I’m constantly looking for ways to improve everything I do and interact with.Mark Hebert is the Co-Founder and CEO of LandToHunt.com. LandToHunt connects hunters with private hunting land for lease, daily bookings / weekend trips and hunting guides. Mark designed and developed the website, and manages the overall marketing and growth strategy, as well as the implementation of new features. Aside from LandToHunt, he has a very successful and diverse past, which includes lending / managing over $1 Billion in commercial real estate loans, receiving a pending patent related to RFID (radio frequency identification) location technology and winning business concept competitions. Entrepreneurship literally courses through his veins. Both of his grandfathers were entrepreneurs, both of his parents started multiple successful businesses and his only sibling started a restaurant that has been featured in many business publications for their business practices/policies eliminating tipping and making sure every employee receives a fair livable wage. It’s no wonder Mark also managed to contract the same sickness for risking everything to make a change in the world.
Where did the idea for LandToHunt.com come from?We had a rather unsuccessful goose hunt on public land. Living in the city, we left at 2 A.M. to drive 2 hours to make sure we were first in line and got the best blind on the public land, which was in front of a pond. The temperature happened to dip below freezing that night, and the pond froze over a bit. Despite weather forecasts, the temperature never really got back above freezing and the sun never came out to thaw the ice. That day, we saw what felt like more geese than I have ever seen fly overhead, but despite our calling and flagging efforts, none was coming close enough to shoot or land on the frozen pond. However, they were all landing in the field on the other side of the pond. Being that we were on public land, we couldn’t change blinds and move to the now more desirable field location. After 8 hours and sore lungs, we gave up and went to a local bar to discuss how much better that trip would have been if we were on private land and could move and set up our decoys and blinds anywhere we wanted on the property. Living in the city, driving 2 hours to spend a day knocking on doors and asking farmers’ permission to hunt on their land didn’t seem all that reasonable to us. Being occasional hunters without a lot of money, leasing land for the entire season was out of our price range. So the best solution we thought of was to create something similar to Airbnb for hunting, where the hunter could pay a fee to book property they wanted to hunt on for the day or weekend and share the cost with their friends. You wouldn’t have to arrive at the property 2 hours before hunting starts just to compete with other hunters and sit in line to get the best hunting spot (only to have it snatched away by the lottery winner showing up at the last minute). If you happened to set up your blind or stand in a poor location due to the numerous weather, the wind and other variables, you could change positioning at your own will, without worrying someone else might mistake you for a deer.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?Most of my day is spent building and testing new features we are adding to the website. We’re always trying to make the site more useful and informative for hunters and landowners. We have many more ideas on features that will improve the site, and every time we come out with a new feature, we think of 2-3 more features that would be useful… I don’t think we’ll ever been done improving the site.
How do you bring ideas to life?Hard work, long hours, good planning and a lot of learning about why someone else hasn’t done it yet, and how you can overcome those hurdles/barriers.
What’s one trend that really excites you?If you’re referring to the company: Our growth. We’ve had 2x as many visitors and users sign up this month as we did last month.
If you’re referring to the industry: Thanks to Airbnb and other companies in the “sharing economy”, people are becoming more comfortable with renting out their property and performing online transactions. This makes it easier for us to improve the experience of our users and take away much of the hassle when trying to find land to hunt on.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?I’m constantly looking for ways to improve everything I do and interact with. I’m not sure we’ll ever be done improving the website or adding new features. No matter how well something currently works, it could always be optimized.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?Exterior painting for a summer in college. Another painting team in our crew decided to take some short-cuts to complete their house faster since we get paid per house and not per hour. My team was assigned to fix it, and since we were fixing mistakes from someone within our company, we were getting paid next to nothing to do it. A large house that normally would have taken 3-4 days to paint with our 2-man team ended up taking 4 weeks to fix and repaint. Doing things right the first time is far faster and easier (and more profitable) than having to fix the issues caused by taking short-cuts.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?I’m not sure I would do anything differently. Everything we have done, whether the results were better than expected or much worse than expected, was something we learned a great deal from. If we didn’t test our strategies and ideas that didn’t work out so well in the early stages, we would have probably spent a lot more money testing what doesn’t work in the future. Could we have gotten to where we are sooner? Absolutely, but with less knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, I’m not sure we would be better off.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?I make sure I accomplish at least one task per day, regardless of size or difficulty. If you have 3-4 days in a row where you’re working on the same piece of a large feature, it can get discouraging that things aren’t moving as quickly, and you can start to feel like you’re slowing down and aren’t making much progress. By completing at least one small task each day, like writing a blog post or reaching out to 10 customers for their opinions on your company, you can point to something you accomplished that day, and it can be a big boost to your mental stability. A depressed CEO is a depressed company, especially in a startup. So keep your mind healthy and happy – working out daily helps with that too.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?Our strategy for growth actually changes quite frequently, but that’s because we take more of a scientific approach towards growing the company. We create a few hypotheses on what is going to generate the most growth, create a way to test those hypotheses, measure the results, analyze them to try and understand why something worked (or more frequently: didn’t work), and start all over again by creating more hypotheses from what we just tested. So I guess the strategy that has helped us grow the most, is testing and measuring nearly everything and remaining objective to the results.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?‘Failure’ is a harsh word. I prefer to replace it with ‘learning opportunity’. In the early months of the concept, we spent way too much time trying to raise money. We thought we needed a huge marketing budget to compete in the highly competitive hunting market, and decided we would try raising the money before we launched. Doing this delayed our launch, and we ended up opening shop in the middle of the hunting season (not ideal). After a few meetings with potential investors, we realized we’d have to give away the entire company if we raised money before we had a real product. So we shifted our focus back towards building the website and trying to do the most with the little money we saved up on our own. In the end, this ended up being enough. We got smart and found ways to grow with a smaller marketing budget, which I think is actually easier than raising money or having to answer to investors.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?Liquor infused ice cream/sorbet shop (example menu items: gin and tonic sorbet, white (and/or black) Russian ice cream, mimosa sorbet, etc.). But liquor doesn’t freeze, so how can you make ice cream with it? The other flavors and contents you add dilute the liquor enough to where it can actually freeze. The end result is still a little softer than your standard ice cream, which I think most people prefer anyways. DISCLOSURE: I have no idea if you would need a liquor license to sell this, or if any city would give an ice cream shop a liquor license.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?A good gym membership at one of those fancy places that washes your workout clothes every day. Humans are not designed to sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, let alone the 16+ it usually takes to start a business. All that primarily mental activity with little physical activity can lead to mental exhaustion and we can start making bad decisions, or overlooking the best solutions. Because I love what I do, I end up having a difficult time stepping away and leaving work. Not having to pack a gym bag every day and frequently do laundry makes it easier to go to the gym, and it’s one less thing I have to worry about on an already overly full plate.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?Microsoft – Being part of their BizSpark program has been incredibly valuable. All of their software is available to us for free. Because of that, we use Microsoft products for nearly every solution, and will likely be tied to them as we continue to grow into the future.
Trello – Makes it very easy to prioritize and manage our projects, new features, and progress. This simple free tool made my life 10x easier and more efficient.
MixPanel – One of the easiest analytics tools to implement, customize and help make better decisions. Other analytics software/programs had very little flexibility and as a result wasn’t able to provide us with much insight. After adding MixPanel’s analytics software to our website, we were able to get accurate information in the correct format easily, allowing us to make better strategic decisions, which is what really fueled most of our growth.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More Than Good Ideas by Michael Schrage. This book goes into a lot more detail on what our primary strategy for growth is based on.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?Nearly everyone I know has influenced my thinking in some way. These are some of the people that had a larger impact on how I think, solve problems and develop solutions.
Jill Hebert (Mother) – Founder & CEO of Matrex Exhibits – http://matrexexhibits.com/
John Hebert (Father) – Owner of John Hebert Custom Furniture – http://johnhebert.net/
Adam Hebert (Brother) – Co-Founder of DasRadler (Chicago-based restaurant group) – Website:http://www.dasradler.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/dasradler Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/
Peg Corwin – The volunteer business mentor at SCORE Chicago – Website: http://pegcorwin.com/ Google+:https://plus.google.com/+
Paul LaRoux – Owner and President of Twain Associates – Website: http://twainassociates.com/ LinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/
Miguel Salcido – CEO of Organic Media Group – Website: http://organicmediagroup.org/ Twitter:https://twitter.com/
LinkedIn: Mark Hebert