There is no secret to success, there is only a recipe, and you already know the ingredients: hard work, passion, purpose and patience.
Successful YouTuber and Shark Tank contestant, Aaron Marino, spoke with us about the hard road to success and what it takes to find your purpose and pursue your passion.
From Failure comes Inspiration
Hopping from failure to failure, or negative success to negative success as he calls it, Marino found a much deeper and significant calling once he moved away from fitness and towards men’s lifestyle coaching.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember,” explained Marino.
Before founding his image consulting business, and ultimately the YouTube channel, alpha m., with more than 1 million subscribers, Marino owned a fitness center, which he called one of his biggest failures.
“The only thing I wanted in my life was to own a fitness center,” said the entrepreneur and former bodybuilder, “that was the only thing that was going to mean success to me.”
Right out of college Marino went to work in a fitness center, and by 22 opened a chain of nutrition stores, with a partner. There are a million ways to fail, and unfortunately Marino knows that too well. His first business didn’t go as planned, so he moved on.
From there Marino met a woman and helped her lose 100 pounds. Together they decided to start a personal training studio, which Marino called “his big break.”
He started his fitness center, an apparent dream come true for Marino, but said that “right away I knew there was something missing, it wasn’t what I envisioned. By the time I shot the dog, [after five years of running the business] my overhead was around 40,000$ a month, I was miserable, I had tension headaches, it was horrible. So my partner and I let everything go.”
At that point in his life there was only plan A, no backup.
“Not only was I financially ruined, I was professionally and personally ruined because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Marino.
Luckily, before throwing in the towel at his fitness center, Marino was given an opportunity by a client that inspired him to start his third business (spoiler alert, third time is a charm).
Marino was approached by a client and asked to help him prepare for a big date. Marino went above the call of duty, taking him shopping, bringing him to the barber, and even encouraging him to trim his nose hairs.
After doing such a great job primping him, the client’s coworkers took notice. One of them called Marino and asked if he could help style her husband, asking how much it would cost.
“The light bulb went off, and I thought, hey there might be an opportunity in this,” said Marino.
After researching online, he realized there really wasn’t a lot of help for regular guys, besides GQ and Esquire. So, without business partners or much professional experience, Marino launched his image consulting business and started advertising on Google AdWords. He saw success right away.
Image consulting, as profitable as it was, led to something even more satisfying, and that was YouTube.
“In 2008 my wife gave me a video camera, seeing that I have a big mouth, it was only natural that I ended up on YouTube,” said the developer of the popular alpha m. video channel.
Making it Big on YouTube
When Marino first started making videos on YouTube, he understandably didn’t know what his voice was.
“What I realized was that people reward authenticity, and they know when you’re being authentic. There are a few videos I’ve done where I’ve cried. Guy aren’t used to seeing that kind of emotion,” explained Marino.
One of the reasons Marino has been so successful on YouTube, besides authenticity, is consistency.
“I consistently put out videos in a certain niche. It took me 5 years to get 100,000 subscribers and the next 600,000 came in a another year and a half.”
In a time when people need to see results immediately or else they lose motivation, Marino credits his success to patience, and his failures.
“Once you have a few failures, you’re that much more driven to success and you keep trying and grinding until you succeed,” he said.
He continued to say, “Patience is something you have to have on YouTube, because you see all these other videos go viral and think yours are so much better, but there is no rhyme or reason behind viral YouTube success. You just need to stay focused and keep creating content, and eventually your videos will find an audience.”
Marino never had a viral video. The closest he came was getting 200,000 views in a month and a half for a video called “How to Flirt Without Being Creepy” a video which now has more than 1.7 million views.
YouTube fame is exponential, as is entrepreneurial success. At first it’s a long road of nothing, involving debt, very little pay out, and lots of hard work when few people take notice. But each year growth will double. Two times zero is still zero, so it takes a while to notice any real movement for the first few years, but once things snowball, success follows quickly.
To make it through that long period of time without reward it will depend on your character and whether or not you have what it takes to make a business succeed.
The Character Needed for Success
It takes a special type of person to succeed. Someone hardened by failure, but also someone who is emotionally perceptive, and able to use their fear, pain, and hardship for a greater good.
“I put a lot out there,” said Marino. “I had two mentally abusive step fathers. That is one of the reasons I’m so comfortable taking about everything and why I’m such a good people person.”
“I moved schools often and I retreated emotionally at home because of these step fathers. I wouldn’t voice my opinion or stand up for myself because I was worried I’d have to leave or I’d lose the security of my friends and home. It forced me to develop these interpersonal skills and become very perceptive.”
What does this have to do with business? Through therapy, Marino was able to understand his motivations and those of others around him, and that helped him express himself and connect with others, an essential attribute of any entrepreneur.
“I went to my first therapist when I was three years old. My mom was on welfare, and that was something available to people on welfare,” he said.
“I started to express myself, talk and communicate, and I’ve been in and out of therapy my whole life. It’s something I think is incredibly valuable, something I think not enough people take advantage of because of the negative connotations associated with it, especially for men. Even if you don’t think you have problems it feels good to talk to someone who has an objective perspective. I highly recommend it.”
All that talking and self reflection not only allowed Marino to move past his emotional struggles, it allowed him to understand human psychology in a way that helped him better control, and at times manipulate, the persona he projects to the world.
This is one of the reasons Marino appeared on reality shows like Shark Tank, Fear Factor, and even a reality show about women’s fashion – all because he could control the way he projected himself, and cater to what he knew audiences wanted to see.
Making in on Reality TV
“I am a self promoting whore,” said Marino.
“I have a unique skill set and I know exactly what casting directors are looking for. Because I’m so comfortable with video, it was easy for me to get cast in reality shows.”
“They’re looking for someone who can string a sentence together, who is a little bit outlandish and who can bring that energy level. They also want people to look and act a certain way, and have no self awareness,” he said, which is ironic considering how aware Marino is of all this.
“If you can do that,” he said, and act like you have no self awareness despite being hyper aware of yourself and others, “you can get cast on any reality show you want.”
His first reality TV experience was more than 15 year ago, on the show Fear Factor, when he still owned the fitness center.
Aaron Marino Fear Factor
There’s no video online or real record of Aaron Marino on Fear Factor, and the YouTube video Marino made about his experience on the reality TV show got taken down by the copyright police.
If you’re curious, in the first challenge, Marino had to release himself from handcuffs inside a plastic body bag, which was dropped into a tank of water.
“It’s like putting a plastic bag on your hand and putting it in water,” recounted Marino, “whatever position you’re in when you go down you stay in, and the more you struggle the more twisted you get. Everyone failed the challenge. It was terrible.”
His next challenge was to sort millipedes and cockroaches into different bins, while suspended upside down.
“It was fun, it was a great experience, and I thought it might help me promote my gym at the time, but it didn’t,” he said.
But there’s something to be said about a person who took pleasure in exposing his own fear, and someone who can look back and call his experience “great” despite losing.
Years later, Fear Factor helped him prepare for a more lucrative reality TV show experience, Shark Tank.
Aaron Marino on Shark Tank
Marino appeared on season 4, episode 2 of Shark Tank, watched by more than five million people, where he pitched his Style System, a $250 DVD set that teaches men how to dress. Ultimately, no sharks invested, but Marino says, “I was okay with how it worked out in the end,” despite being frustrated while watching the episode air on TV.
“I went on Shark Tank and pitched for forty five minutes and they only show 7 or 8 minutes on TV. I was pitching my website my YouTube channel, my audience, my following and the show edited everything out and only focused on the Style System.”
“The sharks were saying things like, ‘I could watch you all night long,’ and I was thinking, ‘Jackpot!’”
Marino was confident that even without a deal, he would get traffic just from being on the show. “You’re getting in front of millions of people selling your business, if it was an ad, 10 minutes on Shark Tank would equate to 8 million dollars,” calculated Marino.
So the entrepreneur wasn’t broken up about getting turned down by the sharks, and even threw a party when the episode aired.
“So there I am, at my house, having a party with 27 pizzas and I remember just sitting there watching the episode and thinking it was an absolute disaster.”
Everything he was hoping for didn’t happen. He sold one system the night the show aired, but no traffic materialized on his website or YouTube channel because no one knew where to go.
“My hair product company came as a result of the Shark Tank failure,” explained Marino, “because when the sharks said I needed a lower price point product to sell, something that every average guy needed and used, they were right. Hairstyle products are what I came up with.”
So from his so-called failure, Marino launched a successful and profitable line of products.
With his image consulting business, profits from YouTube and his blog, sponsorships, his own advertising agency, profits from his men’s lifestyle conference, an app and web development company, and sales from his line of products, Aaron Marino is doing fine without the sharks’ investment.
But he hasn’t quite had his fix of reality TV yet.
“There’s one more show, a cooking show, that I want to do, and then after that I’ll write a book about how to get on reality shows,” admitted Marino, essentially thinking that if he can schmooze his way onto a cooking show without any cooking experience, he definitely cracked the code on reality TV casting.
Obviously as a married man, reality shows like the Bachelor are not possible for Marino. For all those viewers wondering if he’s gay because his wife is MIA from all his videos, Marino says he keeps her away from the camera to prevent people from leaving offensive comments or saying anything that could hurt her.
“I realized she didn’t sign up for the criticism that exists on YouTube, only I did.”
“Regardless of what any YouTuber says, harsh comments hurt, no matter how confident you are,” admitted Marino. “When someone criticizes you or calls you names it hurts. I get on average 3000 comments a day, and it’s impossible to look at them all. The first 24 hours after I post a video, I know those guys are paying attention, and those are the comments that are most constructive.”
Other than that, “I delete people and block their comments when I see them because it makes me feel a bit better, but I don’t think you ever really get used to harsh criticism,” he said.
And if you’re wondering if there’s something in his eye, don’t bother commenting about it, it’s just a freckle and it runs in Marino’s family.
What is Success
Despite inevitable criticism, Marino has seen an overwhelming influx of positivity and praise from his YouTube channel, and that is what he believes defines his success.
Having already used the word “success” a dozen times in this post, it seems odd to define it now, but for all the entrepreneurs hoping to one day be successful, first defining success is extremely important for achieving fulfillment.
For Marino, success isn’t the money he earns, it is the feedback and appreciation he receives from his videos, his products and his consulting.
“With YouTube, I feel like I have the ability to be a father figure for a lot of people. I stated out doing something somewhat superficial, talking about style, but I’ve gone through an evolution and I now appreciate and respect and take pride in the responsibility I have, to the life lessons I give, and the role of father I play for some of these guys watching.”
“The emails I receive, the Father’s Day cards I get, I’m teaching men stuff their piece of shit drunk father never taught them. That’s powerful. I have an email folder I keep with special notes. I get on average 20 thank you messages a day from people saying I’ve changed their life. It’s remarkable. I’m making a difference and I feel like that’s my life’s purpose, making people feel better about themselves.”
If you’re looking for your life’s purpose, or your big break, Marino has some advice.
Starting your own Business
“When I was young and out of college, I thought I needed a partner who had a little bit more money and experience,” he said, but as someone with a bit more money and experience now, his views have changed.
“I would tell people that the first thing to do is to try and launch your business on a shoe string budget. If there’s a way for you to self finance what you want to do, if it means you have to be hungry, or you have to pass on things you want, you need to do that because the lower you keep your overhead the more likely you are to succeed.”
“There are always ways to start your business for next to nothing,” said Marino.
“Because I failed twice before and financially was in a really bad place, it forced me to be more creative. You will likely need to learn new skills, like how to make a WordPress site or set up ads, but there are ways to run your business inexpensively, and I would absolutely recommend that.”
Beyond financial burdens, being a solo entrepreneur has another set back.
“The disadvantage of being a solo entrepreneur is that it can be lonely since you don’t have people that you can share the successes with,” explained Marino. “As a solo entrepreneur you don’t have that second voice to validate your ideas, so you have to make sure you listen to the market and the signs, and not just focus on what you think is best.”
Even if you run a business on your own, “it’s important to have good people around you to help,” said Marino.
On Planning for the Future
Most businessmen like to plan, spending more time on goal planning and campaign strategy than they do actually on making sure those plans come into fruition.
Marino on the other hand says he never makes plans, because they never work.
Business moves too quickly to be able to set in stone an outline of what the next six months or five years will look like. If you spend too much time planning you won’t be as agile, or as able to adapt to the changing needs of the market.
What Marino does instead of plan his years is write out his next idea, or story.
“I have 40 journals on my shelf. I love writing stories and every video I do is written out first.”
As far as what big plans Marino has for the future, there aren’t any.
“As long as I still feel like I’m making a difference, I don’t care what I’m doing.”
“As an entrepreneur I have clawed and scraped and bled to get to this point right now. When people ask me what I want to do in the future, I don’t care. I’m happy where I am. It’s taken me my whole life to get here and I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled.”
Success versus Happiness
When it comes to happiness and success, the two don’t always go hand in hand. Many seemingly successful people are puzzlingly unhappy, and that’s something not enough hopeful entrepreneurs understand.
When Marino thought all he wanted in the world was to own a fitness center, he soon realized that his career in fitness and bodybuilding was shallow and unfulfilling.
Both Marino’s happiness and success today come from a feeling of validation he gets from his viewers and fans, from people who’s lives he has changes.
“I grew up on food stamps and when things were really bad I worked as a beer cart guy at a golf course just to get a bit of cash for groceries,” he said. “I remember it being 29 degree at 7am on a Saturday, I was in this golf cart thinking to myself that someday I’ll be able to buy a membership and I’ll do anything to be successful.”
“When you’re an entrepreneur you have that drive to do anything. Some people were born to be an entrepreneur and some people were not. If you’re not willing to do whatever it takes and to be uncomfortable at times, you’re destined for failure and you should keep your desk job.”
“I’ve worked really hard throughout my professional career and personal life, and now I wake up every day and get excited about every second and every aspect of what I do.”
If Marino sounds like you, and his thoughts echo your own, you’re likely destined for success as well.
Ultimately there is no clear way to define a successful entrepreneur, but rather it’s about fulfillment and freedom, and about being excited to wake up each day to continue influencing others.
There is no secret to success, there is only a recipe, and entrepreneurs like Marino prove that you can start with nothing and work your way up simply with hard work, passion, purpose and patience.