The Power of the Pen — Mark Ford
The Power of the Pen — Mark Ford
There’s no single formula for business and personal success, but Mark Ford has one worth hearing…. Ford has written 24 books and hundreds of essays on entrepreneurship and wealth-building. And he joins host Charles Mizrahi to share what he’s learned from his experiences as the chief growth strategist at The Agora, a financial publishing powerhouse.
- An Introduction to Mark Ford (00:00:00)
- Brooklyn Beginnings (00:02:28)
- A Single Goal (00:6:25)
- The Power of the Pen (00:11:32)
- New Business Boom (00:21:40)
- Secrets to Success (00:29:18)
- Start from the Bottom (00:38:20)
Mark Ford is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and philanthropist. He’s also the chief growth strategist for The Agora, an international publishing group. Ford writes books on business, entrepreneurship, and wealth-building. Several of these works are New York Times and The Wall Street Journal bestsellers.
Ford is also involved with Ford Fine Art, American Writers and Artists Institute, Lion’s Kill, and Palimi. And he’s the founder of FunLimón, a nonprofit organization for social and economic development in
Before You Leave:
MARK FORD: Spend a year or two working — for free if you have to — for a business that’s growing in the industry you want to be in. And that will be like going to four graduate schools. If you are a superstar person — which is needed to be successful in anything — you’re going to be noticed right away. Even if you’re an intern, within three months, they’re going to be offering you a position in the business, and you’re going to rise up very quickly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is Mark Ford. Mark is the author of more than 24 books and hundreds of essays on entrepreneurship, wealth building, economics and copywriting. He’s also written four books of poetry and a collection of short stories.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And since 1993, he has been the chief growth strategist for Agora, a $500 million publisher of newsletters and books. I recently sat down with Mark, and we talked about what holds most people back from being successful and what they can do to overcome those obstacles.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Mark, thanks so much for being on the show. I greatly appreciate it. I’ve been looking forward to this ever since we first met face-to-face about a couple of months ago in your office. So, thank you so much.
MARK FORD: It’s a pleasure, Charles.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: When I walked into your office, I thought I’d made a mistake. I didn’t know if it was an art gallery, a newsstand or a library. I didn’t know if you had a barista there with all sorts of coffees and cigars. How did you set all that up? It’s like a man cave squared.
MARK FORD: Well, it’s a bit of all those things. I’ve always had a fantasy ever since I was a kid and watching cartoons. There was a cartoon where a mouse went into a little tent, but inside the tent, it was a big palace with all these crazy things. For 30 years now, I’ve been in offices that are in warehouses. But inside, they are all filled with the things that I enjoy.
MARK FORD: I’m going to show you right now. Just in this office, there’s an old grandfather clock, a friend of mine. There’s a movie poster from a movie I made with Hershel Gordon Lewis. There’s a drawing of a mosque plan, and so on and so forth. So yeah, it’s just about making your environment fun.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Well, your environment is truly fun. But it didn’t start out fun, right? You were a kid growing up in Brooklyn. I think you were born in Brooklyn, right? Right up in Park Slope? [You were born] to parents who were not entrepreneurs or builders of empires but — probably more importantly — professors.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And what was the arc of your life? You started out with parents who were academics. You then joined the Peace Corps. And you ended up the chief growth consultant for Agora, doing $500 million, living the life, [having] zillions of philanthropic endeavors and enjoying everything that you did. How did that start? How did that idea get moving?
MARK FORD: Well, I spent the first six years in Brooklyn. And that was a very working-class, Angela’s Ashes type of environment. It was a very mixed neighborhood. All the kids were regularly tying us to fence posts and beating us. [Those are] all the typical things you’d expect from the urban neighborhood.
MARK FORD: Then, we went out to Long Island. We moved to the island when I was six and lived in a small house across the street from the municipal storage yard. And it was literally on the other side of the tracks. In those early years, I was very embarrassed by our lack of wealth.
MARK FORD: Flash forward: My parents were academics. And it was a privileged background in that sense. And [there were] high expectations. I had seven brothers and sisters. We were the typical Irish Catholic family growing up in a working-class neighborhood. And we had, as our parents, models to be teachers. My parents were also dramatists, and that ran through our family. A number of my siblings went on to careers in the theater and movies.
MARK FORD: Anyway, I was always embarrassed in high school, and I was kind of a troublemaker. I like to think of myself as a contrarian now, but back then, they called it a troublemaker.
MARK FORD: And I barely got through high school. When I went into college, I decided I was going to be a good student. Then, I was a good student and had straight A’s through college and graduate school. I went into the Peace Corps and taught English literature at the University of Chad in Africa for two years. Then, I came back and got a job working for a small publishing company, on a newsletter on African business and trade.
MARK FORD: I took a trip to Florida to visit my brother-in-law with my wife. And while I was there, I took three job interviews — two with newspapers and one with a publisher of newsletter in Boca Raton. And I surprised myself by having three job offers. I was in Key Largo, sitting on the shore, talking to a kid who reminded me of Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Since I had three opportunities, I asked him what I should do. And he looked up, rolled his eyes and said: “Boca, go Boca.”
MARK FORD: So, I went Boca. I chose that job, and it has kind of changed my life because I was working for a commercial publishing company. And six months later, I was the head of their editorial department. I took a Dale Carnegie course, and it was all about setting goals. I remember one chapter said that most people don’t set goals. They’re aimless — and that’s the problem for most people.
MARK FORD: But some people have too many goals. And the problem is that they can’t choose and focus on one. If you had this problem, it was going to be a tough test for you. And the test was to narrow your goals to 10, three and then one.
MARK FORD: And then, for the next 14 weeks — this was a 14-week program and we met once a week — you could only think about that one goal. It was very dramatic to narrow it down to three goals. I finally got it down to teaching, writing and getting rich. And as I was walking up to the podium to announce my one goal, I was still torn. But then, at the last moment, I had this thought: “Well, just make the money. If you make a lot of money, you can always do those other things later on.” And that turned out to be exactly what happened to my career.
MARK FORD: That decision to focus on the one goal of becoming rich changed me entirely. The next day, I did almost everything differently than before. I was no longer so concerned about colons, semicolons and making sure my young readers read Elements of Style. I was much more concerned with the success of our publications in terms of sales. So, that rapidly changed. At that time, the business was just beginning. And my partner and I grew it to about $135 million dollars in seven or eight years.
MARK FORD: And then, I was involved in all kinds of other businesses. Bill Bonner and I got together when his business was about $8 million. The next year, we grew it to $25 million. Then, over the next six or seven years, it grew to $100 million. And then, it stalled. So, we diversified the business and reinvigorated it. And we went well over $1 billion. One of our largest groups just went public. So, that’s where we are now. It all started with [my] decision to focus on the one goal of developing wealth.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: What do you think it is? You’ve had a rich life in terms of your experiences, making money, building your knowledge base, wisdom and writing. [You’ve written] close to 25 books or something like that, right?
MARK FORD: Yeah.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: What do you think the biggest barrier to entry is for most people when achieving their goals? Let’s say it’s their definition of success. What holds them back?
MARK FORD: Well, I can only project my own experience onto the experience of other people. But certainly, for me, it was this idea of wanting so many things, but not wanting to work very hard for any of them. Wanting things is pretty easy. We’re programmed to want all kinds of things. And I was willing to work hard, generally. But working hard without a focus isn’t going to move the needle.
MARK FORD: So, I think that’s probably true for people in general. We want our wealth to increase, certainly. But we want all kinds of other things that are [equally] or more important: good family relations, safety in our lives, friends, not to get drunk and embarrass ourselves at parties — all kinds of things that occupy our daily lives. So, I think it’s that lack of clarity. That’s the first thing.
MARK FORD: Or, to put it differently, there are so many things we can do every day — so many little wishes and dreams that we might have. There are so many possibilities, and they’re all valid in their own way. So, to me, the question is: How can anybody ever focus on one [goal] with all those [possibilities]? And that’s what changed me. I actually did that twice in my career — a refocus. And that made a huge difference both times.
MARK FORD: So, I would say that’s the No. 1 thing. If you want to get wealthy on a part-time basis, there are things you can do to be a better passive investor or half-assed business person. But you’re not going to get big results without making a real commitment and doing things differently.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you’ve seen building businesses — as you’ve built — through the power of the pen. You’ve seen it through marketing and creativity in coming up with different ways of saying something that people were saying for so long. You came up with a different angle. I look at some of your writings…
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And I don’t think it’s only your writings, it’s all the creativity and thought that goes into them. Do you find that many people sit, think and then write? Or is it the opposite — they write without any thinking? It’s like turning on the bathtub and letting it flow out.
MARK FORD: Well, it’s a good question. I would say that as a coach of writers — and we’re not talking about fiction here. We’re talking about essays and letters. That’s what we do in our industry. And even in video content, they’re more or less the same thing. So, it’s nonfiction, and you’re trying to create an audience of however many. You have an idea of who you’re talking to. And you want to get this person to value what you have to say, and if not follow your suggestions, at least be happy to receive them.
MARK FORD: In that world, good writing is just good thinking. That’s what it boils down to. The thought is what matters. Young writers often think that good writing is a lot of adjectives and adverbs. And that’s almost the opposite of good nonfiction writing. Because if the thought itself is beautiful, you don’t want to put a lot of clothes on top of it — which is what all these adjectives and adverbs do.
MARK FORD: So, generally, good thinking is when we want to listen to somebody who’s up-to-date on any given topic and looking at it from a slightly different perspective. For example, I remember when I first started studying Libertarianism as a discipline — or Austrian economics.
MARK FORD: But I remember one Libertarian in particular. There was one publication that reviewed the daily news — but from the Libertarian point of view. And I used to look at that every day because it was so helpful to me to learn: How does a Libertarian feel about this? What are his ideas?
MARK FORD: The world is quickly moving into all these communities with thought leaders who, in order to be good, need to know their subjects but have a slightly different point of view — one that’s not represented by the mainstream. And to do that, you naturally have to be a bit contrarian.
MARK FORD: I have a good friend who I put into this business. He’s a good writer, in the sense that he knows how to put together good sentences. But his whole thing is that he likes to have the most conventional thought possible. I loved him because we would go out together, and since I was never conventional, we would have great arguments. And I never noticed how conventional he was until I saw him talking to an audience that wasn’t talking back. And you can imagine it was fun for me because he kept saying conventional things and getting me all riled up. Then, we’d have some fun.
MARK FORD: So, I do think that’s the essence: You have to know your subject matter and desire a different perspective. [It’s what] you do in your writing. You understand fundamental investing and macro and have your own particular take on it. You’re not going to be satisfied saying what everybody else is saying — or even what most of the other gurus are saying. And that’s where the value comes in for the reader.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: One of the most important things that I’ve learned from watching and reading you and Bill Bonner — one of the great essayists — is that when you’re writing, you have to have to focus on who you’re writing to. I find that so many authors and people who write essays and newsletters…
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It’s a business of taking complex information and making it simple for my readers and subscribers to understand. [It’s] in very plain talk or what I call “real talk” — what’s going on in the world. If they want to find out anything else, they can go to The Wall Street Journal or Yahoo Finance. So, what I see in what so many people write — and I read a lot of stuff — is that they have no idea. You can tell by their writing that they have no idea who their avatar is or who they’re writing to. Do you find that to be a big problem?
MARK FORD: It’s a very important issue for writers — especially for people in the digital publishing world, which is pretty much everybody. You have to know who your avatar is and keep that in mind.
MARK FORD: It’s funny because for most of my career as a writer … [My writing career] started seriously in 2000, when I started to write Early to Rise, a digital publication for entrepreneurs. I was telling them everything that I had learned about growing businesses — from retail to real estate to publishing, you name it. And my avatar, back then, was a young man. I was mostly surrounded by young men and some young women, too. But in my mind, it was a young guy.
MARK FORD: So, the way I wrote was kind of like a coach. It was peppy, but no B.S. Don’t make any excuses. You’ve got to do the right, tough thing. At one time, that blog had over 900,000 readers. And obviously, all of them weren’t of that kind. And when people outside that group — the people who were too old to be coached — read it, they would write in and be upset with what I said. But for that [younger] group, it worked very well.
MARK FORD: Then, when I was writing Creating Wealth, another 10 years had gone by. I kind of had the same avatar, but I was really talking to an audience more like yours — people who were more mature, in the middle of their earning career or towards the end of it and thinking about retirement. And so, I started to change. I started to recognize that I had to give up that coaching thing — which I kind of enjoyed. Eventually, I realized that I was talking to people my own age. And my friends are not going to listen to me coaching and yelling: “That’s ridiculous!” Although, some of them have to put up with it.
MARK FORD: So, I’ve changed. And it makes you a better writer, for sure. It’s very challenging to write to the person who is actually your audience and to imagine who he is. I think that’s important, not only on the editorial side, but on the marketing side as well. So much copy that’s out there is like carnival barking, and it’s insulting to many people.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I call them “carnies.” They sound like carnies.
MARK FORD: Yeah, exactly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I learned this 15 or 20 years ago. With anything that I wrote, I would always write on top “Dear Mom.” And I used to write to my mother. Someone might say: “Your mother must be an MIT graduate.” No, she wasn’t. She was a housewife who had a high school education and never went to college.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And I said: “If I write anything that she can’t understand, I need to explain it [better].” I got the idea from Warren Buffett. Every shareholder letter that he writes, he starts off with his own scratch on his own legal pad: “Dear Doris and Birdie,” his two sisters who are passive investors in his business. And his annual letter is something that he wants to keep them up to date on — the business and their investments.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And this letter … I don’t know of any other shareholder letter that is so anticipating and weighted by the investing world. I used to sit and keep pressing “refresh” to see when they posted it. And it’s read by young and old alike — experienced and inexperienced. It has life lessons. The man is a genius, but the simplicity of it is as if he’s writing to his sister. So, when I read so much stuff out there, I say: “Who are they writing ‘dear’ to on top?”
MARK FORD: Yeah, very true. And of course, Buffett is the greatest example. And it’s not just that he’s writing with clarity so that his sisters — who are nonprofessional — can understand. He’s also writing with love, and that shows through. Everybody feels like Buffett is their favorite uncle. And that comes from caring about your customer and reader.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I saw something that I want you to speak to. Because I think this is a sea change. I’ve never seen it. Maybe you’ve seen it in your lifetime, but I never saw anything like this.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: In November 2021, we had a 3% quit rate. The U.S. Department of Labor never put in a quit rate — meaning people who left the job force and labor market. They left. They just quit. Now, some of them left for health reasons. They were concerned with COVID-19. Some were caring for family members or children. But a good percentage — I think it was 3 to 4 million out of the 10 to 12 million that disappeared — are going into their own businesses.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Several years ago, I started watching business applications. They chart EINs, employee identification numbers. They’re basically a Social Security number for business. The number of applications went through the roof in 2020 — which was through the pandemic. So, now, you have millions of people starting their own businesses in an entrepreneurial way. They’re leaving the rat race and corporate America. Now, they see that they can do it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Mark, you had such experience. You’re an outstanding communicator. If you had all these people in one room, what would you tell them?
MARK FORD: Well, first of all, [I’d say:] “Congratulations.” In my book, entrepreneurs are the heroes of society — more than any other group. It’s funny, a friend of mine who comes from a different perspective — a more leftist, academic perspective — once sent me a book that explains why entrepreneurs are psychopaths or sociopaths — I forget.
MARK FORD: But for me, all of innovation and wealth comes from people who are willing to step out of the role of an employees [who’s] doing what they’re supposed to be doing — which is perfectly fine — to trying to create something new or a different version of something that already exists.
MARK FORD: So, what would I say to those people? I mean, I’ve written books for those people. But I would say that, first and foremost, you need to understand the industry that you’re going into. If you want to open up a restaurant — or any kind of retail business — you need to know the fundamentals. It’s a ball-and-chain business. You can’t leave, and you’re dependent on your employees — who are very hard to get now. In many ways, it’s the toughest business.
MARK FORD: And stay away from glamor. Anything that sounds like fun — restaurants, travel business, anything related to movies — is terrible. There’s so much competition. It’s so unlikely that you, as a newbie, are going to have [success].
MARK FORD: If you want to get involved in those businesses, here’s a tip: Spend a year or two working — for free if you have to — for a business that’s growing in the industry you want to be in. And that will be like going to four graduate schools. If you are a superstar person — which is needed to be successful in anything — you’re going to be noticed right away. Even if you’re an intern, within three months, they’re going to be offering you a position in the business, and you’re going to rise up very quickly.
MARK FORD: The key to that — if you’re in an apprenticeship to someone else — is that it has to be a fast-growing business. Because that’s where all the opportunities for advancement and knowledge come from.
MARK FORD: Of course, if you do it the conventional way, I would say: Go to an industry where there’s a lot of growth already. And go to a sector where there’s a lot of relatively new growth, and the people that are competing are still learning — like you will be. And find a niche that you can differentiate yourself with. We all need that little … I think Warren Buffett calls it a moat or something. We need this one area that makes our business a little bit different — and that we can improve over the years — so that, eventually, it will be hard for people to compete with us.
MARK FORD: Look, I have so much advice for new entrepreneurs. I’ve got about six books. But if anybody wants to start their own business, I would say the No. 1 thing you have to read is Ready, Fire, Aim. It is the best book ever written on entrepreneurship, and I just happened to write it.
MARK FORD: I can’t tell you how many people who have $10, $15 and $100 million businesses say that they followed the blueprint of Ready, Fire, Aim. So, there you go — an unsolicited promotion for a book that I’m not even sure you can find on Amazon anymore. If you do, it’d probably be $100.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: That book came out around 2006 or 2008?
MARK FORD: Yeah, something like that.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I do remember reading it. I looked at it and thought it was a typo — Ready, Fire, Aim. I said: “Boy, I probably got it for a cheaper price.” But when I read the book, all the advice you gave was really spot-on. I’ve started several businesses, and I was in money management — tough businesses. And the differentiation and all that — I agree with everything, 100%. I wish my first job — and I would have paid for it — was getting coffee for Warren Buffett. In this case, cherry Coke.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Just to be around people smarter than myself and learn. I was too smart for my own good because I didn’t go to an investment banking firm. I was a floor trader, and at 22 years old, I started my own money management firm. I thought I knew everything. I’m just thinking back … if I would have worked for someone just to learn the industry and make contacts … But it all turned out OK.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: But there’s one thing that I want to add to what you were saying. And I’m seeing this in people who come to me for advice and suggestions. The one word I would give them is: perseverance. It looks great. You look at the end of a marathon run and the guy crossing is smiling sometimes. But boy mile No. 7 sucked. Mile No. 10 — there’s no way you’re finishing. It’s that, as you call it, “ball-and-chain.” It’s that blocking and tackling, every day you go in, you don’t eat … And some days, it’s like one step forward and three steps back. Just get out of bed in the morning.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I think that’s one thing that I never lost sight of: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I said: “You know what? I’m in no hurry to get rich. It’s going to come.” That’s why I stayed away from doing stupid things that could have given me a shortcut. But I think perseverance is something that most people don’t have. Because after one smack in the face, they’re down on the floor. They’re done. Do you see that?
MARK FORD: I agree with you, 100%. When you talk to people who have been very successful in business and ask them what their secret is, they always come up with politically-correct answers. “Oh, it’s about finding the right people. It’s just luck.” And you know what? When you look back on your successful career, it often does feel like luck and meeting the right people. But if you could go back in time and look forward, it’s just perseverance. It’s going every time.
MARK FORD: And I always had this in my mind. I’m just like you. I wanted to be a turtle. I knew I wasn’t lucky, smart or fast enough to be a hare. So, every time I came upon an obstacle, I would say to myself — when I felt like stopping: “This is where I’m going to leave three or four people behind.” I imagined myself in a race with 100 people. And at every obstacle, three or four people would give up. It’s like Squid Game. Now, it would only be 96 people. Then, it would be 89 people. That’s how I did it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It thins out. And it’s funny you say that, because we have not spoken about this before, and our career and life paths are totally different. I used to think of it in a similar way: “OK, this obstacle is going to knock out X% of people. Therefore, if I just wake up the next morning and go into the office, I’m going to be out of the game.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And then, when I saw an obstacle — be it some law change or SEC trading thing — I said: “Wait, I’m not the only guy who’s having that problem.” Half of the people are going to walk away and quit. A third of them are going to try to take a shortcut — which is going to end in disaster. So, now, the field thinned down to me and a whole bunch of other people. You know what? As we keep moving along, we will keep thinning out the field.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I love that you said that because I still look at every challenge as a way of thinning out the field. It made me smarter because I was going to figure this out. And that was the challenge to me.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: If that’s going to knock everyone else out … There’s no way. I’m going to figure this out because there are 7 billion people on planet Earth. There’s got to be a solution to this.
MARK FORD: Yes. That’s a very good point — that second point, too. Because I always felt smart. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t feel smart. But I definitely wasn’t the smartest guy. And I went to a high school in Rockville Centre. It was filled with kids with 140 IQs. But I always thought that I was smart. I was slow-smart. I was smart enough that I could figure out the solution later. Nobody could see me, so I would back off. I had that same feeling, like I’ll be able to figure it out. You guys can do what you want. I’m going to figure it out. And three months from now, I’m going to have a solution that’s going to work.
MARK FORD: And that in and of itself is a kind of persistence. It’s a psychological tool that we use. So, if there’s an obstacle, and nobody can figure out what to do, don’t panic. You don’t give up. You say: “I’m going to figure this out. It may take me a while, but I will.” And when you come up to a problem, you say: “I’m not going to quit. I’m going to come back tomorrow.” [Because] 80% of the game is just showing up the next day. What they should have said is “showing up the next day.” It’s the obstacles that make people stay home.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And there were so many days when I did not want to get out of bed. But I said: “Staying in bed is the worst option. So, go up there and face it.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: We had this guy — one of my father’s friends. He passed away about 10 years ago. And he worked in a luncheonette. He was a really nice man. He worked in a luncheonette as a counter man. He woke up at 4:00 a.m., made egg salad and all that. And every time he saw me, his advice — because he knew I loved playing softball — was: “keep swinging.” And I was like: “Why does he keep saying that?”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: As time went on, and I got older, he said to me: “You still swinging?” And I said: “No, I don’t really play that much.” He goes: “I never talked to you about softball. Never stop swinging!” And I said: “Boy, oh boy, that’s so profound.” Because you can’t get out of a batting slump sitting in the dugout. You’ve got to get up there and embarrass yourself. If you don’t swing, you’re out of the game.”
MARK FORD: That’s so true.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Once in a while, I’m going to hit a ball. So, I think about that so often. Just keep swinging.
MARK FORD: Well, we’ve identified a third psychological frame to understand success from. I had that same experience. When I went to work in Boca Raton and decided that I was going to do everything I could to make the business successful, we had a great year or so. And everything that I did worked fantastically. My boss, who later became my partner, gave me this little plaque that said “marketing genius” on it. And I put it on the side of my desk. I felt so proud of that.
MARK FORD: Then, about six months or a year later, everything I did stopped working. And I had no idea why. I used to come in and look at that plaque, and it was so embarrassing to me. I’d think: “You just got lucky. You’re a marketing dummy. You’re a fraud.” And it wasn’t paranoia — I was proving it. I was putting together editorial promotional marketing packages that were failing.
MARK FORD: I talked to my then-partner — I was his junior partner. All the stuff was going through me. So, it meant that he was failing, too, in a way. But he wasn’t depressed about it like I was. And I asked him about it. He said: “Mark, I’ve been through this before. Just keep at it. Something will happen.” And I thought: “What’s going to happen? I don’t have any new ideas.” But I just kept at it. And all of a sudden, things got better. We went from $20 million all the way up to $85 million in about two years. I still don’t know exactly what I did that was so different. So, yeah, sometimes it’s just about keeping at it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I’ve always looked to see what that was, and I came up with one possible solution. When I’m really good, I’m above the mean. When I’m really bad, I’m below the mean. Eventually, I’ll be somewhere in the middle. I didn’t take stupid pills. And I didn’t take genius pills.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It’s that mean that most of us all have. And it goes up, incrementally. It’s like the duck taking credit for the pond rising. Things work, but we had no impact on that. And it works the other way. When something we had nothing to do with works our way, we take full credit. And when something forces us back, we say: “Oh, we’re that much stupider.” No, it’s somewhere in the middle.
MARK FORD: Success has many parents. Failure is an orphan.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: A lonely orphan, yeah. I’ve thought about that often in the past year and a half. So many people are going into their own businesses. And they’re probably going to do all the things — market research, demographics, hiring the right people and all that stuff. But that’s the easy stuff.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: The hard stuff is when the lights go down, and the excitement of opening your own place and having your name on it is gone. And now, it’s just you grinding it out. I find that the grinding part is like the 11th mile in a marathon. No one sees if you drop out. No one cares. They kind of expect it. But that’s the point. You’ve got to bear down and keep working.
MARK FORD: Yeah. And your great business ideas rarely come when you’re having your first cup of coffee at 8:30 a.m. They usually come when you’re in the middle of family dinner and they’re talking about something you should be interested in. And suddenly, it comes to you. Then, your spouse looks at you like: “What? Why aren’t you paying attention?” And you scribble it down and get back to the conversation. So, it’s what you think about always.
MARK FORD: I would say, though — just jumping to the core message of Ready, Fire, Aim — that the No. 1 thing I would tell new entrepreneurs is: Every industry that you get involved in has a couple of secrets that are responsible for success. And you can’t necessarily know what those secrets are by studying the business from the outside or reading about it.
MARK FORD: You may not know [what they are] from talking to people — because they may not tell you. Some people, who are in the business, don’t even quite know. They don’t consciously know, but they know subconsciously. “This is how we always do things,” they say. That’s not a bad thing. They don’t know why, but they’re doing these things because they work.
MARK FORD: What I’m saying is: Starting a business is a race between the money you have, the patience you have, the willingness of other people to work with you and the goal of creating a break-even cash flow. And you’ve got to discover that invisible secret before you run out of money and patience. If you don’t, the business is gone.
MARK FORD: So, forget about everything else. The only thing that matters is: How can I sell a product to a customer at break-even or better? That’s the main thing that you want to focus on as an entrepreneur. Everything else is secondary. Forget about your business cards. Forget about filing all the forms. All that stuff can be done later. Just focus on that initial sale.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, that single-minded purpose of getting that one thing … I also look back at Jeff Bezos with Amazon in 1994. It was that single-minded purpose of seeing a major trend — which was the internet — growing at 2,500% annual compounded rate. And he said: “I’ve got to get on this train.” He figured out a product because it was easy to ship: books.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: What people don’t know about him is that he was at DE Shaw. DE Shaw is a phenomenally brilliant hedge fund. They hire quants — and they were quants before there were quants. And this guy was a genius. He spoke with Shaw about leaving. I don’t think Shaw wanted him to go, but he said: “This is my idea. This is my dream. I’m doing it.” To go from where he was to working in his garage…
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You mentioned the secret. We had Brad Stone on the show a while back, who wrote the book Unbound. He wrote two books about Amazon. He said that one of the secrets was they got tables for picking orders so they wouldn’t have to lean down and go on the floor. It was something as simple as that. There were these little things that they kept perfecting.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Success wasn’t about making one thing 1,000% better. It was about making 1,000 things 1% better. It kept building and compounding. It was no secret. At the time, I remember saying: “Gosh, he’s going to put Barnes and Noble out of business? They’ve got to be crazy.”
MARK FORD: Yeah, it’s amazing. They have 72% of online book sales now.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Unbelievable. And the company started in our lifetime. So, it’s not something that was a John D. Rockefeller. Warren Buffett said [Jeff Bezos] is the greatest businessman of our generation. Here’s a guy who’s leading in the cloud business as well — which makes a heck of a lot more money than Amazon’s retail. And what he’s done for society is absolutely amazing. During the during the pandemic, it was [Amazon’s] supply lines — their delivery — that was getting medical supplies. What an impact on society.
MARK FORD: Absolutely. I have a botanical garden. My brother-in-law lives in it and always complains about UPS and all the other services. They drop the stuff outside — where he has to drive to pick it up. But Amazon drives all the way to his little house — which is in the middle of 25 acres — and does it every morning. It’s amazing.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Outstanding. Mark Ford, the amazing Mark Ford — Renaissance man in our time and author of 20-plus books. You’re also into art. I remember walking into your office, and there was a piece of art there. You collect them? What do you do with art?
MARK FORD: I’m a collector of art. I also have an art business. I have a little scheme for dominating a corner of the art market that we can talk about some other time.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow. Not on air, I guess.
MARK FORD: I’ll let you know when we can talk about it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, I guess the trick to success is to join the Peace Corps.
MARK FORD: I guess, yeah. Who knew?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow, amazing. Mark, I wish you continued success, and keep doing the great stuff. Keep writing. I hope you come up with new ideas and write them down. Your writing gets better over time. I guess that’s just a matter of experience. Why use three words when two can do? Keep fighting the good fight and doing great things.
MARK FORD: Can I mention that people can follow me at MarkFord.net?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Absolutely. I’m going to put a link to your site — as well as to Ready, Fire, Aim, if it’s still available — in the description of the episode. But you also write a blog. Don’t you write a daily blog?
MARK FORD: Yeah, MarkFord.net is my blog.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And you write these every day?
MARK FORD: No, I write it three times a week — usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Everything under the sun.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Who is the blog for? Who would be the ideal reader for you? Who are you writing to?
MARK FORD: I would say you. I’m not coaching young entrepreneurs anymore. I’m 71 years old. I will write about building wealth and things that I’ve written about for many years. I will write about culture in maybe one out of every four issues. I like to write about social and political things and how to have a rich life. Anybody who’s at — or nearing — retirement might find it enjoyable. I got a lot of feedback from friends and family members. The most important thing you need to know is that I don’t let hypocrisy interfere with my writing. I’m perfectly happy to recommend things that I don’t do personally. I do that for the love of my readers.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Beautiful. Ladies and gentlemen: Mark Ford. Thank you so much for being on the show. I had a great time. I could speak to you for hours. In fact, when I come down and see you in Florida, I probably will speak to you for hours face to face. Thanks so much, Mark.
MARK FORD: Thank you, Charles. Pleasure.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Charles Mizrahi Show. If you’re a new listener, welcome! If you’ve been listening for a while, we’re glad to have you back. Either way, we’d love to know what you think of the show. Please leave a review if you listen on Apple Podcasts. Reviews make it easier for others to find the show. You can also see the video of the interview on The Charles Mizrahi Show channel on YouTube.
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