Mark Cleveland

Co-Founder of Hytch Rewards

Mark A. Cleveland is co-founder and CEO of Hytch Rewards, a mobility incentive platform that’s helping communities – and the planet – by reducing traffic congestion and emissions.

Employers and communities use Hytch to connect people to job opportunities and critical services, to engage employees in corporate social responsibility initiatives, and promote the habits of sharing a ride, walking, biking or using mass transit.

Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Hytch was recognized as the Nashville Technology Council’s Emerging Company of the Year, and has received the Tennessee Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Sustainable Transportation Award, and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center’s NEXT Award as Social Enterprise and Sustainability Startup of the Year.

The Hytch Rewards program launched in Nashville in early 2018 and is now being rolled out to additional markets including San Francisco, Seattle, and South Bend, Indiana. In December 2019, Hytch announced an additional initiative, the carbon-zero program, which allows any environmentally conscious American motorist to neutralize the emissions from their daily commute, totally free of charge.

Mark is a serial entrepreneur with a track record of success. Leading various progressive companies, he and his teams have made a big impact on their respective industries. Mark is passionate about pursuing disruptive technologies and innovation. He’s been recognized with the NEXT Award for Entrepreneur of the Year, and named by Nashville Business Journal as one of the region’s Most Admired CEOs.

Where did the idea for Hytch Rewards come from?

Hytch was created as a real-time technology solution to alleviate congestion and increase options for transit-to-job opportunities and critical services. Mobile phones, which have a higher penetration than automobiles, are the enabler to nudge people toward a future with smarter mobility options. Our model uses incentives and rewards, as opposed to penalties, for smart mobility choices, because people respond better to carrots than they do to sticks. We achieve fewer single occupancy cars by providing incentives to track and verify that two people share a car. Mission accomplished.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My grandfather taught me to both “do what I like least first” and “do what you’re passionate about.” So I try to balance paying attention to the mission-critical responsibilities with the tasks that come easier and are more fun because I’m passionate about them. First and foremost, though, anything that positively impacts customers is a priority. That means my days are usually filled with interactions with people, and my nights are for email, writing, planning, reviewing and revising/adjusting.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas are not single events. They are a vast collection of experiences, observations and contributions in problem solving. They come to life when other people recognize the idea as partially theirs, having given their time, treasure and talent to the ideas they believe in. Any idea that doesn’t get enough energy or attention simply fades into the void. Old, even previously abandoned ideas, when paired with new team energy, new circumstances or simply a new look, can blossom unexpectedly.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m excited to see how the migration of technology companies and talent who are seeking a better quality of life is bringing the best and the brightest to live, work and play in Nashville. As companies relocate and bring people with them, they deepen our diversity, talent and resources to enrich our quality of life. Impersonal big city life is no longer a necessary element of tech sector success. Innovation is happening quickly and organically in Nashville and bringing with it a global, environmental awareness of our planet’s shared, finite resource that’s inspiring greater generational care and stewardship.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I was taught that quitting is a habit. I will never give up. This has helped me develop stamina, resilience and grit. I finish what I start.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Learn how to love the numbers and embrace metrics.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The proper enforcement of High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes leads to more capacity in the urban environment and less congestion. A few years ago, Jakarta enjoyed a high-functioning HOV system but then changed the policy to eliminate them, which caused their traffic to seize up. It took everyone in the city 25 percent longer to get anywhere the very next day. Now flip that model: If we introduce HOV lane incentives and capacity, we can achieve up to 25 percent congestion relief over time with proper enforcement.

Enforced HOV lanes are effective in places like Washington D.C., where “slugging” emerged as a self-organizing shared ride behavior to take advantage of the HOV lane incentive. The shared transportation system deserves more incentives, enforcement, investment and thought leadership. The numbers and the political power, unfortunately, favor SOV behavior and personal convenience.
Nashville has the best HOV network of any city of its size. We’re ranked fifth in total lane miles nationwide, right behind the entire state of Texas. Yet, we can’t muster the political will to put resources behind HOV lane enforcement.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

It’s too easy to settle in as you gain expertise in one area or another and then roll with that for the rest of your life because you’re comfortable. Disruption will find you, so do what you can to embrace it. Make change management and your ability to adapt a core competency. Reinvent yourself. Test your comfort zones. Apply what you learn to different industries.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I do what I say I will do. I treat all relationships like life-long friendships and try not to do anything I don’t want my mother to know about.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I fail when I’m not decisive. It usually expresses itself with people on the team whom I value, but whom my gut tells me aren’t a good fit. I’ve been fired, and I’ve also fired and hired a lot of people. It’s difficult. It’s easy when they are low performers or have discipline issues. It’s not so easy when you have so much hope for their potential, but they can’t adapt. One mentor advised me that my value flows from how effective I am in growing, inspiring and coaching others. So I’ve learned to run with that, as long and as hard as I can with the goal to coach people up or out.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Someone needs to merge the “corporate cat nap” with structured meditation and positive self-talk, put it into a formula and deliver it on site and on demand as a “refreshment” experience. It must be science-based, personalized, measured, and delivered in clean, private spaces.

Maintaining and protecting your energy level is an important requirement for a successful day, no matter where you are on the org chart. Most people have a variably expressed “best self” throughout the day and don’t recognize how helpful a purposeful break, a change in pace, can be. Managing the break, and managing your diet and sleep patterns, will increase productivity, improve health and is core to your sense of happiness. My imagination says it’s twice to three times a day, for ten minutes, and you put your credit card in the door or subscribe. Customers give feedback on the way in and out. Should be a hit!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a massage table from Amazon and sent it as a gift to a couple living in another city. It felt creative and novel, the kind of asset that people don’t buy for themselves. For me, learning how to give my spouse a massage – an extended, intentional effort to relieve stress – is calming for me and a win all around. The table in our house is always set up. It reminds me to take better care of her. I hope it serves that purpose for our friends, too.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I subscribe to the “never eat alone” theory, so just about every meal I’m collaborating with someone who’s sitting across the table from me. But I think I would be dead without Zoom for video collaboration. It’s important to me that the camera be on, otherwise, it’s no better than a telephone call. When the camera is on, so are the folks attending and it forces a more professional experience. I still like to meet people and share breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I get a lot more done with Zoom.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I suggest everyone read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I think it helps to break the framework most people have accepted around the definition of what an asset is and what a liability is.

What is your favorite quote?

“You’re always either overpaid or underpaid; you’re never actually paid what you’re worth.” – My Grandpa

There’s a longer story here, but once people accept the fact that our time is priceless, this quote has helped me (maybe you, and people you manage to) get over the negative self-talk and emotion tied to the “..I’m not being paid enough for this job..” attitude. It may also help with some of the guilt that comes from knowing your talent or skills are below the pay grade.

Key Learnings:

• Any idea that doesn’t get enough energy or attention simply fades into the void.
• Quitting is a habit. Never quit.
• Disruption will find you, so do what you can to embrace it.
• You’re always either overpaid or underpaid; you’re never actually paid what you’re worth.