7 Questions with the Founder of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride

Throughout the eight year history of Alister & Paine Magazine we have had the luxury of supporting a number of charitable organizations from the Access Fund to Livestrong. This year, we are thrilled to support the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride which helps raise money for prostate cancer research and suicide prevention in men.

Our founder, Brian Aitken, will be participating in this years ride with a little help from Dime City Cycles, British Customs, and A&J Cycles. To kick off our support for the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, he caught up with their founder and CEO Mark Hawwa for a quick Q&A on his experience with non-profit entrepreneurship.

Here it is.

Brian Aitken: Can you tell us the story of how you decided to launch the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride?

Mark Hawwa: I launched this event in 2012. I had built up a local cafe racer community called Sydney Cafe Racers as a way to connect the local scene for a bit of fun because I literally had no friends who rode motorbikes. As this was picking up speed, an image of Don Draper from Mad Men, sitting on a classic Matchless Motorcycle caught my eye and peeked my interest.  I thought it would be incredible to take small-scale local communities like Sydney Cafe Racers across the world, and connect them all through a single day of riding dapper like Don. As it turned out, over 2,500 rider across 64 cities took part on the first Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. That was a number that I really wasn’t expecting, and since that day it’s just grown exponentially year-on-year into something I could have never dreamed.

Brian Aitken: What did you do before launching DGR?

Mark Hawwa: After highschool, I went to college and studied a 2-year course in Music Business, primarily around band management. Having also DJ’d since I was 14, this to me felt like the correct path and I was certain I would work with one of the world’s greatest record companies. This did not eventuate, instead I ended up working for Lion Nathan (an Australian alcoholic beverage company). I started in their call centre, and within a year landed a role as the precinct sales executive for the Sydney Central Business District. Needless to say, it was a very fun role for a 22 year old working with nightclub and pub owners, and spending my weekends “celebrating” the end of the working week. From there I went into hospitality, managing pubs and nightclubs for a few years until I decided to get into the cafe industry. I started at the bottom, taking a pay cut at the age of 26 and learning how to wash dishes. Within 3 months I was the main Barista, and within 6 months was managing the cafe’s operations. I had now learnt what it took to operate a cafe and was ready for the next challenge, however, The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride became my priority in the interest of men globally.

Brian Aitken: From an entrepreneurial perspective, why did you go the route of forming a non-profit?

Mark Hawwa: It was a mistake. Organising an event on a global scale such as DGR comes with a lot of global and local challenges. It started off as a non-profit until I was determined for us to operate in the 91 countries we do now, but to achieve tax deductible status for our donors, we would need to set up an office in each domicile. This was not realistic and the funds we generate, while being a huge achievement, aren’t at the volume to cover the expenses associated with setting up not-for-profit entities, globally. This is where the decision to partner with charities came into the equation. We partnered with one charity in 2013, and raised $270k, growing that to over $1m across 6 prostate cancer foundations in 2014. More recently, we partnered up with the Movember Foundation as they have that international presence and gives us the ability to show real-world change to each domicile.

Brian Aitken: Non-profits have been in the news for not maximizing the value of their donations and using too much of their funds on administrative costs, how does DGR and The Movember Foundation spend their money?

Mark Hawwa: We are in a very fortunate position. The motorcycling community is a strong community that spans all demographics as well as workplaces. As a result of this and the passion behind the two wheeled segment we have a lot of volunteers who help the cause. We literally could not afford to do it without them. The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, like all not-for-profits and for-profits, has to cover expenses. These expenses are essential in raising donations, and scale is how we achieve a positive ratio of funds received verses event costs. As the event grows and gains further corporate sponsorship, our ratios will decrease. However, running an event on the same day in 600 cities is not cheap, especially with costs like insurance.

Brian Aitken: What’s the secret to how you’ve managed to grow DGR so quickly?

Mark Hawwa: There is no secret, unfortunately. It’s perseverance, and refusing to stop even when you’re told it’s impossible. If there is one thing I’ve learnt through my time creating and managing DGR, it’s that there are no dead ends, just hurdles. Unfortunately, some of those hurdles are very tall, but aren’t unclimbable. Social media is the most important tool we have to connect, motivate and raise awareness and donations for the cause. I had no rule book, no bench mark, no previous events I could copy. Nothing like this had ever been done on this scale on the same day! Tools like Facebook and Instagram made it easier to promote and connect with volunteers, riders and eventually brands. A lot of professionals try and maintain what they believe is a professional form of communication like emails or phone calls. I use Facebook messenger with Zenith Watches and Triumph Motorcycles.

Brian Aitken: Do you have any advice for all the entrepreneurs out there hustling to grow their business?

Mark Hawwa: Keep ‘hustling’. Not in a negative or forceful way, you always need to keep it positive and remove the ego. Remember, anyone that you are dealing with needs to win. There needs to be 3 wins in what you do; one for you, one for the person you’re dealing with and one for the customer/end user. You don’t need to label yourself as an entrepreneur to be an entrepreneur, and you don’t need to make videos trying to teach entrepreneurship to others. Choose your direction, find the fire and don’t quit. Even though you will want to many times during your journey.

Brian Aitken: What’s next?

Mark Hawwa: We actually work on quite a few events as a result of our success with DGR and are becoming experts in our field. We will continue to grow those events, and take some of them internationally. We also recently launched a new concept called ‘Ride Sunday’; which is about uniting riders of all bikes globally. It’s unique as it allows each rider to choose their charity of choice and the recipient of the funds they raise. My goal is to bring that up to an event that helps raise over $20m for causes over the next few years, while breaking negative stereotypes often thrown at motorcyclists. I truly believe that motorcyclists are the most compassionate and charitable humans; it took me a while to figure out why but it’s because they know the value of life, they have no airbags, no steel around them for protection in the event of an accident, and literally put their lives at risk just by riding. I want to show the world the power of community and how we can all do our own part to leave the world a better place than when we arrived.