The well-planned life is not always the successful life. Though we try to order our college lives into perfection with our four-year academic schedules, stable jobs, and long-term career visions, the truth is that life and its chaos will often find a way to upset our best-laid plans.
An important value in achieving success is the ability to adjust, re-route, and make the best of any situation. This is one of the hallmarks of entrepreneurship — the ability to see unpredictability not as a foe but as an opportunity for creating something new. Using life’s disruptions to one’s own advantage and to chart a new path is a powerful way to discover possibilities and innovate.
Marcus Cook ’19, a Whitman School of Management grad, is an individual who exemplifies the power of using change to create something wonderful. Cook, who graduated with a double major in supply chain and marketing, worked purposefully throughout school to create a high-level career for himself. After he graduated, he went on to work a finance job, confident he was setting out on a stable upward career path. However, his plans went awry when he and a group of other employees were let go within his first few months of starting out.
With what some would view as a disaster, Cook took his layoff as a push to pursue his passions and take a bold chance towards success. He started a company centered around a passion that had always been an integral part of his life: entrepreneurship.
Cook’s drive towards entrepreneurship started when he realized as a kid it gave him the ability to make what he wanted of life. Like every kid, when he went to the store, he uselessly begged his mother to buy him candy bars and the things he wanted but had no money of his own. His mind churning with ideas, Cook decided to find a way to earn his own money. At around the age of nine, he started selling water and soda in his local park every summer. After successfully doing that for a few years, he began to look for other outlets to earn revenue that weren’t dependent on seasonal cycles. So, he chose to start his own dog-walking business.
The business grew so much that he maintained it through his junior year of high school when his mother took it over as her full-time job. This side hustle to make spending money that Cook started when he was just a young kid turned into his mother’s full-time business for almost four years.
Through his entrepreneurial experience, Cook realized that many people are intimidated by entrepreneurship because it is usually associated with rare unicorns such as Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos. The mythology of entrepreneurship centers on those who started Fortune 500 companies or made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 list, while Cook saw so many success stories of entrepreneurship in every small business created just like his own.
Wanting to change people’s outlook on the seeming impossibility or grandeur of entrepreneurship, Cook decided to start The Success Bug, a company dedicated to helping budding entrepreneurs by showcasing stories of everyday innovators and business owners. The mission- to ‘make entrepreneurship achievable’ manifests itself through an impressive collection of resources, advice, and stories to help entrepreneurs achieve success and feel confident in their pursuits. “How do you make entrepreneurship seem achievable? Don’t focus on crazy, unachievable stories, but everyday people who got successful without any press coverage. Some of these people are millionaires, some are not.”
Cook used his layoff and his saved income from his dog-walking business to pour his energy into creating The Success Bug and finding team members and writers to create a successful platform. They’ve grown over the past few months to publish an eBook on search engine optimization and are starting online courses on monetizing blogging. The Success Bug’s rapid growth is a testament to Cook’s own entrepreneurial skills and his ability to build companies.
“In entrepreneurship, everything you manifest is a showing of the work you put in- that idea makes you want to work harder.”
Cook’s own love for entrepreneurship and his connection as an undergraduate to the Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars at Syracuse University, helped him pursue a career to make entrepreneurship possible for others. His ability to utilize an unfortunate layoff to start a successful company speaks to the realm of possibilities one can pursue after shut doors or disappointments. Particularly now, through the piles of setbacks and lost opportunities all of us have experienced because of COVID-19, Cook’s story serves to inspire us all that when misfortunes occur, we have the power to use those misfortunes to reshape our lives for the better and plot courses in new, exciting directions.
Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Claire Howard ’23, photo supplied