Introduction and Interview by David Wagstaff
This interview with Marcus is one of the first in a series of articles from entrepreneurs, compiled with the goal of providing other business owners and soon-to-be business owners with a realistic view of what it takes to run a business and some of the challenges commonly faced.
As I was reviewing applications for membership in the Entrepreneur’s Network, Marcus’ LinkedIn profile caught my attention. In his intro title, he describes himself as an Author, Speaker, Winemaker, Urban Farmer, Audiobook Narrator, Salesman, and Influencer. And if that’s not enough, his intro includes technology, finance credit behavior analysis, marketing, and more.
Wow! That’s truly an impressive collection of titles and roles. In my experience, entrepreneurs often like challenges and variety.
Conventional wisdom and investors will encourage entrepreneurs to stay focused on one niche in order to succeed, but we often love the thrill of variety and new challenges and may have an innate attention deficit. How else could an entrepreneur have skills across the many disciples necessary to succeed?
Entrepreneurs typically need to understand people, finance, and marketing; and must have the ability to efficiently manage to get things done. So while many of us have this natural desire to try many things, ultimately, I think the investor’s point of view is probable sage advice for most entrepreneurs. Pivot when necessary but stay focused to grow fast.
With all that said, I was interested in learning more about Marcus’ entrepreneurial journey, and hearing what he had learned along the path of his many adventures.
Insights from the Interview with Marcus – I love that Marcus wasn’t satisfied with the status quo and was willing to take steps to change it. It’s obvious he’s willing to work hard, as demonstrated by his working multiple jobs and still finding time to write.
I also understand and can relate to his point that “it’s common for non-entrepreneurs to not understand those of us who are.” We often work tirelessly on projects that may or may not succeed but give them all 100%. And we are happy to do so.
When I hear people say, “Thank God it’s Friday”, I can tell that they don’t have an entrepreneurial mindset. I feel sorry for them – missing out on the fun and adventure of this wonderful challenge: Starting and building a business.
1. What led you to become an entrepreneur?
At my previous job, I started paying attention to operating costs and customer invoices. Then, I began trying to figure out their profit margins. That inspired me to become an entrepreneur. At the time, I knew I was underpaid and saw entrepreneurship as an avenue where I could reclaim some of my value. Working two jobs was not working. Pay increases were not happening. Interviews at other companies were only resulting in opportunities to work the third shift – which I was not willing to do.
So, I spent two months writing a book. After it was done, I walked into work one morning and got fired. A few months after that I got a new job and launched an IT business. My first client was willing to pay me 5x what I was getting paid at my last job – for basically the same work! I have sold over one thousand copies of the book to readers on a few continents and have formatted it myself for Kindle and Audible.
I had caught the entrepreneurship bug.
2. Give us a brief description of your business, and what your aspirations are for it.
In 2016, I decided, with my wife’s encouragement, that I would open an urban winery. I studied chemical engineering in school, so I felt confident that I could handle the process design. I worked for several years as a bartender — which provided me with instant customer feedback within the adult beverage industry. In addition, my grandmother used to make wine for family and friends. I saw winemaking as an opportunity to pull all of these aspects of my life together into one venture.
I’ve spent the past two and half years making wine, connecting with wine and spirit makers in the Midwest and West coast, getting great advice, and appearing at the Chicago Wine Fest and Junior League’s Perfect Pairings event. More recently, I have been collaborating with chefs from the Caribbean and chocolatiers from around the world. I want to generate enough interest so that when our doors open people will be primed and ready.
3. What have you done with the business that you are proud of, or that has worked really well?
My goal for the winery is to make a positive impact on my community, support local farmers in the region, collaborate with really interesting people from around the world, be better enabled to support myself and my family, and deliver a valuable experience to as many people as I can.
4. What were some of your biggest challenges along the way?
I am still in the startup phase, so I am currently facing several challenges. However, I spoke with my friend, famous winemaker Andre Hueston Mack early on about what I have been attempting. He pretty much laid out what I needed to do: find a place to make wine and figure out a way to get through the bureaucratic red tape.
Armed with that framework, I set forth to talk to wine compliance experts, winery consultants, and marketing experts. I’ve shared my vision with local government officials, reps at major distributors, small logistics companies, buyers at regional grocery chains, chefs in Haiti, and chocolate makers in Ghana – in an effort to pull together all of the vital resources needed to bring this idea to fruition. There are plenty of other resources I still need. However, I feel confident that I have learned quite a few things from this experience.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. My neighbor, who is successfully self-employed as an exterminator after two decades of working for someone else, said to me the other day that people who work 9-5 jobs just won’t get you. He said that friends and family will more than likely not support you. The lack of support stems partly from wanting to protect you and them from your failure, and simply not understanding your journey.
5. What have you learned and what would you like to share with other entrepreneurs?
I have become acutely aware of the customer experience I want to provide and the type of experience I expect as a customer. Whenever I have a bad experience with a customer-facing employee, I am more likely now to communicate with management what went wrong and how it could have been better, instead of just complaining about what happened with people I know.
I have discovered that being a value creator is deeply rewarding. I completely embrace the feedback I receive from people about my wines. I love it when people love them – like when someone told me that the wine was so good, they drank the whole bottle. However, there are times when people don’t…and that’s ok. I learned to be truly interested in negative feedback without feeling pressured into changing my product.
Most of all, I have learned how important it is to remind myself of why I am doing what I am doing in order to get through the ups and downs. You see, my parents were both college educated – my father even has two law degrees. However, neither owns a company. Growing up, I knew people that had the option to work at the family business – either something as small as a convenience store or as large as a law firm. I want my kids to have that option. I can’t will my children a job, but maybe I can will them a corporation.