Marc Ecko: How he built a billion dollar authentic personal brand

Perception is not reality: Marc Ecko discusses self honesty in creativity and entrepreneurship

By Dan Schawbel/ Forbes

Once a graffiti artist with no connections or fashion pedigree, Marc Eck? left the safety net of pharmacy school to start his own company. Armed only with hustle, sweat equity and creativity, he flipped a $5,000 bag of cash into a global corporation now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Eck? is an American fashion designer, entrepreneur, investor and artist.

He is the founder of Marc Eck? Enterprises, a global fashion and lifestyle company. He is also the founder and chairman of Complex Media, the world’s leading provider of fashion, entertainment, lifestyle, and product trends to young male tastemakers. Complex Media Network includes 110+ websites that generate more than 700 million page views and 70 million unique visitors per month. Eck? serves as an emeritus board member to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Big Picture Learning and Tikva Children’s Home. Marc lives in NJ with his wife and three kids.

His new book is called Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out and it’s officially available in bookstores today. In this interview, Ecko talks about how authenticity has helped him build a strong personal brand, the person who inspires him the most, his best entrepreneurship advice and more.

Q: What does authenticity mean to you? How have you been able to maintain that authenticity through your life journey?

A: Authenticity does not have a rigid definition that can be expressed in words. That’s the point of taking the piss out of the word and producing a “formula,” as per my book Unlabel. In the end, authenticity, to me is the measure of your actions along the axis of time. It is not a destination, it is a pursuit.

In my life, I strive for being authentic and creating authentic interactions by complying to some of the elements in the formula I’ve drafted. My authenticity is composed of how unique my “voice” is, how truthful I am (to myself and others), how emotionally impact I can make my actions and how flexible I can be to change. There are no “authenticity” police- contrary to popular opinion. No gatekeepers should ever be granted the right to claim “what is” or “is not” authentic. Dig?

Q: What entrepreneurial skills did you learn as a kid that helped you later as an adult?

A: Those early years of hustling my airbrushed t-shirts taught me the importance of never being emotional in the conduct of business. This is not easy, as the business I am in is about “creating emotions” with the end customer. As I always say, it is not “what you make,” but “how you make them feel.”

Q: How did you originally come up with the idea for your logo? Why a rhino?

A: The alligator was taken. In all seriousness, it was serendipity and a stubborn belief that I was onto something. My dad had a collection of sand draft wood rhinos when I was a kid. I used to play with them , along side my Star Wars action figures. I just kept using it, until buyers stopped calling it a “hippo.” For real. They thought it was a dinosaur. At first they were dismissive. Then when it started to actually work, they corrected themselves and it was finally important enough to be addressed properly.

Q: Who were some the most influential people in your life that helped you get where you are today?

A: My twin sister Marci Tapper. She’s my ghost of reason. Tell me a story of a time when your sister Marci inspired you and gave you support. When I first told Marci, whilst in college – that I was going to quit school “to start a business and become rich and famous”– I remember her looking at me with almost a remorse– and asking “Rich & Famous, yes? But will you be successful?” She has always been a very sobering, and wise consigliere. My ghost of reason. I don’t know if I’d have the same level of appreciation and “success”, as she has defined it– without her. She has taught me to “create wealth that matters”. There is a distinction in doing that, and just “collecting stuff”.