We had the good fortune of connecting with Will Hackner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Will, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Starting Varsity Gay League was never in the front of my mind or the back of my mind. In fact, it took players years to convince me to even ask for a donation to events that we would do. My background was corporate entertainment and my focus was building that career, while Varsity Gay League was a hobby that allowed me to entertain missing aspects of my life: socializing with the queer community outside of bars, playing games and being silly. In 2012, my life took a dazzling turn in the wrong direction. In a matter of weeks, I was dealt with numerous challenges I wasn’t sure if I could get through. I was diagnosed with a major chronic illness, I was laid off from my job, my father was struggling with multiple brain tumors, while my Mom and Step-Dad were fighting to save their business from a failed CEO, and then my best friend broke his neck while with me in Mexico and almost died. After all of that, I took a step back and looked at my life, where it was going and how it could make me happy. Varsity Gay League was the answer. I had no background in building a business, finance, marketing, sponsorship, advertising, infrastructure, website design, social media, and most importantly, developing rules and games that worked. I was also trying to create a queer recreational sports business, which did not exist on the planet at that time. I did what most people do, and I asked a lot of questions to a lot of people I respected. I also watched a lot of Shark Tank. I did a lot of guess and check. And I worked 80-100 hours a week trying to accomplish my goal, to be independent and follow a path that made me happy. Running your own business though, is the most exhilarating, emotional, positive experience of my life. I run my business the way I felt businesses should have always been run – with respect to employees, with kindness, and respecting the customer and their dollars. That passion has helped immensely with our success, and my continued interest in the face of constant adversity. None more difficult than 2020, as one of the leaders in the queer sports community, running multiple programs in 13 cities and writing policy for Covid while working to save a small business. I’m not sure if my experience was similar to many entrepreneurs, but I can say my thought process for starting VGL was to build a better mousetrap that didn’t keep me stuck in unhappiness.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Well my current career is all Varsity Gay League, but from 1998-2012, I was a development executive working in the Film/TV business making movies, tv and animation. I feel very blessed that I followed a dream, from a small town, to be part of an industry that has shaped my entire life. Telling stories, and bringing emotion to others has a reciprocity unlike any other. It’s also the hardest career on the planet. I’m proud to have been part of 6 films, 2 tv series, 13 animated movies and 4 animated series. Not bad for a nerdy kid from a small town. But the world of Hollywood wasn’t right for me. Stabbing someone in the back in entertainment is about as common as getting a job because your Dad goes to Temple with their Dad. It’s a lot of wheeling and dealing. A lot of “drinks”. A lot of “gossip”. A lot of “who do you know and who did you sleep with.” Not to say there aren’t tremendously kind and talented people in entertainment, but it is a game, and I never quite understood the rules. However, I had successes and moments that still bring a smile to my face, especially with a great run at Warner Bros for 8 years. I was extremely proud of driving onto the Warner Bros lot with my name on a parking spot, a golf cart and my name on products of art. And I learned a ton about myself and what I don’t want. Always respect those underneath you. Never believe you know more than anyone else. No question is a bad question. Stupid people do succeed, so don’t be mad, be better. Never give up. My experiences in Hollywood helped nurture the skills that ultimately gave me confidence and abilities to run a corporation, and I am forever grateful for that.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh God. This is not a good question for right now. Most of the places I love in Los Angeles are permanently closed, Others I have no idea. Los Angeles is a bizarre city, as it’s not a great city for tourism, which is surprising to say. But ask the locals and we’ll say – avoid Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills is Meh, the Hollywood Sign is over there, and the beach is there, but it’s kinda dirty. I think when people visit the city, I tend to find a great restaurant with some good mixology, bring along some of the most entertaining and joyous friends I have, and make our own evening of silliness and sensitivity. Then perhaps go to a cool lounge like “Sassafrass (may be closed)” which has that LA coolness, without the uber pretense. The experience of any city is based in the people who share it with you, and I’ve got some pretty great friends.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people who deserve a Shoutout, Andrew Oldershaw, Brendan Hood, Jake Mason, Nathan Frizzell, Cameron Northey and my sister, Michaela Hackner. But this SHOUTOUT has to go to Andrew Miller, who has been running VGL with me for the past 6 years, deserves more credit that I can give. He is the backbone of this company and has dedicated his life to my passions. I’ve never felt that people understand me enough to follow me anywhere, but here is a talented and successful music business exec, who decided to blindly go where I went, and we’ve had a ride. I would not be here without him. This organization would not be here without him.