Streetwise: Skateboarders turn lifelong passion into design success

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How did two skateboarders, working out of a bedroom, end up running advertising campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands?

By being really good at guessing celebrity emails, apparently.

While that isn’t the whole story, it’s the way Sac State alumnus John Davidson (’11, Business Administration) and friend Barton Damer, founder and creative director of the motion graphic and design company Already Been Chewed (ABC), landed one of their biggest clients on the way to international renown creating marketing content for the likes of Vans, Nike, and the Dallas Mavericks.

“My view is that if you can be on time every time and have pretty good work, you can be very successful,” says Davidson, ABC’s business manager. “But if you can be on time every time and have amazing work, the sky’s the limit.”

Since his first ride at age 11, Davidson knew he loved skateboarding. He wasn’t so sure about anything else, and he bounced around jobs – at a telemarketing company in Orlando, a cell phone kiosk in San Francisco, a tax firm in Washington, D.C. – before returning to California to study business and marketing at Sac State.

John_Graduation
John Davidson, business manager for Texas-based design company Already Been Chewed, graduated from Sac State in 2011 with a degree in Business Administration. (Photo courtesy of John Davidson)

“I was really in the right place, mentally, to go back to school,” he says. “I love encouraging young people to pursue a degree in business, especially from Sac State, because what it enables you to do is learn how to make money doing what you love.”

It was during his time in D.C. that Davidson met Damer, a fellow skateboarder and freelance artist. After Davidson graduated in 2011, Damer invited him to join his burgeoning freelance company as business manager.

Davidson moved to North Texas in 2012, and after a “very steep learning curve,” he says, things started to take off.

ABC designs still images and videos for every visual medium – print, broadcasts, live events, web, in-store displays. Initially, Damer handled all the design work, while Davidson employed his business sense to handle clients and market the company.

Two weeks after starting, Davidson landed his first major contract: an internal project for Nike Skateboarding and Nike Surfing. For two self-described “skate rats,” it was right in their wheelhouse.

“It was great because we know this stuff, and we’re part of the culture,” Davidson says. “If you’re not, you can make mistakes that the audience can easily pick apart and say, ‘Wait a minute, you don’t really know what you’re talking about, you’re faking this, and now I don’t want to buy your product.’ ”

That shared love of skateboarding – and serious persistence – ultimately nabbed ABC one of its biggest clients, skateboarder and television star Rob Dyrdek (Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy FactoryRidiculousness). Davidson and Damer always wanted to compose motion graphics for Street League Skateboarding (SLS), a televised international skateboarding tournament founded by Dyrdek.

To get Dyrdek’s attention, the duo took a shot in the dark: They guessed his personal email address, sending out their pitch to about a dozen possible addresses.

One of them got there.

As a result, ABC took over the entire TV package for SLS, which it still produces today for Fox Sports, and it continues to work closely with Dyrdek, producing content for various episodes of his shows on MTV as well as other projects.

Today, Already Been Chewed – a play on the common skating phrase “already been done,” referring to never wanting to repeat the same trick in the same spot – has grown into a staff of seven, moved into actual offices in downtown Allen, Texas, and tripled its revenue in the past four years.

It’s hard to fathom how such a small team has managed such an expansive portfolio, which includes work for: Vans, for which it produced the mega-brand’s 50th anniversary campaign; the Dallas Mavericks, for whom ABC produced an in-stadium home game intro video; and celebrities including Dyrdek, Desean Jackson, and Lil’ Wayne.

Davidson’s role as business manager has been crucial to the company’s growth. He attributes his tenacity and business sense to his time at Sac State, which, in addition to years and years of skateboarding, shaped him into the professional he is today.

“The falling, the getting back up, the trial and error: That absolutely has a lot to do with business as a whole,” Davidson says. “Continuing to persevere through difficult times and through challenges is related to skateboarding; the learning curve I had to go through was not easy.

“So your choices are either to work hard and continue to learn, or quit. And quitting was not an option.”

Check out the gallery at top for examples of the company’s design work, and click below for a highlight reel their recent motion graphic work.

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Author: John Blomster

John Blomster is a copywriter for the Office of Public Affairs & Advocacy at California State University, Sacramento. He is one of the main writers for the Made at Sac State campaign, a lifelong Sacramentan, and is passionate about all things Sacramento. John is also an avid musician who has been active in the local music scene for over a decade.

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