Get mentors & let them be honest with you — If you pay attention to the greats in anything they all pointed to someone else who gave them criticism, feedback or advice that was difficult to hear. How they responded to it was everything. Find an experienced, person who you value as a person & give permission to be “hard on you.”
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Smith. Mike is a professional speaker, host, and social entrepreneur. Smith is the founder of The BAY and Skate for Change, promoting positive communities and opportunities for youth development. In addition, he is the host of The Harbor TV. Through his ventures, Smith has combined his passion for skateboarding, music, and art; he continues to use those as a means to help the next generation of misfits find their grind. He is based out of Lincoln, Nebraska but regularly tours the country as a motivational speaker. Whether it’s motivating students or employees to change the culture of their school or their workplace, or teaching others how to start and maintain successful brands and organizations, or showing others how easy it is to give back to the homeless and less fortunate in their communities, Mike has the experience and expertise to inspire others to be extraordinary. As brand ambassador and co-founder of Find Your Grind, Smith is dedicated to supporting programs that focus on positivity and growth for today’s youth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in the Midwest, a small town kid who by all accounts was pretty average. I played sports, loved skateboard. I didn’t excel in school or college but used those seasons in my life to chase my passions and build relationships with people.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
The moment when everything clicked was when I realized you didn’t have to be the best at your passion or hobby to make it a business. I’ve never been the best at any of the things I do, skateboarding, music, digital art, content creation none of it. What I realized was those are industries I wanted to have an impact in my ah ha moment was when I realized that if I focused my time on the impact I could have in those areas vs being “the best” in those areas I could make something pretty special.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
It’s all about work. People have no problem wish & talking about things but the ones who actually create something put the work in. I think there’s an art form to being aggressively patience with your business, you’ve got to push hard to get what you want but have to courage to be patient enough to see it thought. A lot of people quit when it gets hard or they don’t get the instant gratification they’re expecting. I tell myself everyday people wish, talk or do.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Start small with it. See if you can make some extra money from your hobby or pastime if it’s working double down on yourself & go for it. Especially if you’re young, take risks. Start a couple companies. Let the bad ones go & build up the ones that make business sense. But also don’t be so afraid to get started. Who cares what your parents or siblings or friends you don’t like from high school think about you. Chase what you love. Everyone else is currently pretending to have their shit together, don’t let anyone other than you be the loudest voice in your head.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I am a firm believer that if you’re bored or you dread what you’re doing it’s 100% your fault. People are painfully dishonest with themselves when it comes to work, and it makes no sense to me.
You have to keep pushing yourself to find ways to make things new & exciting. You have to change it up in life no matter what you’re doing. Take new risks, change up your approach, quit & go do something else.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
People is the answer for both. I love the people I work with they quickly become family to me. That being said sometimes it doesn’t work out & people have to move on. I hate that, it’s for sure the hardest part.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It’s harder than I thought & it’s more fun than I thought. Gotta roll with punches.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Nope. I’m all in alllllll day. There’s nothing else I’m trying to do.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I thought fundraising was going to be easy and back in 2011, I thought I just needed my “viral moment” and we’ll be set. We ran out of money in our first three months of being open so I tried to do something “crazy” and lived homeless until I raised 10,000 dollars. I ended up raising the money but it took me 27 nights sleeping under the bridge in subzero Midwest winter conditions to get there. We never got a gift bigger than 500 dollars. Looking back on it I realized there’s a lot of ways to raise money and that one sucked.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My staff & the people who have quit “real jobs to help create something different”
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I create a couple different non profits when I first started. One is a large facility that houses an indoor skate-park, coffee shops, concert venues & an digital art/creation space. That is home to a lot of at risk young people who are passionate about skateboarding, music & art. I have poured my life into this place & all the good that we can do in the lives of young people. I also started an organization called Skate For Change. Which empowers skateboarders to give socks, water & hygiene supplies to the homeless in their communities. SFC happens all over the world now.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Focus on finding solutions not problems — the people who work for you are going to find things to complain about. Typically it’s going to be other people. I’m a big fan of challenging them to find the solution in it, not just tell me the problem. Don’t get me wrong, things don’t work, stuff happens it’s part of it. But focusing on what’s broken isn’t as important as trying to fix it.
- Get mentors & let them be honest with you — If you pay attention to the greats in anything they all pointed to someone else who gave them criticism, feedback or advice that was difficult to hear. How they responded to it was everything. Find an experienced, person who you value as a person & give permission to be “hard on you.”
- Not everyone you hire at the start is gonna be there at the end. — It’s not realistic, so learn to maximize the talent you have while you have it & learn how to help pass the baton to the next person. Letting people move on is hard, having to move people on is even harder. Having to transition some of my first staff was the most difficult thing I’ve done in my career. I think before I started I underestimated how difficult that process really is.
- Focus on the right thing at the right time — Early you tend to focus on the right things at the wrong time. I found myself early spending too much energy on things that were years down the road because it wanted to hurry up & “get there” I wasted a lot of time & energy trying to build things before we were ready.
- No cares as much as you do. Therefore they’re not willing to work as hard as you are 99.9% of the people I’ve hired love what we do & believe in the work we do, but at the end of the day it’s a job to them & they’re going to treat it that way. You can’t take it personal.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I always tell everyone you can help 100 people well if you can’t help one person. You can’t solve big problems until you learn how to solve the small ones first. Pick one problem you want to solve in your school, community, neighborhood, wherever you are, you have to start there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s supposed to be fun.
Changing the world’s hard, I don’t want to lose my ability to enjoy it along the way.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Lizzo, Simon Scenic, Donald Miller, Malcom Gladwell
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.