First: I should give you a quick overview of what The Enthusiast Network is. These names look familiar?:
They are all properties of The Enthusiast Network. Which clearly makes TEN a pretty incredible marketing machine (the numbers they tout are pretty nuts). Annnd... a big part of their strategy is to produce events for the core demographic of each of their brands.
We're talking: awards shows, surf & skate contests, festivals, motocross events, tours, all the way to one of the coolest industry camping trips around.
And that's where Director of Events, Scott Desiderio (aka: Desi) comes in.
Scott (left) and Photo Cred: Grind TV & Bielmann/SPL
SO LET'S SET THE SCENE
This past December we had the opportunity to work with Scott and his events team on the Surfer Poll Awards, on the North Shore of Oahu (which by the way is not a terrible place to be for work... in December).
Working on that event, allowed us to get to know Scott and his team a bit more. What's really interesting about Scott is that he literally grew up in the Action Sports industry and has pretty much worked on every side of the business: From a little surf rat growing up in Southern California, to a stint as a professional surfer with a few sponsors, to managing a brand and now on the event & media side of things with TEN. So saying, "he's put in his dues", is a under-statement.
However, what I really appreciate is that he has aligned his life around what he's passionate about. He even has the surf mobile to prove it.
Scott and his Mystery Machine. Photo Cred: his sidekick Christian Thomas.
So my goals for this interview were to find out:
First: How he deals with change. There has been so much change over the past 15+ years in both the Action Sports and Media world, I was curious how he's been able to thrive when everything seems so uncertain.
Second: What he looks for when hiring new team members.
Third: What he's learned over the years about doing what he loves. Yes... work is not always going to be fun, but he's figured out something that a lot of people haven't.
Enjoy the interview. I did.
Yep. Let's do it.
Where did you grow up?
Orange County, CA. Specifically, El Toro - All of the Orange Curtain to me.
Big Family, Small Family?
Mom, Dad, Brother (A year and a half older than me).
How would you describe 15 year old Desi?
A cocky little shit that thought he could do anything. I pretty muched ditched everything else and went surfing.
How would you describe 25 year old Desi?
A slightly older, bigger, cocky, little shit that thought he could do anything.
How long has it been just "Desi"?
Pretty much since day one. My dad was Desi and his dad was Desi. The weird thing is my older brother was never referred to as Desi. He lucked out… He was just Earl.
Sooo. He lucked out?
When you were a kid, what was hanging on your wall?
For me as a kid, I looked at Tom Curran as “The Guy”. So, I am sure there were Tom Curran posters. And rock posters. I was a little, wanna-be heavy metal kid, so I'm sure I had every Metallica and Led Zepellin poster on my wall.
Let’s do a little surf / snow Q&A:
If you could win an award at the Surfer Poll Awards, which one would it be and why?
Best Barrel. Because that would mean I get really barreled at some point.
Looks like a pretty solid cover up to me. Scott Desiderio getting shacked.
North Shore or Endless Summer?
And for your Powder Magazine buddies: Ski Patrol or Aspen Extreme?
I don't even know what either of these are.
Powder Magazine just disowned you. We’ll stick to surf.
What’s the coolest part of your surf mobile?
The lights inside. Kind of a creepy Uncle Rico vibe.
Just don't start selling ice cream out of that thing and you'll be good.
Oh hey Uncle Rico. Photo Cred: Unknown
So, if you could work on any event in the world, what would it be and what would you change about it?
Oh gosh. Great question. It would either be a big music festival and I would be able to hand-pick the artists, or it would be a big WSL event like a Tahiti, Fiji or JBay.
Speaking of the WSL (World Surf League), what would you change about it?
Include more wildcards. People like watching the best free surfers compete against the best in good waves. But, overall I think they are doing a great job.
I understand you were a pro surfer back in the day.
Hah. A "pro surfer" is a bit of an overstatement. I was a “bad pro surfer”. I guess getting paid to go surfing, technically means I was pro. Now how much, is a different story.
So how much then?
Well... at one point I won a couple of contests that were pro level, that won me like $500 or a $1000. But as an amateur, you weren’t able to accept prize money. So... you would have to put it into a fund and could only tap into when you were traveling (or something like that). So at that point, I was like... “I’m not doing that, I’m taking my money.”
I also had a couple really bad sponsors and made about $500 a month for a few years. I competed on the US Surf Tour. At the time it was called The Bud Pro Tour. I had a lot of really mediocre results, but had a lot of fun.
What was the best and worst part of that experience?
The best was traveling around, meeting a ton of people that I still work with today, getting your travel paid for and surfing all of these places.
Wait a minute, isn’t that what you do for your job today?
Hah. That’s what my wife jokes with me about.
Work is tough!
Getting off of a flight in Europe or somewhere with $5 in my pocket and three week surf trip ahead of me. But we figured it out.
And Isn't that also like your job today? :)
Hah. No comment.
What was your first job after surfing?
Well after my D-Level “pro surfing career", I was the produce guy at Alpha Beta Foods.
You mean the supermarket chain? Please tell me you have a picture.
I wish I did. That would be gold.
But... I also worked for some of the brands that sponsored me: Xanadu Surfboards and a wetsuit company from Japan called Breaker Out. That's pretty much how I got started in the action sports industry. I knew I wasn't going to make money surfing and I was always interested in the business of it all. That’s where I really learned the ins and outs of the industry.
I hear your official title at TEN isn't Director of Events, but rather “Camp Counselor”.
Ha, yeah. I guess I'm easy going and easy to talk to, so a lot of the team come to me with work issues. And with all of the changes we’ve had over the years, there were a number of days where I was talking a few people off the ledge.
Who wouldn't tell this guy all their problems?
It’s funny because, at one point the TransWorld Motocross guys listed my title in the masthead as "Camp Counselor". It wasn’t until one of my neighbors walked up to me in my driveway and was like, “how’s it going camp counselor”, that I found out it was in the magazine.
Talking about change. You’ve been through enough for 10 careers.
Haha - I know. We work in two industries (Action Sports & Media) that have changed so much over the last 15+ years. It's really interesting because the Action Sports Industry is a fairly new industry in the scheme of things, with a fairly low barrier to entry. So there have been so many companies come and go or get acquired it's crazy. But then you couple that with the pervasive nature of the internet and it's impact on traditional print industry... change is inevitable. So, whether it’s been with new management, acquisitions or mergers, it's a been an experience to say the least.
So as "Camp Counselor" do you have any suggestions on how to deal with change?
You honestly can’t look too far ahead and too far back. Take it one day at a time and just go with the changes. We’ve been bought and sold 3 times since I have been here. So... the day you walk in the door and you find out your company has been sold, you have to say "ok, what's next"? I really believe that if you doing a great job, they are going to recognize that. Anyone who is buying a business, is buying it for a reason. They are not spending that kind of money to fold the entire business. They are going to recognize who is good and likely going to reward that. So you have to be ok with the change, and adapt and be open minded. Which, for a lot of people is really hard.
And from what I've heard (I may or may not have snuck into your HR file):
Well First, you work you're ass off and surround yourself with a team that does the same.
I honestly had no idea where you were going with this, but yes - hardwork and accountability are key.
Second, you know what you don't know and you empower people to help figure stuff out.
I definitely know what I don't know. Hah.
And third, you are constantly pushing yourself and your team to innovate on the event experience.
Who have you been talking to?
Come on Desi, you know I don't give away my sources :)
So what is one thing hasn't changed over the years?
Honestly... it is still fun what we do. At the end of the day, we work for a company that sells surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding and a bunch of other sports we love. We’re not curing cancer over here, so we can’t take it too seriously. That being said, we’re here to grow a business and it’s still a job, but it’s still a lot of fun what we do.
So... when hiring someone for your team, what is the biggest trait you look for?
Honestly... you kind of touched on it, but it’s someone that is willing to dig in and do whatever it takes to get things done.
What a lot of people don’t fully understand is that we’re not here for the party, we put the party on, so we’re the first one’s here and the last ones to leave. We don’t actually go to the party in between. It’s funny, because people say they get it but a lot of times they get to their first event they’re working on and they’re off in the corner having a beer and having fun. That’s not what we do. We make sure everyone else is having fun.
With all of your friends in the industry, how do you jump between friends & business?
That’s funny, because I had this conversation last week with a couple of guys from O’neill. It’s tough because the line in our industry between client and friends/fun is sooo blurred. So when there need to be tough conversations with clients, some people have a hard time with that.
I guess the conference room flooded.
And looking back, what advice would you give yourself when just starting your career?
I would have to say, be a little more open minded about changes. Listen to others and not just do things my way. I am also so technologically behind. I only have social so I can see what we are doing for work. So I need to be more engaged in that stuff, because it’s so critical to our work our careers and how media has changed over the years.
How many events do you produce each year?
Man, I've lost count. I’d say 50 or 60.
How many people are on the events team at The Enthusiast Network? 8
What are your two favorite events that you and TEN put on?
I love the Camp Shred event. It’s just fun. It’s actually one of those things where we’re camping for a weekend, so all of the brands and everyone’s there. It’s kinda of just a time to let your guard down, and camp and surf and spend a really cool weekend together.
Camp Shred: Coined as The world's Larget Surf Demo. Photo: Surfing Magazine & Tara
I also love the Snowboarding TransAm, partially because it was one of the the first events I worked on when I got here, but also because it’s a really cool grassroots snowboarding event and seeing how stoked the kids are when they are winning and walking away with a boat load of prizes. Love that.
Photo Cred: Transworld Snowboarding
And last year was your first year for the Pacific Paddle Games, so what is the biggest lesson learned after a first year event like that?
Well with that one, we should have brought on more people that know the space and are endemic to stand up paddling specifically. Obviously we had help with SUP The Mag (a part of TEN), but if we had a bit more direction with the competition side of things, that would have helped a lot more. So now as we’re planning for year two, we’ve brought on more support to help guide the race logistics a bit more.
Photo Cred: SUP Magazine and Michael Yoshida
What is the biggest thing you look for or expect out from your bosses on a regular basis?
Honestly just the support to do what we do. If they recognize what we do and understand what it takes to put an event on, that’s awesome. We’ve had it before where people would show up to an awards show and have a beer and then come in the next day and say, “That was awesome, we should do another next week.” They totally discounted the six months of work to make that happen. So, if they can understand and recognize what it takes to get something like that done and support us in that, that’s all we can ask for.
When it comes to software and technology what areas are starting to become really interesting for you and your team?
What, besides Lennd? :)
Hah - thanks for the plug Desi.
So outside of the operations, we're really interested in using technology to understand how we can engage with and understand our event attendees on an even deeper level. In the same way, it's starting to become more interesting to see how we can help sponsors engage event attendees in a more fun and authentic way as well.
In your work life, are you insecure about anything?
Well I am a terrible public speaker. So any time where there is a work event and I have to get up in front of the company or team, it’s terrifying for me. Getting better, but definitely insecure about that.
My parting wisdom was my advice to future eventors: we’re not here for the party, we’re here to set the party up and break the party down.
I see you're working hard brother.
He must not be working.
There's a cool saying I try to refer back to at times. It's pretty simple, but really helps center me at times. It goes like this: "Grow where you're planted".
That's exactly what I took from my conversations with Desi. I see why he is so valuable in an industry that is constantly changing. He provides a level of stability and calmness that is really needed. You can also see he's in his element at work. He's been able to figure out how to align what he loves to do with his career. It's something that a lot of people give up on at some point in their career. But he and his team are making it happen. I'm excited to see what they do next.
Here's to you, Camp Counselor.
WHAT IS LENND?
Lennd is an operations and workforce management platform for events. We're currently in a private beta with some of our favorite events around the globe, but if you want to sign up for early notice as we bring on more events and organizations, you can do that here.
Rock N' Roll Marathon: Ted "The Man" Metellus", Director of Course Operations
NFL: Katie Keenan, Director of Events
Firefly Music Festival: Megan Marshall, Assistant Director
Superfly Productions (Bonnaroo): Kat Tooley, Senior Director, Event Production
Red Frog Events: Christian Pheil, Head of Experience
BWG Live: Leo Nitzberg, Founder
Wanderlust: Heather Story, Head of Operations
Virgin Sport: Victoria Brumfield, VP of Global Operations
Ironman: Roch Frey, Event Director
Ragnar Relay: Tanner Bell, Co-Founder & President
SXSW: Chris Valentine, Start-Up Village Director
SXSW Interactive: Hugh Forrest, Event Director
Beats By Dre: Jason White, VP of Marketing
Sea Otter Classic: Frank Yohannan, Founder (READ)
Los Angeles Marathon: Murphy Reinschreiber, VP of Operations (READ)
Big Sur Marathon: Doug Thurston, Event Director (READ)
Summit Series: Cara Bubes, Event Director (READ)
Color Run: John Connors, VP of Experience (READ)
TechCrunch Disrupt: Leslie Hitchcock, Event Director (READ)
Boston Marathon: Matt West, VP of Operations (READ)
Academy Awards: Cheryl Cecchetto, Production Director (READ)
RunningUSA: Christine Bowen, Event Director (READ)
Charity Ball & Charity Water: Lauren Letta, Chief of Staff (READ)
Electric Run: Latane "Big Bird" Meade, Co-Founder (READ)
Color Run Australia: Luke Hannan, Event Director (READ)