Mark Lovett – Yes! This Story Begins at the End
7 months ago · 1:09
We call this episode “Yes! This Story Begins at the End”because our guest Mark Lovett is a master storyteller. Mark is the head of TEDx San Diego, a program that acts as an offshoot of the famous “TED talks”. Through TEDx, Mark helps identify and bring to life the stories of some of the most incredible people in the world. Mark’s also a professional coach for speakers that range from C-level executives to prison inmates.
And what is the first lesson in good storytelling? “Begin at the end,” Mark tells us.
Of course, it’s the goal of the Opt Out Life podcast to bring you storiesof entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, travelers and creatives who have found their way to living a lifestyle of freedom. Freedom of time, and freedom of income sources. Mark’s not just the current brains behind TEDx San Diego, he’s also a master of the opt out life.
Dating back to the 1980’s, Mark worked as an executive and as a co-founder of several companies big and small. He took crazy risks to join startups with little chance of succeeding. He also was not shy about placing life experience over work as he hopped from opportunity to opportunity. At one juncture, he and his wife packed into a car and drove all over North America for 9 months. At another, he took two years offto work on a novel.
Why did he do it? What pushed him over the fear or not having the security of knowing what job was next, or where he was headed? Listen to find out.
Highlights from Episode 8 with Mark . . .
On how he approached his career, often taking “mini-retirements” every few years. . . “It’s interesting because some people do the work your butt off and then finally they can opt out. My MO was work my butt off, opt out, come back, work my butt off, opt out again. At one point, I was part of a startup. We sold the company. I’d always wanted to see the United States, so my wife and I just packed up our car and spent nine months driving. From San Diego to the tip of the Kenai peninsula in Alaska to the tip of Cape Cod down to the tip of the Florida Keys and then back to San Diego.”
Telling us how storytelling permeates every business, and every product . . .“That’s when I came to realize that, for me, every interaction is a story. Every touchpoint becomes a story. Every sales phone call is a story. Every customer service is a story. Even down to your packaging, and that impression it gives people. I still remember seeing a YouTube video of this guy opening up an Apple iPhone. It was this amazing process where he talked about the cellophane on the box, and how the box was perfectly fit. He would take it off real slowly, and then he would peel back each layer and pull out each part of the phone. It really taught me how much attention Apple paid to the customer experience, and that even somebody opening their product, that company was telling them a story.“
Recounting a big “leap” he took to leave his cushy corporate gig and join a startup in the 1980’s . . . “He takes me out to lunch and he says I’m going to do this crazy thing. I want to make you a partner in the company. There’s a 99% chance we’re going to fail, you’ll be out of a job, on the street and you’ll have to start over but there’s that 1% chance we’re going to do something really miraculous here. In my young sense at the time, I’m like yeah, 1%. I can go for those odds.”
More on how that decision to join the startup with little chance of success changed his life. . . “The thing is I’ve always looked at upside and downside. The upside was incredible. The downside was I just got to go get another job. I can go do that. It wasn’t like I was going to lose a limb. It was something that was driving my passion, and that process was amazing. The gentleman that hired me was my first mentor. He’s still a mentor of mine today. We just had lunch two weeks ago. We go out every couple of months and catch up on things. He always listens to what I’m doing and he shakes his head and goes, “That’s fucked up.” I explain to him why I really want to do it and then he says it in jest, because it’s non-traditional. I was just very fortunate that this person crossed my path, that I said yes to it, that I knew that the downside was something I could handle and that the upside could change my life. That’s what it did.”
Nate Broughton: This episode of the Opt Out Life podcast recorded here in San Diego is the Opt Out life story of Mark Lovett.
Announcer: Welcome to the Opt Out Life podcast, the no BS guide to living the modern good life. Hosted by subversive millionaires Dana Robinson and Nate Broughton, the Opt Out Life podcast explains exactly how creative hustlers are turning side gigs into real income and taking back control of their time. From their studio in sunny San Diego, the Opt Out Life welcomes guests who are solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, travelers and creatives who are proof that you can choose a lifestyle over money but still make money, too. If you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail, running the rat race or stuck in a system that’s rigged against you, we’d like to offer you an alternative here on the Opt Out Life podcast.
Dana Robinson: What do a journalist, a physicist and a prison inmate serving life have in common? They each learned how to tell their story to the world from the same person. Our guest, and the man that brings these stories to life, is Mark Lovett. He’s a serial entrepreneur who now runs TEDx San Diego.
Nate Broughton: What is TED? TED is a live presentation given by experts from every walk of life who condense their story to a 15 minute talk. Back in the 1980s, Mark co-founded a tech startup that sold. Instead of immediately jumping in to his next gig, he took time off and he and his wife hopped in the car and drove to the tip of Alaska, and then across the US to Cape Cod, then all the way down to Key West and back to California.
Dana Robinson: Mark was later roped back into corporate life in the same industry, and exited again to a mini retirement of travel and writing. That pattern repeated itself five times giving Mark a life that included both corporate success and mini retirements.
Nate Broughton: Mark’s Opt Out story is unlike any of our guests to date, but it affirms that how you opt out is up to you. For Mark, opting out was cyclical. He’d seize opportunities and work hard, and then take as long as he could to play in between.
Dana Robinson: Mark’s entrepreneurial ventures are as instructive as his opt outs. He was the brains behind a campaign in a computer parts magazine that split tested pages down to their order and layouts long before websites were used to sell products, and his examples are a continuous reminder that every business started, and every product sold, must have a story that connects with an audience.
Nate Broughton: Let’s here a storyteller’s story.
Dana Robinson: Today we’ve got Mark Lovett with us. Thanks for coming on the podcast, Mark.
Mark Lovett: Pleasure to be here.
Dana Robinson: I guess I’ll start with a quick story about how I met Mark. I hosted an event that I had heard was going around town maybe eight or nine years ago. The event was called God-Luck. It was like a potluck and the subjects were all about, I guess, spiritual things but no particular agenda. Someone had hosted and I had attended one where the host house had somebody come talk about Buddhist meditation. I said I have a background in Christian ministry, and I’m a lot more open than I probably was at one point in my faith, and I thought I’d love to have a bunch of people that aren’t Christians come hang out and I’ll give them what Christians think about things. I opened up the house to God-Luck, and Mark Lovett came, along with maybe 20 other people, and talked about religion. It was a blast. It was very non-traditional. Mark’s a hard guy to miss because he’s like seven foot, 10 inches tall. After that, Mark and I connected and decided we’d have a meal together.
Dana Robinson: We sat down over some tacos and talked about life. I think this is a first good place to start. When you and I had that taco way back when, you had just come off from a big life pivot, if I remember right. I’m not sure if you had taken a sabbatical or you had taken a turn from what you had been doing to a break and were starting something else, or thinking about starting something else. We sat and had tacos and talked about life and business and all of that. Do you remember that?
Mark Lovett: Yes. That was at a point where I had decided to get out of the corporate world, which for me was a very different flavor of corporate world than most people get into because it started with a startup back in the 1980s, and evolved through a merger and an acquisition and divestiture. I left and I came back. I was at a point in my life where I said I’m just done working for somebody else and I want to get into consulting work. I was trying to explore what that meant, and what I was going to do. Of course, the only people who would hire me were the same industry I just came out of so it was a total fail when it came to becoming independent, but I got to learn some chops and meet some new people so it started me off on a different direction.
Dana Robinson: You’d taken a little time to reflect as well, and did some writing and working on a couple of different things that were pent up things that you felt like you needed to spend some time on.
Mark Lovett: It’s interesting because some people do the work your butt off and then finally they can opt out. My MO was work my butt off, opt out, come back, work my butt off, opt out again. At one point, I was part of a startup. We sold the company. I’d always wanted to see the United States, so my wife and I just packed up our car and spent nine months driving. From San Diego to the tip of the Kenai peninsula in Alaska to the tip of Cape Cod down to the tip of the Florida Keys and then back to San Diego.
Dana Robinson: Wow.
Mark Lovett: Then, it was time to go back to work. Went back into that same industry, and then a few years later, we did another exit. It’s like I’ve exited from the same company three times. I decided I’ve always wanted to write a book, so I took two years off and wrote this 500 page novel that I still haven’t published yet. It was the process of just diving into the writing and exploring a whole different side of myself, that creative side, that I didn’t get to explore while I was working that much.
Dana Robinson: Was it like exorcizing your demons to have the time to write the book? They say everyone’s got a book in them, and here you managed to make the time that so many of us don’t.
Mark Lovett: Yeah, for me I was just lucky that the financial arrangements came out so that I looked at what I had and said, “You know what? I don’t have to work for a little bit.” I have always wanted to do this thing, so I turned it into a job. Basically, I would work eight hours a day. Coffee shops, libraries, some at home but I found I did my best work outside of the home. I would write for maybe two to three hours and the other five hours were doing research.
Dana Robinson: That’s a good segway, actually, into what you’re doing right now. I’ve got more questions about your past business experience. I think we’ll come back to that, because I think a lot of people want to know how do you get into startup and get three exits out of one company. Bookmark that. We’re coming back to it. First, what’s your TED title and how’d you fall into this?
Mark Lovett: Well, finally, I got introduced to a guy who was running a digital agency downtown. It turned out he was a big fan of TED. Had lunch one day, and he says, “Hey, they’re coming up with this new program.” This is back in 2009. It’s called TEDx. This guy says I’m going to start TEDx San Diego. I watched what he did, I thought it was fascinating. I describe it as the difference between a music video and a rock concert. When you’re there and you hear the speaker live, and you hear the audience’s reaction, you get to network with people. Then, in 2012, I got invited to speak at a TEDx event on the east coast. 2013, my friend say, “Hey, why don’t you help me co-organize San Diego.” As the story goes, when the event concluded he put some drugs in my wine. I woke up the next day with a headache and the license to TEDx San Diego, and I’ve been organizing TEDx San Diego ever since.
Mark Lovett: TEDx was not on my to-do list, and it just unfolded that way. I kept saying yes to opportunities, which is really what I’ve done my whole life.
Nate Broughton: When you spoke at the TEDx event on the east coast in 2012, what did you talk about?
Mark Lovett: The title was Will our Happiness Ultimately Destroy the Planet? What it spoke to was if we think we derive happiness through material consumption, which has been a big thing for the western world … US, Europe, Canada, Australia … and you look at some of the numbers out there … That China has four times our population. India has four times our population … they’re going to put about a billion more people into the million class in the next decade. If you run those numbers, if they imitate us, it’s game over for the planet. We don’t have the resources, the pollution, the climate change, everything else. This was early on in a lot of things happening with the sharing economy. The ride-sharing and room-sharing. There was even a company that allowed you to share whatever was in your garage. If you had a rake that you only used twice a year, you’d put it online and somebody down the street could come and borrow it. That sort of thing.
Mark Lovett: I was making the play that we need to change how we live, which would be travel more, enjoy art more, music more instead of buying material possessions.
Nate Broughton: Rent more stuff perhaps, yeah?
Dana Robinson: Yeah, or share or trade.
Mark Lovett: Yeah. Rent, share, trade. All of those things rather than buy. I think the statistic was you buy an electric drill at Home Depot and it gets used two minutes and 37 seconds per year for the average person. The homeowner says no, I have to have my own drill. Well, you start selling billions of drills that don’t get used and it adds up.
Nate Broughton: I didn’t know the Opt Out Life was saving the planet one decision at a time, but there’s some parallels in the story, I think, right?
Dana Robinson: There are. In the book, I’ve got a section where I encourage people to do these things because I think for a lot of us, we’re in phases of life where we don’t really have to hustle that much. Once you’ve made a certain amount of money then you’re not thinking about how to save $40.00 by not buying a drill. I lived through a phase of life where that mattered to me, so I’ve put into the book a series of expense strategies and one of them is trade, share, borrow. I encourage it, and now I realize that I’m single handedly going to save the planet.
Mark Lovett: I think that’s the purpose of this podcast.
Dana Robinson: That’s right.
Nate Broughton: The title was How Our Happiness will Destroy the Planet, or something like that, right? You’re saying we need to change our perception of happiness and how we form our own happiness. How is your story, and how do you define happiness, meld with that which are lessons you were trying to teach in that TEDx talk? You’ve told us you’ve Opted Out and gone on trips and taken time off in these mini-retirements, to use a modern phrase. How do you derive happiness? How do you score happiness and how does it fit into what you told at that talk?
Mark Lovett: For me, as I look back happiness has almost always been related to experiences anyway rather than anything physical. I love to travel, I love to see stuff. I love to listen to music and see plays and do all of those things that are experiential rather than owning something. I think the one exception to that, for many years I was a big wine collector. I had thousands of bottles and my friends all had uber thousands of bottles. It was just all about wine parties, and just trying all the best stuff around. Even that wore out for me where it’s kind of like I’ve tasted just about everything I want to taste. Why am I doing this? Now I enjoy wine when I want to enjoy wine, and I don’t care about the collecting aspect of it.
Mark Lovett: That was the one physical thing where I could see the collection growing like its own little monster. You buy the small fridge, and then the big fridge, and then the double wide fridge and the double wide, double deep. Then, you start renting lockers and cases and cases. Somebody bought a case of this, so you had to buy a case of that. Some of that keeping up with the Jones’s, I was able to self-reflect on that and just shrug my shoulders and say I don’t need to do that.
Nate Broughton: Well, I’m really curious what you think of the wine I just gave you. I didn’t know that story.
Mark Lovett: Well, I tell you. That white’s probably going to get chilled tonight and I’m going to try that out because I love sauvignon blanc.
Nate Broughton: All right, Dana, let’s break in for the first time here. Mark’s telling us that he always valued experience over physical items or things that he could buy, which I think is very Opt Out, which I appreciate, but he does talk about the one thing that he had a bit of a vice for and that he got really into was wine and his wine collection which is actually a cool thing to invest in because it’s not just the physical ownership of the wine that he’s buying it for. It’s more than that. It’s the enjoyment and the experience of having it and drinking it and learning about it as he tells us.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. For Mark, and for a lot of us, I think, wine is not just a consumable. It’s not just something that you’re buying because it tastes good, or because it gets you drunk or whatever it is. Wine is fascinating in a lot of ways. It brings you all over the world. There’s so much to learn about it. It complements so many different kinds of food. I think it’s cool. We did nerd out on this for a little while. I think we got 10 minutes with Mark talking about wine. We’ll save the audience from that.
Nate Broughton: That’s because we both like wine.
Dana Robinson: We do. In fact, one of the cool things you talked about with wine is very experienced based. You actually have your own wine that you blended and labeled.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, yeah. I got it through a friend, who is also into wine. We had done some wine tasting together, and one time he came to dinner over Christmas and had his own family vineyard in a bottle. I’m like that’s the coolest thing ever. Tell me about how you got to do that. He contracted with a company in San Francisco that you can work with to source grapes from, I think, all over the world. They gave me plenty of options. You choose what wine you want to make, if you want to do a blend or not, red, white. It takes a couple of years depending on what you do as well, but you contract with them. You tell them what you want, and you get to go up there and spend time with them, go through the blending process.
Nate Broughton: It was one of the coolest experiences I ever had with wine. I mean, it’s cool to be able to hand someone a wine with your label on it, but sitting there with the actual winemakers in San Francisco, going through our blends with the little test tubes was probably the most instructive thing I ever got on how to taste wine and what goes in to making wine.
Dana Robinson: We’ll be talking about wine again because you and I just recorded a podcast with one of my business partners. We’re in a wine barrel business, which isn’t actually all that fascinating but on my most recent trip up, we got to taste wine from the barrels. In fact, we got to see some blending going on. I think I messed up the blend because I poured myself a little wine out of a bottle that had tape on it with some scribbles, some notes. We got to experiment while there was blending going on before it goes back in the barrel.
Nate Broughton: It’s all about the experience. I think that’s the point to hit back on here with Mark and the story he’s telling is that it may have been the one thing that he found himself investing a consumable good or something physical, but it is all about the experience and that goes along with the Opt Out life nicely.
Dana Robinson: That’s what Mark’s saying is that true happiness in terms of your life, Mark, has been driven by experience.
Mark Lovett: That’s what really made me the happiest when it came to wine was once I really got into it, I went to the wine country many times in various parts of the world. What fascinated me was the process. How they made it, how the vines were grown. You’d get down to the point of heres the root stock and then here’s what we’re growing, and here’s the trellising techniques, and the vineyard management techniques. I even got into reading books about the vineyards themselves. You’d find out that this northern grown vineyard had two million year old volcanic soil and the winds came from the south, and all of these different factors. Physics has always been a passion of mine so I’m thinking of the physics involved with how the grape is growing, what the flavor profile is because of the chemical composition inside the grape. As I taste every wine, I’m thinking there’s millions of years in this glass, which to me makes it even cooler than just it’s a nice wine.
Dana Robinson: I wonder, Mark, when you tripped into this TED thing, did you realize that you were making a change from corporate guy to community guy, or from I guess business leader to social entrepreneur in a way?
Mark Lovett: I didn’t realize it up front. To me, it was just something that my passion was being driven. I’ve always said yes to things without knowing where it was going to go, which has been, as I mentioned earlier, my MO. I tell people I’ve always been a victim of opportunity. I haven’t planned anything in my life. I don’t have a to-do list. I don’t have a plan of this is the kind of career I’m going to have. People just offer me things, and opportunities come up and typically when I say yes and go after them, it opens up a whole new arena. When I first got into TEDx, I was still doing consulting on the side. I was a chief marketing officer for a computer company. The TEDx was just a side gig, even though it doesn’t pay. Most people don’t know that this is a TED rule that all TEDx organizers are volunteers. My entire team is volunteer.
Mark Lovett: I’ll put in about 1000 hours a year just to put these things on. It was once I got into it and I started to see the reactions from the audience. When you see people who are clapping and cheering, and in some cases crying, when you talk to them in the hallways and they talk about how their life is changed, that this one idea they heard on stage is just what they needed at that point in their life. That started driving me to get more into it. Then, a change happened a couple years back when people started asking me to coach them. I had an event that happened about a month ago this one week where I had been working with the Kroc School of Peace Studies at USD coaching 10 of their faculty on how to give a TEDx style talk. That culminated in five of them being on stage for a public event that we put on.
Mark Lovett: That was on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday, I hopped a plane to the east coast, and on Thursday I do work for the Honor Foundation that helps Navy Seals and Special Ops come back into society when they retire. I was doing a storytelling workshop to 30 Navy Seals. On Friday, I hopped on a plane, came back to San Diego, and on Saturday, I was at Donovan Correctional Facility putting on a TEDx in prison. I’m doing one facet of storytelling or another from the time I wake until I pass out at night.
Nate Broughton: All right, let’s talk for a minute about the power of storytelling as it relates to business. I think a lot of people that listen to this podcast are into stories and listening to stories, but may not realize how a story can be applied to their business. This is a lot like our episode with Bill Mueller where we talked about the power of copywriting. The two are similar, and as we’re talking with Mark we’re bringing up those similarities, but I wanted to point it out because every business in our day and age is a media company and has a platform. People are curious about the story behind it. It’s not just the ads that you see on TV. It’s what’s on their website. I think a lot of webpages, no matter if it’s an eCommerce page, or a business that sells insurance, one of the most trafficked webpages for any company is the About page. Who are these people? What are they all about?
Nate Broughton: That’s been furthered by the direct consumer buying world that’s there now on Etsy, and stores that pop up through your Instagram feed. You’re often more interested in where the products are being sourced from and what’s the story behind the people creating them before you buy. I think that’s important to keep in mind, and it’s a nice reminder as we draw Mark’s story back to real business that that’s something that’s there for every company in 2018.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, let me add to that. The cool thing about the TED format is it forces somebody who’s got a massive amount of information … Think of just a textbook might have 900 pages in it, so a great teacher needs to take that down to 20 or 30 hours of teaching. Now, somebody who has an expertise, let’s say a physicist, needs to take what they know down to 15 minutes. It’s very instructive, I think, from a business standpoint because all of us need to be able to take our pitch, our story, our product narrative, our service narrative down to the most economical format that we possibly can. In a world where story matters, we ought to be paying attention to this. We can learn by watching the TED talks how somebody’s able to do that, and I think we can apply that to business as well. How do we do that with our own businesses, selling our products and our services?
Nate Broughton: Yeah, I mean think about probably the shoes I’m wearing right now. There’s probably a story as to why I bought these shoes. They may be Adidas, but it’s probably because Kanye did something with a rapper. You know what I’m saying? It’s even the big brands that are doing this now today. It’s part of who we are as consumers now, where we want to tell the story behind the thing that we bought. There’s social capital to be had by being able to tell those stories, and if you’re a product maker or a business person, think about those things because those are the things that can help your products sell via word of mouth and stand out from the crowd. Not just in an internet feed, but once the product is in the hands of the consumer who eventually bought it.
Nate Broughton: I’m curious because in my head I’m thinking about the potential overlap between we had a guest who was very skilled in copywriting. We were able to draw that back to just about any business has to have some sort of copywriting chops, or hire someone who can do copywriting because we all make buying decisions based on words that we see in a YouTube ad or here on the radio, or on a landing page or on a website. I know that we are all storytelling animals. Every product is sold with a story in some way, shape or form and I’m trying to think through how maybe copywriting and storytelling perhaps overlap and that’s why I was asking about the commercial side of any of your work.
Mark Lovett: I’m glad you brought that up because I, in fact, did listen to that podcast. It was absolutely amazing. Not just handing out kudos here and there, because I was riveted to that show because of the storytelling aspect of it. It’s different then what I do but there are those connections there because it’s all about how do you attract someone’s interest, how do you provide value to them, and ideally, any product you make is done doing just that. It’s providing value to people, but your copy when you’re presenting that product has to infer that value so that people want to go out and try your product.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, Bill said in that episode that great copy isn’t written. It’s built. I think there have to be the same ideas as far as mechanics to the storytelling side that you try to teach and consult on, right? What are some of the mechanics that you harp on for good storytelling in any setting?
Mark Lovett: Especially when I’m in the TEDx world, the first thing I tell speakers is begin at the end. Think about how you’re going to end your talk because that’s what people are going to remember the most is what your closing sentences are. In fact, I was just at the Salk Institute today working with two of their researchers who are going to be on our stage. I gave them their homework at the end of our talk, and I said the next time we meet, we’re going to sit down and talk about the last sentence of your speech. That’s really hard to write. Everyone thinks you start writing a speech from the first sentence and you go through it. If you have to write your last sentence first, you truly have to define what it is that you’re trying to say. What is that gift you’re giving the audience? What’s your value. From there, then we start building on what I call story blocks, which is picking out elements of your experience, of your knowledge, your wisdom. Or, it could be historical references that take people on that journey to that point.
Mark Lovett: Then, that becomes this discovery process. There’s a lot of editing that goes on. You start out with a draft. I get down to wordsmithing every word and challenging every sentence to really try to get that story to have the most impact. Begin at the end.
Nate Broughton: I like it.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, its great advice, and how applicable to everything that we do. Our first guest was Amish Shah. The first time I sat down with Amish to talk about his business, he was focused on marketing. I asked him to explain that, and he said that for him marketing was always a story. Whether it’s writing an ad, the imagery that you put in magazines … He even showed me in magazines what’s the story they’re telling. For him, everything in marketing came down to understanding how humans engage with story, and certainly if you’re on a stage you want a story that people are going to be drawn into and a finish that matches the message and the expectations. It’s applicable for everything people do in business.
Nate Broughton: How did you use storytelling in your executive roles as a chief marketing officer or similar back in the day even?
Mark Lovett: The back in the day was four chapters. One of which I was the VP of Operations, and then I became a Chief Information Officer, and then I became a CEO, and then I became a Chief Marketing Officer. Sounds impressive, but I tell people it’s because I screwed up everyone of those positions that I got. They said, “No, go try something else. Maybe you can do less damage over here.” That storytelling has always been present for me in the corporate world, but it’s a different kind of storytelling. From the marketing standpoint, obviously I’m there trying to sell the company and sell the products. In the beginning, that was all about … You might have heard the phrase “speeds and feeds” which was an industry term for how fast is your computer and how many channels can it operate, and how many inputs and outputs. Our products go all the way back to the beginning of the personal computer industry, back to the 8088 chip.
Mark Lovett: We would see each chip come out, and every time intel went to the 286, and the 386, and the 486. It was always about what’s the next story to tell? How much faster? How much more data can we process? Then, we really started to focus on the outside instead of saying it just has technical specifications. What kind of problem does it solve? Once you understood that range, you could tell a better story. We built computers for a lot of industries. The same system could be used in the aerospace industry, factory automation, telecommunications, and later on in that evolution, the military bought a lot of these computers, which was interesting because they couldn’t tell you what the computer was going to do. They would say we need it to act a certain way, because this was all classified stuff. We would build a system and they would tell us what was wrong with it, and then we would fix it, and then we’d go back and forth.
Mark Lovett: Then, once we had a system that was spot on, then they would buy hundreds of them, put them up on surveillance planes and that sort of thing. You had to learn how to tell a different story to each different customer. That’s what a lot of business people lose sight of. They try to think of their company story rather than the fact that when it’s a consumer story, then you have to pay attention to all the different consumers that want your product.
Dana Robinson: Back then, consumers probably didn’t care about what the speed was. They cared about what it meant to them. There’s a different story. The government had a different story. Maybe for them, the specs mattered. They knew what they were going to do with those specs.
Mark Lovett: It evolved over time. Once people got more savvy about computers, they would ask a different set of questions. A product that is on the leading edge is different than a product that has become commoditized and now you have to tell a different stories once you start seeing a lot of competition.
Dana Robinson: Right. Then you really do rely on the story at that point because everyone has the same specs.
Mark Lovett: That’s when I came to realize that, for me, every interaction is a story. Every touchpoint becomes a story. Every sales phone call is a story. Every customer service is a story. Even down to your packaging, and that impression it gives people. I still remember seeing a YouTube video of this guy opening up an Apple iPhone. It was this amazing process where he talked about the cellophane on the box, and how the box was perfectly fit. He would take it off real slowly, and then he would peel back each layer and pull out each part of the phone. It really taught me how much attention Apple paid to the customer experience, and that even somebody opening their product, that company was telling them a story. Was telling them a story that we pay attention to detail, that the small things matter, that it should look pretty, it should be elegant as well as functional. Steve Jobs had that magic capability of saying everything here is a story.
Nate Broughton: You mentioned Apple, and it’s a great example of it but also I was thinking where we sit today, there’s so many craft providers of services. Not just craft beer, but Etsy stores and all these places where I feel like my wife buys clothes for our kids. They seem to come from individuals and their stories seem to matter a lot. Those stories are disseminated through social media, on Instagram primarily and on Facebook. How do you think about how story plays today on some of those platforms, and how smaller individuals are using it in a marketplace where people are identifying with that and wanting to buy local or buy from someone who can explain where this made? Or, they like following them on Instagram and that’s why they buy from them. How has that evolved on the smaller ones and twosies versus even the big Apple computers of the world?
Mark Lovett: Well, I think it’s an understatement that social media has really changed everything. It has commoditized the whole realm of advertising and communication to where you don’t need to have a million dollar ad budget to run a full page magazine advertisement. Now you can set up a website with a very small amount of money, and now you can use Twitter, and you can use Facebook. It’s opened it up to the small people who don’t have big budgets to get out there and become known. Just having a Facebook page doesn’t do any good until you get thousands of followers, and to get thousands of followers, you typically need to have a good story. It has to spread by word of mouth. When you do produce and artisanal product, maybe jewelry or clothes, and it could be made in the Caribbean somewhere but it’s made by an individual and it’s got that design factor, and you’re producing quality and you are innovative to where people start talking about it, it’s that word of mouth that’ll get more and more people to come to your site.
Mark Lovett: All of a sudden that traffic starts to build to a point where you can scale the business based on that. You can do that from a very small standpoint rather than have to be a big corporation.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, and a quality product is always a given, but what do you think people identify with when they come across something on an Instagram? What could we boil it down to? Is it authenticity? Is that perhaps the most key thing to have in a story that you’re telling if you’re selling a smaller artisanal product, or if you’re promoting a podcast like the Opt Out Life? What do you think people will resonate with most in a story that’s being told by someone like that? That’s what comes to mind for me, and that’s what we try to be is authentic and authentically identifying with an audience that can reciprocate that authenticity, or what they perceive that authenticity to be.
Mark Lovett: I think it’s a combination of both connection and authenticity. You want to feel like you’re connected to somebody, like they get you or they understand you. That’s one of the reasons that a lot of music artists become so popular is that the songs they sing have melodies that are catchy, that connect with people on that real visceral level, but also their lyrics are about topics that people want to hear. Love stories are always popular because that’s common for people. When you saw the rise of rap and hiphop and reggae, and all of these subcultures of music that were not rock and roll and everybody said oh, these aren’t going to go anywhere, they tapped into something on a global basis that was unexpected. Once they made that connection, there had to be an authenticity there because as soon as you’re not authentic, then people will just move on to somebody who is. That connection can be very fleeting, and the authenticity is what makes it a lasting connection.
Nate Broughton: I like that. All right, Dana. This has to be one of the most common questions going through people’s heads while they’re listening to this episode. We’ve got Mark Lovett here. The head of TEDx San Diego. How am I got get on TEDx, right? I think people are curious how can I be that super cool person telling a story on the TEDx stage. We asked Mark that right here.
Dana Robinson: I actually do get this question from clients and from colleagues. I’ve made the introduction to Mark, in fact, when people ask me that. Of course, there’s many people who may be introverts, or would be no fan of standing on stage in front of a lot of people, but I think there’s a fantasy that a lot of people have that they have a story and they want to tell it. I think that’s cool, actually. There are also people who think it’s going to be great for their business. They think it’s going to be great for marketing. I can tell you this from some experience with people that I know that have been on the stage. It’s not going to revolutionize your business. Don’t try to get on the TED stage just to promote your cool service or your brand. What Ted wants, what the stages want, are really compelling stories that are from experts in the field.
Dana Robinson: The good news is you don’t have to be a professional speaker. Mark is going to give us some information about that, but Mark’s existence has a lot to do with the fact that TED presenters are not always expert presenters. They need someone like Mark to come along and be the coach.
Nate Broughton: I think his instructions are to just apply, which I think is fair enough, right? Certainly, go to our website and fill out the form. Maybe it’s just as simple as that. I think it’s hard to force your way onto the TED stage, but a lot of people probably do have stories that could be of interest. Particularly if you’re in a field other than internet marketing or something generic like that. Your work could be very interesting to the people at TED. Don’t worry about having to tell your story, because there’s people like Mark that are going to help you do that.
Dana Robinson: There’s a lot of people out there that dream about making it on to the TED stage, and most of them realize that you’ve got to be a pretty big shot to make it on the TED stage, but there’s these TEDx events … I’m sure you have people. In fact, I’ve forwarded people to you who have that very question. How do I get on a TEDx stage? What would you say to the listeners that envision themselves up there? You’ve got those dreamers. What do you tell them?
Mark Lovett: For people who want to try to up the odds, you can apply to speak on TEDx stages. Everyone says okay, what’s that formula? Then, I say well, there’s over 2000 organizers around the world and they all run independently and they all have their own process. At TEDx San Diego, we have a form on our website that anyone can go to and fill it out. They can nominate themselves … Self-nominations are fine … and say here’s my idea and this is why I want to be on your stage. Now, we get hundreds and hundreds of these. Last year, I went through 450 names to find 12 speakers. There are a lot of people trying to get out there. The ones that stand out are the people who have a unique idea. If you’re a cancer researcher, you may be doing something that nobody else has done. Let’s say your passion is leadership, and you say I have the secrets to leadership. If you go onto Amazon, you’ll find 429 books on leadership.
Mark Lovett: That talk has been done over and over again. The question there is do you have a new spin on leadership? Do you have something I haven’t heard about? Do you have a new way to look at that? I tell speakers that the audience should see the world differently after hearing your talk so you need to shift their perception. You need to tell them something they didn’t know, they didn’t see it that way. It expanded their consciousness. It challenged their consciousness. They come away going, “Hm, that’s interesting” rather than “Oh, that’s the 17th leadership talk I’ve heard that all sounds the same.” If people don’t have a unique spin, it becomes more difficult to get on a stage.
Nate Broughton: Are all the TEDx’s geographically based or are there themed TEDx technology? You know what I’m saying?
Mark Lovett: Yeah, they don’t allow themes because there’s a million people that want to do TEDx technology. Everything is location based. Some are large cities like TEDx San Diego, but even in our own backyard, we have TEDx Temecula. A friend of mine is going to do TEDx Solana Beach this year. There was a TEDx Carthage by the Sea last year. The universities, that’s a whole different level of TEDx. There’s thousands of university events around the world. Locally, we have TEDx UCSD and TEDx SDSU.
Dana Robinson: You don’t need people to be a professional presenter? When you pick somebody, you want engaging people with engaging subjects more than someone who’s smooth and polished?
Mark Lovett: Correct.
Dana Robinson: I’m assuming this is the great part about people like you having the coaching is that if you’ve got someone that’s got something great to say, you’re going to help draw that out.
Mark Lovett: It’s very rare that we have professional speakers on stage, actually. You know what happens? There are great speakers who have great things to say, but when we’re looking for people who are doing something new, they’re usually focused on that. They might be the CEO of a company. We had the CEO of DAQRI last year. They do augmented reality. He’s spoken often at conferences and he has a fair amount of experience there, but he had never given a TED style talk, which is completely different than a conference or a lecture, or anything else that people have done. It can be a tough process to go through. We assign speaker coaches to every speaker who comes through. Even someone who’s never been on stage before, which happened a couple years ago when we had a young woman from USD talk about cross border interaction and entrepreneurship from San Diego and Tijuana.
Mark Lovett: She had a little deer in the headlights look at me like why do you want me on stage? I’m not this polished professional. I see her enthusiasm, your passion, your knowledge, you’re living this, and in that case, I didn’t want … I’m a senior citizen, so I can degrade myself … I didn’t want the old tried and true expert in the field. I wanted a millennial voice to talk about this issue. She developed this talk that was just phenomenal. She walked out on stage and she just owned that stage. Very rare that we run into somebody who’s not coachable and can’t give a really good talk. It surprises people.
Nate Broughton: You mentioned millennials there, and I want to take this a different way because our last published episode was with a 26 year old who used to work for me that I met while he was in college. I feel like a lot of times when we’re here discussing the Opt Out life and making a decision to break free from a traditional path, we rag on older folks basically. I don’t want to be like my parents. Live the life you want now, not when you’re 65. It sounds like from your story that you definitely did that along the way, but I’m curious to talk to you about how you view the people in your own generation with the backdrop of the Opt Out life. Do people your age, did they think you were crazy on the way up when you were doing the things that you were doing? Are they jealous of the things that you did when you did them now that you guys are beyond those years? I’m curious what your thoughts are on that.
Mark Lovett: I was called crazy many, many times. I walked away from something secure to do something that just I had no idea if it was going to succeed. I wouldn’t say at this point anyone’s jealous of that. We just sit down and we look at each other. We all made our own decisions. We all live different lives. I have a friend of mine whose always been in the corporate world, although he’s done a lot of very entrepreneurial things within that environment, but that’s his gig. He wants a stable home, and he just wants to hang out with his wife and retire and do all these things. That’s fine. He wouldn’t feel comfortable doing the same things that I’ve done. I wouldn’t even say that I felt comfortable doing them.
Nate Broughton: Why did you do them?
Mark Lovett: There was something in me that just says this is what I should do. Even though it didn’t make sense on paper, which is why I don’t write things like that down on paper because if I had the pros and cons, it’s like the pros would be 10 items and the cons would be about 50. I remember the first startup that I got involved with. We were working at a company called Action Instruments here in town. They build instrumentation for factory automation products. The VP of sales and marketing had this idea, and this is before there were websites so everything was sold through reps and distributors. He said, “I want to sell computer products through a catalog.” Everyone said you’re insane. You can’t do that through a catalog. You got to have people and it’s all connections. He goes, “You know what? Sears put a catalog on the doorstep of every housewife in America and sold a shit load of product.” He goes, “I’m going to put a catalog on the desktop of every scientist and engineer in this country and I’m going to sell a shit load of product.”
Mark Lovett: He formed a new company and spun it out from Action. He grabbed an accounting person, and a sales person and an engineering person and he started asking around the company, “I need somebody to do operations.” People said you need to go talk to Mark. He takes me out to lunch and he says I’m going to do this crazy thing. I want to make you a partner in the company. There’s a 99% chance we’re going to fail, you’ll be out of a job, on the street and you’ll have to start over but there’s that 1% chance we’re going to do something really miraculous here. In my young sense at the time, I’m like yeah, 1%. I can go for those odds.
Dana Robinson: Why not?
Mark Lovett: The thing is I’ve always looked at upside and downside. The upside was incredible. The downside was I just got to go get another job. I can go do that. It wasn’t like I was going to lose a limb. It was something that was driving my passion, and that process was amazing. The gentleman that hired me was my first mentor. He’s still a mentor of mine today. We just had lunch two weeks ago. We go out every couple of months and catch up on things. He always listens to what I’m doing and he shakes his head and goes, “That’s fucked up.” I explain to him why I really want to do it and then he says it in jest, because it’s non-traditional. I was just very fortunate that this person crossed my path, that I said yes to it, that I knew that the downside was something I could handle and that the upside could change my life. That’s what it did.
Dana Robinson: I think that’s one of the common themes of our guests is that they hit a point where they had to risk failure, and a lot of people are really afraid of failure. I guess, you faced that and just made the decision right there you could deal with failure. What was the worst that could happen? Here’s a quick question. What was the worst that could happen? If that had failed, would your life have been over?
Mark Lovett: No. I would have learned a lot. I would’ve went off and found another opportunity.
Nate Broughton: This is my favorite part of the conversation with Mark. He’s telling us from the time he was young, or younger, his philosophy on why he made the decisions to walk away from a secure job to spend two years trying to write a novel. Or, walk away from a next opportunity to hope in the car with his wife and drive for nine months to the different tips of our continent here. He was throwing off one lines that I really loved. I don’t know. I just wanted to comment on it here, Dana, because this is really I think the gist of the Opt Out life and why Mark is a great fit for this podcast. He tells a story about being in Alaska and talking with a man, and making some coffee, and he’s asking him about the snow pack. He’s saying basically that a snowflake fell 100 years ago and got packed into this snowflake and he’s melting off this morning into his coffee cup and he’s getting to drink it there.
Nate Broughton: It’s a little philosophical and [flouffy 00:45:29] but it’s the core of why you would take a trip like that, to get away and to have things like that happen. It sounded like it really affected him each time he did it, and I really admire that he did it several times over throughout his career. It’s not something he waited to do until he was 65.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, and the theme is consistent with so many people that we’ve interviewed. He said what’s the worst that can happen if he didn’t keep this aggressive career track? Well, he would just go get a job again.
Nate Broughton: Right. I love that.
Dana Robinson: What’s the worst that could happen if you fail?
Nate Broughton: Get another job.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. It’s a message that I think a lot of people need to hear. For example, you might do what Mark did. Take a year off. You might do what I did. I went to Bali for over a year. You might just take a chance of a job that you didn’t think would be awesome, but you wanted to take a chance. What’s the worst? It’s not what you thought it’d be cracked up to be and you get another job. Life is not that complicated.
Nate Broughton: Right. There’s fears that are either founded or unfounded, and regardless, I think you have to banish them to the side. Mark made decisions like we’re describing here to Opt Out, as we label it, at very different points in his life. He did it once probably when he was in his late 20s or early 30s with no kids. He did it again 15 years later, where he was in a much different place in life both at home and just financially. Every time, he’s doing something that sometimes people might call crazy, but he’s willing to make a leap and know that the place he’s going to fall back on is no worse than where he is right now.
Dana Robinson: Right. He said people had called him crazy throughout his life. It’s sad because the society we live in puts these expectations on us. We might not even know that they’re there, but that comment that someone who’s had this life of success, and now a life of altruism and giving back, that he has had to put up with society saying to him, “You’re crazy for doing the things that you are doing.”
Nate Broughton: I think he’s okay with it.
Mark Lovett: That started the ball rolling where we grew that company. The CEO had a specific plan in mind to get to a certain size and sell. We hit that within five years, and sold the company in an all cash deal. I had to stick around for one more year. Part of the contract. While everyone else said, “Hey, this is it man. We’re here. We’re going to keep working this.” I said, “No, I want to go out and tour the country” so I just walked away from the perfect job, put all of our stuff in storage and just started driving. Totally insane. Do not recommend that to anyone unless you totally feel that that’s comfortable for you because for a lot of people, they shook their head and said, “I just couldn’t possibly do that.”
Nate Broughton: You had your wife with you and she was on board?
Mark Lovett: Yep.
Nate Broughton: Okay.
Dana Robinson: The perfect job is … Again, this is the backdrop for most of what we talk about … You walked away from the perfect job, but it wasn’t the perfect job. It was shiny in the way society would have said why wouldn’t you want this job? You didn’t. You wanted more adventure. You wanted more of what you just had with that risky entrepreneurial venture that you just were part of.
Mark Lovett: That happens to a lot of people, but in many cases, what they want is the next job. I’m tired of this company. I want a new company. In my case, it was I need to do something other than work. I said I’ve got enough in the bank here that I can take that time off. I don’t know where that travel bug came from. I just knew it was part of me, and once we got on the road, it was just amazing. We slept in hotels and Motel 6’s. We had a tent with us. We slept outside. I remember being in Alaska pitching the tent at the bottom of a glacier, and to wake up in the morning and to have this water dripping off the end of the glacier, which is what we made our coffee with. I asked the park ranger how this worked, the snow and how the glacier moves. He goes, “That water fell as snow 100 years ago.”
Mark Lovett: It put life in perspective. That nature takes it time. It’s like it’s okay if it’s going to take 100 years for this snowflake to end up in your coffee cup. I’m okay with that. It really changed my attitude about what I needed to do, or had to do, or I was driven to do. It’s like okay, things are going to happen on their own schedule. I’m okay with that.
Dana Robinson: Was there a lot of contemplation for you on this? Did you read Walden on the trip and take time to contemplate, or was your trip more the mechanics of the trip and enjoying the tactile aspects of it?
Mark Lovett: It was a bit of both. I get into that planning aspect. I can at some points be just very casual and in the moment, but other times I’m a planner. This was a matter of tracking our route and where we were going, but we never planned more than a couple weeks ahead of time. It was constantly evolving. We knew we wanted to go to Alaska. My mother-in-law lived there. I said what’s the furthest point that we can drive to in Alaska? I said that’s where we’re going. Then, a friend of mine, his parents were out on Cape Cod. I said that’s another … We can drive all the way out to the end of the Cape. Then, I said well, we’re on a roll here so we got to go down to Florida. We planned to just meander down the coast, and rented a house over Thanksgiving in Key West and hung out there. I read a lot of books along the way, listened to music, hiked out in nature.
Mark Lovett: I mean, we got into some remote areas where there just was no human influence. That’s another thing that I recommend people do is to try to get away from humanity once in a while, to just totally connect with nature. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I reflect back that whole trip was its own storytelling. The people that I met along the way, whether I was in Alaska or Nebraska, or New York, or Florida. Everyone’s telling stories. When they heard that we were just traveling around the country, people want to ask us questions. Then they want to tell us their own stories of traveling. If I had one regret from that trip, it’s that I didn’t record the entire thing.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, that you didn’t have blog, right?
Dana Robinson: A podcast.
Nate Broughton: Instagram account.
Mark Lovett: Yeah. I wanted to disconnect from everything, but looking back it was like I could have wrote a book about that.
Dana Robinson: You had an opportunity to disengage completely where you didn’t have the distractions mentally, so you could have these in depth conversations over nothing with somebody at a bar and not be thinking about what you’ve got to do next.
Mark Lovett: I think it shifted my relationship to people and my thoughts about humanity.
Dana Robinson: In a good way.
Mark Lovett: In a good way. Now, that’s come back full circle to what I do now because I’m out asking people, “What’s your story?”. I hear the most amazing paths that people have been on. The gentleman I spoke to today, he grew up in India. He wanted to be a physicist, a scientist, which is not typical. It’s like you’re either a doctor, or you’re a lawyer, or you’re an engineer. His father encouraged him to do that so he went off into physics but all of his friends went off into biology … All the scientists there … and he was like, “I hate biology. That’s not my thing.” Through a sequence of events, he got reintroduced to biology and that became his passion to understand what life was about. Now, he’s bringing his knowledge of particle physics into the biology lab. He’s got this amazing story that I’m sitting there listening to that I’ve never heard before. Most people who are in biology, that was their tract since high school, and they got their PhD, now they’re in the lab.
Mark Lovett: He made a complete career shift, but he didn’t realize it at the time he was learning things that he could apply elsewhere, which is really what, now that I look back, I see the same thing. That’s what I tell all young entrepreneurs is to just constantly be in learning mode. No matter what you’re doing, pay attention to what it is. Try to learn the lessons from it. Say yes more often when it feels like its something that you can do, even if it’s completely outside of your comfort zone.
Nate Broughton: All right, this is one of my favorite comments from Mark. He says yes more often in life more often than not. That’s almost always the default answer is yes, but I think we need to qualify that because he’s saying yes to opportunities, and specific opportunities. He’s not saying yes to everything, but I think it’s a good mantra. When we were doing this interview, I wanted to almost ask him about this, but I didn’t want to get him off track where’s there’s this book or this meme now that’s like the power of no. A lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of my friends I think, would say that they maybe say yes to too many things, but the instruction there of the power of no is not to say no to the things that Mark has said yes to, if you understand what I’m saying, Dana.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, absolutely. I think I’ve told the story several times of how I reached a point before I went to Bali where I had a lot of crying babies. I said yes to being involved with too many businesses, and each one needed more attention than I could give, and in some cases, they need more money than you can give. Then you’re running around with bottles feeding the crying babies. You have five times the email that you really can sustain. You can’t do anything well, so the idea of diversification versus dilution is worthy of the attention that I think entrepreneurial communities is giving it where you say no more often. No, I can’t lead that thing. No, I can’t join your board. No, I can’t join your company. No, I can’t invest in that because I don’t have time to be part of it.
Dana Robinson: There’s a lot of no’s that can be given. I think what is instructive about Mark saying yes is what he’s saying yes to are really cool, interesting opportunities. Not that he’s saying yes to every opportunity, but that he’s saying yes to the ones that people say, “Maybe you’re crazy.”
Nate Broughton: Yeah, I think he’s saying yes to having opportunities presented to him, and I think he’s saying yes to situations where an opportunity may present itself. He’s preserving the right to say no, but he’s saying yes to anything that something might come from at these different points in time of his life. I think that’s what I take from it. It’s like he also says that entrepreneurs need to continue to be learning throughout their lives. I think as we start businesses and grow them, you get to a point where you think you’ve got one running and you’ve got the people in place, or you’ve got the marketing tactics that are working. You shut down from what you got you there, which is to be playing around when figuring out new ideas, or taking new meetings with people outside of your business. I know I’ve been through that personally, and what Mark is saying is to be willing to go to Think Tank in San Diego when you’re 26. Then, you’ll maybe meet Dana and it’ll lead to something like this.
Nate Broughton: I think those are the things where you’ve had something in the back of your head where you’re like should I go to this event? Should I go have coffee with this person who maybe wants to pitch me on something, or meet someone who I’ve been introduced to whose from out of town and needs to meet somebody here who’s from the same field? Say yes to those opportunities, and then once you have those things happening, you can always be keeping stock in deciding which one of these things am I going to say yes to investing more time in. That’s what I took from Mark.
Mark Lovett: I signed up for different things that I just laughed when people said I could join their committee because I was completely unqualified, but I got to sit in meetings. I got to hear things about marketing, about promotion, about engineering, how products were developed. It really helped me become a more rounded person and gave me opportunities later on.
Dana Robinson: You’re a product of all of that now. I got a question. Is there a point that you look back and you say this is the old and now is the new? Or, is there a decision or a timeframe, or something that you did that divides the past into now?
Mark Lovett: You know, that period evolved in this window of leaving corporate America and getting just into storytelling. Many folks have probably heard of Simon Sinek. He came out with this Start with Why was his big thing. You buy from companies because of why they do it, not just what they do and how they do it. He’s evolved that into finding your personal why, which is like finding your passion. It’s discovering what it is that drives you. That’s a program that these Navy Seals go through with the Honor Foundation. I said well, if that’s what they’re doing, then I need to get into their head space and I need to go through that, so I got Simon Sinek’s book. I read through it. I really thought about my why, and in that moment I realized that I have two whys. I have my old why that I had in corporate America, which was about being a visionary and building teams and empowering those teams to succeed. That was my core value.
Mark Lovett: When I was a Chief Information Officer, I was a half ass programmer. Didn’t know half of the technology out there, but I had a great bullshit detector, so I could envision what success looked like and then bring a team of people together much smarter than me in their own little areas. Together, we as a team, could achieve really great things. I did that multiple times in every title I had. That’s what I did. I had a vision and I built a team.
Dana Robinson: You didn’t even know this was your why until you went through this exercise.
Mark Lovett: Exactly.
Dana Robinson: That’s a great why.
Mark Lovett: Yeah, it’s beautiful. It was the key to my success, and it’s the reason why when I said yes to things I didn’t know that I had this innate ability to look at the big picture, to create a strategy and build a team around it to succeed. When I left that and started storytelling, then I realized that my why had completely shifted. Now my why is to enable other people to tell their most impactful story. I’m behind the scenes. I’m not in the front. I’m not the executive. I’m the unknown person. When we put on TEDx San Diego last year, we’re in Symphony Hall, 1800 people. My team runs the show. I sit at backstage. I do as little as possible. I wait for them to come to me if there’s an issue, and we solve it. Otherwise, I empower them to just make it happen.
Mark Lovett: When you hear a speaker out on stage deliver a line that they’ve been waiting their whole life to deliver, and the audience erupt in applause or give them a standing ovation, there is this sense of accomplishment in me that’s like holy shit, I was able to connect this idea to these people. They don’t even know I exist, but I don’t care about that. It’s about the fact that people’s lives just got changed. That’s become my new why.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, that’s powerful.
Nate Broughton: Okay, Mark’s starting to tell us a little bit about his family life and his approach to parenting with his son. I thought it’d be a nice point for us to jump in, Dana, and just commentate a little bit about a theme that we’ve seen with the Opt Out life. A lot of people have talked about the social pressures that come along with decisions that they make. Those can come from spouses. Those can come from parents very often, and it’s always interesting to talk to people about either how they were parented or how they decide to parent their kids given the backdrop of who they are and being on this podcast here and their approach to life. I know you’ve got a cool story of stuff that you did with your daughter as an entrepreneurial parent, and how that may have panned out, and then we can also maybe comment a little bit on just the philosophy of both of us as parents.
Dana Robinson: My basic philosophy was always that kids are amazing, and they don’t need that much from us other than not to screw them up. Right? I mean, ultimately the success that my child has is entirely her responsibility. I don’t get any credit for her success, and for the most part, I don’t get any blame for her failures but my responsibility is to pass along to her what I know in a way that ensures that she doesn’t feel obligated to follow some path that I’ve laid out for her. That was the intent of my parenting. One of the things that I did was try to communicate to her what entrepreneurs do. When she had a business idea … She had a couple of them … one of them was a Facebook app for sharing things. We had a sled that we had bought to go to the snow, and we were done with it. She thought how do I let my friends know that I have this sled that we bought so they don’t go buy one, and they can just borrow mine.
Dana Robinson: The entrepreneur hat in me said, “All right. Let’s develop that app and let’s teach this kid what the lawyers do.” I walked her through what a patent would look like. We filed a patent. I walked her through the trademark process. I walked her through incorporation and we used Elance at the time, which is now Upwork, to hire and I think I blew like $1500 just as a lesson in entrepreneurship to get a Facebook app built that was fully functional. She was part of that whole process, and it was six months of showing her what dad does and what entrepreneurs do. We did that cycle one more time before she graduated. It looked good on her college application, but by the time she hit college, she had lost all interest. When her patents were refused, and I said let’s work on responding to these, she just said, “Do we have to?”
Dana Robinson: She was done. She was not going to follow her dad’s entrepreneurial path, and that’s fine as long as I felt like I had shown her what I could show her and participated in her growth process.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, I think there’s a comment on here in the conversation with Mark where you say a lot of parents just want their kids to get a good job, the traditional “Oh, you want him to be a doctor or a lawyer” or something like that, and go to college and that’s the end result as well. I’m not sure how much we can do about the parents of the world and their expectations other than to shed light on the fact that there’s a different way to do it, and that even those of us who choose to be entrepreneurs, we ended up this way one way or another and hopefully our approach is not to try to make our kids be entrepreneurs. It’s to expose them to a bunch of different things and let them make the decision in the end.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, the entrepreneurship, you and I have described it repeatedly as getting bit by a bug. You get bit at some point. Some of us got bit selling lemonade. Some of us got bit when we got our first jobs, but if we can take a chance and try to bite our kids just a little, that’s enough and they’ll make the decision after that.
Mark Lovett: I think tapping into the diversity of humanity in so many ways, through my travels and through all these talks, influenced me in that way where, as a parent, my dream is oh, my son’s going to be an engineer, a scientist. He’s going to be an entrepreneur. He’s going to be all these things. As he grew up, none of those things interested him. In fact, in high school, his two favorite things were Aikido after school and in school, his favorite class was pottery. I was shaking my head like “Pottery?” You’re going to this bogus class just to waste some time. Well, I ended up running into his teacher at school, and she comes up to me and says, “Your son is so gifted. I’ve never seen someone his age be able to throw clay like that.” A week later, they had an open house at school and they asked him to set up a wheel in the courtyard and throw clay.
Mark Lovett: I’m standing over in the corner watching him get set up, and within two minutes, he had this giant crowd of people around him watching his hands make these cups and plates and things. Not in a million years did I ever think that my son would get into that, that he would be so good. I had to learn how to feed what was working for him in his life and support that. While I could suggest other routes for him, at the end of the day it had to be his own journey. He’s on his own, and I’m there to facilitate that. Not to govern it.
Nate Broughton: That’s nice to hear because we’ve had people come in here and tell stories about the social pressures that they feel from a spouse, or it’s often from parents, to do a certain thing with their lives or their careers, or even in school, as young as middle school and high school. It’s nice to hear that you’re one of the good guys.
Mark Lovett: Well, it was hard for me to say any different because he knew enough about my life to say, “Well, dad. You jumped from one job to the next, and then you left and you did this. You did all these irresponsible things and now you’re trying to tell me to be responsible.” That’s when I thought he should be a lawyer.
Nate Broughton: You mentioned you used to be into wine. I gave you some subpar wine that you can have tonight. Let me know what you think, but yeah, here’s the exercise. If we’ve got to pick one bottle of wine to pop open and one TEDx talk to watch, tell us what we’re doing.
Dana Robinson: A perfect pairing.
Nate Broughton: That’s right.
Mark Lovett: I’m going to give you a challenge on this one with the win because I’m a big Pinot Noir fan. I’ve gone through all different kinds of shifts with the wines that I drink. A lot of California pinot noir, especially Russian River and Mendocino and Sonoma Coast, there’s some beautiful wines. There’s a couple of winery’s up there. One of them is Siduri. If you look up Siduri, they make probably a dozen different pinot noir’s. They’re hard to track down. Everyone that I’ve had from there is beautiful so I would say anything that says Siduri and pinot noir, try it. They have some Appalachian wines like Sonoma Russian River, but they also have vineyard designated wines that they contract for grapes from these vineyards. You can’t go wrong with a Siduri pinot noir.
Mark Lovett: As far as one talk to watch, the one that’s still heaviest for me right now because this gentleman was on our stage last year. His name is Brian Sokol, S-O-K-O-L. He’s a photographer. This was a case when you ask about how do you get on the TEDx stage. I knew I wanted something to do with refuges. I didn’t know what. I started Googling and searching, and looking at video and photography. I came across his website after hours, and it just resonated with me. It’s like this is my guy. He lived in south Sudan. He worked with these people, and he gets up on stage, and of course being a photographer, he’s got these amazing images that he’s showing you of his time there. His personal transformation was that he shows you the pictures he was sent to take. The thousands of people in the rain, and the feet in the mud, and all the tragedy. He goes, “That doesn’t tell the story. These are real people.”
Mark Lovett: He started talking to them as individuals, and he created this project about the one thing that they took with them when they left. He really humanized the refuge problem, something that we think of as just something tragic. He brought to light the beauty of who these individuals are and it really shifted my perception of how the world thinks of the refuge problem.
Dana Robinson: All right. Everybody’s got their homework for tonight.
Nate Broughton: Go do it. Thanks for being here, Mark.
Dana Robinson: Thanks, Mark.
Mark Lovett: Oh, it was pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Nate Broughton: Thanks again for listening to the Opt Out Life podcast. If you like this episode, or any of our episodes, we’d love to have you as a subscriber. Click the subscribe button on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcast. Then, head over to OptOutLife.com. There, you can enter your email address to get on our email list so you’ll be the first to know about new podcast episodes as they come out, including handpicked highlights, links to resources we mention and top quotes from each episode. Dana and I are also publishing new articles on the site, including how-to guides and blueprints for you to use to find your next side gig or find a creative idea to help you live the Opt Out life. Opt Out Life email subscribers also will be the first to get access to upcoming video content, which includes a short documentary we shot recently here in San Diego, as well as opportunities to interact with us and our growing community through the Opt Out Life premium membership.
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