A lot of people have big dreams, but few actually put legs to them to make great progress.
– Jerry Williams, Executive Director, Leadership Nashville
By bucking the system, technologist, entrepreneur and rising investor Marcus Whitney blossomed into the man he always wanted to be. Getting off track was how Whitney found his truth and decided to transform the world in his own way—by inspiring others to put their passions towards a greater purpose. Today, the outsider uses the hurdles he’s overcome to educate budding entrepreneurs.
“Aside from having a presence, Marcus is smart, controlled and someone with strong core values,” explains Industrial Strength Marketing founder and CEO James Soto.
What’s most important to Whitney is making the important things in life look cool. He wants to be the mentor that he never had. See the vision, do the hustle and don’t let the hard lessons get you down is his personal motto.
Everything in the leader’s life goes back to a core philosophy: nothing can be done on your own. The President of investment firm Jumpstart Foundry and founder of educational platform The Unlikely Company allows others to create inside of his vision. After merging the right personalities, he orchestrates an operation and then steps into his role as the mission’s megaphone.
Yet, it wasn’t always so easy. As Whitney explains in his popular 2012 TEDx Nashville talk, “to change your world, you have to lie a little.” Self-belief is how the one-time college dropout leveraged himself to one of the most celebrated venture capitalists in the city. Now, he inspires others to follow their calling—no matter what anyone else says.
In college, at the University of Virginia, Whitney studied architecture—a testament to his love for conceptualization, creation and design. Yet, hip-hop, partying and girls took precedence over his studies. It was the golden age of rap, and rhymes were his 24/7 reality. Rather than focusing on his studies, Whitney dropped out just shy of graduation.
From there, he used his savvy to scrape his way up. While taking care of his family and waiting tables, Whitney pinpointed the skill sets he had and ones he lacked. He put in the legwork and stumbled upon a linear path: the software industry, a lifelong interest. He studied coding and moved full-steam ahead.
Nashville is where the Brooklyn, New York native experienced the freedom to fix his past and pave a new future.
His first significant hire was at email marketing and software company Emma where he was greatly inspired by founders Clint Smith and Will Weaver. These relationships instilled a great deal of self-confidence in Whitney. For four years, he ran hard and fast for the company as a leader of its technology division.
In 2007, with one year’s notice, he left Emma to launch BarCamp Nashville. The event made a splash as the first to merge the local, digital community. Its success solidified Whitney as a rising star in the technology world and prompted him to chase after his own entrepreneurial ventures. Unfortunately, he found the financial world to be less welcoming than he expected. The industry initially locked him out because of his unknown status, but that simply sparked his desire to succeed. He rebelled against the system’s secret society attitude and shared everything he learned along the way with others who were aspiring to break into the business. Whitney’s goal is to decode finance and entrepreneurship for them.
As Jerry Williams, Executive Director of Leadership Nashville explains, “His incredible generosity shows great confidence. It is rare for that kind of altruism to kick in at such an early stage in someone’s career.”
Today, Whitney attributes his “overnight” success to sixteen years of relentless production and a proactive ‘do-it-even-if-you-don’t-feel-like-it-” attitude. From his forthcoming book Create + Orchestrate, to the professional soccer team, Nashville SC that he cofounded—what Whitney puts his mind to he gets.
The award-winning executive credits his success to his family, tribe and staying true to his heart. As he best explains, “We’re all here to do something great, and whether it’s face-to-face or by example, I know I am on this earth to encourage others to be the best they can be.”
Biography by Lily Clayton Hansen
Portrait by Jacob Jones