It sounds like the set up to a joke (an accountant opens a doughnut shop…) but it’s actually a career change success story: Mark Prygocki went from Big Four accountant to President of a medical cosmetics company to franchisee owner of five Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona locations. After 21 years in corporate, Mark made the leap from employment to entrepreneurship and from pharma to food. He graciously shared some of his lessons and experiences:
Caroline Ceniza-Levine: Why entrepreneurship after traditional employment for over 20 years?
Mark Prygocki: I don’t see them as very different. When I was fortunate enough to be hired at Medicis in 1991, we had 12 people in the headquarters office and were lacking adequate cash flow. I always viewed our organization as “entrepreneurial” from the time we were a penny stock listed on the Pink Sheets to the time we were a NYSE traded company worth $2.6 billion and >1,000 colleagues. The roles, processes and procedures may have been more refined and defined but this spirit never changed. I find my role being very similar; grow the organization by managing the PIP’s: Product quality, Image of our company and products, and our People. The fundamental blocking and tackling of business should not change with the size of the organization.
Having said that, I am really enjoying being on the “front line” again. As organizations become larger and careers progress, I found the touch-points with your customer become less frequent. Staying connected with your customer becomes a daily struggle as the organization becomes larger and your customer coverage area expands. At heart, the size of the organization did not affect my entrepreneurial spirit, and I don’t see this as a fundamental change in direction. I enjoy building companies, products and people. The Fractured Prune Doughnuts franchise gave the management team, and me the opportunity to [do] this again.
Ceniza-Levine: Having moved to entrepreneurship, do you wish you had done it sooner? OR do you feel the time in corporate was a good foundation?
Prygocki: I view entrepreneurship as a state of mind not defined by the organizational size or industry. I believe my role at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona is a continuation and not a transition of my entrepreneurial career utilizing all that I’ve learned at Medicis. My time at Medicis was a great foundation for me. Had Medicis not been sold in December 2012, I would still be there. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my former colleagues at Medicis. One of the many foundational learning lessons for me during my time at Medicis was how well we learned from each other. We operationalized Medicis like a big “Think Tank”, believing fundamentally that we hired the best and brightest of people. I truly believe that if you have the best and the brightest people, it would be a waste of their intellectual talents not to consider their ideas and suggestions. Our employees were on the “frontline” in each of their respective roles. They had the best line of sight to issues and solutions. We fostered an environment where they could express them. We embraced change and weren’t afraid of reinventing ourselves and our strategies, processes and procedures.
This same strategy has helped us tremendously at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona. I was attracted to the Fractured Prune Doughnuts opportunity mainly because they were in the process of reinventing themselves. Very similar to what we had done so many times at Medicis. I felt as if our leadership team at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona could make a difference in the success of this opportunity in Arizona because we were given the opportunity by the Franchisor to effect change, implement our ideas and learn from our mistakes. This is very unique in franchising. We are building a team at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona where we will share ideas, be open-minded to comments and not be afraid of change, improvement and learning from each other. For this reason as well as many others, I believe my time at Medicis has been and will continue to be foundational for this opportunity at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona.
Ceniza-Levine: What are the advantages you bring (skills, expertise, network, personal qualities) that you developed from your time in corporate? Disadvantages of spending that much time in corporate first?
Prygocki: I believe the biggest advantages I can convey to the team at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona are more environmental and cultural than anything else. Yes, I’ve developed an impressive network that we can and have tapped into for many areas of our operation. The partners we’ve worked with have been invaluable to us in successfully opening 5 locations in one year. More importantly, I’ve stressed the importance of creating an environment where others want us to succeed. We strive to create an environment where they want to do business with us. In addition to an unwavering commitment to product quality, brand image and our people, I feel I bring to Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona a belief that “we may be winning but will never win”. As soon as we believe we’ve “won”, people stop trying to take us to the next level and the “game” is over. We can always improve, sell more, be better.
We appreciate that successful partnerships depend on both parties winning and we learn more by listening than we do talking; whether it is our customer feeling that they’ve received adequate value in product and service for their money or a vendor receiving adequate compensation for their services. We have to listen to suggestions and be willing to improve and change. All of this, and more, create an image of our brand that people including customers, vendors, partners and employees want to be a part of and want us to see succeed. I believe that environmental lessons like these are the biggest advantages I can bring to Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona from my time in “corporate”.
Ceniza-Levine: What advice would you give for a corporate employee who wants to run their own business? What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started? What pitfalls might they avoid?
Prygocki: I would tell anyone who has a vision of working for themselves to go for it! It’s a very rewarding experience but be mindful that they may be working for themselves but not by themselves. I would advise them to surround themselves with great people with a diversity of knowledge that they can rely on and trust. I would also caution them that most of the challenges they may experience might have nothing to do with the product or service they are selling! Make sure to plan for this. As an example, Fractured Prune Doughnuts have been successfully sold for about 40 years. People love the product. Most, if not all of the “pitfalls” we faced had nothing to do with the fantastic doughnuts we serve.
Be watchful of areas such as sourcing equipment and supplies, architecture and design and the regulatory environment in which they are operating, construction, human resources including hiring, marketing including traditional and social media avenues, legal including corporate structure and guidance, and the avenues to source capital for growth. Most entrepreneurs are experts in their product or service but not in these other areas. I was far from an expert in these areas and had never made a doughnut in my life. I became passionate about the product and knew we had to bring this awesome product to Arizonians with the help and guidance of an All-Star team. I rely heavily on a team of outstanding people including, but not limited to, my wife Karen and Danny Luber on our management team, Salcito Construction Inc. and PHX Architecture for architecture, design and construction, and of course the Franchisor for their wealth of industry experience and knowledge. Each of them possesses skills that are invaluable to the future of Fracture Prune Doughnuts Arizona. Together we make a great team and couldn’t imagine where I would be without them.
Ceniza-Levine: What resources were most helpful to you as you made the transition? Did you get a coach? Did you rely on existing mentors? Did you join a small business group?
Prygocki: The success of Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona is dependent on my reliance on many resources. My resources are generally twofold. Those I respect and rely upon who have a vested interest in the success of the Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona venture and those people I respect outside the venture. Both of which are critical to our success….The value in consulting with mentors and friends I trust and respect outside of the venture is that they give me a fresh set of eyes and are not tainted by their passion for the organization and its success. They tend to have a different and valuable perspective because they are not “living it” 24 hours a day and 7 days a week like we are. I believe the best resources tell you what they’re thinking not just what you want to hear. A productive dialogue is one where views are expressed freely but are challenged in the spirit of deriving the best answer possible. Lastly, the information you receive is only valuable if you are willing to listen, are open to different ideas and are willing to change.
Ceniza-Levine: Why donuts? Did you look at other businesses? Do you just love donuts? How did you make this decision – to pick a product, to franchise?
Prygocki: When Medicis was sold in 2012, I looked at several opportunities closer to my comfort zone as they were closely related to markets Medicis served. A dear friend of mine who knew I was looking to go into business for myself introduced me to the Fractured Prune Doughnuts opportunity. There were several very attractive things about the Fractured Prune Doughnuts opportunity but I was skeptical until I did some research and tried the product. Research would tell me that as opposed to other treats like cupcakes or frozen yogurt, doughnuts have withstood the test of time and have almost a cult following. People love their doughnuts!!! I flew out to Ocean City to give it a try, still skeptical that I would be in the doughnut business. From the first bite, I was hooked. I recall thinking to myself,
“these are incredible and Fractured Prune Doughnuts are not just doughnuts!” It was like nothing else I’ve ever tried. To have them cooked in front of me with fresh ingredients, served hot, and finished off with toppings of my choice was not just a treat but an experience. I was sold.
I believed that there was a business opportunity in bringing this experience to our fellow Arizonians. In addition to loving the product, the franchise expansion was relatively new at the time. I felt that there was an ability to have a certain freedom of expression that other franchises couldn’t offer me. With the support of the Franchisor, we were able to incorporate our team’s vision of what Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona could be. Lastly, it was important to me that if we were able to create an image of Fractured Prune Doughnuts in Arizona that was a true reflection of our team and me, I wanted it to inure to the benefit of the venture. Therefore, it was very attractive to me that we were able to secure franchise rights to the whole state of Arizona. Again, a unique opportunity in franchising.
To answer your question, I don’t love donuts but I LOVE Fractured Prune Doughnuts! There is nothing else like them. We even spell “doughnuts” differently from the rest. Our love of the product and the concept, our ability to be creative with the brand, the fact that we could secure rights to the state of Arizona, employ hundreds of people and provide an avenue to give back to the communities in which we serve, made Fractured Prune Doughnuts a very attractive opportunity for us.
Ceniza-Levine: You work with your wife. What advice do you have for other couples considering working together?
Prygocki: Karen and I are very passionate about Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona. It was very important to me that we were united on our commitment to the brand, its concept, the monetary risks we were taking and time commitment it would take to launch a new brand into the Arizona market. We spend hours upon hours discussing Fractured Prune Doughnuts. We joke; “it gives us something besides the kids to speak about” (We have 5 great kids who we adore). If we didn’t share the passion and the vision for Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona, it wouldn’t work.
Our business lives are an extension of our personal lives at home. We are united in our strategies at home and at work. This does not mean we always agree but we have a mutual respect for each other that make it work personally and professionally. I love spending time with Karen and enjoy building businesses. Selfishly, this gives me the best of both worlds. I like the fact that when we speak about “work” we can relate to what the other person is speaking about and we know who all the players are. I have a 24/7 sounding board.
My advice to other couples would be to be honest with yourselves about your common passion for the product or service and ask yourselves the following: do you share the same vision for the organization, can your marriage handle the additional stress this will add to your marriage and do you really want to be with each other all the time? I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Karen and can never spend enough time with her; so the answer was easy for me……
Ceniza-Levine: What’s next for you, your business?
Prygocki: We’ve just begun!! We are very proud of the fact that we have launched 5 locations of Fractured Prune Doughnuts in Arizona this year, are providing employment to many Arizonians and are giving back to the communities in which we serve. Danny, Karen and I are united in our goal of opening many more locations in Arizona. We are highly confident in the brand and want to continue to please our customers. We have people happily traveling great distances to get Fractured Prune Doughnuts. We want be closer to them and expose Fractured Prune Doughnuts to many Arizonians who have never heard of or tried our product. For those who do not want to make the trip to see us, we are coming to you!! Our biggest reward is seeing the smile on our customer’s faces. We love looking at all the comments and pictures online. Our 4.8 star rating speaks for itself. We continuously work very hard to earn that rating and the respect of our customers. We are committed to enhancing the customer experience, brand image and developing our employees to be future business leaders.
My favorite takeaways from Mark:
Embrace your unique experience
“I always viewed [his former corporate employer] as ‘entrepreneurial’…”
Mark didn’t lament his time in corporate; he leveraged it
“…be mindful that [entrepreneurs may be working for themselves but not by themselves….”
Mark built a team internal and external to the business
Build a business foundation; it’s not just about the product
“Be watchful of areas such as sourcing equipment and supplies, architecture and design and the regulatory environment in which they are operating, construction, human resources including hiring, marketing including traditional and social media avenues, legal including corporate structure and guidance, and the avenues to source capital for growth. Most entrepreneurs are experts in their product or service but not in these other areas.”
Mark’s team ranged well outside the food industry.
This post originally appears in my leadership column on Forbes