Exclusive Audio Interview with Mark Russo
“Being able to identify what’s working and not working, and then being able to take massive action and move immediately, you have to be able to do that.”
Since Mark Russo ventured into the art business, he has sold hundreds of millions of dollars of fine art, including over 60,000 sculptures. His auction model alone has generated over $250 million in sales. Mark’s personal fine art collection is currently valued at $5.2 billion. His company, Treasure Investments, currently has assets valued at several billion dollars, including the world’s largest mold collection, containing over 2,700 original plaster molds.
During this interview, you’re going to hear how he’s been able to scale, think differently, but also a lot of insights related to avoiding mistakes. I felt like this was a really good, authentic story about Mark’s journey and the way it’s going to be relatable and useful to many of you out there.
Richard C. Wilson: First of all, let’s start with what was the number one turning point in your career or your business? Was there a single moment where everything started to go faster, a choke point you acquired, or just the velocity of your success started to really take off?
Mark Russo: The biggest turning point for my company, Treasure Investments Corporation, was not just arithmetic growth or exponential growth, but a quantum leap forward. Most companies start arithmetically growing. They grow, they expand, they scale. We grew at the beginning, arithmetically, turning over our profit, bringing in money, making sales. And then we started to exponentially grow, which was exciting for us.
We had a contract, we’re in the art business, and we grew the company to 96 locations, got contracts, got an opportunity to represent our works on 106 cruise ships now in 52 countries. And that was wonderful. It took us from a couple hundred million dollars to a couple billion-dollar company. The quantum leap came when we made a big bet.
We went to Italy, we found a foundry over there that had molds from the Vatican and 16 other museums in Europe. It was a big gamble and I’ve always said that the biggest risk in business is not taking one. We took a big risk, and we made a huge investment and acquired the rights to 72 Vatican masterpieces, where now we’re not selling products at $10,000 or $20,000 but our price points began at $25M to $500M in casting pieces from the Vatican and solid gold and pure silver and precious metals.
That for us was our momentum point where we actually went quantum, a leap forward, just beyond exponential growth. It’s not 10x. It’s 100x or 200x of our investment. And that took us from a few billion to now we have over 5.5 billion liquid assets in a matter of 24 months. And that was the giant leap forward for us. Our giant surge forward. And this created so much momentum because of that capital investment, that risk that we took on an opportunity to do something that no one’s ever done before.
We’re forging art history, we’re making art world history by casting the greatest artworks from the greatest artists in precious metals. No one has ever done this before. No one. And that for us was our major turning point to where it literally tripled and quintupled the market cap of my company as a liquid asset into the billions, and it’s just very exciting. But again, for us, the biggest risk in business for us isn’t taking one and we do take risks that are now very strategic, methodically thought out. But that was, and has been, our best, biggest turning point for our increased momentum.
Richard C. Wilson: Awesome. You hear about these stories in tech. Usually, it’s a new tech startup or a company that pivots and then because of their type of tech or timing of COVID or something else, their tech company explodes in value.
The second question I wanted to ask you is what is the most valuable strategy, worth far more than a million dollars, that you wish somebody provided you with early on that you could share here with our listeners?
Mark Russo: The most valuable strategy for us was being able to identify what was scalable in the business and what wasn’t. If you have a great company and it’s making money and you can’t scale it, even though it’s making money, then it’s great, but you’re limited. Your growth is limited. I made the mistake of that in the past where I didn’t identify something, but the best strategy for us was identifying what we could scale. And if we had some product in one of our locations, and it was successful, why couldn’t we reproduce those pieces and put it in another location, and in another location?
We’ve got 96 locations selling the same images, sometimes diverse and different. But it was just being able to identify that and realizing that if we could do it in one location that we could scale it to multiple locations and not just with one part of our business but with different types of businesses.
We have an auction platform. We’ve raised tens of millions for nonprofits by placing our sculptures into these charity fundraisers. And I didn’t realize that by doing one event we made a bunch of money. We made $60,000 at one charity in one venue. And the question was, gosh, I wonder how many auctions there are That have live gala fundraisers. And after doing it, it’s like, well, this worked at one event. Why couldn’t we do it at another event?
Well, after we did some research and did some due diligence, we found out that there’s over 11,000 live charity auctions every week in America. Over 600,000 annually. It’s like, “Wow, how can we do this? How can we scale?” And ultimately, I scaled that business to where we were doing at one point over a thousand fundraisers a month and bringing in millions of dollars a month in free cash flow and then providing millions to non-profit.
We’ve donated tens of millions of charities as a result of that. But the strategy of being able to scale whatever your business is, it has to be every part. Being able to put artwork in galleries across the world, being able to put pieces on cruise ships in 52 countries, being able to scale every element of our business is a great strategy. And I wish I had known that a long time ago, because I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the business world. I’ve lost millions and bought things that I couldn’t scale.
But that is the most valuable strategy for us, is being able to identify if you have something that’s successful and you can sell it, but being able to do that multiple times over and let other people help you. It’s strength through numbers and that’s really been our success for our ability to scale because it’s very scalable.
There’s no one in our space. I identified that as a strategy too, so we’re really kind of a standalone. No one can really compete with us that’s why we’re the number one most successful sculpture -selling company in the entire world. That’s probably one of the best things that as a strategy we can share with people.
Richard C. Wilson: This is something that I see as a real stumbling block for many people, including myself. I’ve been running my business for 17 years. I run an investor club. We’re not in 52 countries. We don’t have the equivalent of being on 95 cruise ships or 100 plus galleries.
I’m going to be thinking about this a lot personally and I really appreciate you sharing that mark. My final question here for you is what is the number one most costly mistake that you have made or seen many investors make or business owners make that could be easily avoided just by listening to this interview?
Mark Russo: I’ve seen a lot of people do it. They get so committed to something that they believe in. And they look at it, and I’ve done it myself. I had an idea or a concept, and I thought, this has got to work, it’s amazing, I love it, how can it fail, it can’t work, but I never looked back and looked at it through a different lens, and if you’re committed to something, and I know somebody right now that’s spent a fortune and 13 years on something, and it’s like pounding a square dowel through a round hole.
No matter how hard that person tries, and I’ve given that person advice saying, “Listen, you have to change your approach. It’s not working.” And they’re not changing their approach. If you’re doing something and it’s not successful, you need to be able to change immediately. You have to change your approach rapidly. And in the past, I didn’t change my approach. I thought if I kept on doing it and asking the same questions, I was hoping for different answers. But the biggest mistake that I have made that I’ve seen other people make in businesses was that being so committed to something, so in love with it, they lost perspective. They lost the perception. They lost what other people can see that they couldn’t see. And not wanting to believe that it wouldn’t work is a big problem. You have to be able to see if something’s working and identify that it’s not working. And if you can’t change your approach, you’ve got a problem. But being able to change your approach instantly, if it’s not working, change it. If they don’t like that lemonade, change the flavor or eliminate or sell something else.
Being able to identify what’s working and not working, and then being able to take massive action and move immediately, you have to be able to do that. Now, when we see something isn’t working, we change our approach instantly. I have to say that our company, we do more in a day than most companies do in six months. But being able to identify what’s working and not working, change your approach immediately and take massive action to redirect. And if that’s not working, keep on changing your approach until it works.
But so many people get caught up with it. I know it’s going to work. I know it’s going to work. And they bankrupt themselves and their business doesn’t work and it doesn’t work. They die and their businesses fail. And I’ve been a victim of that myself, so being able to look at it through a different lens, a lot of times, if I’m going to do something, I’ll look at something, as if I already own it, if I want to buy something, it’s like, okay, now I own it, so now what am I going to do with it? Can I sell it? Is it worth what I bought it for? Is it scalable? Did I make the right decision?
Before I make a decision, I’ll take myself out of my own shoes and look at it through a different lens or a different optic. And I ask a lot of questions from a lot of my friends and my partners and my business associates to make sure that we’re making the best decision. But the ability to move and move fast, identify what’s working and not working, and taking massive action is probably the best advice I can give. And it is a problem and things that can be avoided for other businesses and other endeavors.