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When Marcus Bullock was 15, he made a life-changing decision. He and a friend mugged a man in a mall parking lot. He was arrested and sentenced to eight years in a maximum security adult prison. “I was in denial for the first two years and got very depressed,” says Bullock, who is now Flikshop’s founder and CEO. “I couldn’t process and accept the fact that I would end up serving 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 will 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. “These pictures, these letters saved me,” he says. “It was the small and big things she shared with me that gave me a clear idea of what my life would be like after prison. My life was far from over.”
Flikshop is named after “Fliks,” as 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 members and other community resources so they too can envision their life after prison.
Flikshop’s mobile app and website allow users to send a photo and a message to a loved one in prison, which Flikshop will print on a postcard and send directly to the incarcerated person. It’s only $0.99 (including shipping) and ships direct to you.
The postcard is perforated so you can tear off the message and keep the note private. Then they can share the photo with others. Today, Flikshop has sent postcards to all 50 states and connected more than 170,000 families. John Legend is a financial supporter of Flikshop through his organization #FREEAMERICA, which he founded to help transform America’s criminal justice system.
Photo credit: Flikshop
“Pictures and letters are the only way for inmates to know that there are people out there who care about them,” Bullock says. “For me, these letters were a reminder of the life that awaited me.”
Here are three lessons Marcus Bullock learned while building Flikshop:
“I realized that a TED Talk would become my calling card.”
“From a young age, I was always a speaker,” says Bullock. “My family used to say, ‘Marcus is always talking about something!’ And in many ways, I’m the same Marcus today.”
He remembers the excitement he felt as a young boy attending his annual school fundraiser. He was determined to talk to as many people as possible and sell most of the candy bars, which he did.
As a founder, Bullock underestimated how his penchant for storytelling would help him launch Flikshop. “When I was asked to give my first TED Talk, I hesitated because I didn’t consider myself a public speaker,” he says. “And then I realized it was a great opportunity to share my story on stage and build the Flikshop brand. This TED Talk became my ultimate calling card.”
Bullock recalls standing on that stage and publicly recounting his story of how he first went to prison. And he was afraid. “My advice to entrepreneurs is don’t let fear hold you back. This TED Talk was my opportunity to build empathy and understanding for an experience most people don’t speak openly about — how to support loved ones who are incarcerated.”
“I listened to every piece of advice along the way.”
Bullock started Flikshop in 2012 because he wanted to be more conscientious about his promise to send his friends in prison pictures of his reentry journey. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “I never thought I would start a tech company. I googled how to make a mobile app and the journey began.”
Bullock attributes his success to his thirst for knowledge and open-mindedness, and heeds every piece of advice. He recalls attending the startup consultations a DC law firm hosted. He showed up and asked question after question, showing that he was genuinely open to any advice he received.
It was through attending these consultations that he met Techstars, a startup accelerator based in Boulder, Colorado. “This investment and support allowed me to focus fully on growing Flikshop in 2018,” says Bullock. “I wouldn’t be here without all the supporters who have coached and guided me along the way.”
“I build generational wealth.”
Flikshop isn’t Bullock’s first step into entrepreneurship. After his release from prison, he built a successful painting business and went on to build a construction company. First, he booted up Flikshop and took cash from his construction business to fund 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 part of Flikshop,” says Bullock. “I knew this was our opportunity to build generational wealth.”
Bullock tells how he invited a number of family members to a conference room at his construction company. He went through his vision and three-year strategic plan for Flikshop. He asked if they would attend this friends and family round and if they would donate at least $1,200. Then he gave them a deadline. He waited anxiously and many of them came back with checks.
“As founders, we can build our vision with the support of our family and friends to transform their lives, too,” says Bullock. “It’s a vision made possible because a mother never stopped believing in her 15-year-old son who made a mistake that changed his life forever.”