By Hannah DiPilato
360 Magazine recently had the opportunity to sit down with Marco Shalma, founder of Round Seven Media and MASC Hospitality Group. He is responsible for beginning a food and culture festival in New York called The Bronx Night Market. In this interview, he talks about everything from advice for young entrepreneurs to his favorite food spots in New York.
How did you begin Round Seven Media and why did you decide to start this?
I started in 2013, which was after my education at NYU for undergrad and pursuing a master’s degree in film and tv. Marketing was my passion, and I wanted to run a campaign in a different way. I wanted to use the concept of getting people into the mix of the story and I wanted to get that into a narrative for clients in marketing. In 2013, I sold my shares in restaurant groups and I wanted to begin marketing for myself. I went around and started looking for clients in restaurant and hospitality for about 20 years, which I had experience in. With the explosion of Instagram and technology, it was the perfect time to explore marketing opportunities.
When the company started, the first thing was to go find professional people with a school of thought from film and writing. Our business is known for being a launch campaign for ideas, projects, etc. and we will build an online presence for our clients by finding the key demographic. We are focused on the launch period so our work doesn’t really go further than the six month period.
You also founded MASC Hospitality Group, what made you start another business as well?
MASC Hospitality is one of those situations that happened backward, meaning we first took on the Bronx Night Market project in 2017, which then branched out to many other events that were affiliated with the Bronx Night Market. At one point, we needed to incorporate all of these events, so we decided to create MASC Hospitality Group. If you think about it, MASC Hospitality is a company that basically creates different events while Round Seven Media is the one promoting these events. Sometime around 2018, I started taking fewer clients for Round Seven Media and started adding more of my own companies to Round Seven Media.
What is your favorite event that MASC Hospitality Group is responsible for?
My favorite event hands down is Bronx Night Market. The Bronx Night Market is my baby, it’s a proud moment for me because it came from a vision of bringing something to the Bronx community, my community, that is a prideful event and a reason to be proud of the borrow, without needing to commute to Manhattan or Queens to experience a festival that celebrates culture, cuisine and commerce.
We always say culture, cuisine and commerce because culture encompasses the diversity of the city with so many different flavors, cuisine because this is the grand unifier, everyone can enjoy a meal together no matter what skin tone or nationality and commerce is the idea of creating space for young entrepreneurs and small local businesses to present what they do to a large number of people and promote their business to help them move into the next stage of their success. This encompasses everything we are about, supporting small businesses, young entrepreneurship and of course, good, good food.
Have you encountered any problems while being a business owner for these two organizations?
When you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, you always encounter problems. It’s always a matter of hiring the right people, navigating through resources, financing and funding, but mostly it’s identifying and understanding the demographic. I think for me, as a serial entrepreneur, a good idea is a good idea, but you need to identify your key demographic. You need to identify what you do and who it’s for. Then, you work for months or years fine-tuning to make everything connect and basically build a community around your brand.
For example, Round Seven Media is a brand that understands the power of our way of doing business. We are known as one of the top agencies in New York to run launch campaigns for brands because we are dedicated to doing that. With something like The Bronx Night Market, it’s about identifying Bronx-based foodies and people that want to explore offerings and now they have the opportunity to do that in a place where they feel safe, secure and happy. The event is really designed for the community instead of something that could be done anywhere else.
What do you look for in employees that you hire for your company?
We hire on a regular basis, we continuously hire for different projects on behalf of companies. When we finish a launch campaign at Round Seven Media, we like to hire people to replace us, younger people, hungry people that can do social media for those brands. When we look at hiring, the most important thing for us at the moment is consistency and the ability to have a follow-up and a follow-through. I think those are the three very, very important elements because in today’s field of business, having consistency and bringing your A-game every time is something that is critical to the success of any business. I’ve unfortunately had to work with people that can bring 120% one day and 30% the next day. This also has a lot to do with company culture and the idea that you need to create an environment that allows people to be consistent.
Another big part is the ability to follow up and follow through. I can’t even tell you how many times you will be doing things where you need to follow up with clients and partners and sometimes it even takes up to 20 emails. Each and every opportunity for you to accomplish something or to create something if you don’t follow through, you have failed. We are also looking for employees that are super savvy with communications and social media because this is becoming a crucial part of any brand. The ability to understand how media works and how to maximize these services is important to our brand.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs like you once were?
If I had to give one piece of advice to young entrepreneurs, it would be to not bite off more than you can chew: focus, focus, focus. I keep seeing a lot of young entrepreneurs that I work with trying to do too much. They try to put on six or seven different hats and be the CEO of the universe at the same time. I always say, focus on the one thing, take your time, become the best in your field and then explore from there. From what I’ve seen, the ability to focus and distill your message and brand into the simplest form and show it to other people such as the investors and partners, showing your dedication to a single idea is the most valuable.
When I used to work on movies, right after grad school, one of the exercises I had that influenced me completely was an exercise of writing a logline for a feature film. You have a script of like 90 pages that you need to turn in to a 25-word logline that will explain exactly what that movie is. It’s almost an impossible mission, but once you start on this, you understand how important the focus is. I now tell people you need to understand your business so well that nothing will get in the way. That’s how you get investors and money.
I know you’re passionate about food, what are some restaurants you would recommend to our readers?
It’s hard to talk about restaurants right now when the restaurant industry is suffering so much. Every day we see another one of my favorite restaurants closing down and the industry is struggling especially when it seems like the industry won’t open soon. I’ll tell you about food in general, as a foodie the most important thing for me is not chasing trends, but a restaurant that has a focused menu, where they know what they’re doing and they’re focused on creating the best experience with a sense of consistency. I know I probably sound like everything is driven like that, but honestly, it’s so important.
Before covid I used to go to a restaurant once a month in West Harlem that used to make the most amazing eggplant pasta, there was also a place I used to go with the most amazing salmon dish and I used to go to another place with the most amazing pad thai. That’s the best thing about living in New York, you get exposed to so much food and you’ll try a lot of trends, but at the end of the day, when you hit something that you know is going to be just as good every time you get it, it becomes the place you go for that dish.
The older I get I realize that’s the most important thing because I want to go back to the restaurant five years later and get the same food and experience. I’m hoping we’ll come out of this soon and be able to go and enjoy restaurants again. Even if you don’t like restaurants and you’re a great cook, you miss sitting down with your friends in a restaurant, eating some food, enjoying a bottle of wine and sharing a good laugh. It’s not about the food, it’s about the experience.
Where do you see yourself going next in your career?
At the moment we are trying to get back to normal life especially with Bronx Night Market and other events that we have. I’m working very hard to define what we can do in public spaces to help restaurants and other brick and mortar restaurants come back to life.
At the moment, I’m really dedicating a lot of my time to working with city and state agencies to create programming that will allow brick and mortar businesses to have more visibility as well as helping small businesses that began at home during the pandemic. I like to call these businesses “homentrepreneurs” and they will need a place for their businesses outside to get more traction in the community once the pandemic is over.
I am taking my experience within marketing and media, my ability to push forth different agendas and my ability to plan different activities to bring these skills to neighborhoods around New York and support these businesses and give a place for new entrepreneurs to grow outside of their homes. This is something I have been very excited about for a few months.
After Covid is over, are there any events you would hope for the MASC Hospitality Group to execute?
Help New Yorkers get back to normal as soon as possible. Possibly that will be creating open-air markets and events relating to many different niches, and just to let New Yorkers come to celebrate returning to normalcy. After covid, trying to figure out with different partners how to help businesses survive the next few months and thrive as soon as we get out of this crisis. This has been a focus for us to do. We have seen way too many friends of ours close shop and disappear.