Venture Voice – interviews with entrepreneurs

Entertaining Entrepreneurship

Mark Wilson of Chime Solutions

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Like most successful entrepreneurs, Mark Wilson, CEO of Chime Solutions, is an ambitious and savvy business person who’s driven by a strong work ethic and desire to make an impact. But when Mark founded his first company, Ryla, he was inspired by more than just the opportunity to build a business. Throughout his life, he had seen how talented people from minority communities often didn’t get the same chances as others who had more advantages. 

First with Ryla, which he ultimately sold for $80 million, and now with Chime Solutions, where he has a goal of creating 10,000 jobs around the U.S., Mark is aiming to level the playing field. In the process, he’s showing other CEOs that there’s a wealth of untapped talent out there, and that investing in people is good for business. Mark’s story is an inspiring reminder of what it means to be mission-driven and how much more powerful and fulfilling work is when you’re guided by meaning and purpose.


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Highlights from this episode:

“I’ve always had this thought going through my professional career…I’ve never not been in a position where I haven’t felt or been made to feel one down. And when I say one down, I mean less than, not equal to, you know, not on the same scale, not the same talent, whatever those descriptors are. But I’ve always felt like, you know, that there’s been an air for the people that have been in control that I was somehow not at their level.”

“There’s a song that [Jay-Z and Pharrell] have called ‘So ambitious,’ and there’s a line…that says, ‘The motivation for me was them telling me what I couldn’t be’ — a big driver for me.”

“I’ve always had an affinity for the underdog and wanted to make sure that those — particularly those that I know were as talented as maybe those that have an advantage — that they would have a chance, myself included.”

“In hindsight, you know, I could see that everything was dependent upon my uncle for success…at the end of the day it was really about him and what he put into it that was going to be the difference.”

“I’m sure it’s been instrumental in shaping me as an entrepreneur, me as a professional, me as a person.”

“It was just very inspirational, for me, from a mission standpoint, for what would be the mission for any company that I would start. So we were impactful, I think, as a leadership team, with the folks that worked there, which was primarily minorities and mostly African American women. You know our standings, in terms of rankings in the company, went to the top of the list. It was very motivational for me.”

“I think that is what separates entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial experiences and corporate settings. When I look at my experience at Dun and Bradstreet, which is the last job that I had before starting my own company, you know, essentially, everything’s figured out. When I started my first business, every little decision needed to be made.”

“One of the key things I learned…is that you need to relate and deal with people, that people are your most valuable and precious asset and that they will get you through whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish as a leader. It still drives how I go about business today.”

I wanted each person in the center to feel like they had a personal connection with me and that I had a personal interest in their success.”

“I was able to shed all the things a new manager might have, where your instincts are to dive into the business aspects. I did the exact opposite of that.”

“The goal was to try to create the best job that anyone that ever worked for us had ever had.”

“I’ve never been the person that had this burning desire to be an entrepreneur. I just never thought about things that way. And it was really more opportunistic, you know, it was the fact that I had a chance to be an entrepreneur and to get started…All I did was to take one day at a time.”

“For sure it was going to be a for profit business — we had to care for our family. But at the end of the day, that could be driven by what we did and how we treated the people that worked in the company.”

“[The first business was financed through] complete scrappiness and bootstrapping of fear for a lot of years, meaning that I financed the business any way that I could.”

“It’s amazing, as I look back in hindsight, that we were able to pull that off, it’s just amazing.”

“Between [having faith] and having a resilient spirit, and making solid business decisions, I’ve been able to keep my sanity.”

“It really kickstarted us. I mean we were maybe, you know, 16 million or so, in revenue. We got the investment. The next year we grew to north of 100 million in one year. Like just tremendous fast growth.”

“All I’ve ever known in life is work, and so now, I get to continue to do that and do that with meaning and purpose. And that’s kind of the driver.”

“I’m a firm believer that keeping things simple is the way, particularly around culture…we never really lost our mission and what we were trying to do, which was to make an impact, primarily for the people that would work for us. The predominance of people were from the minority community, that worked for us, and so we never lost that.”

“There were four things that they needed to do: come to work every day, come to work on time, do the job as you have been taught and to have a positive attitude. And we focused on those four things — they were like, the thing. The positive attitude was really the central point of all of the four and understanding that we were trying to create a positive environment for anybody who worked there. So we never wavered from that.”

“Those ideals of what we’ve been as a business and any of the businesses that we’ve had…we’ve stuck to those very core simple ideals.

“I think the folks that are around me would see very little difference in our life and our family’s life, before and after. We as a family enjoy nice things, vacations, live in a comfortable house, and all that, but we’re grounded in, you know, being good and decent people that that have altruistic spirit and that feel like any blessing that’s been given to us is so that we could support that for somebody else. And I think the evidence of that is my children, if you look at how my children live and lead their lives today.”

“We did some things with intention, like we wanted to go into underserved communities where there was talent and opportunity for us to do what we’re trying to do from a mission standpoint, but also put ourselves in a position where we can serve our clients at a higher level.”

“It gives these major corporations a chance to have impact in communities for where it is that they’re already investing in spending procurement dollars.”

“To be quite honest, we have to do the easy but hard things to do. You have to care about the people you have to break through, you know a lot of situations you have folks that haven’t had the benefit of anybody investing in them or their community and so you have to break through some of that. And, you know, establish a bond and trust that people know that, you know, really, in earnest, trying to do things the right way. The intent is for there to be a good outcome for everybody.”

“I just think stereotypes are ever present in relationships and in levels of interaction…and what it’s done is motivated me to tear down those stereotypes and to provide examples of when there’s opportunity.”

“That’s really what I want to have play out. I want corporates and those that are making buy decisions to know this is the best buying decision that I can make. It happens to have some good attached to it that our company can attach to. But at the end of the day, this is a great business move for us to make.”

“Companies have to live behind what they say, which is that they want to be good corporate stewards and that they want to be supportive of, you know, things that happen domestically, you know with job and job creation and investment in communities for the people that buy their products, all those things. Here’s a chance for them to make good on that.”

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