Tony Hawk explains how he turned his passion into a business, how others can too

If anyone knows about how to turn a passion into a business, it’s skateboard legend Tony Hawk.

Tony got his first skateboard when he was 9, turned pro at 14, and by 16 was considered the best competitive skateboarder. He was a world champion skateboarder for 12 years in a row.

And while it’s easy to extol his virtues as an extreme sports athlete, what I find really interesting about Tony (other than that first incredible 900 at the X Games) are his business chops, because frankly, they are pretty legendary too.

Tony teamed up with Activision in 1999 and created what would become one of the most popular video games of all time, “Tony Hawk’s™ Pro Skater™,” now a billion dollar video game franchise. His portfolio of entrepreneurial activities also includes Birdhouse Skateboards, Hawk Clothing and Tony Hawk Signature Series sporting goods and toys.

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I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tony, not only about his own businesses, but his latest project: A new digital documentary series created with GoDaddy that he hosts. The series shows others how they can turn their passions into a business too.

“What I love about this series,” Tony told me, “is that it shows the real strength of these entrepreneurs, how they were able to change direction when needed in the middle of a pandemic.”

GoDaddy’s “Go Forth” follows three adventure athletes as they go about competing in their respective sports while also starting and growing their small businesses and – of course – figuring out how to do all of that during a pandemic.

Tony Hawk (Photo: Handout)

We in the small business world often talk about passion – the passion it takes to start a business, following your passion, that sort of thing. But one thing I know is that passion alone doesn’t pay the bills. You might be passionate about 18th Century Flemish architecture, but a business that does not make.

In this series, we get to watch extreme athletes turning their respective passions into legitimate business adventures, almost in real time. For instance, in the first episode we see Jesse Thomas, a pro triathlete and founder of Picky Bars, launching a new product on Valentine’s Day 2020, unaware that the pandemic was just around the corner.

The other two athlete/entrepreneurs profiled in the series are:

► Lizzy VanPatten – a rock climber and founder of She Moves Mountains, a mentorship program that empowers female rock climbing guides. During the series, we will watch her do that, while also pivoting towards merchandise because of Covid.

► Matthias Giraud – a pro ski base jumper (also known as “Super Frenchie”) and inspirational speaker. He just lost a major sponsor when the series starts and so we will watch him pitch and seek out new sponsors.

While skiing off of a mountain like Matthias does is pretty incredible, figuring out how to take that same passion and derring-do and turn it into a business is almost an even better trick.

It turns out that while these incredible athletes are of course on another level when it comes to their sports, they are just like us when it comes to their businesses. Their stories are our stories, their struggles are our struggles, and they had to learn how to navigate small business during a pandemic just like we did. We see, for instance, that at one time Jesse had to take out a mortgage on his house when a deal with Trader Joe’s fell through.

Talk about having courage!

Tony agrees. To him, the series is about “hope, as well as skill. Not only did these entrepreneurs see voids in the marketplace which they sought to fill, but even when success took longer than they had anticipated, they persevered.”

The series is inspirational, and educational to boot.

Tony explained to me that he hopes that by sharing the stories of these fellow entrepreneurs, he can inspire others to turn their passions into reality.

Steve Strauss is an attorney, speaker and the author of 17 books, including “The Small Business Bible.” You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.com, get more tips at his site TheSelfEmployed and connect with him on Twitter @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at TheSelfEmployed.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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