‘Believe in yourself to build your brand’

Snowboarding superstar Shaun White on leveraging sporting success to build your personal brand.

  • Shaun White is a three-time Olympic gold medallist in snowboarding.
  • He has leveraged his sporting success and profile to build a wide-ranging personal brand.
  • Check out his advice and then use the Athlete365 Personal Brand toolkit.

It’s funny how things work out. I never woke up and decided to do things like run a festival or start a clothing line. It’s all kind of grown from a natural place. With Air+Style, for example, I started out just competing there when I was 13 or 14. Then they asked me to be a host for the event in China because I was a recognisable name. Seeing ‘Shaun White presents Air+Style’ on the sign above the Bird’s Nest Stadium really sparked the flame in me and I ended up buying the event and turning it into what it is today.

There’s kind of a story like that for every single thing that I’ve done. There are so many opportunities that can come about; you just have to be willing to pursue them. Don’t just talk about it; go and do it.

Believe in it

I tell young, up-and-coming athletes that if they want to do things outside of sport – like set up a clothing line or whatever it is – they’ve really just got to determine what they want to do and then believe in it just as much as they do in their sport. If you believe you can be the best in your sport, then believe just as strongly that you could make a success of this clothing line.

Surround yourself with a good team

I’m only as strong as the team around me. Sometimes things happen [with my brands outside of sport] and all of a sudden the brakes are on, but I can always rely on my team to keep the ball rolling. If I didn’t have that team around me, it would be difficult to keep on top of everything. They can take the burden off me to help me accomplish my goals and I’m really thankful for that. So I would say you need to build a strong foundation in your group around you first. And then trust in them.

Embrace social media

I’ve slowly learned to love social media, but in the beginning I found it very frustrating, as I kept looking at it and seeing people post about all the things I was missing, like parties or a friend’s birthday. I was looking at it as a window to the things that I was missing in my life, but really it should be a direct window for the people who want to hear from you and see what you’re doing – like your fans, your followers.

Social media certainly changed our sport in many ways because, normally, you’d make a big film about everything you were doing over a season and put it out at the end of the year. But now you can just put it up straight away from your phone. Whatever tricks you’re doing at the time, you can share it and reach more people than that video ever would have in a million years. I’m still getting to grips with it, but social media has become this marketing tool. Sponsors now want to post things on your channels, using your voice, and that’s interesting.

Learn to say no

You need to protect yourself, know what you’re comfortable with, and know that you have the ability to say, “no”. It’s hard to be yourself when you’re chasing success and wanting to have these big media outlets come to you, but you have to stay true to who you are. I can’t tell you how many talk shows have come to me and they’re like, “What tricks can you do?”, or “We’ll pretend that you land on David Letterman’s desk with your snowboard on and it will be so cool”. I’m like, no. I’m not going to do a circus trick. I’m going to walk on like any other guest. I’ll tell you my story, and I’ll walk off. That was really hard for me in the beginning, but you’ve got to really pick and choose your battles. That also comes back to your team. You need to have people around you who support those decisions and believe in the overall picture and goal that you have.

Maintain control

It’s important to be involved. It’s never just like, “Cool man, print the T-shirts, let’s do it”. I’m involved all the time – I’m there looking at the fabric swatches and trying on the samples and doing everything. You’ve got to know what you’re getting into before you sign up for it. I truly take the time, and that’s why I don’t take on as much nowadays. I don’t have the time to be as involved as I’d need to be. Things like Air+Style are a huge focus, competing at the Olympic Games is a huge focus. Family, relationships, all those kinds of things have their allotted amount of time, and there’s only so much time in the day. If something new comes along, it’s got to be really spectacular for me to want to pursue it.

Do what feels right

I am thankful for the fact that these other business endeavours have worked. They could’ve failed miserably, but I just try to do what feels right; it’s a natural fit. I’m not trying to do things that aren’t really in my wheelhouse. I’m not trying to invent new apps or something. I’m doing things that feel right to me.

Don’t be afraid to try something different

With things like Air+Style, I always try to do something different. In snowboarding, before the 2010 Olympics, that’s when I took a stance in to try to be innovative and do new tricks that had never been done before. It’s the harder route to go, but it’s definitely more rewarding in the end. Anything worth doing is never going to be easy right off the bat.

Think long term

I’m so competitive that I always go into things with the mentality of it succeeding. I’m already planning five years ahead; I never really do anything the short-term gain. I always go for the long run. What do I want to be doing in this many years and where would I like to see myself? Everything goes into that picture. I think it’s the willingness to not be afraid to fail that keeps me doing well in business.

For more expert advice on building your own personal brand, check out the Athlete365 Personal Brand toolkit.