Mark Harsley is the proprietor at the helm of Acme Hat Co, a custom hat company delivering quality custom snapbacks, beanies & dad hats to businesses both large and small.
Dividing his time between Perth, Australia and the production shop in New Jersey, Mark has been doing business online in various forms for over a decade and in the custom hat business for 6 years.
Born in Singapore, raised in Australia, matured in London, Denmark and the United States.
Where did the idea for Acme Hat Co come from?
Originally branded as customsnapbacks.com the idea for the business came from the frustration of dealing with hat companies at the time. The original founder of the company wanted hats for his local baseball team but found the experience terrible.
When the business launched close to a decade ago, minimum orders were 288+ and took 4 months to make. Custom Snapbacks shook up the entire industry by offering orders as low as a dozen, turning them around in less than 14 days and making the entire process extremely simple.
As time went on, we started manufacturing and embellishing different styles of hats to keep up with changing tastes so this year we made the decision to rebrand to Acme Hat Co. We were getting a lot of enquiries about other hat styles so it made sense to rebrand to reflect the changing trends in the headwear space.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
When I’m in Australia I work nights (9pm to 4-5am) to service my customers and be available for my production staff in the USA. I then work from around lunch to 3-4pm when the USA is sleeping to catch up on any reading or tasks that require focus.
Working nights has it’s advantages and disadvantages. It’s dead quiet at 3am so there’s minimal distractions but it’s tough to do longterm as being nocturnal isn’t ideal in the real world.
When I’m in the USA I’m in the shop getting my hands dirty. My favorite thing to do is try and improve efficiencies in production. It’s like solving a big puzzle.
I keep productive by staying highly caffeinated at all times.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Always pencil & paper. There’s something about writing with a pencil that gets the synapses firing on all cylinders. I tend to retain information and am more creative when I’m randomly sketching away in a notebook.
I’m a big fan of the small Field Notes notebooks. They’re a perfect size for carrying around jotting down notes on the go. I absolutely hate typing on a smart phone screen so having a little notebook with me works well.
My perfect afternoon when the weather permits is a long 90 min walk to get some fresh air, stretch the legs and catch up on some business podcasts. Any ideas I glean from those gets written down and then captured in the todo list when I’m back at my desk.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
One trend that is absolutely amazing is the trend towards lower barriers to entry for ecommerce. We’re seeing a lot of really amazing fashion labels and small businesses pop up that I think otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day 5 years ago.
We are honored and super proud to see some of our customers grow their business like they have. I can think of a few examples where we’ve been contacted by a young entrepreneur that is interested in ordering a dozen hats for their new fashion label.
Over the subsequent months they come back and order 2 dozen, 4 dozen, 12 dozen. Each time achieving greater economy of scales and growing their business in the process. It’s awesome to be a part of it.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Eating the frog. I do the most difficult or the task I least enjoy right off the bat as soon as I sit down at my desk to start my day.
Tasks that are difficult and I hate doing but absolutely need to be done have a tendency to sit until just before they are due so doing it this way it removes a lot of the pressure and stress. It also ensures the task is done right the first time rather than rushed at the last minute.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Invest as much money as you can in an low cost index fund and never sell.
Be wary of marketers. They’re as glib as a used car salesman and the vast majority of them are all sizzle and no sausage.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Despite what the media will tell you, we’re living in the best period in human history. Doom and gloom sells newspapers.
It’s easy to feel despondent about the state of affairs on the news. Whilst it’s certainly not perfect, we are headed in the right direction.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Read, read and read some more. Dedicate a portion of every day to learning something new.
Don’t forget to execute though. Reading with no action will leave you no better off.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My strengths in business are on the operations side so I’ve managed to grow my business by streamlining production processes and cutting costs. Any task I have to do more than three times gets automated if possible. It cuts down on costly human error.
Another strategy is having what I believe to be a strong sense of sound business ethics. Getting custom products made requires a great deal of trust so in the rare event something goes wrong, we make it right without question and in a timely manner.
The vast majority of our growth is through word of mouth. We strive to have happy customers that stick with us for years. So far so good!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest business failures have always been from not trusting my instincts. I’ve been led down the garden path by a number of B2B service providers that had high promises but fell short of delivery.
In each case, I felt something wasn’t quite right but I didn’t act on it. I trusted the company would provide what they were being paid to provide.
Trusting your gut doesn’t work 100% of the time but for the majority of times if something smells off, trust it and act on it. You’ll hone and sharpen those skills over time.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
An internet service provider specifically targeting gamers and tech savvy people that are able to install and troubleshoot their own connection.
It’s not hard to configure a router or modem for an internet connection and when problems do occur it’s usually at the ISP level and there’s nothing the customer can do but wait.
Instead of providing phone support, use the money saved to provide a better service with lower contention ratios and custom routing for gamers to get the best ping for their chosen games.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A KUL-87 Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry clear switches.
Typing on a mechanical keyboard is light years ahead of typing on a chiclet style keyboard. I’m able to type much faster and with greater accuracy.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use a program called Things for macOS and iPhone. It’s my main “get things done” tool and I use it for almost everything work and personal.
It’s a to-do list with a super nice looking interface and some powerful features to create recurring tasks, assign areas and projects. It’s great for breaking down a big complicated task into smaller chunks and working your way through bit by bit by scheduling and assigning deadlines.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.
It’s a super interesting book about what is most common amongst the millionaires of America. It gives you an overview of their spending and investing habits.
For example they generally live in modest houses and drive second hand cars. You wouldn’t know they’re actually wealthy. They don’t try and impress people by buying expensive things.
The main takeaway is to live below your means and invest your money instead of spending it on expensive things to impress people you don’t like.
What is your favorite quote?
“Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance” – Albert Maysles