Entrepreneurship: Authenticity & Compassion
Updated: Jul 9
With Zechariah Renteria
As you all know, I am doing this series on those who are authentic, heart based, and compassionate of others. With more and more industries being led by "robot" types of people – only interested in numbers and spreadsheets, I wanted to focus on those individuals in a variety of industries who are "real people." They have passion, work hard, and lead with their heart.
I chose Zechariah Renteria, since he is one of the few in the "business world" who encapsulates the qualities of a true leader in business and entrepreneurship. I was thrilled when he agreed to take the time out of his busy day to speak on the topics of entrepreneurship, business, leadership, and much more...
It is my hope that those reading this series, may learn something, gain another perspective, and/or not feel so alone in their life and entrepreneurial journey.
Me: So Zechariah, as you know, when we get chatting about entrepreneurship and building businesses; the challenges and the joys; we can chat all day. Obviously you have a lot of passion like I do about entrepreneurship in general. Are you from a family of entrepreneurs?
Zech: I was born in East LA and raised by a single mom. I graduated high school and dropped out of Junior College. I wanted to surf. When we moved from Chino Hills to Dana Hills/Laguna area, I noticed that many of my friends' parents had their own businesses. Some of my friends' dads would pull them out of class for surf trips, or a day on a sailboat during the week, and I thought that was so awesome. One of my friends, Vinnie who started Ezekiel was a pro-surfer, and his dad owned a limousine service business. Vinnie started Ezekiel in his early 20s, I went to work with Vinnie in his production department.... One day he asked me what I would love to be doing, and I told him I would love to be a clothing designer. I told him I wanted to try to go to fashion school, but my mom could not afford it at the time.
I love this part of the interview – so many facets: Orange County does indeed have a "culture" of entrepreneurship. I lived in OC for many years and moved there just for that reason. The entrepreneurship vibe is palpable, and many entrepreneurs are drawn to this region, as well as the creative energy that is in abundance there. In my opinion, OC was and still is one of the best places for entrepreneurs. When Vinnie asked Zech that powerful question, and took such an interest in Zech and his passions and future, I actually shed a tear. Very rare that anyone asks another human being what one would love to be doing. Our society in general, breeds indifference and "programs" others to be something they are really not born to be, Good for Vinnie, and good for Zech, who by the way – asked me at the end of the interview, a similar powerful question – "So Faith, what would you like to be doing with all your talents and great experiences?" Again, shed a tear. No one ever asked me that question. So it is quite evident that Zech is a special individual who genuinely cares about others. Vinnie obviously was an amazing mentor. We all should have more Zechs and Vinnies in our lives.
Me: Later you went on to work at Planet Earth. You and I talk a lot about heart and passion. Real life experience and the school of hard knocks is also part of a true entrepreneurial journey. You mentioned to me, how skate companies in general have a lot of "grace." I also think you yourself have a lot of "grace" in how you approach and interact with others, as well as align with your own journey. During your job interview for Planet Earth, you shared with me something very powerful, want to share?
Zech: Sure. As a skater, I looked up to Chris Miller as a kid. Planet Earth was interviewing designers from Volcom, Billabong, and myself. During my interview I stated clearly that "skaters have a lot of street smarts." And "while I may not have had as good design experience as the others, I am way more passionate about skate, and will put my heart and soul into it." Skate companies in general have a lot of grace and do not care as much about the dollars. Because I skated, I made it immensely clear, that I will "care more about the brand, because I skate and my work will be from the heart." Because of my heart and soul, I got the job.
Good for Chris that he recognized something unique and immensely special in Zech. True leaders understand that heart, soul, and passion go a long way. Obviously Chris is a true leader, and I understand why Zech looked up to him, on many levels. It is good to have some leaders that the younger generation can look up to, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship and business.
Me: Tell me a bit more about your journey during this time while working at Planet Earth. It is quite inspirational how you and your roommate started a non profit to help homeless teens.
Zech: While at Planet Earth, I launched a non-profit with my roommate. We called it "Nikao" – which means in Greek "overcome." It was all about helping people. We fed people in downtown San Diego who were homeless and it was super fulfilling to be a part of hope for kids. Our friend Jolene made homemade spaghetti and she put her heart into it. Every week we did this. My roommate Todd, he was a clothing designer too, and we wanted to raise awareness about teenage homelessness. There is a huge misconception about homelessness. We set up a 501C3 non profit. We used good fabrics. My wife is a designer as well, and she was a huge part of this too. We sold to stores like Fred Segal, etc. and our goal was to educate the consumer that whoever bought our line, money was used to help have places for kids to learn art, design, etc.. Todd had Shepard Fairey who started Obey, give the kids an art class.
How cool is this! Our country really does not address homelessness in the right manner. Many who are homeless have had some hard life experiences, and do not have a place to go. I could go on and on about homelessness and the misunderstanding of it all by most people. The fact that Zech and Todd (and Shepard) took their time, energy, and heart to help, speaks volumes in itself about the character of true leaders. One of the many reasons I wanted Zech for this interview series – true heart and true leadership.
Me: So after Planet Earth, what did you go on to do?
Zech: When I got married I left Planet Earth. I believe when you are not passionate, it is very hard. I only really loved it because of Chris Miller and when it became a public company, the "core" and emotional and personal element seemed to get lost to the numbers.
I have seen this repeatedly – when "venture" money comes into an entrepreneurial endeavor, the energy somehow "shifts" to profits, numbers, and spreadsheets; and true passion gets slowly dissipated. Very unfortunate.
Me: We chatted a bit about the success you helped to create at Alpinestars – another one of your great endeavors. You spoke about the importance of "controlling your own narrative." You said "if no voice, no narrative." Can you tell me more about this?
Zech: Sure, in business you need to create the voice to control the narrative. You don't need to keep up with trends. A business needs to leverage and position itself as credible. For us, Supreme was the voice. When we did our riding jacket with Supreme, using Alpinestars tech, it was a genuine success.
This is true wisdom! Creating the voice, to control the narrative.
Me: In talking about "street smarts" and the school of hard knocks, what are your thoughts on getting a trademark? Through my own experiences, my perceptions have changed about trademarks and trademark laws in general.
Zech: In my opinion, the only reason to get a trademark, is if you can't control your sales channels. Not a big fan of Amazon, but if you are wanting to sell on Amazon, then maybe get a trademark. If you are not wanting to sell on Amazon and if you are controlling your sales channels, and you are communicating clearly where to buy your brand, then you should not be that concerned with a trademark.
I am not a big fan of Amazon either, especially if you are trying to build a niche brand. I agree with Zech on all points. It seems that the only ones who truly benefit from trademark laws, are attorneys, and large corporations.
Me: I want to thank Zech for taking the time to chat. He is truly inspiring, as well as grounded in self awareness, common sense, as well as connection with his heart. I love chatting with authentic entrepreneurs, as they are the true leaders in our society. These are the ones who will move us forward in a positive way, if more and more can embrace and esteem the true heart centered and authentic leaders who are filled with wisdom.