Penny Skateboards founder Ben Mackay shares secrets to starting out a business

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Ben Mackay
Skateboarding enthusiast and Penny Skateboards founder Ben Mackay. Supplied

Penny Skateboards is an Australian-born brand known for its broad range of skateboards in various colours and sizes. Skateboarding enthusiast Ben Mackay started out selling his products up the coast out of his van. Now, the brand has grown in 65 countries with distribution numbers of more than 6 million.

Penny Skateboards was born when Mackay came across an old plastic skateboard from the '70s in a garage and thought that there was a hole in the market for a skateboard built for cruising and pure fun. So he worked up a prototype and turned his passion into a business.

In an exclusive interview with International Business Times Australia, Mackay shares more of how his business started, what pushed him to pursue his passion, his secrets to success, as well as setbacks in the industry. He used to work in a construction company, but knew that building a business is the path to his goals so the story of Penny Skateboards began, a brand named after his sister.

International Business Times: How did it all start? Where did the idea of designing and creating skateboards come into play?

Ben Mackay: I’ve been a skateboarder since I was young and have always been interested in skateboards.  Later on, I was working at a construction company and tinkering around with making skateboards in my garage at night after work and on weekends. Over time, I started making boards for local shops [and] developed a bit of a network of accounts that were selling the boards that I was making. When the "Dogtown and Z Boys" movie came out, I got very interested in the Z-Flex Skateboards brand, and after doing some research and making some phone calls, I was able to get distribution rights for the brand in Australia.

IBT AU: What made you decide to pursue business from a hobby?

Mackay: I knew that I didn’t want to do construction forever and knew that building a business was the way to reach the goals that I had set for myself.  The bonus of building a company in an industry I love and seeing all the smiles on kids’ faces when they ride one of our products just makes it that much more worth it.

With a real passion for the product, Mackay spent years researching and building boards with his own presses. He is particularly meticulous about details, and quality is something he can’t compromise.

But it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies for Penny Skateboards as it encountered some setbacks just like most companies do, particularly when it was starting to build its reputation in the industry. In the beginning, sales grew very quickly when the brand was still in the process of introducing itself.

Structuring a business around a product that has that level of accelerated growth has been challenging. Mackay said they had to weather the ups and downs of the sometimes-volatile skateboard market. Penny Skateboards also sees its strategies being copied by other companies, but that only makes the brand better in terms of product and business perspective.

IBT AU: What is your advice to people starting out their own business?

Mackay: I’d say go for it. If you have a passion for something and want to turn it into a business, you owe it to yourself to try. I would also say to be smart about it and not extend beyond your means in the early stages. I started my company while keeping a full-time job and hustling on nights and weekends. That allowed a bit of security so I could be smart about building my company and not be rushed for revenue. Start small, scale up when it’s time, and watch your overhead.

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