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Getting Schooled In Entrepreneurship
How Mark Csordos’ Book Delivers The Lesson Plan to Success
Embarking on the entrepreneurial battlefield with a mere $2,500 and an uncharted path ahead, Mark Csordos dove headfirst into the business arena without a playbook. Against all odds, he emerged as an industry sensation, claiming his rightful spot in the limelight of The New York Times and Vogue within a whirlwind two years.
His journey, marked by tumultuous twists and towering triumphs, culminated in the triumphant sale of his venture just four years after its inception.
In his latest entrepreneurial venture, he purchased the Washing Well Laundromat in Aberdeen Township, New Jersey with plans to expand its business footprint, while drawing attention to the mental health challenges he's faced over many years of his life.
Csordos chronicles his roller-coaster ride in an enlightening book entitled “Business Lessons for Entrepreneurs: 35 Things I Learned Before The Age of 30.”
This is not your average business manual. Csordos delivers a no-holds-barred guide through the trenches of entrepreneurship. He doesn’t shy away from the gritty truths: the deceit you’ll face, the wisdom in keeping business and family separate, the art of setting monumental goals, and the boldness to demand what you’re worth.
An indispensable compass for the intrepid entrepreneur, Csordos’s book is the mentor you wish you had at the starting line, arming you with the invaluable insights and hard-earned wisdom to navigate the exhilarating odyssey of building your empire.
🔥 Mark, can you take us back to the moment you decided to venture into entrepreneurship with $2,500 and no business experience? What drove you to take that leap?
I worked for a company during high school and college that I saw no future with. They would later go bankrupt. But long before that I decided I had a lot to offer and if they weren’t interested in what I could do, then I’d do it myself.
🔥 So what drove you to take that leap?
I came across an article about low capital businesses you could start, and one was mystery shopping. I figured I’d worked for a billion-dollar company that didn’t use it so maybe there were other companies out there that didn’t use it either. Mystery shopping is where you evaluate a company's customer service based on preset criteria by “shoppers” that the employees are unaware are evaluating them. So that’s where I took my first leap.
🔥 You have mentioned having had a rocky start in business. What were some of the most formidable challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
With my first business one challenge was self-doubt. I didn’t have a business degree or contacts. I didn’t even own a suit. We went like six months between getting our first and second client.
I think being young and naive was helpful because beforehand I didn’t realize how hard it would be and I never gave up. I had a steep learning curve and I had to learn a lot on the fly. I had never sold anything to anyone let alone sell a service many people didn’t know existed to CEOs and business owners.
🔥 How have your battles with depression informed your journey and outlook with business?
My depression wasn’t diagnosed until my early thirties. During one really bad time when I was hospitalized for it, I realized what is important and not important and regained a sense of urgency in my life.
🔥 Your recognition in The New York Times and Vogue was a significant milestone. What do you believe caught the attention of such prestigious publications?
I sent The New York Times a press release and they liked it. I think I’m a halfway decent writer and was able to pitch them a good story. I was only twenty-six when I wrote to the Times so they liked the young entrepreneur angle. We also had an interesting business that was novel in its approach. We got paid to shop at stores and eat at restaurants and we had attracted some big name customers such as Pizza Hut, ShopRite (large Northeast grocery chain), and Manhattan Bagel (at the time a publicly traded company). Vogue read about me in The Times and wanted to do their own story with a fashion slant.
🔥 Could you share a pivotal moment or decision that you believe was crucial to the success and eventual sale of your business?
When my wife became pregnant with our first child we decided to sell the business and I’d move onto my next project. If I could go back in time I’d do the selling process so much differently, but you live and learn.
🔥 In your book, you mention the "nitty-gritty realities of entrepreneurship." Can you elaborate on one of these realities that you didn't expect when you started?
People will use you for free consulting if you let them. For example, a business owner might call you and say they are interested in hiring a mystery shopping company for their retail stores. So you meet with them, tell them how it should be run, what to look for, what to avoid, etc. When you follow up with them, they will say they decided to do it internally after you gave them all the information they needed to do it successfully without you.
🔥 You advise against working with family. Can you discuss a personal experience that led you to this conclusion?
After seventy-three fights with my wife, I started to reconsider working with her. It’s not that you can’t work with family, but the question is why are you working with them? Are they free labor and you trust them or is it because they can actually do the job? At the time my wife couldn’t do the job that I asked of her and that led to problems. Today we do work together when it comes to our laundromat, but we have very defined roles and everything works much better.
🔥 Goal setting is a powerful tool you emphasize. How did goal setting contribute to the trajectory of your business?
Without goals and a way to achieve them, you’re just hoping you somehow end up in a good place. It’s very important in business to say I want to be at X by this time and I will get there by doing A, B and C. I often use the example that you wouldn’t drive from NJ to California just by heading West. California would be the goal and the GPS would tell you when you should arrive and the directions it gives are the A, B, and C of how to get there.
🔥 "Charge what you're worth" is easier said than done. Can you provide insight into how you determined your value and convinced customers of it?
Well, people in the industry told me I wasn’t charging enough and when I eventually raised prices, no customers batted an eye. I was able to convince customers because we had several things competitors didn’t have.
One, we were in The New York Times so that gave us instant credibility. Secondly, we were the only company that met all our mystery shoppersface to face. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but at the time most companies never met their shoppers and everything was done through the mail or email.
🔥 Can you share one piece of advice from 'Business Lessons for Entrepreneurs' that you wish you had known at the outset of your business journey?
Everything costs twice as much, takes twice as long and yields half the results you expect. Every idea in your mind is a million-dollar seller. You see entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos and their companies take off like rockets, but their experience is the .1 % of entrepreneurs. The other 99.9% struggle to gain their footing. Many do succeed, it’s just not usually as fast as they want it to.
🔥 Finally, what's the one question you wish people would ask you about your entrepreneurial journey that they seldom do?
Would you do it all over again knowing all the ups and downs? The answer is 100% Yes.