Mark Whitman is a serial entrepreneur. He has founded, scaled, and sold several businesses. He is currently the CEO and Founder of Contentellect, a productized content marketing agency. Launched in 2018, Contentellect focuses on the foundational elements of winning websites: Quality Content & Powerful Links. In addition to Contentellect, Mark also runs the adventure travel booking platform, Mountain IQ.
Where did the idea for Contentellect come from?
Prior to starting Contentellect, I ran a large portfolio of content websites. To scale content sites, you need a big team of writers, editors, and virtual assistants. You also need streamlined systems and processes for tasks like keyword research, writing, editing, and publishing. People were constantly asking me how I create great quality content at scale, so I knew the demand for SEO content was significant. Launching Contentellect was therefore a natural move as I already had all the key ingredients in place.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m usually up by 06:30-07:00. I take care of my baby boy in the morning, before sitting down to work at around 09:00. I work from home, so I don’t have to worry about a commute. Most days consist of sales calls or meetings with my management team. I like to do most of these calls in the morning. I also spend a lot of time chatting to my team on Slack. We have over 100 people in our organization, so I find Slack a great collaboration tool to stay in touch. I don’t usually break for lunch, although my wife will often bring me something to snack on. I generally stop work around 17:00, so I can take my son to the park and get him ready for bed. Around 19:30 I sit down for dinner and often finish the day with a Netflix film or an hour reading. The only variation on the above is that I go to the gym 3 days a week during the afternoon.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a firm believer in just launching. I don’t like spending lots of time in the planning phase. When I have an idea that I think has legs, I just get stuck in and launch it. I subscribe to Michael Masterson’s idea of Ready, Fire, Aim. Launching is the fastest way to test and validate ideas in the real world. I’ve used this methodology to launch several successful side hustles, like a keyword clustering tool, KeyClusters, and a SERP API, SerpsBot. Both ideas would not be real businesses if I overthought the mechanics of bringing them to life. So, I don’t over think it, and I just launch. If they gain traction, then I invest more and develop the idea further. This methodology does mean that I have lots of unfinished projects and wasted opportunities. Sometimes my focus is diluted, but ultimately the approach of just launching ideas works for me.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In our industry the one trend that excites and terrifies me is AI writing software. In terms of the scary bit, AI could make writers and therefore my business redundant – along with many other businesses and professions. But it’s also exciting as I can see opportunities for AI to play an important role in our industry. In some ways I don’t see AI as a threat but more of an opportunity to offer better and faster content at scale. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
No social media. I’m not active on social media and don’t feel the need to check my phone every 5 minutes. This allows me to do deep work and get more done in a day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There are lots of things I would want to tell my younger self. Here’s one that pops to mind. Play long-term games. I spent much of my early years (20s) just trying to make a buck here and there. I was always looking for shortcuts and would try my hand at anything that could generate fast cash. This is a great way to learn quickly but it’s a horrible mistake to do this for too long. None of the projects and businesses I built in my 20’s survived. When you play long-term games, your investment compounds. This is true in business, but also in life. Whether it be learning a new skill or language, investing money, or committing to important relationships. A long-term mindset means you are extra careful where you invest your time. You’re less concerned about immediate results and more concerned about sustainability, growth, and long-term outcomes. I suspect I would be a lot further down the path if I committed to a certain business idea in my 20s and spent a decade growing it. But who knows, you can’t step on the butterfly wings.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think many things are true, but most people would probably agree with me, so unfortunately, I have no really good ideas here. One truth that I think many people struggle with is the illusion of free will. The idea that we seemingly have agency but at the same time everything is deterministic.\
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
How can I remove myself? Basically, I’m constantly trying to find ways to remove myself from my business, either through automation or delegation. Doing this systematically, all the time, means I’m much more effective as an entrepreneur.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
A key strategy for our growth has been branching into complimentary services like link building. Most of our clients who use our services for content creation, also need high-quality backlinks. Adding in this service has allowed as to sell more stuff to the same clients and cross-sell / up-sell to new clients. Our business has more than doubled using this strategy of service diversification.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest failure to date is naively partnering with someone who lacked integrity. This cost me 3 years of my life and lots of unnecessary stress. Be very careful when going into partnership. As Buffet wisely says: “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
An idea that could have legs is a marketplace for business owners to exchange reviews. For example, if you have an App and it need reviews, you could go on this marketplace and request a review. Someone else who needs a review for their restaurant on Yelp, could then exchange reviews with you (i.e., you leave a Yelp review for them, and they leave an App review for you). If you build this idea and it works, drop me a line, I would love to see it come to life.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My wife and I dropped quite a bit more than $100 at an amazing restaurant the other day. As we have a baby it has been months since we last went out for dinner. The food and atmosphere were exquisite, so this is the best $100+ I’ve recently spent.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack. We would be screwed without this software. Our team is over 100 people and we’re a very collaborative organization. Slack is by far the most effective tool I’ve used to stay connected and productive with my team. It has all manner of integrations, and paid upgrades, but we just use the free version, and it is amazing.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Derek Sivers – Anything You Want. Or indeed anything written by Derek Sivers.
What is your favorite quote?
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Seneca
- Launching is the fastest way to test and validate ideas in the real world. Subscribe to Michael Masterson’s idea of Ready, Fire, Aim.
- When you play long-term games, your investment compounds. This is true in business, but also in life. Whether it be learning a new skill or language, investing money, growing a business, or committing to important relationships.
- Constantly try to find ways to remove yourself from your business, either through automation or delegation. Doing this systematically will allow you to free-up time, get more done and grow faster.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.