Hey, Really Good Female Skateboarders: Wanna Get Paid? Talk to Yulin Olliver

We talked to the entrepreneur behind Yunexis about building a talent agency for female skateboarders and making the industry more equal.

Photo by Nam-Chi Van

After slashing around for years as a sponsored snowboarder, Yulin Olliver has carved out a career as an agent for women in boardsports with an impressive roster of rippers including the likes of Vanessa Torres, Lacey Baker, Mariah Duran and Nicole Hause. In order to tell her story, we distracted Yulin from her job of not only helping to shape these athlete’s futures but also having a lasting impact on the industry.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Yulin! Give us a quick background on what you do today, how long you’ve done it and a little context on why.

Yulin Olliver: I am an athlete agent and entrepreneur. I represent professional female skateboarders and advocate for equal opportunities, fair compensation and dreams being fulfilled. I founded Yunexis in 2014; we are a unique action sports management agency. I worked with professional athletes as the marketing manager at Fuel TV, then launched the Street League brand with Rob Dyrdek in 2010 with 24 of the world’s top street skaters. Both jobs led me to what’s ultimately my calling: communications, action sports, skateboarding, televised events and advocacy … and being my own boss.

Did I hear you used to be a pro snowboarder?

Yeah, but I think it depends on who you’re talking to. Back in the early 2000s I rode for Atomic Snowboards, Zeal Optics, Betty Rides and Salty Peaks. My home mountain was Brighton in Salt Lake City Utah, and I lived in Government Camp on Mt Hood for a long time. I was not a big contest rider; more of a backcountry rider. I would do catalog shoots for my sponsors, building jumps out of bounds and dropping cliffs around the Utah resorts. I mostly just rode in Utah and Oregon, though the dream has always been splitboarding and heli boarding in AK.

What was it like for women in snowboarding back then?

The pro girls at the time started getting super good at park and rails, especially as X Games started doing away with the double-lip jumps—a “small” side and a “boy’s side”. Girls started younger and younger. Women-only contests like the Roxy Chicken Jam were innovative and instilled community. They upped the game in terms of jump size and street style rails. You had to create your own project or snowboard video, find funding, get a sled and trailer, head into the real backcountry like Alaska, or somehow be included in a guys’ video. But even then: your shit had better been legit, not just “good for being a girl.” It was amazing to see women’s snowboarding take off like that. That’s about when I bowed out and headed to business school and forged a new path for myself in action sports. I’m still friends with a lot of the girls today as we take on being working moms who rip, haha.

Photo by Zorah Olivia

What were some of your favourite resorts to ride. (Maybe explain the terrain, contests, community etc?)

Mount Hood is my happy place. We all lived in the same area called The Summits at Mt Hood, and even in SLC [Salt Lake City] it was a small community. It was a moment in time and where I met my husband. Never-Never-Land meets Heaven.

Utah is my absolute favorite place to ride, with the best snow and terrain of the places I’ve traveled to. I would ride a few different resorts a week: Snowbird one day ‘cause it’s pretty gnarly, Park City one day for their park, and Brighton with all its super accessible, out of bounds awesomeness. Riding at Brighton was like just turning off my brain and going into video game mode. My fave. At the Bird and at Brighton, everything is rideable and you can pop off anything and everything like little bolder drops, cliff drops, and rainbow trees everywhere. Those were the best times. I mostly rode with guys and we considered ourselves family.

Do you still ride and skate much?

I love to skate, but I really just cruise! I like to skate fast and link things together at flowy parks. In fact, back when I was working at Street League, we built and tore down about 15 unique indoor street plazas around the world. I would go the night before while the paint was still drying on the course and just take in its magnificence. The next morning I’d get there super early before anyone else was really there and invite my interns to join me. I would just roll around; total solo sesh. I broke my ankle skating a mini ramp while living in Govy, so I have been conservative ever since ‘cause surgery and downtime annoy me.

What was the catalyst that made you start your agency?

I was at Street League for 4 years and decided to go off on my own and service the women’s side of skate.

There are a lot of things that lead up to what I do today. I guess it started when I first worked with Circe Wallace as an intern. I learned and traveled with her for a year, supporting and advocating for her clients and learning so much—stuff that even 10 years later I see has had a positive impact on how I live my life today. It occurred to me that there is so much a woman brings to business transaction in terms of insight, creativity and collaboration.

I started to see different things athletes could propel their careers with. I realized there was something missing and underserved in the world—something an agency I created could fulfil in representing female skateboarding. I’m passionate and drawn to advocacy.

Photo by Nam-Chi Van

Who was your first talent and do you remember your first tough negotiation?

When I launched the agency, I created the roster almost all at once. The majority of my clients have been with me since the beginning and all of them came to me; I don’t recruit. I created it due to the demand/need. My intention was and is to represent and empower magical, talented, inspiring riders. Those who aspire to be in the olympics, are different from the others, have the drive and work hard, are humble, are core skaters, and have the potential to win at any given contest. Jenn Soto, Mariah Duran, Lacey Baker and Vanessa Torres were my first crew. Negotiations don’t have to be tough. They should be fun and empowering for all parties.

Do you remember a moment or time when you felt that you had made it or were successfully achieving what you had set out to do?

Yes and no. I like to live into the future fulfilled, so my approach is to create what my end results would look like and work backwards. Step one is creating opportunities for companies and clients alike that result in multiple outcomes—one being a living wage while skating full time. That’s the bare minimum and I’m starting to see where it’s going to be possible soon for my clients. So each new deal is a deal that has never existed in the past: it’s creating a new reality.

What have been some of the most difficult challenges for you professionally?

Preconceived notions can be challenging in both directions. People have felt taken advantage of by agents and label me as such, but I don’t understand that, really: no one I work with or pitch seems vulnerable to bullying and I certainly have no intention of creating that experience, especially for someone I’m partnering with for the foreseeable future. But lots of people tell me to my face they “don’t like agents”, though they seem to quite enjoy having me around after they see how integral good agents are in delivering the value they hoped for when they sponsored my clients. And timelines: the business cycle is a slow brew and you can work on something for a looong time before getting paid for it. It’s like with any startup: not everything you pursue is profitable. We must create the cash flow to keep the team compensated so that we can continue offering the unique and personalized team-based services we do.

And what would your advice be to people to overcome similar challenges?

Start by dreaming big and working backwards from there. Create and share the intention. Call out any weirdness and address it. Authenticity and acknowledgement and curiosity. Lack of communication is a common land mine.

How much time do you spend doing the good stuff vs how much time you spend doing admin and running the business?

It all still feels like the good stuff…and there is more good to be had! I enjoy the strategic side of things as well as creating leaders around me who experience empowerment through the execution of our plans. All our wins are group wins and it’s incredible to contribute to a client’s dreams coming true.

Photo by Zorah Olivia

Are you a parent? What’s some advice you’d like your kids to live by?

Yes; I launched Yunexis while pregnant with my 1st. You are whole, complete, and perfect and so is the situation. The only thing we’re talking about is workability. Be creative, authentic and self-expressed and choose who you are. You have the power. Surviving and fixing is no way to live. The key to happiness is connection/love, contribution, growth and uncertainty.

When was the last time you doubted yourself and how do you deal?

Self-doubt isn’t in my vocabulary. We all have that voice in our heads, but that voice is like a broken record. It’s always spewing out the same form of self doubt, so how accurate can it be? If you articulate a possibility and plan and execute with a team that has the skill, what reason is there for self doubt? On the slopes, if I’m learning new tricks or a jump has super high consequences if I misgauge, I see how strong my confidence when I can do what I’m visualizing. If I can’t see it, then I don’t do it. I only hit stuff with consequences if I’m 85% sure or more that I know how it’s going to go. When I was younger, it was more like 50% sure for me to drop in. It’s more a conversation about workability or risk assessment.

What will women’s action sports look like in 10 years? 20?

Future fulfilled here: equal proportion of males and females in upper management positions, more men who specialize in female-specific marketing and more female-run brands and female-specific products that are simultaneously marketed with the guys. There will be multiple brands and options (hard goods, soft goods, and accessories) for female specific stuff, giving women more options by increasing product quality on the industry side for women. Skateboarding is still core, yet developmental programs are supported by the state and families like Football and Soccer. There are more than just 3 pro full time skaters who are female and those who are have discretionary income and fan bases similar to that on the men’s side. What’s marketable gets equalized. For example, not every pro male skater is “gorgeous/sexy” yet is successful on their personality/abilities; that will also become the norm on the women’s side. It won’t only be the cute pink helmet posse or the hottie or who “makes it”. Looks will not trump skill.

Any daily routines for being a super performer you’d like to share with us?

There is magic in listing 4 things you are going to experience or do at the beginning of the day and checking in with someone at the end of the day to hold you accountable and create what worked/what didn’t/what would I do differently. And declare who you are going to be and what you want to experience each morning with your team.

When is your job done? And what’s after that?

It’s often done. It’s done every time my measurable results have been accomplished and that can be on the daily or per meeting. But on the flip side, it’s never done.

Thanks, Yulin.