Artistpreneurs (Part 2): Robert Croak

Photograph copyright PokerStrategy.com

Name: Robert Croak
Location: Toledo, OH & Las Vegas, Nevada
Business: SillyBrandz Global

 

Robert Croak has been a Toledo-area celebrity for some time. When I was high school aged, I knew him as “Mr. Eastside” because he basically ran the entertainment district on Toledo’s east side.

Fast forward a few years, I began working for Rob in 2004 as a digital designer while I was finishing my degree. Rob and I got along well. He was energetic, fun and smart. Some days after work we would hang out, play poker and toss ideas around.

One of those ideas really took off. Rob noticed the popularity of Lance Armstrong’s signature yellow “Livestrong” bracelets (see picture above). If you recall these things were everywhere and the demand outweighed the supply as they were sold out in Foot Locker locations nationwide. We mixed a market observation with a trend and decided to sell a Poker-themed silicone bracelet. Not long thereafter, Rob decided to offer silicone bracelets with a customizable message and color.

Rob first sourced the product abroad and after the profits began to roll in he purchased equipment to do the job in-house. It was wildly successful and grew Rob’s staff by at least 3x it’s original size.

After college I worked for Rob full-time for a short period before moving to Columbus to pursue a job with the NHL’s Blue Jackets. Little did I know when I left for Columbus that my friend and ex-employer would grow his business, which I had witnessed in it’s infancy, into a multimillion-dollar global brand. That brand is SillyBandz. SillyBandz has been featured in USA Today, CNN and was a a Yahoo Top 10 Obsession of 2010.

I asked Rob if he would answer some questions for my blog about Life, Business & Travel. Of course he responded in minutes with insightful answers to my questions. Here they are:

 

On Travel

Q: What are your 3 favorite places you have visited in the world?

Robert: Costa Rica – just the overall beauty and culture. China – business culture, the hustle and bustle. New York City – architecture, restaurants.


Q: What are 3 places in the world you haven’t been that you’d like to visit in your lifetime?

Robert: Ireland, Tokyo, Alaska

 

On Work

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspires you?

Robert: Waking up every day knowing that I have the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the planet. To change the world in one way or another.


Q: What is success?

Robert: Success is knowing that when in your quest to “Keep up with the Joneses” you know what makes you happy and fulfills you. Success can only be tabulated by the individual since everyone is different. Donald Trump once said – “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game”. This quote truly resonates with me because the average person believes that wealthy people are all about the money and that is the driving force and in my experience it is simply not true. Once final note – “Success to me in having enough money and resources to only do projects that give back to the world.”


Q: What tools or resources do you utilize to expand your skills and knowledge?

Robert: I have always believed that I view the world differently than the rest. Almost everything I take part in I analyze to see if I can make it better and how I would create it. I was quoted once for saying “just because something is done a certain way for 20 years doesn’t make it right.” To me, it’s all about viewing the world in a unique way and using the creative process to make it better. I always tell people to never stop learning. I believe that most people get a job, get married, have kids then stop. They learn but it is not improving their skill sets for improved financial gain or quality of life it’s more geared around their daily lives. For me, you have to keep improving as a human so as to not lose your edge and relevance.

 

On Life

Q: What is the best advice you have been given or that you would given to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Robert: Go with your gut. I know its cliche but the two biggest successes of my career came about from projects those close to me said were stupid. I also tell people to be reasonable because everyone feels their idea is the next Facebook or Sillybandz.


Q: What measures do you take to stay healthy mentally and physically?

Robert: I, to this day, have never smoked, had a cup of coffee, or taken a drug. I also maintain as regular of a workout schedule as I can (tough during hectic travel). I take vitamins and eat healthy for the most part. Everyone that lives poorly in their youth and middle years and states “you have to die of something,” that is until they are on their death bed wishing that they could change it all. Time is the one thing no money in the world can buy. How much would Steve Jobs have paid per year to stay alive?


Q: What qualities or personality traits do you look for in business partners or employees?

Robert: Drive, loyalty, honesty and tenacity. Too many people, especially in this digital age of “everyone creating a start-up”, feels that with a good idea they will become rich and it is simply not even close to the truth. Coming up with a great idea is the easy part, executing it is where the labor comes in.

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Since the success of SillyBandz Rob has been featured on television as a participant in the World Series of Poker. He took a midwest regional pizza chain, Marco’s Pizza, and expanded into the mountain west and is currently incubating new products and service ideas. He maintains a personal website and business idea submission engine. He also shares his thoughts on developments in the business and technology world on Rob’s Radar.

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