Sydney surfer turned entrepreneur Hayden Cox has never been one to let age interfere with opportunity.
He was just 15 when he launched his first brand Haydenshapes, still at school when he taught himself to build a website, 22 when he leased his first factory, and just 24 when he designed and patented a world-first parabolic carbon fibre frame surfboard construction concept.
Hard graft and keen vision has led Cox to open a second manufacturing site in Los Angeles, as well as commercial ‘tie ins’ with Google and fashion designers Alexander Wang and Stolen Girlfriends Club.
Just last year, Haydenshapes opened its first retail store on Sydney’s Northern Beaches while the brand has been awarded surfboard of the year titles in the US this year and in Australia the past two years running.
Cox was only four when he first developed a love of surfing but it was a mishap with a board that later forced him to contemplate developing a career out of it.
“I was fifteen when I broke my board and at the time I didn’t have any cash to replace it. My parents vetoed the idea of me doing my school work experience in year ten at a local surfboard factory, so I gave up my Easter school holidays and did voluntary work experience there instead.
“I mostly just did the shitty jobs like sweeping, cleaning up etc and on the last day, the factory owner caught wind that I was there of my own accord and showed me the basics of shaping a board. He shaped one side, I shaped the other – my side was terrible. I kept at it though and started making boards for my friends and some teachers at school.”
“I fearlessly took risks and had a real ‘nothing to lose’ attitude. Sometimes it got me in trouble, but for the most part, it got me out there getting my hands dirty."
Cox began by building boards in his back yard. With no business plan but a clear vision for the direction of his business, Cox says he learnt as “he earnt”, making Haydenshapes a viable commercial enterprise in the process.
It wasn’t until six years after selling his first board that he was able to move into a factory after a friend lent him the money for the fit out. Completing the majority of the build himself, finances were so tight in the early days Cox both lived and worked in the factory. But his personal sacrifice saw him pay off the factory debt within a year and a half.
Cox says he has made many mistakes in the 20 years he has been operating but believes he has come away from each a more astute businessman.
“The GFC was a tough period for a lot of businesses and I came very close to going bankrupt during that time. I had just launched my technology and my business model at the time was sending me backwards. I needed to re-evaluate everything I was doing, pick myself up and keep going. I have always had a pretty clear vision in my mind of where I wanted to take the business and being stubborn by nature, I knew I could make it work.”
To help out others who might be contemplating starting their own business, Cox has written a book – dubbed New Wave Vision and launching in October – which sees him share his own story as well as that of several other high profile creators about “building a brand, learning lessons and creating things”.
Cox says that while for others, starting a business at such a young age could prove problematic, he says having youth on his side ensured he made the most of the opportunities presented to him.
“I fearlessly took risks and had a real ‘nothing to lose’ attitude. Sometimes it got me in trouble, but for the most part, it got me out there getting my hands dirty.
“Getting advice from people you respect who have gone out and experienced what you haven’t can be really valuable when you are starting out. Be open minded, take every opportunity to listen and learn. Sometimes the hardest part is taking that first step and starting.”
Tracey Porter is a career journalist whose mug shot appears everywhere from daily newspapers and online news sites to business and consumer magazine title.