I went to San Francisco for a conference and Tony Hawk, Professional Skateboarder was the Keynote Speaker. He was raw and authentic, but unless you were really were listening, it was hard to pull out specific take-aways, so thought I would share mine.
The good news, you do not have to know anything about skateboarding to get something out of this. I have never been on a skateboard in my life, but I have definitely heard his name many times and I could not name another skateboarder to save my life.
Get better every day.
“Every day I tried to get out of my comfort zone – to take more risks,” said Tony Hawk, legendary skateboarding pioneer and philanthropist. “When I started skating, it was such a small community. You didn’t aspire to be rich or famous or make a career out of it because that wasn’t something anyone had done yet. Skating is an art; it is more about creativity and pushing yourself to new heights.”
Tony never let the fear getting hurt keep him from attempting a new trick. “You have to learn how to fall,” he said. He’s never let fear paralyze his decisions. He sees everything as a challenge and believes that if he focuses on getting better every day, everything else will take care of itself.
My take: I believe there is no status quo. If you are not trying to get better, you can bet your competition is. And they’ll be closing that gap and will eventually run over you. The world is changing fast and we have to be flexible. The strong will no longer survive, it is those who are willing to adapt. To adapt you have to take risks, you have to try new things. The key is to have a process in place that holds you accountable and ensures you’re not going down a wrong road.
Life is not a straight line – it comes with peaks & valleys.
In the early 90s, Skateboarding was on a decline. Most pros were looking for new careers. But Tony Hawk loved it and just kept rolling. He didn’t know how he was going to make it. He had bills and debt and it was difficult to see a path forward. He had haters and nay sayers who wanted to take their shots. But he did not let them bring him down. He stayed the course.
Then the X Games hit on ESPN and skateboarding was a featured sport. Tony Hawk was the world champion. Sponsors started to call and he said, “Everything took off after that.”
My Take: Nothing is worth doing that does not have challenges. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. There will be people – both outside and, more importantly, inside your organization – who will not believe in your path. Listen to those challengers, because they can point out your blind spots. But if , after hearing their concerns, you’re still determined, seek out champions who support your vision and plot a path toward your goal.
Stay on Point.
Tony’s one business motto is “Message over money.” If anything is off-message, it will ultimately provide less value, less money and be less sustainable.
Once on a visit to a company that was licensing his name, Tony saw Tony Hawk branded toilet paper. He asked about it and the manufacturer said he could sell anything with “Tony Hawk” on it. Tony knew right then he had to buy out that contract no matter how much it cost.
From that experience, Tony learned that you have to keep control of your brand – every aspect. Do not just let people do whatever they want with your brand and hope you like it. Now, Tony looks for companies and products that he would actually use, that align with what he does and that he can get passionate about promoting. That way he can make sure the partnerships are authentic to his personal beliefs and fit his culture.
My Take: This gets back to the Why. Why do you exist? What is your purpose? If a particular decision doesn’t support these answers, then you probably need to rethink it. Tony always let his intuition and passion drive him. At Rothschild Marketing we believe the why is everything. That’s why we started our agency in the first place. We want to revolutionize promo in the sea of sameness. We want to give customers who care about being creative, unique, strategic and remarkable a new way of thinking. A lot of companies approach us, but not everyone is a fit. We will turn people away if they don’t truly care about their brand and understand the value that we bring.
When Tony Hawk started out, the skating community was small and spread out. He took on growing and strengthening the alliance by building connections. Tony was basically YouTube before YouTube. For $5, he sent his fans VHS tapes of himself skating and doing cool tricks. Today, he says connecting is much easier. “Technology and the sharing economy have allowed me to reach my fans directly. Social media: it has been a complete revolution of how to interact, promote and share things.”
Even though technology makes building community easier, you can’t force connections. You must be authentic to your core and continually learn and reinvent. Today, Tony still skates and stays close to his community, including a new generation of young skaters who he is excited to support.
My Take: Building a Community is vital. Seth Godin calls communities Tribes.
Nearly a decade ago, I saw the power of connection when I started the Atlanta Bloggers Community. At our first meeting, about a dozen people showed up to share tips and ideas. For our second meeting – without any additional promotion – we had 40 in attendance.
I was amazed. I asked a couple of people how they found out about it and they said one of the bloggers they read mentioned it in his posts, so they came to check it out. This is right when Twitter and Facebook were just starting to become something. As members started sharing about our meetings on these channels, I had to find a larger space. By our fourth meeting, we had well over 100 people – and sometimes, up to 250 people would attend.
People knew me as the mayor of this community. I received hundreds of emails every month from people wanting to join or offering new technology for the community to try. It was insane. I saw a lot of monetizing opportunities, but that is not why I started it and chose to keep it core to my beliefs.
When it comes to you building community, you don’t have to start from scratch like I did with the Atlanta Bloggers. Over the years, I have also joined many existing industry groups that have been important to my business and have served on several boards to make a contribution and add value.
Give back & pay it forward. Choose those things that have impact.
Like most givers, Tony is most proud of his foundation and all the money it has donated to building skate parks all over the US and now overseas in Afghanistan, Africa and other places.
My Take: Anyone who knows my heart, knows giving back is in my DNA. I was brought up to believe that an attitude of gratitude was the key to a happy and successful life and it just wants to pour out of me. I believe that helping your fellow man is the most important thing you can do. I start every morning by taking a few minutes to focus on how grateful I am and to think about how I can make a difference in others’ lives that day. It can be as simple as a smile, and I look for every opportunity.
For those who do not know, Ricky and I lost our father last year. His life was a testament to this spirit of giving back. He taught us to be generous and to give way more than we take. In honor of him, we will continue to carry on his tradition through our mission.