Mark Wright: ‘You say crazy stuff to be entertaining on The Apprentice’

In this episode of Small Business Snippets, Anna Jordan meets Mark Wright – entrepreneur, TV personality and former winner of The Apprentice

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Want to read Mark Wright’s podcast interview instead?

Hello and welcome to Small Business Snippets, the podcast from I’m your host, Anna Jordan.

Today we have Mark Wright – entrepreneur, TV personality and winner of The Apprentice in 2014.

Born in Armidale, Australia, Mark’s entrepreneurial family inspired him to go into business himself.

He was backpacking when, with £172 in the bank, he decided to get to an English-speaking country to start earning. After coming to the UK, he found a job selling digital advertising services. Unfortunately, he was unable to secure a bank loan to start a digital marketing agency of his own, so a friend suggested he entered The Apprentice instead.

Since winning the show, he’s launched five businesses and is the only winner to turn over in excess of £1m within one year.

We’ll be talking about stress management and maintaining a strong online business presence post lockdown.

Anna: Hi, Mark.

Mark: Hey, how are you?

Anna: Yeah, I’m really good, thank you. How are you?

Mark: I’m really good. Thank you so much for having me today. I really appreciate it.

Anna: Of course, of course. How is it down where you are?

Mark: Listen, it’s pretty good. We’re pretty lucky considering everything that’s going on in the world. I mean, not compared to my family in Australia. They think we’re like aliens over here in the UK.

Anna: Oh, I know. I’ve got a lot of family in Brisbane and they were just going about like everything’s normal and I’m just going, ‘I’ve forgotten how that how that functions.’

Mark: I’m so jealous. People always say to me, ‘Why are you living over here? I’ve always had a good answer, but I’m not so sure right now!

Speaking of you coming over here, there’s a little bit I wanted to know. In the intro, we’ve talked a bit about you backpacking and you coming to the UK to start work. I know that this backpacking adventure has been pivotal to where you are now. But I’m wondering, what was the intention of it when you set out? Was it part of your broader plan to become a business owner?

Mark: Well, it’s a bit of a sad story really. I was dating a girl in Australia, and I had sort of found my passion for digital marketing, had my self-discovery of what I was going to do in life. And then I got my heart broken.

I decided the best revenge was to go out and get out in the world. I got my backpack, packed it up with like three pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts, and off I went around the UK and around Europe, as a backpacker. And it started off as a well-intentioned holiday, with the view of being a tour guide, having some fun, seeing the world, seeing some different cultures. I loved it. I visited London, I fell in love with London, I love the UK. As I continued my travels, and started to run out of money, I decided I loved London, so why not go back there? I felt pulled, it had some good energy. I’m a big believer in getting those feelings. The best book I’ve ever read in my life in my career is called The Alchemist by Pablo Coelho. And there’s a big thing, three set themes throughout the book, which is follow the omens. If you feel something, if you feel a pull towards something, if you get energy towards something, just go with it. You technically might not know the answers at the time but if you go with it, go with the vibes and you never know what’s going to happen. And as they say, the rest is history.

I got here. I was living in a hostel, a backpacking hostel, I had no money, I started door knocking for jobs, I got a job, worked my way up in the digital marketing community, thought I could do it better and took my idea on The Apprentice – and one thing just led to the next.

I sit here today, and all these amazing things have happened. It kind of just feels like the click of the fingers or a blink of the eye. I’m Lord Sugar’s business partner and I own all these companies. It’s hard work, having goals, and almost it was preordained to a certain respect.

Anna: You’ve talked about being a real goal setter, knowing where you’re going to be 5-10 years’ time, but that seemed like quite a spontaneous move.

Mark: Yeah, I think, how they say the biggest things happen outside your comfort zone? I think the biggest killer of people’s success is comfort, staying in their mediocrity, getting comfortable doing things that don’t necessarily challenge them, but make sure they stay safe. It’s really easy in our society today. Particularly, what, in Australia, where I come from and in the UK and America, it’s really easy to stay comfortable in the middle part of society.

Every time I’ve gained any success in life, whether that’s leaving Australia with no money and backpacking, giving up my job and my flat to go on The Apprentice, taking loans to start companies, whatever it might have been. Every time I’ve achieved something in my life, it’s been from pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

Just reflecting on that, Steve Jobs, who’s the photo behind me, who I am in love with, basically. He always said you can – it’s easier to connect the dots looking backwards and it’s so true in my life, when I look back at any success I’ve had, yes, it’s from setting goals and knowing where I want to be in life and focusing on who I want to be and what I want out of life, but also pushing myself to do things that I’m not necessarily comfortable with.

With your jumping in and doing things attitude, where do you stand on things like MBAs and business education qualifications? What role could be play in somebody becoming an entrepreneur?

Mark: It’s an interesting question. I would much prefer the people I employee to have MBAs and the infrastructure and theory of growing and scaling and managing a business. As an entrepreneur, what I’ve found is that it’s more the risk-taking the big-thinking and the strategy of the company that I’m responsible for.

The funny thing is, most of the great entrepreneurs haven’t written courses, they haven’t written MBAs, and you can’t teach what it takes to be a great entrepreneur, because a lot of it is instinct. A lot of it is huge, unsustainable risk-taking that wouldn’t make sense if you saw it written in a course. I’ve never been to university, I don’t have any formal education or degrees, or any of that sort of stuff.

Listen, I haven’t done it, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t work. I think knowledge is power and information is really key to success. Now, a lot of people do have degrees and have been successful, a lot of people don’t, it’s more just what’s inside you as an entrepreneur: are you driven? Can you work consistently? Are you prepared to take big risks? Do you understand the industry or the business that you’re in?

That’s the key – doesn’t matter about what degree you’ve got. You can have a degree, you cannot have a degree, that’s not a dictator of success. What is, is are you an expert in what your field is. If you are an expert, and you’ve got good work ethic, and you will stay in your industry long enough, you will eventually be successful.

Great. You’ve said in the past that it’s your bullish attitude that helped you get through The Apprentice. I wonder how your level of bullishness was at the beginning when you applied versus at the end of the show.

Mark: I’ve always had a healthy distribution of confidence, I would say and that confidence, some would describe as arrogance. I would say healthy confidence has given me a bullish strength and approach in business generally, throughout my whole career, whether it’s been in interviews, on The Apprentice, in business deals – and that confidence in either negotiating a deal, winning The Apprentice, is so powerful.

I believe the key to higher performance is high self-confidence, high self- belief. Before you start working on other things, you need to really work within yourself to be confident. If you believe in yourself, and what you’re selling and what you’re doing, other people will buy into that, whether that’s your employees on the journey, whether that’s a banker to give you a loan, whatever it might be, that self-confidence is so important.

I think I carried this air of confidence in from day one of The Apprentice through to the final and Lord Sugar and the other judges could sense it and I think also the other candidates could sense that and it’s a pretty powerful tool in The Apprentice, but in business as well.

And in your profile, when the series was broadcast, and under ‘what are your worst business skills?’ it says, ‘I have no bad business skills’. Would you see those still true now, with hindsight?

Mark: Haha, you’ve really done your research. I mean, you do say some things on there that you look back and you get a bit of a tingle of embarrassment because you say some crazy stuff to be entertaining on the show. But, do I have any bad business skills? Listen, there’s always things I can improve on. But I would say my gift in life is business. I’m passionate about business. I love business. I’ve studied every facet of it from small, medium, large, great entrepreneurs of all time.

Listen, some people can play a musical instrument like you’ve never heard, some people can run 100 metres in ten seconds and under. My gift that I got was being brilliant at business. And that’s my thing. I’d like to say I have no bad attributes – I’m sure other people would challenge that, but it’s the thing I love in life.

And I believe as well that you took forward this absolute commitment to business, to your business and to creating it and making it a success. But it reached a point where you were extremely stressed, burnt out, even to the point where one of the Lord Sugar’s aides approached you and said, ‘When’s the last time you took a break, went to the gym. Tell us about getting to that point and how you felt.

Mark: Listen, I think when you create a start-up business, I think the start-up journey is the hardest area of business. I own businesses at all different levels of turnover size, staff numbers and investment levels. For me, the hardest journey was that ‘zero’, starting a company, registering at Companies House, and going from zero to whatever. It’s so tough.

In the first two years of my business, I pretty much didn’t have a day off. I wasn’t sleeping enough, I wasn’t eating well, I was drinking too much. It was because the work that was required in terms of stress levels, hours and just general demand of creating systems and processes in the business, signing up customers, keeping those customers happy, employing staff, getting equipment, getting investment. It was a very hard process. I gave up my life for the first three to four years for the business. The first two I wasn’t in existence to people who knew me. And I was working every hour that God gave, and it was tough. It was really tough.

It wasn’t good for my health. It wasn’t good for my relationships. We talk a lot about work life balance, okay? You can love business, you can love what you do. But you do need to find time. It’s no good – as Lord Sugar’s advisor told me – being the richest guy in the graveyard, and just dropping dead at work one day. You need to be able to create a life that you can live healthily. That was that was hard-hitting advice from a billionaire’s advisor. They’re saying that so it must be true, I thought. So, I’ve made more time to have a bit of balance in my life, so that the success is sustainable.

Anna: I suppose it can be a cultural thing, especially in the UK. I mean, there’s this real pressure from various different places, very much social media included in that, you need to keep going, keep hustling all the time. So I’d imagine that’s not exactly helpful.

Mark: You’re right, we live in a culture of Instagram, of social media, where you go on there and you hear that if you work 100 hours a week, that’s the way to get a million pounds and all of this stuff. A lot of the people that are saying this don’t have a million pounds, point 1. Point 2 is you can work 100-hour weeks, but for how long can you do that? Oh, and Sugar is very proud of telling people that he is a multi-billionaire who is only at work Monday to Friday. He’s never worked a weekend in his 50-year career. And I think that is really powerful because he’s got the proof of the pudding. He is successful, he is famous, he is wealthy, but he has work life balance. And he’ll tell anyone who listens. ‘I don’t work weekends, I work Monday to Friday, and I work harder than anyone Monday to Friday.’

In my head, I know on Friday evening, as I’m driving home, that is it, my brain switches off, I spend time with my wife and my family. Then on Monday morning, I’m back to it.

I think giving yourself in your brain that time to recharge, to relax, to create ideas, but also to spend time with your loved ones and just switch off. Burnout is a is a real thing. It’s the same with a light – if you leave it on all the time, it’ll eventually burn out. Your mind, your brain and your body are exactly the same. Sleep debt and all of those things are real, legitimate causes for business owners not making it.

One of the things that we’ve noticed in this lockdown, and one of the things that’s been key to many small business owners – often by necessity – is that when their physical buildings have closed, they’ve really amped up their digital marketing and their online presence. But now, as trading restrictions are beginning to ease, they’re moving back into their bricks and mortar businesses.

How would you recommend that they keep up that momentum of their online presence with their existing resources as they move back to bricks and mortar?

Mark: Well, there’s been a lot of good lessons in the pandemic, and I’m speaking purely from a business perspective. On the health side of it, it’s been terrible, there’s no doubt about that. But from a business perspective, it has shown us the good industries, the good businesses. It has also shown us areas where we can improve our business. It’s because a business that is reliant on a singular location that cannot trade because of something like a health pandemic, probably isn’t a great business, so we need to be online.

Yes, having a shop and a store is a great customer experience, and something that we should never lose. But we need to have a blend of both. And when, if you’ve got good systems and processes, you can have the best of both worlds: a customer in-store experience, a high street experience, and also an online 24 hours, seven days a week business. You should actually be more profitable and more dependent with your business.

But it comes back to systems and processes. The problem with online is that it never switches off. And that means as human beings where we can go in and check out an ecommerce store 24/7, we can check the Google Ads 24/7 and all of this stuff, but you’ve got to have people, processes and systems so that you still work normal hours.

Anna: Absolutely. What kind of things do you have in mind? What kind of systems?

Mark: I use tools for social media posts, scheduled tools, I use software to check all my marketing campaigns, suggest changes and do low-level stuff automatically. All my email marketing campaigns for my econ businesses are done weeks in advance, and it’s all just scheduled into software. So rather than sitting there at eight o’clock, ten o’clock, nine o’clock on a Saturday or a Sunday, it’s all done on the Monday ready for the Saturday. It’s just using tools and technology to make sure that we’re actually working.

I hate this phrase, but I’m going to use it now: working smarter, not harder. Just making sure that we’re doing stuff, just not working 24 hours a day because the internet allows us to.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we before we go?

Absolutely not. I think it was it’s great that there’s podcasts like this. All I would say, to any business people out there that are listening to this is get yourself a mentor. If I’ve learned anything through my process of business, it is surrounding myself with great businesspeople that has enabled my success. Deals and success falls off other successful people, but to knowledge falls off them. And generally, when a business owner or an entrepreneur is failing, it’s not through a lack of resource or finances – it’s lack of knowledge. And it’s podcasts like yours and having a good mentor that really help people get over the goal line.

So yeah, that’s really it. And I think it’s going to be a good time ahead.

Where would you recommend finding a mentor?

Mark: Well, there’s this amazing tool called LinkedIn.

Anna: Ah, yes – I’m familiar!

Mark: And what I recommend is a good mentor is someone that’s been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. And I always recommend someone that’s either business or industry specific. You can go on to their LinkedIn, follow them on social media, see where they’re speaking next, where’s their next event, where’s their next conference and go there, track them down and ask them to coach you, mentor you, even if that’s through giving them equity in your business or paying for their time.

Knowledge really is the key to scaling up a successful business. And if you’ve got the right people at board level of your company, it’s very hard for that company to fail. And it’s been a big lesson for me on my journey, and I hope that helps other business owners as well.

How much equity would you suggest?

Mark: It depends how great the mentor is. I mean, I’ve got Alan Sugar, and I gave him 50 per cent. I mean, the most amount of equity you’d want to give any shareholder is probably 50 per cent, 49 per cent, and you probably want to come back from there. For someone that’s just going to attend board meetings, you’re probably looking at five per cent-ten per cent. If you’re looking at someone significant, that’s going to be, taking an active role, 30 per cent. But it depends on the size of your business and the size of their input as well.

Anna: That sounds like a good place to wrap up, so I will leave it there. But thank you for coming on the podcast, Mark. It’s been fab.

Mark: Thank you so much for having me.

You can find out more about Mark at You can also visit for more on digital marketing and the pros and cons of business education. Remember to like us on Facebook @SmallBusinessExperts and on Twitter @smallbusinessuk (all lower case) and subscribe to our YouTube channel, linked in the description. Until next time, thank you for listening.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

Related Topics

The Apprentice