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The Marko Men

Campus | November 25, 2013

Once a week, I abandon the college-student vernacular and use words such as amortization, revenue rollout, and in-group marketing. In the space of a business planning class, the world of entrepreneurship becomes accessible to undergrads and grad students with wide-ranging backgrounds. The Entrepreneurial Leadership program through the Gordon Institute, has consistently gained popularity as an undergraduate minor since its inception at Tufts in 2002. The curriculum’s core classes cover topics from corporate finance, to marketing strategies, and to in-depth work with business plans. Each class presents a new challenge and a new way of applied to the Tufts curriculum. As enrollment in these classes grows, it is becoming more and more apparent that  entrepreneurial culture is taking off at Tufts.

Our campus is also located in the vibrant Boston community of creative startups and energetic tech ventures, only adding to our entrepreneurial spirit. Universities and innovative students come together in the business hub of Boston in a way that inspires and assists budding entrepreneurs. The resources and brainpower are available for those who want to get their foot in the door of entrepreneurship, which is exactly what the creators of Marko, a new iPhone app, are doing. Tufts University juniors Amadou Crookes, Gabe Jacobs, Spencer Schoeben, and Nathaniel Hajian, are planning on launching Marko this month. Their innovative new social media app allows users to upload location-specific photos to a newsfeed that can only be accessed within a certain radius of where the photos were taken.

The Marko team got together and sent the Observer email responses describing the app as an “idea that brings ‘You had to be there’ to life.” It allows people to connect and share moments across space and time: imagine yourself at an a capella concert in Goddard chapel, unlocking photos of other concerts, services, and moments experienced by fellow Jumbos at that location. The team plans to target the app to the Tufts student body upon its launch, to learn from its initial user feedback and make changes accordingly. The app will be on the iPhones of Tufts students soon, though the path to Marko’s development has not been without error. After abandoning a first attempt at an earlier app idea, the Marko team continued with another idea. “We believed our team was still amazing,” they said. “So, we decided to build something risky, fun, relevant to our peers, and absolutely ballsy.”

Their attitude draws a clear picture of the spirit of entrepreneurship: results take a good idea, guts, and a lot of persistence. Luckily, the Marko men had some incredible experience to reflect upon and utilize in order to realize their vision. Like other entrepreneurs at Tufts, they have taken advantage of the start-up scene in the Boston area. Crookes is the developer behind the much-loved iJumbo, while Hajian, Jacobs, and Schoeben all have impressive backgrounds in the tech and start-up fields. Although each team member brings something different in terms of design, development, and experience, they all share both the drive to make an impression and the passion for their idea. The team says, “We all find great satisfaction in bringing the crazy ideas otherwise stuck in our heads to life. So that is exactly what we did.”

The team is confident in the future of this app. The trajectory is conservative, yet optimistic—the sort of contained excitement with which you’d expect young entrepreneurs to be armed. The team said, “We think with the right kind of marketing, Marko could get really popular at Tufts. If all goes well, we will try to expand into other communities. Maybe it could even become viral.” The impression I got was that the start-up tech game depends on sharp ideas and a user-focused purpose.  In higher education, especially at creatively-inclined schools, like Tufts, we are told that we have the potential to come up with the new iPhone, or Zipcar, or Foursquare. This is the concept that creates the entrepreneurial culture, and ideas like Marko are what make this culture so tangible on campus.

Marko is just one example of the new ventures and examples of effort coming from young Tufts entrepreneurs. Between the ELS minor and the drive coming from inspired students, the capability of entrepreneurship on campus can’t be stifled.  The Marko team attests to this, explaining, “We’ve all worked at unbelievable companies but we all have the dream of building something of our own.”

The guys behind Marko have been gearing up to join the tech game since high school. Crookes taught himself the process of developing for the iPhone on his own time, gradually improving his skills. Nate has had internships in product marketing design at different start-ups in the area. Gabe and Spencer, who both work on development for Marko, were Compass Fellows their freshman year at Tufts. This fellowship helps mentor young students to take innovative ideas and organize them in ways to promote success—a skill essential for entrepreneurship.

The Marko team are a testament to the fact that, as young college students, we have a unique opportunity to absorb the culture and perspectives that surround us. Whether you came in as a compute science whiz,  a philosophical thinker, or both, a new idea or exposure to new topics can strengthen or completely change what you thought you would be doing. It is this atmosphere that gives organic ideas life, so it makes sense that the entrepreneurship community at Tufts is thriving. We are given the chance to build our ideas into something more—in Marko’s case, this idea became an app.

And even if entrepreneurial ideas don’t always materialize immediately, the Marko team stressed the importance of the relationships that students can form by engaging in entrepreneurial projects. In other words, the potential for great entrepreneurship is only impeded when we stop brainstorming, stop engaging with each other, and stop putting faith in our projects. In this spirit, the Marko team mentioned that, “Depending on the success of Marko or the next few things we’ll build before we graduate, we might just pursue something together after school. If not, there’s no doubt we’ll all be building our skillsets and doing awesome work at innovative companies when we graduate. However, we all know that when the phone rings and one of us has the next brilliant idea ­ we’ll all be there 120%, ready to take the risk together.”