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Marc Lefton: business leadership, hand made report cards, and punk music

In an effort to better ourselves, the fastest means of doing so is to learn how business leaders tick, and what sets them apart. Today, we talk with a tough talking digital expert who has deep roots in his field.

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marc lefton, half fiction

marc lefton, half fiction

Marc Lefton: business leader showcase

Marc Lefton owns a creative-driven digital marketing agency called Half Fiction and is part of the startup team at RentCentives. As a small business owner and leader in New York City, he jokes that he is “good enough at a lot of things which makes me dangerous enough to cobble together whatever needs to be done before I find people more talented than me to do it better.”

Lefton is well known in the ad world as a rebellious figure, a sought after creative, and while you may not see him being a sugary salesman at a trade show, you’ll see his work across the globe from Super Bowl ads to high profile television, print, but in recent years, he has become a prominent figure in the digital advertising and social media world.

Below is an insightful interview with Lefton complete with punk music references:

Walk us through a typical day in your life.

[pl_blockquote pull=”right”]
“No day is ever typical.”
[/pl_blockquote]No day is ever typical. The concept behind Half Fiction is to have these asynchronous groups of “talent pods” which consist of freelancers, teams, and other small agencies that we manage at a strategic level. Running a company like this is very cost-effective for our clients because they’re not paying for unused talent, but sometimes last minute things come up and no one is available, then it means I have to figure out a way to get it done no matter what. When we’re busy, it means I’m wearing a lot of hats.

I’m not a morning person, as I’m doing this interview close to 1am. On any day I might design something, approve copy, send an invoice, attend four meetings while playing “conference call bingo” and come up with a strategy.

Where were you raised? Where all have you lived?

I was raised on Long Island, a place where parents of my generation fled the awful situation in the late 70s in NYC for the suburbs. Being surrounded by three bodies of water and a city everyone is terrified of means most people never leave. But I couldn’t wait to get out and get to the city. I’ve lived all over Brooklyn, mostly, and spent two years in Western Massachusetts.

How did you get into your current career?

[pl_blockquote pull=”right”]
Threatened with parents seeing a bad
report card, “I came up with the bright
idea to design my own report card.”
[/pl_blockquote]I was always a very lazy student and a procrastinator. Somehow I got away with it for most of school because teachers liked me. Each year they would say “Marc, you got away with not turning in most of your homework in 3rd grade, but things will be harder in 4th grade and they won’t stand for it!” But each year, it was really the same thing. When 9th grade rolled around, they really started to count everything a lot harder. And all of a sudden, I’m looking at failing every single class in my first semester of high school. The report card is on its way home. What’s an entrepreneurial 14 year old to do? First thing was to steal the report card out of the mailbox. Then I waited for a while. That was my mistake.

I came up with the bright idea to design my own report card, complete with 95 averages and implausible comments like “outstanding participation in class!” I handed my report card to my parents the day they had already called to get my grades. They were not amused. My mom worked in a small ad agency and started making me go to work with her on school vacations to keep me out of trouble.

I found the art department and they put my new found graphic design skills to use. I was hooked immediately – the first day I was there, I created a headline and saw it in the newspaper the next day. I kept asking questions, and soon I was using their equipment to make my own underground newspaper in high school. They banned it.

My first press release was to the local newspaper about the issue and they wrote a feature story on it. Again, being lazy, I could not afford the School of Visual Arts where I had been accepted and never bothered to have any safety schools. Instead, I got a job working nights at an ad agency making supermarket circulars before I graduated high school. Things went quickly from there. By the time I was 20, I was working on Super Bowl commercials.

What is something unique that you do to balance work and life?

[pl_blockquote pull=”right”]
“I realized that I started putting
everything into these little boxes.”
[/pl_blockquote]I actually decided recently to stop focusing on work life balance at all. I’m going to see how this goes. But I realized that I started putting everything into these little boxes. “It’s the weekend, I need work/life balance so even though I really feel motivated I’m going to blow off this presentation until Monday.” But then, Monday rolls around and I don’t feel like working on it anymore because clients want stuff and I’m hungry and didn’t have any coffee ’cause I’m still in bed answering emails and before I know it, the presentation is late.

Instead, I’m trying to get rid of things I hate to do, so it doesn’t feel like work. And I’m trying to at all costs remove work that is “urgent.” Someone else can deal with that last minute change, the server being down. Once that’s in place, if it’s the weekend and I’m inspired to work, I’ll work. If it’s Tuesday and I want to go see a movie in the middle of the day or go to a museum, then I’ll do that. It doesn’t take much time for me to recharge my batteries, sometimes a few hours. It’s about having the little breaks and being able to do all the things we want to do while making sure the work stuff happens when it needs to.

What keeps you up at night?

Any form of injustice or irrationality. If you’re into Myers-Briggs, I’m an INTJ, which means we actually expect people to make logical sense. If you’re a logical person and I think you’re wrong, I can take you through the problem and hope I can convince you to see things my way. It’s hard for me to understand when someone is irrational or unfair.

If you could spend one day in the life of another industry leader, who would it be?

[pl_blockquote pull=”right”]
“I’m molding my company to be
the ‘Moneyball’ of ad agencies.”
[/pl_blockquote]I would love to be Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A’s. I’m molding my company to be the “Moneyball” of ad agencies – finding affordable talent that a lot of agencies overlook in order to get some great work. I’m a huge baseball fan, so being able to experience that from that perspective would be amazing.

At age 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I was already somewhat immersed in advertising at the time. Back then I’m not sure if I entirely grasped the fact that you could make a career out of advertising. The agency where my mom worked did a lot of local retail stuff, so it didn’t seem like art so much as a technical or craftsman’s job.

It wasn’t until later that it even occurred to me that people came up with concepts for ads. I think at that point I was like “Well, I seem to be good at this, let’s see where this goes.” Someone asked me if I had a five year plan recently. I said, “Five years ago, what I’m doing now (social media) did not exist. Five years before that, what I was doing then (Internet) did not exist. So I try to stay flexible.”

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Despite not having any piercings or tattoos to show for it, I was highly immersed in the local underground punk rock scene throughout the 90s. I owned a punk fanzine that had distribution across the east coast and advertisers from all of the indie punk labels. I got to hang out with the Ramones. And I started one of the first punk websites.

What inspirational quote has stuck with you the longest?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by [pl_blockquote pull=”right”]
“This quote is the best one
an entrepreneur can live by.”
[/pl_blockquote]dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

This quote is the best one an entrepreneur can live by, because the worse you can do is “fail while daring greatly.” And what great entrepreneur doesn’t fail greatly a few times before getting it?

What advice do you have for Millennials struggling to get a job?

Make your own job. The concept of a job may not last your lifetime. The future of earning a living is in being flexible – a nomad. Never depend on one company for your paycheck.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. stellaremarketing

    November 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    he jokes that he is “good enough at a lot of things which makes me dangerous enough to cobble together whatever needs to be done before I find people more talented than me to do it better.”  Well put! 🙂

  2. Tinu

    November 20, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Okay one of the best AG interviews ever. Love his theory on work – life balance and going to re-test my original every other day schedule again.

  3. Liz

    November 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Truer words were never spoken: “Make your own job. The concept of a job may not last your lifetime. The future of earning a living is in being flexible – a nomad. Never depend on one company for your paycheck.” Kudos!

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Business Entrepreneur

How to effectively share negative thoughts with your business partner

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You and your business partner(s) are in a close relationship, and just like a marriage, negative emotions may play a role in the relationship.

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You and your business partner are in a relationship. Your business was born when you shared a common vision of the future and became giddy from the prospect of all you could do together that you couldn’t do alone. Now, you spend much of the day doing things together in collaboration. The stakes are high; there are obstacles to overcome, decisions to make together, deadlines to meet, and all the stresses of running a business.

It’s no wonder a business partnership can often be just as complicated and emotional as a romantic relationship. If you are struggling with your business partner, you might find helpful advice in resources originally targeted towards troubled couples.

Relationship expert Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein has explored how to share “toxic thoughts” with your partner. In a linked article, Bernstein describes toxic thoughts as distortions of the truth that cause us to overemphasize the negative attributes of our partner.

Some examples of toxic thoughts include blaming your partner for larger problems that aren’t really their fault, inaccurately assuming your partners intentions, or resenting your partner for not intuiting your needs, even if you haven’t expressed them. The defining characteristic of these toxic thoughts is that, although they may be based in the truth, they are generally exaggerations of reality, reflecting our own stresses and insecurities.

Just as much as in a love relationship, these toxic thoughts could easily strain a business partnership. If you find yourself having toxic thoughts about your business partner, you will need to decide whether to hold your tongue, or have a potentially difficult conversation. Even when we remain quiet about our frustrations, they are easily felt in the awkward atmosphere of interpersonal tension and passive aggressive slights that results.

Dr. Bernstein points out that being honest about your toxic thoughts with your partner can help increase understanding and intimacy. It also gives your partner a chance to share their toxic thoughts with you, so you’d better be ready to take what you dish out. It might be hard to talk about our frustrations with each other so candidly, but it might also be the most straightforward way to resolve them.

Then again, Bernstein points out, some people prefer to work through their toxic thoughts alone. By his own definition, toxic thoughts are unfair exaggerations of and assumptions about our partner’s behavior. If you find yourself jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, or blaming your partner for imagined catastrophes, perhaps you’d better take a few minutes to calm down and consider whether or not it’s worth picking a fight about. Then again, if you’re self-aware enough to realize that you are exaggerating the truth, you can probably also tease out the real roots of any tension you’ve been experiencing with your business partner.

If you are going to get personal, shoulder your own emotional baggage and try to approach your partner with equal parts honesty and diplomacy. Avoid insults, stay optimistic, and focus on solutions. State your own feelings and ask questions, rather than airing your assumptions about their intentions or behaviors. Keep your toxic thoughts to yourself, and work towards adjusting the behaviors that are making you feel negatively towards each other. Your business might depend on it.

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Business Entrepreneur

This Uber for chefs will bring a home-cooked meal to your home

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Who doesn’t love a home-cooked meal? Now with this amazing startup service, you’ll soon be able to get one without having to cook it yourself.

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A professional chef making a home-cooked meal with a tall cheeseburger.

Who doesn’t love a home-cooked meal that you didn’t have to cook?

No one.

And restaurants, UberEats, DoorDash, and their ilk have been banking on this desire for some time… Although whether restaurants can stay in the game remains to be seen.

McDonald's sign with a sign that says "We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore."

Disrespect your essentials at your peril, but I digress.

Cofounders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal of London-based toddler-aged company, Yhangry, are bringing a solution to the problem that’s neither dragging into a restaurant during a gross
and grossly mishandled plague, nor struggling with how to perfectly word directions to your home for delivery drivers.

Essentially, you pay a certain amount per head in your dining party, which includes the chef’s time and expertise, groceries, booze if you want it, AND post-cooking cleanup. Then said chef
comes to your home, does their thing, and skedaddles.

If anything, it’s like a nice little splurge— okay, NO I can’t yet afford to keep a private chef on hand to make sure I’m not having Taco Bell sauce packets for lunch, but I COULD maybe do a
little splurge once every quarter and have some ‘Let’s pretend we’re rich’ time with a gaggle of friends.

It’s like a spa day, but for your tummy.

Now of course the idea of luxury house calls isn’t new, in and of itself, but you have to admit it is extremely cool that you can trust a centralized service to have vetted individuals who need to uphold certain standards on their books. Let’s face it, if your first thought upon inviting someone you don’t know into your house isn’t ‘What effed up ess are they gonna do in here’, you’re too well-adjusted to be reading this anyway.

I kind of love it! And I’m not the only one.

Yhangry’s raised $1.5 million USD (1,079,272.50 pounds sterling in redcoat money) through several angel investors after managing swift, and successful pivots during England’s lockdowns
last year! What started as a custom dinner party organization had to shift to virtual cooking classes! Now, as things open back up with the advent of the vaccines in Great Britain, Zhang and Mittal’s business savvy and quick thinking are being very aptly rewarded. They’ve got a ready team of 130 chefs in their rosters, Covid guidelines for all to follow, and a lot of big names
in their corner.

Nimbleness always pays is the takeaway here.

I fully wish these ladies every success, mostly because I reeeeeeeeeeeally want their home-cooked meal service to hurry up and be in my house already. What’s the English equivalent of fingers crossed… Something to do with tea? My teabags are plopped for them.

It only remains to sip and see what happens!

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Business Entrepreneur

Why receiving big funding doesn’t guarantee startup success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You finally got that big funding check that allows you to make your dreams come true, but most startups fail because they shoot for the moon.

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funding box

The first thing every startup needs to get off the ground is funding. It’s crucial to have enough capital to cover equipment, inventory, and employee salaries, along with other basic expenses unique to the industry. Most startups cover these initial costs through business loans and capital from private investors.

Some business owners perceive getting funded as the first milestone toward success. While receiving capital is critical for success, being well-funded doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty of well-funded startups have failed, gone bankrupt, and all but disappeared.

How could so many well-funded startups possibly go under? The 90% failure rate for startups is due to a variety of factors including bad timing, no market, and most of all – mishandling of finances.

Here’s why receiving big capital doesn’t guarantee success.

Getting investment capital provides false hope

Getting funded can make you feel invincible and cause you to be too relaxed about spending money. It’s a powerful feeling to have plenty of money and know an investor believes in your business. Investors are smart; they wouldn’t throw money at a startup unless they had every reason to believe it will succeed, right? Not exactly.

Startups in big tech areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco often have an easy time generating large amounts of capital from investors who can’t wait to throw money at the latest startup. Many investors ignore risk and throw their money at long-shot bets hoping to invest in the next Facebook or Instagram. The size of the pot is too mesmerizing not to take the risk.

These long-shot bets carry similar odds to winning a “Pick 6” bet in horse racing. The Pick 6 is one of the hardest bets to win because you have to pick the winning horses for six consecutive races. What if the top horse becomes injured before the sixth race? Investors who toss money at random startups have to pick a startup that will continue to meet all the right circumstances to become profitable long-term. Some of those circumstances are unpredictable.

No business owner wants to view their startup as a long-shot bet. However, the reality is that many startups are. You can’t gauge your potential for success based on how much funding you receive.

Having plenty of cash encourages premature scaling

When you’ve got the cash to scale your startup it seems like a waste not to dive in. Just one look around the internet reveals plenty of videos and articles encouraging entrepreneurs to scale their business. Advice online gives the impression that if you’re not scaling your business, you’re falling behind. However, scaling too soon can tank your startup.

Research conducted by Startup Genome found premature scaling to be the number one cause of startup failure. Nathan Furr from Forbes.com explains this finding and what it means for businesses. Premature scaling is defined as “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business (e.g., hiring sales personnel, expensive marketing, perfecting the product, leasing offices, etc.) before nailing the product/market fit.” Furr says any business is susceptible to premature scaling – not just startups.

The problem is that premature scaling depletes your cash reserves more quickly. This leaves you with less cash to fix mistakes and readjust as you go along. Failure is what happens when you don’t have the necessary cash to fix mistakes and move toward success.

How to make the most of your funding and increase your odds of success

To increase the odds of developing a long-term successful startup, here’s what you can do:

Save as much money as possible. For instance, you don’t need a giant office with expensive furniture right away. Work from home and hire a remote team until an office is absolutely necessary.

Make sure the cost of acquiring each customer makes sense. Know how much money you’re spending to acquire each customer. Track all marketing efforts and eliminate the avenues that don’t generate paying, loyal customers. If the cost to acquire a customer is more than what they spend with your company, revisit your marketing strategy.

Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement with your innovation. Skip Prichard advises startups to strive for a 10x increase in the value of whatever innovation is being provided to the world. For example, if your company is offering a lower price for a greater value, aim to increase the value 10x. Attract the early adopters who want big improvements and they will validate you.

Money is a tool – use it wisely

Celebrate when you get your funding, but keep that money in the bank for necessary expenses. Money is a tool that doesn’t guarantee success, but if you budget wisely, you’ll have a better chance at beating the startup odds.

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