Taking it up a notch

Local overcomes challenges, succeeds in social media market

Mark Sorenson’s company helps other small businesses succeed in a competitive marketplace.

Mark Sorenson’s company helps other small businesses succeed in a competitive marketplace.

Photo by ernesto rivera

Eleven years ago, at the age of 21, Mark Sorenson sat in hospital rooms for six hours a day getting drugs pumped into his body to treat the testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs. After nine weeks of those intense chemotherapy sessions, Sorenson was cured.

Now cancer-free, Sorenson spends his days on the third floor of a building at Broadway and Third streets as the founder and CEO of Social High Rise, a marketing company that manages businesses' social media presence on websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare and more. In a few short years, he's grown his stable of employees to 14 and the company's clientele base to more than 150 businesses, mostly restaurants but also other industries including automotive and retail.

“What I wanted to do was help businesses navigate the world of technology, specifically social media, knowing they don't have the time, the expertise or sometimes even the desire to do it,” he said. “It's a really big need for the small-business community.”

Though he has a lot to celebrate these days, Sorenson hasn't forgotten past lessons, and that includes some failures. During his undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University, where in 2010 he earned a bachelor's degree in geography and a minor in business, Sorenson created a loyalty-rewards app for restaurants called KarmaKey. Once he graduated, he took the startup to Silicon Valley, but that venture eventually failed.

“At the end of the day, we ran out of money,” he said. “We didn't do a good job executing, we built half of what we wanted and realized that only half of what we built was something that people were even interested in.

“That was one of the best learning lessons from my career so far,” Sorenson reflected. “I think there's something really valuable to actually having gone through the experience of putting your blood, sweat and tears into a business and it failing.”

From there, Sorenson went to work for Main Street Hub, a social media startup in the Bay Area. After about a year and a half, he decided it was time to come home to Chico. He moved back and began to work on what would become Social High Rise. The company officially launched in November 2012 with the help of local entrepreneurs and investors.

The company has come a long way since then and getting to this point hasn't been easy. But given Sorenson's life experience, he's not the type to easily back down from a challenge. Even though it's been more than a decade, he still reflects on his days as a 21-year-old battling cancer.

“It helped me be more resilient,” he said. “Most importantly, it helped me rely on other people. Having to go through cancer and rely on doctors, rely on family, and the generosity of everyone around me—that's a life lesson that gets me through every single day.”