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EO 360°, a podcast by Entrepreneurs’ Organization, explores entrepreneurship with a wide perspective, moving beyond business to those insights not often shared by high-profile thought leaders.

Host and serial entrepreneur, Dave Will, leads in-depth interviews, whose featured guests include: Gazelles founder and CEO, Verne Harnish; popular podcast host and founder of Genius Network, Joe Polish; award-winning entrepreneur, Zahra Al-Harazi; and more. Tune into this top podcast made by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.

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Oct 6, 2017

Buying a company that’s struggling means taking the baggage that comes with it. Though it probably sounds unappealing to some, for Dan Hassett it wasn’t a discouragement. The company he bought—Levitate—only inspired and fueled his passion for the surf lifestyle. Today on the EO Podcast, Dan discusses the origins of the Levitate brand, and explains how it became a “passion business” beloved by the community of Marshfield, MA. Tune-in to learn how Dan took a business that was sinking in debt and transformed it into a thriving company that now hosts music festivals and surf camps. Dan also explains how he changed the business without deviating from Levitate’s original brand and vision.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 01:07 – Dan runs a “passion business”, a surf shop in Marshfield, 30 minutes south of Boston
  • 02:01 – What sets Dan apart from other surf shops is that he runs Levitate LLC as a hardcore business
  • 03:40 – Starts his day early at 5 o’clock; early morning is the most productive time for Dan as his two children are sleeping
    • 04:55 – Apart from dealing with the normal “nuts and bolts”, Dan spends a lot of time researching early in the morning
  • 06:13 – Critical for any entrepreneur to understand who their customers are and what they want
  • 07:22 – Apart from targeting surfers, Dan is also targeting the thousands of people who are enamored by the surfing lifestyle
  • 08:11 – People who visit music festivals have the same mindset as someone who visits a surf shop; they are looking to be in a “happy space”
  • 09:46 – Target customers range from young kids and teenagers to older folks; his brand resonates with anyone who is in pursuit of open-mindedness
    • 10:23 – Dan says his aim is for anyone to walk into his surf shop and think, “This is the way things should be”
  • 11:47 – The origins of Levitate
    • 11:47 – Levitate was started by Bob Pollard, a surfer; met him in Marshfield in 2003 when Bob was working in a restaurant where Dan was a busboy
    • 12:40 – Bob offered Dan a job at his surf shop
    • 13:18 – Always had a passion for surfing since he was young; his father used to surf and his grandfather had a beach house in Humarock
    • 14:27 – Dan hung out with Bob quite a bit when Bob used to take him surfing
    • 15:20 – The first Levitate shop was a small shop, no larger than a fruit-stand
    • 15:34 – Tragically Bob passed away at the age of 34 due to an aortic aneurysm; Levitate was 3 years old and was starting to gain traction
    • 16:32 – Bob really cared about his customers; since everyone loved Bob, they loved his brand as well
    • 17:32 – Before passing away, Bob had signed a lease to move to a bigger shop downtown
    • 18:41 – Even though the store reopened, business-wise, it was not doing too well
    • 19:37 – Levitate survived the downturn of 2008 due to the support of the people of Marshfield
    • 20:48 – Received a call from Amelia, Bob’s wife, informing him that Levitate was up for sale; part of the deal was to take on the debt
    • 22:24 – Barely 22, Dan had some great ideas which would help restructure the Levitate brand
    • 23:19 – Dan ended up with the business because he was willing to take on the debt
    • 24:36 – Dan had to run Levitate with zero expenses
  • 25:53 – Dan is in the process of adding a café to all Levitate shops
  • 27:01 – In the initial years, Dan thought that he would turn Levitate around and then close it up
  • 28:01 – Entrepreneurship is not glamorous at all; could not make money in the initial years in spite of slogging day and night
  • 30:05 – Realized that in order to survive Levitate, it could not be a “mom and pop” surf shop
  • 31:13 – Always had a passion for his business and believed that Levitate was more than a retail store
    • 31:32 – Treating Levitate like a retail model would result in failure since high volumes were not possible to achieve
  • 32:11 – Surf camps are held for kids aged 7-14 and consist of lessons in surfing, paddle boarding, environmental lessons and dodge ball
    • 33:12 – Camps have been popular since inception; all spots fill up in an hour
  • 34:14 – Banking on the success of surf camps, Dan started to build up Levitate as a brand
  • 35:13 – Held a 10 year success party, a music festival in 2013 in Fairgrounds
    • 37:04 – Scoured all over the internet to look for information on how to organize a music festival
    • 38:11 – Loves to research, but avoids going overboard because of “paralysis due to analysis”
    • 39:03 – 1500 people showed up for the first event which was a huge success
  • 40:21 – The last music festival was a two-day event attended by 24,000 people!
  • 42:12 – While retail contributes 30% of its overall sales, it generates zero profits; music festivals account for 50-60% of its overall sales and they have a profit margin of a 40%!
  • 43:40 – If you are an owner of a retail shop and are killing it, send out an email to Dave
  • 44:48 – Dan’s wife is an artist and graphic designer who does all the posters for Levitate’s music festival
    • 46:34 – Admits that working with his wife can be a grind sometimes; they end up talking about work at home as well
    • 47:30 – Tries to ensure that his relationship is not strained due to work
    • 48:09 – Having a baby has resulted in Jess cutting down on her work
  • 49:51 – Going into the future, foresees a handful of stores with a signature event and a big ecommerce presence; wants to be a national brand and build up volume
  • 51:31 – Dave introduces the new lightning round called “Boxers or Briefs”
    • East coast or West Coast – East
    • Volkswagen or Jeep – Jeep
    • Skate or Surf – Surf
    • Meat or Veggies – Veggies
    • Nemo or AB – AB
    • Ring Dings or Ho Hos – Ho Hos
    • Hawaii or Fiji – Fiji
  • 53:20 – Dave closes the episode and encourages you to visit his website

3 Key Points:

  1. Even a “passion business” should be a run like a hardcore business in order to survive and thrive.
  2. Taking on the initial debt of a company is NOT the end of the world, be wise and bring your own vision to the brand.
  3. Entrepreneurship is NOT a glamorous profession at all—you need to be willing to put in the work to succeed.

Resources Mentioned: