JF1016: Tony Hawk Shares His Not-So-Easy Path to Becoming the Premier Skater Brand

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You most likely played his video game, Tony Hawk joins us and shares the highlights and low lights of his career in skating and becoming an icon in the industry.

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Tony Hawk Real Estate Background:
– CEO of Birdhouse, a skateboarding company and video game line one of best skateboarders of all time
– Tony Hawk Foundation, he provides grants and technical assistance for new park in low-income areas
– 14 he turned pro, and at 16 he was widely regarded as the best competitive skateboarder in the world
– At 17 he was making more than his teachers in high school, but in 1991 sport of skateboarding took a dive
– Tony’s income shrank drastically; times were so lean that he survived on a $5-a-day Taco Bell allowance.
– Created Birdhouse during that slump & into one of the biggest and best-known skate companies in the world
– Tony Hawk video game series became one of the most popular game franchises in history (and has now surpassed $1.4 billion in sales)
– Based in Encinitas, California
– Say hi to him at http://tonyhawkfoundation.org/ 

Click here for a summary of Tony’s Best Ever advice: http://bit.ly/2rlUNow

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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how are you doing? Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless, and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast. We only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any fluff.

We’ve spoken to Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank, Emmitt Smith, the NFL hall of fame football player, Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad), a whole bunch of others… With us today, I am honored that we are talking to Tony Hawk. Are you doing, Tony?

Tony Hawk: Hi! Good, thank you.

Joe Fairless: Nice to have you on the show, my friend. A little bit about Tony – obviously, Best Ever listeners, you know who he is… But really quick – he is the CEO of Birdhouse, which is a skateboarding company as well as an apparel line. He’s heading up and his video game series is one of the most popular video game franchises in history; he’s got over 1.4 billion dollars in sales. And oh yeah, he skates a little bit, too. He turned pro at age 14, and at 16 he was widely regarded as the best competitive skateboarder in the world.
With that being said, Tony, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more info about what you’re focused on right now?

Tony Hawk: Sure. Well, I’m still actively skating, which seems to be a misconception about what I still do. I stopped competing a while ago, but that allowed me to really do more exhibition-style skating and do a lot more video stuff. With that being said, we are working on a new video for my skate brand, Birdhouse – it will be the first video we released in ten years. Other than that, I do a lot of promotion type of stuff; anything that I can do to promote skateboarding, I try to get involved with.

I’m one of the members of the ISF, which [unintelligible [00:03:59].25] ushering skateboarding into the Olympics in 2020, and I have a foundation that supports public skate parks in low-income areas. Basically, we try to give funding and resources to cities that need skate parks, especially in the more challenged areas.

Joe Fairless: When you mention that you’re still actively skateboarding, one thing that I read that was recently published about you is that I believe last year you did 900-degree air. First off, is that correct?

Tony Hawk: That is correct, yes.

Joe Fairless: Alright. Secondly, I know what it is now that I’ve done some research, but will you tell the Best Ever listeners what the heck is that?

Tony Hawk: A 900 is basically a two-and-a-half spin in the air when you leave a ramp, like a vertical half-pipe or a bowl, and then go and launch into sort of a two-and-a-half somersault. It’s a trick that I did in the X Games in 1999 for the first time. I’ve done it a few times in my life since then, but I hadn’t revisited it for about five or six years, and last year I decided to do it on the anniversary of the first one ever. That was 17 years to the date, and I was 48, and it was just as hard as it was…

Joe Fairless: [laughs] You said something interesting that I read about the 900-degree air… You said that it was more mental than physical. Will you elaborate on that?

Tony Hawk: Well, it’s definitely equal parts of both, but I had the physical skills to do it for years before I really figured out the mental aspects of it. The mental aspects are 1) it’s possible. The approach where I did not know if it was possible was always a big stumbling block for me, but I always had a feeling that it was possible. The key to it, the turning point for me was figuring out that I needed to shift my weight while I was mid-spin. What that means is I was always leaning too far forward on my front foot and kind of crashing into the bottom of the ramp, and that was my big mistake for years.

When that finally clicked, I figured out how to land with my weight distributed evenly and sort of recover from the rotation. That was it. That’s how it works in the X Games; I literally learned it that day.

Joe Fairless: You said you literally learned it that day…

Tony Hawk: Well, I was saying I kind of figured out that technique during that event, and that was very much a mental thing, figuring that out. And so much of it is having confidence. I use that analogy to all kinds of things, but really the idea that you have the confidence in the skill set to make something happen – that’s just as important as doing it, or as the idea of it in itself.

Joe Fairless: With that approach – you said that’s kind of analogous towards other things… How have you applied that psychology to what you’re doing as an entrepreneur?

Tony Hawk: Well, if I have an idea of something, I believe it will work. It’s as simple as that. I don’t go out thinking “I really hope for the best. I hope this catches on.” It’s intuitive. I think that’s something that could be of value to the people, or that it’s interesting or that it’s something that people wanna participate in, and I go forward with that mindset.

Through the years I’ve seen many skaters come and go, and a lot of skaters who have the skillset but don’t have the confidence to see it through, and their approach is very haphazard; their approach is “I’m gonna try it and hope for the best”, and that doesn’t work.

That doesn’t work in business, either. I believe that the idea that you go at something believing it’s gonna work — it doesn’t always work, that’s not what I’m saying, but there are chances that it will succeed much better when you have that confidence.

Joe Fairless: Is there a way to hone that mindset where you go at it with the confidence? You have the skillset, but you need to have the confidence to go at it? Is there a way to practice that at all for people who don’t have that yet?

Tony Hawk: Well, I’d like to think that there’s a technique of baby steps in doing that. With me, just in terms of skating, I learned some very simple techniques early on, and I learned some tricks that maybe didn’t really interest me, but benefitted me in the end, and the same goes with business. The stuff you learn about the business, even if it seems mundane and it’s not what you got into it for, it’s gonna help you later on.

I’m talking about all the minutiae of how the business works, of doing reports and sourcing materials and things – those are the kind of things that you wouldn’t think you’d need to concern yourself with if you’re (say) the CEO. But at the same time, it’s gonna help you in the end, because you’re gonna understand that process and you’re gonna see when things are going awry very quickly.

Joe Fairless: Something I read recently – and correct me if this is not correct… It was an article about a regret that you had, and it was talking about how you went — in the early 2000s, basically if there was a movie premiere or some sort of premiere you went to it, versus spending more time at home. First off, is that an accurate summary of what I’ve read?

Tony Hawk: Yeah, that’s a very detailed version of it, but sure, there were things that I chose to do, beyond movie premieres (trips, etc.) that definitely should have not been priorities for me and weren’t helping my career necessarily. It was more like I thought I had come to this position of whatever fame or importance that I should go do these things, and at some point I was not choosing my time wisely.

Joe Fairless: Thanks for the elaboration on it. So the question I have is is there a way – if you could either go back, or moving forward this is how you separate what’s relevant and not relevant… How do you know what’s relevant to spend your time on and what’s not relevant, and you should have spent more time at home or doing whatever?

Tony Hawk: Well, these days I have a better grasp on that and I have a better skillset and sense of the values of what I should be doing with my time, and my kids should always trump that. In terms of what I feel like resonates – really, it’s the stuff that I feel like would have the most impact. If I choose to go do something, I’m hoping that it will either a) promote skateboarding in a big way; b) it will benefit my family, either by taking them on the trips or financially. I think that as simple as it seems, that’s the bottom line these days. Is it worth my time? Am I getting paid for it?

I was really spreading myself thin in those days in terms of lending myself to different events that weren’t necessarily financially beneficial, but at the same thing they also weren’t beneficial to the greater good, or something that I was proud of. It was just more frivolous and more caught up in the hype, and I learned — what can I say? I learned from making those mistakes.

It’s not like I’m sitting here going “I regret all that stuff.” Yeah, I could have spent my time better, but now I’ve got a better handle on them and I lived through the fire, so to speak.

Joe Fairless: That makes sense. Can you talk about maybe an investing philosophy? The reason I’m asking about this is the primary audience (the Best Ever listeners) are real estate investors, but we’re also entrepreneurs, and I believe (and I imagine most of the listeners believe) that as real estate investors we are entrepreneurs, we’re creating businesses. I read that one of your first investments was a house, actually. If that’s the case, can you elaborate on that?

Tony Hawk: I was making pretty good money when I was in my later years of high school (junior, senior years); I was making more than my teachers, and for me it seemed like I was making a fortune. My dad recognized that all of my income was basically 1099 [unintelligible [00:11:26].22] so that was one cause for concern. And my dad said “You really should be putting this money away.” And it wasn’t like I was spending it, but I definitely thought there was no end in sight, so I wasn’t planning ahead for the future, and my dad said “I think that you should consider investing in a home for you in the future.” I was 17.

So we found a new housing development that was near where they were, and he co-signed for me. So I was a house-owner while I was a senior in high school. That proved its own challenges, because suddenly I was free, but I still had this responsibility to the school, and of course, my house is always the party house. [laughter] My parents were never home.

Joe Fairless: So you bought that house… Earlier you mentioned if you have an idea, you believe it will work. How did you start Birdhouse? Did you fund it with your own money, or was there other means that you were able to fund that as it got started?

Tony Hawk: I got together with a former pro skater and we partnered our resources together. Basically, we started a skate brand and distribution brand, all at the same time. That money came from getting a second mortgage on the second house that I purchased, and basically taking all the equity out of that house and using that money to start Birdhouse, because at that point I was spread pretty thin with my expenses and I didn’t really have money saved. I had the second house with a huge mortgage and my income was — basically, my income was declining by half every month based on the popularity of skateboarding.

So he and I both put in $40,000 and started Birdhouse and Blitz Distribution. Then I finally sold that house for what I owed on it and moved back to the first house I owned when I was 17.

Joe Fairless: So you started Birdhouse when your income was being cut in half on a monthly basis, which leads me to believe that skateboarding in general had gone up previously, but then it was starting to decline… What gave you the confidence to start a company when the industry at the time was in a decline?

Tony Hawk: I did it based on the history of skateboarding and seeing how cyclical it had become. I started skating in the heyday of the 1970s when skating was the biggest thing, but it was big more along the lines of the yo-yo or the hula-hoop. It was like this toy that was hot for a minute and then it declined. But I stuck with it through the ’80s, so I felt like it was one thing I really was good at.

Then it exploded again in the mid-to-late ’80s, when I was in high school, and then it started to decline again, but very quickly. That was when we decided to start Birdhouse, because we thought based on this graph that we’d seen it’s due to come back. That was the hope, that was the intent, and it took longer than we expected. That’s the bottom line to this thing.

We had a few leaner years than we anticipated, and there were a couple of times when we considered just giving up altogether.

Joe Fairless: You said based on the graph that you saw – and perhaps you didn’t literally look at a graph, but I’m wondering… How did you see that skateboarding was popular in X, Y, Z time? It wasn’t a Google search, so how did you research that?

Tony Hawk: It was more based on experience. We saw it as sort of this seven-year cycle, based on the two cycles prior, from the inception of skateboarding, for the most part. We figured if we started at this time, in 1992, when things were slowing down greatly, that we would probably start to see some profit around 1995-1996… Which did happen, but it was much slower and much more gradual than we expected.

Around the time of 1999-2000, it went bigger than we ever dreamed. Skating exploded. It was on X Games, we had the video games out… Things happened on a much bigger scale than we ever would have dreamed.

Joe Fairless: When people hear your name, they probably immediately think of success and someone who has just an incredible talent. They might not think of the times when you were incredibly challenged to get to where you’re at. I read that you took some odd jobs in the early 1990s, whether it’s editing video for skate companies and things like that… Can you just provide maybe some context or some contrast for, okay, here’s where you’re at now, but here’s some of the things that you had to go through and some of the jobs that you had to take or challenges you had to overcome to get to where you’re at?

Tony Hawk: In the early ’90s it was especially tricky because that was when my first son was born. Suddenly, I was faced with raising a family, with a declining income and a very risky prospect of doing a skate company. So that was already on the plate as we sort of limped along… I was on a very tight budget for food. I was eating Taco Bell, Top Ramen, peanut butter jelly sandwiches on the regular; that was it.

When we would go on tour for our skate brand, we used a delivery van. We were five skaters, all staying in the same hotel room, skating in parking lots for gas money and food money, and hopefully money for hotel for us to get to the next spot. That was our tour. Maybe 100 people would show up, if that…

Those kinds of things seemed like a struggle, but at the same time we were absolutely doing what we loved. When I look back on it, it wasn’t this great hardship. The hardship was getting injured and things like that along the way, when it’s like “Oh, I may not be able to do this, simply because I physically can’t.” But for the most part, we really enjoyed it.

We were a team, we believed in what we were doing… My partner, Per, who we started Birdhouse with, still believed in it, and he just kind of laughed a lot of that stuff off, but in hindsight it was scary, for sure. Like I said, I was raising a family; I had to buy diapers, I had to still pay a mortgage. It was tight.

Joe Fairless: For a Best Ever listener who is in a situation where things are tight and they’re pursuing what they’re passionate about, and they have a significant other, what’s the best way to approach that conversation, to say whatever you need to say to help make sure you’re aligned with them? Do you have any insight there?

Tony Hawk: Well, I think that you obviously have to make compromises on both sides, and figure out what are the bare necessities, what can you afford, what kind of lifestyle can you afford? What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of chasing this dream? But I will tell you that if you are doing what you love and you are chasing your passion, and it’s just paying the bills, there is way more happiness in that than doing something you don’t like doing, for a lot more money. I truly believe that, and that seems like some great soul-searching type of analogy, but it’s true.

What I do now, I would do for free any day, and I get paid ridiculous amounts of money to ride my skateboard… Stuff that seems like just an absurd dream that someone is just gonna rip away from me, because they’re like “You don’t deserve that… That’s crazy.” And even if they did that, I would continue to do it, because it’s my favorite thing.

Joe Fairless: That actually is a nice segue to a question from a Best Ever listener who — I reached out to my audience prior to us jumping on the call and asked them what questions they have for you. I selected just a couple questions, and one of them – this is from Chris in California… He says, “Did you start with big ambitious goals, or has your vision expanded as you’ve gone along?”

Tony Hawk: No, the goal was to have a successful skate brand, to be able to pay our bills and to foster a really good team. By team, I mean like a skate team that we would sponsor, and develop talent that way.

Things got bigger, and I don’t wanna say that they were big goals, but more opportunities arose through that success. For instance, my siblings and I all had young children and we could not find clothes that we thought were cool for our kids in those days. It was all OshKosh B’Gosh [unintelligible [00:20:01].14] dressing up like little sailors, and it was like “Why can’t we just find skate surf clothes for our kids in those sizes? They wanna wear that kind of stuff”, so we created the brand (Hawk Clothing) in 1998, and it’s been going strong ever since. We worked with Quicksilver for a long time, we’re at [unintelligible [00:20:18].13] Kohl’s, now we’re at Wal-Mart Canada, we’re with the Cherokee Group… And that all was born from what we thought was an obvious void in the market.

Then other things like video games and other licensing opportunities – they would just sort of… All that stuff was almost as a natural progression, but a lot of it was very intuitive because it was just there and it seemed like such an obvious fit.

Joe Fairless: With this show we always like to get your best advice ever. In this case, based on your experience as a successful entrepreneur, what is your best advice ever for the Best Ever listeners?

Tony Hawk: My best advice is follow your passion and learn every facet of it, even if it seems boring or if it’s not what you thought, if it came with the territory. You will have an advantage in the end and you’ll understand all of it better.

Joe Fairless: That ties into what you were saying earlier about if you have the skillset but not the confidence, you get the confidence by knowing the minutiae of how the business works.

Tony Hawk: Yeah, absolutely.

Joe Fairless: What’s this quote mean to you? “You’re only as good as your last trick.”

Tony Hawk: You’ve gotta keep challenging yourself. Stay relevant. That analogy can be used in all kinds of ways, but basically if you’re just staying the course and you’re doing the same old thing year after year, people are gonna forget about you, and your product is gonna be stale.

No matter how successful you get, you’ve gotta find that next challenge. It’s not that I believe that; that was just in me. I had to keep learning new tricks, even if I was considered the number one skater at the time.

Joe Fairless: Your video game for franchise is ridiculously successful. I remember playing it, and still I’ve got some buddies that — actually, in preparation for this call we were playing. It definitely, definitely 100% introduced me to skateboarding… So check that box for sure, at least a focus group of one. But with your involvement in the video game franchise, when it first got started what was your priority when giving feedback?

Tony Hawk: My priority was authenticity; staying true to skating and skate culture and making it very diverse in terms of what types of skaters are represented, what types of terrain, types of tricks, what types of companies… I wanted to represent all of it, not just the way I do it.

Joe Fairless: And any lesson learned along the way, as that franchise has evolved and just become a monster? Whether good or bad, anything that comes to mind that you’ve learned along the way?

Tony Hawk: That’s a good question. For one, you can’t just keep putting out the same product, and not every addition is going to be well received. But I think the big lesson I learned was just don’t listen to the hate. There was plenty of people that think — once we were doing sequels, it was like “This one sucks! This is the worst one!” or “I lost interest after Underground”, but there was a huge audience that loved it more and more as it went along. So the haters are loud, but they’re not always right, or they’re not always the most important voices.

Joe Fairless: Basically, everything we’ve talked about can be applied to any entrepreneurial venture, including real estate. A couple quick last questions for you…. We usually go into a lightning round for the show, but we’re gonna skip the lightning round and just ask a couple questions more from the audience.

This comes from Altan who lives in Detroit, Michigan. He asks  “What did you have to tap into internally when people said you couldn’t write a skateboard for a living?” (if they did say that at all).

Tony Hawk: They definitely did say that. I was lucky in that I was young enough to be naive in that sense, where I was like “I’m only in high school. This isn’t my career.” It wasn’t until after high school when it officially became my career, and then I realized that I could make a living doing what I love, but I did have to work at it.

That’s one thing – it doesn’t all just come easy, even if you’re good at it. You have to do it when you’re not feeling good, you have to do it in circumstances that are not great. You’re required to be at your peak performance at any given time, and all those things — I didn’t expect that I’d really have to work at that.

When it got late into my 20s, then it seemed more absurd, where it’s like “Do you still skateboard? Are you kidding me?” But at that point I was already so invested in it and so embedded in the culture that I didn’t listen.

Joe Fairless: What’s a daily routine that you do that you believe leads to your success? This is Theo from Cincinnati.

Tony Hawk: A daily routine…

Joe Fairless: If you have any. Maybe you don’t.

Tony Hawk: It’s not like some OCD thing, but just staying focused with what I wanna accomplish. For instance, I am working on a new video right now called “Saturdays”, and that is going to include our whole team. It’s the first video that we’ve done in ten years as Birdhouse… So it’s highly anticipated, and we’re getting down to the end here and it’s overwhelming, the amount of details that we need to fix and all the stuff we have to get together.

Every day I wake up like “Alright, I’m just gonna get a couple more things done.” If I really lost focus of that or was overwhelmed with it, it just wouldn’t happen, because I am the point person to do that. And in a lot of ways, my name, my connection opens a lot of doors in terms of what we can do with it, so a lot of it is on me, so my daily routine is stay the course.

Joe Fairless: You mentioned the philanthropic approach that you have and the Tony Hawk Foundation… What’s the best ever way you like to give back?

Tony Hawk: That’s my best way of giving back, trying to provide the same type of facility that gave me a sense of identity when I was young. I was very lucky and in that I lived near one of the last [unintelligible [00:25:57].26] skate parks in the U.S., and that was my home away from home. That’s where I honed my skills, that’s where I met some of my best friends, and I shared ideas with like-minded individuals. That was never lost on me, that I was lucky to have that facility, and I wanna provide that same type of facility for kids that are in more challenged areas and have very few outlets. Maybe they found something they love in skateboarding, or something about skateboarding they love, and they just wanna do that with other people that are into it in an environment where they are supported, and that’s a skate park.

I’m not trying to breed pro skaters in these areas, I’m just trying to give them a place to go hang out and do it. The city cares about them.

Joe Fairless: Build a sense of community…

Tony Hawk: Yeah.

Joe Fairless: Anything that we haven’t talked about that you wanted to mention?

Tony Hawk: No, I’m just hugely proud to still be doing this for a living, and I’m still thankful to the fans [unintelligible [00:26:49].24] the fans of Birdhouse, of X Games… That’s the reason that I’m still able to do this effectively, and I hope that I can keep producing stuff that people will wanna see.

Joe Fairless: How can the Best Ever listeners check out that video that Birdhouse is coming up with or anything else that you’ve got on the pipeline?

Tony Hawk: Well, the video will be out in August, so just follow Birdhouse Skateboards on all social media, in any social media and you’ll get updates about it. As far as the foundation goes, like I said, that’s what’s the most important to me and that’s TonyHawkFoundation.org.

Joe Fairless: Excellent. Tony, this truly was a conversation with a very incredibly focused individual, and that’s one of the takeaways I got from our conversation. As you said right out of the gate, if you have an idea, you believe it will work. How you do that is having the skillset and the confidence, and from the confidence — you know the minutiae, that’s how you’re able to have the confidence.

Tony Hawk: That’s the thing. You can develop the skillset and develop the confidence. It’s not these two things that you just have to have magically when you’re born. You learn those things.

Joe Fairless: Yeah. And thanks for talking about your philanthropic approach as well, and really doing what you love and being laser-focused on that, as well as taking an analytical approach and using your intuition when founding Birdhouse. Holy cow, looking at the cyclical nature of skateboarding and then placing a bet at that time on yourself and on the industry, and going through some lean times but doing what you love, and then ultimately coming out and building an enterprise.

Thanks so much for being on the show, Tony. I hope you have a Best Ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Tony Hawk: Alright, thank you.

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