Mark Moore is the founder and CEO of Debut Modeling Agency, a New York City-based modeling agency focused on commercial and runway models. Moore’s mission is to go beyond simply representing models, but to instill a sense of professionalism in those he works with by providing mandatory runway training sessions and other workshops with hair, makeup, and wardrobe styling experts. Moore said, “When they go to castings, I want them to be remembered as representatives of DMA, so their expertise and love for what they’re doing will spill over.”
Why did you start the business?
I was working with a business development company many years ago in marketing and PR. We worked with a lot of finance companies and fashion companies. In my capacity, I would handle a lot of production, working with designers, models, and photographers.
In the early 2000s, a friend of mine was a freelance model who had just signed a contract with a management company. She was unhappy and uneasy about it. I looked at her contract and, honestly, I was appalled. There was a section that gave over financial power of attorney to the manager. It was a lot of legalese. She was young and in New York and excited, so she just signed it. If I was a dad and my daughter was across the country modeling, I wouldn’t want this to happen to her. I sent it over to my attorney, who called them up and threatened them, and got her out of the contract. I helped her out with a few gigs and it’s something that I really liked doing. I liked guiding models and being their support.
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Fast-forward a few years later. I met up with someone who was a model and asked me to manage her. I decided at that point, if I’m going to do it, I might as well go all out and start an agency.
How did you get the money to start the business?
I had a company prior to this, a marketing firm. I used a lot of my savings from that. I was still taking on gigs to design and develop websites, whatever I could do to bring in cash at the beginning. The first thing I did was to establish a weekly amount of money that I needed to make every week. I worked some things out with clients so I knew I would have a certain amount coming in each week. I built my credit profile over the course of three months or so. Then, I was able to start using lines of credit to help offset startup costs.
What’s a mistake you made when starting out?
I had a model who had very bad credit and her dad wouldn’t be a guarantor on her apartment. But, she had the potential to be a very strong model. So, I assisted her with getting an apartment. I used my personal resources and my friends who went the extra mile to get her an apartment. I paid the down payment and security and helped her with some furniture. I thought that if she wasn’t stressed out, I could get her to do what she needed to do. It sounded great, but it was a huge expense. And then she imploded and disappeared. She left us with the apartment and all the other stuff. It’s important to care about the models, but it’s a business first.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?
Probably one of the best things I did was to connect with people who I knew that knew the industry and had a similar vision. The smartest thing was to reach out to them and tap that talent as soon as I could.
Running the Business
How do you manage cash flow?
I’m sort of old school; I’m an Excel spreadsheet guy. I create budgets and keep a tight reign on P&L and try to keep our overhead as low as possible. I’m still not paying myself, but I have a couple of team members I need to pay. I know what my bills are overall. I can forecast what we’re doing monthly.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
This company is pretty unique in that our products, for lack of a better word, are our models. The models are all individuals. You have to keep in mind that they are people with strengths and weaknesses. Often, their weaknesses are on a professional level because they haven’t worked in a professional capacity before. They just assume that because they’re pretty, that’s all it’s about. They don’t realize that the people who are going to hire them need someone who is going to be on time and be prepared. That’s the most difficult part – getting the models to understand that.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
It’s kind of the same in reverse. It’s when I see the models get it. When they’re on-point. When they realize that they are always on call and that they might need to drop personal plans to take a job. And, of course, the paycheck works, too!
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
It’s not enough to just have savings. You have to have some way of bringing money in that you can count on. You are going to run into brick walls and unforeseen things that you need money for. If you don’t have that resource, then you’re looking at loans or investors, which you might not necessarily want to do. One of the hardest things for a startup is to raise money. To ease some of that stress, make sure that you can bring money in yourself in a way that you can count on.
What’s next for Debut Modeling Agency?
We have something huge coming up that involves a major car company that’s rebranding in the U.S. We are handling the fashion aspect for them and acting as their marketing arm for the fashion and entertainment industry.
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