What did you have to unlearn?
Mayo: I had to unlearn being uncomfortable with being wrong. In school, and when you work for someone, you’re trying to get 90% or above to get the A or get that stamp of approval. You don’t want to make any mistakes because you’re afraid you might get fired or will come up in your review. You’re constantly trying to be right, so you don’t take big risks. It’s like, “I’m only going to do thing that I know will turn out well.” That’s counter intuitive in business because in business you are always doing something that stretches you that you are not necessarily comfortable with. And you’re going to be wrong sometimes. You have to be comfortable with this concept of being wrong.
If you could go back to 2011 and give yourself advice about starting IncubateNYC, what would you advise?
Shields: I would probably tell Brian a year ago “Look, you’re going to go on this journey, you’re going to go on an emotional roller coaster.” My friend, who has been an entrepreneur for about five years now, told me that you don’t understand anything until you do it. It’s like being a parent. You can play with your nieces all the time, you can rent a kid all you want, but until you have your own, you really don’t get it. I’d tell myself “Brian, be prepared. Have your North Star, your mission, and keep going towards that in a structured and scaled way, you’ll get to the right answer.”
What’s one of the more surprising things you’ve encountered since starting Incubate NYC?
Shields: On the business side, people’s emotional connection to the way we teach is always really surprising and probably one of my favorite parts of the business. People love it so much they tell their friends. On the personal side, I’m consistently surprised at how emotionally rigorous and stressful this is. It’s another thing you’re not prepared for. Before you’re worried about your SAT score or a grade, now you’re out here trying to be able to eat. It’s real.
Mayo: Brian and I have been working together for seven years so we have similar opinions on things. The emotional part really surprised me too. The emotional up and down is fundamentally the hardest part of entrepreneurship. As long as you have the right people around you, you can make it through. We’ve been blessed to have very good support around us.
Marcus, you’ve been married for two years and Brian, you are engaged, how did your respective partners at home take the news that you would be quitting your jobs to start your own business?
My wife said she was surprised I didn’t do it sooner. She saw me side hustling for the past seven years. I didn’t wake up one day and say “I want to quit my job.” We sat down and talked about how it would work. She was the other person in the background like “Hey, when are you going to start bringing in some money?”
Shields: It’s ideal to have a partner that can help support you and provide resources. Side hustle, have a track record. It’s much easier to have that conversation with someone about needing to get on their health insurance for a while or whatever if you have a proven track record.
Mayo: I believe almost every successful entrepreneur side hustled before they did anything full time. That’s the type of traction you need to show people.
You both come from the corporate world, how did you make the transition from a regular pay check to the much less predictable world of entrepreneurship?
One, I gave myself a serious timeline. It takes about two years to start a business, but in the first year, you should know if you are making progress. I literally gave myself a year of maybe not making a lot of money. The moment we actually started making money, I was like okay “Maybe I can pay myself before that year is over.” Two, be realistic about where you are and doing some stuff on the side while you’re still working day job. We encourage people to have a side hustle that you can make money on while still working your 9 to 5 . Try to start generating money as soon as possible with your idea.
Shields: Entrepreneurship is about time and giving yourself enough time to be successful. So whether it’s about saving enough to last two three years or a pathway to raise money realistically or you’ve played around with your product long enough on the side to see the trends and see real traction. These are all competence metrics that help people get over the hump. A lot of it has to do with market fit. Once you find yourself in that intersection of your passion and what you are doing, you will be willing to take the risk.
What’s next for IncubateNYC? Any plans to take the idea to other cities?
Shields: One thing we teach in our class is focus, so in the near term, we’re trying to rock NYC. There are a lot of diff ways to take the idea to different locations, but for now we’ll focus on New York. Long term, I’d like to go to the moon.
What would be your bite-sized take-away advice about entrepreneurship?
Mayo: The key to entrepreneurship is to keep running. The moment you quit is when your business fails. If you keep running, you will eventually figure it out. People often quit before they figure it out. Sometimes people are discouraged or you just run out of runway, there’s no more capital. But you have to give yourself the ability to keep running.
Shields: Position yourself to win from the beginning. Give yourself as many resources as possible. Pick a market that matters to you. Give yourself advantages sooner than later.
Last question, fun question. What’s your life’s theme song?
The song I listen to before any big presentation or game is “Hearts On Fire” from Rocky IV. I compete with everything and my fiancé hates it. Like, who did the dishes the fastest and stuff like that. It’s just an inspirational song. A big part of my life’s mission is being inspirational and it has a great message.
Mayo: Whenever I need to get hyped up before a meeting, I always play “Optimistic” from Sounds of Blackness. That’s my song right there.
Shields: Yeah, when the headphones go in, we know what the other person is listening to.