America's Coolest Workplace
Rob Dyrdek is always on the move. Which might make sense for a skateboarding icon comfortable with tricks called the nose blunt and crooked grind. But these days, the serial entrepreneur spends about as much time behind a desk. Or in a recording studio. Or in network pitch meetings. Or even jockeying a horse. As president of Dyrdek Enterprises, he's got his hands in at least a dozen ventures -- including the Rogue Status and DTA clothing lines, the ISX Instant Scoring eXperience, and Wild Grinders, the toy line based on his own childhood skate gang that he's now turning into an animated series. Next on the agenda? A professional skateboarding league -- what Dyrdek, perhaps the sport's most prominent ambassador today, says just may end up being his legacy. Keep in mind, he's 35.
Dyrdek's home each business day is known as the Fantasy Factory, a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Los Angeles equipped with an indoor skate plaza, 50-foot basketball hoops, a foam pit, and something called a T-Rex, a three-wheeled "superbike" he likes to whip around in.
It also serves as the backdrop for his reality show on MTV, now entering its third season. Each episode tends to center around a new project involving the company, with much of the action taking place upstairs in "Corpo," where his office staff works.
Dyrdek recently granted Inc. an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Fantasy Factory, where he opened up about what drives him as an entrepreneur, the importance of authenticity in business, and why someone with more than 1 million friends and followers thinks social media is the most "overhyped" thing in media today.
Do you think you're entrepreneurial by nature? Or did you pick it up through osmosis, working with DC and other companies when you were focused more on skating?
Osmosis. All these people that were close to me were always starting companies and being entrepreneurs, and that sort of seeded it in me, where even at a young age, at 16 when I turned pro, I'd always say, "This is a business, I've got to market myself." I always treated it like a business, started my first company at 19, and I think from that point on, for the last 15 years, it's been more of a refining and understanding. Understanding building properties, understanding partnering with the right people, understanding how to manage people and inspire people and putting the right people together. I'd like to say this is me at my best, at 35, you know what I mean?
As fans of the show know, you work closely with friends and family. That's something a lot of entrepreneurs do, but it can also be very difficult. What are the upsides and downsides for you?
I keep everybody in their position that makes the most sense, keep everybody comfortable. I don't put any grand expectations on anyone I work with. I hire them inside their lane. A lot of people hire people and expect them to be something, and that adds to a lot of the trouble. If you put a family member in a position that t hey aren't built to handle, it's going to be very tough to deal with. As long as you put them in the right lane, and your expectations aren't very high, it's pretty mellow. And, for the most part, I think I'm a very easy person to work with. I work really hard and my goal for each person is for them to be happy and be inspired and want to work hard for me. That's from all levels of everything that I do. Because you're only as good as how hard the people around you will work.
You've told me before that you'll take a meeting with anyone. Why do you think that's important? You're obviously pretty busy, so you don't have time for everyone.
A lot of people have a tendency just to shun meetings because they think, "Oh, that will never work, I wouldn't even consider doing that in any way, shape, or form." But a lot of times, the most random, random things will occur from a meeting…. I feel like it's the process, especially when you're someone like me and you can spot the potential and then have a vision for how to realize the potential that nobody else thought of. That's what I'm always looking for. But don't get me wrong. Ninety percent of it's junk.
What's the craziest idea to come your way?
Anywhere I go, somebody's got a business for me. Dude showed up with like a new "snakeboard." Somehow breached, got in here with a business plan and a snakeboard. And I'm like, "Dude, I don't know how you got in here."
So we're here is the Fantasy Factory. You've told me, "It's become almost like the Playboy Mansion" because it's got this mythology. And that it's easier than ever to get meetings with people you want to meet with, because they want to come down and see this place. Part of the reason we're here -- we could've done this over the phone -- we wanted to see it. I wanted to jump in the foam pit. Do you think that that's like having the ultimate home court advantage?
It's marketing. But it's smart. And as smart as I think I am, I was more wrapped up in the grandness of creating something insane, rather than thinking of what would be sort of the ripple effect behind it. It wasn't as methodic as thinking, like, "Man, I'm going to create this thing where celebrities and stars and everybody wants to come down and hang out and it's going to eventually evolve into trailing that off into the show and deals and everything." I never really thought of it like that.
Were you worried it might not work?
No, because the reality of it is this -- I'm not stupid, this shit is sick [laughs]. Even if the show came out and failed, I still have like the sickest place in the world and I would've just went another direction to build content out of here and done it. Who knows, I would've just kept pushing to make it even more insane. Trust me, I tricked a mill' into this thing. Stupid! Stupid! My budget was 250. But I got so obsessed with the idea of just making it so grand, and the more insane the better. When I think about the series, what's so special about it is, yes, it's ridiculous -- where I'm getting attacked by sharks and jockeying horses and doing all this random stuff -- but there's still this very, very real world of long-term entrepreneurial brands that will go on forever that will birth through this place, and I know that's very special.
Most entrepreneurs are not going to sink a million dollars into their office. Some, maybe. But how do you think that they can replicate little bits of this? And why is that important?
Where you run brands from tells so much about how you do business. And, for me, if you are just dead normal, you tell that story, versus having something worth going to see. But I think a lot of the bigger companies know that. Nike has their own campus, Google's place is insane…. But, for the most part, regardless, your office is a reflection of you as a brand.
How often, aside from when the show is taping, are you guys out here playing, skating, having fun, whatever?
The more dangerous and crazier stuff that goes down, I want to make sure it's filmed. But for the most part, this is where I skate with all my friends, where we hang out and play ping pong and watch football and have parties. It's still a very great world to just have fun in. But when it comes to creating a show, I like to pump it up as high as possible and make it crazy.
How important do you think it is to have fun in the workplace? You're wearing a hoodie and sneakers. Not every company is like that.
In anything, if you don't love to go there or you're not excited or proud of it, it's tough to give -- most people I would say don't give 100 percent. And you're happy if you get 65. But if you create an environment and a place that everybody has fun and loves to hang out and is proud to be a part of, you get 100, 110, and I think that really makes a difference.
How important do you think -- and I think you're hinting at it -- authenticity is, not only for your space and how you run the company, but with the brand extensions that you pursue?
I come from a world that the mainstream has this incredible infatuation with, but all the mainstream portions of it are run by people that know nothing about it. Have zero authenticity. So every property that I build, it's just simply a skateboarder doing it…. There is no compromise. And I'm fortunately in a position where I don't need to compromise…. This is how I live. This was my destiny from 11 years old on. The reason I have the whole industry behind me is because they know everything I do is about the growth of the sport and doing it the right way. So it certainly makes a big difference.
You're obviously more famous, more well-known among the mainstream than before you started Rob & Big a few years back. There's a lot of upside to that exposure. What's the downside?
It's a weird life, man. I wouldn't call any of it a downside, I feel like it's just sort of the price of it. You know what you're getting into. I guess you never really quite expect that everywhere you go. But for me, it's different. Actors, pro athletes, you know them for a character or an actual physical thing. Everybody knows me for me. The fame of a reality show, where you're just having a good time and being crazy. They all feel like they're living it with you, so when they see you, it ain't like, "Oh, there's a dude." It's like, "What's up? There's my homie." So it makes for an interesting, interesting life.
You've been pretty effective with social media. That is something pretty much any company can try to replicate. How important is that for you and your brands?
I don't think it's very important.
I don't think so. I think it's one of the biggest, overhyped things in all of media today. I feel like the effectiveness behind reaching 800,000 MySpace friends, 400,000 Twitter people, is an incredibly small percentage of people where there's a direct effect, a direct touch. The value in it, I think, on a celebrity level, is you can ground yourself and show yourself a little bit more and address certain things. There's a realness to it. Even though a lot of celebrities stay away from it, or it's just all business where they try to promote something. But I really believe it's the most absolute overrated promotional piece in media. Nothing compared to like you doing a really funny incredible viral video -- millions of people see it.
But that's part of social media too.
Right, but again, that's content-driven. You've created something strong enough that makes somebody else send it to somebody else. I think virally, it's massive. But sending out like, "Hey, new T-shirts in stores!" on Twitter, I would say that half a percent are affected by it and ever make a move on it.
So you do it, like a lot of companies, because everyone's doing it, you may as well?
Yeah, that's how I look at it.
Well, when this feature comes out, I want you to tweet it.
[Laughs] OK. Right, don't get me wrong. If your personality is whack, and you're whack, that's what you Twitter. But really, you have to understand that it's a direct connection to your fans. People that follow you on Twitter genuinely are your fans that want to hear what you have to say. So you're giving a text message to 350,000 people that's like a personal message, that's humanizing you. You know what I'm saying? And it's not as much the idea that you're selling something or saying exactly what you're doing. You just said something funny and ridiculous and it tells a lot about you.
What do you think is the biggest difference between what people see on the show versus what actually goes on here? It's "reality," but you've told me it's reality built into almost pre-written scenes.
More than anything, when anybody takes a meeting with me, people don't quite understand how methodic or how very real my business mind is, and how this is much deeper than, like, I'm pulling all the strings. For the most part, people would think that, "Oh, they're just filming his life and people are just controlling everything for him," where it is the exact opposite. I just don't think they could quite wrap their head around the truth behind the business. But again, I'm not selling that -- that ain't no fun. [Laughs] It's such an incredible blessing, because I get to continue to create this immensely psychotic highlight reel.
With all your ventures, what takes up most of your time?
Street league takes up everything. Wild Grinders is pretty big because I've got to do a lot of micromanaging on the scripts and the content and all that stuff. It amazes me the micromanaging I have to do with these major companies, because I still feel like, regardless, no one has a clear vision and decisive understanding that can make razor-sharp decision-making on big things but me. So it involves me being very hands-on. But, man, I tell you, it's 7 a.m. to midnight on everything. Like I always tell people, even when I'm just sitting down chilling, I'm putting all this thought into solving the problems at hand.
Who do you look up to in business?
I'm going to shoot big. Richard Branson.
We flew Virgin here.
He was a great influence on me -- very young, reading an article with him about the simplicity of when you do everything yourself, you're a millionaire. When you inspire an army around you to do everything for you, you're a billionaire. You know? And I think that was a big turning point for me personally in the sense of like, man, you create and manage and creatively build a vision, and then you hunt down the strongest, brightest, most driven people to help push each one individually. And that is what I've done in like the realest way.
At this point in your career, what's a bigger rush -- landing a trick or signing a deal?
[Laughs] They're very different. It's like, at this age, I still mentally become unraveled if I'm not skating good. And doing a trick that I've never done, there's still nothing that can ever replace it. But, you know, it's not so much getting deals done, as watching things come alive.