The Humans of smrtPhone
This month’s featured “smrtie” is responsible for smrtPhone’s online presence on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. He also played a pivotal role in launching That Real Estate Tech Guy podcast – our Social Media Manager Mark!
Mark W. Garel, Jr.
Title / Role in the Company
I’m the Social Media and Digital Content Manager for smrtPhone and That Real Estate Tech Guy podcast. I manage social media content from strategy to concept to production to posting and managing engagement. It started with me doing everything myself, but now I work with the team to bring a shared vision to life. And I love it.
How long have you worked for smrtPhone?
6 months, but it feels shorter. The time has gone by super fast.
What’s your background? What was your first job?
Where I come from and who my parents are play a huge role in who I am today, personally and professionally. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. My parents are both first generation American, raised by immigrant parents. My mom is Puerto Rican and my dad is Jamaican and Haitian. Hispanic people and Jamaican people, we are really focused on family, community, and work ethic. A lot of the skills and thought processes I have come from my dad, how I was raised, and the culture of the neighborhood. If you are 10 years old and you have arms and legs, you have to help your neighbor, your aunt, your cousin. Everyone pitches in, even children. And, on top of that you need to do a sport and be a part of a team, focused on training and improving your skills. So, that’s where I come from.
When I entered high school, I started getting into photography. I consider it my first trade, and I’ve done it on the side my whole life. I’ve done all types: events, weddings, models, portraits, movie stills, product photography… everything. My actual first job was working at a call center when I was 15, getting donations for the police benevolence fund. But I had been taking on odd jobs around the neighborhood starting at age 10.
For full time jobs, I’ve done all different kinds of things. At every job I’ve had, I’ve been exposed to different parts of life, met all different kinds of people, and had interesting, fun, and formative experiences. Each one has influenced me in a different way and taught me something about the world. I worked with my dad doing traffic monitoring. I was an assistant manager at a healthcare provider. I worked in housekeeping and maintenance services. I got my license to sell insurance. I worked in a loan originator office. But I’ve always had my creative endeavors and side hustles as well.
I cofounded a sneaker website called Sole Sirius. It was a buying guide and blog, keeping up with industry news and product releases. We grew it to have 10 contributing writers, including a Hot 97 DJ. At one point it was ranked the 5th most popular sneaker blog in the country by Nike SB.
After getting injured on the job and needing surgery, was looking for the next thing to do. When I met my now-wife, I asked her what her dream was and she said she wanted to open a hair salon. Within one week of her telling me that, I used my savings to secure a location. We had the whole setup with chairs and everything. That was my first experience having a physical retail space and location and it went really well. But we expanded to a larger space and bit off more than we could chew and eventually had to close the salon down.
I went back to maintenance again and was working at the Barclay’s Center, doing upkeep and cleaning of the arena. We got to see how they did all of the set up for concerts, hockey games, basketball – how they break down and build back up again so quickly. A cool perk of that job was that I got to see concerts while I was working. A$AP Rocky was the best concert I saw there. At the time I was really into him. Before the show, he walked right past me wearing a long black coat with a model on each arm. It was mind blowing to be right there.
But after that, it was time for a change. So my wife and I packed our bags and got on a bus to Florida. My grandmother lived down here and I used to visit all the time. As she was getting older and more frail, we moved to be closer to her and to have a new adventure. I drew a line on the map between my grandmother’s house and the beach – I have to be near water – and that’s where we lived. We started with a blow up mattress, a chair, a folding table and a bicycle. The bike had pegs on the back and my wife would stand while I peddled. We’d go to the store and fill our backpacks and ride home. That’s how we went grocery shopping.
It took a full year for us to get settled. I was doing odd jobs, driving Uber, working as a handyman, doing maintenance at a luxury apartment complex. I continued to work with The Sole Exchange, which is a sneaker convention, helping with their social media. And then the pandemic hit and I felt like there had to be a hidden opportunity. We saw how more people were at home and wanting to make their houses nicer spaces to live. I had developed skills as a house painter in my jobs, so my wife and I launched Lux Painting Pros specifically targeting higher end clientele.
That job challenged me a lot. But we had a great network of people who were willing to talk us through our ideas and our business model, and we learned as we went. We got leads through social media and ads. Soon, word of mouth started helping us grow the business as well.
We started out doing everything – interiors, exteriors, decks – whatever people wanted to paint, we’d do. After I did an analysis of our leads and projects and profitability, I realized we had to specialize. Not every lead is equally profitable. So, we narrowed our focus to cabinets. Cabinets are a serious job. If you mess it up, you’re messing up wood and it needs to be replaced. We became sought-after specialists.
When a kitchen project is done, when we unwrap the plastic sheeting, it feels like Christmas. The gifts are being revealed. That is literally one of the most gratifying things in my whole life: to see the expressions on the faces of our clients, to see them super happy. The expressions they have. They are super happy. When the people you are supposed to please are pleased, it’s a great feeling. To do the work, you have to be invited into a private area of their life. You’re creating their environment. It’s where they are going to spend time, take pictures, and create memories. So when they are outwardly happy, it feels especially good.
But, it was really hard to find quality teams. It was our reputation on the line, and we couldn’t hire just anyone. The two of us were doing so many jobs ourselves, it was physically wearing on us. And I was doing all of the business management too. I spent four years in college and to be wearing my body out like that… I knew it was time for a change. And then I found smrtPhone.
What do you like about working for smrtPhone?
I love the people, and the culture – the whole environment of the company. I like how the company has diversity and allows people to be themselves. When you allow people to be human, including having flaws, you allow space for people to work on themselves and get better.
As more perspectives are added to the team, the stronger it becomes because of the people and the culture. Which is hard to do remotely, and it feels like we’re doing it successfully even with the physical distance. Diversity and a certain level of autonomy and freedom are what makes modern companies successful. And smrtPhone is on that path.
I want to learn until I die. There is always something new to tackle. I want to learn something on the last day I’m alive. I value all of it: all of the relationships and feedback and experiences and opportunities.
Describe smrtPhone in 3 words:
My. Dream. Job.
Is there a particular moment/project at smrtPhone that stands out and makes you feel proud?
I have two. Because I work on two brands, I can’t just say one.
That Real Estate Tech Guy, season one launched just as I was coming off orientation. I had never produced a podcast before and we dove right in. We build it from the ground up, and I started all of the social media from scratch and did it all. I am super proud of it because it was the beginning of my job, which gave me the opportunity to prove who I am as a professional and to prove my work ethic. It allowed me to show what I’m capable of if I’m given a challenge and deadlines. I never looked at it like, “Oh, I have to do this.” It was always, “Wow, I get to do this.” And the social media program I put in place reached tens of thousands of viewers and listeners, exceeding expectations for a brand new show.
The second project I’m so proud of is the smrtPhone YouTube channel. When I joined, smrtPhone had two channels and no one knew why they were set up like that. Every piece of video was thrown in there, whether it was for documentation or advertising or marketing or internal training. It was just a catch-all. Even when I was interviewing for the position and looking at the YouTube, I was thinking it needed work to become a destination.
When I finally got my hands on it, I started with building the strategy and worked with the team to clean everything up. Then, it was almost like starting with a blank canvas and I developed a content strategy. We’re starting to roll out that strategy now. When I think about what it looked like before and see what it looks like now, it’s a huge difference. It feels like something I’d like to watch and look through. It took a while to get the strategy together – to wrap my head around it and do the research, competitive research, learning YouTube best practices, and understanding how the smrtPhone brand can live in that space. And I feel confident in the direction it’s going.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Spending time with family. Play video games. Watch movies. Going to the beach. Going to the park. Long bike rides. I like jogging, kayaking, and fishing. Anything that involves being outside, being active. I run 5ks and 10ks when my knees let me. I’m always trying to stay in shape.
Name something that is on your “bucket list”
It used to be skydiving, but my wife gifted it to me a few months ago, which was amazing.
The one place I want to see most in the whole world is the great pyramids of Giza. My dad is really interested in Egypt and always told me about it.
My bucket list is really long. I’m always ready for the next adventure.
What is a fun fact people might not know about you?
People are often surprised to hear I have five kids, but that’s not an obscure fact about me.
I think the most fun fact that people might not know is that I used to be a competitive fencer. I was part of the New York Fencers Club, which is the #1 club in the whole country. I got involved through the Peter Westbrook Foundation, in a program that focused on exposing underserved hispanic and black kids in New York City to a sport that had historically only been accessible to rich white people because it is very expensive.
The training was 5 days a week for 1-2 hours. (And this was on top of the other sports I played, including baseball, basketball, football, and handball.) I had two coaches; one was a six-time Olympian and the first American to win a medal in 75 years.
It was an interesting and formative experience. Not only to be exposed to it, but to be at such a high level. It teaches you more than fighting techniques. It’s about mindset. I fenced saber, which is the most brute force weapon, but it’s simultaneously so subtle. The movements are tiny but faster than a race car. I would train extremely slowly at first, so I could visualize it, feel every muscle movement. And then, when it was fully speed, I could just go for it. My body would move lightning fast, but my mind can perceive it all slowly. That training taught me how to get in the zone.
I ended up getting a knee injury that ended my fencing career, but the skills have stuck with me. I joined a club in Florida, and people would drive from all over the state to fence me and I would win. All of my peers from back then in New York are Olympic medalists now.
And, one time, I was hired to photograph a movie and while I was on set, they were working out a fight scene. Because of my expertise, I was able to jump in and choreograph the whole sword fight. That was pretty cool!