What is your “backstory?
I graduated high school six months early and had sometime before shipping off to college. My mother being ever so watchful, and not wanting me to be an idle teenager in New York City, said, “Well if you’re not in school then you will have to get a job.” I figured, because I was valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA that getting a job would be a breeze. Boy was I in for a rude awakening. Turns out that I interviewed very well but because I was in school for three and a half years that I didn’t have any work experience. Therefore could not get a job. I was so frustrated. I mean, I typed 85 words per minute, had a couple dozen awards, was well travelled and was top of my class. Yet, the people that dropped out of high school years before were the ones getting the jobs I interviewed for because they had work experience. It turned the notion of having a great education upside down for me. What was I going to do?
Someone suggested that I go to a career training institute. They’d test my aptitude and other skills then provide job placement. I thought, ok why not. Nothing else is working. So after an hour or so of questions and quizzes I was told I tested through the roof. Quote “You’re such an impressive and well-spoken young man.” Outcome from all of that from the institute, “We can get you a job at McDonalds.” What! I said. The institute’s response, “The problem is that you just don’t have work experience.” I was floored. Something needed to change.
An awesome lesson I learned from my mother was to focus on what you have and not on what you don’t have. I realized that what I had was three and a half years of volunteering at my high school, assistant coaching, and great relationships with my teachers, many of whom had PHD’s and their own businesses. So I got creative went to each of my teachers and asked them to write me letters of recommendation as if I was an employee. They agreed. Then, I rewrote my resume to reflect the actual experience I gained while in high school, packaged it with my 20 letters of recommendation and found another job opening. I managed to land a job as a personal trainer for an exclusive health club for celebrities. At 17 years old, I was training the likes of Ellen Barkin, Mia Sara, Isabella Rossellini, Jennifer Gray, Jennifer Beals and many others.
That story is something I always fall back on whenever I’m down or frustrated. The phrase anything is possible is true, and I proved it very early in my adulthood.
I have worked as a personal trainer, strength coach, squash professional, marketing and branding consultant and founded the marketing firm called Debut Media. Over the years my team and I have worked on deals for Mike Korwin Knitwear, NBA, Burberry, Tennis.com, E TV, HBO, , Saks Fifth Avenue, Nike Basketball, Shape Magazine and a half-dozen fashion designers. During that time I have had the pleasure of assisting in the production of fashion shows, consulted models, fashion photographers and other fashion influencers.
In 2005, friends of mine who were fashion models asked me to help them negotiate contracts, assist them in getting their images from photographers and to provide an overall picture for how they might advance their careers more dynamically.
I quickly realized that I enjoyed helping and guiding these young wide-eyed models. I got them to stop needlessly doing tons of free work for photographers and designers who would say, “It will be great for your portfolio and will give you exposure.” They became self-assured, knowledgeable experts in the fashion industry, able to carry themselves with dignity and with the understanding that they are running a business. Further, I was able to provide some level of support and safety. I mean, think of it this way, most of the models were not from New York City, didn’t have any family or other true support nearby and because they were so excited to be high fashion models in NYC that they may be more susceptible to fraud and abuse.
Because of the experience gained from guiding emerging fashion models and the fact that many of them went on to become successful, I was inspired to launch our wonderful model management firm, Debut Model Agency (DMA).
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most interesting and eye opening experiences I’ve had since launching Debut Models was during a photo shoot. I wanted to help a young photographer advance his career and agreed to let him shoot some of our models with the expressed understanding that my team and I would have to approve of the images and that they’d only be used for his portfolio. Oh boy, so he agreed brought a make-up artist, and a team of other assistants. I stepped away from the shoot as I often do to pick up snacks for the models and crew. When I got back the photographer is shooting, his assistants are shooting, his assistant’s friends are taking pictures and I don’t know any of these people. I couldn’t be angrier. The standard practice is for the photographer to sign a release of the images for the company or agency. Yet he had people who I had never met or spoken with taking pictures of our models. Of course, I halted activities and tore the photographer a new one and made everyone else taking picture send them to me and delete from their files. All I wanted to do is help someone and they didn’t hesitate to attempt to take advantage. Well, never again, ever! As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.
So what exactly does your company do?
DMA represents fashion models, to work for the fashion industry. We earn our income through commission. We invest our time, money and marketing acumen into developing our models’ talents so we can increase their status and marketability. We do that by first meeting with the models individually in order to develop a strategy for providing them with a steady, sustainable career. Further, we also train our models, (even the more experienced ones) do test shoots, layout portfolios, and put together comp cards (composition photo cards) and other promotional materials. Once we’ve done the latter, we find work for them by presenting the models to designers, photographers, publications, casting directors, producers, ad agencies and other outlets in the entertainment industry.
We are also responsible for booking jobs, billing, and paying our models. By handling the details, we allow them to focus on modeling and not on having to find work and negotiate their deals.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Since launching DMA we’ve accomplished some very cool things, casting some of the top new faces representing multiple cultures including models ranging from Asia to the American girl next door. We represent new faces and professionals of all shapes and sizes focusing on their energy, attitude, passion and purpose.
I have hired and united a dedicated team of fashion industry experts that represent different mediums to help guide model development, taking an approach to educate, inspire, and nurture the models as their career grows. It is important to me that our models feel supported and have access to fashion and business education. So we established the DMA model academy, where once a month we sponsor workshops showcasing world-class fashion photographers, designers, make-up artists, hair stylists, and business/finance education experts to train the models on all they need to know for managing a successful career. Additionally, once per week we provide a runway training class for honing their fashion runway skills.
Another unique aspect of DMA would be the closeness of the team and models. There’s no reason to compete with each other as the agency provides the work. A great example of their closeness is how at the drop of a hat and provided they can make the time. They, like the rest of the team, care about the development and growth of the agency.
Furthermore, we focus on developing actionable relationships like with the Upper East Side wine bar, Pierre Loti Kazim. He gladly allowed us unfettered access to his establishment. Asking nothing in return other than our continued friendship and collaborative spirit.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
The person that mentored me, helped me and inspired me the most over the years would have to be my mother. We’ve all heard parents say to their children, “you can do anything or be anything you want if you put your mind to it.” Well, that was almost a religion to my mom. I wouldn’t dare tell my mom that I couldn’t do something, or that I was afraid of failing. In her mind nothing, was too big to conquer. She used to say to me, “Has someone in history ever done what you want to do?” “Are they human?” Of course my answer to her was yes to both questions. Then her reply would be, “Then show me how they deserved it more than you!”
My mother would always recount my success to date and remind me that I’ve succeeded much more than failing. She’s point to the fact that I traveled the world as a breakdancer, am a 10th degree black belt, met with CEO of some of the largest companies in the world, was a squash pro and did all these things before I was 40 years old. And then say to me, “Mark, you’ve accomplished all of these things, and tell me, who else do you know that is a 10th degree black belt?” She’d say, “take a deep breath, go for a walk, take a day off, and then come back swinging.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am by nature a teacher and nurturer. As several of the models say, I’m a papa bear. I’ve been so fortunate to teach rape-prevention for Saint Lukes Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital, volunteered to teach workshops on fitness and wellness for the American Heart Association and helped countless entrepreneurs, models and entertainers develop the acumen needed to succeed. My overall hope is to develop well rounded models who will go on to outstanding success as a person first and model second. I try to convey that there is a huge difference between perfection and mastery. Perfection implies that we are perfect and therefore can do something perfectly. I’d like the models to strive for mastery, meaning that practice make better taking the pressure away from having to be perfect. There is no such thing.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
. Start your business now, not tomorrow or next week. One week turns to two weeks which turns to a month and before you know a year has gone by with you making to same promises to yourself that you did last year.
II. It’s your business — not your friends’ or family’s. Your friends and family mean well and would never knowingly steer you wrong. But, their focus is on you and not your vision. They can’t have your vision, it’s yours. All they can do is give you advice based on worry. So do yourself a favor and don’t tell them what you are doing. As Nike says, “Just Do It!” The best way for your friends and family to get what you’re doing is to succeed.
III. Don’t worry about how. Most people never get started because they spend so much time either thinking about how they need more money or an office or pay their rent or this or that before they can begin. This is a red-herring, and illusion. It will only foster a cycle like a dog chasing his tale. Ask yourself, what can you do, right now?! — — Then do it. Maybe research, possibly write a description of your business. Remember, investors, customers and clients respond to vision, passion and purpose. Everything else (office, money, website, business cards) are only supportive tools for those three words.
Also, make it real. Write it down, write it down, write it down.. Oh, and if I didn’t mention it… WRITE-IT-DOWN!!!! As long as it stays only in your thoughts as an idea, the longer it will stay in your mind as an idea — ONLY! Writing it down makes it real because you are taking a physical action towards making the idea a reality in your life.
IV. Don’t sell anything, Close. Sales is all but presentation, showing off your company or product to a perspective buyer or investor. The fact that they are there listening to you means at the very least curiosity / interest on some level. But what convinces them to write a check? Benefit to them, the buyer or investor. Closing conveys benefit to your client. You’re expressing to them ROI. (Return On Investment) They want to know that if they trust you with their money or time that there is a direct benefit to them. Presentation only conveys the polish of your company or product. Closing conveys sustainable, material success.
V. Follow up, Follow Up, Follow Up. Return messages in a timely fashion. Really and truly, please, focus on relationship building. If you were interested and excited about the start of a new romantic relationship with someone, would you return the call, email or text message? If the answer is yes, then do the same thing with your business ventures, clients, etc. Don’t destroy your potential success with a client, investor or other because you were too lazy or apathetic to follow-up. Take the time to craft a letter and or email. Grammar is also important even in a text message. Follow up with thank you notes and emails, and periodically send messages even to former clients or customers. These things will help you stay on the minds of those you’ve worked with and those for whom you wish to work. Further, be prepared. “Chance favors the prepared mind.” If the decision-maker you need were to call you right now, would you be prepared? Or, would you blow the opportunity of a lifetime because you were not ready? They say that the devil is in the details. It’s the little things that make the big things possible. Be prepared, have all of your documentation ready (business plan, cover letter, brochure, business card, website, corporate structure set-up) Be ready because the call or meeting comes when you least expect it. So Be Ready!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
One person I’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with would be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. Schwarzenegger came to this country decades ago and as far a business and goal setting has been nothing but net. He won the Mr. Olympia contest seven times, and then despite naysayers and the obvious language barrier embarked on a successful movie career and then shocked everyone by becoming Governor of California.
Picture going to a country where you don’t speak the language very well, win a prestigious competition 7 times, rise to the height of public celebrity status and then be chief executive of one of the largest economies in the world (California). Very impressive! Certainly someone who could say a lot about creating your own reality and succeeding.