INDUSTRY INSIDER – The Driven Group
It would seem unlikely watching these two men, that they would be so singularly focused on building a dream together. Mark is a southerner, while Greshaun is a Yankee. Mark shaped his career in sales, medical diagnostics and federal contracting. Greshaun, on the other hand, has been a banking executive, real estate mogul, and international distribution financier. One’s favorite hobby is sports, while the other one, is in examining financial markets. At a meal together, one would order a bone-in rib-eye, while the other would peruse the fresh fish offerings. But with many things, it isn’t the differences that matter – it’s what’s similar.
In the case of the DRIVEN Group, the tie that binds, is more than a business plan or organizational chart. It isn’t a family of brands or even vertical integration of individual components within the collective. It truly is “the dream”. The Dream that we can create brands and products that everyone can love. The Dream that everyone has more to this life that they can pursue; more that they can enjoy. The Dream that a golf club, or anything for that matter, can be a metaphor for someone making the best of themselves. The Dream that raised glasses, whatever may be toasted that night, can bring people together to celebrate. DRIVEN is more than just companies and brands. It’s about bringing people together. It’s about colloquialism and community; about the shared kindred of lives when there is both good and bad.
Every day, we work hard to build something – something better than the day before. We have a 5-year and 10-year strategic master plan for the company. We never even tell people about them because they seem so big and lofty. But every day, that is what we are working on – the future. Working to get better, to be more efficient, to improve our products, to improve our people, to be better stewards of our resources…to be better at everything. After the long business trips are over and the sun has set on business adventures, Mark will return home to Texas, where the land is hot, the people are friendly and hats (and personalities) are all larger than life. Greshaun, on the other hand, will return to the complicated confines of the DC area – where the air is cool, shades are drawn, and the people are complicated. But the tie that binds, is in that singular Dream that is being built together….one that brings people together.
You’ve built quite the empire, that being The Driven Group. Before we get into that, how did you get start and what made you decide to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
Mark: I’ve been an entrepreneur since 1983. None of it has been about other people, moreso about myself. We’ve all had bosses and we all know what it’s like to be stifled by a boss. When you’ve got ideas, dreams, and creativity – you want the opportunity to make them blossom into something more tangible. I’ve tried it all – from washing windows to selling cell phones; from distributing medical supplies to creating consumer brands. There is nothing more fulfilling than, seeing what you believe in come to life and to pursue that dream.
Greshaun: I was working for one of the most powerful men in the country – Mr. Robert Johnson. At a certain point, it became apparent to me that my skills, relationships and knowledge continued to make his brand of companies stronger and richer. I believed in myself enough to go out and create worth for myself and the things that I believed in. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in what Mr. Johnson’s companies were doing – they were developing urban centers, funding inner city growth, entertaining audiences, and financing dreams. It was more about creating something of worth for myself.
The Driven Group is the only minority owned & operated business that covers sporting goods, golf, clothing and beverage manufacturing, just to name a few. It’s no easy task to reach this level of success. What are some of the challenges you faced, as you continued to move forward with your vision for your brand?
The certification is only important because we want to show small businesses, that they matter to society. We do it, so that we can show new (and smaller companies) that, they can do it too.
Believe it or not, building the operations of the company is fairly simple. I learned a long time ago that everyone needs to “stay in their lanes”. I’ve surrounded myself (and our company) with incredibly talented and competent people who know how to build the infrastructure, programs, and operational flow of business. But capacity is only part of the solution. Getting others, and enough of those “others” around you to help launch the initiative is what’s hard.
For instance, for a consumer brand to launch, creating the product, logo, and packaging is fairly straight forward. But getting distributors to carry your product, getting retailers to promote your product, getting consumers to try your product, and getting common media outlets to give any sorts of time to your product is the true difficulty.
I love this quote from our COO Michael Lu, my business partner now for over 12 years, when he reminds me that “Success is nothing more than the opportunity that tomorrow gives you to work hard again”. Whatever little success we’ve had, we are hoping to use it, to create and leverage more success in the future.
Greshaun: Like most small companies, the majority of the problem are in the launch phase. From money to infrastructure, from supply-chain to timelines, there are so many things at the beginning that have to get set up. Small companies have to start from scratch – even if they’re replicating known processes from within the industry, you’re starting from scratch in “implementing them” within your company.
I think that a lot of brands a companies pigeon-hole themselves into being small. We decided that if we were going to “build our dreams”, we were going to be fearless and were going to DREAM BIG.
Speaking of brands, Destiny Moscato, has quickly become very popular, largely due to its taste and the elegant lifestyle that it promotes. Tell us the background story to how you got into this arena and what your goals are for this sexy libation?
We were very fortunate that in our business operations, we ran across a lot of professionals affiliated with the beverage industry. In a short amount of time, we were given access to taste profiles, consumer purchasing information and sales curves.
It was a no-brainer to pursue a “celebratory, aspirational brand”, because that is why people purchase sparkling wine products. However, because there was no market/segment leader, we knew there was an opportunity for us to create something very special.
Nicole – Like finding the perfect logo, finding the “perfect person” to represent your brand presents its challenges as well. We were so lucky to run across Nicole Murphy – someone that believed in the same vision, message and branding as we did. She truly represents that “sexy libation” and everything aspirational, beautiful, elegant and inspirational about the product. Moreover, despite her immense international success, the greater blessing was in her being willing to work as hard as we did, in creating that message for the marketplace.
The reality is that most of the other products out there, didn’t taste as good as ours and were either inferior products at lower price points or overly inflated and over-priced products that made didn’t appeal to the general audience. DESTINY is a celebrational brand “for everyone” – from weddings to birthdays, from victory laps to parades; from men to women; from groups to families – we wanted to create and place a product within the marketplace, that anyone could relate to and price it at a point within the marketplace, where anyone could afford it.
There are so many details that go into “what a brand is”? We went through over 350 label designs before settling on the colors, logo, and brand that properly represented what we wanted “DESTINY to represent” to the marketplace.
The Driven Group is an example of focus, will power and success. When it comes to a company on this level, it’s obvious that a lot of hard work and determination has gone into it. What advice would you give to up and coming entrepreneurs looking to walk a similar path?
The simplest advice we have to up and coming entrepreneurs is not to let the opinion of others sway you. Someone will tell you that there’s something wrong with the color, while another person will tell you that there’s something wrong with the logo. To one person, the fit is inappropriate while to another the “feeling is all wrong”. When you are trying to change the world, you must believe “more in the veracity of your dream than the opinions of others”. Don’t SWAY. Do their opinions matter, yes. Their insight, critique and corrections may be invaluable to you. But should it sway you from pursuing your dreams? NEVER.
Mark: I often tell people directly that entrepreneurship is a very hard life. H. Jackson Brown probably said it best, when he stated to his son that “the greatest achievements (and the greatest love), all require the greatest risk from us” to achieve. To pursue your dream, you must be singularly focused on it. You must be willing to alienate your family, go into bankruptcy, travel, and sell that dream to strangers every single day.
We thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us. What other ventures can we expect to see from The Driven Group?
Stay tuned. We’re not sure what we actually end up within the marketplace. We’re definitely coming to the market with sexy and fun apparel, as well as golf products for the younger and urban markets. After that, we’re truly dreaming big – with products ranging from healthcare delivery modalities to personal safety items. However, the products that we put out, will always be “different consumer products” which people can relate to.
Facebook: Driven Golf
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Facebook: Destiny Moscato