Hookit Goes Mobile and Hits the Road to Build its Online Brand, Audience

Southern California might well be the coastal lifestyle capital of the U.S., replete with hundreds of action sports and apparel companies, and scores of competitive events for surfers, skateboarders, BMX riders, and other extreme lifestyle sporting events.

Connecting the up-and-coming amateurs with prospective corporate sponsors has become the online province of San Diego-based Hookit.com, which has created a social network that enables serious action sports athletes to troll for sponsors (Ka-ching!). The company (originally known as Sponsorhouse and then the Loop’d Network before running into a trademark dispute), also enables competitors and action sports enthusiasts to follow events, exchange information, register for giveaways, and buy equipment, products, and apparel.

The model hasn’t changed, Hookit co-founder and CEO Scott Tilton told me recently. “The challenge for us comes down to marketing,” he says.

As social networks go, Tilton says the company, which has roughly 20 full-time employees and contractors, “is less about connecting with friends and more about connecting with sports, all action sports.”

RJ Krause (left) and Scott Tilton

In the decade since Tilton and co-founder RJ Kraus started the company, Hookit says it has expanded its online community to 700,000 members in 137 countries. It claims the title of the No. 1 social network for motocross, skate, snow, surf, BMX, mountain bike and other lifestyle sports. (Hookit ranks higher in traffic, as measured by Alexa, than MXsponsor, SponsorSpace, Findasponser, and Sponsorship.com.) While much of the business was bootstrapped, Hookit raised $800,000 through Southern California’s Tech Coast Angels in 2009. Since then, the business has been operating at breakeven, and Tilton says, “We’ve been really disciplined.”

Over the past year, Tilton says the company has focused on expanding its service offerings, chiefly by revamping Hookit’s events management system, redesigning the “look and feel” of the website, and developing new features and services, including a new application programming interface. “This year we focused mostly on expanding and updating our mobile and location-based services,” Tilton says, “because that where we really see things going.”

“When social media first came out, you really didn’t have the capabilities to identify someone’s location,” Tilton says. “With the introduction of mobile, now you can pinpoint those locations.” A key aspect of the changes has been to include the location of “Spots & Sessions” for action sports-related events and activities, which have enabled Hookit to expand its gear and apparel “brand” advertising to include local businesses, such as surf or skate shops.

“It definitely expands the size of our market because we can cater to more dollars,” Tilton says. The company has expanded its online, so local business as well as major brands can now set the parameters for Hookit’s performance-based, “pay-per-click” advertising.

To promote Hookit’s new Spots and Sessions feature, along with its new iPhone and Android mobile applications, Hookit devised a marketing road show, using an RV to visit and promote 150 skate, motocross, surf, BMX, mountain bike, and wake spots and retailers nationwide. The tour, developed with Monster Energy, began at a San Diego skate park on May 31, and is scheduled to return Sept. 15—after logging 11,000 miles.

This weekend, the Hookit-and-Monster-branded RV will be appearing in the Kansas City, MO, area before heading into Illinois. At each stop, Hookit’s roadies will host top local athletes and run contests and giveaways for action sports-minded enthusiasts to win swag from tour partners Piranha X, Osiris Shoes, GoPro Cameras, Spy Optic, and AXO USA. The roadies also will stop at local hot spots for various action sports and location-based promotions, demonstrating how local sports communities can use Hookit’s mobile apps to check-in and post photos, videos, and local athlete features to Hookit, Facebook, and Twitter.

As Tilton says, the challenge now comes down to marketing.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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