BGBS 044: Mark O’Brien | Newfangled | I’ll Do Anything
Mark O’Brien may currently be the CEO of Newfangled, but you’ll soon learn that he is a man of many passions. Growing up, Mark had his sights set on pursuing a career in the Catholic Church. As a young adult, he landed his dream job at a restaurant he idolized while working toward a degree in poetry. Finally, he worked his way up from an HTML intern position at Newfangled to find his true calling as the owner. Fascinated? Us too.
And of course, we can’t forget the patented Mark O’Brien phrase that guaranteed him his dreams along the way: ”I’ll do anything.” As the CEO today, Mark believes in making his business something he loves so much that it’d be crazy to step away from. That means facilitating Newfangled to reach new heights at what it does best, “helping marketers market.” Ultimately, Mark inspires us with the idea that we can absolutely be the best in the world at anything we put our minds to. With our minds open to the possibilities, we encourage you to look inward and ask, what do you want to be the best in the world at?
In this episode, you’ll learn…
- Mark originally went to liberal arts school for a specialized poetry education to serve his musical interests
- Catholicism was a huge influence on Mark, prompting him to pursue becoming a deacon until a change in events led him to turn away from religion altogether at a young age
- Mark found solace in the Bentleys, a healthy, semi-parental relationship he made at an otherwise dark time in his life
- Richard Bentley taught Mark a Chinese martial art called Wushu to protect himself at a time when he literally feared for his life at school
- Food is 100% Mark’s primary love language!
- Mark’s goal in life was to work at his dream job, Al Forno, for 10 years until a realization became the catalyst for his first midlife crisis
- While working 3 jobs at 90 hours a week, Mark offered to work for free at Newfangled Web Graphics and got a response that turned his world around
- Moving to North Carolina kick-started a remote role for Mark (which was rare at the time) where he was able to flourish while selling for Newfangled
- Mark was a jack of all trades with many hats within Newfangled. His dedication to the business led to a life-changing offer that he couldn’t refuse
- Newfangled is serious about working with companies that desire a stark culture change and better control of their future
- “Never sell, never retire” – a life-changing value that inspires Mark to be the best he can be at his business
[15:11] I was terrified. So my dad had moved away, my religion fell apart. I was truly afraid for my life each day I went to school. These are tough times. But the Bentleys were this rock.
[24:01] I got my dream job. And within six months through all sorts of contortions of the universe, I was running the place. I achieved my 10-year goal in six months
[44:20] If you’re properly specialized, you absolutely can be the best in the world at something.
[49:32] I’m so grateful for what I get to do every day. This is an incredible business. It’s an incredible business full of wonderful people. And we do work for wonderful people.
Mark O’Brien 0:02
I wanted to be a priest but I didn’t—I would have liked to have been a priest but I didn’t want to because I knew I want to have a family. And so as I go, I won’t become a deacon I grew up I was an altar boy, I was the head of the see why oh, I was in. I was in and loved it until the priesthood mentoring for six years. Once my parents divorced, he tried to have relationship with me. And that was the end of Catholicism for me and the end of Christianity for me. I’m starting to come back around a lot now. But what happened was it that door just closed my mind as soon as he made that advance. And thank God, I was big enough to get the hell out of this room. But as soon as you made that advance, a door instantly closed my mind. I don’t even know it closed. I didn’t know close till years later and look back, but I just never I wanted nothing to do with any organized religion at all. From that second onward.
Marc Gutman 0:56
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado, this is the Baby Got Backstory Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big back stories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and on today’s episode of Baby Got Backstory. We are hearing the story of Mark O’Brien, CEO and owner of the marketing agency newfangled. Alright, alright. Now if you like and enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over at Apple podcasts, or Spotify. Whichever one you listen to most, Apple and Spotify use these ratings as part of the algorithms that determine the ratings on their charts. And ratings help us to build an audience, which that helps us to continue to preach the show. well enough of that. Let’s get into today’s episode is you’re about to hear Mark O’Brien has quite a story.
As a young child, he thought he was going to have a career in the Catholic Church, only to become disillusioned and disconnected from that organization for reasons you’ll hear early in the episode. After landing his dream job working at the fine dining restaurant he idolized, Mark found his true calling, leading a creative agency today, Newfangled, what a great name is the marketing agency for well, marketing agencies. If that sounds odd, it makes perfect sense when Mark talks about it. But this episode really isn’t about marketing agencies. It’s about the fascinating and twisty journey of Mark O’Brien. And this this is story.
All right, I am here with Mark O’Brien, the CEO of newfangled. What a great name, I love that name. And I want to get into where that came from. And he says he’s the CEO, but not the founder, and which is pretty cool. And we’re going to talk about that. And, Mark. Welcome. And I want to say when when you sent your bio to us, which we have every guest Do you know you had your like kind of normal bio, but actually leading that bio was the brief version that went cook, intern, coder, President owner. And I just think that is a so awesome. I believe less is more, you know, I love the old quote, I would have written a shorter letter if I had more time in the economy of words. And I think that says it all. So we could probably wrap this interview right now. What do you think?
Mark O’Brien 3:35
Enjoyed it! Thanks, Marc. Bye.
Marc Gutman 3:39
Well, thank you very, very much for coming on the show. And when you were growing up, like young Mark would did, were you always destined to be a marketer?
Mark O’Brien 3:51
No, no, I actually had a fair bit of stress growing up, because I had no idea what I what I could possibly do for a living. And I had no idea what I how it could get by I remember thinking, wow, like look at in my parents house, like look, look at that, washing machine and dryer, how could I ever afford to buy a washing machine and dryer? Yeah. The whole thing seemed quite daunting. And I had no idea at all what I’m doing, which makes sense now because what I do didn’t exist then.
Marc Gutman 4:24
And like so what did your parents do? Like what gave you that sort of impression that a washer and a dryer was just unattainable? Like what were their careers?
Mark O’Brien 4:36
I don’t think they did anything to damage me in that way. It was just all inside my own head. My dad is a scientist, primarily a biochemist, but he’s in all sorts of other things as well. And my mom when I was growing up was just the consummate Mom, you know, she she was there. She did start working once I got a little bit older, but she was awesome. homemaker of the highest order and took took a deep, deep deep pride in that rightfully so.
Marc Gutman 5:08
It’s funny like like I have the reverse problem now I look around I’m like how do I afford that washer and dryer doesn’t even work this isn’t this is insane and I don’t want to think about it you make you’re giving You’re giving me anxiety go back to go go back to childhood or go back to so. So where were you growing up? Like what was? Where did you grow up? What was the town like what you know, what was life like for young Mark?
Mark O’Brien 5:35
Young Mark. So I’m born in Providence, Rhode Island, and it was so it’s a city a small city, but a city and then moved to Danbury, Connecticut out in the country when I was six. So I did most of my growing up in Danbury, it’s about 10 minutes for the New York border, spent a lot of time in the woods in the reservoir, just camping out and playing with friends. So it was it was a real idyllic upbringing, walking to school, through the trails, things like that. playing outside and swimming and canoeing in the summer and ice skating and sledding in the winter.
It was wonderful. I really fell in love with the country in those 12 years I was in Danbury from six to 18 and actually end up going back to Providence for college and stayed there for Gosh, about eight years or so total not not college, just Providence and and I missed the country deeply when I was in the city so when I moved down to North Carolina in oh three I made sure that I found a place deep in the country which I did. I’m at Chapel Hill still today but you know the chapel is a pretty rural area I’ll hold hold on.
Marc Gutman 6:44
I love that and that’s interesting like I haven’t like had a lot of experience with Rhode Island but not you and the guests right before you Foley Fish and only if you’re familiar with them but Rhode Island isn’t the the biggest place they’re in that area and that they’re efficient fish processing and market so pretty interesting. It’s like
Mark O’Brien 7:01
Marc Gutman 7:02
Foley Fish Yes, yes,
Mark O’Brien 7:04
I know Foley Fish really well actually mentioned them, so what’s your connection to Foley fish?
Marc Gutman 7:10
They’re the guest that’s preceding you on Baby got backstory so they’re gonna you know people who’ve listened about Foley Fish will now be getting into Mark O’Brien and hearing all about Rhode Island and and outside of like Dumb and Dumber and fairly brother movies. You know, like I you know, I don’t have a lot of Rhode Island experience
Mark O’Brien 7:30
Rhode Island’s a wonderful place, particularly the summertime, it’s wonderful, but Foley Fish. So my very brief bio there, part of it was cook and I ran the kitchenette, a quite prestigious place. There’s a story behind that. But I found myself doing that, to my surprise. And their supplier was Foley Fish. And we went in toward the entire fully facility. And it was amazing. They’re they’re an extraordinary organization, that they’re one of those organizations that you know, the people who run it, it doesn’t matter what what business they ended up in, it was going to be an excellent business. You know what I mean? Like they they’re not in the fish business. They’re they’re in the I don’t know what business they’re in.
But Gosh, they they are operating a level head and shoulders above everybody else in that marketplace. And the good, amazing innovation in terms of you know how to keep fish fresh, everything else. Incredible, incredible customer service and just impeccable, impeccable product. They’re there. They’re really an extraordinary, extraordinary organization. And one, I wouldn’t mind modeling some aspects of Newfangled after even though we’re in marketing and they’re fishmongers.
Marc Gutman 8:41
Yeah, I mean, we’re not here to talk about them, but they’ve been in business for 114 years. And to me, you know, I’ve worked with some iconic brands, where basically the the model is don’t mess it up, you know, but, uh, you know, but like, very few businesses have been around that long. So super, super cool. And if you’ve listened to that episode, and you’re, you’re coming in now, you’re gonna have a little bit of context, and if not go back and listen to that one. But I want to get back to you know, you mentioned you were back in Rhode Island, you went to college, where we were interested in and what were you studying at that time?
Mark O’Brien 9:15
Okay, so my interest then, so was cooking. Okay, so I, I started working pretty young. My first job was as a caddy at a golf course. I think I was 12 or 13. That was a terrible job. Did not enjoy that. And then I was a busboy at a Chinese restaurant. And then my friend Rosie, she worked at this Italian place, and is small, like 30 seater, run by husband and wife and they needed a busboy and so I left the Chinese place to go to the Italian place and it changed my life. I start in the front of the house with Manuela then with a Bentley, the wife of the husband, wife and got to know Richard Bentley. And the the Cook, or whatever. And I fell in love with and with cuisine, and my mom was always a fantastic cook. Again, under the heading of homemaker such as existed in the 80s.
It was, you know, the classic stuff lasagna, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, apple pie, a lot of pies. But she was the best cook on both sides of the family. She was amazing cook. So I always grew up around really, really good food and well prepared food. But actually learning how to do this in a modern way in a restaurant was very different for me. And I wanted to go to culinary school I was I was dead set on going to culinary school, but my mom was the boss. And she basically forbade me and made me go get a liberal arts education. I’m very glad she did. So I went to Providence College. And I decided to and so I went to Providence College. And I was very happy to do that. Because Al Forno my dream restaurant was there. And that’s, that’s why I made the full connection. And and I went knowing that I was going to work full time in restaurants the whole time through college, as I did through high school.
And I did, and I’m also a very big music fan always have been. And so I decided, well, I’m going to take a specialization in poetry, after falling in with a poetry professor who was just fantastic, and actually just won a Pulitzer recently, which is great, and he very well deserved. And I took a specialized major with him basically for poetry, in order to become a better a better lyric writer to serve my musical interests. So I was like, Okay, I’m going to college, I’m not doing this for money, I’m not going to get a job in, you know, in the liberal arts or any related field. I’m gonna cook for the rest of my life. Because of course, I’m 18 I know everything. And I really did. I was a real jerky, 18 year old, I really, I really know everything.
And so I went to Providence and I studied poetry with Forrest Gander. And it was incredible, and a wonderful educational experience, and work full time restaurant. So I applied to Al Forno like five times, and they kept on rejecting me, didn’t even reply to me. But then, of course, I met somebody who knew somebody, and then I got the interview that we can get in. So if you want it’s a pretty good story, it does relate to the overall newfangled story as well. But I’ll let you guide that.
Marc Gutman 12:12
Yeah, I’d love to hear about that in one second. So the before that I want to hear like why cooking like what do you love about it? Like, why was this the thing that that captivated you at such a young age? had made you so sure, because I also was a bit of a jerky, a 18 year old, but I had no idea. You know, I didn’t know anything about anything. You know, I didn’t know about the world. I didn’t know what existed, you know, so I was very unsure with what I wanted to do. So I find it very fascinating that that you were very sure. And it sounds like you still like hold cooking really dear in your heart Even though you’re not doing it right now professionally. So like, what is it? Like? Why is—what’s so great about cooking? Was it mean to you?
Mark O’Brien 12:54
Yeah, so um, yeah, there’s an answer to that question. So I started Bentley’s, about age 15. And at that time, two other things happened. My parents got divorced. My dad moved away. And that was, that was a big deal. And also, I had been very Catholic growing up. I’m gonna be really honest with you. I don’t know how big your audiences here, but I’m going to be pretty open about some things here. I loved Catholicism. I was raised in a Catholic family. I had a bunch of priests, as uncles on both sides, you know, dyed in the wool, southern New England, Italian, Irish American Catholic, right. I wanted to be a priest, but I didn’t. I would have liked to have been a priest. But I didn’t want to because I want I knew I wanted a family. And so I was like, Oh, I wanna become a deacon.
I grew up, I was an altar boy, I was the head of the CYO, and I was in. I was in and loved it. Until the priest who had been mentoring me for six years. Once my parents divorce, he tried to have a relationship with me. And that was the end of Catholicism for me and the end of Christianity for me. I’m starting to come back around a lot now. But what happened was it that door just closed in my mind as soon as he made that advance. And thank God, I was big enough to get the hell out of his room. But as soon as he made that advance a door instantly closed my mind. I don’t even know it closed. I didn’t know close.
Well, years later, I look back but I just never I wanted nothing to do with any organized religion at all. From that second onward, holy involuntary mental response. And I kind of packed it away and didn’t even process it at all. So those two things happened. Right when I started working at Bentley’s and Richard Bentley. Mark, what is it about you? How’d you how’d you get me into this situation so quickly? Richard, was in a credibly strong presence. Very intense, very quiet. very intimidating. Honestly. I was terrified of him. I was absolutely terrified of him. The other thing that was going on at the same time is I moved into a place Public School and there were gangs. And I watched as one of my closest friends who I walked into the cafeteria with, got dragged away by about 15 guys and put in the hospital. So I was terrified. So my dad had moved away, my religion fell apart. I was truly afraid for my life each day I went to school.
These are, these are tough times. But the Bentley’s were this rock. And if Richard had been a car mechanic, I would have become a car mechanic, you know, it, I was gonna do whatever he did, because he, he was someone I could rely on. And he was an incredibly powerful, strong male figure. And he happened to cook. Right. And he may well have had a wonderful relationship, and that religion was very important to me, because a very stable, you know, semi parental relationship was going at the same time is that they had decided for various reasons that they weren’t gonna have kids. And I showed up at a time in their life that where they were, they had a bit of a gap. And we just, you know, sometimes you have chemistry people that is special.
And so what also happened with Richard, it was, he had heard about me talking Manuela about what’s going on at school and how afraid I was. And this is it’s, this is funny. So I would go to their house to do yard work for them outside of the work hour, so I’d go and like, clean the leaves because they were the restaurant 24 seven, so their yard was like in disarray, but they, they were actually exceptional gardeners, but there’s lots of chores to get done. So I’d go do manual labor for them, basically, when I was at the restaurant, and one time after I did my chores, but my mom had to come pick me up yet. He said, Oh, come on back, I’m gonna show you something. And he started showing me some self defense movements.
And I knew I knew he was like a martial art kind of guy, but I was I didn’t really know much about it. And, and he starts showing me things like, okay, you know, for next week work on these three movements, as Wow, because it was, it was the real deal. It was clearly the real deal. I tried taking some Taekwondo classes for self defense, because I was scared. And it was all about like, points in belts in like getting awards. I’m like, No, no, I’m not here. This is not a sport for me, I need to protect myself. I don’t need a point because I like I tap someone on the shoulder like, this is not what I need. But it was very clear from the very beginning, what Richard was doing was the real deal. There was a thing called Wu Shu.
And, and so I did, though I practice those things. Then I started going with him to his teacher jayadev, about 45 minutes away. And so twice a week we’re drive to take these martial arts classes with Richard and his teacher and a few other guys. And it was incredible. It gave me so much confidence, and it filled such a massive gap for me. And on the way back and forth would listen to tapes, like books on tape, literally, about the restaurant business, like kind of like collect self help books. This is like educational books about restaurants. And Alfredo was always the rest of their department was always offered as a software does that and in Alberta was clearly the gold standard. And Al Forno, it was a Providence and I grew up in Providence had some connections there.
And so so the answer question is I got into cooking, because that’s what Richard Manuela did. And that became my rock. And it clearly also resonated with me, and I’m pretty artistic. That’s naturally wired that way. And cooking. Cooking does really speak to that. And I also love food. I love wine I love I love sensations. Right, I love like physical experience. And food has so much to do with that both know it, it touches all the senses in a really impactful way. And so it’s like an endlessly interesting area of pursuit. And I got just an incredible foundation from Rich & Manuela.
Marc Gutman 18:48
And for you, It sounds that food is comfort. It’s love it’s family. And you know, in that time that you shared and thank you for sharing that. It’s exactly what you needed. And I can imagine now that that’s probably a way that you express love and how you care about people with that, would that be accurate?
Mark O’Brien 19:07
100% 100% I cook for people all the time. Now fewer people because you know, when I was many people in our pod because of COVID But yeah, that’s 100% were my primary love languages. And that’s how I grew up to that’s my mom’s love language. That’s how she tells you She loves you. And like I grew up in that I didn’t learn that from the Bentley’s I learned for my mom, the Bentley’s just allowed me to make it my own and to make it something could actually make a career out of so but yeah, 100% a love language.
Marc Gutman 19:33
And so tell me about it and then have the name or is it al furneaux or foreknow foreknows the restaurant
Mark O’Brien 19:38
Al Forno. Al space f o r n o.
Marc Gutman 19:42
Al Forno. And so, you know, sitting sitting in the car listening to these tapes and hearing the name of this restaurant and setting you know your intention and your dream and you know I tell the story about how I was a skateboard kid and I used to look at Thrasher magazine and I used to just dream about Like how great and cool those kids were in Thrasher. And as soon as I had a chance to get out to California moved to Venice, and I realized it was all like, not cool. You know, like, those kids, those kids all had like, horrible upbringings. And they and at the time when I moved to Venice, it was awful. It’s super cool now, but it was like scary. And I was like, wow, like I, the dream that I had in my head did not match the reality for you. In getting in to that restaurant. What was that, like? Did that that live up to the billing?
Mark O’Brien 20:32
It was every single thing I’d ever imagined to be in so much more. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible and life changing. And it also made me decide that there was absolutely no way I was gonna make my living and food. Why is that? Well, so so I finally got enough or no, I, I met a guy who was very good friends with the guy who was like that the second command there. And so I got an interview with George drumond George Osborne was owned by George drumond. And Joanne clean husband, wife, team, and I can invert George and I did what I have patented patented as the monopoly patented but you know, air quotes patented as the Marco Brian, it’s a move that cannot be resisted.
Okay, and here’s the move. So, I’m, I’m a senior in college. So I’m only 21. I’ve been hearing about all for now. And like idolizing photos that was 15, six years a big chunk of my life, right? More than a third of my life. Or so No, no, no, but ever. And finally, I’m sitting down with the owner, the founder of alpha widow, George, and he says, What do you want to do? And I said, I’ll do anything, I will do absolutely anything. I just need to be in these doors. I’ll do anything. I’ll clean the floors of my hand. And that’s what the job you need done. Honestly, I will do anything. And they said, All right, you start salads on Monday. So I started the salad, the garbage station, the salad station.
And I was over the moon I mean, probably one of the top five happiest most my life honestly, when I found out that I was going to be working out for now I just felt so successful. It was so incredible. And I was gonna earn $7 an hour. And that was that was really bad pay even then, really, really, really, really basically minimum wage. But that didn’t care about one bit because I was going to be enough for now. And my first week or second week on there, and I learned so much that that salad session it like so many of the recipes I hold today and my favorite last night I made a pseudo salad and it’s that recipe.
I learned so much about cooking. It just opened my entire world. I learned so much my mom I learned so much from the Bentley’s when I went to all four No, it was that next exponential level up from that in terms, my learnings. And there was a weekend. And there’s Guatemalan guy, Tony, who ran the kitchen downstairs and he was fierce, fierce, fierce, unfair, vicious, but amazing cook. And if he said a kind word to you, it like brighten your whole day, you know. And so in the middle of a service Saturday night, everyone’s slammed, everyone’s literally running around everywhere. And my back is to everybody else, because the soundstage is up front, but it’s on Oh, it’s an open floor plan. You can see the dining room, everything in the kitchen. And George comes in. And he nods to me he’s like how’s this how’s the new guy doing? And Tony said he’s the best we ever had. And I heard that it wasn’t meant to hear that.
But I heard it. And my confidence was went way. And that’s because my training guy trained at Bentley’s, like I learned the right way to do things from the beginning. And so I was able to, I was able to take on that next level for now. And within six months, my goal is to stay at a for over 10 years. That was my goal when I got there because I’m gonna stay here 10 years, I’m still in college, I’m gonna finish college, who cares about college, I’ve got my dream job. But let me get back to the college a mo, who cares? It wasn’t really very fair. But I got my dream job. And within six months through all sorts of contortions of the universe, I was running the place. I achieved my 10 year goal in six months at all for now.
And just about 18 months after that I was gone from not only a photo but from cooking, because I realized that but again, much like the priests thing, it could be a prison one family well can’t get I can’t cook someone a family because I saw if I’m if I’m going to do if I’m going to ever make any money at this, I have to own my own place. And if I own my own place, I’m gonna have to like live in that place for good and my kids wanted to live in that place. And that’s just not what I want to do. I love cooking, but I don’t love it enough to sacrifice everything else. And so I decided to leave. And so at that point, I’ve dealt with cooking, I already graduated college, I’ve got my specialized poetry degree and I have no idea what to do with my life and I was 23 and That was my first midlife crisis. I it was it was. I’ve unfortunately had a second sense. But But prior to having the second one, I said that I had my midlife crisis at 23 that was just part one. And that was a very, very, very scary time. I still worked in restaurants I worked as a bellhop, I was working all kinds of jobs. I could I could employ myself, but I, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. It’s very scary.
Marc Gutman 25:24
Was there like a specific moment or day where you had that realization that this isn’t for me?
Mark O’Brien 25:32
Yeah, there was actually. No one’s ever asked me that question.
There was this a waiter. His name was Tony to the Tony I think was Tony. And he was he was tough. He had a lot of attitude. He wasn’t very nice. He he he liked start fights. And there was no not another Saturday night super busy tons of stuff going on. And he screwed up but didn’t want to admit it script in order at a point a script or some big deal because everything’s made from scratch. It’s like everything’s time to be in perfect use of everything else. It’s like it’s pretty high cuisine. And he came in and I just lost it. I completely let started screaming at them. And I lost it and it turned my screaming like turned into like, almost like a breakdown started crying. And in the scream is like his cry scream. And then I just laughed, I just left and went to the bathroom is like what the hell just happened? Thank thankfully, it’s never happened before or since.
But like it was a breaking point for me. And in the stress was insane. I would yell at people all the time. Everyone yelled that everybody was it was just a vicious atmosphere. And it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of reasons where it’s not that way. And but you know, I worked by that point. I did work in a lot of restaurants. I knew the deal. I know what was going on. And I just realized, no, this is not my this is my thing. And it was hard because, you know, I learned how to make scrambled eggs from Julia Child. She candell for no and we open special for her on a Saturday morning for her 92nd birthday, which is one of her last birthdays. And she stood by the stove with me and taught me to mix reveled eggs and you know, George Harrison would come in and Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Steven Spielberg, I mean, this place was the place, it was really hard to leave that job and decide that but I had, I had seen enough where I realized this not my future.
But it was great because I got to make that decision from a fully informed perspective. And I did what I came to do, I had a 10 year goal like it comes in six months, and I kicked but I worked so darn hard for them I, I really gave it my all, then realize and move on.
Marc Gutman 27:38
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So like how do you handle that when you realize the reality doesn’t match the dream or the dream doesn’t match the reality? Or that you know, I think a pattern in my life. And the reason I asked this it’s a little bit selfish is that I dream big. And I hop right in and I think I’m so sure of what I want and then I kind of like oh, that dream doesn’t really match reality and and I get a little heartbroken or a lot heartbroken and take it pretty hard. Like how did you take it? Like, how did you have it? I mean, it’s one thing to know and have this blow up at work and be like, are I like, this is not for me. It’s another to settle in with the reality of like, hey, the thing I’ve been chasing, I was wrong about
Mark O’Brien 29:21
Yeah. No, it was hard. It was hard. And you asked, you know, did a foreigner match up for the dream and a photo did match up to the dream. It was everything I had imagined so much more it was it was the exact right thing for me to do. But yeah, the bigger picture dream of cooking for a living was not correct. And yeah, that was that was like I said very hard and very scary and incredibly and I was also like certain lose my hair at the time. And I was like oh my god, I’m ancient. I’m losing my hair. Yeah. And I was I was in a pretty bad relationship too. So it just was a pretty dark time but you know, that’s how it goes. Right? So it gets I got 15 dark time but also many beautiful things came of it then 23 another another shade. Up in the rest of my life came from that. And so what happened was I was this probably a good point to get this transition. I had a buddy I grew up with a Danbury, Chris.
And he was he was a geek out of the womb. He’s just a natural born geek, you know, just loves computers got his first Macintosh in 1982 when he was seven years old when most adults didn’t have a Macintosh very families dead he got he got a computer. And he was he was just all in from the very beginning. It’s just who he is and always has been. And so we were living together downtown Providence and I was just working different restaurant jobs and I was a bellhop. That was the worst I’ve actually ever had being a bellhop was so demeaning. It was really, it was it can’t be done well, but just the way people treat you is really, really rough. And there was no graduate college I had I was running out for no it which was there in a city ruled that city, I had the best job, you know, one of the best jobs in the city, in terms of a prestige perspective.
And now I’m a bellhop outside this hotel is really difficult, or really, really difficult, but good, good character building and very motivating, like, Look, I’m not going to do this, I’m gonna figure my life out. And so I live with Chris, downtown, and he had an awesome job in Boston, you know, made a billion dollars from my perspective. And it was 1999. So the.com bubble was still still ever expanding. And he said to me one day is like, you know, you could make like, 40 grand a year tomorrow reading HTML, and doesn’t know and I was like, That’s ridiculous. I don’t know anything. I literally knew nothing. Nothing about computer. I was the opposite of Chris. So whatever that is, I’m busy. No, you can’t, and I can I can teach you. And so I said okay.
That night, I fell asleep like this dream of $40,000 you’re like, Oh, my God, wow, that would be on a match. I could buy the washer, dryer and dryer, you know, because I never been good enough for seven bucks an hour, never made money. And, and so we convinced the restaurant I was working for Empire to, to do the website, and there’s a shorter and we did the website. But Chris did it. And I just kind of like literally sat over shoulder watched. And then we did it and went live. And it’s a beautiful site. It was a great experience. I did learn a ton. And he’s like, you know, that place that we walked by a Thomas tree, that New England place? Like you should just talk to them. And I was like, Yeah, they had a sign out. And there’s a sign I’m looking at right now actually, on the street.
And it turns out didn’t say New England is that Newfangled, Newfangled web graphics. And so I went and I went to the website, and I spent like, an entire afternoon writing the longest contact form ever. And of course, I submitted it, and it didn’t go through. So I had to do it again. And I wrote this just like this giant case for for, you know, speaking with the owner, and I said, it is a total the whole truth.
I know nothing. I did this website. Here it is. And, and and I pulled the markup, Brian, I will do anything. And I had three jobs at the time, I was working 990 hours a week between the hotel and to restaurants. And I didn’t want money. I just wanted to experience and I told them, this is more than I said to George, as I said, I’ll work for free. You’re not paying me. I just I just want to be there. And he had me in for an interview. And he hired me. He said, I’ll give you 10 bucks an hour. And you can work as many hours as you want to right there hit the jackpot. So I went and I it was a joyous like victory lap it went to all through my jobs and quit. And I started that next Monday on June 15 at new fangled as, like an HTML guy to be to be. And that was that was the beginning of the beginning.
Marc Gutman 33:39
Then do you know where the name came from originally?
Mark O’Brien 33:43
Newfangled? Yes, yes.
So Eric Holder, founded the company in 1995. with Steve Brock, I joined in 2000. And they both went to RISD at the Rhode Island School of Design a very prestigious art school, which, ironically, George drumond from Florida also went to, and he went to Disney and the company, the actual name of the company originally and 95 was newfangled and old fashioned graphics. You could hire new fangled and old fashioned graphics to either build your website or do woodblock printing grabbing for you. Those are the two services offered, actually,
Marc Gutman 34:20
Still trying to figure out who they wanted to be at that time, apparently.
Mark O’Brien 34:24
Like that’s what Eric studied in college. So Eric, what turisti he was a he was a fine arts guy, right? And so he was actually extraordinary. I would engraving and presses from that there’s a word for that, but I don’t know the word is. But he got out here to get a job. And so he started working for an agency, and it was 9594. And the agencies like this web things happening, can you just do that web stuff for us? And so we got a book and learned it and figured out the basics and started building websites and realize, wow, this is like a big deal. I should make a company doing this. So he did.
Marc Gutman 34:53
And so you’re building websites, and I’m assuming that it’s in the time when making a website was kind of hard, you know, like now, we have have all these templates and wicks and Squarespace and now web flows coming on and even WordPress is and it was so much easier than then than it was. And so what was that? Like? I mean, what was what was building websites when you started, like and how has it changed?
Mark O’Brien 35:18
It was thrilling. It was, oh, gosh, it was so wonderful.
It was just it was just fantastic.
And it was very manual, right. And back then there was Dreamweaver. And so you could use Dreamweaver to kind of fake it like it was a wiziwig have etiquette editor, but newfangled, didn’t touch that we pride ourselves on that, you know, we just it was all custom code, right? And we had a guy Mike boulais, who was more senior person and he created a CMS, new newfangled CMS, we call it webtop. At first and so it was super fancy. So I started learn how to program and I got into that and then I learned I do systems administration, and that was really exciting. But you know, the truth is, I didn’t realize this, but I was never really good at any of them. What happened was, I decided to move North Carolina, and I actually met my, my ex wife, as a bellhop. When I went to the three months I was at about as a bellhop at the Biltmore in Providence, I met my wife, she stayed there for a weekend. And she was awesome.
She kept asking, like, well, where should I go? Should I go here to go there and I kept like, is like pointing different directions, go go do that thing, go to this thing. And I’m just really impressed with how like courageous and and curious she was. And we traded emails, at the end of it, we kept in touch. And we ended up, you know, dating about three months later from afar, and decided to meet and we did that for a couple years, I decided to meet in the middle. She was in Mississippi at the time, and we decided to move North Carolina. And so I go to Eric, I said, Listen, we’re North Carolina. But I’d love to stay with the company. There was any way we could do that. I figured you’d say no, because no one worked remotely. And not It was crazy at the time. And he said, All right, yeah, we can do that. But if you’re gonna be in North Carolina, you’ve learned how to sell because, you know, because we got the time.
It was a very local business. We were in Providence, were we there, Southern England company. And as and as like, he said, You should build a book of business out there. So sure, I’ll try that I’ve never sold anything, but I’ll try it. And so he started taking me in a sales calls with him, which are all in person, of course. And he and I both realized very quickly that Oh, that’s what I’m good at. Forget about this coding stuff. Because no one had newfangled, like selling it all Eric hated it. Most people hate it. But I loved it. I loved every single thing about it. And so then I started selling for newfangled. And that’s when everything really changed for me. And really, honestly, I’m not to take too much credit for this, but everything changed for newfangled as well.
So I moved down here in the beginning of ’03, and started building a book of business down here. And it was very successful in my first year selling was the best year we ever had in the history of the company. And my second year selling was, I think it was one and a half times that it was just two great years in a row that really changed the foundation of the company. And Eric may be president of the company at that point, which was amazing. At that point, I really started running it. And I realized that I like that even more than selling. And in 2008. Eric, Eric, Eric is a classic entrepreneur, entrepreneur, he kept coming to me like, Hey, we should do this, which is that he always had ideas. And I kept saying no, it’s like, No, listen, we’re not good at this thing. Yet, we’ve really got to dig deeper to this thing.
We can’t let ourselves get distracted. Let’s stay the course on these few initiatives we got going on. And we can get to that idea, maybe in six or 12 months. And each time you know, he was a very balanced guy with very little ego and he would see the wisdom in it. And it’s okay, you’re right, that’s fine. But he got sick of it. He got bored. And he didn’t really have a place in newfangled anymore. And he didn’t like that he understood what I was saying was right for newfangled, but it wasn’t right for him. And so he decided to hire David Baker who introduced you and I, and he went for a consulting consulting. He went, he hired David to, to consult them on how to be a consultant. And David said, Okay, so you’re gonna start this consulting business, but you’ve got a company, like, Who’s gonna run the company, and music will go so well, Mark Mark does a lot of that is like, Well tell me what Mark does.
And at the time, I was a salesperson, I was the only project manager we had, I was one of our three developers still, and I was our sysadmin all those things at the time. And he said, Okay, so here’s the deal. After you get back from our visit here, you’re going to go back to the office, you can do one of two things. You’re either going to fire bark on the spot, or you’re gonna sell the company, that those the only two options. He’s got too much control. And so yeah, it was January of 2008. In was like the first or second business day of the year. And Eric in my office is like, Hey, can we go get a coffee? And I was like, sure. And he’s like, so you want to buy it?
And I was shocked. I was shocked. He said it’s roughly 1.1 X of last year, which is the same as the year before. And I said, Yeah, what are percent I absolutely want to buy Gottschalk, my wife got to figure out how to hack it. possibly could. But intent wise, yes. So 100% lot that says it Yes, immediately. And it was 2008. And you might recall, 2008 was a rather interesting year in the economy, especially the fall. So we had a whole plan worked out, everything’s good.
And then the entire economy fell apart. And so we had like, it was it was amazing it, Eric and I both really trust each other and love each other implicitly, we both wanted was best for newfangled and each other individually. And it was almost impossible to figure out a purchase, it was almost impossible. And aboveboard purchase, I’ve checked out with the IRS and all the rest. But we did we figured it out. And I became CEO, January 1 2009, Eric lefs, do all kinds of other things. And I began the person buying the company. And that was that was that was that I did not answer your question, which is how was it? How was it being Baudrillard back then, but I, I got into a story, I think it’s more interesting.
Marc Gutman 40:51
I think so too. And, and, and I love that story. And, you know, like, and I could feel, you know, my heart dropped a bit when you, you know, you purchased in 2008. And the economy changes, and you have to be thinking like, Oh, my gosh, like what just happened, I kind of similar to what we’re feeling now. And a lot of ways, a lot of businesses where there’s just a lot of external pressure that’s out of our control, but doesn’t really change the plans we have for ourselves or for our companies. And so back then, and and you were servicing, from what I can tell local clients, kind of just like your run of the mill webshop. And please correct me if I’ve got that wrong, but at what point did you shift to become more focused on working directly with marketing, creative firms to help them do their marketing?
Mark O’Brien 41:37
Well, we always had the agency angle, because again, Eric came from an agency from the very beginning. So we always positioned ourselves as partners for agencies. So basically, the deal was where the web guys, you’re the creative people will do all your web work for your clients. For you. That was the deal, that that that was the promise from the very beginning from 95. On, and so on. So that element of the business never changed the working closely with, you know, small to mid size creative shops. But yeah, in 2000, it was local shops. And then no, three, when it came down here, well became local to locales. And, and at the same time, you know, Eric had started doing more on a national scene, David connected with them with Howe magazine. And that started some nice articles and things and, and we started really pushing hard on being more nationally recognized. Eric had started his own content strategy for newfangled, in 2000, running a newsletter. And we always took our own strategy very, very, very seriously. And that was really the heart of our growth in terms of our national reputation building.
And, and then, around 2008, I started doing a lot of public speaking and got onto the conference scene and everything else. And then Chris Butler, newfangled balls got into it. So so we pretty rapidly became a a continental partner instead of just a local partner, which was great, that flip was essential, but it’s because of our expertise. We were great at partner with agencies, that was our sales prop. And, and we had really good systems were great web developers, we had excellent systems. And so so yeah, it was always about the agency.
What changed was, what we do today is that we we help the agencies market themselves, it’s not at all about the client work, we almost never touch any client side things with the agency, it’s all about the agency, which is kind of a funny thing we do we help marketers market. But it’s, but it’s wonderful. So in working with agencies, from 95, to 2015, we just learned so much about how they operate in their culture, and our culture sort of grew up to mimic theirs, like we became much more closely aligned with them as we work with more and more of them. And it was in 2015, that we realized we needed to completely change the business. And that realization was instigated by a combination of us adopting the attraction EOS methodology, and my involvement in the Strategic Coach program.
Marc Gutman 43:57
I’m familiar with both of those. Very cool, very cool. And so how does an agency know that they need to be working with new fangled? Like, what are the telltale signs?
Mark O’Brien 44:09
Well, yeah, let me let me explain a little bit about that transition. And then I can get to that question, because it’ll be helpful background or So basically, what happened in 2015? Is those two systems, EOS and coach forced us to look at like, what can you actually be the best in the world that truly, and when you hear that question, you think it’s a joke, and the best in the world at anything, but that’s not true. If you’re properly specialized, you absolutely can’t be the best in the world at something. And this is coaching we give to our own clients as well as our agency partners.
And we realize, you know, to your point, like well, this web stuff isn’t the problem anymore. Like agencies are able to build their own website, that’s not anissue. It’s everything else that they struggle with. The content creation, the emails, the email, work, the CRM, the paid media, like all the all the other stuff, that’s that’s the problem. And so we decided to completely reinvent the company to go to where the pain points were. So we would coach them on the websites or the build the right business development website. But then we spent a lot of time working with them on the content. The two hardest things about marketing are one positioning, and two, documenting your expertise around that positioning, which is content creation and distribution. Those are the two hardest things about marketing. And so we decided to go really, really hard at the marca the content side specifically.
And that built the modern modern-era of newfangled, where we focus on website coaching to make sure the websites the best business development tool possible, work with them on the content to make sure they’re producing the right volume and specificity of content from the right audience all the time, constantly forevermore, making sure they’re using email properly to nurture their prospects, the different stages in the buying cycle, in now paid media to generate, you know, near immediate and significant results, because we’re driving the right kinds of people to these wonderful expertise, latent assets.
So that’s, that’s, that’s the thing, the four pillars of website content, email, paid media, now an agency to your question, an agency decides it’s time to talk to us, when they’re sick of the same, they’re sick of the same that they’ve been living off referrals, and reputation of a few key people. Maybe they’re used to going to trade shows, and just kind of, you know, rubbing elbows, things like that. And they’re either sick of doing those things, or in Cobra times can’t do those things. And they really want to take control their future, they want to change their future and, and be known for something different and, and be treated like an expert and command higher prices have more control on the buy sell relationship with their clients, that’s when they come to us.
But we’re expensive, you know it, our price point is six to $7,000 a month, and we work in year long programs minimum, and so like it’s a tall, tall, tall, tall ticket. And so unless you really want to change, you’re not gonna hire us, you’ve got to really meet it, in order to work with us. And that works well for us because we end up with a roster full of amazing clients who have a deep, deep desire for real cultural change. And that’s, that’s what we do.
Marc Gutman 47:02
That’s, that’s incredible. And what are you seeing now, especially during this time of the pandemic? Are you seeing your clients thrive? Or are you seeing them struggle? Or what’s what’s the outlook look like right now for for what you’re seeing?
Mark O’Brien 47:17
That’s a great question. And I’m surprised at my response here. But we we do see, I think, a very specific and I’m not above, I can’t find the right word we, the slice of the marketplace we have immediate access to is a fairly representative slice of a certain portion of the economy. Okay. And so we work with bitesize agencies throughout North America, and a little bit in other English speaking countries, Australia, UK, etc. And so, but in the US and Canada, in all brightens just specialists, they have to test specialists they get they’re not specialist, they can’t work with us, we can help them. And so they’re working in very unique and Audrey’s discreet industries themselves. And so it’s a fair slice of the economy that we can see. And we’re deep in the business, we really understand how things are going and their business. And most of our clients are doing pretty well, which is interesting. A few are having a hard time, but only a few and an equal amount, if not more are seeing exponential growth.
They’re thriving in this environment because it plays to their skills because people can’t go out and do certain things anymore. And so I’ve been heartened, it’s surprised to see that, but our average client is stable at least. And many of them for many of them, the targets they set in January for the year. They’re still looking to hit this year, which is incredible.
Marc Gutman 48:48
Wow, that is incredible. And that’s a testament I think to what you’re doing with your clients and super, super impressed with that.
Mark O’Brien 48:56
So I actually stop you there. I can’t take credit for that, Newfangled cannot take credit for that. That would be that’d be overstepping for sure. I mean these businesses are extraordinary businesses on their own. And they made a lot of brave decisions. And that’s why the experts they are in the first place it’s that we just shine a light on it that that’s all we do. But it’s it’s if the truth weren’t incredible and compelling. The light we shot on it would be useless. It’s all about their work.
Marc Gutman 49:19
That’s very generous of you. And I get what you’re saying. And so what does the future look like for newfangled? What do you think? What what’s the future look like? You know,
Mark O’Brien 49:29
I’ve got to say I’m so grateful for what I get to do every day. This is an incredible business. It’s an incredible business full of wonderful people. And we do work for wonderful people. It shocks me that we get to work with a client base that is so smart, interesting, kind, and appreciative.
As the ones we do, like I feel bad for our client cause they, they work with like lawyers and stuff. And you know, I’ve got a lot of good friends who are lawyers, but you know, the agency market as a as a focus and to get to work with the owners and leaders of these really smart, interesting, nimble, creative, and digital shops, you know, all over the world is just incredible.
So I love what we do, we’re having more impact on our clients than we’ve ever had significantly more impact on clients we’ve ever had. And so we’ve really found a nice rhythm in terms of our service offering, and the staff that we’ve got the expertise level in the staff, so it’s part of us, you might be familiar, you said, 10 year, three year and one year goals. And so the three year goal is to really do what we’re doing, we’ve hit a groove now that we’ve been trying to find for a long long, we’re 25% we’ve been working on this for a while. And we’ve we’ve hit a groove that we’ve been trying to find for a long time. And and I intend to make sure we stay on it for for the foreseeable future. And, you know, measured growth even even probably throttled growth, I’m intentionally throttle growth just to make sure that we maintain a certain level of excellence inside the organization. So that’s kind of a boring answer.
But my first session at Strategic Coach, Blair Ends and I attended together, and the very first session of the 12 sessions we attended together in Vancouver was the headline was never sell, never retire. And Blair and I both absorb that and completely took it hook, line and sinker. And that’s how we run both of our businesses never sell, never retire, make build your business to be something you love, and you love so much that you’d be crazy to step away from it. And and that’s what’s happened. That’s really what’s happened. So, so I’m not looking to get out, I’m not looking to, you know, hit some dollar mark, Mark, and exit. None of that I’m looking to continue to work with this amazing team, we’ve got an amazing class, we have to just deliver as much possible value as we can, while maintaining our core values.
Marc Gutman 51:56
What’s hard about running a firm like yours, What don’t we know? What don’t we see? Like, what is the average person missing?
Mark O’Brien 52:03
I think I think the hardest thing about us about my role specifically, it sounds like I am, yeah. uncertainty and you gotta be okay with that. You have to be okay with that. And if you’re not okay, with a certain level of risk and uncertainty kind of permeated throughout your entire life. because everything’s on the line, it’s not gonna work out very well for you.
But if you are, then it’s an option you owe it to yourself to very deeply consider.
Marc Gutman 52:31
Well, Mark is we come to the end of our time here. I just have two more questions for you. And the first has been rattling around in my head ever since you you made mention of it. But what makes a great Caesar like, what’s the secret? Okay,
Mark O’Brien 52:44
Here we go. I’m ready to give this to you. Right now. There’s a recipe. in a blender. any old Blender will do two egg yolks. Five close with peeled garlic as much black pepper as you can grind in there. About a half cup of parsley, flat leaf parsley leaves, tablespoon of Wilshere sauce, the juice of one full pretty big lemon.
And that’s it. Put that in a blender.
Blend those things together. And then open up the top. There’s no blenders have a little like thing you can open the top. Open that thing up with your hand over and it’s going to splatter in very slowly pour olive oil into it until it thickens. It’ll take you about a minute of slowly pouring it and you’ll hear it’ll sound like a liquid then all of a sudden they’ll sound like a solid. And that’s when it’s done. That will be the best caesar dressing you’ve ever had in your life.
Marc Gutman 53:34
Mark O’Brien 53:35
Oh my gosh. How did I forget the anchovies? Yeah, yeah, okay. Yeah, yes, of course. anchovies. Thank you Marc. That’s what I get for rattling off top my head. Yeah, we want we want about five or six filets of Ortiz brand anchovies. Specifically, it has got to be Ortiz. Brandon, have you ever had an rpz anchovy?
Marc Gutman 53:53
I don’t think so.
Mark O’Brien 53:56
And I’m about to find some go find some right now. They sell it at most wholefoods. You can buy them on Amazon. They’re like 16 bucks for a one-ounce jar.
They’re expensive. But oh my gosh. And I’m not a like, straight anchovy guy at all never been. I can eat a jar of those in a sitting just by so they’re amazing. They’re they’re incredible. They’re like something other than Anchovy.
Marc Gutman 54:16
The first recipe rattled off by memory on the Baby Got Backstory podcast. First of all, thank you for that. And second of all, it’s a real takeaway. I’m gonna go make some Caesar.
Mark O’Brien 54:26
Romaine lettuce, of course. Right.
Marc Gutman 54:28
Yeah. And my last question for you. So if that 15-year-old Mark, who you were talking about, ran into you today? What do you think he’d say?
Mark O’Brien 54:44
He’d be shocked across the board. It’d be really mad at me. And he’d be really happy for me. That’s the best I got for you.
Marc Gutman 54:58
And that is Mark O’Brien. From Newfangled I need to try the Marco Brian move that can’t be resisted the all do anything. I’ve done that before in my career and I can attest, the great things happen. If you can just get into the middle of where they’re happening. Once you’re there, you at least have a chance to show what you got, and make your own way. And we’ll link to all things Mark O’Brien in Newfangled in the show notes, so please go and check them out. Thank you again to Mark and the team at Newfangled. Yes, I’m trying to set a record and how many times I can say the word Newfangled, Newfangled, Newfangled. Well, that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstorm.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS, so you’ll never miss an episode. A lot big stories and I cannot lie, you other storytellers can’t deny.