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Here’s your program.
Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. I’m doing a series of interviews with entrepreneurs who are willing to get real with me, willing to get open about their failure stories. Usually, we talk about success stories, but I believe there’s a lot to earn from failure stories. And I’m looking for entrepreneurs who are willing to do it. In fact, I found them including the guest who you are about to meet today.
Today’s guest created a business called TribeWanted.com. It got such big attention that it became a BBC2 program. He got on all kinds of TV shows and did really well. He then stepped back and parlayed what he learned from that experience to launch TheNerve.TV, a crowd source TV production company, and that company failed. He’s here to tell the whole story, including that failure. His name is Mark Bowness, and, Mark, welcome to Mixergy.
Mark: Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Andrew: From the good days, from the really high highs, what was your favorite TV appearance?
Mark: Oh, buddy, we were on “Good Morning America Live.” We were on the “Today Show.” Even in terms of the newspapers, New York Times, even the South China Morning Post. There were TV programs around the world, Australia, America that followed our story. It was huge.
Andrew: When you say it was huge, are we talking about Tribe Wanted?
Andrew: Okay. How do you describe what Tribe Wanted was in a sentence, and we’ll come back and fill in the gaps. But I want people to get a quick understanding of it.
Mark: Tribe Wanted, we leased a 200 acre island in Fiji that had nothing on it, and we said to people around the world online that you can pay to visit the island, and online you decide what you want to build on the island. And then, in real life you can go to the island and start building an eco-island from scratch.
Andrew: Can everyone get to watch it online?
Mark: They watch online. They interact with it online, but the big deal was that they could actually visit the island and become involved in that process of building.
Andrew: Mark, unreal. All right. Let’s go back and find out how you got there and what happened afterwards starting with, and you and I talked before this interview started about how open you’re willing to be. So, you were at a low before this. Can you describe what that low was?
Mark: Before I even thought of Tribe Wanted, everybody starts businesses for different reasons. I’d been married. I did my own project, charity work in Africa, in the UK. I published magazines, but I got to the point in my life, I was 25 and my marriage was over. I had come to the point where I basically tried to take my own life. That was basically it before I came up with this idea.
Andrew: Why does having your marriage break up want you to take your own life?
Mark: That’s a good question, a very good question. I’ve always had this belief that I’m here for a reason, that everyone of us has a potential, and I was so passionate about my potential that I was doing . . . I want to explain the context. I was doing so well. I was producing magazines. I’d written a book. I was speaking. I was a motivational speaker, and it came to the point where I was doing so well, but underneath everything was crumbling, and I put my identity in what the outside world thought I was.
As a result of that, I thought, how can I ever face people again because what I projected ended up not being actually what I was at that time in that context.
Andrew: You know what? I’m so glad that you’re willing to be this open about your feelings. At any point if I ask you about something that you don’t feel comfortable about, just say I don’t feel comfortable.
Andrew: But I’m going to take my lead from you, and it seems like you’re comfortable with my being open with my audience. What was it on the inside that didn’t agree with what you were projecting on the outside?
Mark: I was doing well, in magazines and speaking at youth events and motivational speaking. It was all great, but it was all based on positivity, which was great. I was really young. I was in a marriage too young, and I was still learning who I was, what I was about.
This kind of charity, this non-profit organization was doing really well, but it became expected of me in terms of what I was and who I was, and it was kind of this inner crisis that I knew that I was going out speaking at these big events inspiring people to do all these crazy things and to really live their life. But underneath I wasn’t doing that.
Andrew: Tell me about that. What’s something you were telling everyone, this is the way to live your life, but you really weren’t doing it.
Mark: I suppose the whole idea of just chasing your dreams, of being honest with yourself, of all those sorts of things.
Andrew: I don’t understand because you were on stage. That feels like chasing your dreams. So where weren’t you doing it?
Mark: I suppose I was kind of chasing my own dreams. I was kind of trying to inspire people to reach their full potential, but I knew in my own life that I was in this relationship that I shouldn’t be in.
Andrew: Were you projecting this happy married couple publicly, too?
Andrew: Oh, so you were saying look, I’ve got this happy life. I’m doing everything perfectly. I’m going to teach you, but really you were struggling internally.
Mark: Completely. I was 24 or 25 at the time and completely naive, but I was trying to understand me and who I was, based in the public persona and position I was also in.
Andrew: You know what? I totally get what you’re… I can’t say totally, but I get a little bit of what you’re talking about. It’s so easy when people look at you and look to you for guidance to say, I can give you guidance because I’m here and everything’s perfect. Meanwhile, look at my life. Olivia and I aren’t always perfect. We just got married, and we still have issues.
I don’t know every single thing about business, but I’ve done interviews with hundreds of people, and people who are watching come to me and say, you must know everything. It’s easy to say, oh, yes, I will be that guy that you’re looking for. You think I know everything? Sure, I know everything. I’ll live up to that. Was there one thing that you felt like this was a big secret that you were hiding?
Mark: Now, you’re talking. I need to explain how this was a Christian context. The charity that I was running was a faith-based context, and I was struggling with my faith massively, hugely. I was brought up in a Christian household, and so my faith-based belief was inherited. I’d come to this place, and my degree was in theology. I’d come to this place of understanding where I don’t know if I believe in this any more. I believe in something, but I don’t know what it is.
Andrew: What is it about Christianity that made you say this isn’t my belief or may not be?
Mark: It wasn’t necessarily Christianity, but it was the doctrine behind it. It was about how you should live. I had written a book which was encouraging young people to live their lives, lads, blokes, to live in a very specific way and how the example of how they should follow Christ in a religious belief.
The reality is I started thinking that this is too much.
Andrew: What about it was too much? Put some concrete examples to help me understand because we’re coming from different cultures, and I don’t know your story as well.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. That’s fine. The kind of Christian church that I was in was very much you shouldn’t be having sex at all. Your thoughts should be pure, and this was what I was teaching.
Andrew: Were you cheating on the side? Was that what it was?
Mark: I wasn’t cheating on the side. If you want the full story…
Mark: I actually came to the understanding that I was gay.
Andrew: Okay. Oh, I see. There’s the disconnect. Here you were preaching a certain way of life that’s heterosexual and monogamous and no sex outside of marriage, and you were finding yourself having these gay feelings.
Mark: Now, we’re there.
Andrew: I see.
Mark: This is therapy for me.
Andrew: And when you say that you wanted to kill yourself, was it because you were gay or because you were hiding that?
Mark: Because I didn’t think because I was gay that was it. If I had come out to my parents, to my family they would not have been happy, and I would rather just end the whole thing. I can’t even begin to describe how this was a massive turning point for me, but basically it doesn’t matter what challenges we face in our life, but coming out to ourselves, whatever it is that we are. I’m not talking about our sexuality, but forget and try and be somebody that you’re not but being honest with yourself is the most amazing thing that can possibly happen and that is life changing.
Andrew: When that happened to you, why did you want to take your own life?
Mark: Because I couldn’t see a life where I was honest with my family and my friends. I didn’t believe that they would have accepted me.
Andrew: I see.
Mark: I just didn’t. I just didn’t.
Andrew: Okay. I’m getting a sense of the despair. Did I push too much, by the way?
Andrew: Did I push too much?
Mark: I’m enjoying this. This is good.
Andrew: Thank you. I’m getting a sense of the despair, and in that despair you discover something. What do you discover?
Mark: I discover that I’ve existed on planet earth for 25 years, but I’ve never truly lived. I’ve been everything else that I thought everybody else wanted me to be. I was never actually me. That was life changing, absolutely life changing.
Andrew: What did that open your eyes to that led to Tribe Wanted?
Mark: To me, I was alive. I was absolutely alive. When you try and wipe your existence off the face of the planet and you realize you’ve never truly lived, then to me it was about anything is possible. Dream the most impossible dream and then do it. To many people that might sound kind of cheesy, but in the situation I was in, the worst thing that could possibly ever happen to me was that I could have gone bankrupt. But you know what? In comparison to wiping your existence off the face of the planet, it doesn’t matter.
And so, you have this foundation to do whatever it is that you believe that you should do, and the biggest thing I learned is potential. We’re all on the face of the planet because we have potential, and I started to chase and find and explore what my potential was while I was here.
Andrew: Can I tell you something? There’s something about your delivery and the words that you use that is very inspiring. I’m ready to follow you. If you say, Andrew, this is Christianity and why you should be in it. Suddenly, I’ll go and become a Christian. I could understand why there were so many people gravitating to you back in the day.
Okay, so you were looking at the world around you and synthesizing some ideas and using those to create what became Tribe Wanted and what I’m leading to, what are some of the ideas that inspired you?
Mark: Oh, buddy, I was watching Alex Tew’s Million Dollar Home Page, and Alex is a guy I truly love, and the fact that he was refreshing his PayPal account and seeing all this money come in was fantastic. But at the same time I was watching Kyle MacDonald’s One Red Paperclip, and this guy’s trading on red paperclip into a house.
And so, it was about the Internet. It wasn’t necessarily about finances. It was about potential. It was about the rise of MySpace then. Facebook wasn’t in the picture. It was all about MySpace. I had a role in MySpace, and they were basically using MySpace to get laid. I’d had this understanding that what if we brought people together online in order to do something that had a positive offline reality to it, and that was what it was all about.
Andrew: I see. All right. Million Dollar Home Page, of course, was the website. They’ve got a lot of fame a while back where Alex was selling a single pixel on his web page for a buck. He had a million pixels. He wanted to make a million dollars. He actually ended up doing more because there were some pixels that he auctioned off and some that he sold for more than a buck.
One Red Paperclip, the guy was trading one red paperclip for, I guess, up and up and up until he ended up with a house. That was such a great book that he wrote about how he ended up with the house, which was his dream, which is what he was trying to trade up for.
And so, those are the kinds of stories that inspired you. You had this big vision. Mark, between you and me, a lot of people had big visions, but they don’t do anything with them. Somehow, you got an island and you got this big thing built. Take me to the first step because I can’t understand this whole big thing plopping onto the world, but if you take me through it step by step I could see, ah, this is how Mark did it.
Mark: To me, I had nothing to lose whatsoever. Again, still it was all interwoven with the experience that I was having at the time, so part of it was escapism. It was, I want to get out of the UK. I’ve lived my life in the UK with my wife and all the things I’ve been dealing with I want to get out of this.
I’ll be completely honest. The first kind of understanding was, okay, I could escape to an island. I can’t afford an island, but lots of people together can afford an island. It wasn’t about revenue streams. It wasn’t about we can build it and replicate and turn into a model that will sell. It was purely about escapism.
Andrew: How do you get an island? What’s the first thing that you do? Do you get a group of people, or do you buy an island first? What do you do first?
Mark: You hit and head to Google.
Andrew: Google for what?
Mark: Private islands, private islands online.
Andrew: You find an island, and what do you do next?
Mark: I actually knew my weakness, and I knew that I was great at the grand plan. I created Tribe Wanted in my mind, the whole kind of concept and vision. I knew that I couldn’t deliver on the ground, so I started to research for a business partner who had experience in developing projects on the ground in various parts of the world.
I hooked up with a guy called Ben King, and we worked together. I showed him the plan. He loved it, and we found this beautiful island in Fiji. By a crazy coincidence, we went to Fiji, and the guys on the island, they basically explained how they had a dream. This island was called Vorovoro, and the chief of the island had a dream that the world was going to come to Vorovoro.
Andrew: And sure enough.
Mark: And sure enough it did. It actually did.
Andrew: You find the island. You can’t afford to pay for it all at once. What do you do?
Mark: Hope for the best. It’s incredible. We explained our vision to the chief of the island. Now, again, understand this is a chief of an actual living tribe. They do things completely different. And so, we verbally explained our story, what they wanted to do. They verbally agreed. So we had a verbal contract in London. A verbal contract wouldn’t stand at all. In Fiji their word is their honor.
Andrew: And the contract was for what? What was the agreement that you made with them?
Mark: To lease the island, Vorovoro, for three years.
Andrew: For how much?
Mark: Not a lot of money at all.
Andrew: Give me a sense of it.
Mark: We’re talking about 20,000.
Andrew: A year?
Mark: No, total UK.
Andrew: 20,000 total UK?
Andrew: To lease the island, so British pound, okay. All right. Now, you still don’t have, what did you say, 20,000 pounds. You don’t have that sitting around the house. What do you do?
Mark: Again, we explain the idea. They agreed to it verbally. We literally convinced a web team, these guys that we knew, to set up a basic website for us, explained our vision, who we were, a picture of the island, all beautiful and explained to the world that they could come and visit the island. They could spend a week, two weeks, three weeks, and they paid for that period of time on the island.
We literally and very, very naively set up this website that invited the world to come and visit this island. To start off, we got it in the press and it was kind of in the weird section. the kind of weird, kooky, crazy section of the press.
Mark: We convinced enough people to get involved, and they bought places on the island. Once we had enough money, we then employed the PR person that actually Alex Tew employed for Million Dollar Home Page. It’s a lady called Imal Wagner. She’s American.
Andrew: Actually, Mark, let me pause right there. I want to make sure that I understand it. I’m a little bit behind here. So far what you’ve described is a leased island that you then sublet to vacationers. This sounds very much like the average vacation property, but there’s something special here that we didn’t talk about. How did you make this more special than just an island that somebody can come and lease time on, which is what a hotel might do?
Mark: Sure. Well, the bare bones of it, we leased a 200 acre island that had nothing on it whatsoever, absolutely nothing. And so, the whole project was . . . you might have seen it in America. You might have seen it in “Survivor.”
Andrew: It was all “Survivor.” You’re paying to live “Survivor” is what you’re saying.
Mark: Yeah. You’re paying not just to live here but to build it. There’s nothing on the island. It will allow you to decide what to build on the island. Then, you come and visit the island, and you build exactly what you’ve agreed to build on the website.
Andrew: Okay. So, the materials you guys put together for them. You say we have these materials, those materials, and so on. You pick what you want. You could come in here, and you could build it.
Mark: That’s exactly what we do.
Andrew: It’s interesting. All right. I like the idea. So, sorry. You were continuing. You were saying that you found a PR woman who was working for Alex at Million Dollar Home Page, and you did what?
Mark: We employed her, and she was great. Imal was great, kind of very passionate, and she got us on “Good Morning America,” the “Today Show.” She got us on the “National Geographic.” Eventually, we had interest from 60 TV production companies, which was huge, and very randomly ended up working with a lady, Elizabeth Murdock, Rupert Murdock’s daughter.
Mark: Elizabeth runs a production company called Shine in the UK. Again, our whole dream was not to become successful entrepreneurs. My dream was to live out this lifestyle, the passion, the potential that I believed I had. We ended up at Liz Murdock’s BBQ talking to Bono about this project that was set up. This wasn’t a goal. It just kind of happened because we believed in our potential, and that’s the key that I want to get across. We believed in our potential.
Andrew: Yeah. I was going to ask you to examine yourself and help me understand what got you here. There’s something very electrifying about you, Mark. Is it just that you believe wholeheartedly? Is you believe in God, you’re like the big vision believer. You see it, and you’re going, if you believe in an island in the middle of nowhere that people will come and build. You’re so carried away with the belief that others can’t help but get carried away in your belief with you and join you in that vision. Is that your magic? What do you think it is? You’re an introspective person. If you analyze yourself, what would you say it is?
Mark: I believe in my potential, and I believe that everybody has their own potential to fulfill. I see a lot of people just merely living their life, and originally that was the kind of Christian perspective that I had and there was the God angle on that and that’s great. But as I’ve moved on, it doesn’t matter. Religion is a separate conversation. Spirituality is a separate conversation, but I don’t buy into the fact that we’re just merely here, and we get on with our lives and that’s it.
The pure experience of trying to take my own life gained me this understanding of the fact that we live life once, and it’s up to us to do whatever we want with that life. I want to chase every single dream, and I know that people buy into the fact of the passion of that, and that’s what I’ve experienced.
Andrew: Okay. You meet Elizabeth Murdock. You meet Bono. You end up getting a TV show that’s on the air, as I understand it. Obviously, I don’t see it on BBC, but it was on BBC2, you’re saying, for five seasons?
Mark: No, it was five episodes. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew: Five episodes. That’s the high. You do something at that point, which is unexpected. What’s that?
Mark: I backed out.
Mark: I backed out of the whole thing because it was like a crazy machine. It was a massive machine that took a life of its own and people commenting online. They were saying, it’s a scam. Mark’s a scam artist. He’s trying to steal your money, and I started to read this stuff on Google. Bear in mind only four months earlier, I tried to take my own life.
Andrew: What an unbelievable half year from taking your own life to suddenly being at the height and being so high up that people are now throwing rocks at you because they’re jealous, suspicious, whatever their issues are but you’re at that height. So you take a step back.
Andrew: And the step back means completely disconnect from Tribe Wanted?
Mark: I backed off. I knew that, again, I had to deal with myself first and, again, in the context my sexuality. I’d not come out to my family. There’s loads of things. I thought, I need to build some foundations first.
Andrew: I see. You just discovered that you had this whole other part of you that you wanted to express, and you didn’t even get a chance to express it because everything was moving in fast forward.
Mark: Way too fast for me, way too fast.
Andrew: All right. So, you take a step back. Now, we get to the business that we’re here to talk about, which becomes the failure. By the way, this is a fantastic interview so far, and we didn’t even hit the point of the interview.
Andrew: I love it. Did you get time to work on yourself, by the way in this in between period?
Mark: Yeah. All good. Yeah.
Andrew: How many years? How much time goes before you launch the next business?
Mark: About seven, eight months.
Andrew: Seven, eight months. In that seven, eight months, it doesn’t seem there’s a lot of time for self-exploration. Did you have a relationship in that period of time?
Mark: No. I was still exploring that. The craziest thing is that my biggest fear at the time and whole kind of trying to take my own life thing was because I was scared of what my family and my friends think. Big point to no tear was that the fear in my head was greater than the actual reality of what my family would think.
Andrew: What happened when you came out?
Mark: Oh, my family could not have been any more loving than they have been.
Mark: And my friends… It’s funny how your own fears are greater in your mind than the actual reality.
Andrew: To the Bowness family, way to go, Bowness. Unreal. That’s great. Okay. Congratulations to you for having such a great family.
Mark: Thank you.
Andrew: They’re supportive. Things aren’t as bad as you thought. You take a step back, and you say it’s time to launch a new business. Why? We talked about the vision with God. We talked about the vision with the island. What’s the vision here?
Mark: My vision is still my potential, and that’s the whole strand, the theme that runs throughout the whole thing. It doesn’t matter what the outside is. I’m still trying to find the reason I’m here. My spiritual thing is I just don’t want to live in 9 to 5 and just do it. I’m here on this planet, and I’ve got things to do.
Andrew: Let me ask you something. As a kid, did you have this feeling that God spoke to you personally?
Mark: That’s a very interesting question. I was brought up in church, and my experience with that is a very different experience than the experiences other people might have had. I’m waffling, yes.
Andrew: That’s what I’m thinking. You felt like inherently there’s something special about you that most people don’t feel about themselves.
Mark: That’s the point I think everybody should feel that about themselves. I’m not saying I’m special, here I am. It’s everybody should feel that. We live life once.
Andrew: I agree. I believe that everyone at one point has had, maybe, not every single person, but I believe everyone has had this calling, this voice that they heard, but most people will shut it out and say, that’s just crazy talk. Meanwhile, every other crazy talk that goes in their head, they’ll entertain like I’m not good enough. People are going to laugh at me. What happens if my nose is too big? What happens if my hair is too weird, whatever it is?
They have all those voices, the voice that they choose to listen to. What’s interesting about you is you listened to it and you believed that voice at the time which was God and later on which was this voice to create the island and so on. Okay. I see now where you’re coming from. Why did you decide to launch The Nerve?
Mark: A few reasons. I’d come up with this idea to convey The Nerve. The Nerve was a crowd source TV production company.
Andrew: What does that mean? I gave that in the intro, but I didn’t fully understand it, to be honest.
Mark: The idea is I know loads of people. They sit in pubs, and they sit in their home shouting at the TV, and they come up with ideas. Their ideas could be better than the ideas we see on TV. That was the general premise. It was taking ideas from the public for TV shows and connecting them with the public with the people that make the decisions about the TV shows and to see whether the public could come up with ideas for TV shows. That was it. I’d obviously met lots of people who worked in TV along the way.
Andrew: What’s the first thing that you do to launch this business?
Mark: Again, set up a website. Again, bearing in mind that this is before the Tribe Wanted TV show had gone out, so it was about the same time. I was getting all this profile, and I was trying to replicate what happened with Tribe Wanted, i.e. come up with a great idea, get media hype around it, and then it would get the money and it would be successful.
The fundamental mistake was that I didn’t know what to do with these ideas. This is really naïve. I met with TV production companies, but the TV industry does not work like this. People work damn hard to come up with ideas, to formulate ideas, to pitch ideas. They’ve got relationships with these people that they build over a long period of time. The industry did not work in the way that I thought it was on the basis of creating one program.
Andrew: I see. You thought, hey… Well, actually how did the speed with which Tribe Wanted succeeded influence your belief in what the future would hold for you?
Mark: It was really, really naïve. Tribe Wanted gained huge media attention globally to the extent that in a period of two weeks we were on the phone, radio and TV interviews in the UK and then in America would wake up. We’d do those and then Australia. We hardly slept. I’d built this kind of surreal and real understanding of business and how business works, so I tried to launch a second business, replicating the model of the first business which didn’t work at all. Coupled with the fact that it was launched just before the UK announced that we were in this global credit crunch thing and that no TV channels were going to put any money into production companies, let alone new ones that were created by members of the public who had never worked in TV at all.
When I literally launched it, we had about 600 people sign up, paying some money, but then the whole credit crunch thing came.
Andrew: Paying some money to do what? You launched this thing. I understand you had big media attention so people come to the site, but they pay for what?
Mark: They paid to interact with the website. They paid to interact with me. They paid for time, time to hone ideas, develop ideas, to attend events.
Andrew: They were paying you to be a part of this process of creating TV shows and influencing them after their creation.
Mark: Sure and working with them to see those ideas come to fruition.
Andrew: They were paying to create their own ideas, not yours necessarily.
Mark: No. They were paying me to help them develop their own ideas and take those ideas to key influences that they would never have access to.
Andrew: You would take the ideas to key influencers.
Mark: Yeah. Yes, with them.
Andrew: Okay. So all these people paid.
Andrew: And that’s why some people thought this was a fraud. They’re saying, hey, this guy is charging people to create TV shows, and he’s not going to create TV shows for them.
Mark: No. The whole kind of fraud thing was largely around how is this going to happen. They paid me the money. There was no kind of here’s the example of the guy I worked with that has become a TV show because it was a hell of a lot harder than I ever dreamed or imagined, based upon my unrealistic experience with Tribe Wanted. But also, the kind of credit crunch.
So, I’m getting people to meet with TV channels. That happened. We developed ideas, and we formed ideas, and we pitched them, but TV channels were saying fundamentally no because they had no money whatsoever. Even if they had money, I don’t think they would. It was a bad business idea.
Andrew: How much did you personally invest in this?
Mark: It got to the stage where the money had run out, and one of the biggest challenges was that I did not want to let people down. I had over 600 people that believed in me and this concept. This was a big, big place of understanding that there was a point where I’ve had lots of millionaires say, yea, you’ve got to push through and you’re on the brink and the brink’s about to fall over. You don’t know where you’re going, but you push through and you make it.
There’s also a case to say, you know what? This isn’t working. Stop, because if you don’t stop it’s going to suck your entire life, and that’s nearly what happened. I put everything on credit cards, everything on credit cards.
Andrew: How much money on credit cards?
Mark: I’d say about 10,000 to 12,000 UK on credit cards just to try and keep the whole thing going. But even knowing that there was no light at the end of the tunnel, I didn’t want to let people down.
Andrew: Even knowing this wasn’t going to work out you continued anyway because you didn’t want to let people down, because you couldn’t say stop.
Mark: I couldn’t separate personal and business. The personal should have been stopped. Let it go. Come up with a new idea. You’ve got money. You’ve got money aside. Start again. I didn’t want to let people down. I was too involved in the business, and I should have said no.
Andrew: How much time total did you put into it?
Mark: Time? 18 months or so.
Andrew: 18 months and 15,000 pounds roughly. At what point financially and time-wise, at what point could you have said stop, did you know that you should have said stop?
Mark: In all honesty, about seven months into it.
Andrew: Seven months out of 18.
Mark: I wrote up the hype for it, and I believed in it, but it was a really bad business idea.
Andrew: How much money could you have saved if you had stopped at that point?
Mark: I can’t even begin to describe how close I went to bankruptcy. My personal bank account was pulled.
Andrew: They pulled your personal bank account?
Mark: Pulled it, pulled it. I ended up getting a job in a production company in London. I went there with money in my hand but no bank account to accept the checks for salary to go into. That’s how bad it got.
Andrew: I see. This is so different from the U.S. You and I talked about this. In the U. S. you get to keep your bank account forever, even if you went bankrupt. 15,000 pounds is not that much for someone your age and track record to put on credit cards, true? From what you’re saying, this is not… Where are you living? You’re in the UK, right?
Andrew: So, in the UK they’re not as open to giving credit. They’re not as open to giving another chance. They’re not as open to your experience. I’m sorry to be so pragmatic or talking about the dollars and cents, but I’m curious like, I know seven months out of 18 months you could have stopped, and you would have saved yourself about a year’s time. How much money were you in when you knew, hey, wait, seven months in, this is not right? How much money at that point had you gone down?
Mark: Again, this is what I should have done. I had the idea. The idea was for a production company, and all the money that came in, I should have focused on building the website so that people could interact with me to develop their ideas, to hone their ideas and take those ideas to the TV channels. Now, what I did was based upon the Tribe Wanted model which was the get as much media attention around your idea as possible.
So, again I had PR. We went on tours. To me, the bigger profile that we got, the more attention from the TV channels, the more attention we would have got in terms of the public paying to sign up. That didn’t happen. I was spending money on promoting the business when I didn’t look after the main core of the business. If I had taken those people’s ideas and just work with them and allowed that to grow, then it might have had some organic growth to it.
Andrew: I see. Instead of spending your time and money promoting and getting more people and more attention, you just should have spent some time on the few people who were there, built it out with them and then gone.
Mark: Focus on the product.
Andrew: 18 months in you decide to shut down. What does that feel like when you have to openly decide this is it?
Mark: Awful. Awful, because again, when you have people in terms of Tribe Wanted at the beginning saying he’s a scam artist and there were similar sounds, similar voices. He’s taking our money. Only Mark knows what he’s doing with the money. I genuinely did nothing wrong with that money. I nearly went bankrupt myself, but I built a business on the wrong foundations. I’m completely guilty of that, and I’ve learned but as a massive turning point, as a massive learning point.
Andrew: I see. All right. How long ago was this?
Mark: We’re talking about two years ago now.
Andrew: Two years ago. Wow. This is some ride here. Have you had time since then? First of all, have you recovered your money? Look at me. I’m going straight to the money instead of the emotion. I’ll come back to the emotion, but have you had time since then? How much of your money have you recovered since then? Are you still deep in debt?
Mark: Still in debt, yeah. Still in debt but I still believe in my potential.
Andrew: You still believe in your potential? You don’t have a vision for the next thing, but you believe that whatever it will be you could do something big.
Mark: I’ve got ideas that are forming and developing, but again I’m here as everybody is for a purpose. I’m just figuring out what that purpose is.
Andrew: I see. Why are you doing this interview? This isn’t a big TV show. Why are you being this open here? You don’t know me very well before it was suggested that you come here and talk openly on Mixergy. You didn’t know me at all. Why come here and submit to this strange questioning and be so open?
Mark: Because I genuinely wish that people would have been open with me. I’ve spoke to loads of entrepreneurs, and we all need the inspirational entrepreneurs in the UK, Richard Branson and all these other people. It’s great to be inspired by them. I wish I could learn. I’d have learned from people that got it wrong. It’s only now that I’m learning the likes of stuff that’s aged, years old, the likes of Thomas Edison, the light bulb and how many thousands of times that he tried to make that happen.
Andrew: What can you learn from an entrepreneur who failed, who’s talking openly about his failures that you can’t learn from just talking to Richard Branson or reading about Richard Branson? Why would anyone want to listen to this story instead of listening to a success story, for example? I know the answer, my answer, but I’d like to know yours.
Mark: Well, if it was me which had it happen in this situation, I could relate to it. I can aspire to read Richard Branson’s story. He’s made all this money. Yes, a few of his businesses have gone down, but you know what? It doesn’t really matter to him because he’s still got his yacht and his islands and his life, and that’s great. I haven’t made it yet. I know that one day I will, but I haven’t made it yet. I can learn from people who fail. There’s such an honesty around it, and there’s an integrity about it.
Andrew: Okay. So, what did you learn? Looking back, what’s the big takeaways that you’re filing away and saying, I’m going to take this to the next business?
Mark: Okay. I’ve got three learning points saved up, actually written down. One is learn when to stop. Learn when your idea is not working.
Andrew: It seems to me like you knew when the idea wasn’t working, but coming to terms with that is hard, true?
Mark: Yes, because I’m sure it’s the same for lots of entrepreneurs, but I convinced myself of the idea. To me, there was no way my ideas were ever going to fail, and I was sucked into my own belief. If I had just stepped back and had this outside perspective in my own mind, some reality would have been brought into it. So, knowing when to stop and knowing when to separate your personal life and finances and the idea, ideas will come and go. It might not be this one. It might be the next one but learn to separate it.
Secondly, believe in your potential. There are so many ideas that people have in the [inaudible], and I’ve learned along the way and every single idea that fails is a step closer to the one that will do it for me. And I’m sure we’ll have an interview one day of the success, and that’s just not positive motivational psychological belief. I know my potential. I’m here for a purpose. I know what I can do. I just haven’t done it yet.
Thirdly, Again, very quickly but you can’t build a business on a good idea. There has to be a revenue stream behind it, and that’s what I got wrong. I know so many people that come up with a great idea, and they hope that the revenue stream will fall into place. To me, now in terms of my ideas, I’m pushing that revenue stream into the forefront.
Andrew: You want to know early on, not just what’s the big vision but where is the big revenue coming from.
Mark: Where’s the cash?
Andrew: Where’s the cash? The Nerve seemed to have cash, didn’t it? I mean, you were charging people to examine their ideas, to talk to you, to help them shape their ideas. Why wasn’t that the right revenue?
Mark: The revenue was right, the product was wrong. As you pointed out, I’m really passionate about who I am, what I am, and what I can do, and that brings a certain amount of people to engage with you and jump on board. I need to have a clearer understanding of where I’m going in order to bring those people to some point in direction of success. Otherwise, you’re all getting on board and it’s all great, and it’s all a positive ride, but you’re going nowhere.
Andrew: Well, the reason why I like to do these interviews is because I feel like their successes and failures have commonalities. When I talk to entrepreneurs and I ask them why they failed or ask them about their stories of failures, I start to see things that they have in common, like lack of focus. That happened here, right? Instead of focusing on the few people who came and signed up, you were trying to bring in more people. That comes up a lot.
You know what I’ve learned here, too, is the power of personal belief. I see it in your eyes. When you believed in that island, I could almost see you right here believing in that island all over again and no wonder the chief said, sure, let’s do it. No wonder people said, yeah, let’s sign up for this. No wonder when you were on TV you were able to communicate it, not with fear and insecurity, not with focus on the lights but with a focus on your message and the vision that you had. That’s very powerful.
I wonder if seeing what happened to you now and seeing your own mortality, not your physical mortality but your own mortality, the mortality of your visions, if that maybe spooks that confidence that got you on TV, spooks the confidence that got you to communicate an island. So, maybe you’re better off not having [inaudible] this or pushing this out of your mind completely. What do you think of that?
Mark: Yeah. I think there’s always this voice in my mind that you’re only as good as your last idea, and your last idea didn’t work. It’s almost like you’re a one trick pony. You’re a fading light, all that kind of stuff.
Andrew: Do you have those voices? Do you have those fears right now? No.
Mark: Every single day.
Andrew: Oh, you do.
Mark: No, no, no. You have those voices, but you still know your potential.
Andrew: I see.
Mark: I think it would be wrong to say that nobody ever, ever has those because we all have bad days. But the only thing that keeps me going is my potential and what I’m here to do.
Andrew: All right. Well, that’s a great place to end it. Mark Bowness, where can people connect with you? What’s a good website?
Mark: Markbowness.com. It’s all there.
Andrew: All right. Thanks for doing the interview.
Mark: Thank you very much.
Andrew: All right, guys. Thank you all for watching. I’m Andrew from Mixergy. See you on the website.