Meet The Disruptors: Mike Mabin of MABU Agency On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

“Keep it simple, slow it down, and pause,” are the words of advice I received from my dad. In life, and in business, things get complicated and fast-paced. It’s easy to get swept away by the whirlwind of activity. When this begins to happen, my dad’s advice helps me stop the madness, pause to organize my thoughts, and chart a course that makes sense for myself and others.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Mabin.

Mike Mabin, a North Dakota-based entrepreneur, is carrying on a family tradition started by his grandfathers — one who owned a company that delivered automotive products to rural gas stations throughout the Dakotas, and the other who ran a boat rental and bait shop on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. Mike started his first company, Agency MABU, 21 years ago and currently co-owns several others — Shutter Pilots, Innovatar, Pemmican Patty Food Company, and JamesLee Properties. He has also invested his time, talents, and resources to support dozens of other entrepreneurs in starting and running their own businesses.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My first passion was filmmaking and photography. My dad used an 8mm camera to film his buddies while on fishing trips to Canada. I loved watching him edit the footage and show his homemade movies to family and friends. The joy I experienced when my parents bought me my first camera — a Nikon 35mm with telephoto lens — is unforgettable. It was my constant companion, and I became an obsessed “shutterbug.”

After high school, I planned to attend the local college to study business and start my own photo studio. However, life had other plans. In my last year of high school, my parent’s business failed. This harsh event caused me to rethink my plans to start my own business. So, instead of going to the local college to study business, I set my sights on attending art college to study photography.

In hindsight, this was a great decision. After four years of study at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, I was hired as the Audio-Visual Coordinator for a large hospital in North Dakota, where I worked for over 20 years, becoming a top executive reporting directly to the CEO and overseeing dozens of departments and hundreds of staff.

While nurturing my career in healthcare management, I continued to hone my business skills, earning a master’s degree and developing a business plan for an ad agency. When I hesitated to give up my career and start a business for fear of failure, my wife assured me I could always get another job if it didn’t work out. Within a month, I was implementing my business plan and opened Agency MABU.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I’ve never considered myself to be a disruptive sort of guy. Instead, I journey down paths that attract my interests and curiosities. One such path involved starting a company named Shutter Pilots. Its claim to fame is being the first firm in America to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to combine unmanned drones with 3D geo-mapping technology for creating aerial images. Equally amazing is that our first client was National Geographic. I wasn’t trying to change the world. I was just having fun combining some interests I have in the fields of photography, 3D animation, and remote-controlled aircraft.

Another example of exploring my interests involves changing the way society views the first inhabitants of the Americas. As an enrolled citizen of the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians of Montana, I have focused the efforts of Agency MABU on serving clients and causes representing Indian Country. My co-workers and I create and share stories from a vast array of Native American perspectives. The stories challenge deep-rooted stereotypes that often depict American Indians as noble warriors of the past or poverty-stricken communities of the present.

At Agency MABU, we’ve worked with renowned clients such as the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Museum, Discovery Education, and the National Indian Education Association to uplift Native American voices and new narratives surrounding topics such as the Thanksgiving holiday and the discovery of America. We’re using modern day communication methods including 360° virtual tours, 2D/3D animation, and augmented reality to show the world that the first Americans are “still here.” We’re also working with leading non-profit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Red Star International, and the Swift Foundation to incorporate traditional Indigenous practices and values into healing our planet and our people through stewardship, sustainability, and spirituality.

We are being disruptive by collaborating with our clients to shine light on the first Americans living in today’s world as artists, teachers, scientists, spiritual leaders, business owners and so much more.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Most of my work involves using words in one form or another. That said, every letter matters, especially if a critical one is missing. Early in my career, I was the editor of a health & wellness publication produced by my employer (a Catholic hospital) and distributed to area residents through the local newspaper. In one memorable issue, the cover story featured an invitation to attend an open house for a new clinic. The headline featured the words “Public Open House;” however, the letter “L” was conspicuously missing from the word “public.” This embarrassing fact was first brought to my attention by a nun who handed me a copy of the publication with this request: “Please be more diligent when proofing our magazine.” Needless to say, I immediately put stringent practices in place to minimize the potential for repeating such errors. On the upside, I am pleased to report that the clinic open house attracted a record number of attendees.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors?

It would take a book rivaling the page count of War & Peace to acknowledge the myriad of people who’ve inspired, molded, and mentored me along the way. Beyond my wife, sons, parents, sisters, grandparents, and other immediate family members, I’d say the first person who comes to mind as a mentor was the owner of the lawn care and snow removal company where I worked while in college. Despite being in his late 50’s, he outworked everyone. From sunup to sundown, he operated a large, walk-behind mower called a Gravely, as well as a large snow blower. He also maintained and repaired all of the equipment long after his crew was gone each day. Beyond this, I was impressed that he invented and patented a number of contraptions that he affixed to the mowers, blowers, and other equipment.

At the time I worked for him, there were three other employees — me, his oldest son, and a long-time friend. I truly felt part of the owner’s family. One day, while having lunch together, I asked him if he ever wanted to grow his business and have more employees. “Not anymore,” he answered. He went on to say that at one time, he had five separate crews with over 25 employees who mowed over 400 lawns weekly. He said the work consumed every moment of his time and attention.

It wasn’t until one Sunday morning while doing the books that he realized his company was making less money with two dozen employees than it made when he first started it with four employees. At that moment, he made the decision to downsize. By wintertime, he was back to his original size of operations. He said, “I was once again free to attend Church on Sunday, and also have time to spend with family and friends.” This story has helped me keep my priorities in mind, thus allowing me to run my businesses instead of my business running me.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

By its very nature, disruption ignites change, which enables our world to continually evolve and adapt to the future. However, whenever change occurs, some things are lost, while other things are gained. Consequently, the “not so positive” side of disruption involves that which is being left behind. To minimize these downsides, we should acknowledge that the old ways of thinking or doing aren’t always bad. It’s just time to change.

Such is the case as it relates to my passion for telling stories from a “first person” view of history. Telling stories through the eyes and voices of American Indians doesn’t need to destroy or dimmish other stories of U.S. history. There’s no need to tear down something in order to build up something else. We can simply add new voices and shine light on people who’ve been in the shadows.

Far too much of what we see in the media these days in politicized and polarized. It causes people to take sides and not see others with differing views as being fully human. That’s when being disruptive to the systems that have “withstood the test of time” can turn negative. To take a more positive approach to disrupting a prevailing narrative about Native people, we’re simply adding their voices to the equation. We can more effectively disrupt the hearts and minds of people through addition rather than subtraction of history.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

“Let’s name our newest baby MABU.” These words of advice came from my wife when we started our first business. MABU was a nickname of mine in college. She nixed naming our first child MABU. However, several years later, when discussing a name for our business, she said “Marketing & Advertising Business. Those are the first three letters of your nickname. All we need is a word for the U — Unlimited!” So, our incorporated name became “Marketing & Advertising Business Unlimited,” but we simply go by my favorite nickname — MABU.

“Keep it simple, slow it down, and pause,” are the words of advice I received from my dad. In life, and in business, things get complicated and fast-paced. It’s easy to get swept away by the whirlwind of activity. When this begins to happen, my dad’s advice helps me stop the madness, pause to organize my thoughts, and chart a course that makes sense for myself and others.

“Creativity is the ability to flip and redefine.” These are the words of advice I received from one of my fine arts college professors. Although I initially didn’t have a clue as to what this meant, the professor went on to reveal the secret behind being “creative.” He said it’s based on the premise that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Thus, we need not waste our time trying to create something altogether new. Instead, we should simply flip and redefine what already exists. He advised his students to “take something old and change it into something new. Then, tweak it until it becomes creative and a part of you.”

“Don’t forget to bill your clients,” are the words of advice I received from a colleague of mine when I started my first business. I thought she was joking, but she was dead serious. She had been running her own consulting company for several years and said she got so busy that she failed to set up the proper bookkeeping systems to track her time on projects and issue invoices. She ended up doing a lot of work which wasn’t documented, and therefore couldn’t be billed. So, one of the first things I did upon going into business was to set up QuickBooks.

“Do what you think is right and ask forgiveness later, if necessary.” These are the words of advice I received from a nun and board member at the Catholic hospital where I worked. She shared this advice with me shortly after I was promoted into an administrative position, explaining that the hospital is a big organization with lots of people and processes that could impede progress. She encouraged me not to let divergent voices or red tape get in my way. This advice gave me the courage and confidence to get lots of things done.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m excited about the cutting edge work we’re doing at InnovatAR ( — a mixed reality company started a few years ago with my older son Alex and a few co-workers. Last year, we launched Yondar, a web-based wayfinding app that uses augmented reality to make finding people and places fun. It operates somewhat like Google Maps, except it’s designed for unmapped, walkable locations. Our first clients have included a national park, a city center, a university, and a music festival. Our most recent client is the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California.

InnovatAR also recently launched a product called Seekers ( It features non-fungible tokens (NFTs), gamification and cryptocurrency technologies to create meaningful experiences in the metaverse. We call it the Betterverse.

I’m also focusing attention on helping my older sister and younger son start a company called Pemmican Patty Food Company ( We’re working to bring pemmican back as a modern-day snack food. Pemmican is a mixture of dried meat, rendered fat and dried berries which originated with the Metis and other Indigenous people of the Great Plains and Great Lakes regions. The company is dedicated to our Grandma Ida who made pemmican while raising my mom and her siblings on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

One book that has impacted me deeply is titled “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” by Kent Nerburn. The author chronicles the life and times of an American Indian elder named Dan. Readers are exposed to the harsh truths about the Lakota people’s experience in America. I relate to many of the stories in this book since they all occurred in and around my home state of North Dakota.

Dan speaks eloquently on topics such as the power of silence, the commercialization on Indigenous culture, and the indoctrination of Native children, something my own mother experienced when she was taken to an Indian boarding school in South Dakota at the tender age of six.

This book also resonates with me because of the story behind the title. “Neither wolf nor dog” refers to the way in which many of the Native warriors were viewed after being captured and imprisoned by the U.S. government in the late 1800’s. They had been stripped of their identities and were no longer free like wolves, nor were they tame like dogs. Having been raised by a mother of Native American descent and a father of European descent, I understand the confusion that can result from living in two different worlds.

This is a great read for anyone who has an interest in learning more about Native American history and culture. The following review from the Yoga Journal sums up my thoughts about the book “It is a sobering, humbling, cleansing, loving book, one that every American should read.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “It’s not about you.” This is the first line in The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. By shifting our focus away from ourselves and toward others, I believe we find greater peace, joy, and purpose in life. Don Clifton, a renowned psychologist, educator, author, researcher, and entrepreneur called it the “Bucket & Dipper” theory. It purports that if we go through life focusing on ourselves, we use our “dipper” to pull whatever we need out of other people’s “buckets.” However, if we use our dipper to fill other people’s buckets, not only are they filled, but so are we. Miraculously, our buckets become overflowing, thus creating an even greater capacity to fill others. Living outwardly feeds us inwardly, not the other way around.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d start a global smile movement. It could become the fastest, largest, and most impactful movement in history. Within a matter of moments, it could have billions of followers spreading their goodness worldwide. By simply smiling, they would join the movement. Instantly, they would feel better, as would the people around them. Their smiles would become contagious and infect others. Before we know it, the world would forever be changed for good. We’ll know the movement is alive and well every time someone smiles.

How can our readers follow you online?

I joined LinkedIn nearly 20 years ago when I was just getting started in business. It has been my “go to” social media community ever since. Folks can follow me at

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Meet The Disruptors: Mike Mabin of MABU Agency On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Recommended Posts