At 1:30 a.m., on a cold Saturday night in February, some drunk college students decided to leave the bar and head home in one car. I know this because I drove them—all seven in one Sedan for a 17-minute trip across town. I think they paid me $6.00. That’s how I made a living last year, driving for Uber. My previous startup had abruptly ended in 2016 and I needed to find a way to support my family in the interim. While driving on nights and weekends I started to build out a consulting company called Method Mark. Twelve months later, our team has grown with full- and part-time people, and we’ve had the opportunity to work with some very high-potential small businesses across the country.
Over the past year I’ve known failure and success. For some projects we’ve raised millions of dollars and for others we’ve struggled to raise any support at all. One of our joint ventures has helped the unemployed and formerly homeless get a quality education for free as they look to launch a new career. We’ve donated time to coach prisoners to become entrepreneurs and helped an ex-con build out his new business. I’ve also had to part ways with clients and employees this year, all of which were terribly difficult decisions to make.
Entrepreneurship is the act of creating. Creativity is risky, personal and emotional. It’s often uncomfortable, but nobody grows in their comfort zone. I’ve been reflecting on everything these past 12 months have taught me. I had worked with many startups before Method Mark. I had invested in startups before Method Mark. I had even run my own consulting firm before Method Mark. But this past year has been unique. I’ve taken much larger risks this year, which has provided much larger rewards and even larger challenges. That’s the curse of entrepreneurship I suppose—the highs can be high and the lows can definitely be low.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Balance patience and persistence.
Patience and persistence are peanut butter and jelly. One without the other is fine, but together in the right proportions is much better. There is an art to getting this right that I’m still trying to learn, but I’ve realized how important they are. You must learn to be patient at moments and wait, but also never give up. The best deals often take time. Raising capital takes a lot of time. Too much patience and every opportunity will pass you by. Too much persistence and you’ll chase deals and partners away.
T.S. Eliot said, “The mark of true intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your head and still operate.” Deals are like a dance, sometimes advancing and sometimes holding. You learn to wait, but never too long. If there was a secret sauce to Method Mark, this may be it. The right mix of patience and persistence. We’ll need to keep getting better at this.
2. There is no substitute for great coffee.
There is no substitute for great coffee, nor is there a substitute for great community you can discover over a cup of coffee. When you’re starting up a business, running on minimal hours of sleep, with ideas and thoughts buzzing through your head at 90 miles per hour, the only thing which can keep your body functioning is that beautiful cup of life-giving elixir. But there’s more to it than this. I’m continually reminded how important in person, one-on-one, connection is to my personal growth and the growth of Method Mark. The coffee matters, but so do the people you share it with.
3. There’s a wide gap between knowing and doing.
You might think knowing and doing something are one in the same, but they’re not. I know a healthy salad would be a good choice but who can turn down Chick-Fil-A sauce? The gap between knowing and doing is a wide chasm, a canyon if you will, one where you can only faintly see the other side if you squint your eyes and tilt your head slightly.
We can do a lot for our clients. We can bring them ideas and help develop strategies; we can help them create and execute their plans; we can try and show them ways forward to success. But no matter the knowledge we provide, what we can’t do is make the decision for them to go from knowing to doing. Method Mark can build the bridge across the canyon for our clients. We can bring them to the bridge, cross it ourselves, then cheer them on from the other side. Yet, they have to make their own decision to cross the bridge themselves. Sometimes they just don’t choose to cross, and that’s hard. Sometimes it’s because they don’t fully trust us yet—and that’s one place where we have some work yet to do.
4. Building new things will always be uncomfortable.
If you go to the gym and try to make yourself comfortable, you’re not going to get anything done. Running hard isn’t comfortable. Lifting heavy weight isn’t pleasant. Growth happens when we push ourselves to uncomfortable places.
No business has ever grown inside of a comfort zone, either. If you want to build something new, get ready to be uncomfortable. This is one reason why it’s so important for Method Mark to continue to launch our own internal projects and joint ventures. I don’t want to ask my clients to do things I’m not willing to do myself. There have been plenty of times when I could have opted for safe and secure. Instead, I’ve tried to step outside and risk in order to grow. As Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
I’ve learned how much our society values comfort and convenience. We pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time making ourselves comfortable. Sometimes that most radical thing you can do is work hard for something bigger than your own personal convenience and comfort. I still work through this daily.
5. The people you start with may not be the people you end with.
This is the one I was least prepared for over the past year. It seems the people with you in the beginning may not always be the people with you in the end. That’s a hard pill to swallow.
This reality can be very difficult, not only from a business standpoint, but from an emotional one, as well. A partner may decide to pursue other ventures. A team member who was a good fit early on, might not be the right fit later. A mentor may move on. All of these things may happen together, like my past year. While you might want to use energy and resources to keep each and every person, I’ve learned that’s not wise. I’ve recognized that the people with you at the start may not be the people you end with, and that is okay. Not only is it a part of a business, but it’s a part of life. Choose who you fight for and who you allow to move on wisely. Resources are very limited in the early days and, you know what they say, a man who chases two rabbits catches none.
6. LaCroix is the sweet nectar of life.
This probably needs no explanation. I assume by now you’ve discovered the sweet nectar of life that is LaCroix. When it’s a little late in the day for that great coffee I mentioned, LaCroix’s bubbly goodness is there to pick you up. Always, always go for the LaCroix. Except of course for coconut LaCroix, which we can only assume is an unfortunate mistake.
7. Creating content takes more than you realize.
Creating real, valuable, meaningful content that moves the needle takes so much more time and effort than most realize. In our current world, we are constantly surrounded and bombarded by content and messages. But getting your message to stand out is the real trick. For instance, sending an email to your email list is not difficult. However, sending an email that gets viewers to open it, click through to your website and act upon something is a whole new ball game.
Creating content that just adds to the noise around us is doomed for failure; it’s a wasted opportunity and a poor investment. On the other hand, creating content with impact takes strategic fact and effort. This is the type of content that draws people in, makes them want to engage and ultimately grows the business. It’s not always complicated, but even the simplest messages can be the most difficult to successfully draft.
8. Doing your own stuff is 100% harder than doing other stuff.
Not going to lie, doing our own stuff is so much harder than our client work. As a marketing agency, we peer into other companies and tell them what they need to do in order to grow. However, peering into my own company has been a little different, since I no longer have that beautiful gift of perspective.
It’s hard to see your own business the same way others do. At Method Mark, we focus on getting some outside input and perspectives from people we trust. Generating new ideas, thoughts and opinions from people who aren’t in the middle of everything is the perfect way to get a fully-functioning picture of your company—not just from the inside out.
9. The best marketing is exceptional work.
If you’re going to invest in anything early on, when time and resources are scarce, invest in your clients and customers. Give them your absolute best. Serve them well. Make your products and services the greatest you can possibly make them. I’ve learned that the best marketing is a happy client who tells others about us.
New customers aren’t the only way to grow. Don’t forget to consider how you could serve your current customers in new, different, exceptional ways. These customers already trust you and your company, so expanding your options to them is easier than trying to bring on a new client.
Success is a horrible teacher. Lucky for me, I’ve had plenty of bumps and bruises this year as I’ve built Method Mark. But with those bumps and bruises comes some pretty great learning opportunities. I’m thankful for the clients who have trusted their work to Method Mark and the team of employees and contractors that have rallied around a vision to help high-potential small business execute their best work every day. I’m excited for year two and I hope with these learnings I will stub my toe a little less.
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