Mark O’Brien | [Top Agency Series] Rising Up the Ranks From Intern and Doing Sales to Becoming the CEO and Owner of Newfangled
Smart Business Revolution

Mark O’Brien is the CEO of Newfangled, a digital marketing consultancy for digital and traditional marketing firms. They help creative and digital agencies develop new business opportunities. Mark started working at Newfangled in 2000 as an intern before rising up the ranks to become the President and CEO of the company. He bought it over a five-year term from 2009 to 2013.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Mark O’Brien, the CEO of Newfangled, about how he rose up the ranks from intern to owning Newfangled. Mark talks about the lessons he has learned over the years, how he restructured his company in 2010, and how using paid media impacted his company. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Mark O’Brien shares his experience working as an intern for the company that he currently owns
  • How Mark was spared his job at Newfangled and how the company recovered from the layoffs
  • Mark explains how he rose up the ranks of Newfangled and the mentors that helped him develop skills 
  • How Mark bought the company from Eric Holter, how he managed through the 2008 economic crisis, and what he did to restructure it in 2010
  • The impact of adopting the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) and Strategic Coach program in 2015
  • Mark talks about taking his company virtual, how the COVID-19 pandemic affected his business, and what he learned about using paid media
  • The peers Mark respects and where to learn more about him

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:10

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, I’m the host here. And you know, every week we have great conversations with CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of all kinds of different companies and organizations, go check out our archives, who got the CEOs or founders of Netflix and Kinkos and YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. This is part of our top agency founder owner series, where we talk about some of the cutting edge work that digital agencies are doing today, especially in light of the pandemic. And first I want to give a quick shout out to David C. Baker, who helps entrepreneurial experts make better business decisions, go check out There’s a guest and he recommended highly today’s guest and I have a feeling is his name is going to come up multiple times. But our guest today is Mark O’Brien. And he is the CEO of Newfangled, it is a digital marketing consultancy which helps creative and digital agency develop ideal new business opportunities. And there’s so much happening today in the world of content marketing. And so we wanted to have a conversation with him about that. 

And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. Go check out Lots of resources for you to check out there, maybe not quite as many as Mark has on his website, which is a fountain of knowledge. So go check that out. But Mark, great to have you here today. And I you know, one of the critical experiences in in my background is internships, like free labor and and you know, it was such a great experience going out and being an intern, and we could have a longer conversation about the pros and cons of that whole system because many privileged people get to do it. That’s a longer conversation, but definitely going out and in your younger years in college and after college, and you interned actually for the company that you know, oh, you’re the CEO of Newfangled. So take me back to what that initial experience was, in particular, speaking, David C. Baker, one of the first experiences was, you get grilled by this intense guy who comes in to ask you questions about about the company. So what was that experience like coming in as an intern and then getting grilled by this intense consultant who comes in to ask you about your experiences?

Mark O’Brien 3:09

Sure, sure. Yeah. And first of all, thanks for having me on. Really appreciate it. And I like the way you go about doing this. For anyone who’s considering joining Jon’s podcast, I recommend that he really rolls out the red carpet and thank you tease everything up quite nicely in very, very pro operations. I appreciate that. Thank you. Let me address one word you used privileged, I was decidedly not privileged. And this was this was not a summer internship between my fall and sophomore years at Yale. Which didn’t exist. Yeah, I was I was broke and scared. Wow. To be completely honest, I graduated college with a short to succeed major in poetry. Because because I was I didn’t need my college education because I was positive I was going to cook for a living. And so I cooked full time all through high school and college. And about, like, three months after I graduated, I realized oh my gosh, like, this is not the career for me, even though at that point. I’ve been doing it for like 10 years. And so as a college, had a big old chunk of loans, no money, working three different jobs 90 hours a week in the service industry. And you know, I like to say it in my first midlife life crisis at age 23. I just, I was scared. I was scared and broke. And my lifelong friend, who was, you know, a geek from birth, got his first Mac Macintosh, when he was eight years old in 1983. You know, that kind of thing. bubble was still intact, getting bigger by the day. This was early 2000s was in the beginning of 2000. And, and he said, You know, I could teach you how to write some HTML. And so he did and then I started looking at per job. And he even pointed out that we live in Providence, Rhode Island time. And there was a sign that said New England web design. And I was like, oh, that’s looks interesting. And I looked it up. I couldn’t find anything. The next time I walked by the scientist doesn’t doesn’t say New England says Newfangled, like, okay, so they went to the Newfangled site, and I spent like, an entire afternoon reading this ridiculously long contact form, basically just begging for a job, anything. at all, just let me know that that was my thing. That’s how I got jobs back then. It’s a really effective tactic. And so again, they needed help. It was about as hard to find a developer then as it is now. Really, oddly similar circumstances. 20 years later. And he offered me 10 bucks an hour, and my heart like, shot through the roof. I couldn’t believe it. $10 an hour. And I could always many hours, I wanted to have a like, I mean, I just won the lottery. And so I walked around town and put all my jobs right down and walked out the door and walked to every other job. I had three, but so that Newfangled that Monday, it was thrilled, I just thrilled. I was overflowing with love and excitement and hope on that first day, and I still am.

John Corcoran 6:15

It was it was it just you were excited about what was happening with the explosion of the internet and websites and things like that. And that just what got you excited about the industry?

Mark O’Brien 6:28

To be honest, no, I didn’t care about any of that.

John Corcoran 6:34

Is 10 bucks, just the 10 bucks an hour.

Mark O’Brien 6:37

I was excited at the opportunity for a real career. I’ve been working in restaurants for a long time. I don’t know if you’ve worked in restaurants, but I have when I was in the kitchen. I was not making a ton of money on the front.

John Corcoran 6:49

not glamorous at all, you know, these before the days the Food Channel and stuff like that, which made it glamorous?

Mark O’Brien 6:55

Yeah, exactly. It was it was it was it was I learned so much. I’m so glad thrilled I did it. I drilled it, but I there was a real sense of desperation I had in my early 20s Because the road did not look good. And so Newfangled was, it was a job a good job in a really interesting industry. So I, I didn’t know enough about the industry excited about my new like, there’s there’s a wide open world here. And I’ve got nothing in front of you, but learning and that’s really exciting to me, right? Yeah. There’s no end to the learning I can do here. And I started as a coder, right at HTML guy. And so yeah, to your point, what you teed up there. A month after I got hired, David C. Baker was brought in, you went by David Baker, then by the owner, Eric Holter, he hired David for his total Business Review, which is still his flagship service all these years later. And back then what David would do is fly to the office in here, sit down in a private room and interview everyone individually. So you’re kind of like office space, which is to be Yeah, as named after his podcast is named after that, you know, office space to consultant that office space. And it was very much like that, where like, the consultant has you in a room and everyone comes out there looks like they’re sweating. And yeah. Like, you don’t know what just happened, but it wasn’t good. And so I go in and sit down. And I know, I just don’t know anything. And so we talked for a little bit. It pretty cool that I met him, you know, pretty much in my first 30 days in this industry. I had no idea who he was, didn’t really care about it. I took it seriously. And the next day to half the company

John Corcoran 8:33

got fired. Oh, wow. No, no coincidence, or was this? No, no, no, because you told

Mark O’Brien 8:39

her to fire up the company. He did? Well, he did the interviews. And he said, Okay, your payroll is ridiculous. You’re making no money. You’re running a really risky business right now. And you have to have to go right now. And Eric, you know, you have the guts to do it. You did it. David is any consultant you give a lot of advice and talk to clients take half your advice half the time? Yeah, throw about half. So that’s a pretty low percentage. Right, right. But Eric did it. Eric did it.

John Corcoran 9:08

What was that like for you? Because you obviously you survived. You weren’t one of the ones who was let go? Maybe because everyone else was making 15 An hour and you’re making 10 I don’t know.

Mark O’Brien 9:18

That’s that’s the thing. The punch line to that story is that his advice to Eric about me was that Mark guy like he’s too cheap to fire like whatever, even though it doesn’t matter. It’s like a change at all to keep this guy in so bright. I suppose we’ll keep in touch because now that asked me and have managed to keep that guy. Right. So what was it like it was traumatic? It was Black Friday, it was Black Friday. We like it for years. We spoke about it. It was it was a really rude awakening because here I am so hopeful and excited about what I fully believe is the rest of my life. You know, like it just I felt like I got it completely sunlight. I was so excited and then all of a sudden the organization worked for radically changed, like a wave of a hand basically, for all good reasons, but I could not understand that time at all or comprehend. And I think that was really healthy for me because I realized, okay, like, I got to earn this. You know, yeah, there are no blank checks here. I gotta, I gotta hustle. I gotta, I gotta perform. And so it lit a fire under me. But it was a very, very traumatic event. Yeah, one of my closest allies in that time was a guy named Dave Mello, who still is our CTO, and he had he he started when he was 17. He’s five years my junior. And he was a great help during that time, but we were both pretty, pretty scared.

John Corcoran 10:45

Yeah, how does it? How does the company recover? You know, culturally, after something like that happens,

Mark O’Brien 10:53

you know, Eric was always so great with the culture, we, we were a really tight group. And he treated it like as a cliche, but he really did treat it like a family and he so valued work life balance, and it really respected that and, and we had a lot of fun together. We all of us loved coming to work each day, we’re especially after the firing pretty small company, I think there were six or seven of us left, not many. And we it brought us together, right? Hey, we’re the crew. And there’s a lot to do. And like, let’s let’s team together and make it happen. And so it was quite bonding. And, um, that was 2000. And so then the bubble burst.