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Out and Beyond the Box: Sitting Down With Erik Huberman

Erik Huberman, the founder of Hawke Media is one of the few who built his marketing empire from scratch and is now in Forbes 30Under30. A man with a fresh perspective on start-ups and business, he had a lot to say about his beginnings.

What was your inspiration behind Hawke Media?

With a degree in music and in fashion, and after marketing for a few fashion companies, I got drawn into consulting for a number of large and small brands. We had greater revenue generation using digital marketing. But kept running into the same challenges over and over again, which is when we had to accept two options, either to hire an in-house team or to hire an agency. The problem with the former is that it isn’t cost-effective— if you can find the talent but on the agency side, it seems like 98% of the agencies have no idea what they’re doing. And the few that are really good tend to be expensive, want more contracts, etc. So, considering the ecosystem, I decided to hire my own team. We started with seven people, marketing through Facebook, and other social media. And now we have around 115 people on the team! We realised that the venture did not require a lot of financial investment, the idea being that you can basically spin up a team based on various services you want the world to get through you. But to be really honest, we never really wanted to start an agency; I was working on starting a tea company actually.

From seven to 115 fifteen employees, and being a million dollar firm. What gives your company that edge over others in the market?

A lot of things. One, it’s started by the people we’ve brought in, and it shows that a lot of people who work here, they come from the branding and marketing side. So, they understand the difference between the services and the aspects that actually grow a business, versus the things that people want or need to buy. And there is a difference. A lot of agencies are built by people who sell stuff like say, SEO. An SEO is probably not as relevant to certain clients, but companies sell it to their customers regardless. We sell things that will actually help our clients. So we get to know our clients who keep returning, whereas most agencies have a complete change in the customer-base from month to month. We keep it super easy and super simple and we just do the right thing. All in all, we’ve just built a really good reputation.

You have your own company and are a major contributor to publications like the Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and you’ve recently joined XPrize as a key marketing advisor. How do you manage to find that kind of time?

It’s funny because I don’t do a lot of hours. I just really enjoy what I do. So, on the weekends, I’m not running around working like I do the rest of the week. I’m not really a workaholic; I’m not at my desk in my office day in and day out. My work involves working with people and being around people, which is my favourite thing to do. So, when you take XPrize as an example, we had this summit two weeks ago over the weekend at this beautiful destination. We spent the weekend with a bunch of brilliant people, giving out advice on what they should do. So, it goes hand in hand and I think. It’s important that they do. We actually donate to quite a few charities but I think it’s important that we contribute to at least one non-profit. I think it’s important to allocate the time. I think the whole idea of being an entrepreneur is that the term’s a misnomer. It’s basically a blend of work and life together.

You clearly enjoy doing what you do. What do you do when you actually have some real free time?

I love to travel, to check out new places. During winters, I’m snowboarding. In the summer, I’m outdoors running and exercising. It generally comes down to checking new stuff out. Figuring out what I haven’t done yet and trying it.

You belong to the elite club of Forbes 30Under30. Do you think you owe society a moral responsibility of any kind?

I think whether it’s the ForbesUnder30 or not, you always have people who are watching your actions and are taking note of what you’re doing. They’ll be your voice and your responsibility. I speak at different universities and I have a social responsibility to do the right thing.

What is your take on startups? With so many people pursuing engineering today, you hear a lot about startups. What do you think of that?

I think it’s great. I think in a way that’s awesome. Startups have become sexy. People like the way they work, and I think they’re going to make the world a better place. I think there’s a lot of clichés around it, like they think it’s still business. The idea of running a startup is that it doesn’t make any money at the start. It runs more on passionate ideas than money. We, on the other hand, are a business, not a startup. I understand that certain businesses need to get ramped up before they launch. I think it’s important not to get sucked into fundraising when you shouldn’t be.

What are the future goals you’ve set for yourself and for Hawke Media?

We want to continue to double every year. We’re a 115 people now. That should be over 200 next year, 400 a year after that, then 800 and so on. We’re looking to become more efficient. At the end of the day, growth is most important. We want to grow as a business. We think we have the opportunity to help small businesses grow into very large ones. We have clients from peoples’ garages to Fortune 100 companies. We want to grow larger though. That’s the idea we’re trying to build on here.

So, what would your advice be to a student in college who dreams of starting his own company?

It’s all about getting things done. Checking things off and moving towards your goal. Running your own company isn’t really a thing. If someone asks me if I’m in marketing, my answer is yes, I happen to run a company which is in the field of marketing. It requires a certain kind of talent, and figuring out your actual focus before you can try running your own company. Yes, there are developers who start running companies straight out of college. But you need to start building your skillsets so you can have a strategic advantage. The reason this venture worked for me is that I spent 9 years in e-commerce and I was able to build proficiency in it. If I didn’t do that, this business wouldn’t mean anything. I would be a fake marketer. We wouldn’t have a 115 people under me. It’s important to learn, build on it, and get things done. It’s important to have those strategic advantages.