What’s the secret to success?
Money? Connections? Education? While most spend their entire lives hoping they will one day stumble across the answer to this seemingly age-old mystery, in actuality, they need to look no further than serial entrepreneur Mark French, who has been a living embodiment of that answer for the last three decades.
During his adolescence, French learned a valuable lesson early on that helped make him the man he is today – that there are only three things in our lives we can actually control: the mindset with which we respond to the events around us, the people we decide to surround ourselves with, and how we treat others in good times and bad. Those of us who choose to push aside our anxieties and instead take an unconventional, fearless and collaborative approach to life soon recognize something extraordinary – the bolder we become, the more control over our lives we have. And as French’s success is testament to, it’s not until we learn how to shape our circumstances that we can finally achieve the greatness that awaits us all.
Growing up in New York, while French wasn’t always the best student, he was extremely creative, street smart and hard working. From the age of 12, when French wasn’t on a basketball court, he was out grinding. Whether it was picking up after dogs in a kennel, or selling jean jackets that he had airbrushed with his signature graffiti, there was no limit to French’s hustle. But as Mark’s grades began to suffer, his father became concerned that he was going down the wrong path. In the hopes of incentivizing his son, Mark’s father promised that if he got his grades up and stayed out of trouble, he would take him to watch the New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden.
For the next several months, all French could think about was the opportunity of seeing his beloved Knicks, and rookie sensation Mark Jackson, in person. When the day finally arrived, French insisted they go to MSG early so he could try to meet Jackson. And while Mark’s father calmly tried to explain to his son that he couldn’t just march onto the court, it didn’t come as much of surprise that within minutes of arriving at The Garden, Mark had done just that. There he was, laughing and smiling with his idol Mark Jackson, who waved off security multiple times as they tried to yank the young interloper off the court. Before exiting as the start of the game approached, Mark made a point to shake the hand of everyone on the Knick’s roster, including a gentleman in a suit who was sitting at the end of the bench. When Mark returned to his seat, he pointed to the man and said, “That’s my new boss… the head trainer of the New York Knicks.”
In the span of minutes, French had talked his way onto the historic Madison Square Garden court, made an impression on Mark Jackson that would last a lifetime, and talked his way into a ball boy job for the team. And although Jackson had no reason to stick his neck out for a random kid, there was something endearing about French. Not only was the boy ostensibly infatuated with the game of basketball, but he seemed to relate with the players in a way that most people twice his age could never do. He was authentic and tenacious like they were. Something told Jackson that with a little bit of guidance and focus, French had the potential to accomplish incredible things.
“Mark stood out among the countless youngsters who I met as an NBA player” says Jackson, now a broadcaster with ESPN. “He had confidence, humility and a positive attitude that he has carried throughout his entire career. He showed the same respect and humility to the security guards in the arena as he did for the NBA All Stars. That’s what made him unique as a teenager, and honestly what I think made him the success he is today”.
While French was a decent athlete growing up, the more time he spent around the Knicks, the more it became readily apparent that a professional career on the basketball court or football field wasn’t going to happen. Instead, he set his sights on a goal he thought he could achieve. As long as he kept his head down and continued to grind, just as he had done his entire life, his cutting-edge ideas, combined with his ability to execute and motivate those around him, would one day allow him to make an impact on the industries he loved most – sports and entertainment.
It didn’t take long for French to make a name for himself. With irresistible charisma, unflappable ambition, and the simple goal of delivering as much value as he could to those around him, French graduated from Ithaca College and rapidly moved up the ranks of the media world at an unprecedented pace. In 2007 after successfully building and operating a small start-up business within NBC, he was named General Manager of NBC Everywhere, the media giant’s digital out-of-home television network that French created literally out of thin-air. Every time you watch NBC news, sports, or Jimmy Fallon on a screen while sitting in a taxi or while pumping your gas, or checking out your groceries at the supermarket, you can thank Mark French for that.
French was able to convince the company that if they deliver customized content to captive environments they could increase ratings, enhance the consumers experience during mundane times and in the process create a geo-located / point of purchase advertising business the likes of which the industry had never before. In just its first year of operation, NBC Everywhere garnered an astonishing 3 billion impressions and generated over $20 million in new advertising revenue and promotional value for the network. More significantly, it was credited with completely transforming the programming and advertising marketplace.
“I learned valuable lessons watching Mark navigate the changing media landscape at NBC,” recalls Beth Comstock, former President of Integrated Media at NBC Universal, now the Vice Chair of GE. “Everywhere Mark went he saw visions of NBC and it became NBC Everywhere. Mark wasn’t well funded. He didn’t have a big team. But he had an idea and passion and determination. He knew he could make NBC Everywhere a reality, and he did. In companies, sometimes people confuse entrepreneurism with having a big budget or the freedom to do whatever they want a certain percent of the time. Mark faced constraints and contrarians at every turn, and instead of giving up, he became energized. He made things happen; that’s what good entrepreneurs do,” she adds.
Indeed, French had managed to turn the industry paradigm on its head with NBC Everywhere. Yet as things took off, he couldn’t help but feel as though the success of the initiative was driving him further and further away from his true passion – sports. The truth was that while working in the media world had given him an incredible platform to showcase his skills, at heart he was still an entrepreneur who wanted to create something totally new and ground-breaking. Fortunately, French had an idea that came to him way back during his ball boy days that had the potential to be a game changer in the world of basketball.
With the help of Dwyane Wade, and an all-star team of advisors that French recruited with distinct attributes that he felt were critical for success, he went to work developing what would become known as Court Grip™, a patented traction enhancing formula and delivery system to help athletes overcome the negative effects of slipping on dusty courts. An instant dry adhesive formula intended to be applied to the bottom of basketball sneakers, French also patented the ability to embed the traction enhancing formula into the rubber soles of the sneaker. Court Grip was given the NBA’s stamp of approval to be used by all players in the league and upon launch, became one of the fastest selling accessories in sports retail history.
“There are so many extremely creative business thinkers. I don’t think my inventions or business concepts are the primary differentiators. What it really comes down to is execution,” reveals French. “I am always amazed at how many smart entrepreneurs convince themselves that they have a great idea but don’t commit to researching with their target audience before they dive in. That’s why it wasn’t only getting confirmation from NBA players that court slippage was inhibiting their performance that gave me the confidence to push forward. It was the affirmation from over 500 high school basketball players – our target demographic – that gave me the confidence to go all in. It was only then that I truly recognized what an incredible opportunity we had to enhance the game of basketball,” he adds.
With a portfolio of patented traction technologies and a robust go-to-market strategy, French merged his business with MISSION Athletecare™, the leading sports accessory and gear company that was taking the sporting goods retail industry by storm. Mark joined MISSION as President, and spearheaded the company’s meteoric launch of the new Grip line (including Power Grip developed with Carmelo Anthony and Cleat Grip developed with Reggie Bush) nationwide through a retail partnership with Foot Locker FL -1.37%. Court Grip quickly became one of the best-selling products in the category and adoption in the NBA has grown to upwards of 40% over the last few years. Supported by partners like Dwyane Wade, and used by players across the NBA like Dwight Howard and Russel Westbrook, Court Grip has established itself as an integral piece of equipment in the NBA and every level of play.
“I really enjoyed working closely with Mark to develop Court Grip,” says three time NBA Champion Dwyane Wade. “It’s become a truly revolutionary product that actually solves a major problem for athletes. I have a deep respect for his vision, creativity and passion to push the envelope in everything he does and change the mindset of what’s possible,” he adds.
While French has the utmost respect for what athletes accomplish on the field of play, he’s far more interested in their efforts and priorities away from the game. Rather than approaching them as endorsers, instead he looks at them as business partners and asking questions like, “What keeps them up at night?” and “Where do they think there is a need for innovation in their sport or in their communities?” Rather than starting off conversations with the mindset of how they can can help his business, instead he determines what they can build together.
Not surprisingly, this collaborative approach has become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. By consistently focusing on ways to deliver value to others, French has become known as both an entrepreneurial linchpin and a priceless asset to anyone in the sports and entertainment industry seeking to launch a business. In addition, French has become revered for his ability to execute. While there are any number of great business ideas generated every day, only a tiny fraction of them ever come to fruition, mainly because their creators throw in the towel when things get tough. What has set French apart is his ability to take ideas from conceptualization and bring them all the way to realization, and thus creating tremendous monetary successes, for himself and his shareholders.
“When we merged our companies, I knew Mark was incredibly bright, driven and motivated to change the game of basketball – but soon after we began working together I came to find that Mark is in a league of his own with a unique ability and vision at the intersection of sports, entertainment, media and innovation.” said Josh Shaw, CEO of Mission Athletecare. “In the world of entrepreneurs, he’s what I call a true disruptor and change-agent. When he sets his vision, he won’t let anything get in his way.”
This reputation is precisely what attracted Jaymee Messler to reach out to French when building a team of advisors for a new venture with future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter – a paradigm changing media outlet that features unfiltered perspective and storytelling from the world’s best athletes. Working with French and an all-star team of advisors and investors, they would launch what would become known as The Players’ Tribune and in the process change modern sports journalism as we know it. The Tribune has brought on many of today’s biggest sports stars, including Kobe Bryant, Russell Wilson, and Kevin Durant, along with countless others, allowing them to shape their own stories in real time and provide fans with an unprecedented look into the lives of their heroes. “Mark played an integral role in helping to develop The Players’ Tribune”, says Messler, “he was key to helping launch the platform and building the team.”
There is no greater example of French’s approach to both ideation and execution than his most recent venture – FIT TEAM FIVE™, a ground breaking interactive kids TV series designed to get children “off the couch” and excited about exercise. Combining forces with Shuki Levy, the legendary Creator of Power Rangers, as well as Bill Parisi, the world’s authority on youth fitness, along with others leading experts in the TV production, kids merchandising, French is once again filling in the white space.
Featuring guest celebrity athletes (many of whom have young kids of their own) in every episode who will unite with the FIT TEAM FIVE heroes to help kids become healthy and more active through the show’s world-class interactive fitness content, the show breaks through kids programming barriers. Exciting story lines and aspirational characters will provide the brand with the ability to engage and entertain kids while a national tour of the characters and celebrity athletes will provide fans the opportunity to interact with their favorite stars in an unprecedented way.
FIT TEAM FIVE is in many ways the ultimate culmination of French’s career as an entrepreneur. Without the experience he gained building and launching media platforms with NBC, or the relationships he forged throughout the sports and entertainment world with MISSION and The Players Tribune, the show would never have become a reality. More importantly, the show has finally allowed him to come full circle. While French was blessed to have mentors like Mark Jackson to help him along in his journey, he also knows that too many kids lack access to that same mentorship and guidance in their lives. FIT TEAM FIVE is poised to become an incredible platform for positive change and social good for millions of children around the world, and serves as a powerful motivator for French and his celebrity athlete partners to make the show a success. French and his team are currently in advanced discussions with several of the largest media companies about producing and airing FIT TEAM FIVE. In addition, he has had strong interest from many blue chip consumer brands about supporting the show in a variety of ways.
In addition to his own ventures, French is an active investor in a variety of sports, technology and media businesses. “For me, it always starts with the entrepreneur not the idea. Can [they] execute, do they have the passion and stomach for the hard times, and the leadership qualities, collaborative attitude that I believe is essential? I am really excited and hands on with a new technology company that we will be launching this summer. Since building NBC Everywhere, I have been on the lookout for a mobile product that seizes the opportunity of delivering contextually relevant content and experiences based on where people are. I believe I have found it; not just because the entrepreneur and technology is amazing, but because we have built an amazing team. With the best strategic partners in the sports and entertainment sectors, this product is going to change the way people experience sporting events, and events in general.”
Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” As Mark French looks back at his life and career, only now can he begin to make the connections between those pivotal moments that led him to build so many world changing companies. Each small idea executed, each minor victory and accomplishment held proof that he was headed in the right direction. And while he can’t say for certain what awaits him in the next forty years, whatever it is that may come around the corner, he will conquer it with that same bold and fearless approach to life that he always has taken.
For Mark French, the hustle has just begun.
Originally posted @ Forbes.com
FREE BUSINESS & SALES COACHING.. CLICK HERE