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When Marcus Bullock was 15, he made a decision that would change the course of his life. He and a friend kidnapped a man in a shopping mall parking lot. He was arrested and sentenced to eight years in a maximum security adult prison. “I denied it and got very depressed during those first two years,” says Bullock, who is now founder and CEO of Flikshop. “I couldn’t elaborate and accept the fact that I would end up having to serve the entire eight-year sentence.”
During a visit, Bullock’s mother made a promise to her son that would later serve as inspiration for Flikshop. “Marcus, I’ll write you a letter or send you a picture every day for the remaining six years of your sentence,” she told him. Bullock credits his mother for saving his life. “Those images, those letters, saved me,” she says. “It was the big and small things he shared with me that gave me a clear vision of what my life would be like after prison. My life was far from over.”
Flikshop gets its name from “fliks”, which is what Bullock and his friends called prison pictures. He founded Flikshop to do for many what his mother did for him: keep every person in every cell connected to their family and other community resources, so they too can imagine their life after prison.
Flikshop’s mobile app and website allow users to send a photo and message to a loved one in prison, which Flikshop will print on a postcard and send directly to the incarcerated person. It only costs $ 0.99 (including shipping fees) and is delivered directly to them.
The postcard is punched, so they can tear off the message and keep the note private. Then they can share the photo with others. Today Flikshop has shipped postcards to all 50 states and connected more than 170,000 families. John Legend is a financial supporter of Flikshop through his #FREEAMERICA organization, which began to help transform America’s criminal justice system.
Image credit: Flikshop
“Pictures and letters are the only way for those in prison to know that there are still people in the outside world who care for them,” Bullock says. “For me, those letters were a reminder of the life that awaited me.”
Here are three lessons Marcus Bullock learned from building Flikshop:
“I realized that doing a TED Talk would become my business card.”
“From a young age, I’ve always been a talker,” Bullock says. “My family always said, ‘Marcus is always talking about something!’ And in many ways, today I’m the same Marcus. “
He remembers the excitement he felt as a boy participating in his annual school fundraiser. He was determined to talk to as many people as possible and sell as many chocolate bars as possible, which he did.
As the founder, Bullock underestimated how his penchant for storytelling would help him launch Flikshop. “When I was asked to do my first TED Talk, I was reluctant because I didn’t consider myself a public speaker,” he says. “And then I realized it was a powerful opportunity to share my story on stage and build the Flikshop brand. That TED Talk became my definitive calling card.”
Bullock remembers being on that stage, publicly sharing his story of going to jail for the first time. And he was scared. “My advice to entrepreneurs is not to let fear hold you back. That TED Talk was my opportunity to build empathy and understanding for an experience most people don’t openly discuss: how to support loved ones who they are incarcerated “.
“I’ve listened to every advice along the way.”
Bullock launched Flikshop in 2012 because he wanted to be more diligent about his promise to send his friends in prison photos from his trip home. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she says. “I never imagined launching a tech company. I searched Google for ‘how to make a mobile app’ and the journey began.”
Bullock attributes his success to his hunger for learning and being open and listening to every advice along the way. He remembers attending office hours at a law firm in Washington that housed the founders. He introduced himself by asking question after question and showed that he was genuinely open to any advice he was given.
Attending those office hours was how it was presented at Techstars, a startup accelerator based in Boulder, Colombia. “That investment and support allowed me to focus on growing Flikshop full-time in 2018,” says Bullock. “I wouldn’t be here without all the fans who gave me coaching and guidance along the way.”
“I’m building generational wealth”.
Flikshop isn’t Bullock’s first venture into entrepreneurship. He built a successful painting business when he left prison and then started a construction company. He initially started Flikshop, taking money from his construction business to finance his mission. “My family saw what I was doing with my businesses, how successful I was and I wanted them to have the opportunity to be a part of Flikshop,” Bullock says. “I knew this was our opportunity to build generational wealth.”
Bullock relates how he invited a number of family members to a conference room at his construction company. He reviewed his vision of him and the three-year strategic plan for Flikshop. She asked if they would participate in this round of friends and family and would contribute $ 1,200 at least. Then he gave them a deadline. He waited anxiously and many of them returned with their checks.
“As founders, we can build our vision with the support of our family and friends to help change their lives as well,” says Bullock. “It is a vision made possible because a mother has never stopped believing in her 15-year-old son who made a mistake that changed the trajectory of her life forever.”