Marcus Bullock, 35, is chief executive of Flikshop and leads apprenticeship programs for former inmates through the nonprofit Free Minds Book Club. He lives in the District with his wife and two children.
Flikshop is an app you created to send postcards to people in prison, right?
Yes, you can literally post a picture, add text and press send. Instagram for prisons.
Where did the idea come from?
I’m blessed — kind of, sort of — to know that market very well. I was 15 when I was arrested, so I grew up in prison. You know, people have their high school friends, college friends. Those were my friends; I grew up with these men. And after I got out, I wanted to be able to keep in contact with them. Because I know when I was in prison, the one thing that got me through was communication with my family: the calls, letters, pictures. When I started to travel the world and have fun, my boys that were back in would say, “Marcus, we want to see this stuff. We want to see the Bahamas that you’re going to. We want to see this new girlfriend you’re dating.” I thought it would be so much easier if I could just text them and be like, “Yo, hey. …” But there were no apps for that. I was like, There’s got to be a way. There’s millions of people in prison, and I know I’m not the only one that wants to share these moments.
So how did you go about making it happen?
I’d started a painting company, was learning what it was to be a business owner, and now I had the audacity to try to launch a tech company. I was scared to death. But I’m so that guy that jumps out the window and then builds his parachute on the way down.
Stepping back, tell me about the early days. Tell me about how you ended up —
With a gun in my hand carjacking somebody at a mall?
Here’s the thing, I grew up in the inner city, KK. I grew up in the ’hood. A really, really rough neighborhood, and everybody in my neighborhood sold drugs. What happened was I wanted to be able to have the Jordans and the nice car, so I began to sell drugs.
What is your biggest dream now?
I want every person, in every cell, to receive mail every day. Simply keeping people connected is a better reentry tool than anything out there.
Do you have any regrets?
No. Because my failure has been my tutor my entire career. And the thing is, I never would be able to be in the markets I am, with this technology, had I never gone to prison. Obviously, I wouldn’t, you know, give anyone advice to go to prison so you can come home with a good idea. [Laughs.] But what I will say is I was able to somehow take the adversity of a situation and really build out the next steps of my life.