Tony Hawk on Branding, Social Media, and Succeeding in Small Business

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on February 7, 2011
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Extreme sports icon Tony Hawk may appear to have seamlessly transitioned from the skateboard to the board room, but his meteoric ascension to CEO was a journey paved with invaluable lessons for fellow entrepreneurs. According to Hawk, his so-called ramps-to-riches success story illustrates many parallels between skateboarding and small business ownership.

Hawk’s journey — as recounted with candor in his recently released autobiography How Did I Get Here: The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO — showcases why all business ventures large or small must be anchored to a unique brand that’s backed by unwavering commitment.

“You must keep control of your brand and not let others dilute your vision with their own ideas,” Hawk recently shared with us in an interview. “Only hire people you trust and that share the same ideals as you. Even if you sell or license your product or brand, fight for final approvals. As soon as you give up control, it becomes something else entirely.”

Hawk, 42, is among an elite breed of athletes who now boast a name brand arguably bigger than the sport they once dominated.

One-Man Brand

After turning pro at age 14 and subsequently rising to international stardom from the ESPN X Games, today Tony Hawk Inc. is one of the world’s most prominent action sports companies, encompassing a clothing line, a billion-dollar video game franchise, and endorsement deals with media titans like McDonald’s and T-Mobile.

Despite the complex and multifaceted business operation now under his auspices, Hawk argues that his ability to obtain — and maintain — such dizzying success is the result of first learning how to take baby steps that collectively amount to giant, progressive leaps. It’s a practice that Hawk frequently implores fellow entrepreneurs to follow.

“Set attainable challenges for yourself or your business,” Hawk advises. “Don’t compromise, but don’t forget the big picture along the way. It is easy to get sidetracked with fast money and giving up ownership or control. Remember that every adverse situation is a test and a learning process. Embrace those challenges and enjoy the ride. Sometimes you will be ‘living the dream’ and be too busy or focused to even realize it.”

It’s Facebook’s World, We Just Live in It

A wealthy media mogul who enjoys his life, success, and his beautiful family of four children, Hawk acknowledges that staying on top can be even harder than reaching it. That’s exactly why Hawk stresses the importance of remaining flexible and being open to new ideas and opportunities, like the powerful marketing muscle provided by contemporary social media.

With more than 2.2 million followers on Twitter, Tony Hawk has harnessed the power of social networking to promote a wealth of personal, professional, and charitable causes. According to the skateboarding legend, those who avoid social media in their business and marketing models, do so at their own peril.

“Social media is an incredible direct connection to your customers,” Hawk says, “It can give you instant, unfiltered feedback on your business decisions. Paying agencies to outsource focus groups? Ha! Try Twitter and Facebook.”

While no shortage of marketing gurus offer broad and diverse advice on how social media can best be used in business, Hawk contends that nothing matters more than making social media “fun and engaging.”

“If you are just blasting ads out there,” Hawk warns, “nobody is listening. Give stuff away, pose challenges, request feedback on ideas. People want to get involved; they don’t join social networks to see commercials.”

As humble and practical as he is famous and successful, Tony Hawk sees every new day as a platform for new opportunities — all of which can be capitalized upon with Hawk’s prescribed recipe for success: “focus, determination, and perseverance.” But it also takes a “willingness to adapt to the times in terms of technology,” Hawk concludes. “The new age is not scary. It is amazing and full of opportunities that we never imagined. Make your own path in this sense and others will follow. Just don’t get stuck in a rut because the new consumer is very savvy and has less brand loyalty than ever.”

Photo by Matt Rogers [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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