Entrepreneurship requires humility, tenacity and respect

Mark French is a serial entrepreneur who’s built and run several businesses in the sports, consumer goods, media and technology industries. The world-class athletes he’s partnered with in roles with MISSION, The Players’ Tribune, Healthy Together and NBC Universal include such household names as Serena Williams, Derek Jeter and Dwyane Wade.

Mark is now CEO of X2 PERFORMANCE, guiding the energy drink brand during a critical and highly successful period of growth.

The road to this point wasn’t smooth, though. Having superstar athletes in a pitch doesn’t automatically get you a win — failures and losses are part of entrepreneurship.

They don’t hold Mark back anymore, though. Setbacks have taught him how to respond — and they’ve taught him humility.

This started at a young age, when he turned academic challenges into a life-changing opportunity. His father told him that if he got his act together, he’d take Mark to a Knicks game. “You gotta get your grades up, you gotta focus, you gotta go to school.”

Mark did. At the game, he informed his dad that he was going to walk down to the court and talk to his favorite Knick, Mark Jackson. Security didn’t deter him. Neither did the bright lights nor the presence of his basketball idol. He introduced himself to Jackson and asked for a job as a ball-boy. It worked. Jackson pointed to the man Mark would need to talk to.

“It’s also a business lesson,” Mark notes as he looks back. “Act like you’re supposed to be there.”

But others in that moment saw more. “He showed the same amount of respect for the security guards at the arena as he did for the NBA All-Stars,” Jackson later said of the encounter. “That’s what made him unique as a teenager. And that’s what makes him a success today.”

Mark French returns the compliment, adding that he’s humbled that Jackson noticed.

Business instincts that get noticed

Humility is necessary in entrepreneurial careers where losses can outnumber wins. “In today’s ventures, there are a lot more bad days than there are good,” he says. “Being punched in the mouth when you’re an entrepreneur happens a lot. The more you know how to take shots, the better you’re going to be at reacting to them.”

Mark’s roles have always been with disruptors, never starting at a company that was an industry leader. “I get humbled all the time.”

This even applied at a giant like NBC, where ratings were down when Mark worked there. He pitched an idea to executives called NBC Everywhere, bringing content to captive audiences so it added value to their mundane experiences. In the days before always-on connected devices, he suggested screens for those riding in cabs or pumping gas.

How failure can fuel success

“I couldn’t get arrested in that building,” Mark says of that time when NBC Everywhere was only a well-researched concept. But persistence and a believer on the executive level paid off.

“Instead of giving up, he was energized,” NBC Universal’s then-president of integrated media Beth Comstock says of Mark’s early tenacity. Why did failure light a fire under him?

Confidence in the concept. “I was getting enough assurance from the marketplace,” Mark says, “from outside the building, to know there was something there.”

Watch Mark’s conversations with Josh Golden to learn how his ideas take shape, more about failure as a master’s class in persistence, and his entrepreneurial thesis of, “Try to solve a problem that hasn’t been solved before.”