Side hustling to the World Series: Mikey Navarro, mascot and part-time movie star.
Side hustles come in all shapes and sizes. For Mikey Navarro, mascotting is his hustle of choice.
It seems like everyone these days has a side hustle. From Etsy to Fiverr, who wouldn’t want to capitalize on their talents to make some extra money? Now imagine your talent is being extremely charismatic, athletic, and social-media savvy, and you do it all… in a mascot suit.
That’s Mikey Navarro. By day, a social media maven. By night, Mikey suits up in some of the most iconic mascot outfits on the West Coast and entertains huge crowds. But how does one make mascotting their side hustle? I (Sarah) was so excited to have a chance to chat with Mikey to find out more about his side hustling journey.
Becoming the University of Oregon Duck, going viral, and being a true side hustling legend
Tell me how you got your start in the world of mascots?
I thought it would be really cool to be a mascot. I was big in sports my whole life until high school, but then I really didn't grow as much as everyone else. I couldn't play football and basketball anymore so I combined my backgrounds in theater and music with sports and I felt like that was a good mesh between the two worlds.
You went on to be the University of Oregon Duck mascot, how did you manage that?
When I got to the University of Oregon, I wanted to be the Duck. I didn't know how to do that. So I just decided to do marching band just to do something. It was actually at a party where I talked to somebody who knew I wanted to be the Duck and he said, “Actually, the Ducks are over there.”
He was a cheerleader, so he introduced me to them and I talked to them and spilled the beans that this was something I wanted to do, something I was pretty passionate about in high school, and asked them what I needed to do? It's pretty secretive, but they told me about a tryout that they do and who to email and so I did the whole shabam and I had my first tryout. I got past the first round but actually didn’t make it in the second round.
That must have been really rough. What did you do with that setback?
I was debating whether I should move to LA and go to school for drumming, but I decided to stick with it and so in my sophomore year, I tried it again. And then I got it. And so that started my career as being the mascot at the University of Oregon.
I was the mascot for three years but it wasn’t a paying gig. So, I also worked at Hollister as a model, folding clothes and spritzing cologne. I also found I could DJ, so I decided to DJ for my fraternity’s parties and started to get gigs doing that too. I got another job being a DJ at a big campus bar in Eugene.
The ability to be creative, to combine a lot of my life skills and things together to do this. And then the reactions, it's fun. I love that energy.
At the same time, I was sluggo for the Eugene Emeralds baseball team. I would work in the summers as a caterer, just to save up money for my school year, but, during the year, I would spend that money pretty quickly. So, I just had like little side gigs on top of my side gigs. I was even a house boy for Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.
It sounds like you’re a born side hustler. You really know how to make your talents work for you!
You know, I figured out that it's a combination of doing what I love, but being smart about where I can be efficient with my time. Time was very crucial because I had to do my homework as well. I had to pass class. So I was figuring out a way to do everything at once. Pretty much coffee and ambition got me through it all.
Where did you go after you graduated? You’d set up a whole hustle economy for yourself in Eugene!
When I graduated I was still a DJ and the university asked me to coach the mascot team and be the Duck’s whole brand manager as a part time gig, so I was doing that. I was also doing audio for Oregon athletics, playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and those weird sounds you hear at baseball games.
And then you went viral with the Duck, right?
I've gone viral a couple of times. My first one was one of my biggest where I did a parody of Gangnam style. I had the Duck parody that music video probably three or four days after it came out. I had no money but I went to Safeway and got watermelons for the bit. I got like confetti cannons, I just did whatever I could just to create as weird of a parody as I could. To date, it has 7.5 million views.
I was pretty hooked on that, it was fun. It was fun to do that for a brand. The ability to be creative, to combine a lot of my life skills and things together to do this. And then the reactions, it's fun. I love that energy.
Post-college life: How to continue the mascot side hustle
So going viral was really something that attracted me to social media or at least taking my role as the Duck and creating some a social path within that. I knew I would be able to create awesome content with where social media was headed.
There weren't social media managers yet but all the major brands had social media presence, and I knew that this was going to be a marketing trend down the line. And so I used my position and I really honed in on growing that account, creating content that would sell and be attractive, and I was just applying elsewhere trying to get out of Eugene, Oregon.
It sounds like you found your niche in both your side hustle and your career, that’s awesome. Where did you go next?
I got a part-time job with the San Francisco Giants as a part of the marketing group and social media. So I moved down to the Bay Area, a year and a half after I graduated. I took every job I could, down here that allowed me to pay rent.
Were you still mascotting?
I was throwing Cracker Jacks in the middle of the fifth inning you know, for promoting things like the team dance camp. I was doing that part time, and, from there, I was trying to get every social media job I could find on Craigslist or every job finder site or app. I had recruiters trying to get me work and doing what I can. I spread out all my octopus arms to try and have on something because I really had to make money.
I don't want to do anything that doesn't give me this feeling ever again.
Eventually, through networking, I got to work with the Giants and the Warriors as their entertainment. I was with a mobile app doing social media, working with the Warriors doing their entertainment, shooting t-shirts out of a cannon and giving out pizzas. From there, I got in touch with the Raiders about starting a character. So I ended up being one of the beginning performers for the Raiders as one of their first mascots they've ever had.
Finding stability with a side hustle in the Bay Area
Give me a rundown of what your life looked like at this time.
I was doing 49ers, Warriors, and Giants games. On weekends, I would do my other side hustle as a wedding DJ on a Saturday and then a football game on a Sunday and then go back at it. I had to make it work.
How did you find stability in all of this?
I started to get a lot more contract work in the city so I was staying within the city. I was actually making money to survive and be social. Then I got a job with a mobile app startup and they hired me full time paying me a salary. I took it.
Little did I know it would be like a “Silicon Valley startup” mentality working 18 hour days non-stop. It was insane. So I did that for like seven days a week because it was paying me decently and I was number six in the company, so if we were to be purchased, we were looking at a multi-million dollar valuation.
From Silicon Valley to Hollywood, bouncing back from burnout
I was working at the startup and still doing commercials as the Duck for University of Oregon. The whole idea was to cash out [when someone bought the startup] and use the money to do the fun, exciting stuff I’ve always wanted because I was sitting down all day on a computer. I wasn't moving around. It wasn't me.
But then I got a call from the University of Oregon that they needed help filming a commercial for Nike. I was a mascot there with Marcus Mariota. He was a quarterback who just won the Heisman.
And during that Nike shoot in LA, I made a connection with the director of photography who happened to be working on a Mascots movie. He really liked how I carried myself, performed and interacted and he asked if I would be interested in talking with the directors.
So you just stumbled upon a movie opportunity? Incredible!.
Yeah, I had no idea what it was but he gave me a card and I went to meet Christopher Guest. We just talked for two hours about what I do and how I perceive the world of mascotting. I think I did well because I got a phone call that they wanted me to be on this project.
But I had to be there on a Wednesday.
I’m on the edge of my seat here, what did you do?
I quit my startup job. Well, they fired me actually. I drove down to LA on Tuesday to be in this movie. And that was the best time of my life. For the next two months I stayed with my aunt who lives in Echo Park. I was living a dream. I was shooting a movie, like, “Oh, I'm sorry, I gotta go, I'm shooting a movie.” It was ridiculous.
I was getting paid enough and I really enjoyed the process. And it clicked for me like, I don't want to do anything that doesn't give me this feeling ever again.
Life after Hollywood, being a modern-day mascot and following your gut
What did you do after the movie ended?
I was applying for everywhere and it came down to two things. There was a crossroads. I had a conversation with Bleacher Report about a new creative team that they were building out. That was in January. And then the other conversation was to be a director of mood for Hakkasan nightclub in Las Vegas.
I evaluated my potential options. I decided to be in San Francisco, where I have established a lot of areas of work and potential opportunities and I had my girlfriend and life. I had a good feeling about Bleacher Report and, in May, I got a phone call to join this creative team that they were starting.
[At Bleacher Report] Our job was to create content that will go viral, to blow out their account. No restrictions, just create dope stuff. It was everything I wanted in a creative job.
It sounds like you found your perfect fit career-wise. Are you still mascotting and side hustling?
I gotta move around! I have become a mascot for Satellite Healthcare. It's a kidney dialysis company. I do that sometimes on Saturdays, they have events you know kidney walks and I'll go and do that.
I’m also one of the mascots for Salesforce. They have like five characters and I play all of them but I'm usually Astro. He's my guy.
I've also done cool movies and do commercials and acting, here in San Francisco. I'm in a position where I'm able to do that stuff in tandem with a nine to five because that happens on weekends or at night.
I've been to the World Series and then three championship parades. I do weird, crazy stuff and I get paid to do it.
You’re so good at re-inventing yourself. What are some of the biggest or most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I think I've always been open to opportunities because nothing is forever. I've always been a believer that if I have my resume together you know, I'm able to be really great at what I do.
I don't think I'm going to ever be in a position where I’m struggling. That was always a concern to me because I've been in that position where I was struggling.
I don't want to be normal. I want to have an interesting life and I want to do really fun things in my life. And I want to do that by doing that in my work. I got to do a lot of crazy things in my work. I've been to the World Series and then three championship parades. I do weird, crazy stuff and I get paid to do it.
I guess that's why I really liked working in sports because I had a perspective that all of these large-scale events is just everyday life for me, while people save up for a whole year to be there. It's that constant reminder of that perspective that I really enjoy.
I'm always looking for opportunities in what I do and knowing that doubling down on my work and being good at my craft, I will be able to be okay no matter what.