#015: John Davidson


John Davidson is the founder and CEO of Davidson Learning Company.


John grew up as a professional skateboarder and is now breaking new ground in the E-Sports area. He is also a TEDx and active speaker on esports and youth marketing.


In this episode, John talks about his career journey and how working as a telemarketer and a vacuum salesman paved the way into owning his own successful company.


JOHN'S LINKS:

Davidson Learning Company Website

John's Podcast: The DLC Drop Podcast

John's LinkedIn

John's Instagram

John's Twitter

RECENT PHOTO SHOOT WITH DEVIN PENSE

Transcribed Episode: Ep15 John Davidson


Voiceover:

You're listening to The Groove with Devin Pense.


Devin:

Hey guys, welcome to another episode of The Groove podcast. Before we get started with this episode, I wanted to let you guys know that there's a reason there's been a little bit of a gap in between episodes. I recently lost my father, he contracted COVID in late December of 2020, and sadly passed away. It's been a rough few months, and I've had to take some time off to be with my mother and help her, and at some point, I'll be doing an episode on my journey through this process, so stay tuned for that. Now on today's episode, my guest is John Davidson. John grew up as a professional skateboarder, and is now breaking new ground in the Esports arena.


Devin:

He's the founder and CEO of Davidson Learning Company, which you will hear more about in the show. He's also a TEDx and active speaker on Esports and youth marketing. Currently, John serves as the chairman of the Esports Trade Association, and sits on advisory boards for Stadia Ventures, Dallas influencers in sports and entertainment, and University of North Texas Sport Entertainment Management in BA. His diverse career path from skateboarding, marketing, production and business development, has informed his unique approach and deep understanding of consumer behavior.


Devin:

John has helped startups, established brands and agencies understand how to engage communities in meaningful ways that drive results. Okay, that was all a mouthful. But with all that said, John, welcome to The Groove podcast.


John:

Thank you for having me.


Devin:

Just before we get started, can you talk about what you're doing as far as your new company? And then we'll just go from there?


John:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for the opportunity. So I recently started my own company. Never really thought I would be an entrepreneur. But, opportunities emerge, I guess you could say. So I'm the founder and CEO of DLC, which stands for Davidson Learning Company. And the focus there is to help brands and agencies understand how to effectively engage the Esports ecosystem. And it's just a very complex space. It's a skeptical community. And fortunately throughout my career, GameStop, PRG, the Esports Trade Association, and growing up as a lifelong skateboarder, this has really helped me understand how to reach a group of people that demands more from brands.


Devin:

It is really an interesting community in and of itself. And I know you talk a lot about earning their trust and that kind of thing. But let's back up and start from the beginning. You're a professional skateboarder, is that right?


John:

That's right. What's funny is, it depends on your definition of pro. So, non skateboarders, they typically see ... if you were paid to skateboard, or you made a living skateboarding you're a professional, which I did, but inside the skateboarding community, there's a very specific definition which your status is determined by your skateboard sponsor, and you are pro when you have your own signature products, meaning a skateboard with your name on it for sale. I had a company that offered me that and I said, "I really don't think I deserve that."


John:

I'd rather be the guy who people are offering it to and you're not taking it than the guy that people are like, "Why does he got a pro board?" But I did skateboard for a living. For a number of years I got sponsored at age 14, and I still skate at least once a week nowadays, and I'm fortunate to still do it at the high level.


Devin:

That's awesome. Talk about that a little bit. At 14, were you going to events and competing at that level and traveling around? What was the level of competition that you were dealing with?


John:

Yeah, so I started at age 11 and my brother was like, "Hey, John's pretty good. We should start filming him." And what's funny back then ... I'm 37 now, this is a while back, nobody where I grew up, was really sponsored. You knew about pros, but there's this whole pipeline of sponsorship from, we call it flow line, which is the lowest level with a Sharp sponsor, all the way up to pro, and nobody knew anybody that was sponsored. It didn't feel attainable because we didn't see anybody else doing it. So the competition started out as local ones and then they ended up going to me driving down to LA for a week. A company saying, "John, jump in the van, let's go to San Diego for a couple weeks to go film."


John:

And my parents being okay with that. So yeah, that's how it started. Ultimately, I ended up on a nationwide tour for six months straight when I was 22 years old. Just vans, hotels, crowds for six months. I didn't even live anywhere. I did a one way trip to Orlando, Florida. We could dig into that a little bit. I was there for about a year.


Devin:

What's that? Let's talk about that.


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

The one way trip to Orlando.


John:

Yeah. So basically to back up a little bit before that, when I graduated from high school, it really hit me like, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to have to get a job." Is skateboarding just going to be a hobby and I just do it for fun? It was such a mind bending thought at the time. And the skate shop that I skied for was called Onshore Board Shop in Visalia and Fresno, California. Two locations and they got a flyer in the mail. This was ... what, 2002? Yeah, so this is right before social media really kicked off and stuff and, they got a flyer in the mail from a skateboard company in Orlando that said, "Send in your sponsor me video. And the person who wins the contest." If everybody sent them in.


John:

"That person gets sponsored by the team." And I have no idea if I was the only person who sent the video, or it could have been millions.


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

But all I know is I won. And-


Devin:

Wow.


John:

Yeah, so I got sponsored by this team and it reinvigorated the opportunity to skateboard for a living. So I was messing around Community College, not really paid much attention to my schoolwork and my grades reflected that. And over time, myself, my mom and the company agreed, "Dude, you just got to go to Orlando." So I just bought a one way ticket, and I said, "Let's go. Let's see what happens." I was only there for 10 months it turned out.


Devin:

Wow. Exactly what were you doing while you were in Orlando?


John:

Oh, boy. Yeah, I was ... well, I moved into a studio apartment with two other dudes. It was not a grandiose experience living situation. My mom always put it in the back of my head, make sure you have your health benefits covered. Because you never know what's going to happen when you're skateboarding.


Devin:

Right.


John:

So I got a job on the side just to cover my health benefits. The only one I could find that didn't require any experience was telemarketing for Westgate Resorts.


Devin:

Okay.


John:

So I'm doing a 30 minute drive down the Florida Turnpike in my 92 Honda Civic with no air conditioning, windows down trying to lean forward in front of the seat. So my shirt's not too soaked with sweat when I arrive.


Devin:

Right.


John:

Then we had a headset that was on an automatic dialer. So what that means for the non telemarketing audience, is that ... you know when a telemarketer calls you, and you say hello a couple times, and you don't hear anybody on the other end?


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

Well, that's because they're on an automatic dialer, because they're trying to get as many calls as possible, they're reducing the time of you having to punch in numbers or to click something on a computer string. So it sucks because by the time you say hello, to sell somebody on an outbound cold call, they're already mad at you.


Devin:

Right.


John:

And we can only make sales on those outbound calls. You couldn't call us back. And so, the only people who do that, typically their credit card declines because they're giving away their credit card number on outbound calls.


Devin:

I'm curious about this auto dialer headphone thing.


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

After you've finished one call, it will just automatically dial another number?


John:

You're already into the next call. Yep.


Devin:

Oh, my gosh.


John:

So if you're doing a good job, you're making 200 calls a day over an eight hour span, and you're making two sales.


Devin:

Wow.


John:

It was rough.


Devin:

Here's what I find interesting about that, and I want to dive into this in a little bit. But, the fact that you're doing that, to get insurance, in case something happens while you skateboard. It's a smart move. Your mom obviously gave you great advice, but it's so interesting. While you were doing that, the telemarketing stuff, did you learn anything that you've pulled from later in life? Or was that just one of those, aside from knowing how an auto dialer headset works kind of thing?


John:

Yeah that's a great question. I learned to get an education. I don't know ... you meet a lot of really interesting people in that scenario. Boy, I learned that getting told no 198 times a day, is hard to deal with.


Devin:

Right.


John:

I think-


Devin:

But that's reflective ... That reflects into the entrepreneurial life a lot of times though, it's like getting the no word-


John:

Very true.


Devin:

... and then just being okay with that, but interesting.


John:

Yeah. You know what I used to do? I'd get on these ... Sometimes an old lady who's just looking for somebody to talk to, because her children don't call her anymore. Just gets on the phone. I have conversations with people for 30 minutes or an hour, just about anything.


Devin:

Wow.


John:

Just because I wasn't being told no and, what was funny is, the office, they'd monitor your calls randomly to make sure you know what you're doing. So the funny thing is, you could hear a slight echo when they were monitoring your call. So you hear that echo and you just dive into the sales pitch [crosstalk 00:10:43].


Devin:

That's pretty funny.


John:

Yeah, but I think if I took anything away, it wasn't that it increased my ability to hear no, but it's probably the jobs I've had since or when I do something that's a part of my entrepreneurial job that I don't really enjoy, I can think back and say, "Well, at least you're not doing telemarketing anymore."


Devin:

Exactly. So how long did you skate for money basically, before you decided to do something else?


John:

Yeah. So I think I started making money when I was around 15. And started basically with ... somebody reached out to the shop that I skated for, and they said, "John." Or they said to the owner, they said, "Can you refer us to anybody who'd do a demo for our town?" They were doing a fair or something like that.


Devin:

Okay.


John:

And the worst case scenario in skateboarding is to do a skate demo by yourself.


Devin:

Oh, yeah.


John:

Because there's a number of things happening. One is, there's a lot more room for other people to skate. You know?


Devin:

Right.


John:

So, you better hope you're on that day number one. But number two, everybody's looking at you and they're like, "I could do that and, why can't I skate? I'm having to not skate just so this guy can skate by himself." So, they referred me and they said, "John, we've got." I think it was $175. And they said, "You can invite anybody you want with you, and split that money, or you can take it yourself." And I said, "Hey, doing it [inaudible 00:12:11] that bad by yourself. I'll take all the money.


Devin:

So, when you said to do a demo for their town, I thought you just meant for the Chamber of Commerce, what kind of demo are they talking about?


John:

Yeah, so it was like a fair in this small town. So they had all these booths up on main street. And then they built a bunch of ramps that they just pulled-


Devin:

Oh, I got you.


John:

... in the middle the road, and they're like, "Hey, I bet if we have a skateboarder come do something, people want to do it.


Devin:

How cool would that be? Yeah.


John:

So essentially what I did was, I skated for about five minutes, and then I grabbed the microphone and I said, "Hey, why don't you all come skate with me?" So that's how I got around it.


Devin:

That's awesome.


John:

But to answer your broader question, yeah, that was like the first time. And then I would randomly get paid for demos, and then I would make some money from sponsors. I got tons of product. I did the math not too long ago, around how much product I probably got over the years. And I think it was like $130,000 worth of-


Devin:

Wow.


John:

... just free stuff.


Devin:

That's a lot of product.


John:

Yeah. So what I would do with my skateboards, I would skateboard about three ... because at one point I was getting six skateboards a month, and you don't need that many.


Devin:

Oh my gosh.


John:

So I would skateboard about times, and then I would sell it for 20 bucks at the skate park. So I-


Devin:

Oh, my gosh, that's awesome.


John:

I tried to, get a little entrepreneurial back in the day. Yeah.


Devin:

Yeah. And that went on till basically ... after your Orlando deal, or how long did that last? You getting ...


John:

Let's see. Getting paid probably went through ... Paid to skate probably like 26 or 27.


Devin:

Okay. That's a good run. So here's what I've always found interesting about skateboarders in general. I used to hang out in Venice a lot.


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

And of course, I would always go down ... Always a great opportunity to go down to the park, the skateboard park, I'm not a skater, but I'm a photographer and shoot videos and stuff. And it was always a good subject matter.


John:

Absolutely.


Devin:

And it's always interesting to see the guys out skating, and then their buddies or whoever group of guys, whatever shooting each other.


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

Man, those guys get really good, and girls, they get really good at what they do as far as the ... And it almost seems like skateboarding of course is the standout thing. But the fact that they're getting better in their editing and their music and angles and all that stuff. Did that turn into what you do in that and shooting and stuff? Did that turn into anything else? Because I know you've got a background in design and stuff like that, did that have any effect on any of that?


John:

I gravitated more toward the business side of design and photography and videography being a producer, and rarely being the guy behind the camera. But what I would say is ... and this is I think, common across most of the skateboarding community, we have a really unique eye for photography and art and design, because we see the world differently than everybody else. We see a skateable world where, when I am walking down the street, I might pause and say, "Oh, my gosh, look at those stairs, look at that handrail." And someone's like ... who I'm hanging out with like, "Dude, what are you talking about?"


Devin:

Right.


John:

So, because we see the world so differently. In fact, I remember when I was at the skate shop I used to skate for, the investor was in there one day and we were talking and it was right after Tony Hawk Pro Skater had come out. So he wasn't really a skateboarder, he was just the investor and he said, "John, since I started playing Tony Hawk, I see the world like you do."


Devin:

Wow.


John:

I would say from that standpoint, I've always been more gravitated to business than creative. And so I've collabed with a lot of creatives over the years. But I do think that, that artistic unique eye for photography and design, has helped me support more talented creatives than myself.


Devin:

Yeah, that's awesome. Let's talk a little bit about your transition into Esports. Like I said earlier, John and I worked together at an advertising agency for a while, and one of our clients at the time, GameStop ... So I believe you left at some point, right John? Or-


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

And you worked with GameStop, and then you left and GameStop ended up hiring you right? Is that-


John:

That's exactly right. Yeah. So I was in the content studio working with you, and the GameStop team, the way it works at agencies is, typically if there's a need with a new retainer, they look within the agency, because it's a bunch of people who have already been vetted. They know they're good people, they know they're talented, whatever. And so, they actually came to me for a project manager position. And I was like, "Man, I don't want to be a project manager." But, I though, "Hey, here's the opportunity." Right? Let's see where this goes. Well, I had traveled to my alma mater Sacramento State, and I actually ... I did talks with all of these classes.


John:

I was promoting the agency's apprenticeship program to my alma mater, which resulted in me getting my TED Talk, which is another story. But I came back, I edited a recap video for the agency to say, "Look what I'm doing for you." Because my position, there was a little bit in limbo, and I was trying to get people to become fans of me.


Devin:

I was a fan of you John.


John:

Well, thank you. I appreciate that. But I remember getting a text from the account director of GameStop on the agency side, and he said, "John, we absolutely want you to on this account. But the goal is to put the right person with the right role, they'll succeed. They said, "What do you think about partnerships?" And I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I would love that." I had a ton of sales experience, because I also sold cell phones and Kirby vacuums, and I have a marketing degree. So I've got a good background on how to sell things to people, but-


Devin:

[crosstalk 00:18:40] vacuums? That's-


John:

Oh, yeah, man.


Devin:

I didn't know that. I didn't know that about you. That's interesting.


John:

Oh, yes. Yeah, you think telemarketing is hard? Try knocking on doors and talking yourself into a house and selling a Kirby vacuum for 19 [crosstalk 00:18:54].


Devin:

Were you doing this back in the '50s man?


John:

Well, it would seem so but I'll tell you, this is why ... Now Kirby vacuums I'm not sure if this is still true. But at the time, they made more millionaires than any other company, meaning their employees. It's like a legal pyramid scheme, if you will.


Devin:

Oh, okay.


John:

So they have the thing where you're a salesperson, then you become a manager, and then you could join distributorship, and on and on and on. And these people work insanely hard, but they make a ton of money if they're successful.


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

And, the thing with a Kirby, the reason why they're door-to-door, is because you have to see them to believe them. I could get into a pitch and sell you one right now.


Devin:

Man I feel like I need a Kirby vacuum cleaner already. You're [crosstalk 00:19:44].


John:

Here comes the passion, right?


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

They're $1900, I think you could get them for 900 if you ... that's like the cost or something.


Devin:

Right.


John:

But if you're at Walmart and you're looking for vacuums, you're not going to pick the $1900 vacuum cleaner.


Devin:

No.


John:

But when I come in and I do a demo, and I show you how much dirt is being left in your carpet after you vacuum it, and then I vacuum it with a Kirby, you're like, "Oh my gosh, Kirby is the only thing that works."


Devin:

Dude, I can totally see you doing this, that's awesome. Anyways, I digress. Sorry, keep keep going there. So you got all this marketing experience, sales and ...


John:

Yeah. So I had never done corporate partnerships. And at the time, I think part of my naivete was my strength, because I was like, "Oh, sales, partnerships? That's the same, let's do it." So I was super confident by going into these interviews, and I got hired on the agency side. And then I was embedded on the client side. So this is interesting. People have had this experiences. I was at GameStop headquarters four days a week. And I was at the agency one day a week. And I had to sign two different NDAs for both sides. So I didn't even know who I could tell what.


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

I'm in a meeting at GameStop, learning and discussing information that I can't tell my colleagues at the agency. And one group sees you, oh, you're out of the office one day a week, the other group sees you, you're out of the office four days a week, how do we get a hold of John? You know?


Devin:

Right.


John:

This is really complicated. So after just three weeks, the CMO over there said, "Hey, agency, what do you think about if we just hired John on full time?" And it cost the brand less, they paid me more, because there wasn't that middleman agency, I was there full time and my first day when I did my onboarding on the client side, they said, "John, we want you to figure out Esports for us."


Devin:

Man, that's incredible. GameStop, that's a huge company.


John:

Big time. Yeah, it was I think [inaudible 00:22:01] right? It was about $10 billion annual annual revenue.


Devin:

Wow. And you just walked right into this man, that's awesome.


John:

It's unbelievable. I've had a few moments in my career that are ... it's hard to believe just how perfect the timing is, you know?


Devin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.


John:

The fact that partnerships had become a focus once again for them. That role was a little different from anybody else on the marketing team. Everybody else is doing channel marketing, helping to just promote video game titles. So because my role was different, they said, "Hey, Esports is different. Let's give John Esports. And let's task him with that." And man that that day changed my life.


Devin:

Absolutely, man.


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

Because I think honestly, across the board, even as just a consumer, I think most people in general don't realize just how big Esports are. I didn't know myself for a while until I started driving around and seeing Esports stadiums being built. And all these kinds of things. What a huge market to walk into with a company like GameStop backing you. So, that was incredible. And I remember when all that was going on, it's like man, I've always enjoyed seeing people's ... the culmination of their career, various things. It's like people talk about, "Oh, he just got lucky or whatever. He's at the right place at the right time."


Devin:

That that is true. In some cases, you got to you got to show up. But, you do have to show up, you have to be there. You have to put your foot forward. If you hadn't gone in to interview for that internal job at the agency, you wouldn't have been in the position you are now, so I find that interesting how all the dots ... man, all the star just align for you. That was awesome.


John:

Yeah. The other thing about it too is, the guy who originally hired me, who was a director of marketing over there initially, he's left now but, he told me after he left, he said, "John what I loved was seeing what you did with that role, how you took it on and ... not only what you did with it with the partnerships that we developed at GameStop, but just personally, from a career development standpoint." One of my favorite quotes is, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." And I always add to that, that success is when luck meets perseverance. Because, number one, I think with the opportunity in preparation, people focus more in the preparation side of that, which is important.


John:

But also there's a skill in recognizing opportunity.


Devin:

Right.


John:

Good opportunities specifically. Because if you go after ... I've had a lot of opportunities I didn't jump at, because I knew they weren't good ones. But my original role was partnership. And Esports was a little bit of just like, "Hey, do this in your spare time." Well I went to a conference in Los Angeles, and it was every single person who was a significant stakeholder in the industry, was in one room, and the keynote, the first thing the guy says is, "Hey, none of us have this figured out yet."


Devin:

Wow.


John:

And I was like, "Oh, my goodness, this is awesome."


Devin:

Yeah, man.


John:

And not just from a personal standpoint, but just to be a part of this growing competitive global landscape. And so I came back to GameStop and I said, "Guys, partnerships should not be the focus, Esports should be the focus and partnerships will fall under that because of the strategy that we develop." And then I've continued obviously, I'm the chairman of Esports Trade Association, which resulted from my time at GameStop and enabled me to start my own consulting business. Yeah.


Devin:

Yeah, that's awesome. Especially, it's so rare ... so many new things happen and emerge in software and big tech and stuff like that. But when an industry emerges before your eyes, and you happen to catch that wave, and be in that wave, that's like once in a lifetime stuff. And to reflect back on what you said, about recognizing opportunities, that's something that I've really been hyper focused on the past couple of years, even in my career, because, when you are a freelancer or you're an entrepreneur and you have your own business, it's a small business, it's really hard to say no to business.


John:

True.


Devin:

Or no to clients, because, hey, money's money, right? But, over the years you learn that not every client's a good client, not every business is a good business and what people can do just to suck up your time, and that kind of thing. And it is important to be able to recognize, as opportunities come along, it's like, "Wow, Oh, I got a call." And I know in this market, it's hard to get jobs, right? But, sometimes you get a call and you're like, over the years, you learn it's like, "There's a red flag, there's a red flag." And I've done enough of that to where I've at times not listened to my gut.


John:

Right.


Devin:

And you take that opportunity and then you're just like, "Oh, my God." Then [inaudible 00:27:23] is absolutely miserable. So, that's great that you're able to recognize that. And it's something to think about. Because ultimately, what starts to happen in that case, is you begin to go down a path as a entrepreneur, or freelancer or whatever, and 10 years later you wake up and you realize, everybody in my life has been making choices for me. I got to where I'm at because I kept saying yes to this, and yes to that, and I'm off here on a side path that I didn't really want to be on.


Devin:

And when you look back, you just realize, when was the last time I really chose what I wanted to do? And, it's something to wake up to and by the way, it's not an easy thing to get out of once you're in it, but once you do get out of it, the freedom alone ... yeah, it's a little scary, but the freedom alone is worth it and it just opens up a whole new world really.


John:

Yeah. With entrepreneurship, I think the scariest part of it is jumping into it initially. It's like you're ... I don't know, maybe it's like the polar bear swim. You're so anxious before you jump into the water. And yeah, it's cold, right. But once you get in, you just keep going. And-


Devin:

Unless you have a heart attack on impact.


John:

There is ... yeah-


Devin:

And then [crosstalk 00:28:48].


John:

There's exceptions to every rule. Definitely. So thank you for prefacing. No, so but there's just something that I've experienced, because I never thought I'd go out on my own and do my own thing. But there's something once you make that decision and you do it, that it's just like a switch flips in your mind. Or at least it did for me, it's like, "All right, let's go." Take control of your own destiny. Here's the problem for me, I have a creative mind, I guess you could say and so I'm always seeing new ideas, new opportunities, things like that. And working within a big company, you're at the mercy of the leadership and the priorities of the business.


Devin:

Exactly.


John:

So I've always found myself bumping up against those guardrails, where I'm like, "Oh, I see this tremendous opportunity to be fantastic for the corporation, blah, blah, blah." And it's like, "John, your focus is over here. That's the priority of the business." I'm like, "But guys, don't you see this?" And it's rare that people in big corporations have vision or are ... A lot of people ... I'm not putting anybody down but, a lot of people are maybe operators, I guess is a good way to put it. Where, they do a fantastic job of project management or carrying initiatives through a large corporation, which is a lot of meetings and consistent follow up, and fewer people are seeing what hasn't been created yet.


John:

I've always been one of those people. And so now, the fact that I can pursue ... Number one, I can create my own brand, which I've done and I've really enjoyed doing with DLC, but I'm pursuing projects, I'm facilitating public private partnerships, I'm working with apparel brands, I'm working with banks, and all sorts of people, production companies, helping them understand how to add value to this community that I love, which ultimately enables me to help people on both sides of the equation, the community that I want to add value to, and then the clients who I want to help generate an ROI.


Devin:

Which is awesome, because I felt the same way. Going inside a corporation, and a lot of times they've set their vision. And they feel like it's been successful obviously, at some level. And to change directions or try something new, I always find myself, like you said, bumping into the ceiling, and then when you get out of there, it's just like, "Man, there's nothing but sky."


John:

Yes.


Devin:

Then you can just do what you want. Talk about the experience that you had as a TEDx speaker? That's a cool thing.


John:

Sure. Yeah. So like I was saying, I went to speak to my alma mater. Sacramento State, they have a feature that features, alumni, and it's called Made at Sac State. Essentially it's a recruiting marketing piece. And so they feature someone who's graduated, who's been successful. And it's like, "Hey, you can be this guy if you come to Sacramento State." Or something like that. Well, I reached out to them years ago, and I said, "Hey, the job that I'm doing now, your students think is cool." I'm working with ESPN, I'm working with Rob Dyrdek. I'm skateboarding in the [inaudible 00:32:14] skateboarding courses, I'm at Nike headquarters, all these things.


John:

This is what your students are really going to be fascinated by. Because the typical feature they do is what the administration thinks is cool, if that makes sense.


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

So they feature this person who escaped a communist country and swam across the ocean and started five clubs and got a 4.2 and now they work in a cubicle at Microsoft. It's like, number one that's not attainable, or relatable. It's incredible, it's impressive. But the average person can't look at that and say, "That's me." And I said, "Look, guys, I worked two jobs all the way through school, I got 3.5, 3.6 GPA, so good grades." But I was an average student who worked through school, and now I'm doing something students are going to think is cool. And so, I reached out to them, and they said, "John, would you come speak to some of our students?"


John:

And I said, "Oh, I'd be happy to, but let me see if I can get my employer to pay for it." So I came up with the idea to plug the apprenticeship program and pitch that to the agency. And they said, "We won't pay for that." And I said, "Okay, I guess I'm going to go anyway and pay for it myself." So, I went to Sac State, and I spoke to six classes over two days, and I participated in a business luncheon with mentorship thing with students. And the last Professor I spoke to, with her class anyway, I found out later, she's the person in charge of who speaks at the university for events and stuff like that.


Devin:

Oh wow. Okay.


John:

Yeah. And so she said, "John, I really love the way you present and your speaking style. Will you sit down with one of my students and give your presentation, just one-on-one?" And I thought, "That's weird. But sure." So I go through the steps and I give this presentation to one student, her and I and just this boardroom privately. And she says, "John, I love the way you speak and your communication style. We're going to be hosting a TEDx event here in November." Which was six months later, "Would you like to be part of it?" And I was like, "Wow, that sounds pretty cool." You know?


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

Six months away, who knows what's going to happen, but we'd love to. So, I get an email about five months later, or maybe four and a half. And it says, "John, we would love to have you audition to be a speaker at our event." I was like, "Audition?"


Devin:

Yeah. What happened to all that, "We love your style." Speech?


John:

Don't you remember my audition?


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

It was in that boardroom. And so, I had just got hired by GameStop. And I was drinking from the fire hose, like I said, I'd never done a partnership role before. So I'm trying to get through it. But it's tough. So I wrote a speech, it was on perseverance. And I auditioned. And they said, "This is great John, love the opening, love to talk." But perseverance is not a unique thought. I was like, "Okay." So they said, "TED talks are all about unique thoughts or positioning something uniquely." So I was like, "All right, well let me think about that." So, they said, "Keep the intro as close to the same as you can but rewrite the talk."


John:

Well, I was so busy. I never rewrote it. And I hadn't heard back from them for a couple weeks. And like I said, drinking from the fire hose at GameStop. And so I was about to send them an email one morning saying, "Hey, guys haven't heard back. I think you probably went with somebody else. But regardless, I'm too overwhelmed here, I'm just going to withdraw my name from consideration."


Devin:

Right.


John:

Before I got a chance to send that email, I received an email. And the email said, "Congratulations, you've been selected as a TEDx speaker for California State University in Sacramento." Yeah. So I said, "YOLO." I didn't really say YOLO, because that's what douche bags say, but ... whatever the cool equivalent of that is, that's what I said to myself. So I said, "Let's do it." And I decided, not a very sexy topic, but one that is very, very important regarding technology or phones, is the dangers of immediate gratification, as it relates to technology, and then also recognizing the benefits of delayed gratification, and also how to conquer this in your life.


John:

So I wrote this speech, and people seemed to like it and then when I had never given it in front of a crowd, before I got up to practice it right before I gave it live.


Devin:

Okay.


John:

But I had it memorized really well, because I would listen to it in the car driving to work every day. I could tell you forward and backward, but the most intimidating moment, was when I got on that stage, and there was lights, and I saw a live internet feed. And I was like, "Whoa, this is going to live on the internet forever. I better get this right."


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

And fortunately, I had it so dialed with the work I put in, that it went very well, I think 45,000 people have watched it to date. So I'm very thankful for everybody who's watched it. And it's funny there's about a three quarters of the way through it, there's a part where I started laughing to myself. And I had to pause during the talk and, part of it was the reaction to the crowd, because I tried to make it funny. And they thought it was funny too, which was good. But, at that moment, I knew if I made it to that point, I was home free.


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

And it was almost like this emotional response that I was feeling live on stage that like, "Wow, I did it." And it's the type of thing ... And this is something that I would give to the audience to hopefully inspire some people is, there's moments like that where you're always going to have a title if you do something. And so when I got that email from the TED Talk folks, I could have said, "Man, I'm too overwhelmed, I have too much to do, I have to focus on this job." But what I saw was opportunity. I said, "If I do this, if I put in the work and get through it, I can call myself a TED talk speaker for the rest of my life and I can build opportunity on top of that."


Devin:

Yeah.


John:

So I went for it and I'm glad I did.


Devin:

That's awesome. That's a great story. So staying in that vein a little bit, can you talk a little bit about how you're launching your new company, rebranding? And if you have any inspirational thoughts for somebody that's thinking about doing that themselves? Because it's one thing to be like, "Hey, I'm going to start my company, I'm going to do this." It's another thing to actually brand yourself. A lot of people think just because you have a logo or a business card, "Oh, this is my new brand." That's not it at all. But, are some of your thoughts on that?


John:

Yeah, so a lot of people who have evaluated my business and both before I started and since I've launched it, and said "John, you're a lot better setup than a lot of people I've seen do this." Which is encouraging to me. But the reason is I've built so many relationships, through my career. And, not only built ... the way I've built relationships, is by adding value to others. Being community first or others first minded. And because I've helped so many people, whether it be introductions, whether it be ... sometimes it's helpful you did a partnership with somebody that resulted in some revenue going their way.


John:

They'll always have a positive thought of you after that. But, I've been able to develop a very robust network, and help a lot of people. So now that I step in this role, a lot of people want to help me in the reverse. So, what I would then say is, really do some self assessment, and evaluate what are you the best in the world at? Or what do you have the opportunity to be the best in the world at? And what gave me that thought ... I was into a podcast, Hector Rodriguez. He's an icon in the Esports world, specifically Call of Duty.


John:

And I saw him on a podcast, he was saying, "Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter of all time." But Usain Bolt now he's playing professional soccer, a lower tier professional soccer I think. But he said, "What if Usain Bolt, only focused on soccer and never pursued sprinting? We probably wouldn't even know who he is, or he would just be an afterthought." But because he found the thing that he was the best at the world at and worked to become the best in the world, he's a household name.


Devin:

Right.


John:

So I think we need to evaluate, number one understanding okay, nobody else knows your own common sense. So, recognize what unique things do you know? What can you uniquely offer people that nobody else can, and understand that being the best always provides opportunity. I was interviewing somebody on my podcast the other day, and my friend Gabrielle Bosche, and she said, "It's always flooded at the bottom in any industry. But at the top, there's always room to thrive. Because if you really want to be the best in the business, you have far less competition."


Devin:

Right.


John:

As I've looked at myself, I've said, "Okay, what am I the best at? And what do I have the opportunity to be the best at?" Well, I just really have this organic understanding of how to connect with the Esports community. And I've done it with brands, I've done it on the production company side as well, and, it's enabled me to articulate that to people, providing a solution to a need I know they have. So I guess I would say probably a good ... an action step here is, rather than trying to create a solution, and then find a problem, look for problems, and then evaluate which solution are you best set up to provide?


Devin:

Yeah, that's good. You're right. I used to tell my kids growing up, when they were younger, my philosophy [inaudible 00:43:03] had to be much more simple, but long about middle school, I would talk to them about what I would call the gray matter crowd. And this is a weird phenomenon. And I think, in some ways, I think this has shifted over the past 10 years. And I'm specifically talking about people helping other people like you're talking about, and I remember photographers, or name whatever industry, especially in the creative space, and everyone wanted to protect their methods.


Devin:

Like, "I use this camera." But-


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

"I edit this way, and I'm not going to tell anybody about it." And then over the past several years, people have realized it's like, the more you put out there ... like you said, the more help you give to people, the more they want to help but there's a period of time where ... and even still today, something great will happen or something good will happen or I'll get a cool project or something and I can still feel even today's friends or other colleagues or whatever, they act happy, but they'd don't, and it's that what you're talking about or you're talking about your friend talking about how flooded it is at the bottom.


Devin:

And most people want to be in that comfortable space. They don't want to push because it takes work, it takes effort, it takes all this stuff. And so a lot of times, when you start to separate from the crowd, it's almost ... sometimes at least for me, I felt people grabbing my back and trying to pull me back.


John:

Absolutely.


Devin:

I always talk to my kids about that, I said, "You can choose to be part of the gray matter crowd, but you need to watch because as you excel, and you better yourself, when you guys start to break away or you start to have success and whatever it is, you're going to get a feeling from some of these, in your friends or whatever, like no and they're going to pull you back. But, when you break away from that, and the further you can distance yourself from that gray matter crowd, the more freedom that you're going to have."


John:

Yes.


Devin:

And I always like to talk about, if you're inside a corporation or even having your own company, the air is pretty normal when you're down at the bottom. But the higher you climb, the thinner the air, and-


John:

True.


Devin:

... the more challenges, real heavy duty challenges that you're going to have. But yeah man, that's so cool. I love hearing that. You and I've talked about this before about putting information out and helping each other.


John:

Yeah.


Devin:

Doing things for other people. And it'll all come back around.


John:

Well, I'm a big believer in that and people who follow me on LinkedIn, will see I post stuff every single day on LinkedIn. And, when I first started doing this, and I've been doing it for a while now, I think I had about two weeks of content planned. I continued to build it out, and what's made the content successful, fortunately, a lot of people are engaging in it and doing it and I'm getting great feedback. But the key is, it's not about me. I'm not posting every day saying, "Look what I'm driving." Or, "Look what event I'm at. Or, "Look at what project I'm working on."


John:

I'm saying things like, "This is what balance in your working life can look like." I'm saying things like, "Surround yourself and collaborate with people who make you better than yourself." I'm saying, "Hey, I just started a podcast, and this is what I'm learning by doing it." And then encouraging people through what I'm experiencing, to pursue their dreams as well. That content and that knowledge, a couple things. One is, I was concerned about that too, that people just steal all my knowledge and push me to the side. But there's two big things for that. One is, Devin if I was to share with you everything I knew about Esports, you've heard it, but you don't understand it at the level I know it at, because I developed all that knowledge.


John:

So that's your starting point. That's my step nine, or whatever. And by the time you even wrap your head around that, I'm on to Step 10, 11, 12.


Devin:

Right. But I if I could interrupt.


John:

Yes.


Devin:

I bet I could sell Kirby vacuum cleaners [crosstalk 00:47:40] yesterday.


John:

Hey, I'll take that. But, we might need to do a ... hey, if you want to do a competition, I'll take that bet ... I do a pretty good Kirby vacuum demo. I'm just saying. Then the other thing is, so the first one is that that's your starting point. The other thing is, people are so busy. I was talking to a friend of mine, he's the business manager for the rapper Nelly for 17 years. He's got a business with Mark Cuban, very successful guy. And he taps me all the time for Esports knowledge. And he said, "John, I have my own expertise. I've been doing this for 50 something years. I'm not trying to relearn an entire industry, I'm looking for people who I trust, who are smart and know what I don't know."


John:

So I think really, much more than people trying to steal from you, you're going to be people who view you as a thought leader, and then tap you for that knowledge, then your job is to build a mechanism that adds value to them and get you paid to do it. And that's the hard part for a lot of people is figuring out how to monetize that.


Devin:

Right. But that'll eventually come.


John:

Yes.


Devin:

You know?


John:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Devin:

Well, we're approaching the end here. And it's been awesome to have you on the show John, and where can people find you right now and what's the best place to find John Davidson?


John:

Yeah, so LinkedIn is where I'm most active. So look up John Davidson Esports and I'll pop up. And then my company is called DLC, the website is dlcyouth.com. And you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @dlc_youth on both of those.


Devin:

Awesome, and I'll make sure all that gets put in the show notes and, hopefully, maybe if we're lucky, John might let us use a couple of his old skateboarding pictures and maybe some other shots that he's had.


John:

Of course, happy to.


Devin:

Awesome John. Thanks for being on The Groove of anybody man. It sounds like you've really hit The Groove and found just the perfect space for you to do your thing at and you're real good at it. And I enjoy hanging out with you and talking to you about it. And look forward to talking to you further.


John:

Thank you for having me. And I look forward to it as well.


Devin:

Awesome. Thanks, John. It's always fun to hang out with John. He's super smart. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, he always does what he says he's going to do. We didn't get a chance to talk about it on this episode. But I recently did a photo shoot with John. And he's actively using those images across to all his social platforms, in his branding, so be sure to check them out as well. He's always on LinkedIn as he said. And you can also check those out on my website. You can find my work at devinpense.com and on Instagram @devinpense. And by the way, I think I'm going to give Adobe's Behance a try.


Devin:

It's a cool social platform for artists to share work and tell their stories. So stay tuned for that in the coming episodes as well as a possible Clubhouse room that I'm goi