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Secrets of Success: Alexandre Mars

There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Alexandre Mars, the CEO and founder of Epic Foundation, which he founded in 2014 because he’s passionate about fighting inequalities. Epic Foundation bridges the gap between a new generation of donors—philanthropists, corporations and foundations—and organizations supporting children and youth globally. Epic is developing new tools focused on enhancing how donors select, monitor and experience their impact. Alexandre’s vision is to disrupt the philanthropic industry by combining technology and partnerships with change-making leadership.

Alexandre is a serial entrepreneur and engaged philanthropist who started his first venture at 17. Over the past 15 years, he successfully launched and sold several companies in Europe and the U.S. In 1996, at the age of 21, he founded A2X, one of Europe’s first Web agencies. He ran his own venture fund, Mars Capital, from 1998 to 2001. In 2001, he founded the mobile marketing firm Phonevalley; within a few years, the company became the largest mobile marketing agency in Europe, and in 2007, it was acquired by Publicis Groupe. He sold ScrOOn, a social media management system he launched in 2006, to Blackberry in 2013.

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Alexandre Mars: I’ve always loved sports and admired Joe Montana, [Michel] Platini and [John] McEnroe as a child. So, I guess you could say that I wanted to be a professional athlete when I grew up.

Along with sports, I’ve always been passionate about fighting inequalities. I was involved in some mission-driven activities as a teenager, and my mother was my source of inspiration: She was a do-gooder with a big heart and always motivated me to get more involved with socially conscious work.

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

Mars: I started my first business at the age of 17 because I wanted to be my own boss, and it was the only way to be my own boss at 17! I was able to make my own decisions about how best to operate day-to-day. I loved being in the driver’s seat.

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Mars: I first experienced this pivotal moment while I was running my second startup (which was one of the first Web agencies in Europe).

I was a CEO, but for the first couple of weeks, no prospects were calling me [back]. I had to be assertive and really push harder. Being reactive was not enough. I had to learn to be proactive.

If you truly want to be successful, you need to be a doer. I love this quote by Vince Lombardi because it perfectly encapsulates my philosophy about success: “There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything.”

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Mars: Be resilient, be optimistic and be fearless. Entrepreneurs are likely to face many hard choices in the process of getting a business off the ground. When you encounter such obstacles, having these qualities—resilience, optimism and courage—are key.

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Mars: Hiring the right people is crucial to building a thriving business. People are truly the backbone of any successful company, and I credit my success to my teams. As CEO, I’ve opted for a hands-on approach to the hiring process to ensure we hire the best. By “best,” I mean many factors, but being trustworthy is definitely on top of the list. I trust my team wholeheartedly.

Lesonsky: Do you have a small business prediction for 2015?

Mars: I think there is going to be a revival in small business formation as more Americans get back to their entrepreneurial spirit. Especially the Millennial crowd—they’re going to embrace owning their own businesses because it offers freedom and opportunity to create their own wealth.

Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?

Mars: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Mars: I have two: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” And, an African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.