Mark O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer,  Newfangled

Mark O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer, Newfangled

As digital agencies, we’re great at marketing our clients. Marketing ourselves? Not so much. Mark O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer at Newfangled, knows how this goes: our referral network starts to tap out, we have a blog(ish), maybe some social. We do the things, but not really in a meaningful or sustainable way.

Mark saw this cobbler’s-children-have-no-shoes paradox back in 2015. At the time, the “too cheap to fire” intern turned CEO realized Newfangled needed to ditch 20 years of web development fast or perish. Going through the EOS Traction coaching program, Mark helped Newfangled to tai chi its way to discover its unique ability.

Find out how you can uncover hard truths, market smarter and overcome your fear of changing out the plumbing while the water is still running.


Carl Smith: Welcome back to the Bureau Briefing. Today I am happy to have with me Mark O'Brien from Newfangled, a digital marketing consultancy in Chapel Hill who, you know, I just met Mark the other day through a mutual friend, Joe Renaldi, and I have to say his story just fascinates me. And we're gonna get into it. So Mark, how are you?

Mark O'Brien: I'm wonderful, how are you, Carl?

Carl Smith: I'm doing really good. And you can call me whatever you want, you can call me Scott.

Mark O'Brien: Scott, you okay with Scott? I was gonna call you Scott for some reason. I don't know why, I just felt it. I felt Scott.

Carl Smith: No, because I'm [Scott 00:00:32].

Mark O'Brien: It's because a Scottish thing, that's exactly it.

Carl Smith: We were having the Irish-Scottish talk right before we started recording.

Mark O'Brien: It's still there.

Carl Smith: It makes sense, there's this mutual respect. And you know, I think it actually transcends just our backgrounds, just our heritage. So I want to ask you one question. I found some similarities in what we're doing that kind of baffle me. The first is, my first career I started as an intern at the company.

Mark O'Brien: Wow.

Carl Smith: And I saw that at Newfangled, in 2000, you were an intern.

Mark O'Brien: Yes.

Carl Smith: So talk about that.

Mark O'Brien: I'm curious about what your story is, but I guess we have to do that later. Yeah, so I did what I came to end up calling the O'Brien. So the O'Brien is a move, and here's the move, here's how it goes. It's foolproof, okay? I've got 100% track record with it, I've used it twice. But it worked both times. My first career was in cooking, and I thought I was gonna do that for the rest of my life. I worked full-time in restaurants all through high school and college and just loved it. And my mom, fortunately, made me go to a liberal arts school and I studied poetry, because I was interested in writing songs. Of course you study poetry when you go to college, because that's just what you do. 'Cause you're gonna cook for the rest of your life, and that makes a lot of sense.

Carl Smith: Well, poets, the gross earning potential of poets is right up there.

Mark O'Brien: Oh, right, right up there along with bellhops, which I also was.

Carl Smith: There we go.

Mark O'Brien: So anyway, shortly after graduating I found my dream job at a restaurant, and that's a different story for a different time. And fortunately, I succeeded quickly. Worked really well, I hit my 10-year goal in about six months and realized that this was not the career for me. I wanted a family, I wanted to be alive after age 30, I wanted a lot of things, you know. Nights and weekends sounded kind of nice. And so I realized okay, this isn't the career for me. You know, when you cook, if you just have to cook, if it's in your blood and you absolutely must do it and you can't imagine doing anything else, maybe just can't do anything else because you're so obsessed with it, then you have to cook. It's like music. If you're Ryan Adams and you're kind of like a useless person aside from playing music, you just have to do that, right? And that's the deal. And so I wasn't that. I liked cooking, but I didn't absolutely have to do it.

But I found myself in 1998 at a bit of a crossroads. I had spent the past [eight years 00:03:03] or so thinking I was going to do one thing, and now after being done with college and with student loans, etc., I realized the thing I thought I always wanted to do was not what I was meant to do. And so 1998 turns into '99, and I basically, my good buddy who I was living with at the time got me into coding. He said "You know, you can make 40 grand a year tomorrow writing HTML." And I knew nothing. I did not have an email address, okay?

Carl Smith: Welcome to the game.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, right. And 40 grand a year, to me, sounded, might as well have been $30 million a year. It was just an unimaginable amount of money. And so I did with Newfangled the same thing I did with the restaurant, my dream restaurant, which was called Alforno. And this is the move, the O'Brien. I said "Listen, I want to be here, I'll do anything to be here, you don't have to pay me, and I'll do whatever you want. If you want me to wash dishes, you want me to put together chairs, whatever. I just want to be part of your company however I can be." And that's an offer that's pretty hard to refuse. And I was already working three jobs cooking at the time. Well, two cooking and one as a bellhop. And so I had nothing to lose.

Carl Smith: Oh, man.

Mark O'Brien: I was working 90 hours a week, and it was fine. I was 21 or something. It wasn't a big deal. And you know, the owner, founder of Newfangled, Eric Holter, said "All right, I'll give you $10 an hour." And, I mean, my spirits, I think I'm still coming down from that high, honestly, 18 years later. I went and walked to all three jobs and quit all three jobs right then, right after leaving Newfangled, and in fact started the next Monday assembling chairs. He took me up ...

Carl Smith: That's amazing.

Mark O'Brien: He took me up on the offer of assembling chairs. And then learned HTML, and that's how I started.

Carl Smith: Okay, so we really have a lot in common. And I want to make this about you, not me, but ...

Mark O'Brien: Well, let's make it about both of us. Tell me. Did you cook?

Carl Smith: I did not cook.

Mark O'Brien: Okay, okay.

Carl Smith: I was a theater major.

Mark O'Brien: Right, yeah.

Carl Smith: And decided that I was just gonna act like I understood business, and got a job at an advertising agency, but they weren't hiring, they just had a big layoff. So I interned there the summer before I graduated, so I just showed up one day and sat down at a desk.

Mark O'Brien: Really? That's great.

Carl Smith: And didn't tell anybody, and I would just occasionally walk into meetings and sit down.

Mark O'Brien: That is amazing.

Carl Smith: And about three weeks later I got asked if I could come in over the weekend, and I said "I don't work here." And I left. And I got a phone call and got offered $16,700 to come back and be a writer. But I was a bad writer so it morphed into other things. But it was the same kind of thing. I just ... and they asked me what I wanted to do, I just looked at Melanie, who was the president, and I said "You know, I just want to be indispensable, so just put me somewhere and I'll try to be as great as I can be."

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, exact same mindset. I'm 100% the exact same mindset. I just wanted to do something, I wanted to be involved. And I didn't know enough about myself or my unique ability, I hadn't taken DISC or a Kolbe or strengths finder or any of them. [crosstalk 00:06:11], I just knew I wanted to have ... I wanted to have a decent job. Decent to me was like yeah, 16 grand? Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Carl Smith: I still felt like I had more money back then than I have now.

Mark O'Brien: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's funny.

Carl Smith: You know, I was the one picking up the tab, but I had no expenses.

Mark O'Brien: Right, yeah.

Carl Smith: So it's funny when you go back and look at it. So you intern.

Mark O'Brien: Right.

Carl Smith: And then you get to a point where you buy the company.

Mark O'Brien: Right, so three weeks later I bought the company and that's the story. Yeah, so the very short version of this ...

Carl Smith: It's called the O'Brien, people. It's called the O'Brien.

Mark O'Brien: O'Brien, offer to work for free, buy the company three weeks later. So yeah, I started as an intern in June, June 15 of 2000, in the year 2000. And then I was hired like in July, I was, for basically the salary equivalent of $10 an hour, which I was thrilled about. Again, it wasn't the 40 grand a year my roommate had promised me, but it was still an amazing ... and in fact, it would take many years before I got to that 40, actually.

Carl Smith: Oh, yeah.

Mark O'Brien: But that was okay 'cause I adored my job, and it was just wonderful, I was thrilled. And actually, so started in June of 2000, was hired in July of 2000. In August of 2000 Eric, again the founder, hired David C. Baker, who we both know, to come in for a total business review. 

Carl Smith: Okay.

Mark O'Brien: And David came in and interviewed everybody. So I met David after being at Newfangled for about two months. And he interviewed everybody and he basically told Eric at the end of that process that he needed to fire half the staff. And when it came time for them to review me, he said "That guy, I mean, it doesn't really matter. He's too cheap to fire, won't make a difference, you might as well just keep him." 

Carl Smith: It's the O'Brien, folks.

Mark O'Brien: Still.

Carl Smith: Fly low, fly low.

Mark O'Brien: Too cheap to fire is pretty good, you know. Thank God I was too cheap to fire, because otherwise I would have absolutely been fired. He did, he followed his advice and the company shrank by 50%.

Carl Smith: Now, how big was the company at the time?

Mark O'Brien: It was still small. We went from probably, maybe 14 people to seven, around there-ish.

Carl Smith: That's a huge cut. And culturally ...

Mark O'Brien: Oh, yeah.

Carl Smith: That's a terrifying thing for the people that are left.

Mark O'Brien: Well, you know what, and that was one of my first experiences, right? And I made the cut, so there was like a survival thing that got baked into me really early on. Really early on.

Carl Smith: Right.

Mark O'Brien: But I was ... you know, I was 100% committed to Newfangled from the day I submitted that contact form asking a job. I was all in from second one. And so I started doing some HTML, really enjoyed it, and back then the coders were also the project managers. We had no structure for project management or anything like that. And so I was also on the phone with clients and meeting with clients and stuff like that. It was just everything, whatever I could do I did. And then got into programming, and eventually got into, I really got into like Bash scripting and became our admin, which is laughable now. In fact, the guys here who are actually technically minded do laugh at it regularly, that I did that. But enjoyed it, I just loved it, it was a lot of fun. And I remember those days of putting on my headphones and just coding. And it was great, I loved it.

So that was good for about three years, and then in 2003 I moved to North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And I said to Eric, I said "Well, I'm gonna move to Carolina. I'd love to continue to work for Newfangled, can I?" And he said yes, for sure. He said "But ..." And at the time we were a very local company. We were in Providence, Rhode Island, and we did business right around Providence, Rhode Island. That was it, there was no national anything of any kind at all. We were working with agencies. We were focusing on that even back then, but it was very, very local. He said "When you go down there you might as well work on your market." 

And so that's when I got into biz dev, and that's when everything changed. Because I realized "Okay, I'm not a coder, I'm a biz dev person." And I love relationships and all of that. And we started having a lot of success on that front, and no one at Newfangled ever really wanted to do that, so I was the first person by this point in our 10-year history who liked it and who was kind of good at it. And so then I became president in '04, and then the whole company relocated to North Carolina, and then in 2008, back to David Baker, David C. Baker ... I was, you know, I was running the company pretty well and I enjoyed it, and there was a time there when I was the only project manager. I was one of three developers, I was the biz dev guy, you know, like I was still the sys admin. It was just lots of, lots of, lots of hats. All the hats except for design, I was never a designer in any way.

Carl Smith: And you thought you were gonna get your weekends back?

Mark O'Brien: You know what, I have to say ... okay, I'm glad you said that. I've never worked weekends. Newfangled is not a work on the weekend kind of company typically. Now, we all have at Newfangled, and there's still times when we do, right.

Carl Smith: There are times.

Mark O'Brien: But Eric, from the very beginning, it's something I loved so much about Newfangled and one of the reasons I stayed when ... times were really tough for a long time. 2000-2003 were not salad days. It was skimpy as skimpy gets. You know, holding your paycheck kind of thing and "we might go out of business any month" kind of thing. It was, we were hanging on. But even then we didn't do weekends. And had very reasonable schedules, like 40-hour work weeks has been the thing, and to this day is still the thing. Again, people go above and beyond and it's required at times, but the norm is to have a very reasonable work/life balance, to the point where we now give everybody two months of PTO all in, as it shakes out. And things like that, we really believe in being away from the office.

So you know, I was kind of running the company by '08, or pretty much running the company by '08, and Eric wanted to pursue ... he was sort of disappointed, because he was a classic entrepreneur. He always had ideas, like "Oh, we should do this, we should do that, we should do that." And I kept saying "No, we need to do just this one thing that we're good at. We have to get better at this thing before we do four other things." And he's a really smart guy, and he would see my logic each time, and he's acquiesce, like "Okay, yeah, we can't do that." But he was disappointed, he wasn't fulfilled. He wanted to start stuff. He loved starting things. And I was just like dousing his fire every single time, and so he was gonna start his own company being a consultant for firms. And so he went to David to get what I jokingly called the consulting consulting.

Carl Smith: Nice.

Mark O'Brien: And David said "Okay, so you're here because you want to be a consultant, so who's running Newfangled?" And then he described to David all the things I was doing, this guy who was formerly too cheap to fire.

Carl Smith: The guy who's too cheap to fire.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, and he said okay, David said to Eric, "Okay, you've got a choice here. You can go back to the office in three days," after he was done with him in Nashville. "And you're either going to sell the country to him or you're gonna fire him." And I had no idea this was happening. I was like happily doing my thing at Newfangled, no idea that my fate was hanging in the balance here. And he came back ...

Carl Smith: It's a valid call, though, right?

Mark O'Brien: It's a valid call.

Carl Smith: It's not gonna work out with both of you there.

Mark O'Brien: Valid call. And he wasn't happy. He wasn't happy, but he knew Newfangled was doing what it was supposed to be doing. He's a really wise guy, he's a very, very interesting man. So he came back and he said "I want to sell you Newfangled, you want to buy it?" And I said yes, like on the spot I said yes. But this was '08, this is the very beginning of '08, and it took us ... remember what happened in '08, everything went to hell, and it took us ...

Carl Smith: Oh, man.

Mark O'Brien: The beginning of '08 the banks were like "Yeah, we'll help you with this, blah, blah blah." By the time July hit and October hit, it was like "No, we're not gonna give you any money under any circumstances." So we had to figure out how to do a buyout, which we did. And I started buying the company in '09 and finished in '13, so it's been quite the ride.

Carl Smith: So this is the concept of stables and volatiles, right? So you are a stable.

Mark O'Brien: Okay.

Carl Smith: You are like "This works." 

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, right.

Carl Smith: I know this works and we've iterated enough, and now we need [inaudible 00:14:31] here.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah.

Carl Smith: Whereas with Eric, he was like "No, we need to change it, we need to change it, we need to change it, we need to change it."

Mark O'Brien: Yep.

Carl Smith: And it was the same with me. I actually had, one of our lead devs told me, we had gotten the company, my company engine up to about 40 people, and one of my lead devs said "Carl, this is an amazing business model. You know what, so were the last six. Can you please stop?"

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, right.

Carl Smith: "We just want to know where we work."

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, fair.

Carl Smith: And so I didn't have anybody ... I wish at that point I had had somebody like you that I could have sold it to. Instead, sadly, I just withdrew and it kind of fluttered out of existence. But, so you take over and now you're saying that shift to being a marketing consultancy for other digital and also traditional marketing firms happened earlier. Now, that happened with David coming in?

Mark O'Brien: No, no, no, no. So yeah, so throughout all this time, very much through 2013, from '95 to 2013 we were a web development company.

Carl Smith: Okay, so you were still generalists, then.

Mark O'Brien: Oh, yeah. Well, we were definitely working with agencies the whole time through. So we were basically, that was our angle. We're partnering with agencies, either to help them build ...

Carl Smith: I gotcha.

Mark O'Brien: Their site or their clients' sites.

Carl Smith: Gotcha, so you were working with more traditional advertising agencies?

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, marketing firms for the most part, yeah. Yeah.

Carl Smith: Yeah, who didn't really get the web and needed that strong partner and sometimes handed your business cards and said "Hey, this is who you work for."

Mark O'Brien: We never did that, yeah. We were asked to do that pretty regularly, we never did it, thank God. That would have been a mess.

Carl Smith: We had a letter of agreement that would make them choke. 

Mark O'Brien: Got it, got it.

Carl Smith: These are the things we will never do.

Mark O'Brien: We will never do, yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. So yeah, that was, for basically 20 years that's what we did.

Carl Smith: Okay.

Mark O'Brien: And then, and so ...

Carl Smith: So talk about that shift, yeah, when ...

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, then came Traction, right? The EOS system, or the EOS, I guess you can call it. So yeah, I started in the strategic coach program and we started [dropping 00:16:33] Traction right around the same time, which was 2014. I'm sorry, it was May ... 2014 for coach, May of 2015 for Traction. And what Traction made us do was just look in the mirror and be really honest about "Okay, what is it that Newfangled specifically is uniquely suited to do to have the most impact on our clients? How can we, given our strengths and weaknesses, have the most impact on our clients?" And you know, is it ... we've done it for the past 20 years, is it actually coding the website? Are we so great at coding the website that it is gonna be so much of a better website than anyone else could ever do, that is going to radically change the client's business? Is that the truth? No. That's 100% not the truth.

And that was a terrifying truth, but the thing about Traction is it just keeps on putting the truth in your face and you cannot ignore it. If you do it properly you cannot ignore the most uncomfortable truths. And so we realized "Okay, we've got to change something." By this point we had gotten very involved in marketing automation, we had gotten very involved in CRM, we had gotten very involved in content consulting. And we realized our clients, who are these marketing firms for the most part, they are not good at marketing themselves. To a firm, pretty much. It's a bit of a paradox, but it's true, they're great marketers but they're not great marketing marketers, if that makes sense. And so I said "We're really, really good at that and there's a huge hole there. This is what we need to do." And so we reinvented the company using Traction over ... you know, you could argue that reinvention's still going on, but really pretty much from mid-2015 through the end of 2016 is when the reinvention took place.

And the way I describe Traction is that it was a full reinvention, it was an incredible amount of changeover, a relatively short amount of time. And what Traction allowed us to do was something that I likened to tai chi. You know what tai chi?

Carl Smith: Yeah, yeah.

Mark O'Brien: What's your impression of tai chi?

Carl Smith: So ... okay, so my dad, this is my main connection with it. My dad, who's in his 80s with dementia and anger problems, is trying tai chi. It is the funniest thing to watch, somebody trying to remember stuff when they have memory problems and they get angry really easily. So to me, tai chi is sort of hilarious.

Mark O'Brien: Got it.

Carl Smith: But I was in Portland and I saw a bunch of people doing tai chi down by the river, and it was just this beautiful kind of yoga dance.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, kind of soft, smooth, slow?

Carl Smith: Yeah.

Mark O'Brien: Okay, yeah, right. So the truth about tai chi is, the actual art of tai chi, is you're practicing those, tai chi is one of the most deadly practices that exists in the entire field of martial art. You're doing those slow movements so that when you do it full speed, they are precisely executed. And they're vicious movements. What those things are meant to do are very physically debilitating. But you practice them incredibly slowly so that at real speed they're done perfectly, right? That's what tai chi is about. 

Carl Smith: Wow, I did not ...

Mark O'Brien: And that's how I describe Traction. Traction allows you to take these massive problems, these completely business-inverting problems, and execute them flawlessly because you're breaking them down to the most minute components and you're solving problems at a solvable level so that day by day you're making progress and at the end of 18 months you can't believe that things have changed. That's what Traction's done for us.

Carl Smith: So how does impact the current clients that you have, the culture ... it feels like making those changes in that rapid timeframe is gonna cause a lot of upheaval.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, in some ways it did, you know. We still had our Rhode Island office from all those years back, and we closed that office. And that was really difficult. We had three people who had been with us for 15 years plus, each.

Carl Smith: Wow.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, yeah, one of whom predated me. Really two of them, but one had left and come back, it doesn't matter. So you know, they had been there for a really long time, and ...

Carl Smith: I knew what you meant.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, yeah. He's actually great, he still does a lot of work with us, and we've been able to send quite a bit of work to them because we're not doing that kind of work any more. And so we were able to help each of them with a soft landing. And yeah, one just got a job coding, the other two started their own companies and get a lot of work from Newfangled, which is great.

So that was really difficult. On the client side, you know, we just started selling something new. And it made a lot of sense to our clients, and they were a lot of people for whom we had done websites years ago and they came back for the consulting offering. And that was really exciting to see. And what was more exciting to see was the impact we were able to have, how healthy and happy those relationships became, how profitable those relationships became. How happy the people inside of Newfangled became, because we were kind of running into a wall with web development, and it was really stressful. And typically by the end of a project no one really liked each other any more. It was really hard, it was really, really, really hard and it burnt our people out. Our project managers had a really high rate of burnout here and that was tough. You know, it was tough.

But everything's changed. The profitability's completely different, the happiness level on both inside of Newfangled and with the client's completely different. Our vision for the future is different, our ability to be flexible is greatly expanded, you know, we'll never go back. We'll never, ever go back. We're thrilled with the difference that it's made for us and for our clients.

Carl Smith: So what do you see as common issues a digital agency has when they come to you initially?

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, the most common issue is that they've realized that they need to market. They have tapped out the referral network and they built the business to this point on referrals, they've dabbled in marketing, they probably have a blog, they do some things on social media, but their blog's all about them and current event kind of stuff. It's not expertise.

Carl Smith: The tone of your voice when you said that, "They have a blog and do the things ..." that was awesome.

Mark O'Brien: But yeah, they realize that if they're gonna grow, or some of them are worried that if they want to stay relevant and even stay even, they've got to start marketing. But they've tried it enough on their own to know that they're not really good at it and that they're missing something. And the other thing that we see typical in the industry is that there's these one-offs. They try blogging, they try automation, they adopt a CRM, they change their site platform, and they think that these one-off things ... they hire a biz dev person, and they think that these one-off things are gonna work. And the truth is, those one-off things will never, ever work no matter how well you do any one of those things. It is never going to work for you, ever. And that's just the truth.

and we know that's the truth because we've seen the patterns, and the pattern is that there are six things that have got to be in place. And if those six things are not done properly and consistently for good, then marketing's not gonna work. And it's very difficult for even marketing firms, digital firms, full-blown agencies, whatever you want to call them, it's difficult for those firms to execute all six at once, and so that's why they look for outside help.

Carl Smith: And one of the things that I saw when I was looking over Newfangled is that you can't just help anybody.

Mark O'Brien: Right, right.

Carl Smith: They've got to be really good or have a deep level of knowledge about something.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, if information asymmetry is not in place, we cannot help. That's the thing. And so for years it was okay, we work with marketing firms. And that has nothing to do with it. There are plenty of generalist marketing firms out there that we cannot help, plenty of generalist digital shops that we cannot help. If you are not selling your expertise and if you're not winning business regularly because of the fact that you know something that the other people don't know, then we can't help. Because all that can really be marketed is intelligence, truly. You know, if you're a digital shop, if you're competing on price you're kind of screwed. If you're competing on speed you're kind of screwed. If you're competing on volume you're kind of screwed, right? You're not gonna have a very successful shop if any of those things are true, or if all three of those things are true, right? You're really screwed if all three of those things are true.

The only way to scale a business is to be smarter. And the only way to be smarter, truly, in a sustainable way as a business, is to be focused. Because when you're focused you're going to just learn more things about your area of focus than the other people are willing to be disciplined enough to learn. And any individual is not smart enough to build a company around permanently. It has to be a collection of smart individuals who are able to do pattern-matching. And they do pattern-matching because they're doing the same sort of things for the same sort of people again and again and again, and they simply see things that everyone else is blind to.

Carl Smith: Your passion is just coming through so strong. It's like this is your thing. I mean it's making me smile and I'm so glad we're having this conversation, because it's something I think everybody needs, but there's so much fear.

Mark O'Brien: So much fear.

Carl Smith: Of, if I take my foot off the gas the thing's gonna crash.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, of course.

Carl Smith: Right?

Mark O'Brien: Yeah.

Carl Smith: But to do this, you kind of have to take your foot off the gas, right? You can't just keep charging down the things you think work if you've got to get focused.

Mark O'Brien: Well, Chris Butler, our COO, has a phrase that he uses that maybe he created, maybe he co-opted, all the time. You've got to change out the plumbing while the water's still running. Right? That's true, so you can't really take your foot off the gas. You know, while you're making these transitions ...

Carl Smith: Oh, man, that's messy.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah, it's really messy, depending on what plumbing you're changing out, especially.

Carl Smith: Oh, oh.

Mark O'Brien: It's messy. But yeah, you actually can't take your foot off the gas, you've got to keep bringing business in. It's not as if you can stop and just take six months to reinvent yourself, that's not reality. No one has the luxury of doing that. You've got to change while the machine's in motion, and Newfangled had to do that. Companies who really survive the test of time all do that. No one escapes this, right? This is ... if you want to survive, you are going to do this one way or another, some time or another. And so it's a matter of doing it the right way, a matter of being measured, and really, people tend to need guides through that process.

Carl Smith: And this, to me, this feels so much like everything that I'm hearing, everything that I'm reading about, it's a maturity that's hitting our industry, where there used to just be so much work and so few people to do it.

Mark O'Brien: Right, right.

Carl Smith: That you could get around. I actually had a conversation with a group that started by selling websites door to door.

Mark O'Brien: Wow.

Carl Smith: They would go door to door to restaurants and other businesses like that, like you would sell the Yellow Pages. Which, in the late '90s, early 2000s, that was legit. But now, with anything from Squarespace to Wix to all that kind of stuff, you can't be based on that. So it's got to be this focus of specialty.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah. You know, the thing that Newfangled faced, "Can we have the most impact on our clients by coding it? Is that our unique ability, are we really that much better at coding than everybody else? And does the client have any perception of that at all, can they evaluate good code or not?" No. So most firms who are in the web development space are all facing the exact same thing we faced, and they all really do need a position. And what's interesting about this is that most of those firms actually have a positioning. They are really, really good at something, they just don't know it. They haven't noticed it, they haven't realized it.

Carl Smith: Right.

Mark O'Brien: Right, the extra piece is there.

Carl Smith: Well, Mark, thank you so much for being with us on the Bureau Briefing today. Do you have any parting words for the shops out there that are thinking about making this move?

Mark O'Brien: Yeah. Play to the truth. Look at what the truth ... what's the truth? Just shut up and ...

Carl Smith: Now you sound like everybody I've ever had a serious relationship with. "Carl, shut up. Stop talking."

Mark O'Brien: "And what's the truth?" We've come a long way in the past few days, Carl, you and I.

Carl Smith: We have.

Mark O'Brien: But that's really it, because, you know, I think we all know ... we all know what's really going on, all right? And we're scared of some parts of it, and we're excited about some other parts of it, which I think if we just look at what's happening, we know what the answers are. And the truth is a great teacher. And cold showers.

Carl Smith: There you go. And cold showers for sure.

Mark O'Brien: Yep.

Carl Smith: Thank you so much. You know, it's funny, as I look at the Bureau, and again, we're both founders of things that we didn't start, I mean we're both owners of things that we didn't start, sorry.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah.

Carl Smith: And you know, I mean, the Bureau obviously has this focus.

Mark O'Brien: Yeah.

Carl Smith: But I'm not sure that I do, and so just having this opportunity to talk with you, I think, has made me rethink about a lot of the ways that we're doing things. So personally, thank you. For everybody listening, thank you, and I'm sure that we'll be seeing you around the Bureau.

Mark O'Brien: Absolutely. And I want to thank you on behalf of your audience, right back at you. I mean, the work you're doing and just ... in getting to know you and knowing that you come from the heart, you really want all of these businesses who you serve to be better businesses, to be more successful businesses. And you're doing everything you can as an entrepreneur to make that happen, and that's yeoman's work. It is hard, it's risky, especially the particular business you're in, event management, is incredibly risky. And the fact that you're putting it all on the line, ultimately to serve your audience as best as you know how, is really commendable. And I appreciate it tremendously, so thanks for the work you do as well.

Carl Smith: You got it, I appreciate it, Mark. Everybody, we will talk to you soon, and hope that you tune back in. Have a great weekend. Bye.

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