The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team. Mark Bartel is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Mark Bartel. I was born in Toronto, Canada, and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. I graduated from NC State with a degree in Biomedical Engineering, then earned a Masters in Engineering Management from Duke University. Two years in corporate, a solid boss, and a great chapter in the greater NYC area eventually gave way to the founding of my agency, Blue Ocean Automators, in April 2021. Nowadays I work with overwhelmed entrepreneurs to help them get started in and navigate the world of AI, automation tools, and more through my consulting, AI programs, and chatbot packages.
What did it take/how did you get started?
During the pandemic, I watched quite a few of my friends and mentors who own businesses be forced to seriously pivot and fight to survive due to restrictions, social distancing protocols, a drop in demand, and a reduced headcount. I was working for a technology research company at the time, and I began teaching myself how to build chatbots in my free time to both keep my technology skills sharp and to see if I could start offering tools and services to ease some of the pain those people were experiencing. My first project was a blast, and shortly after that I ran the numbers and discovered I had stumbled upon the business idea that I had dreamed of making as an undergraduate but never knew enough to create. I resigned from corporate life in early 2021 with magnanimous support from my boss (still keep in touch with him whenever I'm in the Tri-state area) and have been running Blue Ocean Automators ever since.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
This year, 2023, has been the year things really began picking up. I closed a ton of business on a cruise I attended with about 400 other entrepreneurs and have been able to use those funds to start delegating the parts of the business I don't like doing. The nice thing about my skillsets is that they streamline other processes, so I plan to eventually begin building other agencies and companies and streamlining operations/fulfillment/sales with the systems I currently offer to other companies.
What drives / motivates you on a daily basis?
I've had more conversations than I can count with friends of mine, many of whom were in my graduating classes at NC State and Duke, who tell me about their job and start to cry about how much they can't stand it but feel they have no other choice. Often they wish they could start their own thing, do what I did, or run with an idea, but there are all these reasons why they can't. While many of those reasons are valid, at the root of all of them is fear, and there's something truly special about the person who decides to walk away from that path of conventional security that they're on. To be able to help them succeed with my services by scaling faster, automating repetitive tasks that allows them and their team to do more meaningful work, and help them further achieve their personal goals to live a life they're thrilled by warms my heart and gets me out of bed each day.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
Before quitting, I spent months of my life crunching numbers and imagining hypothetical what-if scenarios about how long I could last before reaching critical mass with the business. If I reduced my cost of living by X, that would give me an extra Y months, which I could then use to reach this-that-these-those milestones in Z years. That's all good and well, and it did help to have a plan, but I burned plenty of calories overthinking all of it. The moment I told my boss I had to leave, I knew that it was the right decision and I have never looked back. My advice to people interested in starting their own business is to do the calculations, develop your business model, and have a plan, but then go for it. Don't spend too much time in analysis paralysis. Additionally, I asked so many people about whether I should take the leap or not. After one conversation, I'd be highly inspired to move, and after another, I would be back to being super cautious and wondering how I could play it a bit safer before jumping. I became really good at predicting what advice I'd get from people based on their own upbringing, background, and current economic status. This, for better or for worse, allowed me to start selecting the people I asked for advice on the topic a little bit better, and it was one of those people who ended up giving me the final talking-to that motivated me to hand in my resignation. The advice here is to be very careful who you take advice from - in those early stages, it will impact the opening moves you make.
What has been the hardest part of your business journey?
Maintaining proper discipline and scheduling. When I quit, my schedule opened up, and during those stretches between my first couple of deals, it was fairly challenging to stay focused and motivated.
How have you managed burnout thus far?
To be honest, I've loved what I do, so I haven't suffered from burnout so far. I have struggled to balance burnout with business trips, however - say for a conference or a client visit. For those, I make sure that every few trips, I take one that doesn't involve work at all (my most memorable one - shortly after closing one of my largest deals in 2022, I accepted an invitation to spend some time with a pair of local friends down in Costa Rica. I must be honest - I did work a bit remotely, but it was great to take my first international vacation from work since 2019.)
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
For the person who wants to get started and wants to cultivate the proper mindset, I'd recommend Patrick Bet David's Podcast Valuetainment (also found on YT) - this man was instrumental in motivating me to become the best version of myself before and after shifting gears to run my own agency. For the person who wants to build wealth, I'd recommend any book by Robert Kiyosaki. I read about 15 or so money books over the past year, and though some people gripe about his content being too theoretical, his books have done a great job of getting me to think of new business ideas, what kind of entrepreneur I want to become, and how I plan to get where I want to be in 5-10 years. Finally, being born in Canada, naturalizing as a US citizen in the past few years, and watching my sister move to Europe for her own Master's has had me watching the world stage for the last 4 or 5 years to see how other nations and societies treat their entrepreneurs. For the entrepreneur who wants to see the world, I'd recommend Andrew Henderson's YT channel Nomad Capitalist, who does an amazing job of talking about other countries and immigration programs that are rolling out the red carpet for entrepreneurs willing to relocate.
List the founders
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?
This is my full time job; 40-60 hours a week.
# of Employees?
When did you start?
I began playing around with the idea in summer of 2020. I started full time and formally founded my agency in April of 2021.
How much did it cost to launch?
It didn't cost as much as I expected - the LLC I filed myself for the cost of registration. If I recall correctly, it was a bit less than $500. Software deals and packages consumed about $4500 (honestly some of the content in here was some of the best money I spent and has saved me triple this number and counting over the last two years). Let's say the path I chose ended up costing about $5000.
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?
I saved enough money in my corporate job and launched myself with that; I didn't seek VC funding.
Last year was a bit less than $50k/year.
Anticipated revenue for 2023 is double the above for 2022.
What's the #1 thing you need right now?
My biggest challenge, as an engineer, has been really leaning into the aggressive go-getter marketing that's required to get these kinds of things off the ground. I've recently begun work assembling a sales and marketing team, which is the biggest need I currently have.