Hustle Matters: Q&A with Aaron Coney

Aaron Coney B.B.A.’12

Pictured is Aaron ConeyAaron Coney B.B.A.’12, has crafted expertise in relationship and brand building that began with his experiences on WMU’s campus. After graduating with a degree in advertising and promotion and relocating to Los Angeles, he built a career as an in-house designer for companies like Disney, Fox and Dash Radio by day and at night he pursued his side hustle freelance appearance booking, branding and social media marketing for celebrities. After a few years of seeing good results, he decided to launch his own boutique creative marketing and management company, Hustle Matters. He has worked with a variety of feature film, television, music and voice talent such as the Power Rangers, Sean Schemmel (the American voice of Goku in the Dragon Ball franchise), actor RJ Cyler, Republic Records recording artist Kash Doll, Grammy-winning producer Jason “Problem” Martin, and Dash Radio founder DJ Skee. He aims to elevate brands with strong creative and compelling content, and to cultivate meaningful experiences between celebrities and the fans who admire their work. We asked Aaron for his take on everything from career success, to leadership, to his own experience in the Haworth College of Business. 

What is the most interesting experience that you have had in your career? Easily one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in my career was landing a presentation design contract with Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. Although COVID-19 has kept me away from Disney’s Creative Campus, I don’t think I ever had a job where I genuinely was excited to come to work every day until being there. I worked directly with the design manager in a very fast-paced environment, meeting with our internal clients—Star Wars and Fox—and creating high-impact presentations. Not too many things excite me, but I've always admired Disney's commitment to creativity, innovation and imagination, so it was a dream come true to be able to learn and contribute, and getting a brand like Star Wars to dive into was just legendary for a nerd like me! 

What do you see as the biggest challenge in today’s business world? These may not be the biggest challenges, but from my lens I’d say integrity and future uncertainty. I recently watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” which focuses on how social media companies manipulate users by using algorithms that encourage addiction to their platforms. It also shows how platforms harvest personal data to target users with ads, and have so far gone largely unregulated. It raised a lot of ethical questions. When business wins out over integrity, that’s an issue that needs our earnest attention. Regarding future uncertainty, between technology advancement, a shift in consumer expectation, and a changing economic climate—there are a lot of variables at play these days which can be daunting for many business owners. If you lack leadership skills or poorly manage your company’s time or resources, it’s easy to get left behind! 

What excites you about your work every day? There’s a famous art director named George Lois who said, “nothing is more exciting than an idea,” but to me, executing on those creative ideas is what excites me most—and that my days don’t all look alike. One day I may spend the majority of my time on email and phone, another I may be locked into designing, another day I could be in the studio with a recording artist, or in a new city with a client for a Comic-Con appearance! However, one thing that remains constant with all my clients is that they trust me to help them achieve their goals, and I love that responsibility. 

What is a topic that you think is vital but not getting as much attention as it should in business circles? Self-awareness. There’s a lack of self-awareness in the game, which leads to depression, and it’s really concerning. I think Instagram and the internet have created a lot of delusion. These platforms promote a false perception of not only what it takes to succeed, but also what success and happiness look like. Instagram isn’t to blame though, it’s merely enhanced the problem. We’ve been trained our whole lives to compare ourselves to others. But that has to stop. As a response, I implore anyone reading this to triple down on self-awareness! Get to know yourself. Figure out your strengths, your weaknesses, what makes you tick, what makes you happy. Because once you figure out yourself, it will make it very easy not to want what you think others have on Instagram. 

What do you find to be essential characteristics of good leaders? What is your leadership style? Four that come to mind are: vision, integrity, accountability and empathy. Vision provides focus. The vision of leadership is what permeates through the workplace and is manifested in the actions, values and goals of the team. The importance of integrity should be obvious. Though it may not necessarily be a metric in evaluation, integrity is essential for a leader and the team or organization they lead. Accountable leaders don’t blame others when things don’t go according to plan, but rather, they take personal responsibility in all situations that involve them. And lastly, I believe empathy is important in everything we do. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another will always make for a smoother and more cohesive environment, and that starts from the top down. As far as the type of leader I am— I’d have to say I’m a visionary. I like to rally the troops, drive progress and evoke change by leading by example, inspiring and earning faith in my ideas. 

What has been the hardest lesson you have had as a business professional? Why did it make you a stronger leader? One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as a business professional is not to dwell. It’s simple, it’s hard, but it’s so important! That isn’t to say don’t analyze and learn from your mistakes, but as entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk says, “all that looking back is messing with your neck!” There are many deals I wish I executed differently on, money I’ve squandered and I wish I could get back, or opportunities I’ve blown—but I try not to beat myself up or get hung up on what could have been. I’ve failed more times than many have even tried, and there’s no way I could have done that dwelling on the past. I just try to live, learn, keep my head down and keep pushing forward. 

What is the professional accomplishment that you are most proud of? Making Yahoo Finance’s ‘Top 12 Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2020’ list was pretty cool. It felt great to receive a nod from such a highly respected outlet. But if I’m honest, as far as accomplishments I’m most proud of, on March 9, 2018, I set a career goal to book 15 guests at a Comic-Con and gave myself only one year to do so. At the time, the most people I had ever booked at a single event was five, so it was an aggressive goal to say the least. It took hundreds of emails and calls, negotiating, promotion, patience and cooperation, but on March 8 of last year, just under one year after I made that goal, I booked 15 actors from TV’s Power Rangers at Comic Con Liverpool—the largest appearance by the Power Rangers ever in the United Kingdom! I share that accomplishment not just because I met the goal, but because I learned so much on that deal, managing talent, event planning, scheduling, professionalism, delegating. I ran around putting out so many fires that came up, that I still get tired just thinking about it. Experience is the best teacher and that was an invaluable learning experience that I'm so grateful I was able to have, and I thank each and every person who participated and put their trust in me to make it happen. 

How did your academic experience in the Haworth College of Business help you in your career? One of my favorite courses at the college was Consumer Behavior. Understanding the buying patterns and behaviors of customers, and diving into why they shop the way they do really intrigued me. I remember one day in class we spent a lot of time discussing nostalgia, how marketing trends cycle and how everything that was once cool to us (Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, Dragon Ball Z, Nickelodeon's All That, etc.), we would see again in the next 10 to 20 years. Lo and behold, so many of those things we wrote about on the dry-erase board have already cycled back around! Power Rangers had a theatrical reboot in 2017. It feels like the Ninja Turtles never even left (they’re my nephews’ favorite)! Dragon Ball Super was released in 2017, and season 11 of All That returned to Nickelodeon last year. I’ve essentially made a living off of the thesis that nostalgia is underpriced. 

Who was your favorite professor in the college of business? Why? Dr. JoAnn Atkin, without question! She’s one of the associate professors of marketing, and she really went the extra mile in connecting with her students. Dr. J listened to me when I told her I was a creative, and she encouraged me to triple down on my ability, rather than spend time trying to make me an account planner or strengthen my accounting skills. Not only did she refer me for a graphic design internship with the University Relations office, but she taught my Integrated Marketing Communication Campaigns course, in which she made me the team’s creative director and coached us to first place in the EdVenture Partners national case competition. I attribute a big part of our success in the competition to her recognizing each of our team members’ strengths and aligning them with our roles on the team. 

What else would you like to share about your career, life or WMU experience? The market does what the market does, so you have to go out and earn what's yours. If you can do that by the pedigree of what you did in school, more power to you! However, if you’re like me, you have to go out and hustle. Although I was calling it AC Graphic Design at the time, I really started my company in 2008 while I was a WMU student. I probably learned more working with local businesses and student organizations, gaining real-life, hands-on experience, than anywhere else at the time. Being proactive and doing something I actually enjoyed was essential in preparing me for my career. My advice to all students is to find something you’re passionate about, devote as much time and energy as you can afford into nurturing that passion, and go change the world! Also, I don’t think I mentioned it, but Hustle Matters® doubles as a streetwear clothing brand. So if you received any value from hearing a bit about my journey and would like to support the brand, please visit https://hustlematters.shop and use promo code GOBRONCOS for 15% off, on me!