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Brian K. Marks: “Why you should make it your mission to know what you don’t know”

Make it your mission to know what you don’t know. I wish someone had pointed this out to me when I started. A lot of entrepreneurs try to be everything, from experts in payroll and income tax to intellectual property and the law. Rather, start to isolate what you don’t know and seek out experts in those areas who can help you.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian K. Marks.

Brian K. Marks has spent his 30+ year career dedicated to the entrepreneurial spirit, bringing excellence to women’s hair care products and helping the human condition through philanthropic work. His innovative approach to creating, developing and marketing healthy, personal care and beauty retail brands and tapping niche consumer audiences in today’s culturally diverse society is a singular success story.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The first company and brand that I started was a hair care line called All-ways Natural in 1981, and it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product. This was a very different concept for the industry at that time. So, introducing the concept of natural ingredients to buyers and consumers was quite challenging. However, I never gave up. I put in the work and remained persistent. After nine years with All-ways Natural, one of my trusted advisors, my accountant Phil, asked me, “What do you think about coming up with a new brand?” That is when I developed African Pride, a line of hair care products targeted specifically for African American women. African Pride took off and became an iconic product that is still selling today. The momentum continued when I launched the Dr. Miracles hair care collection, another renowned product line available to consumers still today. After the sale of Dr. Miracles, I again was motivated with the help of Marissa Schwartz to develop my latest brand, My Israel’s Miracle hair care line. While traveling through Israel, I became inspired to learn more about the health and beauty elements known to be essential in the region. It was then that I discovered the benefits of these powerful ingredients and wanted to share them with customers around the world and My Israel’s Miracle was born. We are currently on Amazon and there is nothing like it on the market. Interestingly, we are the first company using the word Israel in the brand name.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

At the time of the launch of my first brand, All-ways Natural, buyers and consumers had not grasped the concept of natural products. Since it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product, it required a lot of convincing for distributors to buy into the brand. The first nine years were filled with rejection and buyers discontinuing our product. However, giving up was not an option, it’s just not in my blood. I woke up every morning and got back to it. This was certainly a hard time. However, with a focus on sales, we pushed through those first nine years and we were able to reap the benefits of success during those following years.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I often say fear can be a great motivator and can drive you forward. I had bills to pay and a family to support. I didn’t have any other choice than to power through. I had put years into the brand and was committed and determined to make it a success.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Getting through those early years was a very long process. I had bought out my partner and was pounding the pavement on my own. During this time my grit and resistance really grew. A big part of grit leading to success had to do with being surrounded by good motivators. After nine years was when my trusted advisor put the thought of starting a new brand in my head, and African Pride was born. The launch of African Pride was a totally different experience. The first few months were tough, but I expected that to be the case. I had gone through the storm with my first brand and I came out with experience, tougher skin, and the grit I knew would help me drive my business. African Pride was quite successful as was Dr. Miracles, both brands are still selling today. Now we are looking to continue that success with My Israel’s Miracle. With this new launch comes new challenges. I came from a world of pounding on the actual physical doors of Walmart and Walgreens to navigating the digital consultants at Amazon. To say times have changed is an understatement. However, this doesn’t discourage me. Instead, I am learning to evolve with new marketing and sales models. I feel confident that My Israel’s Miracle will follow in my other brand’s footsteps and achieve great success.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started, I quickly learned how impossible it was to guess the consumer’s perception. In one of my early brands, we used an ingredient called Indian hemp, which people often confused with marijuana. We were constantly getting calls and allegations that the product had marijuana in it, when in fact it didn’t. As a marketer, I learned it’s impossible to anticipate perception, so it’s important to take a few steps back and try and put yourself in the shoes of the consumer — long before launching anything new.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My new brand, Israel’s Miracle, stands out because of the Israeli ingredients in the products and the process by which I discovered them. I was traveling through Israel while in my mid-40s, and I felt strong energy, as Israel is well regarded as an energy center of the world. I truly felt there was something special about it. When you ask anyone who has ever traveled to Israel, and you see their reaction, it’s really remarkable. The reaction is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The long and the short of it — we wanted to bring a little bit of that special part of Israel to people here in the U.S.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The pressures and challenges of being an entrepreneur today are much tougher, as there are more choices and more pitfalls. Concentration is a big issue when you think about the sheer amount of messages and even propaganda that are being directed at consumers. The biggest challenge is how to break through that noise. I also think it’s very important for entrepreneurs to have interests and hobbies outside of their business, and to devote their time wisely to their priorities. As a 64-year-old entrepreneur, I spend time with both my family and on my boat in order to stay balanced and to avoid burnout.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My CPA, a man named Phil Garfield, was referred to me by my bank manager. Phil was a tax attorney and CPA and had a blessed gift where he could look at a financial statement and see things no one else could see. He had the ability to understand any business and advise. I always sought out people who I thought could teach me things. Phil became my mentor and was able to guide me in so many ways. The greatest thing he would do was to snap us out of it when things were down and motivate us to keep moving forward. I am a huge proponent of people seeking mentors and/or becoming one.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have six kids who all bring greatness to the world. Also, I am a big supporter of the Birthing Project, which supports pregnant women who are in need. We have supported them for the past 15 years, not only monetarily but also working with their founder to assist in larger strategic projects. We are currently sponsoring a project in Africa, which has saved the lives of many women and babies.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) Make it your mission to know what you don’t know. I wish someone had pointed this out to me when I started. A lot of entrepreneurs try to be everything, from experts in payroll and income tax to intellectual property and the law. Rather, start to isolate what you don’t know and seek out experts in those areas who can help you.

2) Amazon is a difficult marketplace: I wish someone would’ve told me how difficult it is to sell products on Amazon. There are challenging elements involved, such as how to track sales and proper invoicing. Had I known some of this, I would’ve managed my expectations a bit better as a seller on the platform.

3) Amazon requires patience: Amazon does have sellers, which aren’t doing well. This is much different than the widely held perception that Amazon is an instant marketplace for sellers. I am learning patience through the process, but I do wish I could’ve been made aware of the challenges of selling on Amazon before we launched our products there.

4) E-commerce consultants are often filled with perspiration and lacking inspiration.

As I hire different e-commerce agencies to both develop and run ad campaigns, I am constantly reminded that the inspiration for ideas needs to come from me and my team, as many consultants are more process-oriented, and less versed in the DNA of my brand.

5) I wish I knew more about the gap between traditional print ads and e-commerce ads.

In my long experience, I’ve created and spent millions in TV and print advertising. But I found a real frustration in the lack of creativity and a way to stand out when it comes to Amazon ads. It’s very difficult to set your brand apart from the crowd and get your unique selling proposition in front of the consumer on the platform. I’ve since learned how to do it better online, but I wish I knew more when I started in the category.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would create a system where young people can work legally and are rewarded for working. This is something we’re so far away from. Most minimum-wage jobs are held by adults. We are seeing more and more students graduate from college, who haven’t worked. Experience is so important, and I know it would help students if they began to develop hands-on skills while they’re still in school. I would love to change this.

Another movement I am passionate about is encouraging people to become mentors or to find mentors. The concept of mentors is seen today as something old, but when you read about the really smart people — all of them talk about their mentors. So, I think accessibility to becoming a mentor or to find one, is still important.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook @My Israel’s Miracle

Instagram @myisraelsmiracle

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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