendary, professional skateboarder, Tony Hawk – and he’s been at it for 40 years!

“When I was a kid in the late 70s, being a skateboarder was the most uncool thing you could do, like we really were lowest on the totem pole,” Tony said. “I got used to being ridiculed for doing what I love, and then when I started skating my style, I was considered really strange and I got a lot of ridicule. I was in an outcast sport, and then I was an outcast, in an outcast sport. So that prepared me for the hate of all kinds.”

Tony started skateboarding at the age of 9-years-old. By 14 he had turned pro, and by 16 he was regarded as one of the top skateboarders in the world. But in 1991, the skateboard trend plunged to a harsh death, and Tony found his income dwindling at a rapid rate. His passion for skateboarding was still alive, so he decided to start a skateboarding company. Birdhouse Projects, as he called it, was set up with a home equity loan, a lean startup mindset, and the help of a former pro skater friend. Tony bet the farm that skateboarding would resurface in the near future.

“The Birdman” grew his namesake brand into a gnarly billion-dollar video game franchise, as well as an extreme exhibition sports tour, a successful clothing line, sporting goods and toy line, and Birdhouse Skateboards.

All this success didn’t happen overnight, Tony had some help along the way. At the AICPA Engage Conference, powered by Chase Ink, Tony shared some of his lessons learned for shredding the small business world.

It Only Seems Impossible to Others
Ten years ago, the idea of sending disappearing text messages through your phone to friends would have seemed nuts – but crazy ideas can turn into something grand if you stick to what you love.

“I constantly enjoy challenging myself. The greatest buzz I get from riding a skateboard is doing something new, even if it’s already been done. I’ve believed in myself and I’ve been able to do something that people consider impossible,” Tony said. “The same goes for business. A lot of these businesses we’ve created seem very quirky, almost impossible to stay profitable, but we made it work.”

Bring in the Experts
One day you’re the cook, the next day the chief dishwasher. Through my own experiences, I can relate to the trap many entrepreneurs fall into – taking on too many roles. But at some point, most successful leaders understand that in order to succeed, they need to bring in additional talent to fill specific roles. Likewise, for Tony, the best way he could help Birdhouse was to focus on his strongest skill sets.

“At first [my friend] and I were just doing everything. I realized very quickly that I was better as a skater than a creative director. One of our skaters, Jeremy Klein, was actually a really good artist and he offered to take it over. I reluctantly gave him the reins but realized very quickly that he was much better suited.

“I learned early on that I needed to surround myself with people that have the same passions, but also have better expertise in other fields. I learned that I’m better at skateboarding and public relations instead of being behind the desk,” Tony said.

Trusting Your Team Is Key
As a cofounder who has hired many people throughout the years, I’ve found that it’s critical to bring in people who have an enthusiasm and passion for the mission, but also, whom can trust with moving the business forward.

“[The lesson that] I’ve taken with me throughout the years of [building] skateboard companies, and small businesses, is that I have to rely on a team of people that have the same sense of values [and] aesthetics, but are very good at what they do. I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to surround myself with people that I trust,” Tony said.

Forget Naysayers and Negativity
Anyone who tries to change the status quo will inevitably get flooded with negativity at some point. Don’t buy into it or let them get the best of you, keep moving forward with your dream.

“I don’t let those people, those naysaying people, affect me. I move on with what I believe in. And truly what I believe is that if you’re doing what you love for a living, that’s the definition of success,” Tony said.

In the End, Make Sure You’re Stoked
My cofounder and I ask each other often, “are we still having fun?” Fortunately, the answer has consistently been “yes.” Have there been challenges, sure, but we’ve always maintained a level of fun. Without enjoying what you do, without loving what you do, then what’s the point? Go do something you love and success will come.

“I’ve been a professional skateboarder for over 35 years, and it’s still the most fun. It’s still what drives all these other businesses – I still walk the walk. I’m really thankful that I get to do this for a living – it’s really a dream come true. The things that we’re doing and the things that we’ve been able to accomplish is because I have a great team around me,” Tony said.

Watch the video interview above as I talk to Tony Hawk about productivity, business, and skateboard life.

Note: This article and video interview with Tony Hawk is sponsored by the Chase Ink credit card.

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