Marc Sparks is the entrepreneurs’ entrepreneur! If you look in the dictionary under “serial entrepreneur,” you will find Marc’s picture. Since graduating high school in 1975 in Austin, Texas, Marc has been a principal in dozens of startups—some outrageously successful and some downright disastrous. After thirty-four years of entrepreneurialism, Marc finally has finally put his journey and kernels of wisdom on paper so others might learn from his experiences. According to Marc, “God gives us challenges and devastating circumstances so we understand the responsibilities that come with success and to keep us humble. One never forgets when or where he earned his scars in life. The only reason a C+, high school-educated kid like me could possibly build and sell hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of self-made products and companies is the grace of God. I have zero formal training to do the things I do, but I was born with a keen instinct.”
Marc’s passion clearly is to build companies, often from ideas that others think cannot be done. He maintains a handful of portfolio companies in his “private” private equity firm, Timber Creek Capital, LP (www.timbercreekcapital.com). Taking an initial idea, he proceeds to establish not only a business model but a company culture as he develops both short-term goals and long-range growth plans. Marc manages by example, setting the patterns for his entire team to follow. “My door is always open; we meet in real time, right NOW! Everyone calls it ‘Sparks Speed.’ I figure by the time I could set up a meeting and reserve conference rooms, I could just resolve the challenge instead.”
Marc’s book, They Can’t Eat You, was painful for him to write. In it, he shares everything—warts and all! “I feel like anyone reading my book will learn much more from my unsuccessful ventures than they will learn from my successful ones. It’s easy for me to say, ‘Look at me! I started a software company and sold $200 million a year worth of product,’ but it’s much more educational for me to say, ‘Look at me! I started an insurance holding company out of my back bedroom and built it to nearly a billion dollar market cap and then lost it all in a ninety-day period.’ My colleagues convinced me to write the book, and I want my experiences to be a blessing for others. My book is for those entrepreneurs who are losing hope and just can’t seem to get across the goal line with their dreams.”
Marc is often asked two questions: “Aren’t you afraid of losing?” and “How do you do it?” He answers, “The poorest I can remember being was once when I had to buy groceries at a gas station with my Texaco credit card. I remember to this day that even while I was poor, I was still excited about life and passionate about my journey to come. To sum it up—call it ignorance or call it a gift—I have no fear of losing it all. Don’t get me wrong; I love to win, but I just can’t win them all! It’s life! I have never said I want to be a millionaire. Being rich to me is having great health, enjoying healthy family, spending time with good friends, building a successful business from scratch, working with hundreds of happy staff members, and having thousands of happy customers. Now that is a great day! I believe God gave me a special ‘shut-off valve’ that somehow eliminates the fear factor. I have so little fear that sometimes I wonder whether there is something wrong with me.”
When asked how he does it, Marc says, “Faith, Passion, Tenacity, Focus, Savvy of Monetization, and—most importantly—an Outrageous Sense of Urgency (aka ‘Sparks Speed’). As an entrepreneur, I rely on these qualities often. Mix these honed-in qualities with treating people the way you want to be treated—fairly, with respect and honesty—and you will succeed!”
Outside business, Marc has a deep passion for helping others through a homeless shelter in Texas called The Samaritan Inn (www.thesamaritaninn.org). Marc has been involved in this life-saving project since the late eighties. “We deliver a hand up, not a handout at our campus. I’m all about helping people who want to help themselves. We house about 160 residents a night, and our average stay is five months. We turn away about seventy-five people a week who want to get into our program of counseling, financial education, job placement, family services, and health programs. I have been brought to tears many times when our residents graduate, and, a year later, share how well they have done! It’s humbling, to say the least!”
Marc’s building passion has also come in handy with his involvement in Habitat for Humanity; he has personally helped construct over a dozen homes. Marc is also a big supporter of the American Can! Academy, a network of magnet high schools. Through Marc’s “Sparky’s Kids” foundation, he has given more than a thousand new computers to at-risk kids to help them break the cycle of poverty.
To counter stress, Marc is a health enthusiast and outdoorsman. He enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, golf, working out, and adventurous travel. Marc thrives on competition, both in sports and in business. He has literally traveled around the world in twenty-three days and has been to exotic places such as Easter Island, home of the ancient moai statues; Machu Picchu; Angkor Wat; Morocco; Tibet; Xi’an, China; Agra, India; and the Serengeti. “I believe adventurous travel is an entrepreneur’s mecca. I get more inspiration and ideas from my travel than I do from any other medium.”