Mark Dunne, co-founder and MD of WasteSURE, Bury, is an optimist. His belief is that it doesn’t matter how many problems you come up against, if you can work to your strengths and find a solution, you will see a reward.
This is what building WasteSURE has been about and Mark’s continued determination is shaping the business right now. For Mark, being an entrepreneur is about never settling or becoming complacent, it’s about moving on to the next thing and finding the next challenge over and over again. WasteSURE was born out of adversity and from every negative experience, Mark and the team have found a positive solution and changed the narrative to create an environment that encourages success.
Now, Mark wants to share his keys to success and encourage other young entrepreneurs to follow their own passions and turn problems into innovative solutions.
What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?
Self-confidence is one of the most important traits for any entrepreneur but it is the longest skill to learn. Experience is integral to building self-confidence but the optimistic approach to any and all experience – positive and negative – is what really makes the difference. As an optimist, Mark sees new experiences as an opportunity to learn. He believes that while criticism could be personal, you should always listen and use it to grow. As Mark says, “It’s the slowest thing that you learn, self-confidence, it comes from having a positive momentum and trying things out in the first place. Self-confidence comes last, after picking yourself up after failure and looking back to see what you have learned from all the things you have tried.”
The key here is to be objective. When you can detach yourself from a problem and look at it objectively, you are more likely to see a solution, or multiple solutions, to change the situation. And, if you don’t allow yourself to be hampered by the negativity of other people, or believe their low expectations of you, you free yourself to do much more than anyone could have possibly imagined.
“My mum really struggled with alcoholism which meant that I had to be more self-sufficient from an early age. I started working at 11 because I could see the difference between what I had and what my friends had and wanted to earn for myself. People look at me and think I didn’t have the best upbringing, but I always knew that there were others who were worse off – this was just my version of ‘normal’. I think my upbringing shaped me into who I am now. It gave me the tools I needed to approach business as well as all the other challenges life throws at me.”
Growing a thicker skin is also an essential part of business. When Mark was working with his previous business partners, they assumed that his upbringing had made him vulnerable and tried to manipulate that in order to take advantage of him. This was a mistake on their part. Over time, Mark realised what they were trying to do, and for all that it was unpleasant, he knew that this was a learning curve and was determined not to let it bring him down.
“Once someone has gone for you and isolated you from your family, they have gone straight for the most extreme option. As painful as it is, you can’t dwell on this, just realise that this is the worst they can do. It’s awful but once the worst has happened, you just have to focus on doing whatever it is that will make you stronger again. For every stone they threw, I had another stone to build a strong foundation for my next business. I put all my energy into building WasteSURE because I knew that this business was full of problems I could solve.”
Mark knew that what was going on with his partners wasn’t right but he also recognised that his strength was elsewhere. They might be going after him personally but his real strength was in seeing opportunity outside his current situation and setting his sights on something bigger and better and, ultimately, more positive.
Recognising the challenges you can tackle and find solutions in a world full of unsolvable problems is tough but as an entrepreneur, you need to see when it’s time to walk away from a toxic situation and do something for yourself.
How do You Approach New Challenges?
If Mark had to choose one motto, it would be this: “a problem is always an opportunity.” He approaches every challenge as a chance to find a new way of doing something or a new angle to work from. A big part of WasteSURE’s ethos is the emphasis on innovative solutions and this is strongly encouraged by Mark.
But Mark doesn’t wait for problems to appear, he actively looks for problems and challenges to take on. This isn’t just a work idea either, Mark actively searches for problems he can solve within the community, leading him to initially involved in the Bury Football Club as a member of the Bury FC Rescue Board.
A good way to find problems to solve is to look for complacency. When people settle for something, they stop looking to make it better and so it stops evolving. This is a big problem for businesses that want to grow and often presents a huge opportunity to anyone looking. Complacency within the waste industry is what lead Mark to see just how many problems there were for him to solve through WasteSURE.
“It’s frustrating to find complacencies everywhere you look but equally, every time you see a business being complacent and find a problem, you also have a chance to present a new solution. A problem is always an opportunity and if you can find a solution, you’re already doing something different to everyone else.”
Approaching challenges is also about pushing against boundaries: the boundaries that other people assume are in place and your own comfort zone.
“WasteSURE actively looks for complacency and this is actually what we spend a lot of our time doing. But we aren’t just looking for issues to complain about, we’re looking because we know that once we’ve found a problem – whether it’s an internal issue for us or a client’s problem – we can find a solution and make things better. And a lot of the time, that solution is what makes our business viable.”
In business, listening to the customer is paramount because more often than not, they have sketched out a potential solution and just need our approach and expertise to turn their idea into a reality. A strong way to approach any problem is to listen to all the ideas and suggestions and consider them equally. Don’t write anything off because you can’t see how it would work just yet. Even a terrible idea might spawn a brilliant idea.
What was Your Biggest Challenge This Year?
Challenges come in all shapes and sizes and this year has been challenging in more ways than one for Mark. The success of WasteSURE has changed Mark’s life substantially and he has had to adjust to a new way of life in order to balance his family life and work life. Having spent so much time focusing on delivering the solution and not on the money, putting 7 figures on a balance sheet within 15 months was an incredible experience and shows how much of a solid prospect WasteSURE is , but it also brought home the responsibility that he now has in running the business successfully.
“Previously, the decision-making process was a lot simpler as there weren’t the same high stakes there are now. However, each decision we make now tends to cost thousands just to explore because we invest a lot on professional services, for key strategic decisions for our business.”
WasteSURE’s growth has also affected the way business is conducted. While you might expect things to speed up, in actual fact, Mark’s approach has been to slow down and create a honed response to every problem. A more reactive approach might be a good way to figure out the best way to work in an industry to begin with, but, having spent a year refining his approach, WasteSURE is operating quite differently now, even compared to a few months ago.
The WasteSURE Customer Portal is a major factor in the change and is the other challenge Mark has been working on over the course of this year.
“Developing the software for the WasteSURE Customer Portal has been challenging because we wanted to set an aggressive timeline but we also didn’t want to compromise on the end result. We wanted to match our solutions to the problems we had immediately but we knew we would have to be patient to make the solution worthy enough to work properly. Instead of rushing, we have taken our time to create a piece of software that challenges the norms of the industry and brings our customers something far better. This is what our customers have demanded from us as they need innovative solutions to stay ahead of their competition. By listening and working together, we all stay ahead.”
Taking more time over the system has definitely been worth the wait but this doesn’t mean that the development stage is over. As far as Mark is concerned, his job now is to “challenge the challenge” and continue to find problems and develop solutions. Indeed, he is even going back over problems he has solved once to see if there could be an alternative option for the future. The WasteSURE Customer Portal is not only an essential tool for WasteSURE’s clients, it is also a fundamental part of why the business is so efficient and streamlined. The Portal makes WasteSURE’s handling of high-volume, fully compliant waste management projects possible.
How Important is Corporate Responsibility?
Corporate responsibility is often brushed off by businesses as a bit of a nuisance or little more than a marketing campaign. But this is far from Mark’s approach. He believes that it is a moral duty for businesses to give back to their communities in whatever way they can.
“I have always been determined to make something of myself, even from a young age. I had positive influences coming from my extended family, which helped me immeasurably. I was encouraged to push for my aspirations and test my capabilities. I would love to be able to pass this on to future generations, particularly for kids who aren’t natural self-starters and have already started to downgrade their expectations of themselves. I want to use our success to show that it’s possible to think big.”
Mark believes that motivation and self-confidence are taught and both characteristics are essential for entrepreneurs. When you are building a business, you have to be prepared to push through problems and learn from them. If you haven’t faced this kind of challenge before, it’s too easy to crumble under the pressure and feel like a failure.
“A big part of our corporate responsibility at WasteSURE, and the reason we focus so much on kids sport, is to give kids an equal footing at the starting line. It doesn’t matter whether they arrive at football training in a fancy car or if they walk there and their training is paid for through our sponsorship, when they get the grass, it’s an even playing field, they get out of it what they put in. Sport is a brilliant way to build self-confidence.”
But corporate responsibility isn’t just about bringing on the next generation. Mark is also conscious of the impact that WasteSURE’s activities have on the local environment and wants to ensure an approach that is as environmentally friendly as possible.
This runs to the very heart of the business and influences everything from disposal methods to the distance waste has to travel.
“For corporate responsibility to work, it has to take a rounded approach and that’s what we are trying hard to do.”
What Would Your Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs Be?
One of the hardest lessons we all have to learn is that the world isn’t perfect and never will be. But this is, to Mark at least, one of the great things about becoming an entrepreneur. His advice for anyone who wants to become a business owner is to embrace those imperfections. If you are constantly striving for perfection you will always be disappointed but if you try to solve one problem at a time, you will see real progress when you look back at your achievements.
“Treat life as a boot camp preparing you for the next situation. You won’t find a perfect world but you will figure out a way to deal with the next problem and maybe your corner of the world will start to make more sense. Once you ditch the idea of perfection and start playing to your strengths instead, you will feel the power of your achievements growing and giving you more confidence for the next challenge. Treat all experiences equally, don’t focus solely on the positive or negative.”
Another good piece of advice is to realise just how lucky you are. As Mark says, “Being lucky is a mindset and I feel incredibly lucky to have been exposed to the wrong way of doing business because that has influenced my own approach. You can learn from the people you don’t want to become just as much as the role models you find. When you look at someone you don’t want to be, you can see what lead to that point and make different choices. I’ve seen the problems poor management can throw up and gone a different way, a way that works well at WasteSURE and I hope other companies would copy and adapt too.”
Of course, the real trick to Mark’s success was to be prepared for growth from the very start. The system he designed has been built with growth in mind so while the business has grown over the last 18 months, the system is now ready at exactly the right time. It might have been difficult to be patient but knowing that he was planning for growth has made business growth itself much easier to manage.
Looking back over the last 18 months, and indeed all the experience that lead up to building WasteSURE, has shown Mark just what is possible. He hopes that seeing what he has managed to do will inspire others, particularly young people who have grown up in similar circumstances, and show them what can be done when you are willing to learn and grow and push to become self-sufficient. Confidence is a theme that runs through every conversation with Mark and it’s clear that this is what he hopes to pass on through his corporate responsibility programmes and other projects.
“When you can see what’s possible, you can strive for that goal. WasteSURE was a good idea for a long time and now I’ve proven to myself and to the industry that there is another way to operate a waste management business that is compliant, environmentally friendly and fair to everyone. I’m really proud of what we have achieved so far but I’ve not stopped finding problems to solve just yet.”