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Changing Lives Through Sleep with Mark Zhang, CEO of Manta Sleep

Joshua Chin 15:26

Absolutely. I think Oura Ring is built just for sleep. the Whoop band is pretty interesting. It’s built for recovery strain, which is the physical strain and sleep. Right. And I think they serve it’s it’s, they have their own space that they excel in. And that’s super interesting.

Mark Zhang 15:47

I love Purple. And running. It’s amazing.

Joshua Chin 15:50

You know what? Yeah. Are they part of the Blue Ribbon Mastermind as well?

Mark Zhang 15:56

I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe Maybe not.

Joshua Chin 15:59

So much like me that Oh,

Mark Zhang 16:01

are they I just I just I just think their marketing is amazing. And they’re quirky. And they make these funny little videos. And they’re just different again, from when you think of a typical sleep brand.

Joshua Chin 16:13

Yeah, and so the guys responsible for the their advertising videos, one of one of their most popular videos, the one of the egg, the egg test. Yes. The video was created by Harmon Brothers. Yes. The video agency and I’m actually going to be interviewing him, one of the Co-founders Daniel Harmon in the podcast.

Mark Zhang 16:37

In the next episode, that’s gonna be fantastic. I got to share that episode with my team, because we’re like, we’re also because they have a couple of courses that we’re trying to try to learn. Oh, yeah, yeah.

Joshua Chin 16:46

They do some amazing work. I’m a big fan, all the way back from from what was that called? Orabrush. Orabrush.

Mark Zhang 16:53

Yes, those videos amazing. Incredible. It was so simple and straightforward. But it’s so funny. And so good, etc. adds to like on Facebook.

Joshua Chin 17:01

It works. So well. Yeah. Talking about DTC ads, that was something that I think stood out from your Kickstarter campaign where, what, correct me if I’m wrong, but you leveraged a lot on Facebook ads, yes. pledges. Talk me through that thought process. And well, based on my understanding, not all Kickstarter products, and Kickstarter brands actually go through that,

Mark Zhang 17:26

that pain? I think so. So I’m a little bit out of out of out of touch as well, because our Kickstarter campaign was like three or four years ago. So it’s been a while, I’m not really sure what’s happening, but I know, because before then, I had done two other Kickstarter campaigns for two other projects. And in the earlier days of Kickstarter, I think people were really just going for the, you know, the media play the friends and family type of situation. But when I was doing it, most of them were already leveraging agencies and doing a ton of Facebook ads. These days, I don’t think you can have, like, you don’t raise any amount of money without Facebook ads, literally, like if you don’t run Facebook ads, or any or some type of ad, you’re not going to break 100 K. So so when I was doing it, it was already a common thing. But what we decided to do, and these agencies, I don’t know, if they’re different. Now, they use a charge, there’s some big ones, they charge a lot of money they charge. I don’t remember what it was a ton of money. And I think we did some estimation, I thought like, you know, depending on the size of the campaign was going to work out to be like 40 or 50 grand to us if we were to work for an agency. So what we did was we decided not to use an agency and just take that money, and invest it internally on the team. So we basically just spent all that money ourselves on Facebook as a as a learning process.

Joshua Chin 18:46

That’s incredible.

Mark Zhang 18:47

Yeah, but but I don’t think the campaign would have been nearly as big without, because like 50% of it came from Facebook ads.

Joshua Chin 18:54

That makes sense. And what about the transition from, you know, a successful Kickstarter product to now a full fledged Shopify built brand? That is wildly successful, and we talked about this, you’re you close last year at North of basically high seven figures? What was that process like in that transition from Kickstarter to Shopify?

Mark Zhang 19:20

Um, well, the first thing is to make sure you deliver what you said, you’re going to deliver. that’s a that’s a that’s a big, big thing. And after what after that, it’s a smooth sailing. No, but it’s, I think it’s really been an organic growth process, right, like when we launched this product, like it was, it was, this brand was born as a result of a single product. I did not have any sort of long term vision where I said, Okay, this is going to be a so on. So an eight figure company, you know, in a certain amount of time, in my mind, it was just, we have a good product. Let’s try to get this brand up to a certain point where we can get as many Many people using this product as possible. And then it was the natural evolution from that stage to now sort of like having a proper business, if you will, is really organic. It’s just like step by step. And but what I’ll say is, the lessons that we learned from running Facebook ads for Kickstarter has really paid off in the years following, because right afterwards, for us to maintain growth trajectory, the year after, we invested a ton of money into Facebook ads and got some really great ROI. And then afterwards, it’s, you know, it’s just a typical process of building a business. You know, you get email marketing, which you guys are doing an amazing job at. We’re doing YouTube ads, Google Ads all over the place, SEO, we’re doing sponsorships. So it’s just it’s a natural growth process.

Joshua Chin 20:53

Has there been major struggles that you faced in, in, you know, the past three years and building that the brand outside of Kickstarter,

Mark Zhang 21:02

um, I think it mostly comes down to scaling. Right now we have about 18 people on a team. When we started mantha sleep, we had three people on a team. So each stage as the company grew, we basically had to figure out, reconfigure the system to make it work. So if anything, throughout this entire process, probably the most challenging thing is to discover the right people, and to put them in the right role. Because if, if you’re able to do that, and you have a clear vision of what needs to be achieved, people will just step up and make it happen. So, of course, there are other challenges throughout the way, you know, sometimes Facebook ads don’t work are so expensive, and COVID, and all that. But in general, I think the greatest challenge and reward throughout this journey is leadership and team building, because that basically solves all the problems when you have the right people.

Joshua Chin 22:06

That’s that that’s really, really crucial. And I think lots of brands, and I think we’re, we’re also guilty of this, we tend to kind of just go straight into, alright, I have something to be done a test to be done. Let me find someone to hire, I’m going to hire someone to get it done. And I think that’s, that often leads to a lot of a lot of trouble. Because then you’re just literally throwing bodies at problems. And eventually the the organization gets so bloated and very slow moving. How do you think about the process of hiring for a role, and, you know, versus filling a gap for a problem?

Mark Zhang 22:51

Right, so I don’t have the I don’t have the this all figured out. We’re also in the process of discovery. But one of the things that like our hiring process is quite rigorous. And we like I believe that skills can be learned, right, but characteristics cannot do not change. Like I’ve never seen someone like if somebody is detail oriented or not detail oriented, I’ve never seen a go the other way around. So during our hiring process, we just we really focus on making sure that culturally, as well as soft skills, it’s a match, because if somebody is capable, and you know, willing to learn, they can basically learn anything, whether it’s Facebook ads, or SEO, or whatever the case might be. I, you know, in the earlier stages of, of the growth, and we’re not that big, like 18 people, but like when are like going from like three to five and six, eight, it’s the same process as what you described, we have a problem with like, Oh, my God, this is about to break unless we get somebody in here to take on this role. But now, as we’re getting a little bit bigger, my business partner and I have been spending a lot more time considering how to position ourselves to attract the right people, and also simultaneously repel those who don’t fit in with what we believe in. So one of the things that we have been clarifying in the last year or so is our mission, our values. So we have like whenever somebody applies to a job, we got a hiring video, and then we list out the values, we list out the beliefs. And these things are written in a way where somebody reads it and they’re either very excited about it, or I hope they would think we’re crazy, in which case they would just not apply for the job. For example, one of the first things we write in our job posting is we say, Do you believe that an afternoon nap is better than coffee? So if you’re a coffee lover and you think taking naps, this is dumb as hell and you read that you’re like, I don’t you know what I mean? Like so the idea is really to try to attract people who believe in the same things as we believe in and Then get rid of everybody else.

Joshua Chin 25:03

I love that that’s beautiful. And the fact that you haven’t written down explicitly makes it all so much powerful, so much more powerful. I love the idea of repelling people who just don’t fit early on in the in the hiring process. Absolutely. What are some of the biggest mistakes that you have made or, or failures that whatever failures that you might cosider to be significant over the past few years,

Mark Zhang 25:31

past three years, probably not getting myself out of the way fast enough. As in like, I know, there are things that need to be delegated. And I know there are things that other people can come in and do better than I can. But just not having the confidence, I think, because it’s also a learning and growth process for me. If I could do this all over again, I would have tried to scale and grow much more aggressively than than we have in the last couple of years. I suppose that’s also part of the learning process. But I think I was a bottleneck in the business quite a bit more than I probably should have been. If you go back maybe a few more years, like I think at the beginning of the entrepreneur journey, the the biggest mistake was being a keyboard warrior for too many years. Rather than going to conferences and meeting people and talking to people and you’re doing a fantastic job of this. I know you’re networking. And we’ve talked about this, but I thought the my entrepreneur journey could have been accelerated a lot. If I had just gone out of the house, went to conferences network to talk to people absorb their, their spirit and energy. Because when I started doing that the business took off. But when I was banging away on my keyboard, just reading blog posts and articles and stuff like that it was there something like, like, I think like the skills are easy to learn. But the mindset takes a lot of time and repeated exposure, if you will to change. And so that’s what the That’s it, that was a big thing that I definitely wouldn’t be doing differently if I could do it all over again.

Joshua Chin 27:07

That’s incredible. Do you think that that is a result of who you are, as you know, your character characteristics or your tendencies to learn better when you experience them? Like true another person? Or is it just in general, it’s just generally,

Mark Zhang 27:26

I think, I think is in general, I think I was just, I think I was just being a nerd and stay at home, and maybe not putting myself out of my comfort zone enough. Honestly, I don’t think it’s anything particular about the way that I learn or absorb, I just think it’s easy to learn skills, you could just go download a course and you go through the course and you’ve learned the skills. But having the skills Don’t mess, it does not necessarily mean you’re able to apply it in a way that moves the organization forward. People always say think bigger, right? For me, just hearing that over and over again, doesn’t change anything. But when I go to a conference, and I made it like five different people, and they’re all going through the same struggle and their business at various stages ahead or behind that kind of overtime, expands what I think is possible in my mind. And then you take those skills that you learn, beat by being a keyboard warrior at home by yourself, then the two matches, then you get explosive results and growth.

Joshua Chin 28:23

Sometimes all it takes is just just seeing, seeing it working in some of some of the businesses and you believe that we believe it, right? Yeah. Then I used

Mark Zhang 28:34

to listen to this and stuff. And I gotta be honest, we I always thought it was kind of woowoo I’m like, What are you talking about? You go to a conference and you see somebody, and you see one thing and you believe it. And now all of a sudden your business triples in size. But having gone through the process, I can say with with confidence that that’s exactly how it works. It’s not banging away at your keyboard and trying to learn take another course that’s it that it doesn’t, you don’t get that transformational kind of change.

Joshua Chin 29:01

Exactly. And you know what, I’m, I’m all for whoo stuff, right? But the thing is, the risk in these ideas is that it’s just so difficult to attribute that success or that outcome to any single one thing because it’s so qualitative and experiential, right? But on the flip side, if you don’t do that, you know that you’re missing out on that outcome. So you do it anyways. So my philosophy in that is, if it’s enjoyable, and it leads to a better outcome then than it otherwise would. Right? Just do it. That’s Yeah, I think of that.

Mark Zhang 29:38

Like that’s one of the things if you’re talking about like, like ROI, right, somebody out because you know, you we participate in various masterminds, and some of them it can cost quite a bit of money. And somebody asked me recently, like, you think you get your money’s worth. It doesn’t really work that way because I and I realized that because at the beginning, it was very cheapest. Like, I don’t want to spend $500 to fly somewhere to go attend a conference, but it’s not like you might Maybe you go to that one conference and nothing happens. But you’ll go to a few. And like you said, One idea. One thing, that just clicks, and it makes a huge difference. And if you were to measure the ROI in a longer time period of five years, 10 years, these investment in yourself and learning and connecting, makes a huge difference. But if you just look at it at a very short term kind of timeframe, if I go, if I spent $500, on a conference or whatever, on a mastermind, can I get my ROI within three months, usually doesn’t work that way. But it’s still, I think the right approach would be to actually make this investment and get yourself out there.

Joshua Chin 30:37

I love that long term ROI and on it of conferences and networking way, it’s that’s way more significant than just a short term gain, and return on money. And yeah, maybe like a month.

Mark Zhang 30:49

I mean, and maybe just one more thing, I don’t want to talk too, too, too too much into this, but like one of the things I was also very, I was kind of insecure as well, going to these places, everybody seemed like a baller and I was like, I don’t know what you’re doing. Sure, if you’re making friends with them, or like, you know, what’s going on and, and it’s not really about that like it like I don’t know, for somebody who’s maybe listening to this and maybe networking seems like all you gotta go networking schmooze. It’s really about just going there. I feel like a much less pressure way that has helped me not only create better and more genuine connections over the past couple of years, five years, but also just have learned a lot. It’s just a goal with a, a mindset of absorbing people’s spirit. Like, that’s what I try to think of when I talk to people like just to understand where they’re coming from, listen to their stories, maybe not even talking to me, maybe they’re chatting between themselves. And I just, you know, not in a weird way, obviously, but to listen to their stories and absorb their spirit. And I think it sounds like super woowoo. But that’s the that has really helped in terms of changing a leveling up my mindset.

Joshua Chin 32:01

I love that. And Mark, what is your superpower?

Mark Zhang 32:08

my superpower is getting stuff done. I’ve, if you had asked me this question, maybe a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have known but I’ve been getting some feedback recently. And it’s the most common thing that I hear is, I’m very action oriented. Like, like, if we decide on a goal, I just, you know, break it up and move towards that goal. So just getting shit done basically.

Joshua Chin 32:37

That’s, that’s a, that’s a really interesting skill set. Now, most people would imagine CEOs to be, like, offset of time, like just visionaries, who think about big ideas and, and super unorganized and creative. But how would you describe yourself as as the CEO of the company?

Mark Zhang 32:59

I tend I am definitely more of what is the what is the flip side of the visionary like a execution person or where you hold? I guess what there’s a word for it. I can’t I can’t remember

Joshua Chin 33:12


Mark Zhang 33:13

operator yeah, or facility operator, I think I definitely started off. In the operator role, I still am good at operating, right, we’re getting stuff done is basically operations, but not so strong. From a vision perspective. And there’s nobody else in the company, my business partner, he is a designer, so he’s also not a visionary. So that is definitely something that is a weakness. But the way that I try to offset that a little bit is is exactly again, by going to different places, meeting people attending conferences, and absorbing that energy and then taking that vision back to the business and then try to combine sort of the new vision with my ability to execute an operation.

Joshua Chin 34:01

That’s super powerful. I think that’s that’s super unique. Because I think where I feel personally is where we’re you succeed in getting stuff done. I’m horrible at following through on on ideas and seeing things through because I get bored so easily. I just want to go on to the next next idea.

Mark Zhang 34:22

I don’t know how to do it coming from that. But I think if you have a business partner who’s who’s an operator, then yeah, there you go. Yeah, he’ll make sure to kick your ass or she he or she. Exactly,

Joshua Chin 34:33

again, like it again, last kicked all day by by my team as well. So it’s that’s great. That sounds good combo. sounds really good. It is. And I think it’s so crucial to find that to understand that that gap, know where your superpower is and understand where your gaps are and find people to fill in those gaps for you. Yeah. What so here’s an interesting question for you. What do you want to title your biography to be when you are 70 years old and retired.

Mark Zhang 35:08

I would say “Enjoy the Moment,” if that’s the title. I think, you know, the disc system for evaluating people like the ISC. Yeah. So I think a lot of entrepreneurs tend to be a high D. So we’re always thinking, oh, I’ve got to achieve this goal and do this. And here’s the next step and grow here and grow some more and keep growing. And next level, it’s really hard to, I mean, that mindset is exactly what gets us to succeed and to move forward. But it’s it that does not necessarily bring happiness, right. Happiness comes from living in a moment. I tend to read stoicism, Buddhism, stuff like that. And I think that the way that I see it, regardless of what happens in business, where we’ve gotten, even if you just work like an average job in a in any country or any role, as long as you can feed, you know, feed the family bikable nice things for yourself. We’re living lives better than kings used to live 300 years ago, even less than 200 years ago, right. So we like we’re working in the modern world, we’re incredibly fortunate, incredibly lucky to have the modern conveniences, medication, COVID vaccine that’s made within a year. I mean, that’s crazy. That’s under this unthinkable 50 years ago, unthinkable 20 years ago. So it’s just an incredible time that we live in. And it’s life is so comfortable, and so good, that we just, especially for high D types, it we just got to stop and just kind of look back at what we have accomplished. And also live in a moment to be able to enjoy the to actually enjoy it.

Joshua Chin 36:55

And yeah, that’s definitely a good, a good reminder for me as well. And for many of us listening, I think, what is next for Manta Sleep

Mark Zhang 37:10

growth, but growth with purpose and vision, and which is like what I mentioned earlier with the pronoun movements and where we want to go to be able to empower champion and demonstrate to the world that were successful as a result of prioritizing rest and nap. In terms of revenue growth. I mean, we’ve been setting revenue growth targets for the past three to four years and consistently has been grown, but I feel like now, revenue is really sort of just a measurement of how well we are playing the game and how well it is helping us to achieve the greater vision of empowering people. Because it gets again, it sort of gets meaningless from a financial perspective, after a while there’s nothing super exciting, like my life is not gonna change, you know, significantly, I don’t spend a lot of money, a lot of money. So it’s not gonna change significantly, regardless where the revenue levels gonna be.

Joshua Chin 38:04

Gotcha. Perfect. And last final question. What are some of your favorite books you mentioned stoicism and Buddhism. But do you do you read a lot or do you prefer pot?

Mark Zhang 38:17

Oh, yeah. Oh my god. Yeah, there’s so many books. So for stoicism I like a book called How to live the good life. I think it’s called. And then I’ve been I’ve been reading a whole bunch of books recently. If you’re talking about well, recent one A Promised Land by Barack Obama. That was really nice. Just his latest book biography kind of listening to the problems a president has to deal with it kind of puts things into context. Nothing bad when you when you realize the shit the Obama has to deal with. I like, Okay, a great great book on negotiation. Never Split the Difference. best book I’ve ever read on on on negotiation. I got a ton of more of these. I don’t know.

Joshua Chin 39:10

Those are really good suggestions. How to live the good life, A Promised Land and Never Split the Difference.

Mark Zhang 39:15

Never Split the Difference. Sorry. No. It’s called A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine.

Joshua Chin 39:21

William B. Irvine. Okay. A Guide to the Good Life. Yeah. A Guide to the Good Life, A Promised Land and Never Split the Difference. That’s a good collection. Yeah, my reading list. Once you you know what I did say this was the last question but this is I promise this a final one. Let’s do it. What is what’s your ritual or habit around? Reading? Do you have like a set time that you read every single day? Or is it kind of like a default go to thing when you’re on your phone? Oh,

Mark Zhang 39:55

I do. I do. I do two things. The default reading for Me is Audible. So when I’m taking a shower or walking dog, or going to the office, I’m just listening to Audible. But the problem with Audible is audiobooks in general is retention tends to be poor. So I’ll usually play it a few times. And then when I’m reading content on, like on my laptop, or lower iPad, what I’ll do is, I’ll get it to read, you know how there’s these plugins that you can get it to read the page out loud, at like two x speed, so I’ll do that and read at the same time. So that way, I can read a lot faster. And the retention is also a lot higher. I know some people have, like speed reading abilities, I try practicing that a little bit didn’t really work out. But the hack or the cheat code that I found to sort of get my reading speed up and still maintain retention is by doing the, you get to read the page out loud, and then you see it highlighted and the text is going across. And you’re also reading at the same time. really super fast and, and retention is high. And I just do that like once a once a week.

Joshua Chin 41:03

It’s amazing. That’s That’s the first time I’m hearing that so definitely not

Mark Zhang 41:06

heard about before. Oh, buddy, you gotta How do you read you?

Joshua Chin 41:10

Just a Kindle. Okay. Yeah, I’ll just when Yeah, when I read, I just don’t stop. And I just, that’s the reason why I it’s very difficult for me to get into the mode of reading.

Mark Zhang 41:23

Okay, but once you get into it,

Joshua Chin 41:25

yeah, just

Mark Zhang 41:26

I won’t stop putting speed you speed read? Or how do you do it?

Joshua Chin 41:30

I know just I do not speed read. I I’ve tried that out. But it just didn’t did not work for me.

Mark Zhang 41:37

Yeah, I tried it too. But it’s like, I think you got to practice in a way because retention becomes a real problem. Yeah, it’s very low. Yeah. What do you do? If you if you have an iPad, right? Like, just load up the Kindle app? And then you can there’s a spoken content function on the iPad, or your iPhone. And then if you if you just make a speak, you can because if you’re not speed reading than when you’re reading, you’re probably reading out loud the word as Yeah, exactly. So that’s quite slow. But if you if you two x 2.5 x speed, it’s a reading for you. And you’re just following the text, you can read substantially faster. And the retention is not an issue. Because you’re always like listening to an audiobook just really fast, and you still get the additional reinforcement of the text. It’s pretty, pretty good.

Joshua Chin 42:25

That’s a good, that’s a really good tip. That’s just a really good tip.

Mark Zhang 42:29

I put this tip at the beginning of the podcast. This is the golden nugget of

Joshua Chin 42:34

the Golden session. Yeah. Oh, man. That’s so good. Mark, thank you so much for being on the show. That’s all time. Thanks for having me, man. Yeah, absolutely.

Outro 42:46

Thanks for listening to the eCommerce Profits Podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get notified of future episodes.

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