How not to build a business.

I had Unlabel on my bookshelf for over three years. I purchased it on Amazon when I got home from a HOW Design Live conference. My memory is not that brilliant; I can only share what I garnered from his talk. What I do recall was the impression he made on me.

Seriously, his impression made such an impact that it was the driving force for me to make an effort to purchase his book weeks after I got home. Think about that. An impression is fleeting and happens in seconds. Exactly what Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book “Blink” (another one of my bucket list books). In fact, I just realized that this example I can add to my review on that book when I do finally finish it. So stay tuned.

But back to “Unlabel.” I knew I could dig this book after reading the first paragraph two quotes blew me away instantly that I had to share on Instagram.

“Labels are skin deep… A brand has a heart beat.” 

“Refuse to be labelled.”

The story Marc tells is his own, a business autobiography about a classic ‘American Dream’ entrepreneur who was an artist at the core that desired fame and success using his art as the medium to create it. His journey was built on his teenage views on what success was which he held onto with every business decision he made. Most of them were reactionary and risky. He only had his twin sister as a voice of reason and another partner who had a little more business sense when they started. Together, they cobbled together a million dollar business and continued to keep growing bigger and bigger and bigger thinking that ‘bigger’ was the destination. While they were in it, Marc and his partners never really grasped when enough was enough. Growth with a mindset of “act the part” to get the praise which in reality means they were never really producing their lives, it was on the backs of investors and other financial beds they found themselves lying in.

The whole time I was reading it, I found myself cringing as he laid out his next big plans, knowing how in debt they were, all I could think was the highs and lows of the business also included hiring and firing of people left right and centre. They created a company of people who were cogs in their dream and never part of it.

I get the storyline about how to build a brand, and they focused it on Marc. He was the face of the business, so the more people who related to his success and fame would translate that into wanting to wear their products. But at what cost? Building a business around one person’s view of the world and the whole time, the company never really was ‘owned’ by him or his partners. It teetered on the backs of others.

What I appreciated out of this read was the grit and honesty about their finances, which make me cringe, but also because of that the failures and his ability to eat crow when it came down to the reality of keeping the company alive, sometimes even for the sake of either the people it employed, or more likely keeping his dream from failing.


Ultimately for me, it is a How NOT TO build a business model. In fact, when I stack it next to Paul Jarvis and his book Company of One, I see the yin and yang of business books. I have finished Marc’s book in record time because it’s a chaotic page-turner of “what will this guy do next?” As far as Paul’s book, it’s the calm in the storm, and I’m halfway there, ingesting all the nuggets of insight you simply can’t take in all at once. So you can expect a review of that one at a later date.

Okay, now I am going to get all designer on the layout of the book. This book looks and reads like a textbook with flair. It’s structured to allow for whitespace on the sidebars to allow for inserting images to help bring visuals to the story, though I have to say, the sizes were as small as an inch width which for my ageing eyes made it a challenge to get a sense of clarity on the photographs. He created dynamic chapter introduction spreads, call out quotes and full-page images of his art throughout. He had mini feature/stories slotted in which after the first couple I found distracted from the main story, so I ended up skipping them to get to the end of his story. 

I can see myself now picking it up and randomly flipping to one of them and doing a quick read to accent what he had to share, which I guess makes for a sign of a business book I may keep on my shelf. I’ll for sure be happy to pass it on to anyone who is interested in the read (let me know). Like I said, once I dug it, it took me a week to finish this book.

He ends his book with five key lessons all of which were lessons from his failures. He brings up a comparison to Trump and how he wonders why (keep in mind this book was published in 2013) for a guy who can’t stop talking about his win’s he never mentions a failure. All successes had failures along the way, and those who say they didn’t are merely ‘Trumping’ their story. I just made that up. That guy is the epitome of all talk, talk, talk and more talk, without a single humble bone in his body. No one is perfect and when you keep pretending you are, man, I keep hoping the people around him are ‘woke’ enough to past the facade.

Another fun note was reading a small comment by Marc about trying to understand that a variety of Trump projects had to have failures along the way and he even threw in President No. ?… this was back in 2012/13 before it became a reality. Okay this was random but got me thinking.

So would I recommend this book a read? Hell yeah! As I said, it is filled with nuggets and insights that were learned the hard way. So why not learn from reading mistakes instead of making them?