How “Gutsy” entreQuest SuperchargesGrowth for Entrepreneurs and Executives Alike
It’s not Silicon Valley, but walking into the office of Baltimore-based entreQuest, headquartered in a century-old, restored, former soap factory known as Fells Point’s Broom Corn Building, the open-office concept draws focus.
Everyone works in one, airy room. No walls. No partitions. No low dividers. Sunlight streams in for 25 employees to enjoy through windows encased within exposed-brick interior walls. No private corner offices exist for executives. It’s by design at entreQuest, an engagement and performance consultant firm. “My desk is not bigger nor better. We believe in equity,” says CEO and founder Joe Mechlinski, also a “New York Times” best-selling author (see sidebar).
Misti Aaronson has been at the firm more than a decade, joining it in an entry-level role and now serving as COO and partner. “We’ve never had [private] offices,” she says, extolling the “positives” of an open workspace. “It’s collaborative. There’s accessibility, a level of transparency and no feeling of hierarchy. We’re on the field together working toward our mission.”
Her reference to “the field” is apropos, since Baltimore-born Mechlinski played football in high school and college. In 1999, he graduated from Johns Hopkins University with financial assistance, in part, from the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The plaque honoring him as a scholar-athlete remains beside his desk today.
Mechlinski’s football days taught him a lot about team culture and strategy. Today, he uses and adapts these learnings to run entreQuest. Of course, athletic experience doesn’t explain the whole nine yards at this one-of-a kind business consultancy.
“We’re a gutsy company,” says Mechlinski. entreQuest has worked with more than 500 companies; its top 100 clients have grown an average of 174 percent.
That’s a big number. But Mechlinski refuses to shy away from such heights.
The Neurologically Curious Crossfit Consultant
In its early incarnation, entreQuest specialized in sales: training, consulting and strategy. Today, its mission yields something more complex. Still, the company’s name offers a clue to its essence.
“Entre is from entrepreneur,” says Mechlinski, who in 2001 cofounded the firm. Mechlinski knows about entrepreneurship. As an adult, he’s only worked for himself. By the ripe age of 23, Mechlinski had already formed multiple companies, with varying degrees of success.
Mechlinski says the second part of their name, “quest,” “stands for journey or questions.” Paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mechlinski muses that it’s, “not about the destination, but the journey.” He loves, and learns from, just putting in effort.
Entrepreneur Turned Best-Selling Book Author
Baltimore-based entrepreneur Joe Mechlinski is no stranger to business books. He’s read many. It’s a hobby.
However, at first glance, he’s an unexpected person to pen a book. While he loves to read, he doesn’t love to write.
Still, in 2013, his debut effort at producing a book hit the “New York Times” best-seller list, as well as top-selling lists at “USA Today,” “The Washington Post,” Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.com.
His book title: “Grow Regardless of Your Business’ Size, Your Industry or the Economy … and Despite the Government.”
Mechlinski took the first words of his book’s title, “Grow Regardless,” from a poem by American rapper Tupac Shakur. Mechlinski desired to produce a book that would break the mold of then-current business book formula writing. Ultimately, he chose to write a book so that he could reach more people and make more of an impact.
50 Shades of Mechlinski
In the book, Mechlinski sets forth what he calls the “proven formula” for growing any company. Additionally, he weaves his own story between the pages of his business know-how.
It took Mechlinski 90 days to complete the book. “I did a chapter a week,” he says. The resulting effort has been praised as “practical” and “readable.” One review asserted, “It should be part of every entrepreneur’s library.”
It gained fame in 2013 as the No. 1 seller at Barnes and Noble stores across the country. “It beat out sales of “50 Shades of Gray,” says Mechlinski.
The world of books is relatively new to Mechlinski’s life. He admits he was, “not much of reader in school.” In fact, he says he was not much of a student, although he did earn an undergraduate degree in economics from Johns Hopkins University.
At age 22, he read his first business book. He still remembers the title: “E Myth” by Michael E. Gerber.
For Mechlinski, it opened the floodgates to more books. Among favorites to recommend: “Finite and Infinite Games” by James P. Carse and “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. His thirst for knowledge is not limited to books. He follows the blog of Jason Silva, philosopher and host of National Geographic Channel’s “Brain Games.”
A voluminous reader, Mechlinski’s literary love doesn’t stop with business books. Among items on his nightstand: “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande and “God’s Breath: Sacred Scriptures of the World” by John Miller and Aaron Kenedi. His favorite book of all time remains “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl.
Currently, Mechlinski plans to produce a second book, scheduled to publish in 2017. “It’s about brain-based engagement,” he says. He conceives it as “a how-to for employees.”
In between books, he’s running entreQuest, which “serves as a creative outlet and constant learning experience,” says Mechlinski, “and the gutsiest management consulting practice in America.”
The company’s name came down to timing, too. With transparency, Mechlinski admits that the name, “entreQuest,” happened to be the only “.com” available to him in 2001, the company’s birth year. After 15 years in operation, that name has morphed into a new more concise moniker. What Mechlinski – and others – now call the company is, simply, “eQ.”
Mechlinski defines it best: “eQ is a collection of three businesses.” With that he jumps up to a nearby whiteboard, picks up a dry-erase marker and sketches a diagram to define his company vision today. From a center circle labeled “eQ,” he draws the three arms – or branches – that comprise entreQuest.
eQ is first and foremost a management consulting practice. Second, it offers talent acquisition and recruiting services. The third arm, newly created, is an entity called SHIFT, a membership organization. SHIFT’s goal remains to create “a localized network of entrepreneurs and executives dedicated to ‘shift’ societies’ biggest ills for good,” Mechlinski explains.
A voracious reader who gushes with energy and vision, Mechlinski easily transitions between Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Gallup Poll results and the in-house catch phrase, “Crossfit meets Tedx.”
Although a businessman, he refers to himself as a “student of psychology and neurology.” Like many leaders, he thrives in setting new standards in business and embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. Although he loves to work, and loves working for himself, don’t try to pin him as a workaholic. “It’s a label on a frame,” he says. Among the tenets that drive Mechlinski is the conviction that, “teach people to be better during the work day so that they can be better at home.”
Waging the Entrepreneurial Fight
He shares deep affinity with entrepreneurial clients. “I know what it’s like to run a small business. I know what it’s like to win, and lose.” As such, he very much values working with mid-sized and small business. “It’s the blue collar in me,” says Mechlinski. It’s something that defines entreQuest, too.
“Guts we have. Thirst we have,” says Aaronson. “We’ll do the work … shoulder to shoulder, right there beside you. We roll up our sleeves. We help you execute a plan, not just put one together.”
Mechlinski can talk one-on-one or in front of 10,000 people. Yet, he reveals, he’s an introvert. No matter, he fights through because he believes the world needs to hear what they have to say.
“entreQuest excels in being a thought leader and bringing about change within an organization,” says Joe Koff, vice president of sales training and development at Sinclair Broadcast Group, a Hunt Valley-based telecommunications company. “They’ve delivered very good, tangible change and results for us.”
Koff has watched Mechlinski’s trajectory over many years. “It’s is a very modern-thinking organization. That’s the differentiator,” he says.
“Joe works incredibly hard. He’s authentic. I respect and admire him for that,” says Koff, who tapped Mechlinski to be a “visiting professor” for Sinclair University, an in-house training program.
Mechlinski inspires as a speaker. He’s given keynote addresses for Pandora Jewelry’s national sales meeting. He’s participated in John Hancock and Microsoft conferences. He even delivered a commencement address at Patterson High School, where he graduated in 1995.
Out-Hustled by the Couch-Surfer
Mechlinski grew up in Highlandtown. His single mother used food stamps to feed him. “The church also brought us food,” he remembers. Nevertheless, he recalls “feeling hungry a lot.”
“We often slept on people’s couches,” he reveals. He changed schools multiple times.
At age 13, he went to live with his father and stepmother. It offered more stability as well as food in the refrigerator. But things were far from easy street.
Mechlinski attended Patterson High School, which “had the worse graduation rates in the state of Maryland.” Its dropout rate was high: 965 students counted in as freshman, but by senior year only 235 remained enrolled.
“My [high] school had metal detectors,” he adds. As a young man he attended more funerals at a young age than most do in a lifetime.
At age 19, he transitioned from one of the worst high schools to one of the best colleges. He was the first in his family to attend college.
To help pay his way, he worked multiple jobs – as a cook, security guard, bartender and door-to-door salesman. Being in Baltimore, he accepted employment steaming crabs and shucking oysters, too. Then, as now, he’s no stranger to hard work.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but I can out-hustle, out-compete and out-fox you,” says Mechlinski, who uses those skills “to make the world a better place by using business as a conduit for good,” he says.
One contribution close to home that makes him proud: co-founding b4Foundation, a corporate workplace-mentoring program for under-served, under-valued Baltimore high school students. “It’s a way to give back in a unique way,” says Mechlinski, who remembers where he came from and wants to “pay it forward.”
Painting His Future
While still in college, one entrepreneurial endeavor in particular, burgeoned. After responding to a flyer in the mail from a franchise-like student painter outfit, Mechlinski went to work painting houses. He learned basic tenets of business, including how to sell, how to market, how to hire and how to train people. By his senior year of college, his student painter enterprise had grown from five people to more than 100 in just three years’ time.
Soon after came entreQuest.
It’s a team effort, Mechlinski is quick to point out, and freely credits those around him. He calls Aaronson “selfless, hard-working and the architect of solutions.” He describes Managing Partner Andrew Freedman as an MBA with, “a thirst for knowledge and landing big accounts.” Fellow Hopkins graduate, Managing Director Chris Steer, holds a law degree and offers experience advising entrepreneurs. Mechlinski didn’t know Steer at Hopkins, but he knows that Steer was co-captain of the stellar Hopkins lacrosse team.
Mechlinski is proud of how entreQuest has changed during its 15 years in business. “It’s evolved from a sales-based organization to a growth-oriented company. We’ve kept an open mind, and it is no longer just about its founder,” he points out. Good thing, too. Changing the world will take more guts than one man can muster.
Quieting for a moment when pressed for a serious takeaway, Mechlinski imparts an important reminder: “Remember that making money and mission are not mutually exclusive.” I95