About the Book:
This is not only a business book, but a story, actually a drama of sorts, that provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of a most unique man. One who has been able to somehow bridge the gap between a very structured corporate world and a very anarchistic and sometimes rebellious youth market with great accuracy and success.
In many ways, you've seen this story before - you know, the typical rare planetary alignment that brings about a kid with ridiculously supportive parents, the right amount of obsessiveness... the hyper overachieving computer nerd with an abundance of natural athletic talent and endless energy. Add to that a little self-made luck, and you have a true success story in the making. I use "in the making," as it is obvious that Mr. Tony Hawk is far from finished with the story.
There is a certain freshness to this book, I think primarily due to it actually being written by Tony and his family, no professional "hired hand" writers involved. You can immediately feel and sense the nights that Tony, his sister Pat, and brother Steve must have spent together either in each others presence or in emails and drafts, organizing, reorganizing, writing, re-writing, checking grammar, reviewing punctuation and everything else that goes into creating a book of top form.
This book might best be described as a "business autobiography," one filled with fun and very interesting experiences that drive along a good narrative, while providing a reasonable amount of insight into the strategies of marketing a bigger-than-life image and the vast array of product attached to it. The product in this case, in addition to skateboards and apparel, runs the gamut from philanthropic endeavors to television cartoons and radio shows, 30 million copy selling video games, Internet startups, and world tours with enough equipment and semi trailers to rival that of the largest of rock concerts. Through it all, we see how Tony successfully navigates the fine line between celebrity, businessman, and "core" skater, without "selling out" to any one side.
"How Did I Get Here," although topical in format rather than chronological, primarily covers Tony's "business" life from 1982 (at the age of 14) straight through to the summer of 2010, the time of publication. You live through almost 30 years of rises and falls, often matching that of the rise and fall of the actions-sports industry as a whole.
If you are familiar with skateboarding history, Tony's professional career is rooted directly back to the original "Lords of Dogtown." Stacy Peralta, one of the original Z-Boys, formed skateboarding powerhouse Powell Peralta and with it, the Bones Brigade skate team. One of the first members he recruited was 13 year old Tony Hawk. We briefly follow this time through to see royalty checks with the Bones Brigade grow from .85 cents to over $5,000/mo. while still a teenager.
With the beginning of the skate recession of the early 90's and Tony soon to be pushing the old age of 25 (there were no pro skaters over that age at the time), things were getting to look rather bleak.
Thinking that his time as a pro skater was limited, he tightened his belt and sold his Lexus, bought a Honda Civic, refinanced his house to acquire $40,000 in cash, got a partner from his Bones Brigade days who could invest also, and started his own company, Birdhouse Projects along with his own skate team. Despite the skateboard industry taking a nosedive, they viewed it as an opportunity that would weed out all the wannabes for them. They were one of the those fortunate enough to weather it out.
From about 1992 to 1994 Birdhouse Projects appeared to be on life support. With his wife pregnant, an attempt at a "regular" job was made. With $8,000 loaned from his parents, meals of Taco Bell and lots of Ramen Noodles, he put together a makeshift video editing system in an attempt to make a living as a video editor, but alas it did not work out as described in more detail in the book.
Things took a quick swing for the better in 1995 at the first of ESPN's annual "Extreme Games", later simply the "X Games," the action-sports answer to the Olympics. As detailed in the book, Tony quickly became the "face" of the games and as a result of both his added name recognition and the elevated profile of the sport due to the X Games, Birdhouse sales took off. By 1997, licensing deals were abundant also.
1998 saw the advent of Hawk Clothing, with exclusive rights eventually sold to Kohl's. Between that and his foray into high-end apparel in 2002, many lessons were learned that could probably fill a book on its own.
During the 1999 X Games Tony treated the world to the first "900" ever, a maneuver that entailed 2 1/2 midair spins off a giant "vert" ramp. The anarchist attitude of the entire subculture influencing the ways of corporate culture were quite evident at this event. A big take-away for any business reader.
The seeds of "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" video game franchise were spawned in 1997 which would produce its first incarnation in 1999 and continue year after year through publication of this book. Tony delves into the offers and strategies from its inception to becoming the best selling action-sports franchise of all time. Here we have an instance where against all advice, business decisions that only he could make, paid off more handsomely than anyone could ever have expected.
The early 2000's brought about new and very different ideas which in turn brought about even more financial reward, in most cases, or at the very least, a whole lot of excitement.
From a "corporate shake-up" in his Blitz distribution company to one of his most ambitious projects ever, Tony's brand continued to soar. Details on the creation of the Boom Boom HuckJam "arena tour, taking 14 semi-trucks for equipment and 8 tour buses for a 60-person crew, demonstrate the creativity and energy Tony possesses. Along the way we see how he makes adjustments to the show year to year as he tunes it into a well-oiled, fun, and profitable machine.
We round out the timeline with the power of the Internet as harnessed by Tony. He makes this power more tangible in fewer and more direct words than I've seen in just about any publication. From the success and craziness of his Twitter Easter Swag Hunt to the once potential closing of his ShredOrDie.com social site, lessons abound in this chapter.
Before we come to a close here, we can't forget to mention the lighter side of his trials and tribulations in Hollywood that are interspersed throughout the book. Like the time when he tried to get that 3D movie deal done with Tom Cruise, or that follow-up to Michael Jordan's "Space Jam" entitled "Skate Jam", and certainly we must note that bio-pic where Tony had to describe his "first encounters" with a screenwriter, which I believe he called a concept of "supreme existential strangeness."
Finally, we would be terribly remiss not to mention or minimize the final chapter entitled "Giving Back" that begins to document his philanthropic endeavors. Coupled with his more personal chapter featuring excepts from blogs and journals we are taken to places like Sierra Leone and his involvement in the "Sport for Good Foundation." One of their programs provides traumatized children a chance to simply be kids again through sports. These were the ones who had been forced into combat, labor camps, and other horrible situations, some ongoing, mostly during that country's darker war-torn years. A very touching moment. Domestically, the Tony Hawk Foundation continues to work year long to help neighborhoods in need. True to form, he ends the book as he states in the books' very first chapter, when talking to his more youthful readers, "If you get some extra money in your pocket, give back." He obviously lends a lot of credibility to this advice by truly leading by example.
The only difficulty I may have found with the book was a little ambiguity as to who the intended audience was, however that may have been due to a worthwhile attempt to try to make it accessible to everyone, from those with a passing interest in the Tony Hawk story, to the businessperson who has an interest in action-sports or marketing in general, or the teenager with dreams of becoming a pro skater. This is most notably exemplified when providing advice...
"Gravitate toward sponsors and licensees that are willing to
collaborate on, or even give your team control over, the look
and feel of marketing material, no matter how seemingly
insignificant. It's allowed us to weave a thread of graphic
continuity through a wide range of products." (Obviously to
or "Don't rebel for rebellion's sake. In fact, rebellion shouldn't
even factor into it. If the thing you love and do best is
viewed as rebellious, then, yes, embrace your inner Che
Guevara. But don't let the cool police dictate your dreams.
Think of it this way: If your passion is dismissed as mainstream
and dorky, that makes your insurgency all the braver. Do it because
you love it, not because you're worried about what others-teachers,
friends, that hot emo chick who sits alone by the bike rack at
lunch-will think." (Obviously, NOT to the businessperson.)
This is a great read. If you're even remotely interested in the action-sports industry, or possibly a pro skater looking for some sound advice in handling, or how not to handle, your business affairs, or just a young kid wanting to know what it takes to "Be like Mike... or Tony", you can't go wrong with this book. I loved it. I'm sure you will too.