Mark Zhang

CEO of Manta Sleep mask

Mark Zhang is the CEO & founder of Manta Sleep mask, the only mask designed, constructed, and optimized for deepest-possible sleep in any environment. Manta Sleep masks provide 100% blackout for maximized sleep quality — so users feel 100%, all the time. A leader of the pro-napping movement, Mark educates others on why an afternoon nap is crucial for unlocking one’s full potential, tips to improve sleep quality, and much more.

Where did the idea for Manta Sleep Mask come from?

I’ve been a light sleeper for as long as I could remember, and I started using a sleep mask when I was 15 years old. The problem with generic sleep masks is that they are either uncomfortable, don’t block out the light, or fall apart after three months. And I always thought we could build a better product, so my business partner and I started Manta Sleep, launching our sleep mask by crowdfunding via Kickstarter and Indiegogo — we ended up raising $700,000+ to start the company! Another part of the inspiration is… I’ve always felt that as a light sleeper, if somehow I was able to improve the quality of my sleep, I’d be the king of the world. I experienced a lot of frustration from not being able to sleep well and then waking up tired, and then not having enough energy and concentration to pursue my goals in life. So a central focus of Manta Sleep is to empower light sleepers to sleep better so they can do more in life. They will be able to pursue their goals and live a better life.

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

When I was younger (in my 20s), I think I confused ‘being productive’ with ‘being effective’. These are two different things. Productive means packing my day with lots and lots of tasks and to-dos, getting through them, and stressing myself out. That’s productive because I’ve gone through and completed all of my tasks. BUT, it’s not necessarily EFFECTIVE. Being effective, especially as the CEO of a company, means making the right decisions, taking the time to think through problems, learning, reflecting, working on strategy, etc.

So in that sense, I worry less about being productive these days and more about how to be the most effective leader. That means taking time off. That means not packing my day to the max and filling it with nonstop tasks. That means creating time and space for me to think, reflect, and learn.

I usually wake up around 8am, and in the morning I try (I don’t always succeed, but I try) to prioritize the most IMPORTANT tasks of the day. For me, that includes:
– Exercising (a run with my dog, or at home on a yoga mat doing HIIT for 15 minutes)
– Reading, learning, thinking
– Creating (ideas, content, strategy documents)
– Planning
– Reviewing

I don’t eat breakfast, because I’m doing intermittent fasting (16 hours without food, so I’ll eat lunch and dinner, but skip breakfast). There is a ton of research on why this is good for your body. Also, because I don’t eat anything, my blood sugar level is constant, and I feel energized and sharp throughout the morning.

I eat lunch at 12:30pm, followed by a 30-minute to 1-hour nap. This is my daily ritual. My drug… I HAVE to do it. I simply can’t focus on anything in the afternoon unless I have my nap. The nap makes me super productive in the afternoon — it’s almost like having a second morning for the 2-3 hours after my nap. This is incredibly powerful and is probably the biggest productivity hack I have. Take a nap after lunch, as we’re all biologically designed to do it. You are no exception.

My afternoons are mostly spent responding to emails, working on tasks from the team, in meetings, etc. I work on all the small and random things that need to be done in order to keep the business on track. I eat dinner around 6pm and then hang out with my wife, dog, and hopefully in the near future, kid.

How do you bring ideas to life?

There are many good ideas in the world. Too many. Everyone’s got at least a dozen good ideas. However, ideas without execution are meaningless. I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs with great ideas fail over the years because they can’t execute, they can’t bring the ideas to life, and they give up too early. Some things that are important to bring an idea to life are:

– Know your WHY. You’ve got to have grit and persistence in order to bring ideas to life. Whether it’s money, passion, belief in something, etc., whatever it is, you have to know your WHY, because that’s going to carry you through all the difficulties of bringing something to life.

– Break a big goal into smaller goals, and celebrate those successes at the smaller-goal level. Big ideas… they can be challenging and intimidating, so we all get overwhelmed sometimes. But, by breaking the big goal into many smaller pieces, it’s much easier to tackle and keep track. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can do in a year.

– Finally, you’ve got to be accountable. Some people are good at doing this all by themselves. Others are not. If you are not, hire a coach or pay a friend to make sure they keep you accountable.

What’s one trend that excites you?

COVID-19, while absolutely terrible, accelerated the growth of eCommerce — it basically condensed 5-10 years of eCommerce growth into one. Plus, it showed people, organizations, the world, that remote work is not only doable but preferred. These trends make me excited for a few reasons:

– Being in eCommerce, the growth potential in the next 5-10 years is going to be amazing.

– The availability of talent for remote companies like ours just increased exponentially because people are getting used to working from home. Now, all of a sudden talented people who were ‘locked away’ previously because they were looking for traditional ‘go to the office’ jobs are now available for small businesses like ours to recruit.

– This realization and distribution of the workforce are going to have profound changes to the way we live and the way society functions in the next 10-20 years.

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

I work on the most important tasks in the morning before everything else. The most important tasks are often the most difficult ones as well. So it becomes less about being ‘productive’ in the sense of getting a lot of things done, but rather, to prioritize and focus properly so I can get the highest IMPACT tasks done. Then later on in the afternoon, even if I’m not productive, I know I already got the most important tasks out of the way, which makes me feel pretty good about the day. Beyond that, I really just make sure there are no distractions when I’m working. I turn off messaging and put the phone on silent. I work in chunks of 30 minutes — I put on a timer, and every 30 minutes I take a 5-minute break.

What advice would you give your younger self?

It really helps to have a clear idea of WHY you want to launch a business. This will help you stay steady and work through the inevitable ups and downs. Most people fail in entrepreneurship, not because of a lack of smarts, money, or ideas. They fail because they don’t persist. In order to persist, it really helps if you’ve got a strong reason behind it. Beyond that, just do it. There is no better way to learn and succeed than by jumping in and actually doing. Finally, focus on making sales for the first three years. That’s all you should worry about. I see a lot of people ‘playing business’, ie: getting an office, business cards, designing a website, etc. These are just distractions — your job as the founder is to work on the difficult problems and get sales. Only worry about the other stuff once you’ve got sales coming in.

Also, I spent so many years early on in my entrepreneurial journey being a ‘keyboard warrior’, just banging it away on the keyboard and trying to figure out everything myself. This was really slow going. My business grew significantly when I decided just to spend the money to go to conferences and meet people and exchange ideas. So I’d say, don’t try to figure it all out by yourself; go out there and meet people, as even a single idea from someone else can change the trajectory of your business (it did for me). It may seem like a lot of money to go to some of these conferences, especially when you’re starting out and don’t have a lot of cash, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.

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

  •  Startups can only succeed when they are run as a benevolent dictatorship.
  • The first thing to do when you start a business is focus on sales. Literally, nothing else matters.
  • Great sleep is the non-negotiable foundation you need to create your best life.
  • It’s impossible to unlock your full potential if you’re not getting an afternoon nap every day.
  • The blockchain is going to weaken the power of governments all around the world in the next 50 years.

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

Learn, learn, and learn. The issue with most of us growing up is that the school system takes all the fun and joy out of learning. In my late 20s, I became really interested in history, because it’s epic and mind-blowing. However, I remember hating history when I was in highschool, because it wasn’t so much about what we can learn from history, and more about remembering dates. Rediscover the joy of learning and keep doing it. The moment you stop learning and getting better, your competition will pass you by. Especially in running a business, things are always changing and there are always new and exciting things to learn.

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

Clearly define the WHY (vision) of your business and then trust and empower team members to work toward that goal. This might not seem that important in the earlier stages where you’re just in survival mode, doing everything you can to get things done and get some sales coming in. In my case, it was all about me doing stuff. Me getting sales. Me doing the accounting. Me doing customer service. However, as the business grew, at some point this became unsustainable. First, I was overwhelmed, and second, I couldn’t do all of those things well. Then it became about team building, hiring, and entrusting others to do the job that I was doing. In order to do this effectively, I basically had to dive deep inside of myself and really define our vision, mission, values, why we’re here, how we want to operate, and where we want to go. Once this was figured out, it became the filtering mechanism to attract other people who believed in the same things that I believed in. Then, once we had all these awesome people in the business, it was important to delegate and trust them to make the decisions in whatever it is that they are doing.

Mistakes will be made, and mistakes are a necessary part of everyone’s learning process. If you can’t handle your people making mistakes, you’ll never be able to delegate effectively, and they will feel as if they don’t have ownership or control of the process (because they won’t). When everything is done well, then you have amazing people with accountability doing work better than you, as the entrepreneur/CEO, could ever do. This then frees up your time to focus on higher-level strategy and vision, which is what you’re supposed to do sitting in the CEO seat.

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

Earlier on in one of our eCommerce businesses, the entire sales funnel was concentrated on selling on Amazon’s marketplace. This was great because everyone shops on Amazon, but we unnecessarily concentrated the risk onto Amazon’s platform — this meant Amazon controlled our fate as a business. This was extremely risky, and the worst-case scenario did eventually happen when one of our seller accounts in Europe got suspended for whatever reason, and we couldn’t get it back. This was obviously devastating, because we had worked so hard only to have Amazon say ‘you can’t play on our platform anymore.’

For quite a while, I was feeling very down and very stressed, because it’s not something we had control over. It’s not something I could just get out of by working hard… how could a small business like ours do anything when Amazon says ‘no’? But I had no choice but to keep pushing on, because we have team members we had to take care of. The lesson learned here is to make sure we diversify. Now, we sell on multiple marketplaces and our own store, so no one single company/entity can shut us down. That applies to other platforms we use as well, including Facebook, Google, and Bing. We always make sure we have multiple sources of traffic, hosting, platforms, etc.

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

A service that provides luxury sleep optimization. From getting tested, monitored, and checked, to massage, relaxation, meditation, food, sound, and light. A service where everything gets measured and tested and you are provided with not only a place to experience the best sleep of your life, but also to leave with actionable advice on how to improve your sleep.

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

I got a Logitech MX Master 3 Wireless mouse. Considering how much time I spend in front of the computer, this mouse saves my hand/wrist from fatigue. As a general rule of thumb, I try to spend money to get the best of whatever I use/interact with the most. In my case, my desk, chair, monitor, and laptop.

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

I’ve been using Notion. My favorite thing about it is all the templates people have already created that you can just download and use. For example:
– a to-do list
– a task prioritization system
– a decision-making process
– a weekly review
– a daily review
– a note-taking system

You COULD go and read about and figure out the most productive/effective way to do all of these things, but all of these templates are already created and you can just download them and WIN.

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

I recommend A Guide to the Good Life, by William B. Irvine. It translates stoicism in a way that can be understood by the modern man. I’m a huge fan of stoicism, as it’s actionable and can be used to improve the quality of our lives in a short amount of time. At the end of the day, even if I were flipping burgers at McDonalds, the quality of my life (access to technology, medicine, food) is probably 100x better than the lives of kings and queens just 300 years ago. There is a lot to appreciate, and this book gives a framework on how to be happy.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is:

‘Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.’ – Dwayne Johnson

This quote continually inspires me to work hard to accomplish all of my projects that will help grow my business success.

Key Learnings:

  •  The first thing to do when you start a business is focus on sales. Literally, nothing else matters.
  • Great sleep is the non-negotiable foundation you need to create your best life.
  • It’s impossible to unlock your full potential if you’re not getting an afternoon nap every day.
  • Know your WHY, because that’s going to carry you through all the difficulties of bringing something to life.
  • Break a big goal into smaller goals, and celebrate those successes at the smaller-goal level.