Maybe you haven’t met Hoan Do, but you most likely can recognize his smile.
Hoan Do, a Federal Way native, is one of 30 individuals across the nation selected for the Smile with Lay’s campaign benefitting Operation Smile. Found in your local grocery store, the campaign features smiles of “ordinary” people on various chip bags who are doing extraordinary things in their communities.
Do, an inspirational speaker, author, and “American Ninja Warrior” competitor, has built his career on empowering people to overcome their own adversities by sharing practical strategies to develop resilience and mental strength, he said.
His joyful and toothy smile with a flash of tongue can be found on five Lay’s chips flavors including Lay’s Barbecue Party Size, Limon, Fried Pickles With Ranch, Poppables Sea Salt and Vinegar, and Classic small size.
While the global pandemic canceled plans for VIP photoshoots, each individual captured self-portraits of their smiles using their phones. The amateur photos were then professionally enhanced for printing onto millions of Lay’s chips bags, according to the company.
The campaign benefits Operation Smile, an international medical charity that provides access to safe surgical care to those who have cleft conditions, by contributing up to $1 million in proceeds to the organization.
In a time when most smiles are hidden behind masks, Do, 35, said he is grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity centered on positivity.
“It’s so needed during this time with everything that’s happened in 2020, just the idea of the power of a smile, what it can do for a person … it’s such a beautiful campaign,” he said.
In a typical year, Do speaks at about 60 events and reaches more than 250,000 people in audiences of company professionals, organization leaders, students and more. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Do and his team have transitioned to virtual events. Having completed about 25 virtual keynote speeches, Do expects to offer another 20 virtual events before the year comes to an end.
“My goal whenever I speak, whether it’s through a virtual or a live event, is to let people know that they’re not by themselves,” he said.
Do is a class of 2003 Decatur High School graduate who grew up in Washington after his parents escaped the Vietnam War in 1984. During his junior year in high school, Do attended a leadership conference and heard from a speaker Patrick Snow, who would later become a mentor.
“In that moment, it clicked in my head,” he said. “And I thought ‘man if I could speak, then I could help more people in my lifetime than helping one person one at a time.’”
He attended Pepperdine University, where he made moves to continue the forward trajectory on his path to become an inspirational speaker.
He changed his major to economics, which required less units than his original plan for a business degree. With the additional free time, Do took courses such as acting, surfing, advertising, psychology and more — classes, while not related to his major, correlated with his desire to gain real-world experience.
“[These were] classes that would enrich me for life after college,” he said.
In high school and college, Do battled suicidal thoughts fueled by negative self-talk and enormous amounts of pressure to make something of himself. He overcame these intrusive mental health struggles by seeking help, he said.
He began motivational speaking at various schools and organizations, and after graduation, spent a year and a half working for Tony Robbins, a world-renowned author and inspirational speaker.
In 2009, he wrote his first book “Succeeding in the Real World: What School WON’T Teach You.”
Do launched the book at the University of Washington, depleting his roughly $20,000 in savings to write and self-publish the book.
Imposter syndrome snuck in. Business wasn’t going as fast as he expected. Waiting for his big break instead of getting a job, Do said he soon found himself in thousands of dollars in credit card debt.
He worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, to live out his calling and undo the damage, pulling in paychecks as a door-to-door salesman for Comcast, a ticket salesman at the Pacific Northwest Ballet and a phone book delivery driver, and found a part-time gig at Washington DECA.
Do persevered, and while he continued delivering his message at speaking engagements, he sought after another dream: to be on national television. Although, Do said, he didn’t know how it would happen.
After a workout at Renton City CrossFit gym in 2013, Do’s cousin posted a photo of him on social media “beastin’ the peg wall,” and tagged “American Ninja Warrior.”
As a former wrestler at Decatur High School and Pepperdine University, Do said he’s always been a highly competitive person and decided to go for it. He and a few friends put together an audition video that caught the attention of the hit NBC show.
One week before competing on the show, Do snapped his ankle at Trampoline Nation in Federal Way.
As he tells his speaking event attendees, you don’t have to be positive all the time — you just need to have an honest attitude.
He took careful steps to rehabilitate as best he could within a matter of days, and competed on season six of the show later that week, making it to the Venice Beach City finals. While he didn’t end up winning the million dollars, he still made it onto national television.
Before the pandemic, Do would spend most of his year traveling across the country for inspirational speaking events. While in-person engagements are on a hiatus for the time being, Do said he’s excited to still share his smile with the world — and just in time for World Smile Day Friday, Oct. 2.
Compared to claiming homage to Seattle or the state, Do said he never fails to flaunt his hometown pride.
“I tell them ‘Hey, I’m from Federal Way,’ because I want my city to be known,” he said. “It’s really cool to be able to represent for the 253.”