Marcus Bullock understands the value of a photograph. While serving a stint in prison, photos and letters were a major part of his effort to maintain a connection with family and friends outside of the prison walls. Like any aspiring entrepreneur, Marcus saw a problem and looked to fix it. The problem was that people who care about their loved ones that are incarcerated don’t have the time to sit down and write letters or mail out photos. In this age of technology, why can’t we send a communication via smartphone? Enter “Flikshop”. Flikshop allows you to send your inmate loved one a personalized postcard directly from your smartphone using the Flikshop mobile app or website.
Marcus was gracious enough to talk about his business, the barriers for returning citizens and their re-entry into society as well as his community program that is an spin-off from his for-profit business.
I. How did you come up with the concept of Flikshop?
I came up with the idea of Flikshop in 2011 when writing to my fellas that are incarcerated became a chore. It was so challenging to ensure that I got these guys mail regularly, while still moving on with my life. Letter writing is a thing of the past, and I knew that if there were a way to use my smartphone to write them as well as sending pics I would do it regularly. When I was in prison from 1996 to 2004 mail was everything!! When realizing how much our users WANT to share their lives with their incarcerated loved ones I began working on the Flikshop launch.
II. Your concept is not just a business, it’s really a new and easier way to keep families in contact with their incarcerated loved ones. Give us a story of a family and how they’ve benefited from the concept.
The “thank you” letters and “we love Flikshop” emails will never tell the story of how Flikshop is really changing lives, but one customer whom cried on the phone with one of our Customer Service Reps definitely leans on how much Flikshop has become an integral part of some of our user’s lives. This Flikshop user gave us a call just to let us know how much she appreciated a company that not only allows her husband to see their newborn as he goes through the trial and sentencing period, but a company that allows her to easily send thoughts, random pics, Bible scriptures, and motivational quotes. She didn’t have time to write a letter, but it was Flikshop that allowed her and her husband to keep a smile lit between them during the darkest point in their lives.
III. You’ve used social media to speak out on re-entry, injustice and the importance of families staying connected. How are you planning to use your business to raise awareness in these areas?
Flikshop is an amazing tool that allows me to finally sit on my soapbox and scream to the mountain tops of the ineffectiveness of most re-entry programs, juvenile injustice, and how staying connected to family is the only sure-fire way to add any sense of accountability for an inmate prior to release. Flikshop has also launched (and in the process of revamping) the “Bring in the Community” program. BITC is fully funded by Flikshop, and allows me to go into juvenile facilities to speak the girls and guys in there about the different tools necessary for success. When I was growing up there were not any persons in my neighborhoods that I could look at as a real guide for success. There were rappers, athletes, and drug-dealers…those were the only three that I saw as successful, and the easiest to grab ahold to was the guy in the hood with the Lexus gettin money! If I knew that there were such occupations as: construction company owner, Chik-fil-A owner, car dealership owner, etc. I believe that I would have aspired to something different. But because exposure to these were not an option I went with what I knew. BITC works to expose the lil youngins to something different (www.bringinthecommunity.com). I also work with other leaders in the community to help facilitate their vision for re-entry when I’m available.
IV. I’m aware of the ability that loved ones have to send pics to inmates. Are inmates able to send pics out as well?
No, not at this time. Flikshop simply takes away the hardest part of communicating with your incarcerated loved one…you reaching out to them. Those guys have no problems with sitting down and writing you back, calling you collect, or placing you on their visiting list. The problem as always been us…not them. Lol…
V. You’ve been supportive of re-entry programs as well as other efforts to development returning citizens into model members of society. What is the most important component of the re-entry process?
The most vital component to the re-entry process is supplying gainful employment and housing. Period. If more inmates were able to escape the pitfalls of either not knowing how to apply for jobs or applying and not getting the job due to their criminal record, as well as be provided with housing post-release in a positive environment most would avoid their contribution to the recidivism rate increases that we continuously see. Programs are great, but a really focused effort on these two things are paramount to re-entry success. Inside the DC area this problem is increasingly being attacked, but in more rural areas of the country (which is where most inmates per capita are being released) this problem continues to threaten so many upon their release.
VI. You guarantee shipment of postcards in 48 hours. Describe the business process of Flikshop from the moment that someone decides to send a pic until the moment that the inmate receives the pic.
Yup…within 48 hours your Flikshop order will be processed, printed and shipped using the US Postal Service. All of this is done in-house at Flikshop headquarters (located in Lanham, MD). Once your Flikshop is shipped it typically takes 3-5 days for your inmate to receive it at their facility. Its that simple.
VII. What’s been the biggest business lesson while working on Flikshop?
The biggest lesson learned is that most of the Flikshop users in the lower-income communities that actually need to use the app more are not able to fully take advantage due to several major issues. 1) There are still a ton of people without cell phones 2) If they have them, several do not own smartphones or the capabilities of maintaining a consistent smartphone that is operational 3) Technology and understanding how apps work is still foreign to a huge community of people 4) Debit cards/Credit cards necessary to pay for each Flikshop are not found in every home. These were items that I took for granted pre-launch.
VIII. You’ve created a new industry with Flikshop. What’s it like blazing a trail that’s never been traveled before? What are the positives and negatives of this?
Positives: I get a lot of fulfillment knowing that our tool is actually doing what its supposed to do…keep thousands of men and women connected to their families.
Negatives: I don’t sleep…not until EVERY INMATE GETS MAIL EVERY DAY.
IX. Where do you see Flikshop in 5 years?
I am working diligently to ensure that Flikshop becomes the preferred method of quickly reaching your inmate, but over the course of 5 years we’re excited to launching larger campaigns that allow Flikshop to really partner with other community organizations, faith-based groups, and local small businesses to create a better eco-system that attacks the problems of failed re-entry efforts and juvenile sentencing guidelines.