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Hawke Media Takes Flight
The Story of Erik Huberman

Become a Life Loyal Teke

This story appears in the summer 2016 edition of THE TEKE Magazine.

We first saw it on Facebook. A paid advertisement. “Major League Marketing. Minor League Prices” plastered in a bold black font below a grayed-out sky with the outline of a red-tailed hawk taking flight. How did we know it was a red-tailed hawk, specifically? More to come later. But for now, we’re fixated on a Facebook advertisement with a baseball reference that’s spotlighting a company we’re highly interested in. Not because of the company itself, per say. No. We’re writing a story here. And any story worth writing is filled with more than one message, so here’s our take. 

With a baseball pitch this good, we’re not putting the bat on our shoulder with a 3–0 count. We’re swinging for the fences in the top of the first.

If scouts were to personify Hawke Media, they’d label it as the journeyman, relentless in his practice and destined to make a mark. But the story of any journeyman is that of perseverance and dedication. It’s about paying your dues and making a name for yourself at every level, enduring baseball’s old-school thinking and unwritten rules.

Then, one day, if you’re lucky, as though it happened over the course of a blink of an eye, you’ve made it to the Big Leagues.

In this case, it just so happens to be a true story. Then again this isn’t the story of Hawke Media. This is the story of Erik Huberman. 

It started with an email—or more specifically, a forwarded message. A volunteer who sent a link to someone who then continued the message thinking it might be a fun piece to highlight, even if it was just a Tweet. 

A Teke had been named on Forbes 30 Under 30 for Hollywood & Entertainment. Erik Huberman, at 29 years young, had just made the cut, but that didn’t make the accomplishment any less impressive.

He was there, pictured next to O’Shea Jackson Jr., star of last summer’s box office sensation “N.W.A.” and the son of rapper and actor O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson. An-other picture over to the right was Dakota Johnson, the fan favorite from “The Social Network,” “21 Jump Street” and “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

Down the list you would continue to find names you knew, because at some point, a majority of those names had been included in the credits of movies and/or television shows you’ve definitely seen.

You’d even know a majority of names on the sports list: Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Mo’Ne Davis, the 14-year-old pitcher who stole America’s heart with her jaw-dropping performance during the 2014 Little League World Series.

In contract, the other lists—education, finance, venture capital, consumer technology and others—are compiled of men and women who are molding their industry, disrupting market norms and working to improve the world, yet they are all for the most part unknown.

But back to the Hollywood & Entertainment list, the one where everyone is known—well, nearly everyone.

Erik Huberman’s picture on the list is simple: a black, V-Neck T-shirt with crossed arms. His closed smile could be interpreted as either a passive-aggressive scowl or a genuinely happy moment—although, it’s likely the latter. Regardless, the image doesn’t depict the attitude of an actor. It’s a look that rivals Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook: T-shirt and jeans.

It makes sense, because he hasn’t taken the big screen in Hollywood or the big stage in New York. Instead, he’s made a name for himself on a different stage, and it isn’t far from the bright lights of Los Angeles.

Erik Huberman, founder and chief executive officer of Hawke Media, is ready to be noticed.

On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers—the 158-year-old, time-tested, “too big to fail” global financial services firm—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Erik Huberman, a then-recent graduate from the University of Arizona, was caught between a rock and a hard place—or more accurately, two collapsing industries.

“It was only a week after I started in the real estate industry the collapse happened,” he says quickly, seemingly unfazed by the memory. “Six months into that, I realized it wasn’t going to be a good fit.”

Real estate wasn’t a good fit for many people at that time, nor were jobs in general. The hemorrhaging of American jobs followed after the announcement of Lehman Brothers, bringing job losses to 2.6 million in 2008, the highest level in more than six decades. It affected everyone, no matter the age. As unemployment rose, it was matched by record high under-employment figures. The situation was bleak at best.

“I started figuring out what else I wanted to do,” Huberman says. “Getting a job in 2009 was impossible, so I turned to doing my own thing.”

Things quickly took shape. A partner-ship with a friend’s father who was a successful businessman earned the young star a position as chief operating officer and chief development officer with Fame Wizard, a music career development agency.

If you were to go to the website today, it’s like hopping in a time machine. Huberman, who hasn’t been with the company for roughly five years, is still listed on the site. His bio is only a few sentences long—minimal compared to the short autobiographies others have listed next to their name and photo.

“Erik has been a musician since he was 4 years old and still holds music as a passion,” reads his description on the About Page, which is paired with other generic statements such as “talents from multiple avenues” and “experience in real estate sales.” It’s dated, yes, but it’s a glimpse into what the young entrepreneur was like all those years back. And next to the description is a photo that best captures the moment.

Leaning back against a wall and looking off-camera, Huberman’s black-and-white photo resembles a vintage Blues Brothers poster: white shirt, loosely done black tie and wayfarer shades. Granted, he’s missing the suit jacket, but that’s not what the young COO/CDO is known for in the professional realms of Fame Wizard. Instead, his bright, can-do attitude is his persona.

Over the next two years at Fame Wizard, Huberman authored, developed and executed original business plans, which resulted in raising $250,000 in seed money and an additional $750,000 in Series A funding.

Other accomplishments included the development of a board that Huberman describes as a “slew of amazing musicians” and the hiring of past head of Walt Disney Records, Mark Jaffe, who had previously grown Walt Disney Records’ revenue line from $30 million to $120 million over a five-year period with the rollout and expansion of “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid” franchises.

Things were in place, but Huberman wasn’t staying. Confidently, he explains that while the company was profitable, it was never going to be a massive success.

“It was a fun experience,” he says, “but after two years, I realized I had to move on.”

Introducing Swag of the Month. “Born from the idea that we should all have a little swag,” reads Huberman’s LinkedIn profile listing his tenure with the startup, “Swag of the Month’s monthly membership was created so that all men would have the opportunity to a styled lifestyle with ease.”

The premise was simple: For $16.96 per month, members of the “Swag Team” would ship a hand-picked, name brand shirt to registered customers. Didn’t like the shirt? Not a problem. Free shipping and returns came with the monthly fee. With more than 100 clothing brands on board, Swag of the Month was in a position to climb to success.

Only a few months in the market, the startup raised $100,000 from Quattro Development to legitimize the previously bootstrapped business. Soon after, 3,000 registered subscribers climbed aboard and the operation continued to grow, but things never truly took off.

After only a year and a half, Huberman sold Swag of the Month and moved on. A quick Google search of the defunct startup only reveals a few articles praising the company’s efforts and a Twitter account with 22,000-plus followers that has gone silent, linked to a Facebook page that is no longer available.

“It was a time when we tried things, not really knowing what was going to happen,” he says plainly.

Swag of the Month is likely to be just a footnote in Huberman’s extensive resume today—he merely skims the topic when asked in the interview—but to those who pay attention to the details, it was foreshadowing for the success to come.

While Huberman and his business partner, Austin Smith, were building a company from pocket change, Trunk Club—an identical month-to-month, high-end retail company—had gained $11 million in funding through multiple venture capitalist firms. There were two similar startups competing for a foothold in the then-untapped market of online retail, but there could only be one winner. Trunk Club came out victorious. By 2014, the company was purchased by Nordstrom for $350 million.

It’s easy to say things could have been different for Swag of the Month given any number of altered circumstances: earlier entry to the market; increased seed money; better marketing, etc. But Huberman doesn’t count the short-lived tenure of his online retail startup a failure by any means. How can you? Startups aren’t easy, especially when you’re funding the entire project through pocket change. That’s not to say millions of dollars of seed money makes things any easier. Finding a niche in the market and adhering to scalability is a chess game. Ask anyone.

Throughout the process of developing any business, there’s something you learn about yourself that can’t be taught in a classroom. Even before Fame Wizard or Swag of the Month, Huberman had been self-taught and tireless in his pursuit to make it big.

In a self-reflective interview for the Santa Monica Daily Press in 2015, he explains his drive to succeed came long before his time at the University of Arizona.

“I have always been an ‘entrepreneur.’ From when I was 6 years old and I gathered up a bunch of my parents’ things in a trash bag and went out and sold them door-to-door, to jumping into the Beanie Babies craze at 10 with the sole goal of making money (bought a new guitar, a bicycle and later a car with that money), to the lemonade stand, I always wanted to build and grow things. I have been a serial entrepreneur … I love creating and taking risks.”

As a self-described serial entrepreneur, Huberman kept his head down and continued to work toward his goal of making it big.

For the next couple years, he became a journeyman as a consultant for companies looking to hasten growth. There was a brief stint with Science Media, the masterminds behind Dollar Shave Club, DogVacay, FameBit and Wishbone. Then there was a 10-month project where he took on the position of vice president of marketing to help a vitamin company pivot to become a women’s activewear brand.

Within two weeks, the company did $80,000 in revenue. Four months later, they reached $1 million. The company was Ellie Fashion Group, and while there was massive success on the table, the serial entrepreneur again decided to move on.

This time, however, as a journeyman with experience guiding companies, he was ready to bet on himself.

Since leaving Ellie, Erik Huberman had an opportunity at hand. The constant success found in every company he worked with was linked back to him and his marketing efforts. Companies started reaching out, and he was ready to provide his assistance, but on a consultant-primary basis.

There wasn’t any sort of particular interest in starting a consultant agency, but he figured that having a name for companies to cut checks to was a better long-term strategy than continuing to operate as Erik Huberman Consulting.

“It was a way of creating something bigger than myself,” he says, looking back on the decisions leading up to a name that has since gained optimal familiarity in its industry. In terms of a business aspect, it made complete sense. Registering for a $75 LLC and paying $800 minimum a year in taxes was all it took. “So I called it Hawke Media when it was just me, and had these companies pay ‘them’ instead of Erik Huberman.”

He is proud when he describes the inception of the name Hawke Media. He provides a glimpse into his childhood, and meticulously describes the small town of Ojai, California. He explains the people and the landscape before delving into the one aspect that stuck with him above all others. “It was chalk full of red-tailed hawks. I loved it,” he says before moving on to further explain the full circle story of the native bird. “I got great advice early on to come up with a name that was easy and not overly creative; something memorable, but easy. So I took hawk and threw an ‘E’ onto the end.”

Before long, a trend had formed. “I saw the same thing over and over again through consulting: I’d give companies advice on how to put together a digital strategy—I even did a couple for them—but when it came down to performing, hiring in-house required bringing on a full team of digital marketers. First, good luck finding the talent to come in that’s actually good. And if you do find them, good luck affording them.”

On the other side, Hawke Media started looking at agencies, and after interviewing dozens, Huberman decided the majority weren’t living up to expectations.

“They had no idea what they were doing. They were con artists. I got sick of it, and I decided to hire a team of seven people of my own to execute the stuff I was advising on.” The newly hired team consisted of email marketers, Facebook search influencers, web designers, digital strategists and more.

Since building his team, Huberman went back to the clients he was advising and said everything was going to be month-to-month, a la carte and he would create a team that made sense to each respective organization.

He explains that it was an easy sell. Then, two years later, the company grew from seven people to fifty.

“It’s been reactive,” he says, careful with his words. “I just needed more and more help and realized there was an opportunity.”

Based in Santa Monica, California, Hawke Media has quickly made a name for itself since officially taking shape only a couple years ago. Locations served include Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Austin, New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. The list of signed clients is just as impressive: Red Bull, Verizon Wireless, LPGA and many, many more noteworthy organizations. In addition to serving industry leaders, the young founder and CEO of Hawke Media has worked with celebrities like Kelly Osbourne, Andre 3000, and Lauren Conrad in helping their startups and branding launch.

And if working with some of the biggest names and industries in one of the hippest places in California isn’t enough, Huberman has created an office environment that blurs the line between corporate Wall Street and adult Disneyland—a mix between work and play. It’s a practice that has been mimicked ever since first being established by Fortune 500 juggernaut Google. Except Huberman didn’t simply mimic the workplace style; he perfected it in his own way, earning Hawke Media the recognition of being one of the ‘Top 10 Happiest Places to Work,’ according to Happy City.

“First off, there is always music playing regularly. Then toward the end of the day, some people are free to enjoy a beer. We call it the most comfortable place to be uncomfortable,” he says, proudly explaining the welcoming environment. “People work their butt off here. If they have work to do, the office is a good place to enjoy it. There are massage chairs and ping pong tables and all sorts of stuff to actually have a good time.”

In addition to an office environment that many people dream of, Huberman also makes it known that every employee has equity with the companies they work with. So if any company they represent makes it big, everyone gets rich, not just executives.

There’s also the company vacations that come with being successful. We’re not talking about red-eyes in a dumpy motel to sit in conference rooms where self-pro-claimed experts pontificate about workplace motivation and achieving new heights. No, Huberman has made it a point that when his team hits a goal—not any modest goal, either—the employees of the company take off for the annual “Hawke Media Spring Break.” Two years ago, it was 17 people to Vegas and this past year it was 50 people to Mexico, he says, proudly.

“It’s one of those things when push comes to shove, you’re introducing another factor for people to stay with you and the company. In this industry, it’s tough because there is always someone willing to pay them more; especially as our brand grows, people will try and poach our people. Other people will see the work we’re doing and they’ll want our people, which is something I agree with, but it’s my responsibility to create an environment where people want to be here.”

At 2,087 miles from the Offices of the Grand Chapter in Indianapolis to Hawke Media in Santa Monica, we weren’t able to see the spirited office environment Huber-man speaks of so highly. However, we’re going to take his word for it, because at the end of the day, Hawke Media’s numbers speak for themselves.

At the start of the 2016 fiscal year, Hawke Media had a goal to double their sales. Well, they’ve already hit their run rate—meaning the company is already doing monthly what they originally meant to double. “Apparently, we set the goal too low and so now we’re reworking that,” Erik says, then hinting toward the idea of setting a goal to do four times the business, “which could be a little insane.”

By the way Erik speaks of potentially quadrupling the business he originally planned on doubling in a single fiscal year, he’s surprisingly calm. He knows that he will have to scale, so he talks about expanding offices in Chicago, New York and Seattle. To the 29-year-young founder and CEO, this isn’t a challenge; it’s an opportunity, one he’s been waiting for his whole life.

Huberman treats the discussion of his Forbes 30 Under 30 accomplishment like a seventh place participation ribbon given out at the conclusion of the youth T-ball season. He’s humble, and graciously accepts the recognition. But he’s quick to call it like he sees it.

“It’s fun, but to be honest, I was only excited for about 30 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still happy about it, but at the end of the day, you have to be careful about being cocky about it. The only reason anyone gets on this list is because they know people. I’m sure there are many more people on this list with much more success than me. But I happen to have the social connections. I do a lot of celebrity work, which put me on the Hollywood & Entertainment versus the Marketing.”

Sure enough, it makes sense. And yes, it helps that Kelly Osbourne, Shonda Rhimes and Thomas Tull, all of whom are judges of the competition, have interacted with Hawke Media or Erik Huberman in one way or another.

“It’s based on connections. I have a closer working relationship with Kelly than the other two, but all three know who I am, so when my name comes across their desk when they’re voting on all these people, they might say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of Hawke Media. I know this guy.’ And that’s definitely what happened. But the award was amazing.”

He isn’t wrong. The award is in fact amazing. “The Oscars of young business-people,” Huberman says later. “But it’s more about how do you leverage that now? The same way when you get an Oscar—you’re working on your next project.”

It’s fitting that he talks about the “next project.” The serial entrepreneur and journeyman of the business marketing realm has found massive success at each stop along the way. But Hawke Media isn’t just another stepping stone, it’s a part of him. Erik Huberman and Hawke Media are one in the same. Each taking flight.

Join the Conversation

This story appeared in the summer 16 edition of THE TEKE Magazine. 
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