…putting the phone down and getting outside are always good places to start. Being deliberate about time for your kids is always a good idea. I try to get up early to make breakfast and be with my little guys. They are like clockwork in terms of the time they wake up which changes how you think about sleep overall.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Burrell, co-founder and CEO of Weldon, which provides personalized and evidence-backed parenting advice, from real child development experts, on demand. Prior to co-founding Weldon with his sister Lynn, Mark co-founded Tongal, a platform connecting the world’s largest community of filmmakers with brands, studios and businesses in need of ideas and content. At Tongal, Mark shaped the community, strategy, marketing, operations and led business development. Mark also spent 8 years in Hollywood, doing everything from answering phones and getting coffee to running a production company as a partner. Mark currently lives in NYC, is married to his hometown sweetheart, Ellen, and is raising two wildlings, Grady and Finn.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
Outside of the supernatural and Winona Ryder, my childhood environment was a lot like Stranger Things. Adventures with my dog Sparky and all the kids in the neighborhood, getting lost in the woods, making movies, playing sports, and being outside all year round.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
I was pretty burnt out after 10 years running my last company and to be honest, I hadn’t allowed myself to think seriously about all the ideas I’d had or the other things that I’d wanted to do. There were a few signals while wondering the wilderness, aka New York City, with my wife and kids where we — my wife, sister, and I — started to think more seriously about what a business like this could look like. During that period, a mentor of mine impressed upon me the importance of being able to tell your kids what it is that “Daddy/Mommy” does alongside what he/she stands for. It was clear to me then that I needed to pursue the idea. In serendipitous fashion, this was right around the time when I met the team at Human Ventures, an amazing start-up studio. I called my sister after and said to her that I think something really good had just happened and we needed to take the leap.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
Having started a company before, I’ve tried to learn from that experience and what to do and not to do. And also remind myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But when you’re excited about an idea, it’s difficult to turn your brain off. I work inside of Human Ventures where I can collaborate and share ideas with their team alongside the other founders here. Outside of spending time with family, my days are spent trying to move the ball forward towards our goals, building the team, managing the process, learning, listening, and teaching. I try to simplify as much as possible but there are undoubtedly going to be fires and complexity at every point. As we are early days, the two most important things we can do is to tap into our users, both providers and parents, and build a “wow” experience for both sets of stakeholders.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
I’m not an expert but of all the things, this seems pretty basic. Kids are sponges and learn from their environment. Parents, especially in early days of parenthood, are the center of that universe so if you want to raise a curious, empathetic, kind, smart, funny person, you need to show them what that means. There are no shortcuts for that IMHO, and it requires time. Let’s be honest, what a treasure it is to be able to do that. It’s as rewarding as you can get.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
Someone once told me that having children was forced mindfulness; I didn’t appreciate that until now. You can learn as much from your kids as they can from you. Their innocence, creativity and curiosity is fuel to want to be a better person.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
Having been in NYC for the last 5 years, my favorite days are the weekends. As a family, we love exploring all parts of the city and uncovering what it has to offer. I’ve often found that the supposed boring places and things tend to be the most fun.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
Again, I’m not the expert, but putting the phone down and getting outside are always good places to start. Being deliberate about time for your kids is always a good idea. I try to get up early to make breakfast and be with my little guys. They are like clockwork in terms of the time they wake up which changes how you think about sleep overall.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
I’m not in the business of casting judgement on others and their style, but for me, showing up, being present, providing a moral compass, and a loving and giving environment is the foundation. Then, of course, not taking yourself or the everyday challenges too seriously, and encouraging curiosity, problem solving and perseverance are also very important. I think self-awareness is where it starts. While we all want to believe our kids are perfect, acknowledging when they are behaving badly and addressing it are key.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Encouragement. There is that great Harry Chapin song, “Flowers are Red”, that is such a great inspiration; while many areas of life are black and white, when it comes to what’s possible and the imagination, supporting and empowering those tendencies.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
That’s a deep one. I suppose if you can find meaning and purpose in what you do, and that thing happens to be in service to others. That would be good for me.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Essential reading is The Happy Kid Handbook and How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World both by Katie Hurley, who is a classmate, friend and advisor; For TV, call me old school, “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood”, and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”. I love that Sir Ken Robinson TED talk on imagination. Also, I’m inspired by David Sedaris, Just Kids by Patti Smith, my sister, and all the providers in our network.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite, which I always thought it was Muhammad Ali, is “It’s never wrong to do the right thing” but I later found out it’s actually Mark Twain. My favorite Ali one is: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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’m working on it…it’s called Weldon. If we’re all out there complaining about the way people treat one another and behave, I think starting with parents and kids can make an impact on civility. And even when the robots take over, raising your children will still be a priority. 🙂
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!