Mani's Madness

When You Are Black and Disabled; What Battle Do You Fight First?

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In a candid conversation with Mark Esho we discuss all things business, what 2020 has taught him and what it’s like being a black disabled entrepreneur.

Mark has been disabled from the age of five when he caught polio. After a turbulent start to life, he set up Easy Internet back in 2000 after seeing a gap in the market about how businesses weren’t looking at their SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) long before it became a term for the digital age. He set out to help businesses achieve this.

Fast forward 20 years and Mark has grown his business, from offering SEO initially, to adding in website design and development and grown his team from just him to a team of 15 staff. He started off with minus £3k, having exited his full time job due to late effects of polio combined with stress, to then having a million pound turnover after 12 years, with all his businesses combined.

Being Black and Disabled in 2020

When asked to speak to Mark and interview him for this month’s editorial, how could I not ask him about the impact of both of these?

2020 a year like no other with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had ramifications worldwide, and restrictions imposed on all aspects of our lives.

The summer saw racial tensions likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. The death of George Floyd was not just another black man killed in America, it became the catalyst for a worldwide movement that amplified the voices of the black community across the world.

In his own words Mark consciously chose to fight for the rights of those with disabilities. He’d done a lot of work for the black community, such as setting up the East Midlands Black Business Network, but fighting one issue was soul destroying let alone fighting for the rights of both marginalised communities.

The last 12 years Mark and his team have been remote working, so when COVID hit, it made little to no impact on his staff’s performance as it was part of the culture of his business.

It also allowed him to employ disabled people, working from home, meant they could be based anywhere in the UK. He has employed a registered blind web designer and a gentlemen with Asperger’s, with a degree in computer science, on a freelance basis.

Further advocating and giving opportunities to others with disabilities, and using his position as a business owner to be able to give back.

“Being an entrepreneur has been liberating, it’s allowed me to better manage my disability and become the master of my own destiny.”

It doesn’t come without its challenges, in some ways being an internet based provider met very few face to face meetings and the fact he was black and disability had no bearing on his ability to help customers.

Early Life & Building Resilience

Mark has had an extraordinary life, which he recounts in his best-selling autobiography, “I Can, I Will”.

After coming out of hospital paralysed with polio and in a wheelchair, he moved to Nigeria with his parents. Where Mark attended a main stream school.

In Nigeria, he was bullied by fellow students and at home, having a physically abusive father who struggled to deal with having a son with a disability, left psychological scars.

However, despite all this he was pushed academically and excelled at school, having a physical disability didn’t stop his mental prowess, this meant he skipped two years of school as he managed to catch up from years he’d missed having been in hospital.

His entrepreneurial spirit came from his mother, who was also abandoned by his father and went on to run a successful business in her own right in Nigeria. She helped pay for him to come back to the UK and attend university.

All this led to Mark’s resilience to push himself and not allow either of what society deems a disadvantage to stop him.

Internet and Innovation

At 18 he returned to the UK to attend De Montfort University, from which he gained an MBA.
Now, life outside of university was tough, he was still black and disabled so he had to make ends meet by doing voluntary work, a little bookkeeping, before an opportunity arose as an administrator at a charity.

A lifeline that he took with both hands and worked at for the next 6 to 7 years. It built his confidence and self-esteem but due to late effects of polio effecting his job it meant stepping away.

Mark confesses that he had a real interest in the internet and computers, often taking them apart and rebuilding. Teaching himself SEO and with the help of a friend he built a website, similar to what we’re used to seeing with RightMove.

It was a choice between SEO and web design, he went down the SEO route. Within two years, he was making enough to employ people. The model was simple to begin with, and Mark got paid once his clients were at the top of the search engine.

In 2004, he set up Easy Internet Solutions, after seeing another gap in the market where he offered free web hosting service, one of the first in the UK. Initially a loss leader but something Mark believed in and it paid off after scaling up.

It led to winning numerous awards and meeting with the then Prime Minister David Cameron at the launch of the Disability Confident Campaign. He was one of three disabled entrepreneurs to be invited, to talk about his experience as a businessman who had a disability and what it was like to look for a job.

Turning Point

Mark admits that meeting his wife was a huge turning point in his life. She helped him refocus when he was in a downward spiral of drinking and smoking too much.

His wife works with him at Easy Internet solutions but they have spent the last year slowly exiting to pursue other ventures and passion project, and have their son take over what they have built.

What drives Mark is to be better, having grown up with a disability and being told he can’t amount to anything, he became a self-developer. He wanted to prove a point that being black and disabled does not affect your ability to make a difference.

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