Communication with loved ones while behind bars is the best lifeline, according to Marcus Bullock, creator of Flikshop.
He knows from experience.
Although he was just 15, Bullock, tried as an adult, got slammed with eight years in several maximum-security prisons. His crimes? Carjacking, attempted robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
“In prison, mail call is the best part of the day, every day,” said Bullock. “Actually getting mail is like hitting the lottery,” he continued.
Photos and messages from home can give inmates a lot of motivation. It can help turn their lives around upon their release, Bullock explained.
But in today’s world where social media is king, sending handwritten letters and printed photos from home isn’t very common.
That’s what gave Bullock the idea to create Flikshop some years after his release in 2004. The free iPhone and Android app lets users snap photos, write messages and send them off. The messages are sent in the form of a 99-cent postcard to their loved ones. 2,000+ registered correctional and juvenile facilities across the U.S. accept these postcards.
Now in charge of a three-person team, Bullock needed help to build the app. He found developers through word of mouth and meetups.
Flikshop, however, isn’t Bullock’s first stab at entrepreneurship.
While in prison, he got his GED and took college courses, including in business and computer software. After his release, Bullock turned a job at a paint store into his own painting and eventually, building remodeling contracting company. Within the last few years, the Lanham, Md.-based entrepreneur directed his attention to tech — and the prison life he left behind.
“I was in complete denial,” Bullock, now 32, recalled of his first few years as a teen behind bars. “I would call home Collect to my mom and say ‘I’ll be home in two weeks, because we have a game against Shady Grove.'”
Bullock’s mother, as a single parent, raised him and his sister, and balanced her government job with college classes.
“I wanted to find a way to buy those Jordans my mom said she couldn’t afford, so I could look cool at the basketball game,” Bullock said of his decision to “chase the hood dreams” and get into drug dealing and criminal activity.
His rocky road into the app-making business definitely comes with its fair share of challenges.
“I’ve faced a ton of adversity,” said Bullock. “I’m a young black kid talking about launching a tech company with no VC backing, I didn’t have any background in tech … no one took me seriously.”
The negative views about the prison system stops people from even addressing it, let alone thinking about an app like Flikshop, Bullock added.
But he joined forces with prisoner advocacy groups to run Flikshop-mailing campaigns. In addition to this, Marcus launched a Flikshop-funded project, Bring in the Community, which brings local business owners like himself into correctional facilities to teach inmates business skills.
“I knew there had to be a better way when I got out,” said Bullock. “The goal is to have a positive impact on re-entry for others.”