Bullied at school for skateboarding, Gregg L. Witt was the kid who didn’t fit in and was told he wouldn’t amount to much. He has since been recognized as a “Top 5 Youth Marketer to Follow” by Inc. and featured in Forbes and Fortune.
Witt has worked with over 100 brands including Glaceau Vitamin Water, HBO, Nissan, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and Walt Disney World, helping these brands “fit in.”
Today Gregg is a world authority on youth culture and leading brand strategy expert. He’s also the co-author of a new book, The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility.
This week for On The Grind, we spoke to Gregg about speaking to youth culture, launching a company at 16, and how being bullied affected his decision-making throughout life.
Being bullied is never a good thing but do you think being made fun of for being into skateboarding helped you in any way?
Correct, bullies suck.
Being made fun of as a skateboarder certainly drove me to find my tribe/s of like-minded people, and pushed me harder to succeed in other areas of my life.
I admit, there have been a few times in my career when I’ve done things like throwing a killer event, or create a new product or company, just to “show ‘em.”
I just wanted to prove that a skinny Midwest skateboarding kid can make shit happen and then rub that in the face of naysayers a little bit (respectfully).
What made you want to launch a company at 16?
It was relatively simple: my love for skateboarding, the desire to bring good people together and a personal need for products specialized for my particular type of riding, most commonly known as “vert.”
Plus, I just wanted to be able to fund a 24-7 skateboarding party, mainly a never-ending road trip with my friends.
That’s why I called my original 90’s skateboarding and apparel brand, the Goodtimes Intelligence Agency. We brought these good times to life.
Skateboarding and apparel is a ridiculously competitive area of business to enter at such a young age. Do you think it helped to have the deck stacked against you as a teen?
You are right. Fortunately for me, the world of skateboarding and the lifestyle was the only thing I was really into and became a core part of my identity.
In my mind, I was dedicated to figuring out the business side–no matter what.
It definitely helped to have that constant pressure to find ways and means to keep going.
You were severely injured and told you’d never run or skateboard again. You did. Do you remember what motivated you to get back on?
That was a dark moment in time, I was doing what’s called an “indy air” at Brighton Zeuner’s (X-Game Champion) backyard skateboard ramp when everything went wrong.
I locked up on entry back into the ramp from about 15,’ and the impact crushed my hip ball joint and femur.
Besides my inherent passion for skateboarding, my motivation came from Dr. Joel Smith at Sharp Hospital who miraculously rebuilt my left side when every other doctor didn’t think it could be done.
He said, “it will not seem like it, but you can retrain your leg to perform again. I did the same operation for professional cyclist and Tour De France winner Floyd Landis.”
That was motivation enough for me.
Coming back two years after the injury to win my first Masters skateboarding competition was one of the best feelings of all time. I’m beyond grateful to once again have a functioning left leg.
In your new book, you warn brands not to sleep on Generation Z. What’s the one thing brands and companies get wrong about the generation?
All too often brands and companies treat a generation like they are a herd of sheep, they miss out on what matters most — getting aligned with the cultural groups they are seeking.
When brands or organizations can align their stories with and contribute to youth culture, that’s when the magic happens. When it comes to not sleeping on Generation Z, it’s important to account for the population size increase, be familiar with consumer trends and behaviors, and identify the global market opportunities this group may represent for your business.
As Chief Strategy Officer at our agency Engage Youth Co, my most important role is to help brands and organizations become culturally relevant.
What’s the one thing they shockingly get right?
Every brand and situation is different, so it’s tough to say.
I will say that the quality of products/brands available with the potential to be culturally relevant with the tweens, teens and young adults of Gen Z has both improved and increased significantly.
It’s best not to have regrets, but it is essential to live and learn. Can you think of one moment in your career when you totally screwed up but learned something in the process?
Yes, when I was 17 years old, I ordered 500 shirts and sweatshirts for my brand. They all sold out within two weeks, so I ordered 500 more.
This time they didn’t sell quite as fast, retailers asked for new designs.
I learned a few lessons on supply and demand, distribution, and production management real quick.
You serve as a mentor to younger kids. Did you have any mentors?
My life is filled with mentors, starting with my father. I watched him work and build his vending and catering company into a leading regional business.
Another was Barb King (RIP), co-founder of Landscape Structures playground and recreational equipment. Barb was a real mentor when my agency worked for her on youth-focused product lines, she always offered real-world advice for me as I was growing my first agency business.
It might be hard to name just one but can you tell me the most inspiring moment Gen Z Foundation has been a part of so far?
So far the most inspirational moment for me as part of the Gen Z Foundation is watching it become a tight-knight community of young people and youthful energy coming together to help ourselves and create social impact at the same time.
The most inspiring moment is coming soon at our next event called, Impact Mentality, it’s happening February 2nd, 2019 at Parisoma, in San Fransisco.
The event is designed to open the conversations around how we incorporate mental health practices into our daily work life and what it takes to make companies large and small focus on their impact.
I’m a father. You’re a father of four, ages 3-14. As one father to another, I have to know “are you fucking insane?!?!”
Yes, and one just turned 15! We roll in a pack.