Running A Business

(Tony) Hawk and the Birdhouse

Mar 22, 2013 • 5 min read
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      I grew up idolizing professional skateboarder Tony Hawk. He was the first to land a “900” (a 900 degree turn or two and a half spins) in the half pipe competition at the 1999 X Games. I didn’t even skateboard but he still was my hero. Shortly after this accomplishment he helped Activision, a video game publishing company, introduce  “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” to the gaming world. These are two reasons why Tony Hawk is considered to be “The Godfather” of skateboarding.

      Another big reason happened eight years earlier in 1992 when Hawk started his skating company called Birdhouse. He and ex-pro skater, Per Welinder invested $80,000 into starting this company. Later Hawk would buy him out of the company after they didn’t see eye-to-eye on where the company was going. Hawk explains what happened in an article with Inc Magazine titled Tony Hawk: How I Learned to Say ‘No’. Here is what I learned from his experience:

      Don’t lose focus.

      Hawk started his company during a time when most would say, “Skateboarding is a dying sport.” His business, however, was able to thrive because of their focus towards creating products for a specific group—skateboarders and fans of skateboarding.

      Later, when Birdhouse was more successful and skateboarding was popular again, they tried branching out to sell a denim line that turned out to be a failure. This made Hawk realize that they needed to stay focused on skateboarding when he said, “It’s easy to lose focus. Don’t.” Skateboarding is what they know and do best as a company.

      Recognize your personal strengths.

      Most entrepreneurs like Hawk had a lot of responsibility in company during the early days. However, he shortly realized that there were others more qualified to run his company. One of his marketing team members even joked around seriously saying, “Your ads aren’t very good. You’re better at skating. Why don’t you just let me take this over?” He then took a step back by taking on a role as an ambassador or an advisor for the company.

      Getting back into professional skating helped out his company in two ways:

      1. He got the name of his company out there because he was wearing and skating with his products.
      2. Since he was competing and being around the culture of skateboarding he was able to see the trends and more importantly the future of skateboarding.

      In a 2009 interview with Entrepreneur Magazine titled Tony Hawk Carves a New Niche he even said, “I wouldn’t consider myself a business expert. I’ve had successes, I’ve had failures, I still have a lot to learn…” Being humble enough to understand that there may be others more qualified than you to handle the business side of things is a hard thing to do.

      Don’t let anyone get in your way.

      Hawk and his co-founder, Welinder, saw the company going in different directions. Welinder wanted to take the company into surfing but after the failure of the denim jeans Hawk had to say no. He instead offered Welinder a way out. Welinder ended leaving the company after being bought out, leaving sole ownership to Hawk.

      This isn’t to say that Welinder’s idea for the company couldn’t have been successful. There are many examples of partnerships going separate ways creating two different but successful companies. One example is the world known shoe companies Adidas and Puma who started because of a disagreement between owners and brothers of Adi, the original name of Adidas (Find out more about this story here).

      Tony Hawk may not be the best that skateboarding now has to offer but he will remain a legend in the sport. This is because he has successfully created a branding experience around his name—you could call him the “Michael Jordan” of skateboarding. He has poured his heart, soul and his wallet into bettering the sport. His passion for skateboarding is what drove him into creating his company and made it successful when others said it couldn’t be done.

      What is your passion that drives your business forward?


      Mike Alder is a University of Utah business marketing student and marketing specialist at Lendio. Passionate about entrepreneurship, small businesses, and inbound marketing. Mike shows his passion by sharing stories of successful entrepreneurs and companies with small business owners on the Lendio blog. He makes these big success stories easy-to-apply in simple and easy to read language for the everyday small business owner and entrepreneur.

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