Some of Marcus Whitney’s projects:
Jumpstart Foundry, a health innovation seed fund for great entrepreneurs. Jumpstart Capital, a health innovation venture fund for companies ready to scale. Health:Further, an inclusive community of people committed to a brighter future of health. Nashville Soccer Club, Nashville's professional soccer club currently playing in the United Soccer League. The Unlikely Company, a public benefit corporation dedicated to inspiring and educating a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Bobby: Thanks for joining us today Marcus. Tell us about yourself.
Marcus Whitney: I have a few business ventures going. Even though I was born and raised in Brooklyn, I live in Nashville and do business mostly in Nashville. Since I’ve been here… I was a college dropout. I learned on my own how to code and joined a small email marketing company that became quite successful. Through that process I transitioned from a technologist to an entrepreneur. Today, I have a venture capital firm called JumpStart with a little under 70 companies in our portfolio right now, mostly in health tech. We have an advisory firm that we have also been working for the last four years. Things are going great. Then I am a cofounder and co-owner of the National Soccer Club, Nashville’s professional soccer organization. We are in our second season of play now. Also, I just self-published a book that will come out this March.
Bobby: Awesome. So let’s hear more about your TED talk. Please expand on your definition of “hustle” that you talked about so uniquely.
Marcus Whitney: This gets back to my Brooklyn roots. I grew up around street culture. Hustle was related to the streets; that would relate to conning people or selling drugs. Then right behind that definition of hustle, I was introduced to hustle from a sports perspective. My coaches would say I have to hustle. So today, when everyone talks about hustle being hard work alone, I feel like we have lost a certain aspect of hustling.
To hustle you would often times have to con someone, you had to partner with someone, and you had to orchestrate the game. Hustlers always worked with partners and focused on not the day-to-days but the long term picture. I think today we need to be creatively sneaky when we hustle in business. Furthermore, we have to almost con ourselves into believing that we can accomplish something that is rather unrealistic. Then we have to find partners to join this hustle. You cannot succeed in business on your own. Lastly, you have to learn how to effectively orchestrate everyone to be a part of your hustle. You have to act like you are orchestrating a large symphony.
And when I say con yourself, I am not advocating for telling people lies. I am saying that you have to figure out how to believe in yourself when there is no evidence that you will be able to succeed in your circumstance. Belief is very strong. And this is not an external fake it till you make it. An external one would be trying to appear in a way that you’re not. I am talking about an internal narrative that you tell yourself everyday that hurdles you into who you will become in the coming months and years. You are positively influencing that conversation that is always going on in your head.
Bobby: That makes a lot of sense. So let’s talk about how you went from waiting tables, to coder, to VC.
Marcus Whitney: It goes back to belief. I never thought that there was a thing that I couldn’t do. And I generally follow my passions, because if I am passionate about something then I can work hard at it. Hard work is usually how you become successful. JumpStart began as a side passion project in Nashville. But as things moved on, I grew more and more passionate about it. I decided to dive into it and turn it into a real thing with one of my partners.
Bobby: What do you think your big keys to success have been when it comes to JumpStart the VC firm?
Marcus Whitney: I honestly think work. There is no substitute for the amount of work we put into it. We were working the entire week, weekend and nights. Also, we had some key connections that really pushed us along. A friend of mine who worked with Techstars helped us out a lot. We got access to the Techstars playbook and amended it how we saw fit. Also, my partner and I fill in each other’s gaps quite well. My partner knew the health care industry and finance and I knew tech.
[More discussion on JumpStart]
Bobby: What are your thoughts on taking more than one project at a time? I hear sometimes that I should focus on just one project at a time, but I need more than one thing going at a time to stay alive and interested.
Marcus Whitney: Yeah, I think it’s all about whatever works best for you. You have to do whatever feels authentic to you. I have not worked on just one thing for decades and I will never again focus on just one thing. But you also have to realize that you must set boundaries, time-budget, and protect yourself from getting distracted by too many projects. I make sure I do everything that must be done for my main project and once I finish those things, I can work on some of my other side passion projects.
Bobby: Okay, great. So most people would look at your success and say that there is no way such a guy could deal with depression. You mentioned earlier we could talk about this… What was going on in 2017?
Marcus Whitney: So in 2017, I had a tough year in business. There was a storm of difficulty. None of this stuff is easy and it can be stressful. I don’t have a history of depression but at the end of 2017 I realized I was dealing with some issues. I was indulging in food, self-medicating with alcohol. It was unhealthy. But I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the health industry. I started a process to look at whether or not I was healthy, and I wasn’t. To get out of that unhealthy time of my life, I started with exercise. It built physical and mental strength. After that, I turned to therapy and that was very good. Then recently, I’ve been taking a break on drinking which has been amazing.
Taking action like this can be hard depending on your circumstance but you have to find support and take action. And remember, such problems are nothing to be ashamed of. There should be no more stigma around depression or other mental struggles. Everyone is dealing with these problems.
Bobby: So time for the questions we ask all of our guests. This first one is the random one. If you were given an elephant and couldn’t sell it, what would you do with it?
Marcus Whitney: Ummmmmmmmmmmmm… I actually like elephants quite a bit. I have ridden one in Bali. I would probably find some land and just have it as a pet.
Bobby: What skills does a young professional need to have out of college?
Marcus Whitney: I think that current college students have a weird thing going on. My kids are college aged so I know. You guys all grew up with the internet, yet nobody understands how quickly technology is advancing and how they have to behave in a quickly changing world. College students are going to learn how to adapt to change more quickly. There’s a chance that dominant companies today will be nonexistent in five years. College students will have to learn way faster than they currently learn in college.
Bobby: I agree, great answer. What do you have to give up for success?
Marcus Whitney: You have to give up your obsession with comfort. You will have to be very uncomfortable at times if you want to be successful. Especially for entrepreneurs, if you are tired, keep working. If you want to hang out with a friend, you might not be able to.
Bobby: Last question: What is one life hack that listeners can do this week to become successful?
Marcus Whitney: I would say they need to look into using the internet as a way to build a brand. Use the internet as a broadcast mechanism.
Bobby: Great. Before I let you go, would you like to quickly plug your podcast and social pages?
Bobby: Awesome. Thanks for joining us today Marcus. We'll talk soon.
Some reminders from this podcast:
1. The three rules to hustle: con yourself into believing, find partners to join your hustle, and effectively orchestrate.
2. As Marcus points out, mental health is far too often neglected. If you are struggling in this department, seek support and take action.
3. THIS WEEK: Think about ways you can use the internet as a way to broadcast your personal brand. Begin getting people’s attention.