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Alumni Spotlight

The Game Changer

It’s possible that Clarke Miyasaki’s success can be traced back to the card game Uno. But not just your basic game of Uno.

It was Killer Uno, a twist on the classic game that he played nightly with his family growing up in Sugar City, Idaho. An added element? The loser was in charge of cleaning up after family dinner.

“The ultimate goal was not to do the dishes,” says Miyasaki, the oldest of six kids. “I make competitions out of everything—I love that part of life—and that was instilled in me in childhood playing Uno.”

His competitive streak has propelled him into the startup world, including a stint at Skullcandy before his current position as executive vice president of business development and categories at Stance Socks.

Being an entrepreneur, he says, is like trying to win. And for Miyasaki, winning in business is not only about building a strong company and making a strong exit but about treating others fairly and authentically.

A WINNING CULTURE

Miyasaki says he was drawn to Stance six years ago for the challenge—and thrill—of chalking up another W.

“My skill set is coming in and blowing the organization up to the next level,” Miyasaki says. “I love that growth phase, and going through that process again drew me to Stance.”

Core to Stance’s success is its culture, created by people who are able to make getting socks for Christmas cool. Stance’s signature socks, which typically run from ten to twenty-five dollars, are in demand across a variety of demographics. The company taps into the sales power of pop culture through collaborations with celebrities such as singer Rihanna and former basketball star Dwyane Wade.

“Parents say, ‘My teen is asking for socks for Christmas. How did that happen?’” says Miyasaki. “It’s the culmination of all the stuff we do: the partnerships, the people, the marketing. We’ve been lucky to have it work.”

DYNAMIC DUO

Miyasaki, who earned his finance degree from BYU Marriott in 2001, played his first round of entrepreneurship while interning with a software startup called Freeport, founded by BYU alum Jeff Kearl. “I got the startup bug there,” Miyasaki recalls. “It was a crazy-fun experience.”

The internship turned into a full-time job that he carried into his senior year, just as the economy started heading south. “We did not survive the dot-com boom, but the experience was probably the best thing that happened to me,” he says.


After graduating and pursuing the typical big-company experience at Ford in Livonia, Michigan, Miyasaki heard again from Kearl, who approached him with another opportunity: would he be interested in returning to Utah to work in venture capital. The idea appealed to Miyasaki, so he and his wife, Kamie, headed back to the Beehive State.

Like Malone and Stockton or Montana and Rice, Miyasaki and Kearl play to each other’s strengths. “I always say my big career break came on the foosball table at Freeport,” Miyasaki says. “I happen to be abnormally good at foosball, and that’s how Jeff kind of noticed me.”

Aside from the foosball table, Kearl says he was impressed with Miyasaki’s skills when they worked on a project together in which they were creating complex spreadsheets.

“I’m good, but Clarke was clearly better,” Kearl recalls.

Kearl and Miyasaki spent four years at vSpring Capital, working and traveling together until Kearl left to join Logoworks.

Miyasaki was Kearl’s first hire in his new position.

The magic of Kearl and Miyasaki continued as Logoworks, a graphic-design software company, took off from its small office in American Fork, Utah.

“Logoworks was the first time I had a chance to make a real impact,” Miyasaki says. “I learned the most fun you can have while working is when you’re working with a bunch of people you enjoy being with.”

FIGURING IT OUT

In 2008, HP purchased Logoworks, and Miya-saki spent the following year at HP as the two companies integrated. Meanwhile, Kearl was on the board of directors at Skullcandy.

One day Miyasaki got a call from Rick Alden, founder of the innovative headphone company, who invited him to a meeting at company headquarters in Park City.

As Miyasaki opened the door to Alden’s office, he was greeted with, “Hey, Clarke, what do you make?”

Taken aback, Miyasaki responded, “What do you make?”
“Well, Jeff told me that I have to hire you,” Alden said.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to run our business development,” Alden said. “You know, put together deals with cool brands, rappers, athletes.”

Miyasaki replied, “I’m from Sugar City, Idaho. There is no way I would know how to do that.”
“Jeff told me you’d figure it out.”

After a couple of months and a couple of times turning down the offer, Miyasaki had a change of heart and headed to Skullcandy, which at that point had fewer than twenty employees. Miyasaki threw himself in the consumer-products world.

“My time with Skullcandy ended up being the craziest experience,” Miyasaki says. “I spent 160 nights in hotel rooms that first year, ordering Shirley Temples in clubs in Vegas trying to get relationships with man-agers, calling around getting licensing deals, literally having no idea what I was doing.”

But just as Kearl had predicted, Miyasaki figured it out, and several years after he started, the company went public. He now says he could tell Skullcandy stories all day, including his times hobnobbing with celebrities.

The first celebrity Miyasaki worked with was Slash, lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses. Leading up to the meeting, Miyasaki was nervous about what to say to the music icon. But as soon as they met, his worries went out the window.

“You’re ripped,” Miyasaki observed upon meeting Slash. “Do you go to the gym?”

The two hit it off from there.

“It was very natural,” Miyasaki says. “I haven’t worried about meeting famous people since then.”

And when it comes to negotiations, Miyasaki has had his share of experiences, such as raising capital, selling companies, and recruiting celebs.

“There have been times when I tried to get the best deals I could, a few deals that leaned too far on our side,” he concedes. “I’ve learned you don’t have to win every single thing. Err on the side of fair; that’s better than winning.”

THE STANCE OF A LIFETIME

After Logoworks sold, it wasn’t long before Kearl came around again, pitching another position to Miyasaki at his latest startup.

“Jeff started saying, ‘Stance is blowing up. We need you; you can’t miss out on this,’” Miyasaki says. “Jeff has this power to persuade me to do things.”

Miyasaki and his family moved from Utah to San Clemente, California, a couple hours from where he’d served in the California San Bernardino Mission.

Not long after Miyasaki joined Stance, he and Kearl were talking when Kearl asked, “If there is one deal you could do, what would it be?”

“My number-one deal would be to get NBA players wearing our socks on court,” Miyasaki replied.

Initially, the feat felt impossible. Every time he met with NBA reps, he mentioned his dream. “They would just laugh,” Miyasaki says.

But he didn’t let up. And in 2014, before yet another meeting with the NBA’s vice president of licensing, Miyasaki arrived with a one-million dollar check tucked in an envelope.

“As she’s about to tell me no again, I slid the envelope across the table and told her, ‘You’re gonna cash that next year when we’re the official sock of the NBA,’” he says.

His persistence paid off. NBA players sported Stance socks from 2015 to 2017, and Stance also secured the contract for all MLB teams starting in 2017.

“We were the first company to have a logo visible on court that all players wore,” Miyasaki says. “Getting our logo on the world’s best players is definitely the coolest thing I’ve done.”

THE RIGHT THING, THE RIGHT REASON

Whether it’s negotiating deals or collaborating with celebs, Miyasaki believes authenticity has been key to his success. “I never tried to be anyone I didn’t want to be,” he says.

“When you come across as authentic, people are drawn to you.”

He also believes luck coupled with hard work have been foundational to his career. “I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” he says. “I’ve worked really, really hard. Those elements plus caring about other people and nurturing relationships, not in a manipulative way—you can see through that from so far away, gives you a huge leg up on what you’re doing in any business.

“Be a normal human being, be nice, be respectful, and figure out how to meet their needs, how to make it so both people win,” he continues. “It’s the same formula of being authentic and treating people the right way.”

When Miyasaki meets people, they get the sense he’s going to do the right thing for the right reason all the time, says Kearl, now a managing director at Pelion Venture Partners.

“It doesn’t matter who he meets, they quickly realize they can trust him, and they feel comfortable doing business with him,” says Kearl, who notes he feels deep appreciation for Miyasaki and for their once-in-a-lifetime friendship. “It’s like your mom said: you absorb the habits and values of the people you surround yourself with. You want Clarke to be one of those people.”

___

TEAM MIYASAKI

At the start of fall semester 1999, Miyasaki was playing the piano in sacrament meeting and thought the woman conducting the music was cute. He found out her name was Kamie. That evening he received his home-teaching assignment.

“Her name was on my list,” Miyasaki says. “I was her home teacher, and, of course, I was very faithful. The rest is history.”

The Miyasakis now have four children: two girls and two boys, ages six to sixteen. Clarke and Kamie complement each other well. “I couldn’t have done anything like my career without a wife who is so trusting and easygoing,” Miyasaki says. “In those Skullcandy days, my work life was crazy.

“We’re the perfect pair,” he adds. “She doesn’t like concerts and doesn’t care about celebrities or anything like that. She keeps me grounded and reminds me that I’m not that cool.”

_____

AN UNEXPECTED CONVERSION

Miyasaki became friends with Calyann Barnett through former NBA basketball player Dwyane Wade. Barnett is Wade’s stylist and creative director, and she would collaborate with Miyasaki on designs for Stance.

“One night we were talking at a café in Miami when Barnett said, ‘Tell me about this church stuff. I can’t understand it. How could someone as smart as you believe in some-thing so dumb?’”

Miyasaki says he jumped into all of it, from the First Vision and the Book of Mormon to modern-day prophets.

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Barnett said. “Give me one of those books so I can prove you wrong.”

“I’ll give you a Book of Mormon if you promise to read it,” Miyasaki said.

She agreed. Barnett started reading and would follow up with him on co

"Just give me the book back,” he said.

“No, I told you I’d read it,” she replied.

About a month later, however, things changed.

“She sent me a picture of her crying, and the text said, ‘This is my Jesus-is-real face,’” he says.

Miyasaki baptized Barnett a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in June 2019, and Wade—a Christian—gave the closing prayer at the baptism.

“Going into this crazy world of celebrities and athletes, I was super worried about sticking out,” Miyasaki says. “I thought people were going to think I was so weird, but no one’s like that. As soon as you own who you are and what you believe, people respect it.”

_

Article written by Emily Edmonds
Photos courtesy of Clarke Miyasaki

About the Author
Emily Edmonds is a former editor of Marriott Alumni Magazine. She’s one of those people who organizes her socks by color.

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