Former Graffiti Artist Shares Mindset Needed to Build a Billion Dollar Empire - with Marc Ecko
If you've ever felt like you're selling out for your business - STOP right now and listen to this interview. You will not see your business the same afterwards.
Marc Ecko is the founder of Ecko Unlimited and in this interview you’re going to hear how he went from painting t-shirts in his garage to building a billion dollar fashion and media empire. We’re also going to discuss his new book Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out. We got an advance copy at the Foundation and you should definitely check it out. In the book, Marc shows you what it takes to build a compelling, authentic and lasting brand and how you can discover your unfair advantage.
This interview went a little different than we planned. We usually dig into how an entrepreneur built their business but Marc gave us WAY more. He let us see the mindset that helped him become successful.
In This Interview You'll Learn...
- 5:40 what keeps us from being authentic
- 12:36 the mindset of constantly auditioning
- 17:22 why taking action when you're not 100% sure is essential
- 27:02 why you need to start seeing yourself as a creator
- 29:57 business is not a science
- 34:41 failing is your full time job
- 45:51 how to find your unfair advantage
Andy: Welcome everyone to Starting from Nothing, the
Foundation podcast. Today we have on the show Marc Ecko. Marc
is the founder of Ecko Unltd and in this video, here in this interview,
you’re going to learn how he went from painting t-shirts in his
garage in middle school to building a billion dollar fashion and
media empire. We’re going to discuss his new book Unlabel: Selling
You Without Selling Out. We got an advanced copy at the
Foundation and I highly encourage you to check it out.
Marc, one of the coolest things I’ve found about the book is that it
was just a long story basically of how to go from nothing to having
a billion dollar empire and all of the failures and successes along the
way. I love the way that it was written with that.
Marc: Well … Yeah, well, thank you for that. Thanks for
having me, Andy.
Andy: Yeah. I wanted to first dive in, just asking you, why
are you writing this book? What do you want to do with it?
Marc: I don’t know.
Marc: (Laughs) I was solicited by another very nice
publisher. A few years ago, I was kind of an inbound thing and I
was about to kind of jump in and sign and I … long story short, I
realize that when one of my friends was like, you know, you don’t
do that with any other business, why wouldn’t you try to explore
your options, think a little bit more deeply about this process. That’s
when I kind of started contemplate the idea of writing the book. I
just kind of felt it was time, you know? I felt … there’s so many
people they approach me, they reach out to me. They have certain
level of expectations of how they perceive me and my brand. I felt
like the most valuable thing that I can transact with people more
than my email or direct line is just basically taking what’s in here
and some of the lessons from my life experiences and trying to
productize that and saying “Here, there.” Hopefully there’s
something of value there for folks.
It’s just you get to a place in your life, 41 years old, you reflective,
I’ve got three kids and you start to think about … not necessarily
legacy but some evidence of your thoughts beyond just the things
you make like the stuff.
Marc: Some things still about books and ideas like the word
is still one of the most powerful devices or the most powerful device
to kind of articulate your idea. It was just time. It was time.
Andy: For the people that haven’t read it or heard about it
yet, what’s the big idea that you want people to walk away with?
Marc: Well, the book Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling
Out is really a business book for creatives and kind of the creative
class and artist. It possess this idea that in your life, if you like it or
not, if you know it or not, because of the way the system is built, our
K-12 system or secondary education system, you’re likely to
probably have eight to ten jobs in your career. The notion of trying
to check a box and live your life to some compliance standard of
saying, “All right, here I’ve been measured, this is my skill,” that’s
kind of the old way of thinking about yourself. The new, I think,
more purposefully I’ll be it slightly vulgar or saccharin way of
thinking of yourself. I think it’s necessary to kind of view yourself
as a brand.
Now, that conversation is kind of a grizzly or saccharin conversation
to have. [Inaudible 00:04:31] you are over drink, talking about stuff,
typically the tone of those conversations are very patronizing and
they leave … and they’re kind of left in the realm of the abstract,
right? As to, well, what do I do tactically?
Marc: So, what the book attempts to do is prescribe a
formula. I share with you the anatomy of a brand and then the spine
of the brand being the notion of authenticity and then I use kind of a
philosophical model, not that could be solved with Math and it
wasn’t intentionally designed to be a riddle but it’s designed to kind
of make the reader flatfooted and come to terms with kind of very
basic notions like the truth – articulating the truth.
The notions like one’s ability to learn and change and the toxicity of
hubris, how these things have form, inform your capacity to be
authentic. Notions like unique voice which are really kind of crucial
components of saying, “Hey, you know what, being selfish is
necessary but there’s going to be consequences to that.” You’re not
going to necessarily have great peer recognition. You can’t always
bet on the warm and fuzzy. It’s not change and articulating slightly
selfish perspectives when you’re building a personal brand is usually
an invitation for ridicule or people rolling their eyes or synthetism,
I think I’m uniquely qualified in having built the brand that’s
perceived, right? Skin to the world, right? My name on my
underwear, on a glass bottle with water. I’ve done the whole vanity
side of brand, the perception side of brand and I could tell you,
there’s the brand [inaudible 00:06:20] to the skin, you got to put to
bed every night. And there are trappings of building a brand to just
be perceived as X rather than really being Y. I try to share that
through my experiences and hopefully, you know, basically create a
framework for creative types to feel bolder, more empowered, more
… have a greater sense of self-esteem, more confidence, less fear,
right? Fear. Okay, but fear less, right? Not fearless but fear less.
Right? To not be afraid to say, “Well, it’s not done yet,” or “It’s not
ready to launch,” or “Done as in done,” or … it’s not for them.
They’re not invited to this party or … whatever. I’m afraid of losing
everything. I’m afraid of the feeling of I’m going to create for
myself the risk, that’s essential.
Marc: Right? I try to just create a more … a less type A
perspective to what success and successful branding looks like.
Because I think there’s a lot of mythology. We see successful
brands, people, places, things and … they seem they walk on water,
Marc: Or we can’t comprehend … well, what are they
doing? We know abstractly that there’s a product there or service
but there’s something very romantic and we feel like … well, if we
have to think that way or thinking like Don Draper …
Andy: Yeah. And it’s really hard for just your average
person to think about a brand. You know?
Andy: In the show, we generally don’t bring a lot of authors
on but we wanted … I want to bring … Chris and I talked about it,
we want to bring you on because … just the evolution of your story
and where you started to where you grew is so magnificent.
Can you bring us back to like where … because the book is almost
like a culmination of 20 some years of doing what you’ve been
doing. Can you bring us back to middle school when you got your
first airbrush and tell us like how this all started for you?
Marc: Well, I think there’s something … I think there’s a
truth to … like everything that you need to know in life and the
things that you ultimately love at eight, tend to probably be the
things that you’re going to love for the rest of your life.
Marc: Right? Like the archetype … the first time you got a
boner for that perfect girl or whatever; the first time you gushed
over that perfect guy. That archetype is probably going to stay with
you for the rest of your life. First time you got the goosies over
imagining yourself and that one job …
Marc: It kind of stays with you.
I was very fortunate to kind of come up in the ‘80s in a community
that I was very lucky to grow up in which is Lakewood, New Jersey
– Lakewood being a very ethnically diverse community. A large
population of black and Latino folks but also a big orthodox Jewish
like Lebovich population. It had a kind of chemistry that was a lot
like being in, like, let’s say, Williamsburg, Brooklyn or [inaudible
00:09:35], Brooklyn where it was so diverse. At that time, hip hop
was this thing. You had to find it. It didn’t find you in the way that it
does in McDonalds commercials and just every way that it’s
everywhere today. Or Anderson Cooper using words like twerking.
It finds us now because it’s a part of the tapestry of our culture.
So, to come up in this community with a cohort that was first
generation hip hoppers and be able to kind of see everything to that
lens that entrepreneurial virus that is hip hop for the rest of my life
is a gift. Right? If you want to take that away from me, I don’t know
that I have achieved the things that I’ve achieved. Right? Very much
my nurture, my environment created a perspective where suddenly
… I wasn’t trying to just paint t-shirts in my garage to earn a buck
but rather create the affirmation from my peers that I was artistic.
Marc: Right? Because suddenly graffiti was giving me this
kind of more macho … like the extreme sport of art where otherwise
I was just an emo kid who was into art.
Marc: Like how many of those kids are there? A lot. Now I
had this veneer, this esthetic language to talk to because I couldn’t
break dance, I couldn’t rap and … the graffiti gave me a purpose
amongst my peers.
Andy: It didn’t just happen that way.
Marc: I’m sorry?
Andy: It didn’t just happen that way it sounded. The one
thing that really stuck with me in the book when you’re writing is
like, I went and painted my first t-shirt and then I wore that t-shirt to
school and going through the process of being like … of wearing
your own art is … as an 8th grader has got to be pretty trying.
Marc: Yeah. People, half the people going to think you’re
totally corny, the other half are going to not like you, right? So this
is really hard. No. Listen, I think what I had going for me I had
taken … by the time I really kind of built up the self-esteem to
perpetuate my art, I actually felt pretty good about where it was
headed. The look, the vibe of my handwriting, though naïve,
certainly was differentiated from my peers. It gave me suddenly a
purpose and I became known for that.
I think a lot of creators, founders, inventors … it’s funny how
flatfooted they get when you ask them, especially when that kind of
nascent, formative state like what do you do? There are almost …
they can’t honestly even articulate it simply, right? There’s almost a
fearfulness to say like because they’re not really launched or we’re
in beta or …
Marc: Everything’s like we’re on a soft launch. No you’re
not. Like you’re constantly auditioning, right? Like that never ends.
… honest place of understanding that if you think like tomorrow’s
transaction is going to be this collection of all this success and is
going to be measured by this big pile of money and it’s not going to
come with a tremendous amount of ridicule or reluctance, you’re
never going to get started. If you’re for likely to transact with the
current fit of ridicule for … in failure, for a sufficient amount of
time so you get that incremental first in the black transaction of like
… an affirmation of we like what you do. We need for you. There’s
Marc: Wantedness, in order to create that wantedness you
have to be willing to sell yourself. Right? You can’t always be
suspicious or take a default posture of like, “Oh, it’s not time,” or
“I’m not ready,” or “I’m too afraid,” or the gatekeepers. These folks
over here are going to roll their eyes.
Marc: They’re supposed to fucking roll their eyes. Right?
It’s humans, this is what we do.
Andy: What about the people that are like that’s just not me.
The whole I’m-an-introvert-selling-myself-it’s-just-not-who-I-am?
Marc: I think that it’s like saying, you know, for someone
who’s not physically fit that I just … or someone who is complacent
with being, let’s say, overweight or static and saying exercise isn’t
good. It’s just not true. The human condition, there are best
practices that could be applied that nothing to do with your intellect
or your personality. “It’s not me,” is you basically saying my muscle
Marc: Okay? Well, you still have a bicep. Just because you
can’t do pull-ups doesn’t mean that you don’t have a bicep. Okay?
To say “Well, it’s just not me. I am an introvert.” Is like to say,
“Well, it’s okay to be afraid.” Right? So then you need to take your,
maybe, introverted disposition and figure … that’s what’s [inaudible
00:15:00] to your brand. How do you productize that? How do you
almost use that in a self-effacing manner to [disarm 00:15:07]
people? How do you reverse engineer that quietness to be the thing
that’s kind of powerful in interacting these people. Right? So that
when you do speak, maybe there’s some habit or gesture or means
of communication where people are able to differentiate you from
the rest. Because if you don’t, you will not be differentiated and you
will just be another package on the shelf and we will – society,
humans, we will project on to what we think you are and you’re
going to … guess what? You’re on aisle four. Okay?
Marc: Your line … the garbage bags. I don’t care that you
want to play a guitar and you want to be by aisle 11, by the musical
instruments. No. We say that you don’t belong there because you’re
not speaking up. Look at you. Look at what your label says. It’s says
you’re quiet. You’re in aisle four, your garbage bag.
Marc: Right? So, you can’t wait. Not your mother, not the
person you’re screwing. Okay? No one’s going to believe in you, for
you, like you’re going to believe in yourself. And it’s one of the
scariest things to actually say, “I actually believe in myself.” And do
something about it. In knowing that I believe in myself enough to
look … stare someone down in their face. No strings attached. Not
in a mean-spirit way. To let them know that you’re differentiated.
To let them know that you exist. Even if you’re only in the vicinity
Marc: Even if you’re only in the vicinity. You’re only 70%
of the way there. But you’re conscious enough of saying, “You
know what? I’m going to screw up, I’m going to fall down, I might
get popped in the nose but the next time I’ll be 80% or 85.” Right?
Marc: Rather than just not doing anything which people are
conditioned to do. Like what the fuck … in our system, right? Like
our system … like our K-12 system … don’t even get me going on
Marc: All right? We’re all waiting for the approval of the
pedagogy infrastructure. Teacher, master of knowledge; student.
We’re vulnerable like a baby. They can’t feed ourselves. We have
dependency on your knowledge, teacher – master of knowledge
because you … Your job is to teach us so we’re used to being able
to just ask and get the answers. Right? But we’re not used to having
to market ourselves out of that box.
Marc: Like 17, 18 years old, the switchettes and suddenly
it’s like … you’re inability to transact like an adult, like the whole
system is setup for us to be just kind of talked down to. Show me
the evidence you’re ready. You have the maturity because you could
pass this test. As if this test and this abstraction of something that is
sufficiently irrelevant to the realities of the real world, okay? And
your ability to be purposefully and constructive in the world, right?
I’m not saying there’s not rigor that comes with school and
practicing and memorization. I’m not trying to be anti-education.
No, that’s not the point at all. But let’s be honest that the system
builds us to be measured by these rubrics that aren’t even relevant to
be creating you as an independent, self-sufficient person in the
Andy: So …
Marc: Made me agitated. Yes. In this box, pedagogy style,
teacher here or student, but like the world’s built like this. The
world’s about adult learning. The world is andragogy, the world is
… I need to learn this because if I don’t, I won’t survive.
Andy: How old are your kids?
Marc: Eleven, nine and six.
Andy: Eleven, nine and six. What are you doing to shape
their minds differently so that they don’t become jaded by the
Marc: Oh boy. (Laughs) There’s no shortage of … I can’t
get out of my own way. What am I doing? The way I talk to them.
The way I … try to challenge their thinking of what … because you
get a gold star, you bring home perfect score. It’s kind of like … I
tease my kids like, “Come on. Look daddy, I got a hundred.” I’m
like, “Why don’t you get a 150?” So I said, it’s like … well, you
know what? You don’t wait for the teacher to test you to 150. You
got to test yourself.
Marc: Right? I try to just get them … try to make them
flatfooted and kind of see the other side of the number. Like the
more obtuse or oblique side of how things are. I try to remind them
when they get frustrated, as children will do, with how the schools
are organized and how kind of in some ways intellectually insulting
it could be to free-will, right?
Marc: Try to remind them that … you know what? Your …
it is healthy to have like a slight discontent or resentment of the
structure. That person is just doing their job.
Marc: It’s a business. You’re actually going into a store
front every day where you’re going [inaudible 00:20:23]. Right?
Andy: It’s so true. Totally.
Marc: It’s a retail business. Okay? And just because the
state is subsidizing it or whatever, if you’re going to a private
school, it’s still the business driven by Scholastic, Pearson, all the
publishing companies that ultimately have deep coincidental ties
with the educational testing service, a not-for-profit. Wink wink.
Right? Design the rubrics for the products, the books, now they have
digital products as if those are more relevant. Okay?
So I remind them it’s like you’re in an educational flea market. You
have to understand … Sage, my daughter, going to school is your
job now because you’re not allowed to be employed – you’re too
young. You don’t have the maturity, you’re too vulnerable. People
try to take advantage of you. The law is setup in a way. You’re not
Marc: That’s your job. Okay? That’s their job. But
understand school … you don’t go to school. School comes to you.
So if you’re not open-minded to want to be educated 24/7 because
your school is 24/7 doors open, window shades up, light coming in
all the time. It never ends. This is like … don’t get infuriated
because you’re running into a road block. Welcome to life. That’s a
metaphor for the fact that there’s going to be a test one day that’s
not multiple choice. There is no paper record of. There is no
superintendent overseeing but it’s going to fucking feel like a test.
Right? And you’re going to know. You know what? It’s going to be
funny like … success might not look like an A+.
Andy: Let’s talk about fear of failure, fear of success. As
you’re making this transition from growing up airbrushing t-shirts in
your garage to doing $2 million from one trade show in Vegas, did
the fear of success ever kick in? Like holy fuck. Can life be this
good? Is this really possible? Is this happening to me?
Marc: I talk about it in the book. There’s the one instance
where I call back … my sister Marci calls my mom just to touch
base because that’s what we do.
Marc: Because we love our parents and that’s what you do
as long as you got them. I remember vividly calling from that first
trade show where we were in the net, where we finally got the
business sense or the black in terms of profitability, you know, like
there was starting to be there in terms of the potential for revenue
and I just broke down.
Marc: It was like I was so used to … it felt like I broke
down from like kind of a mental exhaustion of not allowing myself
to be rewarded for doing something good. I think that’s probably
something that … if I’m guilty of anything is that I’m kind of
masochistic in that way where …
Marc: I don’t make a lot of room for that … the kind of
reflective time. With age I become better with that, I’ve gotten more
perspective. But in the first decade from 20 to 30, I had all kinds of
things going on with my body; all kinds of neurosis that were a
function of starting to taste success. Right? It was like two steps
forward, three steps back. Two steps forward, big sale, big embrace
at retail, great sale through.
Marc: But then my peers had maybe ridicule me or say like
“Why are you selling that retail? That’s not cool. You’re selling
out.” “That’s not really graffiti anymore. You’re not really real.”
Right? Two steps forward, three steps back. It was never … and
then you’re kind of like, well, who are you building this course or
this brand what success was going to be for? From whose
perspective? Is it lined up with your creative intent? My creative
intent from the age of nine and ten getting that airbrush and air
compressor was to put my art onto t-shirts. That’s what I was doing.
Right? I wasn’t double crossing my creative intent.
Marc: But despite that, we tend to build stuff … we allow
those external voices that are often just constructs in our head or
sometimes they’re institutions. However real or imagine that start to
define for us the rules of what your success can look like. Which is
like a load of horseshit. Right? We do that because we’re human and
we’re ultimately emotional and it feels good to get that kind of peer
review. There are places and there’s purposes for that in life that are
really good. They’re really useful in life. We learn that … we’ve
learned how to organize that in sports but in commerce, there’s not
like … I know how to ladder a kid up to play in the NBA but to
ladder a kid to be like the next Mark Zuckerberg, they typically just
have to figure it out on their own.
Andy: Yup. As you’re building the business, you’ve always
been kind of an artist or creator first.
Andy: Did you ever transition into being more considering
yourself more of a businessman at some level? Or has it always
been about the art for you?
Marc: Well, I frame in the book and the book talks about
challenging for the reader to see beyond this notion of just being
entrepreneur. I say, entrepreneur is the new black. It’s very
fashionable, it’s very romantic. Basically implies you can’t really be
employed, right? You’re not employable. Nowadays, you need to
probably be in technology or something capital efficient, right?
Really to me … so I’ve always been that hustler, that kind of
lemonade stand tycoon thing. That’s always been build into me.
What I try to present for the reader and to challenge them to view
themselves as creators, right? I say … one of my prescriptions in the
book is be a creator.
Marc: What I mean by that … because a lot of people that
are listening to this or watching this now, “Well, I can’t paint.”
Marc: “I don’t know how to manipulate plastic arts. I can’t
push oil. I can’t sculpt, I can’t dance, I don’t know how to make
music.” I challenge them I said, “Remember yourself when you
were in kindergarten.” If I ask you if you were an artist, how would
you responded? Right? Everybody fought like an artist then because
you’re allowed to be messy. And you associated art less with this
kind of suicidal notion of like creating like Michael Angelo this …
some kind of photo real thing.
Marc: But associate it to a method of problem solving.
Right? You couldn’t articulate it in that way but you were an artist
when you put together a Lego block. Look how artistic he is or she
is, right? You’re an artist when you put the glue and you’re like …
you use your hands … you used … if not literally as a metaphor
your hands, you problem solved in a different and more iterative,
maybe slightly messier, less apologetic manner. Okay? Where there
was room … there’s massive tolerance for discovery. Like artist and
creators think in this fashion. They do tend to allow to be emotional
than romantic about the process. So much of the entrepreneurial
rigor of like neither beat the quarter, this is what success looks like.
We defined it because this is the rubric, this is the metric.
Marc: We’re designing things into … we’re basically
gaming numbers to create necessarily … yes it might be … I could
measure it as success in terms of quantify that. We went from
negative to positive but qualitatively are you authentically building
success. In a meaningful way that’s built for longevity and built
with that kind of brand promise, creator promise at heart.
Marc: Right? I think being aware of this and thinking about
these ideas as a group or alone, whatever the method is, I think are
really helpful. They have served me well. I would say, to answer
your question, being a great businessman doesn’t mean that you
can’t be a great artist and being a great artist doesn’t mean that you
can be a great businessman. They’re not mutually exclusive.
Marc: There is this other form of literacy.
Andy: It’s almost like at some level business is art at some
level, for some people.
Marc: It’s not science. I don’t care how much Harvard
Business Reviews try to organize it as if it is.
Marc: If they want to tell you that there’s some method of
probability. I could do that with the weather, I could do that with
everything that could be measured and prove that there’s patterns of
probability and I could sit there and brow beat you and tell you how
… only a thousand of you are going to succeed so get the fuck out
of here. There’s a certain point where it’s like … just go out there
and create. Right? If every time I have to go through that threshold
of you putting your ruler of what it looks like, for my path, right? I
will never get shit done.
Marc: That’s why so many people don’t. Because this
position is to kind of almost say “don’t try it,” “don’t make a mess,”
“don’t get paint on your hands,” “don’t piss off your peers,” “don’t
wear flat fronts in a pleaded world,” or vice versa.
Marc: Why? I’m not saying be a reverend for the sake of
reverency because then your selfishness is just … you become that
black sheep in the herd of black sheep like the [inaudible 00:31:05]
kids. I’m not saying …
Marc: Oh, now let me think so reverently how [inaudible
00:31:09] this. No. I’m saying inside of you, [inaudible 00:31:13]
the skin, there are value structures that define ultimately your brand
and probably … right? They exist and are defined well-beyond the
notion of collecting money and stuff. Right? If you could articulate
a strategy that allows you to practice on those values, expand on
those values, you’re probably going to build a more … a stronger
basis for a brand … a more intellectually honest approach to how
you problem solve. You won’t be parodying other people. You
won’t be waiting for peer review, waiting for the call, being the
needy boy who doesn’t get the girl. Right? Or the girl that doesn’t
get the guy. It’s a shift in philosophy that for me has been very
empowering when disproportionally people look down their nose
and say “It can’t be done.”
Andy: Marc, I’m really appreciating this interview because I
thought you’re going to get more into strategies and tactics and
stuff. But I’m enjoying a lot like your perspective at a higher level
of … it’s almost like a perspective of how to live your life more
than how to build a business at some levels.
Marc: I think the way to build a business is to visualize how
to live your life. Right? There’s a line beyond that line. There’s the
finish line, right? We visualize, “Oh, here’s the picture for success.”
Right? “Here’s the business plan.” On the 26 mile is that the yellow
finish line and you’re going to cross it. But the truth is, that the real
great ones, that I’ve been a party to or had the blessing to know …
Marc: Wants to learn from whom aren’t necessarily the
wealthiest. Let’s be clear.
Marc: Okay? Many of them are. Okay? Not all of them
though but the true great ones who’ve had impact, that had a cultural
impact. Some kind of legacy creation beyond just the stuff they’ve
created or collected. They chase a line well beyond that finish line.
That exist in kind of a mania and a madness that is more to do with
hunting and gathering and it has more to do with just being
[inaudible 00:33:32] and is more about anthropology. Okay?
Marc: Than anything that Jack Welsh could write or Steven
Covey could try to prescribe on a punch list.
Marc: Okay? We want to think that building a great
business is a sequencing of events on a punch list. Now that’s just
how you organize and create efficiency.
Marc: The falsely prescribe adhere is the rigidness steps as
if there’s a one-size fits all I think is intellectually dishonest. And we
have painted that type A like Daniel Pink talks about in Drive and I
loosely borrow in my book, that type A persona of the “You’re
fired!” Donald Trump’s, the Jack Welsh GE types great titans of
industry, great thinkers but motivated in the kind of brand and paint
an image of creation and business and [inaudible 00:34:39] creation
that … where they almost begrudge having to talk about fucking up.
Andy: Yeah. Totally. Totally.
Marc: Whereas fucking up is actually your full time job.
Marc: Right? And what you’re trying to do is collect enough
in the neck so at the end of the game, it’s 108-102 whatever. You
win. To make it like it’s somehow failure is for the week or that
failure is a domain where … that is marked with an F and you
should be ashamed by. Be ridicule by. Because from K-12 we teach
you. Failure, you should be ridiculed. You’re dumb. You’re not
capable. You’re not competent.
Marc: In business … it’s more about success is actually the
sequence of small failures, right? The sequence of small, iterative
failures. Success is merely the knowledge collected at the end of
that sequence so that you don’t make those same failures. Right?
Marc: It is the very catalyst to profound heretical learning.
Where real eureka happens.
Andy: Let’s talk about … you say this concept of wearing
… having the guts to skin the brand, right? And being authentic and
being real and being yourself. Do you see that as like a function of
technology – making the world more transparent or … it almost
seems like some level of like a trend in business nowadays where
people are being more open with what they’re doing.
Marc: Yeah. Yeah. I think that clearly … Well, it’s kind of a
double edge sword, right?
Marc: Well, the blade slices both ways because on one hand
… and I talk about this in the book and I often say this. On one hand
we have … efficiencies that social media and self-broadcasting have
allowed us. Look at this … what we’re doing right here together.
Marc: We’re not waiting for some middle man or some
other guy’s type of distribution. But what comes from that is that
many people think that you could quantify or you could gain that
success by a metric. Right? The double edge swords of these
efficiencies that people tend to get caught up in the business of
perception and are more consumed with collecting users and user
acquisition and not thinking about the deep qualitative part of the
Marc: It becomes suddenly a collecting thing, a quantitative
thing. And then they lose sight that what they’re really doing is not
really doing anything. They’re just talking. Right? So, the double
edge sword of being truth-y and truthful and transparent is that you
can’t replace talking for action. Ultimately your brand, right?
Marc: Is an array of promises that you over deliver on.
Okay? So, it’s like a well that’s endlessly filled, magically filled and
people just come there and they’re like, “How the fuck does it
always fill?” That’s just always fill. It’s always here. There’s always
more water in this well. How are they doing that? Right? That is
built with a lot of action, a lot of doing, a lot of creation. In this
world that has the hyper efficiencies of communication, don’t be
deluded because just because you said it, it will be.
Marc: Right? And I think people get a false sense of
achievement. Right? Where there … They’re putting the stuff into
the vomitorium of traffic in social media but they’re really not
actually building the shape. They’re not snapping Legos together.
Andy: There’s been some studies on this of how the effect
of telling people your goals actually makes you less likely to reach
them because you get this gratification just by talking about them.
You’re like, “Ah. I don’t actually have to do them now.”
Marc: Right. It’s like Biggie Smalls says and I am teaching
… I have a skill share his class. I don’t want to give it all away. But
I talk about one of the lines in Ten Crack Commandments which is
“never let them know your next move.” Right? “Don’t you know
bad boys move in silence or violence.” Never let them know your
next move, right? Never … You don’t broadcast where you’re going
to move the rook. Okay?
Marc: In a world where we’re openly broadcasting
everything, we have thought we’ve forgotten about the brand of
Marc: And real bad boys, real guys that get things done,
they move either quietly in a self-constraint, self-restrain confident
matter, knowing that they still got more work to do to execute or
they just focus on the execution. That is focused on the “getting it
dumb part by any means necessary.”
Andy: In your book you mentioned vision shouldn’t start
big, they should start small. And I go back and forth with this at
times like having a big vision for the company versus just figuring
out what’s next.
Marc: Yeah. I think people … we got caught up … my
favor … We have these kind of George Jetson vision of the future:
flying cars. We want to see it that way. It’s very romantic. That’s the
stuff dreams are built of. I don’t dream small.
Marc: Okay? But your dream and like a vision for the
future, you could build a vision of the future in bite-size increments
that are like 20 minutes from now. And 20 minutes from after that.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Right? I think people are …
because we perceive when the media reports great success stories
that they seem to like … I want to … start at the finish line. Right?
We’ve even written books about this. And some of those thought
processes I … I don’t begrudge like the kind of Tommy
Robbins’ [inaudible 00:41:03] live your life. What they’re going to
say on your gravestone. No. How about living your life right now in
the present? How about a vision that is conscious of the now? This
is what I talk about in the book. In my formula of vision for the
How about a vision for the future with an honest inventory of how
much nostalgia you have? Because if you’re overly nostalgic, you’re
probably going to have tendencies that are not in line with your
vision of the future. Right? And those tendencies of that kind of
loyalty to nostalgia creates institutions in your own head. So you
don’t say you’re going to pontificate and then paint this beautiful
picture of this faraway place with touchscreens and widgets.
[Inaudible 00:41:53] purchases and … 50 people walking out the
runway or whatever the fuck it is that you’re fantasizing about
building. Right? It’s [inaudible 00:42:01] material. Right?
Marc: Rather than having a vision of the future like I said,
ten days from now, then why is there something wrong with that?
I’m not telling people, “[inaudible 00:42:17].” We’re so busy telling
everyone to be able to jump from the free throw line like Jordan
rather than just play the game and get some exercise. It’s okay to
execute on like incrementally arriving at that level of mastery.
We’re so like Steve Jobs obsessed and painted this image of like this
… oh, micromanage your fucking way [inaudible 00:42:44]
emotional and emphatic and use your hands a lot. That’s what Steve
Steve Jobs got fired. Okay? He went and built NeXT and people
ridiculed him. They made him out to be like a pinball. Right? People
want to forget that he was relentless at commercializing things.
They want to paint him like he’s some top little fucking Picasso. I
mean he is an artist in his own way. There’s no doubt he is. Right?
We have this fallacy of that brand of celebrity … of celebrity
entrepreneur that isn’t necessarily honest with each of our individual
dispositions. So don’t be a fake ass Steve Jobs. I guess.
Andy: (Laughs) Don’t try and be him.
Marc: Don’t try to be him.
Andy: One thing you talked about in the book is finding
your unfair advantage.
Andy: And I think a lot of people struggle with that because
a big thing in our community in particular people, you know, they’re
like “I just don’t know what my passion is,” or “I don’t know what
that thing is,” and they think that it’s just going to wake up and hit
them one day. But can you talk a little bit about what finding …
what an unfair advantage is and what yours have been?
Marc: Unfair advantages are … the spirit of an unaffair
advantage needn’t look like some brand of collusion. Because I
think that’s what people want for.
Marc: They want gratification [inaudible 00:44:15]. This
person does this or this institution or this buyer or this … this guy
gives me this pipe then I have that unfair advan … Those are
tactical unfair advantages that no doubt make a mess and differences
in businesses which is the history of that, right? I think it’s more
about being … tuned in to kind of the smaller parts of … Someone’s
unfair advantage might be their disposition, that quiet disposition
that makes somewhat of a shut in.
Marc: Actually might be the very thing that gets them to get
everyone around them so disarmed that people just tell them
everything. They just dump everything onto them. Right?
It might be a modest thing. It needn’t come with some big glorious
like, “Oh, look how good I am with my right hand.” If you’re a
painter, you’re a basketball player, you’re boxer or you’re an
engineer. Right? You know what I mean with that metaphor, right?
Andy: Yeah. Totally.
Marc: We’re practically good by this one skill set. Those are
things that you want to hone as a kind of tactical blocking and
tacting skill set that you quote unfair advantages because maybe
they differentiate you. But, they could just be things like the very
thing that says like … at the top of this conversation is like, “Look,
I’m not out there to overly sell myself. I’m really quiet.” Well, how
do you deploy that as an unfair advantage to get information in ways
that other people can’t agree? Or to get people to gush to you
because they just … maybe your unfair advantage to people that
trusts you so much that they share everything with you.
There’s little things like that that needn’t be delivered by saying,
“Oh yeah, I’ve got the exclusive on the rail and therefore I’m going
to be the only guy that can move scotch like some rubber barren
across from Pennsylvania into Atlantic City, right?” Those are
tactical unfair advantages. And those are great. You want to seek
those in business, you want to be conscientious of that from a
personal brand point of view. Sometimes they look more … product
more of psychology or a disposition thing.
Last thing I want to talk one real tactical thing for people before we
wrap up. Can you talk about what’s swag bombs are and how you
use them? It’s brilliant because its direct response marketing and its
best, I think.
Marc: Yeah. Well, I think, listen, ain’t nothing new under
the sun. It’s just me framing a very old concept of the old
handwritten [inaudible 00:47:01] and deliberate bespoke note.
Marc: I talk about in the book how there’s still something in
era where everything is kind of about this flash of media or the kind
of efficiencies in a paperless world of communication that there’s
nothing that replaces the emotional impact of someone taking the
deliberate [inaudible 00:47:28] time to reach out to somebody they
respect or they want to … that the thought leader or an influencer to
create those instances of emotional impact around something they
created or curated with their hands. [Emoded 00:47:45], right?
So, I talk about my history how I used to paint in unsolicited fashion
for best in class like DJs and rappers at the time in the late ‘80s,
early ‘90s. That would just send an unsolicited fashion. Look at the
back of a line or notes and I’d find who the manager was and I’d
send packages. I kind of frame what composes a swag bomb and
framing expectations for the readers so that they don’t end up acting
like a stalker or creepy. It’s kind of … I would take an airbrush, a
sweat shirt, put a handwritten note. Now they have zero
expectations and I’d even think about, well, if this product does
even get to my intended audience [inaudible 00:48:31] gatekeeper or
handler stops it, will it, at the very least, have an impact on them,
right? How do you use that to express a metaphor for what you’re
good at, right? How do you … through the distribution of that, that
product create an expression that is a metaphor for what you’re good
So, when I have people say to me, “Oh, well, I’m in services
business,” or “I have some fast cloud,” I’m like, well, in every
instance your business is creating some kind of human transaction.
Either you’re making people’s lives easier, you’re creating more
time in their day, you’re taking away a burden, you’re taking away
risk for them, you’re giving them a better self-image, whatever it is.
There’s some expression of it. So, don’t sit there and tell me that. I
don’t care how engineered or how much it is a line of code that your
Marc: That you can’t create a swag bomb. You’re not being
Andy: Totally. Totally. When I was running … I had a
marketing company for real estate agents and one thing we would
do to get in our … our foot in the door with big real estate offices of
a hundred or 200 agents, we would send two dozen, three dozen
warm chocolate chip cookies and a couple gallons of milk and just a
little [inaudible 00:49:46] like “Hey, we’d love to help your agents
with this thing,” and …
Andy: You’re sending stuff to A-list celebrities which is just
harder to get your foot in the door at. But if you’re just doing it in
your local market, like, just a little act of kindness goes so far with
Marc: Especially if it reflects your brand’s point of view. If
Marc: … like a warm fuzzy, “We care about you,” like
“you’re our baby,” or we would like to hang out and watch like
Saturday morning cartoons with you and eat … dunk our Oreos in
milk [inaudible 00:50:16]. That’s how we want to roll and that’s the
vibe because that kind of articulates as a metaphor the spirit of your
Marc: Right, it’s those little things. And then how do you
affirm that in a written way or whatever the product is that kind of
affirms it so that you’re clearly articulating why you sent this and
with what intent?
Marc: And you also articulate like, “Look, no harm, no
foul.” If all you get from this is warm cookies and milk …
Andy: It’s cool.
Marc: It’s cool. You’ll think of us next month.”
Andy: Hell yeah.
Marc: There’s something about that that like it’s so
valuable. It’s kind of crazy to me that … how care less most people
are about, “Oh, I will send this …” like this form thing whether just,
again, checking a box … check a box and, like, how you expect me
like … I’m not going to respond because there’s nothing … there’s
not a wantedness to respond because clearly it’s form. It’s insulting
Marc: So, I’m on one fucking … I’m just a number on a list.
You’re spamming me.
Andy: Yup. Exactly.
Marc: You got through the spam.
Andy: Beautiful Marc. For people … they want to check
stuff out, they want to read your book, where do they go to learn
more about you?
Marc: They can go to www.unlabel.me where information
about the book and all sorts of things that are emerging in my life, in
my world. The book’s available on Amazon and on Barnes and
Noble; both digital – there’s audio. If there’s anything … For me
this is like … I’ve wrote it for my kids ultimately so I wrote it for
people I really love. If that’s a benefit for folks and it creates a little
bit of a blast of wind in your sail, good on you and, I guess, good on
me. Hopefully people get what they get out of it and they get the
Andy: Check it out guys. When you read the book, it will
make you want to hustle – if you’re not all ready. Seeing your story
and some of the stuff you pulled off, man, it’s very inspirational. It
makes you want to get after.
Marc: Cheers man.
Andy: Thanks for coming on today, Marc.
Marc: Thanks for having me.
Closing: Thank you for joining us. We’ve taken this interview
and created a custom action guide so you know exactly what action
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thefoundationpodcast.com to download it for free. Thanks for
listening and we’ll see you next week.