Mario Armstrong is an Emmy Award winning media personality, TV Host and Digital Lifestyle Expert™, who heads Mario Armstrong Media, LLC, a technology-media company that creates content for traditional, mobile and online outlets for syndication. He has contributed as a Digital Lifestyle Contributor to the Today Show, CNN & HLN, NPR’s Morning Edition program and music channel Fuse. His radio program, The Mario Armstrong Show, was hosted on XM/Sirius and syndicated on radio from 2009 – 2012. On TV, Mario motivates and inspires others to live their best life and teaches them how to use technology to accelerate their personal growth and achieve their life goals. His social network has over 1.7 million fans and through traditional media, Mario reaches millions of people every week through broadcasts, appearances and segments.
When he’s not talking about technology on TV, he’s helping other people find their passions to live out their dreams and to become better entrepreneurs. As well, he works tirelessly toward increasing the engagement of youth in STEM education and careers. Here Mario talks about what it’s like to be a Digital Lifestyle Expert as well as how important it’s been for him to give back to others and help them focus on their needs.
What, exactly what is a Digital Lifestyle Expert?
It’s a term I coined to separate me from other tech experts in the media. I was hustling and I started doing segments on CNN, Steve Harvey, Rachael Ray & the TODAY show all at the same time. I was like I need to separate my brand from the pack and now we actually own the registered trademark for that title. It stands for someone who lives the digital lifestyle and understands how technology intersects into our daily lives from personal to professional and can translate that knowledge to mass audiences. I don’t focus on the specs of products, I focus on the problems people face and how technology can help solve those issues or inspire people to accelerate their growth.
You were once working in the IT field and also the technology advisor to the mayor of Baltimore City. How did you go about making the transition from what you were doing then to what you’re doing now?
From day one, I’ve always been a media entrepreneur. Even though I had these full-time jobs, I was always hustling my passion on the side to create my own radio and TV programs about the digital lifestyle. This goes back to when I saw an ad in the newspaper in 1999 to host your own radio show. I called them and they loved the idea of a tech radio show. Then I found out the weekly 30-minute show would cost me $1,000 per week, so I hustled to find sponsors to cover the costs. Every Thursday, I’d race out of my full-time tech job on lunch break to go to the radio station and do my show. Then, I’d quickly hop in the car to get back to work and never quite make it back to work on time once a week So the transition was easy for me, I kept growing my side hustle while working for others and since both things were in similar industries it made it a smooth transition.
What would it take for someone to become a Digital Lifestyle Expert? Is there a particular career or educational path?
They can become a digital lifestyle expert but they couldn’t use that exact term since we own it. My path was a bit more general initially! If they wanted to do something similar to what I do, they need to level up their exposure to as much technology as possible, everything from understanding how systems work to apps and consumer devices. I’d also suggest some psychology courses and courses that study society and human behavior. Lastly, if you are going to do this you have to be able to communicate effectively and on different mediums so take some communications courses.
Your media company produces content for clients that isn’t necessarily the content you do on-air for news outlets, is that content also related to technology? What exactly does your media company do?
Our company creates inspiring and entertaining content that helps people take practical steps to move forward in their lives and understand how they can use technology to accelerate their personal or business growth. We create content for online as well as traditional media outlets like NBC TODAY show, where I’m paid for my appearances. We also work with companies ranging from AT&T to Staples and more to create content that they can use to help their audiences, much of that content revolves around entrepreneurship, small business, inspiration and tech. And we develop content on live-streaming apps like Periscope which are sponsored.
How do you figure out what’s hot in tech to talk about or that will help people transform their lives?
I observe life issues, current events, news and common challenges people are facing and identify trends of pain or high interest. From there, I look for solutions to help. Sometimes this becomes a segment on the TODAY show, sometimes it becomes a whole new project. For example last summer, I heard from a lot of bloggers, freelancers and 1st time entrepreneurs that they could use more guidance so I used technology to create #NeverSettleClub. This is a free Facebook group that helps individuals identify their passions and teaches them how to monetize those passions for profit.
How did that #NeverSettleClub come out of having a digital media company and being a digital lifestyle expert?
It was all about giving back. I wanted to create an online community where people could share their passions, their goals and get advice, tips and positive support from the collective wisdom of other members. Too often people feel like they are on an island with no support or anyone to really understand what they are going through. The group is great for freelancers, entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs and those who have passion projects that can’t seem to get moving in a big way. It was initially just a Facebook group summer project we were going to do for free for 5 weeks to give back but after seeing the appetite and the amount of people joining, we decided to make this a new product for the company. Pursuing my passion is an area I authentically live in and I feel so blessed to be able to have a successful business, doing what we love and that my wife is the CEO. I felt like the lessons we have learned pursuing our passion should be shared to help others monetize their passion. I’ve experienced what it’s like to hustle a side passion for years. I also know what it’s like to lose all of our savings, our 401ks, max out credit cards, take change to Coinstar machines to get gas money and have someone else buy our groceries, all while chasing a dream and raising a 5-year-old son! We proved that we bounced back from that low to now having a successful business in my passion that has 7 team members.
You have a lot of side jobs as well it seems. There was the Urban Video Game Academy and TechTechBoom, both focusing on youth and technology? Can you talk a little bit about those organizations and your commitment to STEM Education. Are you still working with youth?
Yes, we are always giving back and supporting youth. They are actual products, not side gigs. Some of the products are revenue driven; others are pay it forward products. I tell people your purpose in life is to inspire yourself, inspire others and to give back. My current youth program is called Dream, Create, GO!® It’s a road show that excites, educates and entertains middle and high school aged kids about the possibilities in STEM. I actually want to find a sponsor so I can turn this into a free e-book and website for kids. Next month, I’m part of a panel with companies like Lockheed Martin and 4-H youth development and mentoring organization to share to share insight and expertise about how to best reach our kids. Too many people, in my opinion are forcing STEM on kids and it can be a turn off. I take a different approach, I show kids how and where STEM is involved in their passion. I use what they are already passionate about and get them to see the importance of STEM in it. Whether the student wants to make music, be an athlete, a doctor, a fashion designer etc… Once you show a kid the intersections of STEM and their passion the light bulb goes off and now they understand why Math is important. I always say “relevancy creates urgency”.
What’s next for you?
We are currently pitching our interactive TV Talk Show “#NeverSettleShow”. The show is entertaining, interactive and has uplifting interviews with people who share the story behind their journey and the steps they took to never settle. It will be like an old-school talk TV show with a new tech twist. I’ll be hosting out in the audience, like Oprah and Donahue used to do and we will be incorporating the latest in technology to make the show fun and interactive in real-time. It’s like if Steve Jobs and Oprah had a child, I’m that kid! Viewers will get insight, motivation and tips to help them take practical steps to achieve their own goals and dreams. And it will be super interactive through crowd-production, social media, live phone calls, studio audience, live streaming apps like Periscope, Meerkat and more. We shot the pilot in Rachael Ray’s studio and we are currently pitching online and traditional TV networks for distribution.
In addition to our TV show, you will continue to see my doing my weekly appearances on NBC’s TODAY show and we are developing more content on live streaming apps like Periscope, Blab and Meerkat. We are also launching our firstt physical product in stores in 2016. The #NeverSettleClub will have its 1st official conference Summer 2016 and I’ve been a host on 2 other TV show pilots from other cable networks that we are hoping will get green-lit for 2016.