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April 13, 2023

Disrupting an Antiquated Industry & Scaling to $150M with Erik Huberman — EP 021

Episode 21
Erik Huberman

Ten Years In The Making is a weekly podcast on how to effectively grow a startup.     

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Adam Robinson: All right. With me today on Ten Years In The Making is Erik Huberman. He is Hawke Media. He is the man, the myth, the legend. I'm sure everyone of you know who he is and have heard of Hawke Media in the past, if not worked with him. I am going to ask him a bunch of questions that I'm curious about. He sits at a very interesting position in this Shopify ecosystem like having worked with and currently working with so many customers. So, I just want to dive right into it. So, Hawke Media, who do you serve? What do you do? What makes you different?

Erik Huberman: Sure. Hawke Media, so we serve companies that want to grow and that is an important distinction because there's a lot of companies out there that hire marketing agencies but don't actually really want to grow. They're just kind of happy with where they're at and we don't want to work with those companies. It's just not as fun. And so, we serve but it really is the full gamut of size from small SMBs company out of your spare bedroom all the way through the Fortune 500, Fortune 100s. And what makes us different, it's funny, I get asked this a lot and I have a more robust answer and a quick answer. The quick answer is we actually know what we're doing. Sadly, that makes us that different in the marketing world because I'd say about 99% of agencies out there have no idea how to grow a business. And that's usually who we're competing with are the small shops, don't how to grow their own business, but sell that they can grow yours. Apparently, they can make you billions of dollars but they haven't made themselves $100,000. You know, it's that kind of like that's kind of the issue in the ecosystem is all these snake oil salesmen. That's why I started the company. Navigating that was such a nightmare, I was like, "I'm just going to build my own team to help some companies I'm working with." So, it's that but really how we fulfill that and our mission is accessibility to great marketing. So, we want to be the best at what we do but really easy to work with.

And so, what I found was the companies that are really easy to work with are not very good, and the companies that are really good become really hard to work with. And so, I wanted to find that in-between where it's like, "Why can't we serve small companies, medium companies, large companies, and bring Fortune 500 marketing to the masses, have all the connections and the platform relationships and the discounts and everything, but use that for a long tail of companies that really need it the most that are trying to grow?" And so, that's what's made us different is we are one of the top partners to Google, Facebook, Klaviyo,, like all these companies that we really build partnerships and relationships with and we have a great team of marketers but we're really easy to work with where month to month ala carte, nimble, flexible and, yeah, that's the whole concept and that's really what's propelled us.

Adam Robinson: So, I know for us the bigger a brand is, the more they're going to crush it. And it's kind of a function of like if someone's got a bunch of money there already, it's easy for us to grow that 100% and it doesn't matter if it's $500 or $500,000, it's still going to grow 100% and the pricing doesn't increase. So, like is that the same for you to an extent?

Erik Huberman: It is and this is where it's like with two things in terms of like working with the smaller side of things is, yes, absolutely. I understand why a lot of agencies go enterprise and I get the picture, and you're going to make more money and it's going to be a stabler customer. At the same time, I do still rest on principle where it's like, yeah, but these companies, there's a huge market there and they need it. So, if we can manage that profitably and actually service these smaller companies, why wouldn't we attack that market that's completely underserved? And that's where it came from, and we have like we can serve small and medium businesses profitably. So, is it more profitable to serve larger companies? Yeah, at times but again, doing both is great because then you get a diversity of clients. We've just did a review on our client concentration, which is super important for agencies because like Phelps, legendary agency in L.A., that was really why renowned? 85% of the revenue at the peak was Whole Foods. When they sold to Amazon, they got fired and Phelps is gone. So, you got to be really careful on that concentration.

Adam Robinson: So scary.

Erik Huberman: For us, the biggest client we have is, I think, 1.1% of our revenue on an annual basis.

Adam Robinson: Beautiful. Yeah, we're kind of in the same boat being a SaaS who serves the same companies obviously.

Erik Huberman: Yeah, exactly.

Adam Robinson: How small is small? Like, if somebody goes to you and they have 300,000 GMV a year, are they a Hawke Media candidate?

Erik Huberman: Yeah. So, what I say is the small is $10,000 a month in marketing budget all in and that's really where we start. If you have less than that, don't hire anyone. You need to go build your business. The reason we start there is not because $5,000 we're too good for that. It's because we can't get over on 5,000 to actually show returns and create growth. And frankly, the founder needs to go find some money, whether it's raising money or generating some capital like you bootstrapped, I bootstrapped, like you got to go sell some sh*t, make some money, and then go hire a marketer. They're not going to start your business for you. So, that's our...

Adam Robinson: And then you said you were solving a problem for yourself. Did you have another agency before Hawke Media?

Erik Huberman: No.

Adam Robinson: How did you get into this?

Erik Huberman: I had two e-commerce companies. So, I was so sick of like, and then what happened, the real impetus of Hawke Media was I sold the last one. I started advising consulting for a bunch of brands, and then I tried to hire in-house or agencies to execute on the things I was advising on and I just was navigating. Thankfully, I knew what I was doing so I could call bullsh*t on some of these companies, but I knew that 95% of my customers would have never been able to do that if I wasn't there. So, like, wow, there is a ton of crap out there. Like, I don't know a founder that doesn't have a bad agency story. It's pretty ridiculous.

Adam Robinson: I mean, I have as many bad agency stories as agencies I've worked with.

Erik Huberman: Right. Exactly. And 99% of agencies are full of sh*t. I haven't had anyone go, "No, they're not." Like, no one's ever challenged that number because everyone agrees. Like, it's incredible the amount of crap that's out there and part of the problem is the past decade, there's been this like encouragement for every charlatan to jump into the agency world. So, it's just part of the landscape but when I saw that almost a decade ago, I was like, "There's got to be a better way to do this," and that's where it came up because, again, there are other good agencies. I never deny that but they're few and far between and they generally go upmarket so they ignore the small and medium businesses.

Adam Robinson: Right. So, a kind of personal question here. Do you actually like being the founder and owner of an agency? Do you like that business? Because I'm SaaS, right? So, like I talk to all these D2C guys, and if they get drunk enough, they're like, "Man, I just want a f*cking SaaS company." What's your view on an agency as a business that you own?

Erik Huberman: The grass is always greener is how I look at it. Like, I've been able to build that 250-person company with zero outside capital, do whatever I want to do, and does that come with a burden and stress and is it a volatile business that you're dealing with, especially right now with like the whole economy being shaken for a year and everybody being nervous about growth? Like, yeah, there are times where it's not going to be as fun. I don't know an industry or like SaaS company is the same thing like valuations dropped 70% for SaaS companies the past year. Like, it's not like they're...

Adam Robinson: Probably dropped a lot more in the last 24 hours.

Erik Huberman: Yeah, right.

Adam Robinson: With the Silicon Valley Bank.

Erik Huberman: Yeah, exactly. It is. And while I was getting on this, I was texting with our Head of Venture saying like, "What exposure do we have?" Like, Hawke Media is not exposed. We don't bank with them but we're looking at our banks, which I won't name, and going, "This bank actually might have some problems. Let's wire more money out of there and just leave what we need in there but don't hold any money in that bank because who's coming next?" And we're watching that too. But, yeah, I mean, again, that's what I'm trying to say is like navigating any business has its ups and downs. You know, SaaS has looked really good for a decade with free capital. It's been a really good place but that's also because we know all the winners. Like, how many times that people spent millions of dollars building out software and then they get no customers and it doesn't go anywhere?

Adam Robinson: 80% of the time.

Erik Huberman: Right. And where the agency you start day one. If people buy it, you keep going and you just keep going until as long as people keep buying it. And so, there's no CapEx. There's no upfront costs. So, I do like it. On the other side of it is it's fickle. People can have a bad day and fire you. There's a line in Mad Men, "The first day you've got a client is the first day you start losing them." Like, it's part of the game in that which is that part's annoying because marketers by nature are chasing shiny objects and so it's hard to keep clients. I'm saying really long-term, like keeping them for 20 years. Whereas like an accounting firm, when they sign a big business, it's very rare they go find a new accounting firm like the business is a little different but again, you can speak to the downside of any industry. I say that about accounting firms, I also could never f*cking be an accountant all day.

Adam Robinson: Right. 100%. So, correct me if I'm wrong. I listen to a podcast you were on a few years ago. Your pricing is somewhat more flexible than a normal agency as well, right? Isn't it like month-to-month in many cases and like people can...?

Erik Huberman: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: I love that, by the way. We're selling annual deals now, but like when we were developing our product, I wanted to be month-to-month because I wanted to be taught with churn that my product sucked. I think it's an incredible standard to hold yourself to. And actually, I got it from reading the Richard Branson book, whichever, like the one about his building businesses. He did the Virgin USA cell phone thing and he's like, "I wanted to do a monthly deal to hold me accountable." That's great.

Erik Huberman: And that was really it. When I started this, it was like, "I don't need contracts if we do good work and we communicate well with our clients." Unless they go bankrupt, which then my contract's f*cked anyway. So, it's like they're not going to hire me if I do good work and I communicate well. Now, there's nuance to that. There's a small percentage of people that are idiots and we've been fired doing great work and crushing it for our business and this shiny object thing comes in. But again, it's like the cost of that versus how many customers were able to get in because they're not scared of trying it out. We stuck with it.

Adam Robinson: Totally. I love that. So, audience large Shopify store owner-operators, they love tactics. If one of them shows up at your doorstep now, is there something that is like an almost universal pitch that like no one is doing that you're going to provide? Like, what would you say is something most of these Shopify Plus stores are missing?

Erik Huberman: It's funny because I don't know why because it's ubiquitous at this point but I'm going to give an easy answer and a more deeper answer. So, the easy answer is SMS marketing. I still don't know. It should be just a part of the tech stack now and it's not for many, many companies. And so, easy, easy one. I think, frankly, what you guys are doing, you're just capturing so much more data and so much more audience like is another one. It's just do it like there's no question. You're trying to build a business like you should check these boxes. And then the thing we've launched recently that is getting really compelling really fast and we have about 2,000 paid users on so far as We now have benchmarking data across 8.000 brands. So, we can actually go in and identify exactly where the weak points are in your performance marketing and your revenue data and your different traffic channels and go, "This is where you're missing compared to your industry. This is how much you're overspending on Facebook. This is what's happening here." And the problem is people continue to look at their data versus what they did the last quarter or the last year, year-over-year data, which that's all bullsh*t. Like, especially looking at three years, it doesn't mean anything. So, you need to know what's going on in the market now compared to what you're doing, and we've been able to build that. So, that's been something that's been really helpful across our businesses.

Adam Robinson: All right. You heard it from Erik Huberman first. SMS,, and Love it. And then within SMS like flows, right? Or is it just how do you think about that? I think about the world is like flows are like the most valuable thing in the world because I make flows better. But like do you sort of, you know, like if you're starting the SMS program, what would you tell us sort of brand that was like, "I don't know if I should do it?" Like, I was talking to Birddogs yesterday like, "I don't know, man." It's like, "At least set up a cart abandonment flow, dude."

Erik Huberman: Exactly. Yeah. I would say that's number one, yes, cart abandonment but again, it's opt-in. They're giving you a phone number. If they give you their phone number, they're going to hear from you and they can say, "Stop," and it's gone. Like, we dealt with this with email a decade ago where people are like, "Oh, I don't want to need more lightbox because I'm just going to annoy my customer," and they're like, "We don't want to be like those other brands." Like, there's a reason those other brands do it. And what's funny is like there's data behind annoying your customer. It's called a bounce rate. Let's put in the lightbox and see if people bounce off your site. If they do, then you're right." By the way, that literally happens 0% of the time, like it never happened that we saw an increase in bounce rate. So, it's like, "Oh, go figure. People are used to lightboxes and it's okay." Same thing with SMS. It's like they don't have to give you a phone number but if they do, why wouldn't you use it? And we invested in Postscript, so to be transparent, but Postscript like we invested because there's no barrier to entry. You can get on really easily. Try it out. It works. You're going to spend the money at the level you use it and the ROI on it is insane. For the people that want to give you their phone number and communicate with you through text, the ROI is insane. And you'd be surprised how big of an audience that is now and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. People are getting more and more used to using text for that. But, yeah, it's not something overly like spammy and try to be as targeted and as segmented as you can with your automation so that people feel like you're communicating with them and not sending them a 50% off sale the day after they just closed, you know, bought some sh*t.

Adam Robinson: Totally. Yeah. You guys can help with voice and everything because that's what you do. Yeah. Rock and roll. That's great. So, shifting gears, this is kind of getting more to the personal side of things. You do a ton of different things. So, where does your motivation come from? This is what I find interesting. Like, a lot of people would have stopped with Hawke Media and you have like four or five different other operations that are completely separate from it.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. It's a combination of two things. I don't sit still very well, so when things are stable, I go back to start something else or break something or do something. So, as we hit sort of thresholds of Hawke where things are humming, I am like, "Okay. Things are humming. So, what do I do now? Well, I'm going to go do something." So, that's part of it. Number two is really just a desire to get everything out of life that I can. I try everything, do everything professionally and personally. So, I have Hawke Media. About a year in, I was pushed by a friend to invest in their company, which I wasn't planning on being an angel investor but I tried it and their companies were somewhere between 3 and 5 billion now. So, yeah, it was great and I'm like I use...

Adam Robinson: Can you say what company it is? Or is that something you're not...

Erik Huberman: Yeah. It's FabFitFun.

Adam Robinson: It's what?

Erik Huberman: FabFitFun.

Adam Robinson: Oh, cool. Yeah. I know that one.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. So, that went well. And so, then I said we should probably do more of this. And I did more of it, and it went even better. And then we raised a fund around it because I was like we should keep doing this. And then our clients, that was how the fund started and then it kept going and it's like, "Well, this is working, so let's keep doubling down on it." And then our first fund did incredibly well. Our second fund, we raised half of it in a week and we went 10X the fund. So, it just keeps growing and building and we're able to be more of a player in that space. And it serves Hawke Media's core. We're investing in all the software as we use for Hawke Media so we're in Klaviyo, Postscript, Tapcart, Fairing like we're in a lot of the ecosystem and we would have invested in you if you raised money.

Adam Robinson: Well, I mean, this is why I like wanted to talk to you because you can almost see the future, right? Like, you hear me explaining to you what I do and you're like, "Well, everybody's going to do that," because you know them. You work with all of them.

Erik Huberman: Again, and you look at the benefits of it and obviously it takes a little more test, but you look at it and it's just a rational thing like, is this a tool that will make more money than it costs for the customer? And there's a lot of tools out there like SMS marketing that we looked at because I was like full thesis driven like that's going to work because they're like, "Yeah, like it costs you cents to send a text message." And we know the conversions on email. We know text messages are going to have a higher efficacy because if they're giving you their phone number, they give a sh*t like this is going to work. And it's the same thing with a lot of the things we invest in. It's like, yeah, we need that right now. Our clients need that, and then we actually try it. We go, let's see if we can intro a few clients. Then it works and then we double down. So, the most recent deal we did was Superfiliate. We onboarded a bunch of great brands onto that platform and they all loved it and went, "Great. Let's put some money in," and it is that simple for us on the investment side because like there isn't better due diligence. Do companies want it and keep it?

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Those two like seem absolutely hand-in-hand. It's like so like how much time do you spend managing the agency now? Like, do you own a lot? So, you're still in the weeds? Like, you're hearing about successes and failures and what they're using and what they're not.

Erik Huberman: Exactly.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. So, it's like a very natural extension if you have access to capital. How much of the venture portfolio are these software in the tech stack of Hawke Media? Is it all or is it most or like...?

Erik Huberman: It's most. I mean if they're not, we better have a really strong thesis as to why because like really my favorite investments are the ones that we can just onboard a couple of hundred clients onto and be off to the races. So, if we're not doing MarTech, which is what we've, again, the ones I named like those are examples. So, it's like if we're not doing that, we better have some really interesting thesis around it. And like the first fund, we were a little more eclectic like we said we'd take 30% of the fund and go opportunistically into deals that we just have access to. Because the other thing is, aside from MarTech, which all want us in their deals because of that sort of horsepower, a lot of our brands that we work with want us investors because we're now a top marketing firm and they're like, "Yeah. It'd be great to have you on our cap table." So, we get deal flow like crazy. So, the first fund, we were a little more open to it. We invested in some e-commerce brands, we invested in Airvet, which is telemedicine for veterinarians, like some really cool deals that have nothing to do with our core thesis. In this fund, we decided like, "Let's stick to the core." Those are doing great, but it's like those were really unique situations and we are also managing less money. And so, when you're writing smaller checks, you can take some of these bets. Now that we're putting real dollars to work, we're putting $1 million, $2 million into some of these deals, it's like now we need to be really core and disciplined.

Adam Robinson: Yeah.

Erik Huberman: And so, then we launched Hawke Capital which is the finest...

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Tell me about that. That was another one.

Erik Huberman: That was more...

Adam Robinson: So, Hawke Capital.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. We'll scale businesses really fast and they'll run out of cash and they have great business but there's a working capital component to marketing that it's like you got to, you know, there's a whole marketing diatribe that I call on but there's a purchase cycle. From when you send someone an ad to when they actually buy, there's a time period. And honestly, from what we see, it's usually like a month, which means if I'm scaling your marketing, your payback cycle is a month. You've got to float that money somehow. So, if you want to scale fast, you need more access to capital. That's where that came from. We can now help with that. And so, that was where Hawke Capital was born. And it's sort of just a side offering. That's not like a core business. It's more of a side offering but that's been great. And then we spend...

Adam Robinson: I want to ask about Hawke Capital. So, like what are the types of loans that you do? And the reason I'm asking is because I was just at The Whalies and Ron Shah was up there talking about creating a negative cash conversion cycle by using like Parker's credit card and then whatever it is that you pay the ACH with the credit card or something like that. Like, is it like shorter-term loans or is it like a five-year deal you're doing like what's the...

Erik Huberman: All of the above.

Adam Robinson: What's the need of the company?

Erik Huberman: We just syndicate it, so we just talk. We have tons of partners. Like, our view is to be the kayak of these different working capital ones and just like let's find the best deal for the customer with every part, with a bunch of different partners. So, let's get all the details we need, go to a bunch of partners, find the best interest rates, the best terms, what do we need, and then they get the offers.

Adam Robinson: How big are these teams that are like the venture in capital? I mean, it's such a stupid question. I'm just like curious.

Erik Huberman: Venture is three people and capital is two people because then they use the infrastructure at Hawke. We don't need them to have for accounting. They're dedicated. That's it.

Adam Robinson: But it's like the venture firm, well, both of these it's like all of their jobs is being done for them by the agency. You know what I mean, like the sort of intellectual part of it or whatever? I mean, not to discredit them if you're listening to this, these people. But like, it's just such a beautiful ecosystem. It really is.

Erik Huberman: Literally what we're trying to build, like both externally and internally, the full ecosystem. And so, the last piece of that really was what we launched in September, which is, that software component because it was like now we're aggregating all this data that we have. And instead of anecdotally saying, "Oh, this is what's working and what's not and how things are shifting," now we have the data right in front of us, how many companies are actually using SMS, etcetera. So, yeah.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, awesome. So, I imagine this is because you were finding yourself sitting still again. You're expanding to Europe and China, I hear, from Mr. Lazoff.

Erik Huberman: Yeah, we have been. I mean, we've had someone in China for a couple of years now and then we've had a European team for a couple of years now as well. So, we've been working on that. We've always like it's been years that we've been doing business with Chinese companies, European companies, all over Asia. All over the world, frankly, they want to come to the U.S. and that's still pretty much the focus is brands all around the world that want to enter the U.S. and how do they reach the U.S. consumer. Like, we did Alibaba's expansion to the U.S. as a digital.

Adam Robinson: Oh, cool.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. So, that was a while ago. So, it's been a long time but that's been a part of it.

Adam Robinson: Did you find someone there or did you send someone over there?

Erik Huberman: Actually, in China, my EA of three years was from China and went to school here and she worked for me as my EA I think it was two or three years. And then when Trump came in, he banned all Chinese visas and so she had to go. The only way she was able to stay in the U.S. was that we couldn't keep her employed. We weren't allowed to. So, she got her MBA, which allowed her to be a contractor. So, we brought her back as like a BD contractor and COVID hit and she wanted to go back to her family outside of Beijing. And she's like, "But I still want to work here." I'm like, "Well, let's go figure out if we can make something work over there." And that's how it started. So, it was like early 2021 she went over there and that's why like two years of actually being proactive, bringing in Chinese brands. But we had brands before that, but then we had someone that helped build out over there.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Cool. So, very active in philanthropy I also hear.

Erik Huberman: Yep.

Adam Robinson: You personally or is that sort of related to Hawke? Like, how is that?

Erik Huberman: Yeah. I mean, I've served on the board personally. I have a couple of nonprofits. My philanthropy side, I'm all about education because I just feel like it's kind of the teach them how to fish thing. Like, if I can help people figure out how to solve problems and I don't need to solve them like it's kind of the idea. So, helping with like entrepreneurial education, I'm really about. And so, I was on the board of I've donated to a company or a nonprofit called Orphaned Starfish for a decade and advised for them. I have worked with Nifty, which is another entrepreneur classes and schools. And then we built our own called FlyForward Academy, which basically takes inner-city high school kids and teaches them digital marketing skills to give them a job opportunity, so to speak, including with us.

Adam Robinson: That's amazing.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. It's a widely needed skill now and we have a whole team to teach it. And so, it was pretty easy to spin up and just start doing it. We partnered with the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Council, which is kind of South Central L.A. and did a series of courses, and now we're just building it out with more partners.

Adam Robinson: Awesome. So, what's the, I mean, clearly, like you're beyond what almost anyone would envision is their level of when they would deem themselves successful. What is the endgame? Like, ecosystem, sure, but like if you look out ten years, what's a sort of clear version of that picture of the ecosystem thriving? Like, what do you want all this to become?

Erik Huberman: Yeah. I mean, honestly, at this point, I don't think there's much additional like how do I put it? Like new departments. It's now getting it all humming. You know, It's like I think at this point we've got the players, so to speak, and now it's all the integration and operational side and that's been an interesting transition almost like the past year is like, "Okay. I've been building the next thing for a while. Now we have it. Now, how do we operationalize it more and more and more and really scale with it?" And that's really what we're focused on right now. So, how do we turn that data platform from 2,000 companies to 200,000? How do we get the core agency humming in all these different territories but at 5X the size? How do we get the fund and a cycle that we can start deploying $50 million every 2 to 3 years and keep that cycle going with great new tech coming in all the time that's helping build out this marketing ecosystem and really just figuring out how do we get that again, all like seamlessly humming versus just up and running?

Adam Robinson: So, do you view that as a people problem? Or is this something that you are internalizing in sort of?

Erik Huberman: It's people and process. I mean, it's always both I'd say like sometimes there's a process that people don't follow and it's a people problem. Sometimes there's great people that don't have a process to follow. But it's continuing to bring on great people as well as working with we have to step them up. And then again, there's so much process opportunity always. Like, I heard an anecdote. Who said it? It was some conference. I've been to way too many conferences recently, but someone said that and it was like, so true. It's like there isn't a company on the planet that isn't just organized chaos. I think every CEO would relate to that, like Apple, Google, Facebook. I don't care. Look at SVB today again like coming on that. Like, that was one of the biggest tech banks, probably the biggest tech bank in the world like gone like it is all organized chaos, and anybody that thinks otherwise is just fooling themselves. There is no company that's just stable, steady-eddy. Now, there are investment companies that are. If you're a private equity fund or you're a real estate company like, generally, the chaos is a little lighter but operating business is controlled chaos. And so, what I'm looking at is how do I build more control around the chaos?

And so, that we can have a lot of predictability, stability because that's where longevity comes in. And if you can last through like that's been almost I would say I wasn't invited the first year but now that we're a little over a year into this, this whole slowdown, now it's kind of welcome because it's like it's almost like prove your worth kind of thing where it's like if you can get through all this crazy sh*t, it's going to be great the other side and a lot of people are going to be out of the way. And so, that's been really kind of fun to watch in a weird way, like even with this SVB thing we're talking about, well, what other portfolio companies aren't exposed and what are their competitors were? Sounds cutthroat, but welcome to business, you know?

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Totally.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. It's an interesting - so back to the point. What I'm focused on is creating this solid foundation that then we can start to build up with what we have because I don't think it needs that much more compliment anymore. Like, has a lot of innovation that we have coming into it to really truly be AI. There's a lot of things that are going to like continue to evolve but I don't know that there's going to be Hawke XYZ coming next.

Adam Robinson: Right. And it sounds like you just want to keep doing this, which is great. Like, 20 years from now like Hawke is just going to be a bigger beast, a bigger hawk or whatever.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. One thing we are looking out like our M&A side has become really powerful. We just literally closed a deal today that we'll be announcing. So, we've just had our 10th acquisition and like we're starting to really figure out how to get that coming. And that could be where scale gets really interesting because growing by adding like a salesperson in a territory and finding some brands like that becomes slow at this size. And so, now it's like, how do I find full teams that I can just bring in, give them our infrastructure, get scale there? And that's why a lot of the big companies you watch them buying a lot of companies. Like, Facebook gets a lot of their value from Instagram. Finding those places, that's where I'm spending a lot of my attention to figure out, like, what is that strategy? Not what is that strategy, but where can we find more opportunity that anybody didn't think of? Because that's where kind of came out of that too. We bought a software company with data we had, and that's what turned into It's like, where else can I get creative about that stuff?

Adam Robinson: So, what types of companies are you looking at? Is it other agencies or is it software?

Erik Huberman: Yeah, it's mostly agencies but that's what I'm saying is like, I don't know. We have a huge, funny enough, we have two people full-time focused on that as well and they're grinding and like things pop up. They're like, "I didn't even think about that as an opportunity," but now they think about the synergies like a hypothetical conversation because I had this the other way, we could maybe end up buying a distribution company that helps people get into stores. Not an offering we had before, but they have all these brands. We have all these brands. Like, that's the kind of stuff that like I don't even know what expansion might happen through those conversations too. And it's fun to just be opportunistic and open to those.

Adam Robinson: Right. And what makes an agency a good acquisition candidate versus a bad one? If agencies are listening to this, like, who's a good candidate?

Erik Huberman: For us, we're just looking for great teams and a well-managed business. I would say that we can be a hockey stick for them. I wanted to see that the pain they're dealing with is they need some operational infrastructure, some back office. We want to take all the operational burden off the founder's plate so they can just focus on growth. That's the best-case scenario or a complimentary service that we're not offering that could be, again, like I just mentioned with distribution, like that could be interesting. But really most of the deals we do are like founder is a great biz-dev salesperson. This is pretty typical of an agency founder, but they're getting pulled into HR and finance and all this other stuff like, yeah, we have big teams for all that. So, we're going to take that off your plate. We're going to give you a lot of juice and rocket fuel and we're going to grow this together, and that's the best we're looking for. And again, they have to do good work because those were kind of like table stakes.

Adam Robinson: Dude. Well, I think I got everything I wanted. Just fascinating conversation. So, I usually wrap it up with these two things. If you could write one thing on a billboard, what would it be?

Erik Huberman: On a billboard?

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Just like so everybody could see like, is there something, is there some hill that you would die on top of just like a statement?

Erik Huberman: Huh. So, mine has always been like the quote that I've always - it's not even a quote. I don't know if anyone said this, but it's always been, "I'd rather regret what I did than regret what I didn't." That's been a big driver for me.

Adam Robinson: I love that.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. So, it depends who I'm talking to, but that's words that echo in my head constantly. It's like I'd rather just go do things and try things.

Adam Robinson: That's a good billboard.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. I'll go with that.

Adam Robinson: Cool. Then the final five. Where do you live?

Erik Huberman: Santa Monica.

Adam Robinson: And relationship? Family status?

Erik Huberman: Wife. Six-month-old.

Adam Robinson: Ah. I have a six-month-old, too. I mean, we talked about this before. So, what is your favorite book?

Erik Huberman: Favorite book? Other than my own? Well, got to do the plug, Hawke Method, 40,000 copies sold in print.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Hawke Method. I'm going to buy it.

Erik Huberman: Appreciate it. But honestly, I read I was getting into the music business like a year out of college in 2009, and I read this book called Appetite for Self-Destruction, and it was about the music industry's ability to basically screw themselves over, over, and over again because like the companies that wouldn't get it with it. When CDs came out and they said, "It's all about Betamax." And when Napster came out and they just fought it instead of creating their own digital. And then Apple owns iTunes. Why doesn't a record label own iTunes? It was just fascinating from a business perspective to understand like it's not just the music industry. Like people hate innovation when they get there. When their business is working, they're like, "This isn't going to work." They want to believe that things aren't going to disrupt them and they resist disruption and so they don't end up disrupting themselves. So, I really like that book because it really set me up to continuity. That's where came from. It's like, what do I think would actually displace some of what we do? And it's really marketing AI starting to do some of the tasks we do. Well, great. Let's build it. So, that was a great one. Appetite for Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper.

Adam Robinson: I'm going to definitely read that one. Is there a person you're following that you think is worthwhile for the audience?

Erik Huberman: I'm not a big follower.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. I know you don't.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. Most of the guys that like good social media, like people that are that active, they're not doing that much other than posting on social media. My favorite just came from my dad. I read Rich Dad Poor Dad when I was like 17. I went to my dad and was like, "This is brilliant," and it's actually a great book. I don't want to discredit this but like, "This makes sense. You know, it's like, this guy's made so much money doing this." My dad's like, "You know how that guy made money?" I'm like, "How?" He's, like, "Selling f*cking books. Relax."

Adam Robinson: Yeah. To assh*les like you.

Erik Huberman: Yeah. So, it's like when I see all these social media people, it's like, "You know how they make money?" All these guys are like, "I can coach you to be a coach, to be a coach." It's like no one's making really any money.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, I hear you. So, what's your favorite vacation you've ever been on?

Erik Huberman: I travel a lot. I'd say probably Rwanda, hiking with the gorillas.

Adam Robinson: Amazing. I've never been to Africa but I really wanted to do it.

Erik Huberman: Oh, yeah. We did safari for honeymoons. We did Tanzania and Kenya, and then when we were there, everyone was telling us that the gorillas is like this crazy thing. You have to try it. And my wife's like, "That sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." I'm like, "I agree. We should do it next year."

Adam Robinson: And you went back.

Erik Huberman: We just went back. Yeah. Well, we actually ended up having a punt a couple of years because of COVID, but we tried to go back and then we ended up doing it. And like literally you're just walking through the jungle with machetes and armed guard and you just all of a sudden it opens up and there's, you know, 20 gorillas right there and they walk right up to you. It's insane, like just a crazy experience. So, that was one of the coolest, just the whole thing.

Adam Robinson: Awesome.

Erik Huberman: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: Dude, thank you so much.

Erik Huberman: Yeah, thank you.

Adam Robinson: This was great.


Meet Erik Huberman – serial entrepreneur, marketing whiz, and the brain behind Hawke Media—the fastest-growing marketing agency in the US, now valued at more than $150 million!

Driven to fill a much needed gap in the market, Erik’s vision was to build an agency that was both accessible and (unlike most agencies) could drive real growth and tangible results for their clients.

The company offers a customizable menu of services and flexible month-to-month billing options. This approach has enabled brands of any size to access top-quality marketing services, making Hawke Media a game-changer in the industry.

In today’s episode, you’ll hear Erik share tips and tricks for marketing growth that can apply to any business, regardless of size.

You’ll also hear him share the story of how he grew Hawke Media to more than 250 employees, which questions to ask to gauge ROI on potential marketing tools, and how he evaluates eCommerce companies to invest in for his fund, Hawke Capital.

Key Takeaways with Erik Huberman

  • How Erik and Hawke Media differentiate themselves in the crowded agency space.
  • Should agencies work with small, mid-sized or large companies?
  • The marketing budget companies should be at before hiring agency help.
  • The upsides and downsides to running an agency.
  • Using month-to-month pricing to improve your product offering.
  • Must-have tech for selling more on Shopify.
  • The value of SMS marketing and automated flows.
  • Where does Erik get his motivation from?
  • The simple question to ask when evaluating a new marketing tool.
  • Where the idea for Hawke Capital came from.
  • How Hawke Media originally expanded into China.
  • Harnessing controlled chaos to get a business from running to operating at a high level.
  • What makes an agency a good acquisition candidate vs. a bad one?

Eric Huberman on Must-Have Tech for Selling More on Shopify 

Eric Huberman Inspiring Quotes

  • For the people that want to give you their phone number and communicate with you through text, the ROI is insane. And you'd be surprised how big of an audience that is now and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. People are getting more and more used to using text for that.” – Erik Huberman
  • “I'd rather regret what I did than regret what I didn't.” – Erik Huberman
  • “There isn't a company on the planet that isn't just organized chaos.” – Erik Huberman
  • “If I can help people figure out how to solve problems then I don't need to solve them.” – Erik Huberman


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