One Step Ahead: Jason Markk

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In partnership with New Balance, our ‘One Step Ahead’ series will explore the journeys of five creatives who have blazed their own trail within the sneaker industry.

Over the last decade, Jason Markk premium sneaker cleaning products have become synonymous with keeping your prized sneakers fresh and squeaky-clean. Read on as Jason Markk himself gives us the rundown on how he became one of the most recognised names in the industry, from dish soap to dynasty.

Jason Markk

Most kids have a dream job. Was yours to become a sneaker cleaning mogul?
Not at all. When I was a kid I dreamt of one day playing in the NBA. Ambitious, but isn’t that every kid’s dream? Then, as a teenager, I wanted to be a radio DJ. DJ’ing has been an important part of my life, because it taught me that I can make a living doing what I love.

Most founders have a moment that inspires the creation of their business. Did you have some kind of epiphany cleaning your sneakers one day?
I was scrubbing away at my sneakers one night with a mixture of household cleaning products. I thought to myself, ‘I’m using products made to clean dishes and sinks – not sneakers. There’s got to be a better way.’ I started working on it right away. It took close to a year from concept to finished product.

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Do you recall the first step you took to get Jason Markk started? How did you turn your idea into reality? The first thing I did was research to find out if anything like a premium shoe cleaner existed. I’d go to local sneaker shops and chat with the staff. I’d also hit up sneaker lineups to ask random people how they kept their kicks squeaky clean. Almost everyone was quick to recommend some type of home remedy, but no one ever mentioned a specific product. Once I’d discovered that there was a void in the market, I put together a business plan to present to family and raise capital.

Then how long would you say it took to mature into a fully-fledged business? I launched the company at the beginning of 2007 and things immediately took off – thankfully. But I didn’t feel that the company was ‘established’ until the business grew to be too big to run out of my parents’ house, and I had to find a legit office. That happened about three years after starting the business.

Was there one deal you made or one moment that really propelled things? The first collaboration we did was with Undefeated. That really helped propel things forward. We were just starting out and I’m super grateful that they believed in the brand.

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Business tips are freely available everywhere online these days. Any specific advice that you have found particularly useful over the years?
I remember Googling things like ‘How to write a business plan’ or ‘How to raise startup capital’, and I read magazines and books based around business and entrepreneurship. One book that changed my thinking and really pushed me to take the leap was Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki.

Nowadays, there are so many great business podcasts available. Two I’d recommend are How I Built This with Guy Raz and Short Story Long by Chris ‘Drama’ Pfaff.

Its not always champagne and caviar running your own business. Any moments where things were tough? Any regrets?
No, it is definitely not always champagne and caviar! A lot of people don’t realise it, but there are sleepless nights and tough times – that’s when you might start to doubt yourself. I’ve made mistakes along the way, but I don’t have any regrets. It’s all part of the process.

You came from an advertising background. Was that a useful education for running a business?
Yes and no. I certainly learned a lot about branding and strategy. And I had friends that helped me with things like design. But the accounts I worked with at the agency were huge corporate clients, so most of the experience I gained didn’t help with running my own small startup business.

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Seems like being an entrepreneur’ is everybodys dream right now. From your perspective, what advice would you give kids who dream of developing their own business. My advice would be to base your business idea around something you’re passionate about. As the saying goes, ‘Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’. Also, if you’re passionate about your business, I think you’re more likely to fight for it when times get tough.

As we all know, things change pretty quickly these days. Whats next for Jason Markk? 2017 marks our 10-year anniversary! We’ve been in the lab cooking up new innovative products which I’m super proud of. You’ll start to see them releasing in early summer. Collaborations are also a part of the brand’s DNA and we’ve got some amazing projects in the pipeline. To cap it all off, we’re expanding our retail and drop-off cleaning service to a few key cities, so keep an eye out!

Jason wears the New Balance 574 Sport ‘Mountain Olive’ available now from select stockists, as well as through New Balance’s online store.

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