TEDxUCLA 2014: Open 2.0
Go with your gut feeling
Hello! My name is Magnus Walker. I was born in 1967 in Sheffield, England. I left school at 15, and I came to America at the age of 19.
Well, 8 weeks ago, I didn’t know what a TED talk was, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure why I’m here today. But I do appreciate the opportunity to be with you guys and share my story, my journey, and my hopes, and my dreams.
You know, having left school at 15, for me, I didn’t really have any future. Well, I came to America 28 years ago, and that represented the land of opportunity for me. And in those past 28 years, I’ve been able to build three things: a successful clothing company, a film location business, and also restored, raced, driven, and collected quite a lot of classic Porsches. Porsche is a passion for me, and I’ll talk about that in detail in a little bit.
But all 3 of those things share one common bond. I had no education in them. I didn’t really think I was going to end up in that particular field. I didn’t really know where I was going.
But all three of those things have a common thread, common bond. And that common bond for me really was freedom. Freedom to do whatever I wanted to do, and a dream sort of to be able to — I suppose, live my life to the fullest, and do whatever I wanted to do.
So coming to America really was a journey, and I’ll start my journey in 1977. 1977 in England was sort of a special year. We had this Punk Rock thing going on, and we also had this Royal Jubilee thing going on. But for me it was a start of a very memorable moment. My father took me to the London Earls Court Motor Show in 1977. Back then I fell in love with this car. It was a white martini Porsche.
Now any kid growing up anywhere in the world in the late ’70s, early ’80s, chances are you probably had a choice of three cars on your wall: Porsche Turbo, Ferrari Boxer, or Lamborghini Countach. For some reason I chose Porsche.
I even wrote a letter to Porsche when I was 10 years old, and essentially said to them, “I want to design for Porsche.” They wrote back to me, and said: “Call us when you’re a little bit older,” which I thought was pretty funny, and they sent me a sales brochure, and 35 years later, they’d end up writing me a letter back but I’ll get to that story a little bit later on.
So I am this young kid growing up in Sheffield. Sheffield’s a grim northern steel town as shown by this picture right here. There wasn’t necessarily many Porsches on the road. So I filed that dream away; I had the poster on the wall, and I was watching Motorsports as kid, also in 1977.
England had James Hunt. He was a Formula One world champion. And we also had Barry Sheene. He was a two-wheel motor GP champion back then. So even though I didn’t grow up with any sort of fancy cars — my father was a salesman, I grew up in a working-class background — I did have this dream early on, and somehow this dream involved Porsche.
Back then, I was also a pretty competitive middle-distance cross-country runner, sort of a solo sport guy, and I used to love getting out there, and running. I became quite competitive.
I joined this club called the Hallamshire Harriers, and this guy called Sebastian Coe set quite a few world records, and ran at the ‘80, and ‘84 Olympic Games, and he was sort of inspirational to me.
Around that same time, I also fell in love with something called heavy metal music. Growing up in Sheffield, there were a lot of rock bands. It may have been sort of a slightly depressed, grim, northern city, but there was a lot of music, and a lot of fun.
So, I fell in love with Porsche, doing some middle distance cross country running, fell in love with heavy metal music, and I had decided by the end of the fifth year I would leave school.
I left school in 1982, basically with two O levels, and no real future. By that time, I’d also figured out I could go drink in a pub. So for some reason that was great for going to clubs and having fun, but wasn’t so good for a middle-distance cross-country runner, and an athlete. So that sort of faded away.
But a little thing that stuck with me was the passion, and sort of the drive, and I think to this day, those memorable moments earlier on are still with me. I’m still running around. I’m still chasing around. I’m still running after my goal.
So I bummed around on the dole for a little bit doing odd jobs, and stuff like that. And I started to hear this comment quite a lot: “Cut your hair, and get a real job.” Well, I was on the dole, working construction, living at home, no car, taking the bus to places, and for a year or two, that was okay.
By the time I turned 17 that I decided, “Okay I’m not going to cut my hair but maybe I should think about getting a job.” So I actually took a yearlong leisure and recreation study course sports management at a college.
I heard about this thing called Camp America. What was camp America? I didn’t know, but found that Camp America sent kids to work on a summer camp in the United States of America.
Growing up as a kid, of course, I watched a lot of American TV. Most of the shows I loved centered around action and cars, Starsky and Hutch, Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs. So I had this American Dream. It involved Evel Knievel; anyway, long story short, I took this leap of faith, and I applied to Camp America.
It was a little bit of a strange feeling. I’ve had these strange feelings in the past, and somehow when my gut tells me to do something, generally it’s a good thing. Hence go on your gut feeling.
So by pure luck I supposed, I was accepted into Camp America, got on a flight to New York, took a Trailways bus from New York. That’s the bus I took to Detroit. Detroit was great. It was similar to Sheffield, former industrial city. It also happened to be this sort of automotive hub of the United States.
But I wasn’t in Detroit. I was 30 minutes north on a summer camp, working with inner-city underprivileged kids that happened to be from Detroit. And that was a big culture shock for me, because you know I’m this heavy metal guy from Sheffield, North of England. I’m in the middle of nowhere. I had to adapt pretty quickly.
So I adapted pretty quickly on this summer camp, and when that camp was over, I got back on that Trailways bus, and I took that bus out west, landed in Los Angeles, 1986, Union Station 4 a.m. in the morning.
I’ve watched all those TV shows, but I found myself being awakened on a park bench at 6 am in the morning by a LAPD guy, who told me: “You can’t sleep here.” I was a little disappointed. I’d seen all these shows in LA but where were all the beautiful people, where were all the rock stars and movie stars? That wasn’t happening in downtown LA.
But quickly I found my way to Hollywood, and over the next couple of years, I sort of did a few odd jobs. But there was one pivotal moment that happened within 3 days of being in Los Angeles.
I found myself at this YMCA hotel, right off Hollywood Boulevard. I went shopping on Hollywood Boulevard, and saw these great PVC alligator print pants that were on sale for $9.99. So I bought myself a pair, but they didn’t really fit good.
So I went back to the youth hostel, bought a sewing kit, and sewed them inside out, and decide I’m going to the street that everyone was talking about called Melrose.
So I ended up going down there to Melrose, and walked into this shop that was called Retail Slut, it was a punk rock shop and there was a guy working there that was in a band called Faster Pussycat, and his name was Taimie. Pivotal part to a story here.
Taimie says to me — he realized I was from England, started a conversation: “Where did you get those pants from?” I said: “Hey, you know, I got them from England.” I had to think quick on my feet. I said: “Why? Do you want to buy them?” Just sort of jokingly, and he said, “Sure. Yeah, how much are they?”
At this point I hadn’t thought about selling these pants but I said the first number that came to mind, $25. He said, “Okay. I’ll take 8 pairs.” So I ran right up to Hollywood Boulevard, bought 8 pairs of pants, went back down, and sold them to him $15 profit per pant.
I realized in that one hour transaction, I’d made more straight away — literally within being in LA for 3 days, than I’d made in a whole week working construction in England. So I thought, “Maybe LA is a place for me, it seems pretty easy. They speak English, a lot of rock and roll.” It was Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, it was a great time over the next few years.
Fast-forward to 1989. I’m selling second-hand clothing on the Boardwalk in Venice, going to yard sales, buying old Levi’s, cowboy boots, western shirts. I’m in the clothing industry now.
Venice Beach back then was a major tourist attraction, a lot of European people coming through. Little by little this grew into a business which became known as Serious Clothing and we ended up outfitting everyone from Alice Cooper to Madonna, and everyone in between.
We started wholesaling to a small chain called Hot Topic. Back then Hot Topic had five stores, and would grow to over 500 stores. So we sort of went from making a little amount of clothing to making thousands of pieces of clothing.
Well, in 1994, we realized being in Venice wasn’t so easy for a clothing company. We moved downtown, and rented a loft in a warehouse for the next 6 years. Serious Clothing then started doing a lot of music videos and also a lot of outfits for magazines, and stylists who call in all the time.
Serious Clothing had its own unique style. We took fabrics that were not necessarily garment fabrics. We used some car seat fabrics, and made them into jackets, and things like that, non-conventional materials, thinking outside the box, and basically doing what we like to wear.
Well, by 2000, we realized we’d paid two people’s mortgages and we needed — Hey, let’s buy our own building. So we ended up finding this building — Oh, that was me back then, forgot that little picture. So that was me pre-beard, that’s sort of circa 1994. Serious was one of the top 10 clothing companies to watch.
So anyway, 2000, my wife Karen found this building in the Arts District. People said, “You’re crazy, no one wants to be there, former desolate industrial area.” Long story short, we took another leap of faith. Our gut feeling felt good. Why we’re paying two people’s mortgages when we could own our own building. So we bought that building.
About a year later, right after 9/11 in 2001, there was an article in the LA Times, about loft gentrification. We got a phone call, would we be interested in renting the building for a music video? Bang! Before you know it, we’re in the film location business.
Well, hey, we’ve been filming scenes since 2001, over 100 days a year, doing things from low-budget still shoots, to big-budget movies, and over a dozen reality shows like America’s Next Top Model.
We met a lot of interesting people, but we didn’t plan to build a film location. We were building our dream, live-work house, where we lived upstairs and operated our clothing company out of the downstairs. So we’d accidentally fallen into another somewhat lucrative business.
This is LA, it’s movie town, we’ve met quite a lot of interesting people. They always say: “How did you get here?” Well, we tell them, we followed our gut feeling.
Remember that story, I was a 10-year-old when I fell in love with Porsche. Fell in love with Porsche as a 10-year-old. I didn’t buy my first Porsche till 1992.
Serious Clothing had become quite successful, and from ‘92 to 2000, I was racing around getting quite a lot of speeding tickets. 2001, I took my aggressive street driving to the track, and joined the Porsche Owners Club.
I went through their program. I learned how to do club racing, instructing, and for the next 5 years was doing 50 track days a year.
Turn around to probably 2008-2009, I’d spent a lot of money racing and decided, “Okay, my next passion: I love these cars. Why don’t I try and restore a few of them?” Well, I didn’t have any mechanical background, but I had passion.
I often say that passion goes a long, long way. You know, if you’ve got the will, and the desire, and put the motivation in, and focus, things tend to happen. Also a little bit of luck, and a leap of faith really help out as well. But I asked a lot of questions, and I started restoring a couple of cars.
So I got a little bit of interest in European car magazines, and I started this blog online. Well, there is a thread on this Porsche forum called Pelican Parts. And I called my blog Porsche Collection Out Of Control Hobby. And I was sort of like a catch-all of what I was doing. And so this was sort of going to become a pivotal point where it was like something I really really enjoyed to do. And I’d start restoring these cars.
Well, about 2 years ago, a pivotal moment in our life happened again. About every 10 years these pivotal moments seem to happen by accident, or they’re just naturally evolving. We never had this five, ten-year planned business model. We always go back to follow your gut, do what you love to do.
So having been in the film industry, we got quite a lot of people interested in making little TV shows, and stuff like that, but we weren’t quite ready for the exposure, or the compatibility wasn’t quite right, or it just didn’t click.
So I got a call from this Canadian called Tamir Moscovici. Well, he’d seen a couple of articles, and he was a film director, also a Porsche guy, and he was looking for something edgy for his reel. He was sort of sick of doing Bud Light commercials and figured, hey, maybe there’s more of the Magnus’ story than meets the eye.
So we had a couple of conversations, and Tamir ended up flying down to LA, little over two years ago, on his frequent flyer miles, a complete leap of faith. His original idea was to make a short YouTube documentary. Well, our thought was, “What’s the worst that could happen here? We’ll drive around, race around in my favorite Porsches for 4 days, and maybe get some good footage out of it.”
Well, what turned out to be a 32-minute documentary was shot over 4 days. So we shot, I think, in February of 2012, and we released a trailer in June of 2012.
We didn’t know what would happen with the trailer but somehow it got picked up by Top Gear and within the first day it got over 50,000 views, and all of a sudden I’d just found this thing called Facebook. I figured I should get on that. I didn’t really know much about it.
So I got on Facebook, and at this time I don’t even have an iPhone. So I’m not really internet savvy, but all of a sudden, I keep getting all these friend requests from all these oddball places, you know, Spain and Indonesia, and I’m thinking what’s going on.
Well, this trailer for that 3-minute film, Urban Outlaw, that Top Gear picked up, it got blogged, reblogged and reblogged. Well, this was pretty exciting. So this was a leap of faith project, everyone was sort of working on a shoestring budget, bro down buddy favorite type of thing, and they were doing this sort of on the side. So, little by little I started posting the film was going to come out.
Well, to me being sort of a production type of guy, we shopped it around a few film festivals. Somehow it got into this thing called the Raindance Film Festival which I described as the rainy version of Sundance, that’s in England. I’m from England, what are the chances that you get to premiere your film in front of an audience similar to this?
So Karen and I flew to London, and we premiered the film in Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night around 10 o’clock, and it sold out. There was a buzz about this film. Well, we decided, “Okay, we’re going to release it online.”
So October 15, the film went online, and probably 2 weeks after it came out, I got a phone call from Jay Leno. Jay Leno had seen the film, and wanted it to be on his garage show. Well, that started the Avalanche of what has happened for the past 18 months. All of a sudden, this is my life before Urban Outlaw came out, and this is my life after.
Now at this point, we’ve been doing Serious Clothing for 20 years, and we weren’t quite as motivated as we once were. You know, we always said we design what we personally like to wear, but over the past few years we’ve sort of been treading water. So we took this leap of faith, and decided success really is the freedom to do whatever you want to do. So we decided we were going to close Serious down. This was the baby that had enabled us to get to this point.
Now it wasn’t like we gave up on Serious, we still had all the patents and samples. But what it did was once we decided to pull that band aid off, it allowed us some breathing room. We didn’t know what was coming next, but we knew it was going to be something good.
So once we closed that door, probably in the past 18 months I’ve probably done a hundred magazine video TV show interviews. I think by closing Serious’ door, it opened up all this freedom to travel.
Remember me telling about Porsche, and that letter I wrote as a 10-year-old. About a month after the film came out, I received a letter from Porsche. Basically they’d seen the film and was sort of impressed with my Porsche passion, and realized they’d written me a letter 35 years later.
Ironically in the film, Tamir asked me: “What do you think Porsche would think about you doing it?” I said: “I don’t know. I hope they’d be smiling and be happy.”
So Porsche wrote me a second letter. I wish I had the first one, but I do have the second one. They invited me to go visit them in Stuttgart, and tour the museum which I went to do.
Purely by coincidence, I had been there on 9/11 2013. Well after that there was at the LA Auto Show. We did a couple of events with Porsche. Hosted these events in my garage in downtown LA. It was a worldwide dealer event, it brought all their dealers over, and incorporated me into this workshop where Porsche was talking about what Porsche does restoration, and Porsche classic.
I think they sensed I have this thing — Porsche passion is what I said it was, and it’s something that you can’t really build, and you can’t market, and you can sell it. It’s just sort of there.
So from then Porsche integrated me into this workshop, invited me out to an event in Essen, Germany, and basically started to invite me out to places, and incorporate me into their commercials coming up.
The Porsche connection was quite simple, but what we hadn’t expected but also came from the film, was we got approached by Nike. We got approached by Oakley, and then we had a visit from Bentley chief designer, and we also had a visit from BMW, and Volvo.
It’s almost like these people were thinking I was some sort of focus group, and they were asking my opinion on what did I think about certain things. I’m scratching my head a little bit thinking: “I’m just a guy doing my own thing,” but you know people seem to have responded to it.
Well, I get a lot of emails from people who talk often about the video, and the greatest thing I suppose separate from people liking the cars is the fact that people found the film, and my story inspirational.
So if there’s one message I can leave you with, for me — what I’ve done over the past 28 years involved a lot of leaps of faith, always going on my gut feeling when things sort of seemed awkward, that was often the case to know, “Hey we’re on the right track here,” and just stay motivated, stay dedicated.
We never asked anyone’s opinion. We just did what we like to do, and it seems to have worked out quite nice for us. We don’t know where we’re going. I often say I’m on this open road, along for the ride.
We’ll see what comes next, but I really appreciate all your time, and allowing me to share my story. Cheers and all the best. (Cheering) (Applause)