This pro skater dated Paris Hilton, went broke... Now he's a bootstrapper

In 1999 I met pro skater Chad Muska at Slam City Jam in Vancouver. At the time, he was at the top of the skateboarding world. His pro model was selling 10,000 units a month, and he was one of the first playable characters in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game.

But then, all the money and fame ran out.

"Right around the beginning of the pandemic," Chad says, "everything ended in skateboarding for me as far as finances go. My last check came in, and it was done."

What's interesting to me, as a bootstrapper, is what Chad Muska is doing now.

He's building the Muska brand as an independent company and bootstrapping it just like you or I would.

"I'm becoming a businessman for the first time. I've always been a skater. I've always been a creator. I've always been part of the marketing assets, but I've never been a businessman. I've always allowed others to do the business." – Chad Muska on the Nine Club podcast.

Currently, Chad is building his brand, Muska Industries, where he produces limited-run runs of skateboard decks (which he signs), clothing, footwear, and accessories. He leverages his Instagram to connect with his fans and announces product drops, which he sells on Shopify.

He's learning a lesson that Nathan Barry (founder of ConvertKit) has been talking about for a while:

"Creators need equity. Having real ownership in a successful company is the best way to build wealth."

When you compare the riders featured in the first Tony Hawk Pro Skater game, you can see how important it is to have equity:

  • Even though Tony Hawk is the most recognizable name in the skateboard world, he's earned most of his wealth from video game royalty checks.
  • Contrast that with Bob Burnquist, another vert skateboarder, who doesn't seem to have significant equity in any of the companies that sponsored him. These days, he seems to be primarily selling NFTs.
  • Elissa Steamer lives off the income from properties she purchased in Fort Myers, Florida.

Most folks who've had a significant stake in some asset have thrived, while the pro skaters who mostly took sponsorship checks seem to be struggling.

Have you ever had to start over again?

It must have been crushing for Chad to be so well-known (and earning good money) only to be dropped by the skateboard industry.

But he's not starting from nothing. He might not have much money right now, but he does have fans.

"People are thanking me for the reissues I've put out. They've made it possible. My past is funding my future. Skateboarding gave me this opportunity."

If we look, most of us have some built-in advantages that we've built up over time.

When you start a business, you need to use every strength, advantage, insight, and resource you have. Being a successful founder often means stacking every advantage you can:

  • skills
  • capital
  • insights
  • expertise
  • experience in a market
  • network and connections

This is probably why most entrepreneurs become successful in their 40s: they've accumulated decades of experience that they can deploy in their ventures.

"More seasoned entrepreneurs may draw on greater experience in management or deeper industry-specific knowledge. They may also have greater financial resources and more relevant social networks to leverage the founder’s business idea." (Source)

Chad is 47 years old. He's accrued connections with artists, influencers, popular podcasters, manufacturers, and other pro skaters that he can now leverage in his new company.

What's he doing right?

Chad is leveraging two powerful forms of marketing for solopreneurs:

  • He's sharing his journey in a vulnerable way
  • He's sharing the behind-the-scenes of how he's building and launching products.

As I write this, Muska is signing a limited-run series of boards live on his Instagram.

He produces almost everything from a farmhouse he bought in Ohio. His shelving, studio, storage, and computer are all in his living room.

I know "build in public" is getting a bad rap these days, but I think it can be much more than sharing your MRR numbers on Twitter.

Sharing your entrepreneurial journey can attract customers and fans who want to support you in your adventure. When done well, they'll cheer you on, advocate for you, and spread the word.

I made a mini-documentary

I made a mini-documentary about Chad's life (and his new business), and I would love for you to watch it on YouTube:

video preview

(I'm an old guy trying to figure out YouTube. It would mean a lot to me if you could watch it and leave a comment!)

Justin Jackson

PS: are you building a web app / SaaS with Laravel? If so, I'd love to know about it. Reply to this email and tell me what you're up to.

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