Mark Hanrahan

Plan everything for your business and what you do outside of work. When you make that plan, you need to stick to it, so you’re not going off-track on the things you need to do for the day.


Mark Hanrahan is the founder and co-owner of Markmel Co, a company who specializes in real estate development and venture capital investments for seed level start-up companies. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Northern Iowa in 1991 and received his Master’s Degree from Drake University in 1994. With more than 24 years of experience as a certified accountant, Mark took the plunge and got involved in real estate development. Before Markmel, Mark Hanrahan worked as a financial analyst for Principal Real Estate Investors and was a staff accountant for Carney, Alexander & Marold CPA’s. He worked in audits as well as tax returns.

Markmel came about as a way for Mark and his wife to give back to the community. They take the complexity of today’s market and simplifies them to lament terms, so it’s easy for everyone to understand. When Mark Hanrahan isn’t spending time at work, he enjoys outdoor activities, reading and spending time with his wife and son.

Where did the idea for Markmel Co come from?

We started the company while I was working for Principal, and it was initially going to be a farm venture at the beginning, where we would buy up farms from various people in the community and then resell them to those who wanted to add to their livelihood. So, for a long time, it was a bit of a hobby for us. From there, we began to expand to other types of real estate and into start-up businesses. The company name is a combination of mine and my wife’s name, which is Melinda. We created Markmel as a way to also begin strengthening our marriage, after going through some trials and tribulations. My wife and I thought that we could learn to work through problems in several parts of our personal and professional lives while taking the opportunity to bond with one another.

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

I usually wake up at around six AM and begin my day with a good, quick workout to get my morning going. Once I finish with my workout, I go through and catch up on my emails and push some paper for a while. Then I spend a large chunk of my morning doing research and returning phone calls to clients and partners. Then I have lunch, and if I am training for a triathlon, then I do some training for that, then after I am done with my other workout, I do some more work and then spend time with my son. For me, being able to have that balance between work and family is more important now than it ever was before. So, I do my best to make sure that everything is taken care of so I can be with the people I care about most.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It all goes back on the research and what direction you are taking with the vision you’ve had in mind. You’re always trying to figure out what the next trend is and what’s happening in the real estate development and venture capital industries. I like to know what is working with other people in my profession and learn how I can add this into how I run my business; so, I end up doing a lot of research on the competition to see what they are doing, and I am also researching the next property to buy. I want to find the best locations that will make me the most profit. It is the part of being in the real estate business and building my portfolio, so I am spending a lot of time finding the best ways and ideas to achieve that. So, for me, it is about a mixture of creativity and reliable research, which brings me new ideas for my business.

What’s one trend that excites you?

When Amazon comes along and sets up shop and knocks out the big-box retailers, and everybody’s worried about how that is going to affect them and possibly their jobs. So, we’re similar to that in a way. If you go back 100 years, here in Iowa, farmers used horses to plow and now they have these John Deere tractors to do thousands and thousands of acres with GPS. But there are still people that have jobs, and so it’s this transition that we go through technology’s always transitioning and every aspect of our life is that; whether it’s Amazon or software that is making us more productive. It’s also to the point where there’s so much information out there at your fingertips, and you’re one search away from an expert in everything. The same goes for real estate, where it’s not how much property a person buys but how efficient a piece of property or a building can be. That is the trend I’m currently following at the moment. I am pretty thrilled about making as much use of any property I own as possible. I am also into Artificial Intelligence, so anything to do with that always peaks my interest. So those are the two things that have gotten me going recently.

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

I think we all procrastinate from time-to-time, and before the age of cell phones and personal computers, when I had to write everything down, it was just a different flow of information. You know, my ability to merge data with my email and my cell phone makes things more efficient. Anywhere I go on the planet, I can watch a video or create a document, take or record essential notes to add in a database, or have a conference call with just a touch of a button, and I can then work on it later from my computer. I can do an Ironman competition and take on a conference call while preparing, which makes things so much more streamlined so I can balance my career and personal life. So, for me, the use of technology has made me become more productive in my work and makes getting things done a lot more efficient and more accessible to accomplish.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The one thing I would tell younger Mark Hanrahan is probably not to take myself too seriously, have the right balance of life and work, you know work a little less and spend a bit more time with the people I care about. That’s because if you focus too much of your time at work, you end up missing out on important things and those are moments that you cannot get back. So, these are the things that I wished I would have done a lot sooner.

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

I think there’ll be positive changes within the federal government and the federal reserve system that will allow for democracy and the American Way to grow and be even better than before. There are a lot of people who believe that things are never going to get better, but I see some positive changes that are happening, and I think it is going to have a positive impact, where we are going to see brighter days ahead of us. Though I might be in the minority when you look at disaster coming and the world going downhill, I have to rely on positive thinking to make sure that I can see that light at the end of the tunnel.

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

This answer is pretty short and speaks for itself. The one thing I do and recommend to everyone I see is to plan everything for your business and what you do outside of work. When you make that plan, you need to stick to it, so you’re not going off-track on the things you need to do for the day. You could use your calendar from your phone, your computer’s calendar or even write it down if you so desired. Also, learn to understand your competitors set to outmaneuver them, to stay ahead of the game potentially.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

My strategy is more surrounded by finding good opportunities and passing on the ones that you know are going to be overly complicated and drain a lot of my energy away. So, I don’t try to have a plan that is too specific, like I may only do five deals per year that I have to do these many transactions a year that it’s more I have a good plan of finding suitable real estate and the right spots. I worked very hard to make sure these deals go through but don’t just do deals for the sake of doing deals. So usually what happens is then when you find the right deals, and resell them, you became successful in achieving your primary goal, which is making a decent amount of money. That kind of success will continue to breed success once you can do a couple of transactions that are positive.

There will also be some deals that are losers along the way, but if you stick to your original plan, then you will begin to build confidence to keep moving ahead, rather than just planning on only doing five deals per year. My motivation and plans involve volume, as opposed to quality, is going to create issues. So, for me, it’s the quality of each transaction I make rather than just purchasing a bunch of properties because I can.

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

There is a bottom-line dollars and cents that you can measure. As you already know, there are winners, and there are losers based on the money that one has and if you are doing well on a project, you can then pat yourself on the back. But I had been in a few private equity deals where you know you’re picking two entirely different things, and you’re essentially tying it into an analogy that is similar to horse racing. Because you’re trying to go on the right track when it comes to choosing who you think would win as well as trying to select the right horse to win the race. The right path would be considered your market and the horse would be the people you are working with. You start asking yourself, are you in the right category or even in the right sector, and with research, I tend to think I have done a pretty good job at choosing the right track. But as much as you think you are picking the right horse, and the more you get to know the person, you realize that it isn’t what things were cracked up to be. In the HR side of things, there are some outstanding marketers, who can pull the wool over your eyes and I think every time I run into a situation where I picked the wrong track, I learned from my mistake.

But I have been involved in a couple of those deals where you I’m thinking this is going to be a great deal, and then I find out that I chose the wrong horse later on. From that position, I put myself into a lot of debt. When you have indeed tumbled, there is a certain amount of guilt and shame and then all the negative press you get from making a mistake. The first thing people see is all the stories, and they don’t want to get to know you. While 90 percent of it may not be accurate, but it is still hard to navigate with the negative feedback. But there are still people who believe in me and what I can do, so those are the positive aspects that can happen, the silver lining to everything. It also makes you a better businessman because you learn from your mistakes. With this interview, it allows people to see me for beyond what has been said in the past.

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

Well, the best business idea is one that you are willing to take action on. People spend a lot of time in careers and become worried about their investments, as well as their money. That revolves typically around two separate categories, and you sit down with a financial planner; then they say you should do stocks or bonds. Then there is real estate which can result in either feast or famine. When people think about real estate, the first things that come to mind are either you own a home or a duplex. Perhaps your brother-in-law made some excellent real estate deals, but there is more than just houses. You shop in malls and go to the office, and nobody thinks about how real estate can put a positive impact on their lives. They can use real estate as an investment and unlike stocks and bonds, what you purchase can bring in a lot of benefits. So, my advice is not to learn to diversify your portfolio, to bring you different types of income. Spend time trying to figure out how you can have several different types of investments that are not just your 401k and make sure that you have protections against inflations, so you aren’t losing everything.

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

I get this from my mother, I think; but I have a better time spending money on someone who needs it, rather than spending it on myself by going to the mall. The path that I had taken in my life has given me the chance to work with people who are struggling, and though I don’t work with the homeless as much anymore, I still come across people who have recently been hopeless, where they’re struggling to make ends meet. To them, $100 is like getting $10,000, and if there is something that I can do to make their lives easier, whether it is paying a phone bill or helping with groceries, it’s more meaningful to both myself and to that person who I supported. It’s about assisting them to get back on their feet, and I don’t expect for them to pay me back, but I do want them to pay it forward and help someone who might be down on their luck, instead.

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

Of course, there is Excel, QuickBooks, as well as other software that deals with accounting or real estate. But there is a software that I like called Tableau, which brings the best of every program that has to do with the industry and makes them pop. It has been transformative regarding data analytics and can bring it to life. For example, if Morris wants three-dimensional graphs, but he wants them jazzed up, and I can see it in a different light and get it together quickly, unlike with Excel where it can take hours to turn your data into a graph. That is just an example of how well it can work and make your tasks a lot easier to accomplish. You can get these out on the fly, which is pretty amazing when it comes to data.

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

The one book I recommend is not so much business-related is called “David and Goliath“, by Malcolm Gladwell. Honestly, all of his books are great, and whether or not you agree, Malcolm has a way to get a person to think differently. He gets into your mind and can get in on a psychological level and expands your mind to get you to analyze on a different level than what you’re used to, which is what makes him so amazing. He does this by just asking simple questions, and it’s more of a Socratic method of getting people to come up with their conclusions. So that is why I recommend his books because he can get a person to think in a different perspective.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quotes are by President John F. Kennedy, which is “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” The reason why I find JFK’s quote so inspiring because he had this sense of togetherness where he was able to bring all Americans together. There was one from when Kennedy was on a boat that he hadn’t fallen on and he said where we go one; we go all. It tells me that you got to have humility and that you got to have the humility to take part in something more significant. Those are the two quotes I live by.

Key learnings:

● Hard work will lead you to success
● Always diversify, to make the most out of anything you touch
● Pay it forward and help those who are less fortunate
● Admit to and learn from your mistakes
● We are all in this together

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